"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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Did Adam and Eve Have a Libertarian Free Will?

A visitor named Tom Asked the following question:

Question: Hi, Were Adam and Eve made sinful by nature or with an evil heart from their creation? Were they originally made totally depraved? I can see no other explanation as to why they sinned and chose to eat the forbidden fruit, if sin stems from a sin nature. Calvinists teach compatibilist free will after the fall and rail against libertarian free will, strongly asserting that a person chooses according to their nature. But I have heard them teach what appears to be the opposite before the Fall, something to the effect that Adam and Eve were somehow neutral (in a state of prevenient grace?) back before they fell?

Why did they sin, if they were not sinful by nature and had no indwelling sin? If libertarian free will and neutrality are out, then doesn't their sin necessitate a sin nature? How can there be a capacity to sin and why would that make any difference given the above criteria?



Hi Tom

Thank you for your email. Your question is one of the better ones I have ever heard. Thanks for asking it. Before getting into your specific question it I think it important that we define what we are talking about here. It seems like you are defining the term "free-will" philosophically (libertarian free will) but when we speak of the term lets try to put it in biblical categories so as to avoid confusion. If you believe in free will, first ask yourself the question, "free from what?" ...that is. according to the Bible what is man free from? Is he free from sin? Apart from grace, is his fallen will in bondage to sin, or is he free from sin? Apart from ANY grace, can he sometimes, muster up enough of his own natural strength, wisdom or insight to believe the gospel?

First of all, we do not believe in "free will" - nor does anyone who calls him or herself a Christian really believe this. Let me show you why. The Bible plainly teaches that fallen, unregenerate man is in bondage to corruption. It says we are "dead in sin" which means is that the natural man is unspiritual, that is, he does not have the Holy Spirit. The whole chapter of 1 Cor 2 explains that an unspiritual man (the person without the Spirit) cannot understand or accept spiritual truth (v 14) but that the Spirit of God is necessary in order to understand and love the gospel (v.12). This is not to say that that unbeliever cannot understand the data of Scripture intellectually, in some sense, but rather than he cannot see the beauty and truth in it so as to desire and love it. So think about this for a second Tom. The fact that people need grace and the Holy Spirit, prior to salvation, does away with free will altogether. Both the Calvinist and the Arminian believe that the natural man cannot come to Christ on his own apart from the Holy Spirit. Arminians affirm prevenient grace thereby acknowledging that apart from this grace man has no free will. This means that even Arminians affirm, along with Calvinists, that man's fallen state (his nature) make it impossible for him to believe the gospel if left to draw from his own native resources. I have never met an Arminian anywhere who believes in free will in this sense. What we mean when we say man has no free will is not that someone is coercing him from the outside. No. It means that he makes choices according to who he is. If he is a good tree he bears food fruit. A bad tree will bear bad fruit. Even Arminians believe this. Ask any Arminian you know whether a person can come to Christ apart from ANY Grace or ANY help from the Holy Spirit. If he says "no" then he has just acknowledged:

1) that natural man has no free will &

2) that compatibilism is true, since the fallen man is in bondage to his own corruption and would never come to Christ apart from some kind of grace.

His corrupt nature keeps him from any possibility of coming to Christ. Again the need for grace does away with free will altogether. The question, therefore, is not whether or not man has free will (since we already established that he doesn't for both Calvinists and Arminiains). Rather the question is whether or not such grace is irresistible or not. Which does the Bible teach? We believe that the Scripture teaches that no one can believe in Jesus unless God grants it through the quickening work of the Spirit (John 6:63-65) and ALL that God grants will believe (John 6:37) just look at these texts alone in their contexts and it becomes clear that Jesus leaves no room whatsoever for the Arminian position.

But we digress. Let go back to the free will question. Here is another place that the Arminians believe in compatibilism. Both the glorified saints and God Himself are unable to choose evil because they are sealed in righteousness. Therefore both God and glorified saints choose according to their glorified resurrected natures. God can do not evil. The glorified saints can do no evil. Their will is not free in the libertarian sense. Looked at philosophically God and the saints have no libertarian free will do they? But the Bible does not define freedom as the ability to choose otherwise like philosophy. Rather, freedom is always defined in the Bible as freedom from sin. If freedom was defined as the freedom to do otherwise then God would have less freedom than we do, according to the Arminian theory. No, when God sets us free he is setting us from from the bondage to sin just as he set the Israelite's free from the Egyptians..

