The Christian Perspective

Free-will has been defined in several different ways. Some would say that free-will is "the ability to do what we want to do". Under this definition, it's clear that we do have free-will, as all of us (at least on occasion) do what we want.

However, another definition of free-will is "the ability to choose, or to choose otherwise". Free-will by this definition has been the subject of debate for centuries.

We should note that the issue is not "can we choose?", because we certainly make choices every day. The issue is "are the choices we make predetermined?", or "do we necessarily choose what we choose?", or "was it really possible for us to have chosen otherwise?".

From a Biblical perspective, the case against free-will and in favor of divine determinism (the idea that God is the ultimate cause of everything that occurs) is very powerful. We see from scripture a number of simple statements that, taken together, really cannot be explained from a free-will perspective. The scriptures below are taken from the NASB.

A note of caution: While it might seem to the casual reader that some of the following scriptures appear to be taken out of context to argue against free-will, it may be that the reader is simply reading into what I believe the scriptures say -- in other words, the reader may be taking me out of context rather than me taking the scriptures out of context. If the reader will simply read the following scriptures and the chapters and books that they are found in, and then determine what the meaning of the scripture is, and then ask him or herself if it is possible for it to mean this in a context of free-will, and also if it is possible for it to mean this in a context of divine determinism, I am quite certain that in the end the objective reader will in fact agree that the following scriptures speak out against free-will and in favor of divine determinism. Further, the scriptures selected below are really just a small sampling of those that could be provided.

1. God causes people to sin.

Acts 4:27-28 - For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
(Also see Isaiah 63:17; Job 1:21-22; 1 Chronicles 21:1-8 combined with 2 Samuel 24:1; 1 Samuel 2:25; Exodus 4:21; Deuteronomy 2:30; Romans 9:17-24; Genesis 45:5-8; Judges 14:4; Luke 22:22; Revelation 17:17; Lamentations 2:6)

2. God judges as guilty those that He caused to sin.

Romans 9:19-20 - You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?
(Also see Acts 2:36-38; 1 Chronicles 21:7-12; Romans 9:17-24; Mark 11:13-14; 1 Samuel 2:25, 3:13; Exodus 14:4)

3. God often compares humans to inanimate objects in His hands.

Isaiah 29:16 - You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, "He did not make me"; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, "He has no understanding"?
(Also see Isaiah 10:12-15, 45:9, 64:8; Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:21; Matthew 7:19; Luke 13:9; Matthew 3:12; 1 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Timothy 2:20-21)

4. God Himself gives people hard and unrepentant hearts.

Exodus 7:3 - I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.
(Also see Exodus 4:21, 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4; Deuteronomy 2:30; John 12:40)

5. God Himself gives people soft and repentant hearts.

Ezekiel 36:26 - Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
(Also see Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezra 6:22; Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26; Daniel 1:9, 4:37; Psalm 106:46; John 6:44, 15:5; Acts 16:14; Philippians 1:29)

6. God does whatever He wants.

Psalm 135:6 - Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
(Also see Psalm 115:3; Job 23:13; Romans 9:18; Proverbs 21:1; Daniel 4:17, 25, 32, 5:21; John 5:21; Matthew 11:27; James 4:15)

7. God causes whatever happens, including our decisions.

Ephesians 1:4-11 - We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.
(Also see Romans 8:28-30, 11:6, 11:36; Proverbs 16:1,4,9,33, 21:1; Job 1:21-22, 37:13; Isaiah 44:24; Amos 3:6; Matthew 5:45; Psalm 104:14; 1 Corinthians 3:7, 12:6; Jeremiah 10:23; John 1:3, 3:27, 15:5)

8. God knows what we will do in the future.

Dan 2:45 - God has made known to the king what will take place in the future.
(Also see 2 Samuel 7:19; Isaiah 42:9, 44:7, 48:5; Deuteronomy 18:22; Daniel 10:14)

It seems to me that if God knows what will happen in the future, then it is not possible for us to choose to do other than that which God knows we are going to do. Or, in other words, we can choose, but we cannot choose otherwise.

I believe I have made the case solidly from scripture and scripture alone that there is no such thing as human free-will. However, additional thoughts provided by Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards may provide further insight.

Martin Luther, who stated that he agreed with John Wycliffe that "all things come to pass by necessity", argued in his book, "The Bondage of the Will" (1525), that saying that we have free-will is like "calling a beggar wealthy, not because he had any wealth, but because it was possible that a king might give him his". Even as the beggar has no money unless maybe someone will give him some, so also we have no ability to make choices unless maybe God will enable us to do so. Even as it is absurd to call such a beggar rich, it is equally absurd to call us, whose very existence is wholly dependent upon the will of the Almighty, free. Luther claimed that "there is not one jot or tittle of scripture... that does not condemn the doctrine of 'free-will'". He further stated that the issue of free-will was the "essential issue... the hinge on which all turns" in the Protestant Reformation. He even went so far as to insist that "the protectors of 'free-will' deny Christ".

Jonathan Edwards argued in his book, "The Freedom of the Will" (1754), that every choice we make is always made in accordance with our greatest preference: we choose what we choose because we prefer to choose it. But then, where does our preference come from? If we wish to claim free-will, we must claim that we have chosen to have the preferences we have. But those choices were made simply because we preferred to make them. If we still wish to maintain free-will, we must claim that we chose what we preferred to choose to prefer to choose. But that choice again came from our preference to make it. And so, according to Edwards, we see that the chain of causes for every choice we make is infinite if we insist upon free-will, and, since infinite regress is logically impossible, the chain of causes must instead begin somewhere, either with a choice that we made but did not prefer to make, which therefore was not free thus causing all the following dependent choices to likewise not be free; or else with a preference we had that we did not choose to have, which therefore was not free, thus causing all following dependent choices to also not be free.

While it is true that there are, and have been, many public figures (preachers, teachers, theologians, apologists and philosophers) who claim allegiance to Christ and promote a doctrine of free-will, that doctrine is not to be found in the Bible. Rather, divine determinism is proclaimed throughout God's Word.

Responses to Common Philosophical Objections