Thursday, April 06, 2006

What About Proverbs 16? (part one of two)

When was the last time you had a conversation about Calvinism that *didn't* include a reference to John 6, Romans 9, or Ephesians 1? Or even Acts 4 or Genesis 50? These sections of Scripture are exceedingly difficult to avoid when discussing the Biblical foundations of Calvinism with non-Calvinists. But, when was the last time you discussed Proverbs 16? Believe it or not, this chapter in Proverbs lends much Biblical support to Calvinism in general and to theological determinism in particuliar. So, before we discuss particuliar verses in Proverbs 16, a brief summary of determinism and indeterminism is in order.

First up is "determinism". Nearly all Calvinists hold to one form of determinism or another. There are "hard" determinists and there are "soft" determinists. This latter form is sometimes referred to as "compatibilism". It isn't neccessary for my discussion to go into all the theological ins and outs of these different forms of determinism. It will be enough to keep the focus narrowed to how determinism relates to the will and actions of man. So, in a nutshell, determinism is the belief that all man's actions and decisions are causally determined by both internal and external influences or causes.

The exact opposite of this is "indeterminism". Most, if not all non-Calvinists hold this position. Again, in a nutshell, indeterminism is the belief that the will and actions of man are not causally determined by internal or external causation. In other words, the will of man is as free to choose one course of action as another. Now, it should be pointed out that some indeterminists will concede that causes do *influence* the decision making process but that they cannot "decisively incline" the will in either direction. In other words, there cannot be a clear cut cause that determines the will to make a choice. This is also known as the theory of Libertarian free-will. Now, with these brief and somewhat simplistic definitions out of the way, we can begin to look at some of the verses from Proverbs 16.

First up is Proverbs 16:1 which reads:

The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. NASB

The plain reading of this verse is interesting in that it suggests that no matter what the plans of man might be, the words that come from him are somehow "from the LORD". Now, as the verse reads, a determinist has no problem. But what does the indeterminist do with it? If libertarian free will is defined by there not being any "causally determinative" forces working on the will, how is this consistent with man planning a course of action but his choice of words is from God? In order for libertarian free will to apply here, there cannot be a disjunction between what man plans in his heart and what choice of words comes from his mouth. In other words, man cannot be the cause of his plans while God is the cause of his words.

Now, I suppose that one possible way out for the indeterminist could be that this verse refers only to a few whom God chooses to lead in this manner for His purposes. I am familiar with at least some non-Calvinists who are comfortable in saying this. But I would only point out that the verse itself does not explicitly limit God's actions to some instead of all. Also, this would damage the common charge that determinism makes robots out of men. In other words, those who level this charge at Calvinists would be guilty of saying that God makes robots out of *some* men instead of all. The inconsistency in this position would be glaring to say the least.

I will continue this discussion of Proverbs 16 in part two of this article. The verses under consideration will be 16:4, 16:9, and 16:33. Stay tuned!


Mike Ratliff said...

This is a fine post. I can't wait to read the rest of this study. I am a Calvinist, but my "technical" knowledge of terms such as "Determinism" and "compatibleism" is hazy. Thank you for sharing this vital knowledge.

I grew up as a Southern Baptist and am still attending a SBC church, however, my theology is 100% Reformed. This makes for some discomfort at times. :-)

If you don't mind, I will add a link to your blog on mine.

In Christ

Mike Ratliff

J. Matthew Cleary said...


Thanks for stopping by and giving your opinion of my site and a very big thank you for linking me. Once I figure out how to put the links secion up on my blog, I'll return the favor!

Nelson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nelson said...

You stated, "The plain reading of this verse is interesting in that it suggests that no matter what the plans of man might be, the words that come from him are somehow "from the LORD". Now, as the verse reads, a determinist has no problem."

Yes, "as the verse reads" a deterministic interpretation would be easy; however, one would have to ignore what the Bible says in general about casting lots and the significance of how the verse would be understood culturally by its readers of that time and place.

Both articles below may help put the verse in a correct perspective:

Thanks for the opportunity to share.