Does 1 Corinthians 10:13 Imply Libertarian Freedom? A Reply To Paul A. Himes -- By: Steven Cowan

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 55:4 (Dec 2012)
Article: Does 1 Corinthians 10:13 Imply Libertarian Freedom? A Reply To Paul A. Himes
Author: Steven Cowan

Does 1 Corinthians 10:13 Imply Libertarian Freedom? A Reply To Paul A. Himes

Steven Cowan

Steven Cowan is Jim Young Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Louisiana College, 1140 College Drive, Pineville, LA 71359.

The perennial debate between libertarians and compatibilists over the best understanding of human freedom and responsibility has primarily been a philosophical and theological one. Biblical exegesis has seldom been a source for attempts to settle this dispute. However, in a recent article in this journal, Paul Himes argues that 1 Cor 10:13 provides strong, if not decisive, evidence in favor of libertarianism, at least in situations in which Christians are tempted to sin.1

Libertarianism, of course, is the view that human freedom requires the ability to do otherwise, or as Himes puts it, the power of contrary choice. Compatibilism, on the other hand, holds that freedom requires simply the ability to act without restraint in accordance with one’s desires and values. Thus, compatibilism, but not libertarianism, allows that freedom is compatible with determinism. Himes’s argument is that 1 Cor 10:13, properly interpreted, implies that when Christians are confronted with the temptation to sin they possess the power of contrary choice and therefore libertarian freedom.2 In this paper, I will argue contrary to Himes that 1 Cor 10:13 does not imply libertarianism. Indeed, my contention is that this text, understood in context and in light of other relevant texts, actually supports a compatibilist view of freedom.

I. Himes’s Argument

A significant portion of the exegesis of 1 Cor 10:13 concerns the proper interpretation of πειρασμός which is variously translated as “trial” or “temptation.”3 If the word is understood to mean “trial” (in the sense of external pressures such as persecution and other problems of life), then it is unlikely that this text can provide any strong support to libertarianism. Himes admits as much and spends considerable space arguing from the context that πειρασμός should be translated “temptation,” referring to potential seductions to sin that appeal to a person’s internal desires or cravings. A non-libertarian exegete is free, of course, to challenge his view

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