Understanding Our Ability To Endure Temptation: A Theological Watershed -- By: David M. Ciocchi

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 035:4 (Dec 1992)
Article: Understanding Our Ability To Endure Temptation: A Theological Watershed
Author: David M. Ciocchi


Understanding Our Ability To Endure Temptation:
A Theological Watershed

David M. Ciocchi*

One of the most familiar and comforting of Biblical passages is 1 Cor 10:13 with its promise that God will not permit the believer to be tempted beyond his ability to endure. This seemingly uncontroversial text contains a theological watershed, as there are only two ways to understand the promise it presents, one that fits Arminianism and the other Calvinism. The Arminian understanding requires a categorical interpretation of ability, an interpretation central to what Arminian thinkers like to call “real freedom” or “significant freedom.”1 The Calvinist understanding requires a hypothetical interpretation of ability, a conception tied to a view of free will that goes by a variety of names, of which probably the most common is “compatibilism.”2 I will argue that the Arminian understanding of this promise has some surprising implications that are inconsistent with both Scripture and human experience. I will show that the Calvinist understanding escapes these inconsistencies and that it does what the Arminian understanding cannot do: It provides a plausible account of the believer’s response to temptation. All these arguments taken together will make a case for the claim that the Calvinist understanding of the believer’s ability to endure temptation is the correct one.

I. Philosophical Preliminaries

The presence of the apparently innocent little concept of “ability” is what turns God’s promise in 1 Cor 10:13 into a theological watershed. The Arminian’s “significant freedom”—the property of human beings that renders them morally responsible for their actions—is a categorical or two-way ability. A person is free with respect to action x only if he is able to

* David Ciocchi is associate professor of philosophy at Biola University in La Mirada, CA 90639.

perform x and able to refrain from performing x.3 If the Calvinist wishes to speak in terms of human freedom he is more comfortable with an alternative notion that defines free will as acting on the basis of desire. A person is free with respect to action x if he performs it because he wishes to perform it.4 When the Calvinist needs to translate his view of freedom into the language of ability, he must say something like this: A person is free with respect to action x

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