‘Every now and then the question will appear: “Where in the Bible do you see free will?” I admit to being fascinated by this question. My immediate thought is: “Where in the Bible do you see any concept whatsoever of God decreeing and exhaustively and meticulously bringing to fruition your thoughts, desires, and actions?” Yes, I realize that this is a staple in Calvinistic philosophical-theology, but one must interpret Scripture through a particular hermeneutical grid in order to “see” that concept in the pages of the Bible. Where is free will taught in the Bible? How about from Genesis to Revelation!
What must first be established is that the concept of meticulous determinism is an unbiblical concept belonging to the philosophy of the pagan stoics, Romans, and Greeks. The concept of Fate, as well as the will of the gods, is a predominant theme running through the weltanschauung of the ancient world. By way of example, the History Channel series Vikings maintains a very strict deterministic worldview, and is, currently, one of the most religious programs on the tele. Every few paragraphs of dialogue there is a reference to the activity and predetermination of the gods in their everyday lives — even of seemingly mundane events. The Norse people are merely the actors on the stage of life that has been pre-scripted by the gods themselves.
Yes, the notion of a God or god(s) rendering certain our thoughts, desires, and intentions is counter-intuitive to any viable concept of free will, but the reason should be quite obvious. If we are determined by another entity to think, feel and behave in any particular manner, and especially in an evil manner, then we cannot be responsible for the evil consequences that ensue any more than a puppet can be blamed for what its master determines the object to perform. Or, to offer another perspective, we cannot blame a compass for pointing north when the compass maker designed the instrument to point north. How, then, can the Calvinist God hold people accountable for their actions?
For example, if God determined, i.e., predetermined and rendered certain, that Eve realize that the forbidden tree is “good for food, and that it [is] a delight to make one wise,” and so “she [takes] of its fruit and [eats]” (Gen. 3:6), then how can she be blamed for the performance of what God rendered certain and decreed for her to do? She only thought, desired, and acted because God determined her to contemplate that the tree is good for food (thoughts), aspires to attain wisdom (desires), and then takes of its fruit (behavior). The tragedy of deterministic Calvinism (including compatibilistic Calvinism) is the view that God determined (actually, predetermined) these aspects of Eve’s circumstances and then holds her accountable for doing what He predetermined she should do.
These arguments against the errors of determinism have been repeated ad nauseam throughout the history of Christian theism since St Augustine invented the notions in the early fifth century. But I care much more about the point of view of the authors of God’s word than I do about philosophical wrangling. Once the theory of determinism is dismantled by Scripture itself, even by God’s own confessions, then a proper perspective of free will is not only clearly viewed but entirely assumed throughout the tenor of the Bible.
We began in the Garden and we need to return there. God commands Adam: “You may freely eat [‘akal ‘akal] of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gen. 2:16-17) Even in God’s command against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil we discover free will, for God Himself informs Adam that he may “freely eat” of every tree he wishes. After this instruction, God creates animals and then brings them before Adam, to see what he — not God, but Adam — would name them (Gen. 2:19-20). God did not determine what fruit Adam would eat; he ate freely. God did not determine what Adam would call the animals; he named them freely. Already in these two Garden events we clearly see the exercise of free will.
When God creates the first couple He grants them free dominion, or rulership, over the animals (Gen. 1:26) and over the earth (Gen. 1:28, 29). Determinism does not exist in this narrative. Therefore, when we encounter Adam and Eve in the Garden disobeying God’s command concerning eating from the forbidden tree, we are forced to view the event in the framework of free will and not determinism. But does free will exist after the fall?
Often, determinists will recklessly argue that “free will” is not in the Bible. We beg to differ. God assumed for the Jewish people to offer what is referred to as a “freewill” offering as a sacrifice (Ex. 35:29; 36:3; Lev. 7:16; 22:18, 21, 23, 38; Num. 15:3; 29:39; Deut. 12:6, 17; 16:10; 1 Chron. 29:6,14; 2 Chron. 31:14; 2:68; 3:5; 7:16; 8:28; Ps. 54:6; Ezek. 46:12; Amos 4:5; Judith 4:14; 16:18). This, God says, must be given out of the willingness of one’s heart (Lev. 22:18). There are also other actions noted as being “freely” wrought (Gen. 2:16; Deut. 23:23; 1 Chron. 29:9, 17; Ezra 1:6;7:13, 15; Ps. 112:9; Prov. 11:24; 1 Esdras 8:10).
