1 Corinthians 10:13 Teaches Libertarian Free Will

, posted by Godismyjudge

1 Corinthians 10:13 states: No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Paul claims God’s faithfulness in light of what some Jews did, such as grumble in the desert. Not all the Israelites fell into sin, but many did, even though God always provides His people with an exit path. That God does not allow unbearable temptations is a frank expression of His faithfulness. The application for Paul’s audience and Christians generally is that every time we are tempted, God gives us the ability not to yield. Sadly we sometimes do give in to temptation, even though we are able to do otherwise.

Most people agree the Bible teaches libertarian free will without further ado.  But some, perhaps those from Missouri, need details, so this post attempts to provide argumentation that 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches libertarian free will.  First I will explain the text.  Then I will point out problems with determinist readings.  Finally, I will deal with objections to the libertarian reading.

Explaining the Text

The “you” Paul addresses is his Corinthian audience who were eating foods offered to idols. They knew the idols were nothing and that there is only one God. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6) Yet this knowledge could lead to pride and recklessness (1 Corinthians 8:1-39:2710:12). So while they were at liberty to eat, they were playing with fire. (1 Corinthians 8:8) The lure of idolatry is a menace; it plundered the Israelites in the wilderness.

These temptations are said to have grabbed a hold of the Corinthians (“overtake” or in the Greek lambano), noting the sudden impact these temptations can have on a person.  These temptations were “common to man”. The term in Greek is anthropinos and it can mean either human or sometimes “minor” (see Romans 6:19). It may mean minor here, and if so, the idea is that the Corinthians have been tempted, but have not yet undergone serious persecution. If the passage does foreshadow looming temptations, it likewise says God will be with them. If on the other hand anthropinos means human or common, the sense then is that the temptation is fitting for a person and one does not need to be super-human to overcome it. So is 1 Corinthians 10:13 only a comforting promise of God’s help, or is it also a warning of looming persecution?  Either reading seems permissible, but I find the idea of a warning of persecution as too subtle to be credible, so the context supports anthropinos meaning common to mankind rather than minor.

Some who find a warning in 1 Corinthians 10:13, find the warning so loud as to make the promise of God’s help conditional on heeding the warning. The idea is that God will only provide a way of escape if you seek His help. But this overly complex idea finds no support in the Greek text. Perhaps this idea comes from the Vulgate which transforms the statement into a command “let no temptation overtake you”. But who thinks Vulgate trumps the Greek in textual criticism? Worse, such an understanding runs counter to the promise of God’s assistance, especially given the temptation to face temptations without Christ, is itself a temptation.

Having reviewed the Corinthians’ past temptations, Paul moves on to their future temptations. Paul looks to God’s actions in allowing but limiting temptations and of making the way of escape.  Note the word “with”, which identifies God as the one who permits temptations since God is the one providing a way out. And why does God limit temptations and provide a way of escape? So that the Corinthians would be able to bear it.

One major question on the passage is as to the nature of the temptations Paul addresses. Are the temptations general or specific? Are the temptations only related to ultimate apostasy? Are they tests, temptations or both?

The Greek word, perasmos, can mean either test as in a test of faith or it can mean a temptation as in an enticement to sin. The two are closely related and tests can often include a temptation. For example, Job was tested, but had he actually cursed God that would have been a sin. So at times test and tempt can be different points of views of the same event; generally a test highlights the external aspects in the circumstances of the one tested and temptation relates the internal aspects in the hearts and minds of those tempted. While this difference should not be overlooked, neither should it be overstated, and there’s no obvious focus on one rather than the other in this context. So 1 Corinthians 10:13 captures both ideas.

While the context does have idolatrous apostasy in view, three reasons demonstrate this promise covers a broad range of temptations.  First, the language is extensive.  The passage does not say “only the temptation of idolatry” but rather “no temptation”. It is one thing to say the passage has idolatry in view, but another to say it only has idolatry in view.

Second, the context speaks of lusting after evil things, idolatry, sexual immorality, tempting Christ, and complaining. This seems broader than just idolatrous apostasy. Note the progression from lusting after evil things and idolatry in verses 6 and 7: “to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them.” Lusting after evil things and idolatry are distinct, even if one is a slippery slope into the next.

Third, verse 13 is almost parenthetical to the passage, as if the discussion could skip from verse 12 to 14 without missing a beat. This supports the view that verse 13 is an aside, a general principle Paul applies to this specific situation.[i]

So 1 Corinthians 10:13 addresses temptations in general and includes both temptations to idolatrous apostasy as well as the day-to-day temptations Christians face. Thus we have God’s promise that He will not tolerate temptations that would trash us.

Thus our passage provides prima-fascia plausibility for the classic libertarian battle cry: we have the ability to do otherwise. 1 Corinthians 10:13 describes two abilities and paves two paths forward.  Our ability to give in to temptation is shown by Paul’s examples of Israelites giving in to temptations.  Our ability to resist is guaranteed by God’s promise. Thus Christians are able to either resist or give in to temptations. And since libertarian freedom is typically expressed in terms of the ability to do something or not do it, this passage supports libertarian freedom.

