In the comments of Unreflective assumptions about free will, Andrew asked:
In your opinion, is there anywhere in Scripture that clearly teaches that mankind has “free will” (in some sense of the term)?
Leviticus 22:18 and Psalm 54:6 speak of freewill offerings—which certainly implies at least a colloquial understanding that man is free to make choices. I also think the concept of man imaging God tacitly assumes that he can exercise freedom of will in some meaningful sense.
The problem with the question is that it presupposes a modern philosophical category (“free will”) and then imputes it to Scripture. But this category is quite out of place in the thinking of the ancient near-East. While there’s nothing wrong with philosophical theology, the scriptural way to answer the question is simply to observe that:
- Man is a responsible agent; he is culpable (or exculpable) to God for his choices;
- God himself determines what those choices will be.
If you then want to say that (1) just is free will, sure, go ahead. And if you want to say that (2) is conjunction with (1) is compatibilism, sure, go ahead. But Scripture itself doesn’t talk that way; it doesn’t use those terms, nor does it use analogues of those terms. The concepts simply aren’t on the ancient thinker’s radar. Rather than freedom, it talks about responsibility or culpability. In fact, the term “free will” is problematic precisely because of the unstated relation implicit in it: ie, free from what; or free to what?
Apropos (ii), while Arminians tend to assume that item (2) above is unacceptably limiting on freedom, what they fail to recognize is that both (2) and (1) are wildly liberal in ANE thought.
The ancient thinker was extremely fatalistic. Far more limiting than (2). Since the human realm was ultimately one with the natural and divine realms, and since past and present were ultimately one in a great cycle of continuity, nothing you did could change anything, and your actions were in fact fully decided in advance by impersonal forces well outside your control. The very concept of personal responsibility, of the ability to meaningfully choose one path over another, of right and wrong as adherence to the laws of a personal creator to whom you were accountable, was highly unusual. From what I understand, these concepts were radical innovations in Israel (which serves as good evidence that they were not invented by man).
For a non-Israelite, what you should do was simply whatever would bring honor (and more importantly survival) on your clan or tribe or people-group; and what you shouldn’t do was anything that would bring shame on them. So for instance, because ritual temple prostitution or child sacrifice was a way of ensuring fertile crops through representation and sympathetic magic, those were good things. By the same token, if you could steal without being discovered (and so would not lose face), then why feel guilty? You haven’t lost face, so you haven’t done anything wrong. So Israel’s concept of moral responsibility is actually incredibly robust.
Apropos (iii), it’s a great irony that Arminians argue against the biblical view of responsibility in precisely the way pagan idolaters of the ancient near-East would have; except the pagan idolaters would have appealed to their fatalistic honor/shame intuitions, which of course Arminians would find utterly reprehensible and outrageous. It’s such an obliviously provincial, condescending approach to the dialectic.