Flagellation of a Deceased Equine

    Or, Trying to Bring FPR Down Off Its High Horse

    So, my wife and I are having a discussion about stuff I’ve read on the blogs and I mention the predestination / foreordination issue. I had posited earlier that in my view of how things are, as long as you personally don’t know what your final destination is, you still have free agency to make choices.

    However, what happens when you are told? Consider Peter, told by Jesus “this night, before the #### crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” (Matt 26:34) And then, of course, he does. Here’s the question though – what else could Peter have done? Suppose he had answered the questioners, “Yes, I knew him.” and then was beaten or killed. Pretty bad for Peter, but it would essentially have made liar out of Jesus (or at least, a false prophet.) Well, that couldn’t happen, right? In this case, it seems like Peter was stripped of his agency. Realistically, he still made the choices that caused him to fulfill Christ’s words, but what else could he have done? Was it even possible for him to make different choices?

    Beats me. Along similar lines (my wife’s contribution to this enigma), what about people in the pre-existence? Some of them apparently come to Earth in angelic (?) form and later, when they do come to be mortals, they have some sort of leadership position. I’m shaky on this ground because I can’t keep track of who the various named angels are, or were or will be, as mortals. It’s like you have special circumstances in the pre-existence, and then you have special circumstances on Earth. What about everybody else? What was Adolph Hitler like as a pre-mortal? Were there hints of what he would become? If so, why do we come to Earth, after all? So that we can actually make the choices that decide our eternal fate and satisfy Justice? (sorry Mogget)

12 Replies to “Flagellation of a Deceased Equine”

  1. This comes from a recent post of mine on a different blog, but responds directly to your question of how God can know what we will do, but we still have agency. Our choices may form an arc in space-time that God reads.

    “Just because God knows what we will do, doesn’t mean that we aren’t choosing our actions at the time we do them. Think of it this way (this is just speculation). When a seeing person looks at a 3-Dimensional object, he or she comprehends it instantly. A blind person has to explore the object through touch starting at one point and then proceeding to the end. We experience time like a blind person, starting from one end and proceeding to the end. However, God may view time as we see space – instantly all of time is before him and he comprehends it completely. The theory of relativity may give some credence to this theory if God traveled at the speed of light. But, just because he can see it all, has no bearing on whether we have agency at the time “history” was being written.

    The way I see it, God knows what we will do the same way we look at history. For us history has already happened but it does not rule out the possibility that at the time history was created (the present) alternatives were available that could have been chosen (therefore, not fate).

    The question of free will has been explored ad nauseum by philosophers and psychologists. The fact remains that science and philosophy will never be able to completely answer the question of whether we have free will or not. What science has shown is that we are often awful at being able to identify why we did something. We are often acting under the illusion of free will. And one runs into trouble when one tries to explain the material substrate of free will. But, religiously, I believe that we do have free will to some extent.

    We experience time linearly and it is difficult for us to get out of that mindset. Time is just a dimension like X,Y,and Z. We also travel through space linearly, but with space, we have the advantage of being able to see where we have been, where we are headed, and what options are in front of us (different places we could travel to). But, time is like that too. Our choices can lead us to different “destinations” and map out our pathway in space-time, and I believe that God can see that arc of our lives, but that does not logically rule out that we choose that path.”

  2. One solution to this question is that Christ was commanding Peter to deny him thrice. I wrote a post with another theory here. I’m convinced that God cannot know the future because there is no future to know. Rather, he is the ultimate predictor and righteous influencer. If the future already exists and is fixed then there is no such thing as real freel will. See all my posts on this subject here.

  3. Alright, alright. I’m a nerd. A Bible Dork. I’ll go sit in the corner and eat worms while I try to think of a joke to post…


    Do you really worry about whether you have agency? I mean, as long as you have at least the sense that you are making the choices, aren’t you making them?

  4. This is called open theism by theologians. It’s fairly new. Geoff, you almost make a case for 5-point Calvinism (not calvinianism), but not quite. So it seems like you’re an open theist then. Interesting, most Mormons (intellectuals even) avoid it. I look forward to reading your posts on it.