If God determines a Christian to succumb to temptation, such that he must succumb and resisting is impossible, then Paul cannot say the person is able to bear the temptation. The conflict between determinism and 1 Corinthians 10:13 is especially clear in cases where a determinist denies the commonly understood concept of free will. [ii]  That is to say, since 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches the common man’s idea of freewill, denying the normal concept of free will is unbiblical.  However, not all determinists grant that the normal concept of free will is libertarian, so we turn to determinist understandings of 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Determinist Readings of 1 Corinthians 10:13

Having presented and defended the libertarian reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, let’s review determinist readings of the passage. The first agrees that 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches alternative possibilities but attempts to argue such possibilities are compatible with determinism. The second major line of determinist readings denies the passage teaches alternative possibilities. The compatibilist view can be divided into two major branches, those who ground the statement in 1 Corinthians 10:13 of our ability to resist temptations in terms of our agency or what we can cause and those who cash out 1 Corinthians 10:13‘s statement on ability in terms of our understanding or beliefs (hereafter the epistemic reading). The causal reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13 can be further subdivided into those who think we are actually able to resist temptation and those who think we are only hypothetically able to resist temptation. Likewise, the epistemic reading of ability in 1 Corinthians 10:13 can be subdivided into those who use only epistemic possibilities and those who augment epistemic possibilities with a causal account of ability.

Compatibilist Reading – Hypothetical Abilities 

To understand the compatibilist reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, some preliminaries on compatibilism are in order. Compatibilists are determinists and hold that given prior causes, the laws of nature, God’s decrees or other determining factors, we necessarily do what we do, and we cannot do otherwise. However, we want to do what we do and in fact we do what we do because we wanted to. Libertarians object to such a view, because we are able to do otherwise than we do (1 Corinthians 10:13 seems to say this). Ciocchi explains how compatibilists answer the objection.

They [compatibilists] have offered hypothetical interpretations of the slogan along this line: “P could have done otherwise” understood as “P did x, but he was able to do y instead, and he would have done y if he had preferred to do so” or as “P did x, but he was able to refrain from x, and he would have refrained if he had preferred to do so.(p 467)[iii]

We will revisit this specific wording shortly, but basically statements of being able to do otherwise are understood as absolute by libertarians and interpreted as hypothetical by compatibilists.

Applying this principle to 1 Corinthians 10:13, Coicchi says:

To say that the believer has the hypothetical ability to endure temptation is to say, roughly, that if he wishes to endure temptation he will endure it. If a believer chooses not to endure a particular temptation, then he will be morally responsible for his choices because it was an expression of his wishes, which are in turn an expression of himself. His status as a morally responsible agent does not require that he might actually have chosen to endure the temptation. In fact the believer could not have chosen to endure it, since at the time “choosing to endure” would not have been an expression of his wishes. As the believer then was, he preferred not to endure, so he gave in to temptation. This was volitionally necessary for him, even as choosing to endure was volitionally impossible. (p. 477)

So 1 Corinthians 10:13 is understood by compatibilists roughly as:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able [hypothetically able, if you want to, but not actually able in cases where you don’t want to], but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be [hypothetically not actually] able to bear it.

Response to the Hypothetical Ability Compatibilist View

I appreciate Coicchi’s willingness to say he does not think believers are actually able to endure temptations – that’s speaking frankly about a touchy subject.  However, Coicchi allows compatibilists a buffer, a nicer way of expressing this same thought. Most compatibilists would rather read 1 Corinthians 10:13 as:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able [if you want to], but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able [if you want to] to bear it.

This doesn’t sound near as bad; and for good reason – it sounds libertarian. Nevertheless, Coicchi thinks this would be a fair way to express his views.

The easiest way to express the hypothetical ability of P to choose x at t looks like this: “P can choose x if he wants to.” This is not a two-way ability, because in it desire determines choice so that only one option (choosing x or refraining from choosing x) is volitionally possible.(p. 467)

The expression “P can choose x if he wants to” is ambiguous and often does not mean that desire causes choice. The “if” normally express uncertainty – “I don’t know if P wants to or not” rather than a causal relationship.[iv] The expression could also just be shorthand for it’s up to P or a denial that something is preventing P from choosing his desires. While the expression “he can if he wants to” sounds normal, the reverse “he cannot if he doesn’t want to” sounds abnormal. But this is exactly what the compatibilist commits herself to. So the “nicer” compatibilist reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13 only works if you use the normal expression (if you want to) in an abnormal way.

Having punched the tickets of all compatibilists to ensure they are paying full fare, let’s look at a substantive problem with the compatibilist reading. A major problem is the ability is hypothetical not real. An example should illustrate why this is a problem. Suppose God removes someone’s will but leaves every other aspect of the person unchanged. While it’s still true that if he chose to, he could resist temptation, who cares? Clearly he cannot choose to and to say he has free will when he has no will is obviously problematic. So Coicchi’s claim that “you may be able to bear it” is equivalent to “you may be [hypothetically] able to bear it” is incorrect. These two statements do not mean the same thing.  Coicchi’s attempt to deport our ability from earth to the shadow zone where it can’t bother him fails, because Paul is talking about the real thing baby.

Dispositional Compatibilism

To my knowledge, no Calvinist has attempted a response, but some determinist philosophers have modified their views to account for this. Kadri Vihvelin provided one such account. Vihvelin denies the ability is hypothetical and claims that our ability is real and based in our dispositions or capacities. She claims our dispositions are the reason that if we were in a situation, we would do such and such. Applied to 1 Corinthians 10:13, such a view would mean that given our capabilities or dispositions, we would resist temptation if we wanted to. Vihvelin also argues that dispositions are fully compatible with determinism. We do not question determinism based on sugar cubes being soluble (i.e. having the properties such that, if it were in water, it would dissolve).

Thus Vihvelin argues:

FWBD To have free will is to have the ability to make choices on the basis of reasons and to have this ability is to have a bundle of dispositions. If FWBD is true, then compatibilism is also true. For no one denies that dispositions are compatible with determinism.

She goes on to equate dispositions (like solubility) with personal abilities (like choosing).

I think these similarities between abilities and dispositions are no co-incidence. I think that these similarities exist because ABD is true. ABD: To have an ability is to have a disposition or a bundle of dispositions.

Vihvelin uses this equation of dispositions and abilities to reconcile determinism with ability.

