Open Theism and the Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart

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The Bible study group that I attend has been studying Exodus, and we're nearing the end of the plagues. I've been thinking anew about Pharaoh and the hardening of his heart. People holding to a libertarian view of freedom like to point out that Pharaoh hardens his own heart before the first time it says God hardens it. It isn't a simple progression. Sometimes his heart is simply hardened in the passive, and I don't think there's a neat order to it. The passive formulation occurs in what I believe is even the first instance (Exodus 7:21), and that occurs three times in ch.7 before 8:21, where Pharaoh is first said to harden his own heart. But it is true that Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart before God is said to harden it.

On the other hand, compatibilists about freedom and predetermination notice that God predicted long before the encounter even happens, when Moses hadn't even returned to Egypt, that he would harden Pharaoh's heart and that Pharaoh wouldn't let him go. (Exodus 4:21) This may not require a compatibilist view, but there's one view that I think doesn't fit well at all with this whole sequence, and that's open theism.

First, God predicted that Pharaoh would not to let them go. He even predicted that he would harden Pharaoh's heart. He told Moses to ask for a three days' journey to sacrifice and return. But he promised to Moses that Pharaoh wouldn't let them go and that it would lead to their permanent freedom from Egypt. What needed to happen for God's prediction to come true? Pharaoh needed to resist Moses, something open theism doesn't allow God to predict. Yet God had predicted it, and it was at least in part dependent on Pharaoh's hardening of his own heart.

As libertarians like to point out, God hardens Pharaoh's heart only later in the series of plagues. God nevertheless predicts that he'll do it to Pharaoh before Pharaoh even hardens his own heart. There's only one way I can make sense of this is open theism is true, and that's that Pharaoh is one unusual exception of someone who simply isn't free. In order to predict that Pharaoh would refuse to let them go, God must have forced him to do what he did. Why, then, does Pharaoh harden his own heart before God hardens it?

Open theists often go the Exodus narrative because of Moses' interaction with God after the golden calf incident, saying that the classical view of divine foreknowledge doesn't fit well with the plain sense of that text and others like it (although there are problems even with that claim). But it seems to me that open theists are the ones that have a problem with the plain meaning of this narrative.

66 Comments

Hmm... I've no idea (so I'm curious what open theologians will say) but it strikes me that Exodus 4:21 is less clear an argument for compatibilism than Jonah is for libertarianism. What does it mean, to harden one's own heart, or to have it hardened for one?

I didn't say there was any argument for compatibilism here, just that compatibilists think 4:21 undermines the libertarian argument. Undermining an argument for libertarianism doesn't mean compatibilism is true.

What I said isn't that it shows compatibilism is true. I think that can be shown elsewhere in scripture (e.g. some pretty clear places are in Isaiah 10 and some of Peter's statements in Acts 2 and 4). This was an argument against open theism. Once open theism is rejected, there are still several different models available of how God's sovereignty interacts with human responsibility. I don't think this passage rules out any of those. It just doesn't fit well with open theism.

I'm not sure what you have in mind for Jonah. I've never heard of any argument against compatibilism based on Jonah.

Surely there is an issue only because you assume that God's prediction that Pharaoh would not to let them go is an absolutely certain statement about the future, and not simply a prediction of the kind which humans can make.

To explain this, I can make a prediction that President Bush will not withdraw American troops from Iraq, before the end of his term of office. I can make that confidently not because I know the future, but because I know something of Bush's character and of the political situation. In Open Theism God knows Bush's character and the political situation much better than I do, and similarly knew Pharaoh's character and the political situation at that time, and so he could predict much better than any human ever could what would happen in a particular situation. In Open Theism, God makes such predictions, not because he knows the future, but because he knows the present and what that implies about future events.

I write this not to defend Open Theism, only to point out an inadequacy in your argument against it.

Actually, my interactions with open theism don't lead me to conclude that they say such things. They generally say that God's predictions are only about the things he's going to guarantee. He knows what he's going to do, but he doesn't know what we're going to do. He can change what he's going to do based on what new information he gets from people doing surprising things, but I don't know of any open theists saying God makes guesses and then delivers prophecies based on those guesses. It's hard to maintain the character of God as telling only the truth if you concede that sort of thing, and that's much clearer in scripture than these issues about how prophecy works. Any prophet who gets anything wrong is automatically declared a false prophet (at least under the Mosaic covenant; I think prophecy in the NT works differently, but that's a discussion for another time).

Hey Peter, Open Theism (as far as I know) does paint a picture of a cosmic chess player but when God says something definitive is going to happen is because He then plans to personally enter in and Do Something in the course of Time. Since He is omnipotent and omniscient at any given present moment He can then decide when He will act and ensure a result.

But, Jeremy makes a solid point. If God said Pharaoh was to be hardened before hand then that completely drops the matter of freedom of Pharaoh to pull a Ninevah ("what? God said to let them go? Well...okay then.")

Maybe an Open Theist can say that its an exception on an individual (like maybe Judas and Pharaoh are exceptions)? Or maybe they can say that God at that temporal moment has set up events (ie: Moses and his signs) and Egypt has set up their own policy (slavery and population control) that Pharaoh's denial is inevitable? Or maybe they can say that there is an unmentioned self-hardening by the very clear actions that had occurred previously (Pharaoh's atrocities, Judas rejecting Jesus' ministry for years)?

What I then wonder is how the Open Theist would deal with predictions like Genesis 15:13-16 which is dependent on the free actions of X group and Y group and then Z group. Honestly, I can't see Israel being slaves if they, say revolted or the sin of any group reaching the brim if they pulled a Nineveh or if the enslaving country decided before hand to ban slavery.

But Jeremy, it was supposedly an argument against Open Theism, but whether or not it was surely depended upon the obvious (if there is one) meaning of hardening one's heart, and of one hardening another's heart (in particular, when one is the creator of such things); whereas there is an argument against the negation of Open Theism in Jonah, which is relatively clear. Jonah seems to be little else; and so it was probably not an effective argument against Open Theism, was my thought. Probably the concept of the creator hardennig the heart of one of His creatures is loose enough (for us mere mortals) for there to be no real problem for Open Theism here. I don't know if it is so loose, but Jonah indicates it is (granted the Bible's coherence). So I was wondering, what precisely was your conception of such things (do you have an argument without a specification of your conception?)?

I still have no idea what you're getting at with Jonah. I'm a Calvinist, and I've never seen anything in that book that remotely makes me question Calvinism, never mind to go all the way to open theism.

As for what it means to harden the heart, I don't think that has anything to do with the argument I'm giving. I set up my point by mentioning the dispute that I don't think this passage settles at all. Then I presented the problem with taking this in an open theistic way, and that doesn't assume anything at all about what it means to harden one's heart or for God to harden someone's heart. It was simply that God said something would happen and it did, and if you put that with what the Bible elsewhere says about prophecy and assume that Pharaoh was free in his rejection of God then it's hard to fit this with open theism.

Also, I understand that there are problems sometimes with the page rebuilding, but your comments are being saved. You don't need to keep submitting it 10-11 times. If you're worried about it, save a copy and check back later or email me so I can make sure it got through.

Jeremy,

I've seen open theists say that Judas was not free, so I doubt they'd have a problem doing it with Pharaoh as well, though I doubt that would be how an ancient Jew would read that text.

I'm surprised about the 10-11 submissions, there must be a problem with the computers here in Glasgow (fingers crossed for this submission)...

The thing about Jonah is that it is prima facie about God changing his mind and Jonah getting angry about that. Why would he get angry? Maybe he was angry at being made to look like a false prophet. Anyway, an open theist might draw the conclusion that, had God not changed his mind (had the doomed people not reacted in an exceptionally well way to the bad news), those people would have been punished as God said they would; but had that been the case, they would still have been free to react as they actually did - consequently (for the open theist) when bad things happen as prophesized, that is not necessarily the result of a lack of freedom.

Maybe Moses could have been a false prophet (in that rather technical sense) had things gone differently. For an open theist, it is possible that Moses could have made different mistakes. But even if that is not how prophesy works (sorry for being totally irrelevant if it is not), even if you are right about that, God could have made his Exodus prophesies all come true in many different ways. Just because they came true one way does not mean that they could not have come true in other ways.

You say, about Exodus, "There's only one way I can make sense of this if open theism is true, and that's that Pharaoh is one unusual exception of someone who simply isn't free." But maybe heart-hardening comes in degrees (e.g. a hard heart can be softened, but the harder the heart, the more it would take), and God's grace could be given at any time, or withheld, whence God may have hardened pharoah's heart by witholding some degree of grace from him. Since bad people are very predictable (being more enslaved to robotic desires and such) so, in this case, all went as predicted.

If so (and I'm not sure myself what heart-hardening might involve; even less so than I am of my view of Jonah and prophesy) then Pharoah did nothing exceptional; he would have been, not so much exceptionally unfree, as unexceptionally predictable. There seem to be lots of possibilities, for an open theist. Had Pharoah been oddly good, he may have been whisked up to Heaven by God (perhaps by making his heart literally hard), and then he could not have let them go.

But I'm sure that whatever possibilities I might think of, they would not do justice to God's view of the possibilities. Maybe it was just obvious to God that, free as Pharoah was (given open theism), as much as He said was certain, given everything else (little of which was recorded of course). And then again, maybe this was a case of God saying something that could just possibly have not happened quite as predicted - if that had been the case, the write-up in Exodus would of course have been different, and so we cannot really tell, can we?

