This is a debate about whether the Bible teaches libertarian free will. My esteemed disputant alleges that the Bible does teach libertarian free will, and I maintain that the Bible teaches compatible free will. In other words, I'm arguing that the Bible teaches compatible, not so-called "libertarian," free will. That means that men choose what God has foreordained or determined that they will choose. It's the kind of free will that Calvinists speak about, and it is the kind of free will that is referred to when the Scriptures speak about "Freewill offerings." (See, for example, Ezra 3:5 "And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD.")
While technically the burden is on the affirmative to demonstrate that the Bible teaches libertarian free will, because of the way that the debate is framed, yet I will still provide good reasons and Biblical evidence for my own position, namely that the Bible teaches that men have wills that can be free, and that the exercise of their wills is foreordained by God. Since the Bible teaches both, freedom and determinism, the two are compatible.
There will be seven parts of this speech, three main points for my own positive presentation and four soft spots in the affirmative case.
Since this is a negative speech, I will try to sharpen the focus of the debate by identifying the major areas of weakness in the affirmative case. Unfortunately, the affirmative case has at least four serious deficiencies.
I. The first area of deficiency is the reliance on contemporary English dictionaries.
A. The first deficiency within this area is that not one of the dictionary definitions actually defines "choose" in such a way as to limit the term "choose" to libertarian freedom.
B. The second deficiency in this area is that if one has only the 20 definitions and nothing more, one should identify the semantic range of the term as encompassing the broadest range of the term, not the narrowest range.
C. The third deficiency in this area is that ultimately what matters when dealing with the usage of a word in an ancient writing is not the contemporary state of the English language but authorial intent of the original writing.
D. A fourth deficiency is that the wrong word has been looked up: instead of looking up just "choose," my esteemed disputant should have looked up "libertarian free will." The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, edited by Robert Kane, explains that "libertarian theories of free will" are "those which affirm a free will that is incompatible with determinism." This leads us to the second area of deficiency.
II. The second area of deficiency is that my esteemed disputant has not properly characterized libertarian free will. He claims "The essence of Libertarian Free Will is the ability to choose something or not. Imagine you’re in an ice cream shop. The idea that you can choose chocolate or not is the core notion of Libertarian Free Will." The essence of Libertarian Free Will goes beyond merely the ability to choose (which compatibilists affirm as well) to the declaration of incompatibility with determinism.
III. The third area of deficiency is in the area of exegesis. While the bulk of the verses cited are non-controversial verses that simply say that men deliberate and/or choose and reflect on their choices (which compatibilists affirm), there is the famous "what more could have been done" question. One way of looking at this question is that God literally did everything that he could, but he could not have done more, and they still did not choose God.
But is that a credible interpretation? No, for several reasons.
A. First, it is patently obvious that more could have been done. Jesus could have personally come to them and raised the dead. God could have sent even more dramatic signs and wonders. God could have prolonged their lives like that of Methuselah.
B. Second, it's not surprising that an inexact way of speaking is being employed, because of the genre. This verse is found in a song. Songs can speak precisely, of course, but they are also places where poetic license can be more freely granted.
C. Third, it's a double whammy, because the song is recounting a parable.
D. Fourth, there is a far more plain sense of the expression. The far more plain sense of the expression is that God had done a lot for them, more than they deserved, enough that they cannot complain that God was not generous with them. That means interpreting the comment as hyperbole, in this context, is a reasonable conclusion to draw.
IV. The final area of deficiency is in the treatment of compatibility. My esteemed disputant seems to refer to the Calvinist position as "compatibilist" up front but then puzzles in his conclusion over whether I will say that choosing is compatible with God's decree of providence, with literally no effort to establish the key point that distinguishes compatibilism from incompatibilism, namely whether choice is compatible with divine fore-ordination and determination.
V. But (turning to my own positive points) choice is compatible with divine fore-ordination. And here are some Scriptures that prove it.
Specifically the Scriptures show that God refers to himself as the cause of some human action, yet the action is still ascribed to humans. Moreover in seven cases, the humans are blamed with the action, to wit:
- Pharaoh (Exodus 7:4 and 11:9);
- Sihon, King of Heshbon (Deuteronomy 2:30);
- Eli's sons (1 Samuel 2:25);
- Absolom (2 Samuel 17:14);
- Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:15);
- Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25:16 & 20); and
- The Third King (Daniel 11:36)
Perhaps the seventh item is the most illustrative:
Daniel 11:36 And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.
On the one hand the king's actions are ascribed to his will, on the other it is alleged that these things are determined. What would the Bible have to say more than that to establish that free will and determination are compatible?
VI. The fact of compatibility is confirmed from the teachings of exhaustive determination.
A. God takes credit even for random events.
The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.
B. God takes credit for the acts of animals, such as the ostrich.
She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not her's: her labour is in vain without fear; because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.
C. God takes credit for the decisions of kings.
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
D. God takes credit for the decisions of armies/nations.
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?
VII. The fact of compatibility is further shown from God's taking credit for free acts and ascribing divine purpose to them
A. God Said that He Intended the Selling of Joseph into Slavery
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
B. Job Ascribes Satan's Temptation to God, and the Spirit Endorses Job's Description
Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,and said, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.
C. The Actions of the Sanhedrin are Ascribed to God's "Determinate Counsel"
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
This provides another very clear case of the Sanhedrin choosing a course of action (the word choose or will is not here as in Daniel), but they take an action and that action is ascribed to God's determinate council. Now this is rather like the situation of saying put the square peg in the breadbox shaped hole. We may not know that the two are compatible before, but when we see them put together in the instructions we know that they fit.
We have seen that the Scriptures teach that God refers to himself as the cause of even bad and morally blameworthy acts of men, that God's determination of events is exhaustive, and that God takes credit for free acts and ascribes divine intent to them. We have also seen that my esteemed disputant's reliance on contemporary English dictionaries is misplaced, that his characterization of libertarian free will is incomplete, that his exegesis is inaccurate, and that his treatment of compatibility vs. incompatibility is virtually non-existent. He has provided a lot of evidence that the square peg is square, but not that the "bread box" shaped hole is round. We, on the other hand, have identified several places in the instructions where they are put together. So, we can conclude that free will as described by the Bible is compatible, not incompatible with divine determinism.