But just as a malleable object which is bent can be bent in more than one way, the disposition to choose for reasons is a disposition that can be exercised in more than one way. So even though I in fact manifested my disposition to choose for reasons by choosing to keep my hand down, I could have manifested the very same disposition by choosing to raise my hand. The truth of determinism is not relevant to any of this.” (Free Will Demystified)

Response to Dispositional Compatibilist Reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13

A Mustang can go 0 to 60 in less than 7 seconds or it can stop on a dime. This is based on its dispositions – one to break another to accelerate. So in this general sense it has a twofold ability. But in a specific situation where the driver hits the breaks, there is a certain sense in which the car cannot accelerate. This general vs. specific sense distinction puts the dispositional compatibilist account on the horns of a dilemma. Which sense is the dispositional compatibilist tapping into?

Since the specific sense denies that the car can accelerate while breaking, let’s explore the general sense in which a car can accelerate while breaking.  Other examples of the general sense of ability would be like a man who is tied up can walk or a person who is not thinking in French can think in French.  But this general sense is not sufficient for moral ability.  This can be seen positively, in that sugar cubes have dispositions, but they don’t have free will and negatively in the case of compulsion. A woman being raped has the disposition to refrain from having sex (in the sense a car accelerating can break).  But the Bible declares such a woman to be innocent, because she lacked the relevant ability (Deuteronomy 22:25-27). Likewise, we can see that the general ability is not the ability Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 10:13, which has moral implications.

Compatibilism – Epistemic Possibilities

Most determinists say we don’t know what exactly determines our actions. Likewise, we don’t know God’s decrees. We don’t know if another person wants a hot dog or not. And there are times when we speak of something we haven’t ruled out as a possibility or something that can happen. For example, a card player may say the next card can be a 3 or a 5. Using this sense, some compatibilists grant that causality rules out twofold possibilities, whether ability is understood as hypothetical or actual, but they ground their statements about twofold possibilities in uncertainty of knowledge rather than in causality. Thus they understand 1 Corinthians 10:13 as:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able [as far as we know we will resist], but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it [as far as we know we will bear it][v].

Steve Hays took such an approach to compatibilism here and Turretinfan took this approach in our debate (link).  Perhaps this is what Francis Turretin means by a relative sense of freedom or by the divided/compound sense distinction.

Responding to Epistemic Compatibilism

The main problem with this idea is that it attempts to define ability in terms of knowledge rather than causality or power. But consider a Christian who does succumb to a temptation and sins.  While regretting his actions he says “I could have resisted”. Is he saying “I don’t know if I resisted” as if the fact was in question, or rather is he talking about his abilities, what he was able to cause? Context alone indicates the sense is causal rather than epistemic.[vi]  Consider Exodus 9:15, God’s message to Pharaoh was “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.” The epistemic interpretation faces two problems.  First, God knows everything. Nothing is uncertain to Him. So clearly this is a statement about God’s power or what He can cause, rather than His lack of knowledge, certainty or qualified by “as far as He knows”. Second, with the event being what God did or didn’t do in the past, of course He knows what He did. This is true of anyone. As another example, when Judas said the perfume could have been sold, he is not saying “as far as I know the perfume was sold”. Judas knew the perfume was sold – that’s what he is complaining about. This failure to be able to move from a future looking statement “will we bear the temptation” to a past one “we could have born the temptation” is strong evidence that ability as used in 1 Corinthians 10:13, should not be interpreted as merely in epistemic terms.

Combining Compatibilist Views

Given the hypothetical ability, dispositional, and epistemic accounts each suffers a significant weakness, many compatibilists have attempted to bolster their views by combining multiple accounts.

Hypothetical Ability and Epistemic Possibilities 

Kapitan, (1986)[vii], Nelkin (2004)[viii] and Pereboom (2008)[ix] combine something like the hypothetical ability view with the epistemic account.  Kapitan states:

“An agent presumes that his A-ing is an open course of action for him if and only if (i) he presumes that he would A if and only if he were to choose to A, and (ii) he presumes that if S is any set of his beliefs then his A-ing is contingent relative to S.”

Kapitan’s i is basically a hypothetical ability account and his ii is an epistemic account. Applied to 1 Corinthians 10:13, it would look like:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are [hypothetically] able [as far as you know, you will], but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be [hypothetically] able [as far as you know, you will] to bear it.

This only solves some of the problems with the individual views.  Combining the counter-examples should clarify the remaining problem.  Suppose yesterday God removed Bob’s will, but left everything else about him unchanged.  Bob sat in a chair all day.  While someone could truthfully say “Bob could have walked yesterday, if he chose to” they are not 1) asserting he had freewill or 2) questioning if Bob in fact walked.  So the combination does not solve the problems with each view, and we know that 1 Corinthians 10:13 should not be read using Kapitan’s model.

Hypothetical Ability and Dispositionalism 

Others combine the dispositional account with the hypothetical ability account.  This combination has been approached from two different angles.   Huoranski[x] added something like dispositionalism to hypothetical ability while Vihvelin modified her epistemic account to include hypothetical ability.

“To have the narrow ability to do something is to be in some intrinsic state that makes it true that you have what it takes to do that thing. To have the wide ability to do something is to have the narrow ability to do it and also for it to be true that nothing extrinsic renders you unable to do that thing. Narrow abilities are, by definition, those abilities that are shared by duplicates governed by the same laws; wide abilities are the abilities that are not shared by duplicates governed by the same laws. Since we may be rendered unable to do something by prison guards or Frankfurt-style interveners, having the narrow ability to do something is not sufficient for being able to do that thing in the sense relevant to deliberation and choice. When I say that I believe that determinism is compatible with the ability to choose as well as do otherwise, I mean that it’s compatible with not only the narrow but also the wide ability to choose and do otherwise. So, to bring it back to dispositions: I believe that we have narrow abilities to act and choose by having the appropriate dispositions or bundles of dispositions, and I believe that we have the wide ability to choose and do otherwise by being suitably lucky with respect to our surroundings.” (link)

This combines the hypothetical ability with the dispositional account.  Thus 1 Corinthians 10:13, may be read as:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able [you have the disposition to bear it and if you choose to you will], but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able [you have the disposition to bear it and if you choose to you will] to bear it.