One reasons it's hard to read Pharaoh as not free is that the whole narrative is composed as if he's stubbornly resisting this message of God and is about to be judged for it.

I don't see how there's anything about God changing his mind in Jonah that requires anything more than what happens in all the other places God is said to change his mind. One way to read it, if you take it outside the context of the entire rest of the Bible, is that God didn't know they would repent and then changed his mind once they surprisingly did. But a much more plausible way, given the ancient Hebrew picture of absolute divine sovereignty, is that God's policy toward them at time A was of judgment unless they repented and that at time B it was a different policy of staying the judgment (at least during this life).

There's nothing whatsoever in Jonah that rules out that standard interpretation. It's true that on the face of it there are places, that book included, that seem to present God as changing his mind in the way that we do, but one of those very places puts it alongside a statement that God doesn't change his mind the way human beings do, which means it must mean something different as applied to God.

Jonah's problem wasn't that God changed his mind, either. It's that the judgment he was hoping to see didn't happen, because he didn't appreciate repentance and forgiveness to be a good thing when his enemies are the ones that do it. His problem is perfectly compatible with any of the major metaphysical interpretations.

Now if Pharaoh had simply let them go do the sacrifice and had been really nice to the Israelites from then on, you're right that God could have eventually brought it to a head with letting them go permanently, and then the plagues could have come, or he could just have let them go. But that doesn't fulfill the prophecy. The prophecy says that he'll harden Pharaoh's heart and that Pharaoh wouldn't let them go. To ensure that (unless compatibilism is true) God would have had to force Pharaoh to let them go or know in advance how he would freely respond and put him in a situation where he would respond the way he did. A Molinist view can make sense of this, and a straightforward foreknowledge view might also be fine, but I don't see how an open theist can have God foreknowing what he says to Moses here.

My problem isn't that there aren't very many possibilities. It's exactly that there are too many. That's not an advantage when you're talking about a prophecy. Many possibilities mean more risk of being wrong, and even the slightest risk of being wrong means it's not a genuine prophecy. If it's a prediction, then it's a false prophecy if it's not fulfilled exactly. Lots of possibilities mean less chance of guaranteeing it as spoken, and my point was that there doesn't seem to be a way for God to guarantee it if open theism is true.

Your last sentence sounds like something I might say, but I can't see how an open theist could say it. If the future had been different, God would have foreknown a different future and prophesied a different future. Sure, if God can see the future. But that's what open theism denies, so you can't say that if it's open theism that you're defending.

Lots of possibilities mean less chance of guaranteeing it as spoken, and my point was that there doesn't seem to be a way for God to guarantee it if open theism is true.
We just seem to have different ideas of what "guarantee" and "unless" mean. But sure, God changing His mind is very different to us changing our minds. God can change the laws of physics and of ethics by changing his mind. So lots of possibilities mean more ways for God to arrange things in conformance with any given proposition.

Jonah's problem wasn't that God changed his mind, either. It's that the judgment he was hoping to see didn't happen, because he didn't appreciate repentance and forgiveness to be a good thing when his enemies are the ones that do it. I'm sorry, but I don't see how that is even a possible interpretation of Jonah 3:10 to 4:2 (And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.)

I Samuel 15:11: I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.

I Samuel 15:29: And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

I Samuel 15:34: And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

[all from ESV]

There must be something that this language refers to that the author of Samuel means when he says that God does regret and change his mind. There must also be something else that he means when he says God does not regret and change his mind. The traditional view makes sense of this passage without attributing complete stupidity on the part of the author or final editor. The sense in which God does not change his mind is that his plan is already set well ahead of time. He knows what he is going to do, how people will respond, and how he will respond to what people do. The sense in which God does change his mind is perfectly consistent with that. When people do respond, his policy toward them changes.

All of this works with complete foreknowledge. With open theism it does not. Once you have this view in place, one that best makes sense of these two ways the Bible speaks, you can then apply it to places where you see only one of the two (e.g. Num 23 contains the original text Samuel quotes about God not changing his mind, and you see similar statements throughout the psalms, proverbs and prophets; you see the other end in several places, including Moses' intercession after the golden calf and the Jonah reference you point out). There are two things to do with this. You can say there are competing theological agendas in the Bible, but if you take that path with this issue then you need to say there are competing theological agendas within one coherent narrative that sure looks as if it can make good sense the way it reads without postulating the cut-and-paste-by-an-idiot theory of Bible composition.

So if you don't opt for that sort of view, you need to have one sense in which God doesn't change his mind and another in which he does. You might be able to come up with something compatible with open theism. If so, then you can fit these texts to open theism as well. But I very much doubt that it will be any more plausible a fit than the fit you say is unlikely in the traditional view.

Thanks Jeremy. I don't know enough about the details of the alternative views to argue the point (so that was useful) and so if I tried I'd only end up confirming your view of open theists. (Incidentally I just like the Shakespearean phrasing of KJV.)

But my naive thoughts about your quotes are just this analogy: Cf. how if one backs a horse, and it loses, then one may regret backing the horse because it lost, and yet not regret having gambled and chosen exactly as one did. Were one given the chance to do it again, gambling without knowing the outcome, one would do it again, and exactly as before, maybe picking the same horse for the same reasons (if one had any), so in that sense one would not regret one's actions (although of course, one is disappointed when one's choice loses) - one regrets them in the sense that if one could go back in time with one's present knowledge then one would not back that very horse but would rather pick another.

One cannot actually be disappointed if one knows everything. And if one says that one is then one is lying. Or if that is not lying then what else might not be lying? And one might for all sorts of reasons back a horse knowing that it will lose, and then back it no longer after it has lost. But if one says that one has stopped backing it because one regrets one's choice, then one is lying. And similarly for other examples of our use of "regret" and such words.

God could have chosen other words, other descriptions, or said nothing. Now, maybe He should lie to us (in some sense of "lie") when that is for our own good, when we would not understand the truth, and when it is more important that we do God's will. I don't know. But since the second of the two quotes was something that Samuel said (to Saul, after being told by God that God wanted not Saul to be king) we don't in any case begin with parity of text.

I hope you don't mind my ignorant thoughts and questions; I find your responses very illuminating and helpful (and I'm quite uncommitted to a particular way of interpretting the text; the most I can get from it is a sense of its importance, and of God underlying the 2 commandments of the NT). Is there a really good book on your traditional view that you'd recommend?

...incidentally, on re-reading Jonah, I noticed that part of it seems to favour your view: where Jonah asks the sailors to cast him into the sea, but later tells God that God cast him into it. (Still, that is OK on the open view too, it seems.)

One cannot actually be disappointed if one knows everything.

Actually, I would dispute that. You can be disappointed with something that you know you have to do and still do it. People act with regret about their actions while they're doing them. It happens all the time. Yet they still act while regretting doing what's necessary.

In fact, the Bible describes God as having such attitudes all the time. He asks Israel why they must be on a path to death rather than serving him. Jesus demonstrates this in weeping over Jerusalem before he goes to his death. He knows exactly what's about to happen and fully endorses it as the course he has adopted. Yet he surely regrets that it's about to happen. So I don't see why God couldn't regret something after the fact while also having foreseen that it would be that way.

Now I think you're right that there must be a reason why the Bible speaks this way rather than describing God in atemporal terms or something like that. I have a suggestion as to what that reason might be if the traditional view is correct. God is a personal being, who wants us to interact with him personally. From our perspective interacting with God in a personal way has to involve sequence, God acting in one way when we have one attitude and another way when we change our stance, and so on. Describing God's interaction with us in such anthropomorphic terms conveys something very important, then, even on the traditional view. It's striking that this kind of description of God generally occurs only in narrative passages when God is interacting with an individual or when God's policy toward a large group of people changes because of the people's attitude toward God. That makes sense if this is the reason for such language.

I'm not sure why the fact that Samuel the prophet of God makes much difference when his role in the passage is clearly to present the message of God. Why is that not on par with what God says? It's even a direct quote from another prophecy given by God in Numbers 23, so there's no arguing that it's Samuel's own addition and not from God.

You're right that there's an open theistic interpretation of that statement by Jonah, but I do think it's at least a little more of a stretch of the language. The traditional view seems to me to be more natural in that case.

I'm not sure what to recommend in terms of books. I'm a little dissatisfied with many of the things I've read, either because they take some of the statements of Calvinism too far and thus end up with a more extreme view than I think is the biblical one, or because they unfairly misrepresent the other side in some way. I think D.A. Carson's treatment (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility) is probably the best I've seen, but it's not directly dealing with open theism. It's an extended argument that compatibilism is simply assumed throughout the Bible.

Nice book, accessible and balanced; but I was unsure whether a coherent compatibilism was indicated, or whether the texts were just inconclusive (given the philosophical mysteries in this area, and our poor resources for understanding them), were just open-ended - so I remain open-minded about open theism. So, to the evidence: re your claim that it was at least in part dependent on Pharaoh's hardening of his own heart, I'm still unconvinced...