Determinism is false teaching, because this is what God Himself has declared (all emphases added):
"And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire -- which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind." (Jer. 7:31) God repeats the latter statement elsewhere: "which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind." (Jer. 19:5) God then qualifies the latter statement in another place: "though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind that they should do this abomination." (Jer. 32:35)
Read this carefully: the wicked Israelites burned their sons and their daughters to a false god, and the God of Israel Himself admits that He neither commanded nor decreed that they do so. If God did not decree this action, then the Israelites acted wickedly of their own free will. God attests to this very notion elsewhere: “Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him. They made kings, but not through me; they set up princes, but without my knowledge [or instruction].” (Hos. 8:3, 4) The concept of determinism simply cannot coincide with these statements uttered by God Himself.
Exhaustive determinism is a pagan myth. What is almost comical is a statement written by Calvinist James White: “If anyone knew that the idea of ‘free will’ was a myth, it was Paul.” We have here explicit passages of the Hebrew scriptures — St Paul’s Bible — which contradict in no uncertain terms the false philosophy of determinism, promoting instead the biblical doctrine of free will, and yet Calvinists like James White reject the latter and argue the former. The irony is almost unbearable.
From the prophets Isaiah (cf. Isa. 1:2, 4, 12-15, 16, 17, 18, 19-20, 27-28, 29;3:8, 9, 10, 11; 5:4; 9:13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 24, 25; 10:1, 5, 6, 7, 12; 13:3, 5, 11, 12, 13; 14:4, 5, 24,26; 15:5, 16:9, 11; 17:10; 22:11; 23:9; 24:5, 6; 26:8, 9; 30:1, 2, 3, 9, 12, 13, 15, 18; 31:6; 32:6, 7, 8;33:15, 16; 35:8, 9, 10; 37:28, 29; 41:24; 42:17, 18, 19, 20; 43:22, 23, 24, 27, 28; 44:18, 19, 20; 45:7,19; 48:9; 50:1; 53:6; 57:8, 9, 10, 17; 59:2, 6, 7, 8; 63:9; 65:2; 66:3), Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 2:5-9, 13-17; 2:20, 29, 30; 3:21-22; 4:3-4, 14; 5:19, 23, 28-29; 6:16; 7:3-7, 23, 30, 31;13:11; 19:5) and Ezekiel (cf. Ezek. 1:1-28; 2:3, 4, 5, 7, 8; 3:7, 18, 19,, 20, 26,27; 4:21; 5:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11; 6:9; 7:3, 4, 8, 9, 27; 8:6, 17; 9:9-10; 11:5; 13:2-3, 8, 9, 10, 17, 22, 23;14:23; 16:23-29; 16:30, 31-52, 58; 18:1-23, 31-32; 33:10-16; 20:32; 23:1-49), we find a plethora of examples of God complaining that His people have drifted from their relationship with Him and committed sin and evil. The only possible way for the determinist to consistently argue his or her case is to admit that God decreed the Israelites to act wickedly and then God complained and judged them for acting wickedly. This notion betrays the attributes of God, His holiness, justice and righteousness.
Where is free will taught in the Bible? In every place where people are making decisions from choices or options, there is where free will is taught. Does God ever intervene? Yes, He reserves the sovereign right to intervene (…) Does He do so exhaustively and in every case imaginable? No, for He allows people to make wrong and sinful and evil decisions.’
source: Will Birch (williambirch). Secondary sources can be found in the original article. The original author (Will Birch) believes that God has exhaustive foreknowledge and that the free will of all descendants of Adam was damaged in the fall. The author of this website disagrees. (Read this and this for more information.)