Vihvelin’s adding “wide abilities” (i.e. nothing extrinsic interferes) does not fix the problems with the simple dispositional account.  Sugar cubes do not have free will, but they have the disposition to dissolve.  This remains the case when we add nothing is compelling them not to dissolve. The rape example (equivalent to Vihvelin’s prison guard example) shows that dispositions are not sufficient to account for moral ability.  The example exposes that the type of ability Vihvelin has in mind is not the type Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 10:13. Vihvelin’s adding that nothing extrinsic interferes is like saying “no coercion”.  Great, you got rid of the rape and prison guard examples, but not the problem they exposed.  Vihvelin silences the witness rather than fixing the problems they testify to.

Perhaps someone might protest, Vihvelin’s extrinsic/intrinsic distinction leads to an unfortunate misunderstanding.  Yes, removing the rapists and prison guards are circumstantial changes, but not having them ends up adding to one’s abilities.  Such additional abilities are better than the abilities of a sugar cube and strong enough to ground moral responsibility. Here I would say these additional abilities sacrifice the dispositional account’s main value; that it easily reconciles abilities with determinism, since sugar cubes don’t have libertarian free will.

Let’s explore the sense in which a car cannot accelerate while the driver hits the breaks. Granted, there is some abstract sense in which the car can still accelerate, but let’s set that aside and reverse the normal sense in which the car cannot accelerate while breaking.  Let’s say in that sense, the car can still accelerate while the driver slams the breaks.  Are we not saying something special about the car’s abilities?  Are we not saying, given prior causes acting on the car, it still retains a twofold ability – the car can cause acceleration or breaking?  That’s quite inconsistent with determinism.

Deterministic reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13 without compatibilism

Thomas Schreiner and Caneday comment on 1 Corinthians 10:13:

Believers need to heed the warning and to strengthen themselves with the divine promises of sustenance. The warning is the means by which the promise reaches its fulfillment. It is also the case that the promise will surely be fulfilled. An examination of the context (1 Cor 10:1-1214-22) indicates that the temptation specifically in Paul’s mind here is idolatry or apostasy. The reason they can be assured of continuance is because “God is faithful.” He will never allow the temptation to become so great that believers surrender their faith. He will provide strength in the midst of the difficulties so that believers will endure the time of testing. We must endure to avoid eschatological judgment, yet such endurance is ultimately a gift of God. (The Race Set Before Us. Schreiner and Caneday. IVP 2001. P. 266)

Based on a variation of this line of thinking, some internet apologists have hinted at a reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13 that avoids the use of compatibilism. While I haven’t seen this view worked out in detail, the basic idea is that one and only one temptation is in view; idolatrous apostasy. Further, not only are we able to resist the temptation to idolatrous apostasy, we cannot succumb. The warning is part of God’s means He uses to ensure we will not succumb.

However, it’s less than clear that Schreiner and Caneday would agree with such a view. This view does seem different than the standard Reformed explanation of Perseverance of the Saints. In order to see this, let’s briefly look at the history of the reformed doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints.

Augustine held that those justified can and do fall away. God elects which true believer to give perseverance to, and which to let fall away and perish.

It is, indeed, to be wondered at, and greatly to be wondered at, that to some of His own children—whom He has regenerated in Christ—to whom He has given faith, hope, and love, God does not give perseverance also, when to children of another He forgives such wickedness, and, by the bestowal of His grace, makes them His own children. – Chapter 18 (link)

Luther retained the idea as did Melencanthon and the Lutherans (see Luther’s commentary onGalatians 5:4 and the Augsburg confession, article 12. Calvin, on the other hand, taught in his institutes that true believers will ultimately persevere. But Bullinger held true believers can lose their faith.[xi] William Perkins bridges the views that true faith can be lost with the view that salvation cannot be lost.  Perkins argued that true believers could temporarily lose their faith and forgiveness, but ultimately God would bring them back and restore them. God’s purpose in election for these individuals never changes, given His decree, they cannot perish. But hypothetically, if they died before being restored, they would perish. Yet this hypothesis is impossible, given God’s decree.[xii]

The famous council of Dort retains certain elements from Perkins, but also modifies this view somewhat. It agrees true believers can fall and “suspend the exercise of faith” (article 5). Note, article 5 says the “exercise of faith is suspended”, but not the habit of faith; a classic reformed distinction. Article 6 denies this fall consists in the “sin unto death”. If it did, hypothetically they would be ruined. Article 6 also says the fall does not constitute a total fall nor does it result in a loss of justification or adoption. This may contradict Perkins hypothetical, if per the impossible, they died when in such a state, they would perish. But article 8 substitutes a different hypothetical, without God’s decree, they can and would fall away farther and permanently. Given just man’s strength, they can fall away ultimately, but given God’s decree they cannot.[xiii]

Next we have Francis Turretin. He comes after Dort, but returns to a view much like Perkins. He says the reformed cannot say defection is impossible in an absolute sense, only in a relative or hypothetical sense. Only relative to God’s decree can we say David cannot lose his salvation. Turretin also says David would have perished, had he died at the moment he sinned with Bathsheba. God’s decree secures both David’s repentance and that David will not die before he repents.[xiv]

In this Reformed thinking, the sense in which a believer cannot ultimately fall away is a sense that rises beyond compatibilism. It’s not a sense that needs to be qualified with “as far as I know” or “if he wants to”. But if you use epistemic compatibilism, without considering God’s decree, the believer can ultimately fall away.  Likewise, using hypothetical ability compatibilism, believers can ultimately fall away if they want to, even though they cannot want to, given God’s protection.

