Molinism is Biblical

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

June 8, 2017

Question

Dear Tim,

I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles on Molinism. I think Molinism is a great theological philosophy, but it seems to be nothing but a philosophy. I don’t see how Molinism could be called a biblical view at all; where are the scriptures supporting Molinism? I simply don’t see any. Because Calvinism seems to own the corner on the market regarding biblical data, I simply cannot leave my reformed tradition even if it does have some philosophical problems. I’d rather have philosophical problems than biblical problems.

I might be persuaded to change my mind if you could provide some legitimate biblical support for Molinism. Can you make a biblical case for Molinism without providing a logical syllogism?

-James


Tim’s Response

I am thankful for your question, James! I hear the objection that Molinism does not coincide with biblical truth all too often. This objection is simply based on ignorance. In fact, Molina’s “theological philosophy” was based on scripture. That is to say, for Molina, it was Bible first, philosophy second. Molina’s entire first volume of his Concordia was comprised of 150 pages of biblical data providing the foundation of what has come to be known as Molinism.

It could be the case that so many today incorrectly assume Molinism is based on philosophy (as opposed to scripture) because so many Christian philosophers hold to Molinism while rejecting Calvinism. Indeed, as David Alexander and Daniel Johnson have noted in their recent book, Calvinism and the Problem of Evil:

“Calvinism simply is not a live option for most Christian philosophers.” (1)

Since Calvinism is rejected by the majority of philosophers and Molinism is booming in their circles, many non-philosophers might incorrectly assume (a philosophical mistake) that Molinism is simply a philosophy lacking biblical support. Your question provides the canvas to paint a different picture.

To paint this picture, and make my biblical case for Molinism, my burden will be to provide biblical data that either teaches, implies, rationally infers, or is consistent with what I have called the two essential pillars of Mere Molinism — humans possess libertarian freedom and God has middle knowledge. Moreover, I will move beyond “mere Molinism” and make the case stronger by providing biblical data supporting God’s love for all people (omnibenevolence).

Humans possess libertarian free will

The Bible is clear that free will is possessed by humans. Consider Paul’s words to Philemon:

14 But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

The question is raised: is the Bible speaking of libertarian free will? After examining the Bible in its entirety, Molina was convinced that scripture was not just consistent with the idea of libertarian free will, but that the Bible made it clear that some of our choices are genuinely up to us or “within our grasp.”

Deuteronomy 30:10-20

10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moses commands the unregenerate Israelites to make a choice! He says they have options from which to choose. They are to choose between life and death, between blessings and curses. Moses pleads with them to choose life!

Moses precedes his plea for life by making it clear that the unregenerate Israelites actually possess the ability to make this choice. That is to say, this choice is “up to them” and not causally determined by things external to them. He makes it clear that this is not only something they possess the ability to do, but moreover, it is not even “too difficult” for them to make this choice. He says, “you may do it.” The ESV reads, “so that you CAN do it” (emphasis mine). This is not just biblical support of libertarian freedom to choose otherwise; it seems to be libertarian freedom regarding an offer to choose God — or at the least, not to reject Him.

Moses makes his views regarding libertarian freedom clear in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Paul clarifies his position regarding libertarian free will in 1 Corinthians 10:13. He states,

“God is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

God has provided (at least some) humans with an ability not to sin. We are able to not fall into temptation. Accordingly, whenever one sins, they did not have to as there was a genuine ability to do otherwise (“a way of escape”) available for them to choose. This is exactly what is meant by libertarian free will! Therefore, when someone freely chooses to sin and they were ABLE not to sin, it follows that they are genuinely respons-ABLE for their sin, not God.

Paul also implies that we possess libertarian freedom when it comes to our thoughts. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 the Apostle Paul writes:

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Paul states that “we” — and implies that we ought to — take our thoughts captive to obey Christ. Paul seems to teach that we are responsible free thinkers of the libertarian variety. Accordingly, Paul makes it clear that all of our thoughts are not causally determined and forced upon us from external sources; we possess the ability to think otherwise. That is to say, YOU are responsible for your own thoughts (at least some of them).

Paul is clear that we ought to take our thoughts captive to obey Christ — to obey reality! He also teaches that we can be taken captive by incorrect thinking in Colossians 2:8. It follows that humanity is engaged in a battle. This battle is “not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). No, whether we realize it or not, each and every one of us is in a battle for our mind!

Paul urges us to take our thoughts captive before they take us captive. We are responsible for our thoughts and thus, we ought to be free thinkers! Which is not even possible on a deterministic view as many Calvinists affirm.

Finally, Paul is clear that Christians are not controlled by anything external to ourselves. He makes it clear that God has given Christians an ability to be in control. Consider 1 Timothy 1:7:

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

If Christians have self-control, then something other than the self is not in control. This is biblical data supporting libertarian free will, but what about the other essential pillar of Mere Molinism?

God possesses counterfactual knowledge

In 1st Samuel 23:6-14, God lets David know a truth to a counterfactual proposition. Namely, that if he were to stay at Keliah, then Saul would pursue him, and that if Saul were to pursue him, then the men of Keliah would give him over to Saul. Jeremiah 38:17-18 also provides support for God’s counterfactual knowledge. This passage makes it clear that God knows what would happen no matter what course of action Zedekiah would choose to take.

Many Scriptures like these provide illumination regarding the kind of knowledge God has. Additionally, consider that the “test of a true prophet” is the fulfillment of his predictions (Deuteronomy 18:22). Many predictions given by biblical prophets, however, are never fulfilled because the people who these prophecies were delivered to responded by changing their lives (Isaiah 38:1-5; Amos 7:1-6; Jonah 3: 1-10). Thus, the people who chose to change their lives avoided the consequences of what would have happened if they had not changed direction.