Now to your question about Adam and Eve. Since there is no such thing as neutrality we much do away with this possibility. The only hint we have in the Text about man's pre-fall nature is that God said his creation of man was very good. So we know that God created man at least with an inclination toward good. We also know that pre-fall man was not in bondage to sin. Yet we clearly see that in the garden God placed mankind in a probationary condition. Now while man was inclined to choose good, God created his nature in such a way that was not yet sealed in righteousness. Because if he were sealed he would not have been able to choose evil and if he were already sealed in evil he would not have been able to choose good. The saints in heaven are sealed in righteousness and cannot choose otherwise. Fallen man, apart from the Holy Spirit are in bondage to sin and cannot do otherwise. But Adam was inclined to good but was deceived into choosing evil - This made his sin all the more heinous and which plunged us all into darkness. I only can go so far as the Scripture allows here and there is nowhere where the philosophical, extra-biblical idea of libertarian free will exists in it. It would be pure speculation to do so. The bible defines freedom as free from sin. In Rom 6 Jesus teaches that only he can set his people free. Freedom in the Bible is always defined as free from the bondage to sin. Bondage refers to a lack of freedom. In John 8:44-47 Jesus says to the Jews who disbelieved him,

"You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.

Who they are by nature determined the choices they made. Only God's grace can change them. Jesus plainly says that don't hear him because they are not of him. People do not come to Christ because they are not his sheep. No one of his own nature, apart from the Spirit, has the wherewithal to come to Christ. Why do you "thank" God for your conversion? It is because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it. You thank God because "you do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or prudence, or sound judgment, or good sense." (Packer) Did you have more natural wisdom than your neighbor? That is something to boast in. It is Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone that makes us to differ from another. I must thank God for everything I have, including the heart he gave me to believe. You cannot say, "thank you Lord for everything except my new heart, except my faith... I came up with this on my own." No, give God the glory for everything you have.

Hope this helps

Posted by John on September 27, 2010 05:42 PM


Hi Just wanted to know how you do those "continue reading" links when the post is a bit long? so i can use it for my blog, appreciate your help


Interesting response, but, doesn't this idea sound a bit like a "trickster" mythology in the same vein of modern Classical Atonement?

That is to say that part of classical atonement (which I think is partially true and false - but is socially considered totally false in Reformed circles) is about God tricking Satan into accepting Christ as an atoneming sacrifice for humanity in place of all of humanity as a response to Satan tricking man into bondage.

Whereas I neither think that you are right or wrong, what do you think about that thought?

"But Adam was inclined to good but was deceived into choosing evil"

A deceived choice is never a free one :)

Whatever Satan was able to do it was very powerful. Having been creatd in God's image and good, as you point out, man being free to choose was also created with a reasonble mind, his actions and his nature were in accord with the Imago Dei. Whatever Satan did, it overwhelmed the natural capacity or Eve would not have succombed. In the end of a very long post at A Rose I come to the conclusion, which is by no means conclusive, that it was by exciting her emotions. In other words he made her dumb by appealing to her desire to please God. It is not that she brought about her own deception, she was decieved by the machinations of the Snake. But that could not have been soley by reason, for she was made good in thought. But emotions can be incited by smell, taste, sight or the thoughts for they are fluid. Whatever was the means, I believe it was in that movable sense we call emotion where the deception began.

But, as you say we have only what Scripture teaches. And that is that Eve was deceived. Again, where there is deception, we cannot say that a free choice is made for the object of choice is not a real one. While the will remains free at all times, the influences upon it change its inclination. As long as the influences are good the will will be moved to good, but, as soon as the influences are allowed to become evil, the will will be bent towards it. Jesus says that the Devil had no part in him. And we pray keep us from evil. The influences are not able to penetrate because we are sealed as Jesus was. There is nothing evil inside, that is in the new nature, and beside, it is sealed by the Holy Spirit such that no influence can penetrate.