It was determined that Pharaoh's heart would be hardened, but why did he have to harden it himself? I'm thinking of how beer or cake makes us sociable, and how dope can make us paranoid, hunger make us cold, and so forth - but how we react to such biochemical changes is nonetheless to some extent up to us. So, maybe God hardened Pharaoh's heart but additionally Pharaoh was only too pleased to go along with that (tyrant that he was). I'm not saying that's what happened, just that there is no indication of any dependency:

Had Pharaoh not hardened his own heart, the result could have been the same - one can only guess, but he might have just washed his hands of the decision, and let his priests decide for him and with his authority; or if not that, is it really clear that there is no such possibility? It would I think be important if there was not.

You're right that Pharaoh wouldn't have had to harden his own heart first. But that's exactly the option I left as a possibility. God could have hardened Pharaoh's heart against his will, something libertarians will take as Pharaoh not being free.

Pharaoh does harden his own heart first, though. The text doesn't indicate God hardening it until well into the plagues.

I didn't say that there's no possibility where Pharaoh doesn't harden his heart but he doesn't let them go for other reasons. What I said is not that there's no possibility that God could guarantee that Pharaoh would let them go if open theism is true.

Hmm... I'm clearly misunderstanding something, so I must be even more ignorant of these debates than I'd thought (so apologies for my unclarity; still, it's educational for me, if that's any consolation). You say that given open theism, In order to predict that Pharaoh would refuse to let them go, God must have forced him to do what he did. Why, then, does Pharaoh harden his own heart before God hardens it?

Whereas I'm thinking that God could determine in advance that Pharaoh would refuse to let them go, without having to have forced him to do precisely what he did. Pharaoh could have chosen to harden his own heart (whatever that means) freely to begin with. Cf. I want to get you drunk, so I decide to spike your drinks, if you choose non-alcoholic drinks, but still, you begin with a few beers that I don't have to spike. You are free to walk off at any time, of course, whereas Pharaoh does not seem to have been free to avoid his role. But for all we know he could at any time have chosen to be saved, have died and gone to heaven, and the Pharaoh have become his son, whose heart would then have been hardened (and so forth).

But Pharaoh not being completely free is no problem for open theism anyway, is it? None of us is completely free. He was relatively free (being king) and then (as punishment and such) he was not free in some respects for some time. Similarly, God can determine to do things and then, by being competent, be bound to do them, but that too is no lack of freedom. So I just don't see any particular problem for open theism here (sorry).

I did notice that (in Exodus 4) 4:8 and 4:9 seem to contradict each other (those that don't believe the first shall believe the second, and those that believe neither...) and to involve a sign (leprosy) that's not mentioned in Exodus 7. So again I'm wondering if we ought not to read too much into the wording anyway (even if it would be a problem for open theism if some passages were awkward to interpret under it).

To me (at the moment) the Bible says of itself (not in so many words of course) that it is a painting (one brilliantly painted to tell important truths to many different sorts of people) rather than a photograph (of the God of this world), that accuracy in real matters can come (as it presumably came to the prophets described) directly from the God described, and so would hardly be necessary in such a book (indeed, there would be an artificial accuracy to fictional prophesies, those describing an unreal God incapable of anything in the world around the book), designed to make the reader choose to relate to the living God of this world.

Which does not mean I regard the Bible as fable, fiction or old-fashioned; but it does mean that I take different parts of it to be meaningful in different ways (I don't know many of those ways of course, but the record of the meetings with the Pharaoh appears to be a good candidate for a history that is possibly not totally accurate, at least when it comes to such grammatical details). I imagine it's designed to change with re-readings, and to become ultimately superfluous (like Wittgenstein's ladder).

1. So how is God going to guarantee that Pharaoh do it if he's free to walk away at any time and not do what God predicted he would do? I really don't understand the scenario you're proposing if it's somehow supposed to explain how God guarantees that.

2. Your rescue of open theism from this problem seems to me to indict it under a different problem. The whole point of open theism for many, probably most, open theists is to explain how God isn't morally responsible for certain evils that are a result of human choice. If God can't predict what people are going to do, then he's not responsible for what they do. For this to work, God's ability to predict the future has to be pretty weak. Even if God could expect an outcome reliably, he should avoid it (on the open theist's premises). So it really has to be a more complete ignorance for that response to the problem of evil to work. It's hard to put together your strong sense of God guaranteeing a certain future dependent on human free choice with the open theist's primary goal of absolving God from what they see as God being responsible for human evil.

3. According to most translations I have access to, Exodus 4:8 doesn't say that those who don't believe will believe the second. It says that those who don't believe the first may believe the second. My suspicion is that the text could mean either but that the translators of the translations I have are taking it this way because it makes sense logically in a way the KJV (which is where I assume you're getting this from) translators didn't notice.

4. We have very different attitudes about the nature of scripture. I'm not going to get into a debate about those issues here. My concern in this post was about what the Bible clearly teaches and what implications can be drawn from what it says. Someone who doesn't agree with much at all in the Bible can engage in that discussion without endorsing any of the conclusions, just that the biblical authors had or assumed such views. So your attitude toward the nature of the Bible's authority or status as revelation shouldn't affect the discussion all that much.

Thanks; all too briefly: 1. God could have been referring to Pharaoh descriptively, as when we talk of the crown (over here or in Canada). The problem was with Pharaoh as the king (whoever that is) rather than as a particular person, so that may well have been the reference. Then the man could walk away from the crown, whilst it be determined that whoever wears the crown would be a certain way. Pharaoh's crown was inherited, but God killing Pharaoh in such a case would not restrict Pharaoh's freedom (no more than anyone's death does).

So God hardening Pharaoh's heart could have meant that either Pharaoh hardens his own heart (most likely, a racing certainty) or else Pharaoh dies and the new Pharaoh gets the same deal. At a push, God could replace Pharaoh the man with a divinely or angelically animated Pharaoh. The possibility of that enables the guarantee, but as it did not have to happen so Pharaoh was the free man who chose to harden his heart.

2. That possibility does not rely on the world being full of such (divinely or angelically animated) automatons. It does not even rely on the world ever containing a single such being. It leaves us all free in the apposite sense, whilst allowing God to make certain guarantees from time to time, even when they seem to rely on human freedom. Just because the way it turned out worked by way of human freedom does not mean that God could not have guaranteed the outcome by way of counterfactuals that involved automatons.

Think of Jonah, guessing correctly that the storm was sent to stop or punish him, and having himself thrown overboard instead. What a good man! Presumably the prepared fish was going to swallow Jonah whatever Jonah chose to do; but even so, Jonah was free to bravely save those sailors. And Pharaoh was clearly not the sort of person who would have choosen (in such a place) to do that. He would probably not even have recognised the option as available; but still, it would have been!

3. Makes sense; but similarly, if there is a logical problem with compatibilism, then the translation and/or interpretation of such words as "regret" ought, insofar as there is a problem, to change - whence I doubt the possibility of successfully arguing against open theism on textual grounds.

4. I agree about the discussion, I just thought I'd better mention my current position, which includes it being important that the Bible can be taken literally (e.g. most atheists seem to have invalid problems with its literality, and they are the ones most in need of the Bible's message; and of course, many Christians take it so).

So the idea is that God would keep killing Pharaohs until one of them refused to let them go and then God would harden his heart to do what ended up happening in the account we have? There are a lot of problems with that.

First, it still isn't a guarantee. One possible outcome of that is that each successive Pharaoh would do the same thing, and we'd never get the scenario God described. Remember that this isn't about likelihood. We need a way for God to guarantee the outcome to meet the condition I presented, and this doesn't seem to do that.

Second, it's not exactly moral, is it? What you're proposing is that God keeps killing people who do the right thing in order to find someone who freely does the wrong thing so that he can take vengeance on that person and show who's really in control. If the point of open theism is to absolve God of blame for evil, this is a funny way to achieve that.

Hey, Jeremy. Read the post, but not much of the comments. Hope this doesn't go over stuff you guys have already covered...

Open Theism, as I understand it, allows God to make things certain ahead of time -- though He can't know what we will freely do. In fact, He can make a whole lot of things certain ahead of time by resolving that he will make them come to pass, come hell or high water. (I sometimes say it the view would be better called "Not-Fully-Closed Theism.")

So, folks have thought OT has problems with prophecy -- esp. prophecy concerning human actions -- and that's the kind of problem you're pressing. Peter's denials of Jesus are often used. Pharoah might not be as good a case to use against OT, because all the stuff about heart-hardening might take a lot of the pressure off of the OT-ist, making it easier to accept that Pharoah wasn't acting freely. But, in any case, here's some general thoughts about how OT can handle cases of this type.

As far as I can see, OT can allow that it can happen both (a) that God foreknows (with Divine certainty -- let's just assume that qualifier in all that follows) that a certain action will take place, and (b) that action is in fact free. God just can't foreknow that it will be freely performed. Here's how that could work out. Suppose knows that it's quite probable that, say, I'll freely mow the lawn on Tuesday morning even if He doesn't intervene. (OT allows such knowledge of probabilities.) But suppose that my mowing the lawn on Tuesday is something God wants to be certain ahead of time -- for whatever reason (maybe He wants to promise that it will be done). Well, then, He can resolve to compel me to mow the lawn. But then doesn't he have to give up my freedom in this action? Not necessarily. Instead of simply resolving to compel me to mow the lawn, he can use a slightly more complex resolution: to compel me to mow the lawn on Tuesday afternoon if I don't (freely) mow it on my own on Tuesday morning. Now, suppose that, as God knew was very likely to be the case, I do freely mow the lawn on my own on Tuesday morning. Then I freely mowed the lawn on Tuesday, yet God foreknew that I would mow the lawn on Tuesday. (He just didn't foreknow that I would *freely* mow it.)

