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Foreknowledge is mentioned twice in the first chapter of 1 Peter. The first instance is found in 1 Peter 1:1-2 regarding the elect exiles:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. [1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV]

The second instance has to do with the foreknowledge of Christ as the Messiah before the creation of the world, and can be found in 1 Peter 1:19-21:

19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. [1 Peter 1:19-21 ESV]

Now, this is when my mind explodes trying to compatibilize this foreknowledge with the belief in libertarian free will. If Adam and Eve had libertarian free will, they could've perfectly chosen not to sin, and thus, there would have been no need for a Messiah. Therefore, God could not have known that a Messiah was needed up until the very moment Adam and Even fell. Before that, the need for a Messiah was just unknowable (right? or am I missing something?).

Similarly, how can God know beforehand who are going to be the elect if they can make use of their free will and not obey the call? Are they conditionally elect then? Or is their election unconditional?

In sum, I would appreciate some help in trying to make sense of how God's foreknowledge and libertarian free will could possibly co-exist. Can they be made compatible somehow? Or should we dispose of our belief in libertarian free will and embrace determinism (or some other alternative I'm not aware of) instead?

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  • I thought you did not want to go down this "rabbit hole"?
    – Dottard
    Mar 16 at 21:02
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    @Dottard - At that moment yes, but today is another day. Mar 16 at 21:03
  • You give the impression that perhaps you are (today) a cognitive masochist!
    – Dottard
    Mar 16 at 21:04
  • @Dottard - I'm happy if answers acknowledge that this is an unanswerable question. At least, judging from the dislike, this is not a topic that everyone enjoys. Mar 16 at 21:05
  • It appears you have over complicated the matter by assuming foreknowledge is personal. Foreknowledge can be generic also. Foreknowledge does not equal predestination, for one can deviate from that which God foreknew, 1 Sam23. God never says who the pre-elected are except to say, IN HIM Eph1:4,5 meaning in the general sense, those that would accept Christ, would be pre-destined (given a destination in advance). Who those people are remains to be seen. Mar 25 at 17:27
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What this post is not

This is not a positive argument demonstrating the existence of free will. I believe that is a question better suited to:

  • Philosophy - showing that it is irrational to believe you do not have free will
  • Theology - showing that free will is a gift from God and an essential part of His plan

What this post is

This is a negative argument addressing the following proposition:

  • The Biblical text indicates that humans do not have free will

I believe this proposition is demonstrably false on at least two counts:

  1. Passages giving commands that would be pointless if humans lacked free will

  2. The idea that "knowing something in advance is the same as causing it" is a false equivalence.

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Passages that pre-suppose free will

[C]hoose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Joshua explicitly tells the people to choose--this is something they cannot do if they lack free will. Joshua acknowledges that there are people who have done something different (worshipping false gods), but that it is not a foregone conclusion that people must necessarily do as those in the past have done.

Joshua further states what he will do; meaning he has the ability to direct his own actions.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: (Matthew 7:7)

This statement would be pointless unless the opposite is also true:

  • Don't ask, and it shall not be given you
  • Don't seek, and ye shall not find
  • Don't knock, and it shall not be opened unto you

Jesus is inviting people to do something. Doing vs. not doing that something will produce different results.

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Cor 10:13)

If God sets a limit on temptation to the level a person is able to bear, that means a person is able to resist temptation, and we are not mere molecular machines that cannot help doing whatever feels good (clearly some people wish to believe otherwise, and I suspect many today argue against free will in an effort to justify doing whatever they want).

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)

God is merciful and wishes to pardon sins; this is inconsistent with a God who gives commandments that people cannot choose to keep, and then punishes them for not making choices they had no ability to make in the first place.

One might ask, at least rhetorically, what is the point of giving a commandment to someone who cannot choose to keep or break that commandment?

If people lacked free will, the commandments would only serve to damn people. The passage indicates that damnation is not a foregone conclusion, but that it is indeed possible for someone to change course.

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Foreknowledge is not equivalent to causality

If prediction = causality, consider how absurdly powerful that would make me. I can predict that the sun will rise tomorrow. In fact, I can even predict with precision at what time it will rise. If my prediction is accurate, does that mean I caused the sun to rise?? Would the sun fail to rise were it not for my prediction?

Obviously this is absurd. I'm not that powerful. I can predict things without causing them.

There are neuroscientists have tried to get around this, and their results, far from disproving free will, showed that not only is prediction not causality, but compulsion can't touch the will. A person can be compelled to raise his arm, but a person cannot be compelled to will to raise his arm.