And so even if one finds the Reformed doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints in the background of 1 Corinthians 10:13, they have not found a way of reading the text that avoids compatibilism. True believers are able to fall into idolatrous apostasy in a relative sense; only in light of God’s decree is ultimate defection impossible. So Schreiner and Caneday’s reading is subject to all the criticism of the compatibilist reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13.

To avoid compatibilism, what would be needed is a different theory of perseverance. One that removes our ability to fall away, similar to removing a car’s breaks or removing a person’s legs – so that even in a compatibilist sense, true believers cannot fall away. One in which we do not need God’s plan to keep us from danger – we do not need Christ running ahead of us clearing the way and leading us down safe paths – we have become invincible juggernauts running the race.

While such a theory faces an avalanche of problems coming from other passages, the simple fact that 1 Corinthians 10:12 says he that thinks he stands should be careful lest he fall, rules out such a view. A juggernaut has no need to fear falling – he cannot fall. Likewise, the fact that Paul applied the warning to himself in 1 Corinthians 9, or that the Corinthians had gone through past temptations or the examples of the Hebrews falling or the fact that the temptations being warned about are broader then just idolatrous apostasy all move against such a view.

Libertarians are Not Waiting for the Kill Shot

Having reviewed the readings determinists readings of 1 Corinthians 10:13, one might get the impression that though the theories so far have problems, perhaps one day determinists will put something forward that makes better sense.  This is like saying “we don’t have an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13 yet, but we have faith that one day we will”.  This move undermines the clarity of scriptures, in such a way that anyone could believe anything, unchecked by scripture.

Meanwhile, we have good reasons to think determinism and freedom are fundamentally incompatible.  The best arguments for such are  that without libertarian free will, libertarian free will cannot be between God and sin, the consequence argument, the argument that determinism counters our moral intuitions, arguments based on deliberation and the fact that determinism cannot account for the beginning of action.

Answering Counterarguments to the Libertarian Understanding of 1 Corinthians 10:13

Sinless Perfection

Now let’s address some supposed disadvantages to the libertarian understanding of the passage. First, does 1 Corinthians 10:13 imply the possibility of sinless perfection? David Ciocchi says that if someone came to you and said “I have been a believer for 10 years and have never once given in to temptation”, the libertarian would have no theoretical grounds for rejecting this claim. Ciocchi rightly suggest believing such a person goes against our experience (475). But we would similarly not believe someone’s claim to have flipped a quarter every day for 10 years and had it come up heads, or perhaps more appropriately, hit the jackpot in the lotto every time for 10 years. The statistical chances of it happening are so insignificant, that we don’t take them into consideration. It may be theoretically possible for Christians to avoid all willful sins, but it ain’t going to happen.

Eternal Security

Next is the question of does 1 Corinthians 10:13 undermine eternal security? Steve Hays raised this objection (link).  Since the context is speaking of idolatrous apostasy, can Christians commit idolatrous apostasy and lose their faith? This question is rooted more so in the examples of Israel’s apostasy and the warnings in verses 1-12, rather than 1 Corinthians 10:13 itself. So this argument is not unique to libertarian reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, anyone who holds all true believers will ultimate persevere (whether libertarian or determinist) must address it.

One option is to say all the Israelites who fell away were never saved in the first place. Thus true Christians either never face the temptation to fall away or in the case of determinists, they could say God determines they will not fall into such temptations. But the “never saved to begin with” reading seems unlikely to me, since fake Christians are not on the same ground as true Christians.  On the other hand, Paul may well be saying don’t fall into their sin, rather than saying, don’t fall from their status. However, I see four issues with this idea.  First, Paul’s saying the Israelites “drank from the Rock that was Christ” does make it difficult to say the examples were only of unbelieving Israelites who sinned (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Second, Paul goes out of his way to associate his audience with the Israelites who fell in verse 10:1-11 and Paul addresses his audience as if they were true believers (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). Third, those advocating limited/definitive atonement face the additional problem that the passage says Christ died for the weaker brothers (1 Corinthians 8:11). Fourth, Paul applies the warning to himself (1 Corinthians 9:24-27), although the discussion of Christian liberty in chapter 9 is somewhat supplemental to the discussion of idols. So Paul does seem to be addressing his warning to true believers.

So we have two distinct issues with the “never saved to begin with” answer. First, Paul warns true believers. Second, the examples of apostasy seem to at least include some believers. The first issue is certain – there’s no good way around it. The second issue is less certain, and while it can’t be ruled out completely, we are left wanting a better answer.

A different approach to reconciling the warning passage is to say the warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12 is of falling into sin, rather than falling from grace. Likewise, when the Hebrews fell, they did not lose their salvation. After all David committed adultery and Jonah complained, but we have good reason to think they are in heaven. However, the sin of idolatry seems worse than adultery or complaining.  Idolatry does seem strictly inconsistent with true faith and God punished the idolatrous Hebrews with death. So the “fall into sin, but not from grace” view does not seem to take the warning and sin seriously enough.

So while the “never saved to begin with” and “fall into sin, but not from grace” answers probably cover a lot of cases, they don’t seem to cover all the cases of Hebrew apostasy.  Most likely at least some of the Israelites who committed idolatry were true Christians and they committed idolatrous apostasy.  So to reconcile this passage with the idea that true Christians never ultimately fall away and perish, their fall must have been temporary and they repented before they died.  Granted, other passages are needed to support this view. But the question is more so how is this passage reconciled with passages on perseverance, not what does 1 Corinthians 10:13 mean.