Given this, to really cause trouble of this sort for OT, I think there would have to be cases where God promises (or something like that) ahead of time that someone will *freely* do something. I don't know of any such prophecies.

Keith, yes, I think that's fully consistent with my conclusion. My claim is that if open theism is true then God can't guarantee that someone will do something unless God is willing to force the person to do it, and thus God can't guarantee the prophecy without forcing Pharaoh to do what he says he's going to do.

But see my last comment about why that would be a very weird reading of this passage and probably immoral in this particular case.

Nobody even possibly gets killed by God on the plan I was considering. There's a possibility that someone ends up performing an unfree action.

Sorry, it wasn't the same as the proposal in that last comment. I didn't actually re-read the comment when I wrote that. What I was getting at is similar, though. What you're suggesting is that God might force someone to do something immoral in order to fulfill a promise. I was insisting that Enigman's proposal was immoral. I'm not sure yours is, but it makes me worry about that.

It would be different on a compatibilist view, where God isn't responsible for what people do even if providence includes it, because the chain of causation goes through the agent in the right way. But one of the open theist's premises is libertarianism, on which it's a violation of the agent's own choice to do something like that. Given that premise, I wonder under what circumstances it would be ok to violate someone's freedom. (It's hard for me to think about moral questions given a premise that I think is necessarily false, but I'm trying to think about how a libertarian should see that sort of thing.)

Hi Jeremy, Why immoral? Firstly, God can kill anyone at any time and that is not in any way immoral! Secondly, God only had to postpone giving infinite grace to Pharaoh for a few days. Without such grace we are all of us bound to fail to be good enough. Thirdly, going to Heaven is a good thing, and remaining on an evil throne, instead of going there, is a bad thing... So I completely fail to see why my proposal was immoral. Yes one of the aims of open theism is to address the problem of evil (and one possible consequence of open theism is that the word "shall" gets the sort of treatment given to "regret" above) in a way that stays a little closer to our normal moral intuitions; but why presume that open theistic ethics are childish?

And sorry, but I wasn't very clear on what heart-hardening is. I don't really know, but I'd guess that (i) it comes in degrees, (ii) it normally involves both internal and external causes, and (iii) God's input could go via either of those, or some other kind of causation entirely. What I was suggesting was one possible way of getting a guarantee (e.g. having the pharaoh, or his son, replaced by an automaton, on the extremely unlikely possibility that he, or both, would suddenly choose the way of the Lord), there are countless others (e.g. God could have affected Pharaoh's eyesight so that he did not see quite what others saw, when the miracles were being performed; which would in effect harden his heart, unless he spontaneously became a total sceptic about the visual field - or, now I come to think of it, God could have painted Moses very badly in Pharaoh's phenomenal experiences, so that Pharaoh hated him a lot - like making Pharaoh very anti-semitic perhaps - that would also do the job, since Pharaoh could choose to think through and rise above all of his own prejudices). The whole range of scenarios can be tweaked to make it as realistic as you like (what you would find realistic would differ to what I would so find, whence I shalln't bother - but basically, they all rely on the fact that we are, all of us, prone to immoral errors, psychologically, unless we make the sort of superhuman effort that needs the grace of God before we can make it)... But my comments are way too much already (sorry) so I'll stop there (interesting post though :-)

More clearly: What you're proposing is that God keeps killing people who do the right thing in order to find someone who freely does the wrong thing so that he can take vengeance on that person and show who's really in control. What you're criticising, there, is the possibility that God keeps creating people to enjoy infinite rewards in Heaven, by lots of processes, just one of which comes to a natural end (to be replaced by another process) when one of those lucky creatures opts instead for being sadistically cruel to his pet Jews, at which point God has already decided (for the smooth running of some of the other processes) to give that person one very small taste of his own medicine. Also, my proposal was that God has an infinite number of such possibilities available to Him at all times (most of which are better, more good, but also harder to describe). That's why I'm surprised by your "not exactly moral, is it?" Sorry.

Firstly, God can kill anyone at any time and that is not in any way immoral!

I would say that if God kills someone it's not morally wrong, but that's only because God wouldn't do it if it were wrong. I do think God can arrange for the death of anyone by whatever means if it suits important enough purposes, but I don't see how the possibility up one (later, eventual) Pharaoh is going to justify killing a whole succession of Pharaohs until one finally rebels against God, especially if the reason is because everyone in the series actually did the right thing!

Without God's grace, we will surely fail to be perfect, but that doesn't mean we won't do the right thing. People do the right thing for the wrong reasons all the time. Remember also that we're talking about a view according to which someone can choose anything unpredictable at any time.

I'm not sure why you think doing the right thing and letting God's people go would be sufficient for going to heaven.

I don't concede the point that this could go on infinitely, not unless God chooses to expand Moses and Aaron's lifespans unnaturally. Perhaps you would insist on that as a possibility, though. I think it also undermines the 400 year multiple-of-ten of 40 that the Jewish time in Egypt comes to. That seems to be a deliberate length of time for symbolic value, and it seems to be thus a part of God's plan, which means this needed to happen then if it was going to have that effect.

You're right that there are methods of hardening Pharaoh's heart that allow Pharaoh to retain libertarian freedom by deceiving him. I don't think most libertarians would call it a free choice if God changes Pharaoh's desires by making him anti-semitic, and I wouldn't count it as a morally responsible choice if it involves deceit. Consent to one's own actions requires knowing what it is that you're doing, so if you're unwittingly doing something because someone deceived you into thinking you were doing something else, I don't call that a genuinely free choice in terms of what counts for moral responsibility.

If the point is trying to find a way of guaranteeing Pharaoh's heart will be hardened without forcing him, I don't see how those options are any better. Furthermore, I really don't see how these cases would guarantee it anyway. As you point out, Pharaoh could always still resist it. He could refuse to do the thing his sensory experiences or newly-refashioned moral views might lead him to be inclined to do. If he's free the way libertarians insist we're free, then there's nothing to rule that out.

Thanks again (this sort of discussion is new to me, as you can probably tell). Most of your points would require lengthy replies.

About the penultimate paragraph, all choices are phenomenal choices for the chooser, so Pharaoh could have chosen between A and B, where his consequent actions relate to X and Y. Pharaoh has a free choice between A and B, even if he does not relate properly to X and Y (and of course, such notions of propriety turn out to be quite fuzzy upon analysis anyway). If something hides the morally relevant aspects of X and Y from Pharaoh, to some extent, then to that extent Pharaoh is not morally responsible for choosing one of those; but nonetheless, he is morally responsible for choosing one of A and B. Such a destinction is quite substantial on a libertarian view of such things, given modern theories of perception and such, but I wouldn't know about otherwise (I can't help seeing compatibilism as superficial, although I can also see theoretically that it need not be).

As for guarantees, God is infinitely powerful, which means that He could indeed make such a dead certain guarantee. I could think of a few processes, but the main thing is that it is prima facie possible (cf. the belief that if there is a God then there is a solution to the problem of evil, even if one can't think of it oneself). E.g. He affects Pharaoh's phenomenological experiences in a supertask, taking only one second to present infinitely many scenarios. On the most popular theories of probability (in maths and science), if x is possible then it would be certain to occur within such an endless (but temporally bounded) sequence.

But also, why should "Pharaoh" not refer to the crown, in this scenario? Then God intends to harden that king's heart, as happened, as was almost certain to happen, and as Moses probably took God to probably mean, but nonetheless He can make what He literally said be absolutely certain too (via the certainty of being able to perform any one of a range of supertasks on various hearts of various bearers of the crown).

And furthermore (and I now think crucially) why should "will" in these passages not be read like the "will" in 4:8, why not see 4:8 as a clue to how to read such words of God in this whole sequence? You don't have to regard it as a clue at all of course, because metaphysics is akin to logic in such matters, and so whether or not you see it as a clue depends upon your prior beliefs; but for an open theist, whose views we are presupposing in order to consider their defence, it may just be obvious that there was no guarantee here in the first place (pretty independently of the precise history of the translating and copying of 4:8).

After all, we naturally use language like that, with unuttered "probably"s and "really"s being implied by the presumption of honesty. Only a prior metaphysical position on the nature of God's infinitude would have made us think that they were not implied, even if not explicitly uttered, the open theist might say - the assertion that there is a problem here for the open theist begs the question.

Hi again (sorry if these are still arriving in multiples), re your point 3 above, I'm totally clueless about Hebrew (or any non-English, sad to say) but from Young's Literal Translation of Exodus 4:8-9 ("...if they do not give credence to thee, and hearken not to the voice of the first sign, that they have given credence to the voice of the latter sign. And it hath come to pass, if they do not give credence even to these two signs, nor hearken to thy voice, that thou hast taken of the waters...") and the New Living Translation ("...If they do not believe you and are not convinced by the first miraculous sign, they will be convinced by the second sign. And if they don’t believe you or listen to you even after these two signs, then take some water...") it seems that the original language does support such a reading (as mentioned at the end of previous comment), since the original language is only prima facie contradictory if it is not read in such a way (although it also seems that the original text was a bit obscure with respect to tense). So I'm curious about the different, modern translation you mentioned, about its authority; and about your opinion of the legitimacy of reading by the lights of metaphysical beliefs more generally.

