Dear Dr. Stratton,
You’ve noted that there are some questions that have kept you up at night for long periods of time. The question that has caused me to lose a tremendous amount of sleep is regarding Peter’s freedom to deny or not to deny Jesus three times after Jesus told him that he would deny him three times. So, did Peter possess the libertarian freedom not to reject Jesus three times before the rooster crowed?
This is a great question, Randy! In fact, it is one that caused me many sleepless nights as well! I was finally able to get some sleep after grasping a couple of simple concepts.
First, after Jesus told Peter that he will deny him three times, perhaps Peter did not have the ability to do otherwise, but that does not mean that Peter was causally determined to deny Christ three times. Remember, that libertarian freedom does not necessitate the “ability to do otherwise.” It simply requires an agent to be an uncaused source of his or her action.
So, on the sourcehood model of libertarian freedom, Peter still freely denied Christ three times in a libertarian sense even if he could not have done otherwise.
Be that as it may, I do not want to throw the “ability to do otherwise” out with the bath water just yet. Perhaps Peter actually COULD have done otherwise, but Jesus, given His counterfactual knowledge, simply knew that Peter — after hearing this prophetic information — WOULD and WILL freely deny Him three times (even though he actually could have done otherwise).
Read Matthew 26:34 with this in mind:
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
And also consider Luke 22:34 :
Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Perhaps Jesus knew that if He were not to provide this prophetic information to Peter, that Peter would have freely rejected Christ 33 times, 333 times, or perhaps eternally! However, if Jesus knew that Peter would only freely reject Him three times (before the rooster crowed in the morning) in the world where Jesus spoke this prophecy, then although Peter was free to not reject Him at all, Jesus knew Peter would freely come to his senses — and eventually become “the Rock” — after his third rejection.
Bottom line: Peter was invited to prove God wrong since there would have been nothing causally determining Peter to deny Christ three times before the rooster crowed. But alas, God is never wrong. This does not mean that Peter did not possess libertarian freedom. That is to say, freedom does not magically disappear just because one prophesies about a person’s free actions.
Thank God for Molinism!
Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18).