Will Setting

The last objection to the libertarian understanding of 1 Corinthians 10:13 is that of will setting. Can a Christian mature to the point that he no longer can commit a certain sin? Can he backslide to the point where he cannot avoid committing a certain sin? If so, does this undermine the libertarian understanding of 1 Corinthians 10:13 that under temptation a Christian can either avoid the sin or not? Paul Manata raises this objection.  (link)

Let’s assume for the moment that Christians can backslide or mature to the point where some sins are either necessary or impossible. Several ways of reconciling this view with the libertarian reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13 come to mind. First, one could see such a view as reason to understand perasmos as “test” rather than “tempt”.  Thus while certain temptations make sinning either necessary or impossible, cases where God tests our faith (like Abraham) are never like that. Another option would be to take the passage as saying “you have faced minor temptations so far, but irresistible ones are upcoming.” Godet takes just this approach, though I do think his view goes overboard.  [xv]

A third option is to say that for a person to be tempted, they must be able to think about and desire the thing that tempts them. At least some cases of will setting, such as drunkenness or habits that develop into an automatic response, do seem to sidestep and diminish the reasoning process. So if we harden our hearts to the point it’s no longer flexible in either direction and blind our eyes such that we cannot see good alternatives, we are incapable of doing good, but we likewise are incapable of being tempted. Without the ability to think about and desire more than one thing, we do not have libertarian freedom.  So diminished capacity to reason seems to explain will setting quite well.

Christ’s Impeccability 

Christ’s impeccability is a special variation in the will setting objection. As Paul Manata explains, “Consider Jesus. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that ‘we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ It follows from this that on the above Arminian interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:13, Christ may be in fact sinless but he is not impeccable. That is, Christ is not incapable of sinning. This cuts against the near universal position of the early, medieval, and Reformed, and Post–‐Reformation scholastic churches.”  Christ could not sin, but presumably He could think about the sinful actions (I deny that Christ had sinful desires but probably He desired bread because He was hungry, not in that eating the bread in this circumstance would have been sinful). So Christ was tempted (and He could think about and desire the temptation) but He could not sin. This does show that temptation does not require the ability to do otherwise. But it stops short of showing that temptation is compatible with will setting.

I am not sure if Christ’s impeccability can accurately be called will setting or not, but if it can, it’s certainly a different kind of will setting than that which takes place through drugs, alcohol or theoretically habits. While the drunkard cannot avoid sin, because he has diminished and incapacitated his reason and desire, I am inclined to say that Christ cannot sin because His reasoning and desire are perfect. So while a drunk man cannot think about or desire a certain good and a sanctified man cannot think about or desire a certain evil, Christ can think about evil actions but in thinking about them, He knows the evil in them perfectly.  So while temptation is compatible with Christ’s type of will setting, His will setting is unique, and we are left with no argument that temptation is compatible with the will setting Christians may experience.

This alone answers the objection by showing Christ’s impeccability is compatible with the idea that God does not allow us to be tempted in a case where we would be will set to succumb to that temptation, so long as we exclude Christ’s unique form of will setting. But more can be said here. It’s highly doubtful there could even be a will setting to evil symmetrical to Christ’s will setting to good. We always want and choose what is good for us, we never want something bad for us in that it’s bad for us. We simply error in what is good for us. Even the most self-destructive acts are motivated by some perceived good, such as ending life or ending pain. Likewise, someone who does wrong but knew better does not at the time of the choice esteem the better option as better. So someone with perfect knowledge of the evil in an action could not choose it. So since Christ has no mirror image ultimate evil, the type of will setting needed to undermine the libertarian reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13 cannot be argued for based on Christ’s impeccability.


1 Corinthians 10:13 teaching libertarian freedom is fairly straight forward; it’s only dealing with the evasions of the passage that gets complex.  God protects believers either by increasing their strength or measuring the strength and duration of temptations and limiting them.  Giving us the ability to resist is one of His goals.  Of course, this is not the only passage that teaches libertarian freedom.  But 1 Corinthians 10:13 nicely challenges Calvinists to try to capture the common sense view of free will; a challenge which, hopefully I have shown they are not up to.



[i] See Gordan Fee.  “This final sentence of the paragraph is one of the better known in 1 Corinthians, having served generations of Christians as a word of hope in times of difficulty.  But it is almost always cited in isolation from its present context, and for good reason – it is difficult to see how it fits into the scheme of the present argument, especially since v. 14 follows vv. 1-12 so nicely.” (Gordan Fee. The New International Commentary on the New Testament.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians.  Eerdmans.  Grand Rapids, Michigan.  1984.)
[ii] Clark says “The question therefore is, Does the Bible teach the freedom of the will? By freedom of the will is meant what most ordinary people mean: the absence of any controlling power, even God and his grace, and therefore the equal ability in any situation to choose either of two incompatible courses of action. There are some semi-Calvinists who, presumably through fear, assert the freedom of the will, and then more or less disguise the fact that they define freedom of the will in a way most people would never guess. …. Freedom of the will, almost universally, means that God does not determine a man’s choice. It means that the will is uncaused, not predetermined. The present book uses free will in its ordinary, commonly accepted sense. The question is Does the Bible teach freedom of the will? It is so obvious that the Bible contradicts the notion of free will that its acceptance by professing Christians can be explained only by the continuing ravages of sin in the minds of men”. (Gordon H. Clark. Predestination.  The Trinity Foundation. 1987 P.81)