I think you're a lot more internalist about moral responsibility than I am. Kant expressed a view like yours, but his view doesn't allow for moral luck, and I think moral luck is so ingrained in all moral evaluation that I think it's hopeless to try to separate the two. That doesn't mean I would necessarily blame everyone who made the best choice that seems to be available, when in fact they do something horrendous because of being misled. But it does seem to be a very bad state to have caused a holocaust, even if the action you took wasn't the action you thought you took and you never even discover what in fact you have caused. It's a bad enough state that I think it would require a very great moral good at stake to justify doing such a thing to someone.

It's hard for me to read the following as if it's got an implicit uncertain "may":

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. [3] 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” [Exodus 3:19-22]

I don't think the supertask thing will work. First, extending it indefinitely isn't going to ensure any particular result at the end. You could ensure that Pharaoh would consider it if every possible consideration has to occur, but that doesn't guarantee that he'll actually choose it. (Or perhaps you're suggesting that he'll choose it eventually, but isn't it a little strange if God makes him choose every possibility in order to get him to do one in particular? What about all the other choices he makes? God just refuses to let him see the results of all the good choices he makes while actualizing only this bad choice? That also raises moral worries.)

It's especially hard for me to see the king of Egypt not letting them go unless compelled by a mighty hand as consisting of many kings of Egypt seeking to let them go but not getting the chance to do it because of being replaced by another. I don't see how that sentence could be read in terms of more than one king because of that.

I also don't think it's plausible to take all prophetic "X will happen" formulations as meaning "X is likely" or even the much weaker "X may happen. As I've already said, that approach seems at odds with the instructions about prophecy in Deuteronomy. Any prophet who made one of these likely prophecies that came out false would have to be put to death.

Well, that was probably what worried Jonah; but incidentally, something linguistically like Exodus 4:8-9 is You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. You shall not, but when you do...

In Genesis, that's clearly talking about denying permission, and the speech is directed at the person who doesn't get that permission. I can't see how that fits with the Exodus case, since it's talking about Pharaoh to Moses, and it's saying what he will do, not what he has permission to do. Why would God tell Moses that Pharaoh merely has permission to let God's own people go, people Pharaoh has no right to keep? It doesn't fit contextually.

I'm not sure what you're referring to as what Jonah thought. Is it my last paragraph in my previous comment? If so, I don't think that's what Jonah thought. Jonah thought they deserved justice and got mercy, and he was disappointed. There's nothing like that in this case.

Hi Jeremy and Enigman,

I have been enjoying your discussion.

Exodus 4:21
The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

Would it be possible to study together the concept of "God hardening a man's heart" from the story of God and Pharaoah?

I believe if we understand better what our God is trying to say to Moses, and to us, by using the phrase " I will harden his heart" we would be in a better position to check if our views line up with this phrase.

We should eventually be able to agree God began preparing Pharaoah to have a hardened heart many years before these words were spoken to Moses.

In fact, the main theme of a number of these chapters seems to be "how" God hardened Pharaoah's heart so He could accomplish a number of purposes. As a result, it would seem some inductive study is required to grasp what God is teaching.

There are a large number of examples in this portion of how God hardened Pharaoah's heart. I will give just one example for now.

Method 1

The first miracles Moses performed by God's power before Pharaoah were imitatable. Pharaoah's magicians apparently had just as much power as God! We know God could have performed much more stunning miracles if He so desired. But he purposefully started out slow. As a result one can easily conclude Pharaoah, in his pride, was feeling he could take on God.

I sometimes play ping pong left-handed. A new comer might observe my level and think he has a chance. If I started playing with all my skill, unless he had practiced he would not want to play for more than a minute or two. By playing a weaker game, things last longer.

Maybe you can observe other methods God used to harden Pharaoah's heart.


Another example of the means God used is an intensification of what Moses explicitly asks for. He asks to go and sacrifice in the wilderness at a three days' journey. The latter expression was an idiom for a long journey, so it wasn't literally three days, but Pharaoh only gets further details as the dialogue goes on amidst the plagues. At first he expects it to be just about letting the men go, leaving the women, children, and flocks. In Egypt sacrificing to gods was an adult male affair. But Moses then makes it clear that they all need to go, and Pharaoh ultimately concedes they can all go if they leave their flocks behind. Then he finally lets them all go with their flocks, and only at the end is it clear that he wants them to go and not come back (and even then he takes it back).

You also see his responses get more severe as it goes on, but he refuses to continue his attitude of remorse once each plague is gone. He first just asks Moses to pray to his God to remove the plague. Later on he admits to sinning and pleads with Moses more severely, only to take it back once the plague is removed. His officials beg him to stop this, but they continue to do his bidding when he tells them to oust Moses and Aaron. He ultimately gets so mad at Moses that he says if he ever sees him again he'll have him killed. This despite his continued honoring up to that point of the convention that you listen to prophets because they speak for gods, even if you don't like what they say (compare Ahab's listening to Micaiah even though he insists that Micaiah never has anything good to tell him). In the very end, even after he sends them off, he sets off after them to kill him. So there's a real progression in his resistance to God's command, and it gets worse despite his ability to acknowledge in the midst of each plague that he's making a big mistake in resisting God.

I'm not sure how much we're going to get out of this in terms of the metaphysics, though. It tells us a lot about the practical goings-on of hard-heartedness toward God. It doesn't tell us to what extent God is controlling the hard-heartedness to use for his own purposes, and it doesn't in itself tell us a lot about how much God knew was going to happen except in the way I've already pointed out (his prediction of it that would either have the risk of being false prophecy or is guaranteed because of genuine foreknowledge). It's an interesting subject, but I'm not sure how fruitful it will be for the question we've been discussing here.

Those are some good points.

Can I summarize (and rephrase) them, in case we come back to them later?

Method 2

Reverse Bargaining

God, through Moses, keeps asking for more. If Pharaoah ever agrees, God just makes it harder. We find out God does not intend for the people to leave until the Israelites can take all their people, all their possessions, and also plunder the Egyptians.

Try this on a used car salesman and see what happens.

Method 3

Instant Mercy

God lets Pharaoah have a sense of being in control. Pharaoah gets to choose when the plagues end. God is not requiring true repentance from Pharaoah. He happily ends one plague so he can send the next one.

Is it disrespectful to add, "God is playing cat and mouse with Pharaoah?"


Implications

You ask what this has to do with metaphysics. Well, up to now we have been working on semantics. What might it look like for God to work at hardening Pharaoah's heart?

Now we will add another ingredient, called "timing." Unlike the first methods we observed, God begins preparing Method 4 before speaking the words of Exodus 4:21.

Method 4

God elected Moses to be his spokesman.

a. Sibling rivalry

b. What? He's a prophet? But prophets don't grow up from little boys.

c. From riches to rags Egyptians despise shepherds

This method could be expanded. It's fun to discover new points. It is arguable God chose the ideal person on the whole planet- the one least likely to persuade Pharaoah.

I believe we are starting to see some implications already. God could have said, truthfully, "I have already started hardening his heart so that he will not let the people go. I have been working on this for 80 years" (or even more, as we could eventually discover).

God didn't say that. He said to Moses, "But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go."

Aren't we starting to have a clearer idea of what God means when he speaks this way?

It seems to me that our assumptions, conceptions, and language about God are all based on analogies from our every day experience. There are times that these analogies work well. Love for example, is a quality that translate pretty clearly.

Questions of responsibility... not so much. I read the inconsistency of language around who hardened pharoahs heart to be a result of the fact that we don't have any good way to talk or think about where divine "responsibility" begins or ends. It seems to me we have similiar conversations about conversion. Some say that it was 100% Jesus who was responsible for their conversion. Others say that it was 100% them. Both sides can line up scripture in their favor.
I believe that scripture is inspired but that it also suffers from the same flaws that other language does (except that the Holy Spirit illuminates things beyond conceptual/linguistic limitations) and that the Pharoah incident is just one example where scripture is basically saying "Your puny little brains won't get it."

Thanks for hosting an interesting discussion. (In case your wondering I followed a link here from Enigman's blog.)

-Jeff

I believe we are starting to see some implications already. God could have said, truthfully, "I have already started hardening his heart so that he will not let the people go. I have been working on this for 80 years" (or even more, as we could eventually discover).

God didn't say that. He said to Moses, "But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go."

Aren't we starting to have a clearer idea of what God means when he speaks this way?

The examples you give are means to accomplishing the hardening of the heart. I'm not sure they tell us much about what it means to harden the heart, at least if that has something to do with the metaphysics. You could take such examples in a libertarian way, consistent with open theism, Arminianism, or some other view that involves God either being limited in his sovereignty or willingly limiting his sovereignty. You could also take such examples in a compatibilist way, consistent with Calvinism or other Augustinian views.

