The Bible on Free Will

What view do you take on free-will?

Whilst I find the subject of free-will interesting, I have yet to take a position. Though I find most arguments for scientific determinism to be weak, I do think a biblical case can be made for theological determinism, God is said to raise up nations to accomplish his purpose, which in my mind necessarily involves God manipulating human political actions. Isaiah 45:13 is an example of a passage supporting my view:

I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the LORD of hosts.

The most natural view here is that God causes Cyrus to become level in his ways and rebuild Jerusalem.

It is worth noting that most other texts of the time have a fatalistic worldview. But I suggest we can still have free will in the compatibilist sense.

All living things have some degree of free will and human beings more than any other we know, BUT sin destroys free will. Sin consists of self-destructive habits. They are habitual and addictive in nature as well as eroding capabilities and awareness of possibilities upon which free will depends.

When we have destroyed our free will already reacting like robots in response to the environment then God has no reason to refrain from manipulation if it leads to improvement of this problem.

To me, this is backwards. People choose to sin. And, although sinning might restrict your options, it usually does not.

YES, people choose sin. But once chosen a lot of that free will is eroded – and the more you sin the harder and harder it gets to stop.

Free will is only ONE side of our nature. On the other side, we are habitual – self-programming entities who operate most of the time largely on automatic. If we really had to deliberate on EVERYTHING we do all the time then our capabilities would be much more limited.


I am not sure where this belief comes from. It does not work as an excuse when we come to the other side, it is not accepted. We have chosen everything we do, even addiction, even the self programming you mention.

I do not see free will in scripture, because, if man was freely able to choose, then he or she would be able to stop sinning, and Jesus said, “if you sin, then you are a slave to sin”. That is not say that man cannot choose, but that an unregenerate man would never choose God. He will always choose the opposite. He has nothing in him that will choose God, being dead in his sins.

I believe that God is omniscient, all knowing because He predetermines it; from the fall, Moses and Pharaoh, to the cross, Paul at Demascus. Nothing does not happen without Him knowing. The only logical option is open theism, and God is not all knowing, if he doesn’t know what you are going to do until you do it.

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As it relates to salvation, our wills are bound to our unregenerate nature and without the Gospel, we freely choose to consistently reject God according to that nature. When the gospel produces faith and works salvation in us by His grace, we are free to “not sin”, whereas before we were not free from sin.

As it relates to our daily choices however, I’d say we do experience free will in a limited sense. But God is able to direct events to ensure the results he desires regardless of our choice, such as those that ensure the coming of Messiah. Romans 9 provides Pharaoh as an example. God chooses him to glorify himself through him. Pharaoh could have chosen to let Israel go freely or unwillingly. He chose the latter. Yet either way God’s is glorified and his will accomplished nonetheless.

The relationship between foreknowledge and predestination is rather a mystery and Lutherans are content to leave it as such. We use the doctrine of predestination as one of comfort only, not law. So we’d reject half of Calvinism’s second point regarding unconditional election, that of reprobation or “double predestination”. That makes God’s Sovereign Election the heart of the Gospel. We’d choose to focus on the Theology of the Cross and proclaim Christ’s justification for all.

It comes from the reality of human existence – demonstrable scientific fact!

Correct. This is part of the definition of a habit. We choose and create them and so we are responsible for where they lead us.

But this does explain why a lot of people don’t believe in free will. There are many things they feel driven to do and helpless to stop. But even if they have forgotten when they made their choice and even if their choices were somewhat passive… following random ideas without much thinking behind them, it doesn’t change their responsibility for what they have become – not in the slightest!

HOWEVER… It is also demonstrable, that not everything people do is a matter of free will. There is nothing absolute, universal, or unchanging about free will. It is subject to many many variables beyond our control such as disabilities we are born with or acquire by injury or disease.

This is an interesting topic, and I am not fixed in my belief, but tend toward the free will end and classic Arminianism, though find some aspects of open theism attractive.
I think God is all knowing of those things that can be known, but wonder if some things are unknowable in the future, leaving room for free will, and allowing that God knows all possibilities and what will take place within those probabilities. He being all powerful also allows him to exert his will and bring about the outcome he desires, so the question is functionally irrelevant. Still, it is interesting to consider.


I guess I travel in a very different circle of people who turn out to be outliers in the scientific studies. Most of my friends make conscious choices everyday to reject society pressures to conform.

So then why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart fully knowing what Pharaoh would do?

No you are just being a little one-sided, black and white about this. The truth is that because of my own philosophical orientation I tend to overemphasize the free will aspect of our existence, and it is the scientific facts that have forced me to accept that there is another side to things.

Depends on what you think that means. I certainly do not think it means God magically altered Pharoah’s brain. It think it had more to do with external events and Pharoah’s own lack of self-control which made it rather easy to manipulate him. As for why… this was God authoring the Bible with people and history as His writing instruments.

Harden" means “to let go”. ALL our hearts are already hard. God softens our hearts when we are regenerated. Why didn’t God soften Pharaoh’s heart?

Again it depends on what you think that means. I certainly do not think this means God magically alters our brain. It think it had more to do with external events and knowing what can get through our thick skull to touch our hearts. As for why not Pharoah… this was God authoring the Bible with people and history as His writing instruments, and what you suggest was not the story he was writing.

So you are a believer and your friend isn’t, because his skull is thicker? Who gets the credit for your salvation? you or God.

1 Sam 6:6 describes the same event in different words. “Why then do you Harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts?”
Did God harden his heart? Or did Pharaoh harden his own heart against God by refusing his command?

I take great comfort in knowing that God killed my father with cancer, because the alternative would be blind purposeless evil or bad, that my father’s death had no purpose. If God does not know everything, if He is not in control of the ends as well as the means, that all of this is just a roll of the cosmic dice, and when bad things happen, God says, ooooooooo…sucks to be you. Why would we worship Him?

Dear Mitchell,
When it comes to human behavior, science still has a long way to go before they can definitively say that we are robots, (which we are not). Science does not accept the two major external factors that override free will: 1) vengeful spirits and 2) fate. But as you know, these two are a direct result of free will. We caused the spirit to be vengeful and our actions caused our fate. So everything that happened to us is caused by our choices.

God knew that He was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart before Moses was even born. Does it not stand to reason that God decreed from the beginning of time that Pharaoh stay inflexible, in order that He could demonstrate His power and make His name known throughout all the earth. You say, “either way God would be glorified” God chose the destruction of the Egyptians to glorify Himself or was God’s glory dependent on what Pharaoh did?