[iii] David M. Ciocchi.  Understanding our Ability to Endure Temptation: A Theological Watershed.  JETS 35/4 (December 1992) 463-479 (link)
[iv] See J.L Austin.  1956 If’s and Can’s.  He argues the “if” in “I can if I choose to” is not causal because it cannot be reversed.  For example, in the causal relation, I can fit in these jeans if I am skinny enough, can be reversed to I cannot fit into these jeans if I am not thin enough.  However, the same cannot be said of “I can if I choose to”.  So the relation is not causal.  Rather the “if” expresses doubt. Austin says, “The dictionary tells us that the words from which our if is descended expressed, or even meant, “doubt” or “hesitation” or “condition” or “stipulation”.  Of these, “condition” has been given a prodigious inning by grammarians, lexicograpers, and philosophers alike: it is time for “doubt and” “hesitation” to be remembered.”
[v] Please note it’s as “as far as I know, it will happen”, not “as far as I know if can happen”. On determinism, twofold abilities do not exist. People are not capable of choosing x or choosing y, so long as capability is understood in a causal sense. So we can rule out twofold abilities even if we don’t know which is possible, we know the person can either choose to resist, in which case he cannot choose to succumb or the other way around. If you include determinism within the “as far as we know”, then twofold abilities are off the table.This reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13 makes our knowledge or lack thereof about our ability not about an event. Let’s take the ambiguous expression “Napoleon could have thought about his mom on the day before Waterloo”. This could be an expression about Napoleon’s capabilities. He could have so chosen and his brain was up to the task. Alternatively, this could be taken as a statement about what happened on the day before Waterloo. The first sense is an expression of ability or what Napoleon’s capabilities were. The second is a statement about what events may have happened that day. But we can disambiguate the expression. “Napoleon was able to think about his mom on the day before Waterloo”. This is clearly about Napoleon’s capabilities, not about what happened that day. And so context and wording distinguishes between these two senses. The problem with understanding 1 Corinthians 10:13 in the first sense, as an ability (or even doubt as to an ability), is that twofold abilities can be ruled out on determinism. Determinists may not question as to if a person has a twofold capability or not. The problem with taking 1 Corinthians 10:13 in the second sense is contextual. Plainly, 1 Corinthians 10:13 is speaking of abilities, not events (or our judgment on if an event happened).

[vi] Paul says “you are able”; the word “beyond” describes the range and limitations of our abilities or personal capacities. This relates to causal capacity, what a person can do. Let’s look at some other examples to show how odd it sounds to use knowledge based possibilities in place of what a person can do.Biblical VersionJob 42:2 “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.Recast as Epistemic PossibilitiesJob 42:2 “I know [and I don’t know] that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours[is known to be impossible to]be withheld from You.Biblical Version

Romans 12:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

Recast as Epistemic Possibilities

Romans 12:18 If it be [unknown to be impossible], as much as you [don’t know it to be impossible], live peaceably with all men.

Biblical Version

Daniel 2:9 “if you do not make known the dream to me, [there is only] one decree for you! For you have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the time has changed. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.”

Recast as Epistemic Possibilities

Daniel 2:9 “if you do not make known the dream to me, [there is only] one decree for you! For you have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the time has changed. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know [and not know] that you can give me its interpretation.”

Biblical Version

Ex 4:14 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and He said: “Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And look, he is also coming out to meet you. When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.

Recast as Epistemic Possibilities

Ex 4:14 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and He said: “Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know [and I don’t know] that he can speak well. And look, he is also coming out to meet you. When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.

Biblical Version

Acts 27:39 When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible.

Recast as Epistemic Possibilities

Acts 27:39 When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if if possible. (or do two uncertainties cancel each other out?)

Acts 27:39 When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship since it was impossible.

Biblical Version

1 Sam 28:2 So David said to Achish, “Surely you know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Therefore I will make you one of my chief guardians forever.”

Recast as Epistemic Possibilities

1 Sam 28:2 So David said to Achish, “Surely you know [and don’t know] what your servantcan do.” And Achish said to David, “Therefore I will make you one of my chief guardians forever.”

From these examples, hopefully it’s clear that epistemic possibilities are not always a good substitute for abilities or what we can cause, and such can be determined by the context.

[vii] Tomis Kapitan.  Deliberation and the Presumption of Open Alternatives. The Philosophical Quarterly. Vol. 36 No. 14 (1986), 230-251. Kapitan is primarily concerned with reconciling deliberation with determinism, but his ideas and discussion transfer cleanly to the topic of understanding 1 Corinthians 10:13.
[viii] Deliberative Alternatives.  Dana K. Nelkin.  2004 paper in Philosophical Topics as revised.
[ix] Derk Pereboom.  A Compatiblist Account of Epistemic Conditions on Rational Deliberation.  Cornell University Journal of Ethics 12 (2008).
[x] Ferenc Huoranszki.  Freedom of the Will A Conditional Analysis.  2011. Huoranszki adds to the condition “you can if you choose to” the further condition, and you retain this ability throughout the choosing process.   This bars examples like God removing our will, but it also seats ability in something real about us, rather than something purely hypothetical.
[xi] In decade 1, sermon 5 (page 99 to 101), Bullinger says “Paul speaketh of some in his time, that “make shipwreck of their own faith, and overthrew the faith of others”. He then argues at length that this faith is true faith and the same faith Peter and Paul had and faith that is given by God alone. He wraps up the discussion by saying “Let us hold therefore, that true faith is one alone, which notwithstanding doth increase and is augmented, and again, may decrease and be extinguished”.
[xii] Furthermore, Grace is either the first or the second. The first is the free favor of God whom embraces those that are his being in Christ unto everlasting life. From this grace the faithful are said to fall after a fashion. As soon as they have committed some heinous sins against the law of God, they do grievously offend him. God being offended, changes the effects of grace, into the effects of a certain hatred, not against the faithful themselves but against their sins, and this both within and without. Within when he makes them to feel an accusing conscience and witness that God is displeased, and they are made guilty of death by their sin. Without, when they taste of God’s anger against them in the outward chastisements of the body. And thus far they fall from his fatherly love and are become enemies of God after a sort. I say, after a sort, because God doth not lay down His fatherly affection and does not alter his purpose of Adoption and eternal life. Although the faith full do fall away, so much as lieth in in them, yet God remains a Father in Christ ; and they as touching right unto eternal life, remain sons.Second grace is either imputed or inherited: imputed is in justification, a part where of is remission of sins. And this remains and shall ever remain sure as touching sins past. The saying of the Schoolmen is most true: Sins once forgiven continue so always. But when that any faithful man shall fall grievously, the pardon of that fall is granted in God’s decree; not withstanding no pardon is actually given of God, nor received of man until he do repent; yea if he should never repent (which notwithstanding is impossible) he should be damned as being guilty of eternal death by this offense. For there is no pardon of any new sins, without a new act of faith and repentance. (Volume 2. P 719 and 722 1608 Works of William Perkins)

