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Home » Calvinism » The use of 1 Corinthians 10:13 as an Argument for LFW: Caught between a rock and a hard place

The use of 1 Corinthians 10:13 as an Argument for LFW: Caught between a rock and a hard place

Introduction

I’ll make this quick. I won’t document my claims, though I can document them with ease. Consider:

1 Corinthians 10:13

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he 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.

Some Christians have suggested that this text teaches that we have libertarian free will. Given a certain flat-footedness, this is plausible. The idea is that, for every temptation you may face, God provides a way of escape such that you do not have to give into the temptation. You can endure it or not. This is supposed to suggest that the principle of alternate possibilities is true. It is then argued that this would be false given theological determinism. Then, on the assumption we either resist or succumb to the temptation freely, and the text entails the falsity of determinism, then the text implies the freedom we have is libertarian.

Strictly speaking, such an argument is at best incomplete. One cannot get from the fact that (1) man is free and (2) determinism is actually false, to the conclusion (3) that therefore the freedom in (1) is libertarian freedom. What (3) needs is another premise besides (1) and (2), which we’ll call (INC), and (INC) states that “freedom is incompatible with determinism.” Nothing in 1 Corinthians, even on the above interpretation, entails (INC).

The argument for LFW from 1 Cor. 10:13

But I’ll put this quibble to the side. There’s a more substantive worry I have with the above argument. But first, some Chisholming. The way the argument was stated is ambiguous. I previously said that, “The idea is that, for every temptation you may face, God provides a way of escape such that you do not have to give into the temptation.” If we’re to state the idea more precisely, and state it in the way it is presented by virtually all of those who have given this argument, the idea is better put this way:

ESCAPE: For every temptation T, and every time t, if you are a Christian and are tempted-at-t then you can freely escape-T-at-t or you can freely succumb-to-T-at-t.

Now consider

PAP: At any time t, if I can either freely do X-at-t or not-X-at-t, then (tabling my point about the questionable inference here) your freedom-at-t is libertarian freedom.

ESCAPE entails PAP, that is, ESCAPE entails that we have libertarian free will (LFW). Since 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches ESCAPE then—on the assumption that if Scripture teaches Y and Y entails Z, then Scripture teaches Z—and ESCAPE entails PAP, then Scripture teaches LFW.

An objection

Here’s a problem with the above reading. Notice that ESCAPE is diachronic. It states that 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches that for every time t, if I am tempted-at-t, then I have PAP-at-t. This reading entails that if I have LFW, I could never set my will in such a way that I could lose my ability to resist some temptation. Moreover, it entails that I could not reach a point in my sanctification such that my will could be set such that I could never succumb to some particular temptation. That is, ESCAPE entails

LUTHER: If S has LFW (and a Christian), there does not exist a time t, and a temptation T, such that S, through an act of libertarian will-forming, set’s S’s will in such a way that S cannot resist-T-at-t or that S cannot succumb-to-T-at-t.

Those aware of the literature will understand why I dubbed the principle, “LUTHER.” Now, I take it as obvious that LUTHER is false. While there are many powerful and intuitive examples that demonstrate this, and while I shamelessly assert that sophisticated libertarians who work in action theory would all deny LUTHER, I won’t bother do defend that claim here.

Here’s the upshot: The version of the argument (the one virtually every free will theist employs) that assumes ESCAPE entails LUTHER. Since LUTHER is false, then ESCAPE is false, for that which implies that which is false is itself false.

An even stronger entailment of ESCAPE is

HYPNOSIS: Christian S cannot do anything X such that if S were to do X, X would render S unable to resist some temptation T. (For example, suppose X were ‘hypnosis’. Suppose some hypnotist could hypnotize an individual in such a way that, say, they could never resist the temptation to, say, eat a chocolate bar.

So, those who want to interpret 1 Cor. 10:13 in the above manner must say that not only are LUTHER cases impossible but HYPNOSIS-type cases too. I take it that all of this is obviously false.

Rejoinder

At this stage, free will theists who don’t want to give up their LFW proof text but who nonetheless grant the force of the objection I just raised may want to deny ESCAPE, and weaken it to allow for cases of will setting.

But this rejoinder commits one to a very strained, ad hoc, and implausible interpretation, e.g.,

The Hidden Meaning of 1 Corinthians 10:13:

13: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape—unless, of course, you have previously set your will by a libertarian free choice; in which case, if you have, then God provided for your escape at that time (which could have been 45 years ago), even if you cannot now escape it—so that you may be able to endure it.

So I reject this ad hoc move  as invented purely to save the proof text from a clear refutation of the standard version of the argument. (This is my move on behalf of free will theists. No one has actually made such a move, that I am aware of, since it is, of course, so exegetically strained.)

Conclusion

I conclude: Either the free will theist’s argument from 1 Corinthians 10:13 is, in its unqualified interpretation, false or it is, in its qualified interpretation, exegetically ad hoc and implausible. By way of contrast, if what Paul is talking about is the temptation to apostasy, then Calvinists don’t have to qualify the text at all. It is always the case that we have that way out, because God has so ordered things that his elect will persevere: they have ‘the way of escape’ and they will take it. So it’s only on the Calvinist view that ‘all’ means all. :)

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1 Comment

  1. SLIMJIM says:

    Thank you. I like how you ended it =)

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