Jeff, I'm sure we can draw some implication about our ignorance from the different ways scripture speaks about such things, but I don't see why that doesn't allow us to say that God is fully sovereign over salvation and that we're fully responsible for what we do and choose. Scripture does seem to me to assume compatibilism, and there's certainly a place for mystery there. But it's important to place the mystery in the right place, where scripture places it. There are ways scripture is clear, it seems to me, and one of those places is that nothing we do surprises God or frustrates his overall plan, and another is that we're fully responsible for what we do. Hard determinist views like those of hyper-Calvinism deny something clear in scripture when they deny the second of those points, and open theists and certain forms of Arminianism or Wesleyanism seem to me to deny something clear in scripture in denying the first. I don't think we should use the difficulties in capturing all these truths as an excuse to deny that these are both clear teachings of scripture.

Jeff,

I find more joy in the Lord thinking, "God, through Scripture, is basically saying He wants to teach me about Himself."

God gave the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:

13 Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure."

Then our LORD spends tens of chapters describing accurately many of the steps He took to accomplish the promised task. To complete the narrative He comments on the thinking of those He was working with.

He wants us to know Him and learn how He works, and He has given us an adequate brain capacity so we can know Him more each day and love Him.

The inability to know God is a teaching more commonly found in Islam. Knowing God more each day is a Christian concept. But effort will be required on our part for our minds to be renewed. We are commanded to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Our Lord, by describing his actions here, is making Himself accountable to us. He is showing what He is responsible for. He is claiming His actions are holy, fair, effective, and tempered by our responses. He wants us to praise Him for those things He is responsible for. He does not want us to attribute to Him evil deeds performed by others. He wants us to trust Him when we go through trials in obedience to His will.

Teachable, there are plenty of places in scripture that speak to God's ways being higher than our ways and point out our ignorance of the details of what he's doing such that we just need to trust him. It's because of that very fact that the repeated statements about knowing God have such significance. God reveals what's sufficient for someone to know him in a personal way, but even so it's a bit presumptuous to think we can put all the information we have together into an easy system that will as a package dictate to us everything there is to know about how to resolve all the tensions between the truths scripture reveals about God.

Your comment on your first post of April 26 interests me, Jeremy:

"The examples you give are means to accomplishing the hardening of the heart. I'm not sure they tell us much about what it means to harden the heart,..."

(sorry I don't know how to indent quotes with HTML tags).

If I gave you examples on how to 'drill a hole,' would that help you understand what it means to 'drill a hole'?

'submit a tender'
'shoot a hoop'
'collect stamps'

My Lord tells a story of how he hardened Pharaoah's heart, and He mentions heart hardening 13 times. I think we ought to know pretty much what the word means.

I was struggling with the meaning of the word "gossip" in the Bible precisely because I can find the word but not many examples. Some conversations I find myself in are borderline gossip. I don't know if they qualify or not. Not so with the word harden.

The LORD thinks examples are a great way to teach and he uses them repeatedly. His Middle Eastern audience would much prefer a good story or a witty proverb over Greek logic and notes in textbooks.

There are still many methods of hardening hearts we haven't noticed yet. Right from the start, in the first two books of Scripture, the LORD wants us to know how He works and, by inference, learn what He is like. He isn't holding back; He is revealing Himself.

I think if we pay attention and slow down on the preconceived ideas the metaphysics may well start falling into place. That's how progressive revelation was meant to work.

Jeremy said on April 23rd

I'm not sure how much we're going to get out of this in terms of the metaphysics, though. It tells us a lot about the practical goings-on of hard-heartedness toward God. It doesn't tell us to what extent God is controlling the hard-heartedness to use for his own purposes, and it doesn't in itself tell us a lot about how much God knew was going to happen except in the way I've already pointed out (his prediction of it that would either have the risk of being false prophecy or is guaranteed because of genuine foreknowledge). It's an interesting subject, but I'm not sure how fruitful it will be for the question we've been discussing here.

To what extent is God controlling the hard-heartedness?

From the open point of view, God is promoting hard-heartedness but not necessarily forcing it.

How much did God know was going to happen?

You say He either
a. risks stating a false prophecy or
b. the outcome is guaranteed because of (absolute) foreknowledge.

This is where your logic may fail you. There could be a third option:
c. the predictive aspect of Exodus 4:21 is conditional, even though the condition was not expressed.

In the case of Pharaoah, if c. is also an option, it would seem reasonable for the LORD not to express the conditional aspect because:
-He had been setting up the departure from Egypt for hundreds of years and felt all the pieces were in place.
-He knew enough about Pharaoah to consider at least some hard-hearted responses to be virtually sure.

Furthermore, the purpose of God's words to Moses are not so much predictive or prophetic as they are encouraging. He is telling Moses to hang in there, even though it won't be easy, because God isn't even intending to give Moses a quick victory. He wants to take His time. Moses, in submission and humility, needs to buckle on his seatbelt and get ready for a long, hard roller-coaster ride.


I'd like to see some criteria for when a promise or prophecy is conditional. In Jonah it's conditional because it depends on someone's response to a message. A message of judgment is being preached, but many messages of judgment occur in the Bible, and only in a small percentage is it said that there's no more chance to repent (although those cases themselves seem to count against the open view). So we might assume that promises of judgment are contingent upon no change in the person being judged, unless it says otherwise.

But this case is very different. It's not a promise of judgment on Pharaoh if he doesn't repent, where if he does things will all be hunky-dory. It's a promise of deliverance for Israel based on Pharaoh's non-repentance. It doesn't seem the sort of situation that is anything like the kinds of conditional promises and prophecies elsewhere in the Bible. It doesn't seem at all to have to do with God having a certain stance against someone temporarily because of the way the person is, a stance that will be different at a later time if the person is different.

The first criteria for a prophecy to be conditional seems to be the justice and mercy of God, as described in Jeremiah 18:7-10:

5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

Anywhere God could show mercy or justice could affect a prophecy. I think we are mostly agreed on this, though we might want to look at specific examples of unconditional prophecies, in case you find one which you think counts against the open view.

Maybe you are thinking of the Genesis 15 unconditional promise to Abraham:

13 Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.

Combining the promise to Abraham with the words directed to Moses to encourage him to persevere, at EDD-60 (Estimated date of departure from Egypt minus about 60 days) we get:

-even if the Egyptians repent they are going to get punished to some degree for their mistreatment of the people of Israel.

-the Israelites will plunder the Egyptians, whether those Egyptians are living (and repentant) or dead (if they didn't repent).

-the Israelites will head back to their promised land, whether their enemies are dead or alive.

-implied in the statement of God having decided to work at hardening Pharaoah's heart is the possibility the Holy Spirit may not be working in his life to bring him to repentance any longer.

-God is not at all obliged to respect the free will of a dead body, and in this particular story, Exodus 14 summarizes:

28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

So, to the extent Pharaoh repents, he might be able to save his life, or the life of his people, or something. But don't we all agree it would be difficult to imagine Pharaoh repenting under the present circumstances?

The issue isn't difficulty to imagine. Likelihood isn't a guarantee, and there's no chance God's prophecies are wrong on the traditional view. Open theists have to introduce an element of uncertainty and then reinterpret seemingly-unconditional promises as conditional. I wasn't thinking so much of the Genesis one as the Exodus one we've been talking all along, where God tells Moses that he will harden Pharaoh's heart and that Pharaoh will stubbornly resist so that God will have to release them with a display of power. The kind of detail given seems to be impossible to guarantee if open theism is true, at least if Pharaoh is free.

I think we're also getting distracted by the fact that this is about one person. It gets worse when many people across many generations are involved. Consider the large-scale predictions in Daniel of various beast-empires or the very specific human decisions involved in responding to the gospel that the biblical authors (and apostles within Acts) refer to as God having those people already before-the-fact. I don't think even a libertarian who thinks God has exhaustive foreknowledge can capture that kind of language well, but it's even more difficult for open theism.

Well, the Scriptures quote God as saying, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart." Maybe more was said that wasn't quoted.

Even if he had said much more it would only serve to mess up the writing style. It would not be enough to persuade anyone the open view is acceptable. One might think the next paragraph is exagerated, but actually it is only the smallest fraction of what God could say about How He Might Want To Go About Accomplishing Something.

Maybe you think if the open view is to be plausible, Exodus 4:21b should be written in a more contractual or precise or descriptive style such as: "To the best of My ability, without violating Pharaoh's free will, I will temporarily continue to do My part to persuade him to resist letting the people go, while at the same time I progressively increase the severity of My interventions. I doubt he will agree to your words calling him to let My people go, and even if he does I will simply ask for more plunder in a further attempt to harden him. Considering I have let him and his forefathers enslave my people for generations, building their cities and monuments with cheap labor, and murdering children without facing, as yet, any reprisal, in My opinion he will probably show at least some evidence of a hard heart, as he has done in the past. Furthermore, it should, I hope, irritate him to have to listen to you, his (adopted brother?) who was born to the enslaved nation (but somehow ended up being his childhood playmate?) who, in spite of your excellent opportunities ended up being a despised shepherd (and I did get rather angry when you refused to do the speaking yourself and I had to let your brother Aaron, who speaks in public a whole lot better than you, do the talking). So My guess at the projected chance of Pharaoh showing evidence of a hard heart is 99.9999999999999999998475 %. If he does repent quickly and give the people permission to take everything and depart without a struggle, I do have some further tricks up my sleeve. He has a number of hard hearted ministers who might be persuaded to try a coup d'etat. Or he may "accidently" catch a new virus I've been working on in My spare time. This of course would increase my percentage chance of getting to do my "interventions" before the people of Israel take everything and leave.

