Within Judaism and Christianity, there has been division and controversy regarding whether we humans have a free will. Of the three main Jewish sects, the leading one, the Pharisees, invoking the Talmudic statement “All is in the hands of God except the fear of God,” concluded that God decides all matters for us, such as where we live, whom we marry, and what kind of job we have. They concluded that humans are free only with regard to our moral decisions.
While the Sadducees believed that humans have a free will, the third Jewish sect, the Essenes, who scholars believe influenced the thoughts of Jesus, concluded that everything that happens is God’s will, and completely rejected the notion.
Within Christianity, while many denominations believe in free will, Calvin and Luther, who ushered in the Protestant Reformation, sided with the Essenes in soundly rejecting free will.
God’s fundamental attributes of omnipotence, omniscience and infallibility create an insurmountable problem for the notion of free will, and both Old and New Testament passages ascribed to God, Isaiah, Jesus and others argue against human autonomy. While much of the Bible is vague and contradictory regarding free will, Paul, writing in Romans, presents the matter in such a clear and direct way that his conclusion that we humans do not have a free will is impervious to a different interpretation.
To see how Judaeo-Christianity refutes free will, let’s begin with God’s omnipotence, or the idea that God is all-powerful. This premise inescapably reflects the understanding that what God wants to happen must happen, and that what God does not want to happen cannot happen. So, it’s easy to see how all we humans think, feel, say and do is up to God, and not up to us. Some claim that God can negate his omnipotence in order to grant us a free will, however God’s sovereign control is generally accepted to be limited by his nature. For example, if God is omnibenevolent, or all-good, monotheists generally agree that God’s omnipotence does not extend to an ability for him to do evil. Similarly, God cannot contradict his logical nature, and, for example, make one plus one equal 207. So, if logically, God cannot both remain all-powerful and cede his power to our free will, we must conclude that because he is all-powerful, humans cannot have a free will.
Also, God’s omniscience, or knowledge of everything, when considered alongside his attribute of infallibility, or inability to make a mistake, makes free will impossible. For example, if God knew 1,000 years ago all you would think, feel, and do today, you have no choice but to act in exact accordance with that foreknowledge. If you deviated even slightly from what God knew you would do today, you would contradict God’s infallibility. You would be showing God to have been wrong. So, there is no way you can act freely of what God knew 1,000 years ago that you would do.
And if we look to the Bible’s Old Testament, we find that various verses argue against free will. In Exodus 4:11, God himself says:
Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?
King David, in Psalm 37:23 is also clear:
The steps of a man are established by the Lord
And in Psalm 65:4, David thanks God for what God chooses:
Blessed is the man You choose, And cause to approach You.
In verse 63:13 of his book, Isaiah asks God:
O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
And in Lamentations, Jeremiah asks:
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?
These verses suggest that what we say, hear, see and choose do is up to God, and not us. The New Testament is even more explicit in arguing against the notion of free will.
In verse 6:44 of the gospel of John, Jesus himself says:
No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him.
In three letters ascribed to him, the Apostle Paul holds this same position that what we do is God’s will, and not our own.
In Philippians 2:13, he writes:
For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
And in Ephesians 1:5 he is even more explicit in defending the Christian doctrine that God preordains all that we do:
He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.
It is in his letter to the Romans, verses 7:15 through 21, that Paul asserts his most clear and direct challenge to the notion of free will. He writes:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
So, we have God, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, John and Paul all clearly asserting that what we do is up to God, and not up to us or a free will. In fact, neither the term free will, nor it’s doctrine, is to be found anywhere in the Bible, Augustine of Hippo having coined the phrase, and fully developed the concept, in 380 A.D. Furthermore, blasphemy is defined as a human claiming powers attributed solely to God. To the extent that certain sects and denominations within Judaism and Christianity continue to preach and believe in a human free will that contradicts God’s omnipotence and omniscience, they are practicing blasphemy.
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