Thursday, August 12, 2010

Luther: Man Has No Free Will

The following is from the webpage Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading of "Free Will":

Christ taught: “Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”[“Matthew 7:21, Cf. Matt 7:24, Matt 26:24]. Luther teaches: "...with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, (man) has no 'free-will', but is a captive, prisoner and bond slave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan" [From the essay, 'Bondage of the Will,' 'Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings, ed. by Dillenberger, Anchor Books, 1962 p. 190].

Luther Exposing the Myth is the product of  a Roman Catholic apologetics website. The author attempts to show Luther's view of the will is contradicted by Matthew 7:21 (and also Matthew 7:24, but I have no idea why Matthew 26:24 is cited).

Documentation
Luther Exposing the Myth documents their Luther citation as "From the essay, 'Bondage of the Will,' 'Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings, ed. by Dillenberger, Anchor Books, 1962 p. 190." The Bondage of the Will is more than simply an essay, it is one of Luther's most important longer writings. Dillenberger's book is just as the title suggests: it's a basic anthology of Luther's writings. For his excepts from The Bondage of the Will, Dillenberger says he utilized The Bondage of the Will, translated by J.I Packer and A.R. Johnston (London: James Clarke and Co. Ltd., 1957; Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revel Company, 1957); 104-7, 169-71, 205-212, 313-18. The excerpt cited by Luther, Exposing the Myth is from Luther's review of Erasmus' Preface (II.ix) in the Packer / Johnston translation (p.107). In its original source, the quote can be found in WA 18:638,



Context
In context, Luther is hammering away at the shoddy way Erasmus explained and used the term "free will."
If we do not want to drop this term [free will] altogether—which would really be the safest and most Christian thing' to do—we may still in good faith teach people to use it to credit man with `free-will' in respect, not of what is above him, but of what is below him. That is to say, man should realize that in regard to his money and possessions he has a right to use them, to do or to leave undone, according to his own `free-will'—though that very `free-will' is overruled by the free-will of God alone, according to His own pleasure. However, with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, he has no `freewill', but is a captive, prisoner and bondslave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan. [Packer, Johnston, p.107 (Dillenberger, 190].
Alternate translation:
Who would not think it ridiculous, or rather very objectionable, if some untimely innovator in the use of words attempted to introduce, against all common usage, such a manner of speaking as to call a beggar rich, not because he possessed any riches, but because some king might perhaps give him his, especially if this were done in seeming seriousness and not in a figure of speech, such as antiphrasis or irony. In this way, one who was mortally ill could be said to be perfectly well because some other might give him his own health, and a thoroughly illiterate fellow could be called very learned because someone else might perhaps give him learning. That is just how it sounds here: Man has free choice—if, of course, God would hand over his own to him! By this misuse of language, anyone might boast of anything, as for instance, that man is lord of heaven and earth—if God would grant it to him. But that is not the way for theologians to talk, but for stage players and public informers. Our words ought to be precise, pure, and sober, and as Paul says, sound and beyond censure [Titus 2:8].
But if we are unwilling to let this term go altogether—though that would be the safest and most God-fearing thing to do—let us at least teach men to use it honestly, so that free choice is allowed to man only with respect to what is beneath him and not what is above him. That is to say, a man should know that with regard to his faculties and possessions he has the right to use, to do, or to leave undone, according to his own free choice, though even this is controlled by the free choice of God alone, who acts in whatever way he pleases. On the other hand in relation to God, or in matters pertaining to salvation or damnation, a man has no free choice, but is a captive, subject and slave either of the will of God or the will of Satan (LW 33:69-70).

Conclusion
Luther is stating that in regard to the way people treat each other, they are in some way "free," in the sense that they act according to their nature. In regard to man's relationship to God, it is quite different: one is either enslaved to God or Satan. Rather than being contradicted by Scripture, Luther is quite in harmony with John 8 and Ephesians 2.

Luther, Exposing the Myth cited Matthew 7:21: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter." They also cited Matthew 7:24: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock." The underlying assumption put forth by Luther Exposing the Myth appears to be that each person has a free will, and if they use that free will correctly by doing "the will of the Father" will enter Heaven.

These passages in their biblical context say something much different, Jesus is discussing the danger of false prophets, not whether the will is free or enslaved. False prophets are those who bear bad fruit. Jesus warns these prophets may plead they are his followers. He states,
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'
The text has nothing to say about what the abilities of mankind are. Matthew 7:24 describes those who hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice. It says nothing about who is able to put those words into practice.

For a description the plight of humankind, one needs to go to that section of the Bible in which this topic is addressed, like Romans 3:9-18 or Ephesians 2:1-10. There we find that mankind is enslaved to sin. Paul says humanity is dead in trespasses and sin. John describes mankind as enslaved to sin (John 8:34-36), and notes that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Those who have been set free from sin are those who are able to hear the words of Jesus AND put them into practice.

As Roman Catholic scholar Harry McSorley points out, Luther was provoked by the inadequate way Erasmus defined the human will:
Erasmus shows little appreciation of the genuine meaning of Luther's thesis of the unfree will, namely, that the will of fallen man apart from grace is totally incapable of doing anything for salvation, totally unfree to do anything that is good in God's sight [Jared Wicks. ed., Catholic Scholars Dialogue With Luther (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1970), p. 111].
Erasmus defines free will in terms of salvation--without mentioning grace. Erasmus gives no hint in his definition that man the sinner is enslaved to sin until he is liberated by grace. The definition is surely one of the "extraordinary blunders" which, according to P. Hughes, characterize De libero arbitrio [Jared Wicks. ed., Catholic Scholars Dialogue With Luther (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1970), p. 112].

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

2 comments:

natamllc said...

I say this is some good food and the hands that prepared it has some dirt under his fingernails! :)

James Swan said...

thanks!