5 Bible Passages That Argue Against Determinism
Unlike Arminians and Molinists, Calvinists believe in what is called “Divine Determinism”. What this view says is that God controls literally everything that happens in the universe. Nothing happens in the course of the universe’s history that God did not cause to occur. Some Calvinists want to cling to free will while affirming determinism so they’ll adopt a view known as “compatiblism”. In other blog posts, I’ve argued that if divine determinism is true, then that logically entails that God is a moral monster, and does not deserve to be worshiped (in my blog post “Why No One Should Worship God If Calvinism Is True”), and I’ve also argued that compatiblist freedom isn’t true freedom (in my blog post “The Incompatiblity Of Compatiblism”). I’ve also argued how God can have significant control over human history without being a grand puppet master (in my blog post “Molinism and Divine Foreordination”).
In this blog post, I will not be talking about one of those topics. Rather, I will be arguing against determinism strictly from the Word of God. For the sake of brevity, I won’t be addressing the usual proof-texts Calvinists often bring up in favor of determinism, rather I’ll just list the Bible passages that I think argue against it. I may address proof texts used in favor of determinism at a later date. All I’ll add is that I think that a great deal of the proof texts that Calvinists often use to argue for determinism fit well with the belief in libertarian free will if you throw a middle knowledge view of divine providence into the mix.
Anyway, that’s enough introduction. Now onto the arguments.
1: Jeremiah 32:35
Idolatry was a serious problem back in Old Testament Israel. Over and over and over and over again, God had to deal with the Israelite’s stubborn rebellion against The Lord. In fact, God had to deal with the Israel’s idolatry more than any other sin they committed. For some strange reason the first commandment was Israel’s favorite commandment to break. In the book of Judges, we see that every time the Israelites would rebel against God, God would allow Israel’s enemies to conquer them, and enslave them. Because of all their suffering and misery, they would cry out to the Lord and He would deliver them from their enemies through judges such as Gideon, Deborah, and Samson. God allowed Israel to suffer because He knew that if He let them suffer, they would turn back and worship Him; the only true God. By the way, this is more biblical evidence that one reason God allows some people to suffer is to bring about their salvation.
When I was reading through my Bible one night, I came across a statement which, to my Molinist eyes didn’t seem odd at all, but to those who adhere to divine determinism, this would seem to be a very sticky passage. The verse is in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah's book begins with his call to be a prophet. The next 38 chapters are prophecies about Israel (the nation united) and Judah (the southern kingdom). The basic theme of Jeremiah's message is simple: "Repent and turn to God, or he will punish." Because the people ignored this warning, Jeremiah then began predicting the destruction of Jerusalem. This terrible event is described in chapter 39. Chapters 40-45 describe events following Jerusalem's fall. The book concludes with prophecies concerning a variety of nations (chapters 46-52).
The verse that I think strongly argues against divine determinism is in Jeremiah 32:35
“They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.” – Jeremiah 32:35
This passage is very striking. It says that the people who burned their sons and daughters alive in sacrifice to the god Molech was something God “never commanded” and “did not enter (God’s) mind.” How can this be if God causally determines everything as the Calvinist wants us to believe? If God causally determines everything than it certainly did cross God’s mind. And far worse than simply commanding the people to do this abominable thing, He actually causally determined it to occur! He put the desire in their hearts, and made that desire so strong that it was impossible for them to do otherwise.
But Jeremiah 32:35 argues strictly against this absurd notion. Jeremiah 32:35 says that God had no part of it. God says “I never commanded it” and he says “It didn’t even cross my mind.”. It seems apparent from the text that God is trying to get the blame off of Himself. It seems like God is saying “Don’t blame me! It’s not my fault they’re doing it!” Well, if God didn’t cause them to do it, who did? They did! The idolaters did! Moreover, I contend that they did it freely. Moreover, since they did it freely (meaning that they could have done otherwise) then that makes sense as to why God is going to hold them accountable. They have no excuse for their sin because they did not have to commit it. They could have done otherwise.
2: Isaiah 30:1
"’What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,’ says the LORD. ‘You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances not directed by my Spirit, thus piling up your sins.’” – Isaiah 30:1
This verse seems pretty cut and dry. The rebellious children of The Lord made plans that contradicted God’s plans. They made alliances that were not directed by His Spirit. This Bible verse makes absolutely no sense if divine determinism is true. Because if divine determinism is true, the Israelites are making plans contrary to the plans of The Lord. God wanted them to make these plans all along. That’s why He put the desire in them to make such plans, and He made the desire so powerful, so strong, that they had to carry them out, they could not have possibly done otherwise. Moreover, The Bible verse says that their alliances were not directed by His spirit. Well, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! If divine determinism is true, then these alliances really were directed by His Spirit.
What do we make of these passages? I think that God is saying, like He was saying in Jeremiah 32:35, that it’s not His fault that the Israelites are committing such evil deeds. God is saying “It’s not my fault that you’re doing all of these evil things! Don’t blame me! Blame yourselves! I didn’t make you do it! You freely chose to do it! My intentions for your life are completely different than your intentions!”
This Bible verse completely contradicts divine determinism. The Israelites made plans that contradicted God’s plans for them. Their alliances were not directed by His Spirit. I know this is true…because God Himself said so.
