Does the Bible teach free will? The importance of asking this question lies in the fact that the doctrine of free will is so widely taught by Pastors and ascribed to by their congregations. Because of this fact we are bound by Scripture to test this teaching (1 Th 5:21; 1 Cor 4:6; 2 Cor 10:5) by Scripture. We must not readily accept any teaching (regardless of who teaches it or what sense it makes to us), until it is demonstrated that it agrees with what the Bible teaches.
Several times in the Pastoral Epistles the Apostle Paul makes mention of sound doctrine. The Greek word most commonly translated as sound in the Pastoral Epistles is u`giainw (hugiaino). Sound doctrine is teaching that is free from error and that produces spiritual health and godliness. Therefore, using the Bible as our sole authoritative guide on doctrinal and moral issues, any teaching which is found in conflict with the Scriptures is in error and will lead to spiritual sickness, ungodliness, and possibly even damnable heresy.
How we answer the question of whether or not the Bible teaches free will significantly affects our view of the inspiration of Scripture, our understanding of God, man, evangelism, and salvation. This issue is not a dry academic discussion which is important only to theologians and philosophers. Rather, it is instead a vitally relevant issue which must be engaged by all who name the name of Christ. Those who neglect discussing and deciding the issue of free will (in the name that it is divisive or unspiritual), are anything but spiritual or mature, and need to get on track with what Scripture teaches.
Defining Our Terms
Much of the difficulty in examining and discussing free will lies in the fact that it is very rarely, if ever, defined by those who teach it. This leads to a great deal of confusion because if one does not have a meaning for free will, how can one ever examine it?
- Clear definitions are necessary for profitable discussion and evaluation. In order for us to learn whether or not the Bible teaches a certain doctrine the meaning of the words used to describe it must be made plain.
- Clear definitions help us to identify presuppositions. Presuppositions are the assumptions upon which we base our beliefs. When a person is made to clearly define their terms they also are made to clearly outline certain assumptions they have about the way things are which leads them to believe what they do. This point is extremely important as we shall see that most free will proponents automatically assume that whenever a person makes a decision or is given a choice between two alternatives this means they have a free will.
- Clear definitions help us prevent or detect the fallacy of equivocation. The fallacy of equivocation occurs “when we confuse the several meanings of a word or phrase, accidentally or deliberately, [then] we are using the word equivocally. If this is done in the context of an argument we commit the fallacy of equivocation.”1 This point is related to point two in that many free will proponents confuse the meaning of choice and decision with their concept of free will.
So we see that because words can have varied meanings, depending upon the context in which they are used, we must from the outset establish exactly what it is we are discussing.
The Power of Contrary Choice
What most Bible teachers who teach free will mean by free will is the power of contrary choice. The power of contrary choice means, “the freedom of alternate choice which consists in the supposed ability of the agent to choose among the alternative possibilities of action.”2 In simple terms, free will means that a person is not determined by God or anything else and is equally free to make a choice between two or more options presented to them. This is also called libertarian free will or human autonomy (self law)…to read more, click HERE