The conditions of the first Adam were different. Because God saw fit not to seal them, the nature was vulnerable to change. Still, it could not have been the mind for it was capable of defending itself. But, emotions are not so easily defended. In the temptation of Eve what she sees is important, it was good, for food, and for gaining wisdom. But that is prefaced by the allurement of being like God. That is not an appeal to the mind, but an appeal to her innate desire to please God. Rationally, to eat the fruit and be more like God is an exciting proposition where death might be good as the means of achieving what her heart was created to desire. Some have blamed Eve's concupicence, however, that is a corrupted desire. Desire is emotion and in the beginning Eves desires were all good, not corrupt. It seems then, that it is here, at the level of desire where Satan made his attack. He does not accuse God so much as he makes God out to be testing them. In one aspect, Satan appears to come along side as a helper to explain God's plan. But, it could not have been the reasoning alone for Eve knew better. But, when the leaven of the promise of a "closer walk with God," is offered, the native desires are inflamed and override the rational thinking.

Not if the plan of redemption has been an eternal one, which it is.


In your long-winded answer you stated, "But Adam was inclined to good but was deceived into choosing evil - This made his sin all the more heinous and which plunged us all into darkness." 1 Tim 2:13 states, "And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression."

Amazing how reading the Bible ruins an answer to a question that sounds good, but is wrong.

Looking for an answer to this question, these are not satisfying....

Interesting topic, Adam and Eve and whether or not they contained the capacity to choose good instead of evil when tempted by the master deceiver.
When I read the "Adam and Eve" passage in Genesis, a number of limitations jump out at me about the attributes engendered to both. First, Eve clearly was given a sinful nature by God for the following reasons: She was given a coveting spirit, because she could be tempted. She was defiant and rebellious, for she could be willfully disobedient to God. She became bitter and resentful for not being engendered with the attributes of her creator. Last, she became arrogant and prideful because she desired to be like God instead of humbly accepting her role. What's even more interesting is what God apparently willfully withheld from her, specifically the knowledge of good and evil. In spite of not being given this knowledge or any semblance of a conscious (even Pinocchio was given Jiminy Cricket), God willfully withheld any information about the tempter let alone how to deal with him when confronted (God is sovereign, he knew this was going to happen). Last, God willfully withheld intervening protection even though the stakes for failing had terminal ramifications for all of mankind (i.e. one and done...for everyone), and that they were totally unequipped to deal with the temptings of the master deceiver, the father of all lies. As for Adam, he appeared to simply bumble along when offered the apple by Eve, not questioning her, not asking about the tempter, let alone checking with his creator to see if Eve's claims had any merits. He, too, appears to be a foolish nit wit, void of wisdom, discernment, or any comprehension of what's right or wrong.
The bible paints a tainted view of Adam and Eve, a view that says to me that it wasn't if they were going to fail when confronted by the tempter, it was when, for their attributes paint them to be rebellious buffoons, and to make matters worse void of the knowledge of what's right or wrong, and with no conscious to be their guide.
Maybe I'm missing something here - but it their fall appears to be guaranteed by their creator.

The big problem is about who created evil. Man is not able to act at will, neither Adam was free because 1 Peter 1:20 says: He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. If Christ was chosen in order to be our savior (of elected ones), God knew about the Adam downfall before He created him. And we know God knowledge is not passive, but active. God decreed it to happen, and it happened. Therefore, there was not any free will in Adam, and the LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil (Proverb 16:4). At that place, we have nothing like a mistake in God, and evil was not an error, but something right in the God's mind: all He made was very good. From God perspective evil is valid, and He does not commit any sin because sin is to be against His will. Fallen angels and mankind were never free to choose other possibilities than sin. Even Satan was perfect until there were found evil in him, and we know that it was not a surprise for the Lord. He did all things: Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? (Amos 3:6). Consequently, it is inconceivable any mistake in the Lord's actions. It is unrealistic for man to be free in the hands of a sovereign God. The intention of God before the foundation of the world was the creation of evil, the fallen angel and man, and the redemption of His people. His elected ones between mankind. If we are emancipated creatures, we are them in the only way of being discharged of eternal condemnation, by His grace.

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