[xiii] Article 4: The Danger of True Believers’ Falling into Serious Sins Although that power of God strengthening and preserving true believers in grace is more than a match for the flesh, yet those converted are not always so activated and motivated by God that in certain specific actions they cannot by their own fault depart from the leading of grace, be led astray by the desires of the flesh, and give in to them. For this reason they must constantly watch and pray that they may not be led into temptations. When they fail to do this, not only can they be carried away by the flesh, the world, and Satan into sins, even serious and outrageous ones, but also by God’s just permission they sometimes are so carried away–witness the sad cases, described in Scripture, of David, Peter, and other saints falling into sins.Article 5: The Effects of Such Serious SinsBy such monstrous sins, however, they greatly offend God, deserve the sentence of death, grieve the Holy Spirit, suspend the exercise of faith, severely wound the conscience, and sometimes lose the awareness of grace for a time–until, after they have returned to the way by genuine repentance, God’s fatherly face again shines upon them.Article 6: God’s Saving InterventionFor God, who is rich in mercy, according to his unchangeable purpose of election does not take his Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously. Neither does he let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification, or commit the sin which leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit), and plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by him, into eternal ruin.

Article 7: Renewal to Repentance

For, in the first place, God preserves in those saints when they fall his imperishable seed from which they have been born again, lest it perish or be dislodged. Secondly, by his Word and Spirit he certainly and effectively renews them to repentance so that they have a heartfelt and godly sorrow for the sins they have committed; seek and obtain, through faith and with a contrite heart, forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator; experience again the grace of a reconciled God; through faith adore his mercies; and from then on more eagerly work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

Article 8: The Certainty of This Preservation

So it is not by their own merits or strength but by God’s undeserved mercy that they neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves this not only easily could happen, but also undoubtedly would happen; but with respect to God it cannot possibly happen, since his plan cannot be changed, his promise cannot fail, the calling according to his purpose cannot be revoked, the merit of Christ as well as his interceding and preserving cannot be nullified, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated nor wiped out. (Cannons of Dort)

[xiv] “The question does not concern the possibility of failing on man’s part and in a divided sense. For no one denies that believers considered in themselves as to the mutability and weakness of their nature, not only can fail, but could not help failing if left to themselves (especially on the approach of the temptations of Satan and of the world). But the question concerns the possibility of failing on God’s part, as to his purpose in the compound sense and with regard to the event itself. In this sense, we say that defection is impossible, not absolutely and simply, but hypothetically and relatively.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology V2 p594)Here’s Turretin’s concept in action, used to explain scripture:“The passage…(Ezk 18:24) does not favor the apostasy of saints. 1. It is hypothetical, not absolute; (bhshvbh tsdyq) “when the righteous turneth away” (i.e. “if he turneth away”). However, it is known that a condition puts nothing into being, but denotes only a necessary connection of the antecedent with the consequent. If some possibility of defection be denoted on the part of man (when viewed in a divided sense), it cannot at once be inferred that there is a possibility in the compound sense on the part of the grace of God and as to the event. For what is possible with regard to the nearest and known cause is impossible with regard to the remote and hidden (which is in the decree of God). Here then, where God prescribes to man his duty and acts as law giver, he does not disclose the event of the things decreed by him. “ (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic TheologyV2 p 612)Here’s another statement about David, that takes it even a step further.“It is one thing for a believer sinning grievously to be damnable by his own merit (if regarded as to himself in a divided sense); another, if considered in the compound sense and as to God’s decree. In the former sense, it is true that he is exposed to death and if he continues in that state, will certainly be condemned. But in the latter sense, it is rightly said that he will be absolved and saved (God so arranging the matter by his immense love and wisdom that he may not die in that state, but may be restored and return to the way by a renewed act of faith and repentance before he reaches the goal). Hence according to a double relation, these two propositions (although seemingly contrary) can be true at the same time. It is impossible that David (elected and man after God’s own heart) can perish. It is impossible that David, an adulterer and murderer (if death should take him away in his impenitence) can be saved. The former by reason of God’s decree; the latter by reason of the heinousness and demerit of his sin. But this difficulty divine providence and grace solves, taking care that David (or any of the elect) should not die in that state in which on account of impenitence he would be excluded from salvation.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology V2 p614)

[xv] “The Corinthians must be made to understand that they run no risk of sinning and falling away from faith, if they have only to encounter the temptations which God allots to them, but that they have no pledge of victory whatever in the case of temptations into which they throw themselves with light-heartedness. The passage is therefore at once an encouragement in respect of the former, and a grave warning in respect of the latter”. Godet’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 10:13.  (link) My concern is that transforming God’s promise into a conditional promise (i.e. God will protect you if you work with Him) is not allowable by the text.