The classic Libet experiments, and repetitions thereof, showed that the brain can indeed do many things on autopilot (did you remember to breathe while reading this?), but that the mind has the ability to override the autopilot--this resulted in the coining of the term "free won't". Even when scientists could predict what would happen, they could not stimulate the will.

These neuroscientific findings are discussed by Michael Egnor here and Michael Jones here.

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Conclusion

Divine foreordination is a topic for theological discussion, but it is entirely compatible with the view that God, despite a) knowing what will happen and b) being powerful enough to make different things happen, nevertheless sets bounds within which people can choose for themselves.

I personally subscribe to the succinct statement on free will found here.

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The foreknowledge of God and the human free will of mankind is a mystery that cannot be fully explained. Here is my pathetic attempt using an earthly illustration.

A very good experienced classroom teacher, within a month or so of the start of the academic year already knows who will pass and fail the subject and even what mark each student will achieve. That does not interfere with the student's determination or decision to work hard, etc.

God is much greater than this. God is not only omnipresent, omniscient and omnipresent, God (I believe) is also omnitemporal - God exists in all time at once! [See Ps 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8.] God is "outside time". This is what enables Him to know the future. I cannot explain it and it makes my finite mind twist itself in knots but I accept it by faith.

However, the Bible also emphasizes the sovereign will of humans in many places as important for deciding to to choose service to God over all else. heb 13:9, 2 peter 1:10, 2:21, Josh 24:15, 22. See also Deut 30:19, Judg 5:8, Job 34:4, 33, 21, Ps 119:173, Prov 1:29, 3:31, Isa 7:15, 16, 56:4, 65:12, 66:3, Jer 8:3.

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Is God's foreknowledge (1 Peter 1) compatible with the belief in libertarian free will

Yes it is

Similarly, how can God know beforehand who are going to be the elect if they can make use of their free will and not obey the call? Are they conditionally elect then? Or is their election unconditional?

The understanding of these texts depends upon whether they refer to the foreknowledge of certain individual persons or whether they describe the foreknowledge of a class of persons, namely, the Christian congregation, the “one body” (1Co 10:17) of those who will be joint-heirs with Christ Jesus in his heavenly Kingdom.

Jesus Our High Priest

1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession: Jesus; 5 Now Moses was faithful in all [a]God’s house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; 6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold firmly to our confidence and the boast of our hope.

If these words apply to specific individuals as foreordained to eternal salvation, then it follows that those individuals could never prove unfaithful or fail in their calling, for God’s foreknowledge of them could not prove inaccurate and his foreordination of them to a certain destiny could never miscarry or be thwarted. Consequently the aforementioned texts must refer to the foreknowledge of the Christian congregation as a class-- the partakers of the heavenly calling

Yet the same apostles who were inspired to write the foregoing words showed that some who were “bought” and “sanctified” by the blood of Christ’s ransom sacrifice and who had “tasted the heavenly free gift” and “become partakers of holy spirit . . . and powers of the coming system of things” would fall away beyond repentance and bring destruction upon themselves. (2Peter 2:1, 2, 20-22; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-29)

The apostles unitedly urged those to whom they wrote: “Do your utmost to make the calling and choosing of you sure for yourselves; for if you keep on doing these things you will by no means ever fail”; also, “Keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (2Peter 1:10, 11; Philippians 2:12-16) Paul, who was “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1Cor. 1:1), obviously did not consider himself individually predestinated to eternal salvation, since he speaks of his strenuous efforts in striving to attain “the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” (Philippians 3:8-15) and his concern lest he himself should “become disapproved somehow.”​ (1Cor 9:27.)

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  • Ozzie do you believe God can predict the decisions His children will make? Or do you think that this would be asking the wrong question? It would seem odd to me that he couldn't, since many of us imperfect parents can often predict our own children's choices at least a few permutations out. Mar 26 at 0:58
  • God uses his ability of foreknowledge selectively according to his purpose as in the case of Esau and Jacob (Rom.9:10-13, Eph. 1:4-5, Samson, Cyrus , JudasJesus)). However if the Creator of mankind had indeed exercised his power to foreknow all that history has seen since man’s creation, then the full weight of all the wickedness (the crime and immorality, oppression and resultant suffering, lying and hypocrisy, false worship, and idolatry) thereafter resulting was deliberately set in motion by God . That all these existed in the mind of God in the form of his foreknowledge. The answer is no Mar 26 at 8:00

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