Jesus makes many statements implying He has counterfactual knowledge. Consider John 15:22, 24:

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin…. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin”

In John 18:36, Jesus offered the following counterfactual knowledge claim,

“If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews”

And in Matthew 26:24 Jesus says,

“Woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one to not have been born.”

Moreover, I have previously made the case that Jesus offers an implied counterfactual with human libertarian freedom in mind in Mark 4:10-12 (click here).

There are many passages in Scripture that affirm God has counterfactual knowledge, but does He possess middle knowledge? This question hinges upon when God logically possesses counterfactual knowledge. Does God have this knowledge before/logically prior to His creative decree, or does God create the world, and then gain knowledge of it? If God owns this counterfactual knowledge eternally and causally before His creative decree in which He actualized this world, then God possesses middle knowledge. That is to say, if God is eternally omniscient, then God possesses middle knowledge.

With all of the biblical data we have surveyed in mind, one can see that “mere Molinism” is definitely supported by scripture. The question is raised: can we move beyond the “mere” and make a biblical case for what I call “hard Molinism”? To accomplish this task we must examine God’s omnibenevolent nature and the scripture describing what God wants from all humans.

God loves & desires the best for all people

Another essential to biblically establish Molinism is the love God has for all people, and His desire for all to eternally flourish. I contend that we can infer God’s omnibenevolence (a love and desire for all people to eternally flourish) after examining the Adam and Eve account found in the first book of the Bible. The original sin was not eating of a forbidden fruit, but rather, doubting the omnibenevolence of God. This was the trap Satan lured Eve into in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3):

“Did God really say…?”

Satan convinces Eve to consider the idea that God is not really interested in her ultimate flourishing. The fact of the matter, however, is that God does desire the ultimate flourishing for each and every human being. This is supported by scriptures we will examine below such as John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9. It is also supported in Genesis. Consider this counterfactual:

IF Adam and Eve would have kept God’s commands (and all of their offspring followed suit), then every single human WOULD experience ultimate flourishing and not experience any suffering.

Thus, God created a world in which it was logically possible for all people to eternally flourish. However, Eve doubted that God was omnibenevolent and desired the best for her. This doubt led to the fall of man and terrible suffering has followed in its wake.

If one thinks this is too philosophical, please consider other Bible verses regarding what God wants from all humanity?

Ezekiel 18:30-32

30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

To make sure there is no confusion, Ezekiel reiterates the same thing several chapters later in 33:10-11:

10 “Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”’ 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’

These passages of the Bible are clear that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (and provide additional support for libertarian free will); He wants all to turn from their wicked ways and repent. God even reasons with them: “Why will you die?” God tells them that He takes “no pleasure in the death of anyone.” God does not want anyone to perish; He gives them a command that they are free to follow or not: “Turn and live!”

So far we have only examined the Old Testament regarding the omnibenevolence of God, but the New Testament is also replete with data affirming God’s desire for all people to be saved. Consider Paul’s words to young Timothy regarding God (1 Timothy 2:4):

who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

2 Peter 3:9 reiterates Paul’s words:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

I love how the ESV reads in Romans 5:15-18:

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

Sin infected all humanity. God did, however, make a way — He made it possible — for all humanity to be saved (which the Bible is clear that God desires). This free gift offered to all humanity is through Jesus Christ alone (John 14:6). It is only through Christ that justification is made possible for all people. This justification is a free gift that is offered to the whole world. Speaking of the world, the first Bible verse I ever memorized summarizes the entire gospel message in a nutshell. Consider John 3:16:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The most famous Bible verse of all time makes it clear that God loves the world and His love is available to “WHOEVER believes in Him.” This love is a free gift genuinely offered to all people in the whole world. 1 John 2:2 reiterates this fact:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Some committed Calvinists try to engage in hermeneutical gymnastics trying to avoid the “whole world” meaning “all people,” or even that “all people” means “all people.” But consider how incoherent and redundant it is to try to bend the preceding verse to apply only to the elect. It would be like saying,

“Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the elect, and not only for the sins of the elect, but ALSO for the sins of the elect!”

Why would anyone inspired by the Holy Spirit talk in such a nonsensical manner? This is not a good interpretation! God loves the world (all people), desires all people to be saved, and Jesus has made it possible for all people in the whole world to be saved.

The biblical data is clear regarding God’s love for all people but if one is still confused, Paul hammers the nail in the Calvinist’s coffin in Titus 2:11

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

Sure, Calvinism makes sense of a few Bible verses — but it does not make sense of ALL the biblical data from cover to cover (Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21)! If any theological or philosophical view cannot make sense of all scripture, then the view is simply unbiblical. As Kirk MacGregor says,

If your theological system cannot account for all of the biblical data — that’s a problem for your theological system!

I would add that this is a problem for one’s Calvinistic philosophy!

Conclusion

Molina’s model might not be accurate, but we have no biblical reason to reject it. Molinism is the inference to the best explanation of all the biblical data. The Bible affirms that God is completely sovereign over all things and predestines all things. The Bible affirms that God is the author of salvation. The Bible affirms that God desires all people to be saved and no one to perish. The Bible affirms that all people are not saved but they have a choice to make (to resist salvation or not). The Bible affirms that humans possess the ability to make some choices that are “up to us” (libertarian free will). The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ died for all people and that God provides a measure of grace to all people. And finally, the Bible affirms that God possesses counterfactual knowledge.

When one takes ALL the biblical data together simultaneously they must reject views that deny or ignore any passage of scripture. The inference to the best explanation of all the biblical data is Molinism. As MacGregor notes,

The only way (logically) to have God’s counterfactual knowledge AND to have soft libertarianism [libertarian free will] found in passages like Deuteronomy 30:10-20 — the only way to logically pull that off is Molinism.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton

 

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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