Let me point out that even if God had used the second way of describing the situation, He would not have described His options fully, and he would still be leaving some doubt in the mind of anyone who wants to hold a different view as to whether He can get his 99+ % chance all the way to 100%.

I wouldn't expect anything so explicit as that, just some sign that it's not the kind of prophecy described in Deuteronomy 18 but something likely but not absolutely sure. That just doesn't seem to me to be how God speaks in the Bible. There are surely conditional prophecies, as we've discussed, but those are compatible with both views. For the open theistic interpretation to be correct in this passage, it needs to be more than that, and it needs to involve things that I don't think we have any clear argument for in any part of the Bible, whereas it does seem to me to go against what we do see explicitly formulated in several places.

Well, if we just need "some sign" I know one place to look.

Here is some help from Pratico and Van Pelt's book Basics of Biblical Hebrew, Zondervan, 2001:

pg 345 The Hiphil stem is used to express a causative type of action...

He remembered with the Hiphil stem becomes

a. he caused to remember or (the more literal translation)
b. he reminded (the more idiomatic translation).

pg. 353 the Hiphil verb form is commonly used in God's promises.

I'm not a Hebrew scholar. I do speak fluently a similar language which uses a causative verb pattern.

I think it is quite reasonable for God to say I (the verb: be hard) (causative, future, imperfect) his heart. He is not necessarily assuring the results as much as promising His involvement.

My wife promised our friends she would feed their cat daily while they are on holiday. Everyday she goes into their house to feed the cat. The cat is not eating the food she has put out. In a language with a causative verb pattern she promised: I (the verb: feed) (causative, future, imperfect) the cat.

When our friends come back, my wife could truthfully tell them, I (the verb: feed) (causative, past, perfect) the cat daily.

More likely she will want to add, "But he did not want to eat." She might even add, "He preferred to eat the ... instead." She could further describe who is responsible for providing the ... if she wished.

She is responsible for doing her part. Feeding the cat does not require tranquilization darts and intravenous solution.

So the little sign you are looking for could very well be a Hiphel verb form indicator in the original Hebrew.

I'm not talking about the metaphysical nature of how God causes or partially causes or affects in some way what Pharaoh does. I'm talking about what he proceeds to promise will happen.

We looked at some of the methods God used to harden Pharaoh's heart. Though the LORD did not directly claim they were methods used to harden Pharaoh's heart, he described for us what happened and we can reasonably conclude these events would tend to harden Pharaoh's heart, at least partially. We can see the LORD's involvement and observe there was nothing morally wrong with His actions even though what He did qualifies as actions designed to "probably harden" Pharaoh's heart.

Furthermore, we understand the grammar of this particular "promise" may be, in the Hebrew, a claim as to what the LORD intends to do, and not a claim of how Pharaoh will respond.

Nevertheless, we all wonder, what about the other promises where the LORD seems to be claiming a particular future choice will be taken by an individual in the future?

My response would be, there are other methods the LORD could use. He doesn't have to describe them all. There may be methods He could use which are so forceful the individual can no longer change the course he has previously been taking significantly. There might be methods which override an individuals free will. The LORD does not claim to use such methods, and the LORD may never have used them, and the way I see events described in the Scriptures I do not think such methods are normative.

I think it is edifying to discuss what God claims to have done and observe the results of His work. Going beyond this discussion leads us to speculation. We do not want to add to what the Scriptures teach. We need to be careful not to make claims beyond what has been revealed.

To answer your initial query, I think open theism fits with the Biblical narrative as well as any other view.

Well, I can think you can stretch narrative passages to fit it, but even if it fits some of them better I don't see how you can think it fits the non-narrative theological statements better, and it certainly doesn't fit statements in narratives that assume full-blown compatibilism and not just exhaustive foreknowledge.

Please choose three such statements carefully for me and I'll give it my best try.

Well, here are three examples in narrative contexts in Acts:

Acts 2:23 The deliberate plan and foreknowledge of God brought about the crucifixion. Peter says this in the context of blaming the Jewish leaders for the evil they did in carrying out God's plan, so they were obviously free and morally responsible in doing so. Yet it's fulfillment of God's foreknowledge and plan that they would do so. Thus Peter assumes compatibilism about human freedom and God's knowledge of and plan for the future (whether it assumes compatibilism about freedom and predetermination or not).

Acts 4:28 Referring to the same events, Peter says to God, "They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen." God's plan from beforehand included their free action. If God can't guarantee free actions, then the plan of salvation might have failed.

Acts 18:10, in an evangelistic context, has Jesus speaking to Paul telling him that he has many people in this city, i.e. he has many people already picked out to believe. Saying he already has them makes it very difficult to interpret this in a general sense, as in he intends to save a whole bunch of them if only they'll believe (not that such a thing could be guaranteed anyway if open theism is true, and thus we again have the possibility of God being proved a liar).

Thanks.
We can lump the first two examples together and start with them for now.

1 Peter 1:19 and 20 tell us Christ was chosen by God before the creation of the world. Other verses expand on theme of what specific items were included in the plan of God, which He designed before creating the world.

God the Father has a long-term plan, or purpose, which he decided upon before the creation of the world, in which Jesus Christ was to die on the behalf of all mankind, to pay the penalty for our sin, to rise again victoriously, and to finish the work of saving a people who will be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ.

God uses methods, as He did in Pharaoh's story, to prepare for His purpose and plan to be fulfilled. These methods would deal with all sorts of items related to:

-the Roman empire
-the composition of the Sanhedrin
-the concept of capital punishment
-the significance of a body hanging from a tree
-the weather
-the symbolism in the ceremonial aspects of Mosaic law which should be fulfilled
-the composition of the group of disciples

This is to be the central event in all of human history, and I have no doubt God did all the necessary preparations thoughtfully. His mighty arm was going to win him the victory once again.

His preparations would require foreknowledge. Foreknowledge, to me, is not “simple foreknowledge” or “exhaustive foreknowledge.” It is a foreknowledge which expands on what is known to include probabilities of what is likely to happen.

So basically the style described in previous posts that worked with Moses and Pharaoh still applies. Likelihood, or probability, is very high, and we aren't told if there is a need for a more forceful method or not.

How's that for starters?

Well, it doesn't convince me at all. I don't see the language of probability in any of this. I do see very specific things whose occurrence depends on the free choice of human beings. I see specific predictions of specific people. I don't see any statements about God working some or even many things out for good enough purposes so that the central, necessary things will happen. I see statements about God working everything out perfectly for those who are his. When difficult things happen, the comfort isn't usually that God can't help it or that he's doing his best and will make sure it eventually works out. The comfort is that whatever it is in in his plan. That's how the biblical response to evil goes. This probabilistic prophecy stuff just doesn't seem to fit the general perspective of God's providence that I see throughout scripture.

Jeremy, it is not my goal to persuade you otherwise. Of course we are allowed to think differently. We are trying to think inductively, but the amount of content is enormous for our little heads.

Sometimes the Lord does use language of probability. "If" is part of His vocabulary.

Sometimes He does not use any conditional words, though later we find out the prophecy is conditional.

Sometimes there is no need for any conditional words. Even though the person has freewill, there is no way they are going to do something different. If you endorse compatibilist free will over libertarian free will, you already have this concept. Those of us who think libertarian free will is also valid don't necessarily deny any possibilities for compatibilism. Judas, after being possessed by a devil, in a situation which the Holy Spirit had no intention of intervening, seems to be a pretty clear example. Judas may have operated with libertarian free will previously, but there is no way he was going to do anything different from his intentions when only a matter of hours was left and the Lord Jesus made His prophecy.

I am not trying to persuade you to change your view. I just want to see if there is a real argument against open theism.

Until then, it is a disputable matter, and more than one view is acceptable among God's people.

I haven't taken a stand here on whether one can be an open theist and be genuinely among God's people. I don't think you need to believe all the implications of the gospel to believe the gospel. So even if open theism ends up having implications that raise trouble for the gospel, it doesn't follow that every open theist denies the gospel. I've never taken that view. All I was trying to do in this post is raise a serious difficulty for open theism. You've done a much better job than any open theist I've ever encountered at trying to make the view make sense of this kind of thing. I'm not convinced it really amounts to a plausible interpretation, but I've never taken it to the level of acceptability among God's people. That's not my concern.

I'm just trying to discuss whether we should find it a likely interpretation of scripture. There are lots of views that I don't find plausible as interpretations of scripture that aren't in the category of being unacceptable for God's people. I disagree with paedobaptism, dispensationalism, cessationism of any spiritual gifts, and many politically-liberal applications of biblical ethical teaching. But I don't see any of those as unacceptable in any strong sense, other than that it's ideally best if we all have the right views and that wrong views can always cause problems.

Thanks for the compliment.

Thank you for being respectful and even-handed. The first part of the post persuaded me I could participate without being unfairly blasted. The discussion continues to seem edifying, and we are being reasonable with each other.

After reading Romans 14:22a (So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God) one has to be a careful about what sort of discussion one enters.

Whereas our discussion may seem edifying, often those with a minority view are not given much of a fair hearing. It is often easier for those in power to use disciplinary measures.

Luke 4 : 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Whether the minority view opinion is plausible or not, the natural tendancy is not to want to sit and respectfully discuss the different opinions.