3: Galatians 5:7-8
In the 5th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he talks about how Christ has set us free from the many, many rules and regulations found in the Torah. Christ has lived the perfect life. He has fulfilled the law, so shouldn’t go back under the law. He says that if we are circumcised, Christ is of no value to us at all (verse 2), that is to say, Jesus Christ is of no use to us if we commit ourselves to living under Old Testament law. He says that if we obey one part of the law, then we’re obligated to obey the entire law. No picking and choosing (verse 3). He says that if we try to live under the old covenant law, then we’ll be alienated from Christ (verse 4). In verses 5-6, Paul says how faith in Christ alone is what saves us, not good works, not by keeping the Levitical laws.
Then Paul says “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” – Galatians 5:7-8 (NIV)
“You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom.” – Galatians 5:7-8 (NLT)
“You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.” – Galatians 5:7-8 (NASB)
Do you see the problem? I hope you do…because it’s glaringly obvious. Paul explicitly says that the reason why the people he’s writing to are trying to go back to living under the Levitical laws isn’t God’s fault. Paul tells them that they were running the race so well. Paul asks them who held them back from following the truth. Paul then says that it is not God who held them back. After all, He’s the one who wanted them saved in the first place.
Divine determinists cannot make any sense out of this passage. Why? Because on divine determinism it is God’s fault that they were trying to go back to living under the old covenant laws! Because God determines everything! According to the compatiblist, God placed the desire in the hearts of the Galatians to go back to living under the old covenant, and made it so strong that they couldn’t done otherwise. According to the compatiblist, we always follow our strongest desires, and our desires are implanted by God. But God’s Word explicitly says that the persuasion did not come from Him.
4: 1 Corinthians 10:13
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13
Here, The Apostle Paul assures us that whenever a demon, our sinful nature, or even another human being is tempting us to sin, we have no excuse for falling into that sin. Why? Because God doesn’t allow people to experience temptations so powerful that it’s impossible to overcome. God only lets us be tempted at a level to which we can resist and say no to the world, the flesh, or the devil. This scripture says that God is faithful, and will show us a way out of the situation.
Now, how does this argue against divine determinism? Because if determinism is true, then that means that every sin a person ever has and ever will commit was ordained by God, unachangably so. And not in the middle knowledge, possible worlds sense that I explain in “Molinism and Divine Foreordination”, but in a causally determinative sense. Everything that happens, happens necessarily. But in that case, what about when we’re tempted to sin. If human beings are determined to sin, that means they cannot do otherwise. People have to do whatever they’re determined to do. They have to follow their strongest desires. But Paul’s message here is that we do not have to sin. We can freely choose to resist the temptation and not sin. God will show us a way out. It’s our fault if we choose not to take that way out. We could have taken the way out, but we didn’t. Contrast that with determinism. On determinism, the reason why you didn’t take the way of escape is because God decreed from eternity past that you would not take the way of escape. He determined you not to take the way of escape.
God always provides a way out of temptation and sin, but the implication is that we still sin. The implication is also that we have the ability to choose between alternatives (Sin VS. The Way Of Escape). This only makes sense on Libertarian Free Will. Because only on Liberarian Free Will due you do have a genuine ability to choose between alternatives.
For example, let’s say I walk into a candy shop and I see a bunch of different types of candy. There are lollipops, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, Milky Way Bars, etc. Now, let’s say that I choose the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I chose to purchase the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups but I didn’t have to choose the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I could have chosen to purchase the Snickers bars, or the Milky Way Bars, or the lollipops. Whichever choice I made, I did not have to make that choice. A genuine possibility existed for me to choose one of the other alternatives. Nothing causally determined my choice, and nothing prohibited me from choosing the other options.
But on compatiblism, there is no genuine possibility of choosing other than what you do. You choose what you desire, but you can’t choose what your desires are. Moreover, whatever your strongest desire is, that’s what you have to choose. You cannot go against your strongest desire according to the compatiblist.
Now, how does that work on 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul says essentially “No, you don’t have to sin because God has given you a way to overcome your temptations. You just have to take it.”? I don’t see how it can. 1 Corinthians 10:13 only makes sense on libertarian free will. If compatiblism is true, then God is being insincere here. He’s telling us that we don’t have to keep sinning when in reality we actually might, if God is determining us to keep sinning.
5: 1 Corinthians 14:33
1 Corinthians 14:33 says that God is not the author of confusion. But if divine determinism is true, then God authors a lot of things, including confusion. Look at the Christian church today. We are divided among many things in our theology. Young Earth Creationism VS. Old Earth Creationism, Special Creation VS. Theistic Evolution, Arminianism VS. Calvinism, Simple Foreknowledge VS. Middle Knowledge, Eternal Torment VS. Annihilationism, Pre-Tribulation Rapture VS. Post-Tribulation Rapture, Evangelicalism VS. Roman Catholicism, etc. etc. etc.
According to determinists, God has decreed that all of these disputes should occur. God is the root cause behind every theological debate in church history. But if God really determines all things, then why doesn’t He make all Christians agree with one another? Why create all of these different interpretations of scripture? Moreover, The Bible explicitly says that God is not the author of confusion. But if the determinists are correct, God has indeed authored much confusion (and a whole lot more than that).
Divine Determinism is contradicted by The Word Of God. Three places in scripture explicitly state that God does not determine things (i.e Jeremiah 32:35, Isaiah 30:1, and Galatians 5:7-8) and two other places in scripture deny it implicitly (i.e 1 Corinthians 10:13, and 1 Corinthians 14:33). There are other biblical passages that don't make in light of determinism, but I did not mention them here for the sake of brevity. Well, if determinism is false, then what’s true? Libertarian Free Will of course. It's the logical law of excluded middle.If determinism is false (and that includes compatiblism), then the only other explanation as to why people do what they do is because they do so of their own free will.
Determinism is not biblical. Free Will is.