It is precisely because of the sanctions put upon open theists which makes me interested in trying to see how plausible the view is. Full-time workers who have preferred this view have faced economic pressures, while they haven't been exposed to coherent arguments as to why the view is not plausible. The books written against open theism, even by scholarly writers like Erickson, Ware and Geisler, make me think these men didn't listen enough to understand what the open viewers were saying. To me, their responses miss the mark.

I haven't read any Erickson. I agree that Ware oversimplifies. Geisler doesn't strike me as a very careful thinker at all. One of the best things I've read against open theism was D.A. Carson's book review of one of Greg Boyd's books. His How Long, O Lord? also is pretty good at presenting a compatibilist understanding of scripture.

Within philosophy, open theism actually is the dominant view among theists. I'm in a very small minority as a compatibilist. Paul Helm is one prominent compatibilist, but I haven't looked at his stuff in detail. I didn't think he was good at arguing for his view in the IVP God and Time view. The introduction to that book presents the arguments for it better than the chapter that's supposed to defend it. I've looked at one or two things on other topics that I didn't find all that helpful, so I haven't pursued his stuff much.

I did really like a paper by Linda Zagzebski on the metaphysical underpinnings of truth about future contingency, called "Omniscience and the Arrow of Time". A paper by Lynn Rudder Baker called "Why Christians should not be libertarians: An Augustinian challenge" seemed to me to be absolutely stellar without getting much attention. Both were published in Faith and Philosophy. Zagzebski's was 2002, and Baker's was 2003. I haven't seen a lot of discussion of either.

Jeremy's third example from May 30th was:

Acts 18:10, in an evangelistic context, has Jesus speaking to Paul telling him that he has many people in this city, i.e. he has many people already picked out to believe. Saying he already has them makes it very difficult to interpret this in a general sense, as in he intends to save a whole bunch of them if only they'll believe (not that such a thing could be guaranteed anyway if open theism is true, and thus we again have the possibility of God being proved a liar).

The assumption you make here is that there are not yet many believers in Corinth when the vision occurs:

Acts 18: 9One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." 11So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

It is sometimes hard to prove that assumption. In fact, the previous verse seems to deny it:

Acts 18:8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

You could probably find more challenging examples. If you do, I will try to respond to them. It makes for an interesting study. This particular example, however, may not produce much dialogue.


Why is he giving the many people in the city as a reason to keep on speaking if it isn't for the sake of their coming to faith? It makes sense if it's talking about evangelism. The city authorities don't want him evangelizing, but he's being encouraged to continue in it, because the Lord has many people in the city. If it's many already saved, why is that an encouragement for Paul to keep evangelizing? Couldn't he just leave that to the many who are already saved? I'm having a hard time seeing the reason as making sense on your interpretation.

I don't see how 18:8 contradicts taking 18:9 to be talking about many people who aren't saved. A large enough percentage of those who he'd talked to already believed. That doesn't mean there aren't many others, particularly a huge number in addition to the relatively few who have believed so far (who are called many relative to the number who have so far heard but who are probably few compared to the many who will believe).

I should say while I'm thinking about it that I think your interpretation of open theism is relatively conservative compared to some I've seen, particularly Greg Boyd's. For some the point of open theism has to do with (what I see as) a fallacious argument against foreknowledge and its compatibility with freedom. I think the argument they give is one of the biggest howlers in the history of philosophy, but that's just the argument for open theism. Others think certain biblical texts support open theism and think those are more definitive than the texts traditionally used to support exhaustive foreknowledge.

But Boyd's primary reason has to do with the problem of evil. He doesn't think there's a good answer to why God allows evil unless God couldn't help it, and the best way to have God unable to help is if he's surprised by most of what happens in the world, and you end up with a picture much closer to (but stopping short of) Eastern dualism such as Zoroastrianism and Manicheanism, where Satan is nearly as powerful as God, and God can't predict what Satan will do, constantly being surprised but somehow still being victorious often enough that we should believe God will win in the end.

The more I've seen your responses to my arguments, the more I've become worried that the open theism you're thinking of won't be able to give Boyd's answer to the problem of evil. The more reliable God's statements about the future get (and thus the closer to scripture you get) the harder it will be to think of God as able to be surprised. God can always step in and do the things you're suggesting. So while you're making a stronger case than most for fitting open theism to scripture, I think it's at the cost of one of the main motivations some people have for open theism.

Observations on Acts 18:

1. In verse 10 the Lord promises Paul "no one is going to attack and harm you." Compare verse 12While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 13"This man," they charged, "is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law."

This example shows us how careful we have to be with the Lord's promises. If we only look at the thought "No one is going to attack you" we could start announcing, inaccurately, God failed to keep his promise to Paul. In fact, God's promise applies more to the word harm. Enemies may attack Paul, but he has God's promise he won't be harmed.

I believe it is recorded in Scripture this way to remind the student to be careful and precise.

2. Most versions say "because I have many people in this city" and only a few use "for I have many people in this city." We are probably happy enough with "because."

However, none of us think Paul is safe simply because there are many of God's people in the city. It only takes one evil person to knife Paul in the back. Paul is not surrounded moment by moment by security operatives. We know Paul is safe because the Lord has given him a specific promise of protection. The Lord will intervene when necessary.

Therefore, the phrase "because I have many people in this city" modifies the thought "I want you to stay in Corinth for a while and speak boldly for me. Don't be afraid."

3. Corinth is a strategic location for the gospel. One would hope the gospel could spread out from Corinth both by land and by sea.

4. The work Paul was described as doing was labelled, in verse 11, as teaching the word of God. Your emphasis on evangelism in the previous posts needs to take into account the Lord also wanted Paul to teach the "many" new believers.

Having said all this, I agree the Lord is expressing expectation there will be more converts in Corinth. I attribute this, partially, to His knowledge of the condition of people in Corinth who are God-fearing. I see occasionally in Scripture the concept some people belong to God, and later belong to Christ. The Father gives people to the Son. Disciples of John transfer to become disciples of Christ.

Furthermore, the Lord expects His gospel to bear fruit. He speaks of His work being successful. He may not use precise numbers, but He likes to say many will come.

Isaiah 53:11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

I don't understand how compatibilism can function alongside freedom all of the time. I can understand how compatibilism could sometimes line up with libertarian freedom. Maybe I haven't read the right compatibilist authors. I can eventually try your Carson.

However, none of us think Paul is safe simply because there are many of God's people in the city. It only takes one evil person to knife Paul in the back. Paul is not surrounded moment by moment by security operatives. We know Paul is safe because the Lord has given him a specific promise of protection. The Lord will intervene when necessary.

Therefore, the phrase "because I have many people in this city" modifies the thought "I want you to stay in Corinth for a while and speak boldly for me. Don't be afraid."

I don't think that argument succeeds. I don't think Paul is safe simply because many of God's people are in the city, as if they're going to protect him. But that takes "because" to mean an Aristotelian efficient cause, where the idea is that God's people directly protect him and make him safe. I wasn't taking it that way at all but rather as an Aristotelian final cause, i.e. a purpose, end, or goal. Because God has many people in the city, God will not let Paul come to harm even if someone tries to stab him in the back. So you don't need to rethink the grammatical structure of the sentence just because someone could try to stab him in the back.

But even if it does mean that, I don't think it helps the open theist. If it means God wants him to stay and preach boldly because he's got many in the city (rather than to teach the brothers because there are many to be taught), then his preaching to non-believers has to be based in the many being in the city. That still seems unexplained if it isn't God's foreknowledge of those whom he intended to save.

Your interpretation requires taking "preaching" to refer to the teaching of new believers rather than its usual sense in Acts of preaching the good news to those who are not believers. This is especially so because it's preaching boldly, which needs to be true only when there's some fear of preaching, and that's not so with new believers excited to hear more.

I'm not sure what your final paragraph is getting at. Compatibilism is the thesis that God's foreknowledge or predetermination (depending on which kind of compatibilism you mean) are compatible with human freedom. What would make them compatible at some times but not at others? I'm not saying what you're saying doesn't make sense. I'm just not sure what you mean, so I can't even evaluate whether it makes sense.

If you start a separate thread on compatibilistic, non-deterministic freedom I would be glad to participate. I don't want to mess this thread up with a big parenthesis.

I agree with what you are saying in your third paragraph about the Aristotelian final cause. You expressed it better than I did.

Regarding your fourth and fifth paragraph, I agree the word "speak" in verse 9 refers to evangelism and its associated risks. I don't think you need to add the word "boldly", which doesn't seem to appear in the first 10 versions I checked.

So it is still up to me to show why I think the Lord announces He has many people in the city, and therefore Paul is expected to keep preaching in order to harvest them. I need to show how I can keep thinking this even though I do not believe in "specific" election, but rather "general" election.

While I am working on this one, which is getting to the crux of the matter, let me just fire this off to see if we are both looking at the same "challenge."


Perhaps you've framed the challenge right. See what you come up with, and I'll see if I think you've responded fully to my worry.

I might get back to my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series soon. If I do, compatibilism is the topic I've not yet finished. I have discussed it before, though.

I have argued against libertarian views of freedom, and you can look at the posts on free will in the Theories of Knowledge and Reality series for most of what I have to say about the issue, although I did want to put together at least one more post on that at some point.

Those posts are largely philosophical, though. I don't know if you were thinking of a more biblically-oriented discussion.

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