    Jesus commanding Peter to deny him — yeah, I heard that at a KYR speech a few years ago. Mogget, does the Greek reveal anything that would sway one way or the other? Is Jesus’ injunction to Peter to deny him given as an imperative? (Bibleworks not installed on David J’s machine right now). And seriously, how much market does this verse have for giving insight regarding open theism or God’s supposed foreknowledge?

  5. Peter’s denial…

    Nah, there’s no support in the Gospels for the idea that Jesus commanded Peter to flee.

    The theory of the imperative gets tossed around apologetically. Grammatically, it’s future indicative except in Luke, where it’s aorist subjunctive — and the wording is slightly different, “until you deny me…” which makes a command a very unlikely reading for Luke.

    In John, there is no warning at all from Jesus.

    Now, you can get future indicatives as imperatives in places where a writer was thinking in Hebrew (the imperfect) and writing in Greek. It’s more common in Matthew, and in contexts where there’s a quotation from the OT or a command.

    In this case, the context is telling. First, in John, the whole thrust of the story is different from that of the Synoptics because John is (probably) using the story to (once again) compare Peter to the Beloved Disciple. Peter is not alone in the Fourth Gospel and as usual, he comes out “worst,” that is, he flees. The Beloved Disciple accompanies Jesus to the cross.

    In the Synoptics, there’s a great deal of attention to the disciples as failures, that is, as unable to appreciate who Jesus is and what his mission is, and in particular that his death on the cross is part of God’s plan. Since it’s not their idea of how to go about saving Israel, they’ve got a problem with it.

    In Mark and Matthew, the scene for the betrayal is set by Jesus’ prophecy that the Shepherd would be smitten and the sheep scattered. The import of a prophecy about scattered sheep is that Peter’s denial arises from fear, not a command to go hide.

    We’re following Mark from here on out because Matthew and Luke are following him…except for Luke is a little different…

    After dinner, the crowds are gone and a small group heads to Gethsemane (not the Garden, that’s John). When the temple guards come, most of the group flees — Shepherd smitten, sheep flee.

    Peter follows “from a distance,” which is not the proper place for a disciple. When pushed, he flees as well. Shepherd, sheep…

    At the trial with Pilate, the crowd who had welcomed Jesus at the Triumphal Entry, now cry for his crucifixion. Another failure to appreciate who Jesus is, another separation. Shepherd, sheep…

    Jesus goes alone to the cross, the women watch, as had Peter, “from a distance.” They are disciples as well, and like rest of the sheep, they’ll eventually run off, too.

    Finally, at the end, the pattern of separation reaches its climax and Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He dies, and is buried.

    On the 3rd day, the women head to tomb and meet the angel, who tells them what to do. Instead of doing it, however, they are afraid and run off. And that’s the original ending of Mark. The last 12 verses were added by some perky scribe.

    Pattern complete. Shepherd smitten, sheep scattered, one and all, men and women, la-di-da-di-everybody. However, most importantly, God’s plan complete; Shepherd soon vindicated via resurrection, sheep gathered back up for a second try at the whole discipleship business.

    So whatever really happened, none of the evangelists tell the story in such a way that Jesus’ prediction can be critically interpreted as a command to flee.

  6. Can’t wait to see what John C. puts in the “EXCERPT” box when he goes in to clean up the sidebar on this one…


    It’s got some potential.

  7. Do you really worry about whether you have agency? I mean, as long as you have at least the sense that you are making the choices, aren’t you making them?

    You go, girl. Try saying this to a Calvinist. They hate it cuz it nails ’em every time. Another fun thing to ask them is: What if there is no God, and all of religion is wrong? How would you explain all this then?

    Arminianism, man. Sign me up.

  8. Mogget,

    No, I’m not worried about whether I have agency or not – I haven’t been told what my ultimate destiny is (although I’m pretty sure I have had someone tell me where to go once or twice. Odd little memory – my grandmother’s favorite little JW invective was “Go to grass!” I’ve never heard anyone else say that.) (Hmmm, possible link here:)
    Go to grass

    (Also, I’m not sure what the first part of your post is responding to. Oh, and I love parenthetical comments.)

    enochville, I completely agree with your logic. My understanding flows along the same lines. My main question is what happens when you’re told what you’re going to do – don’t you essentially lose your agency then?

    It’s hard for me to buy in to God not knowing the future. Prophecy depends on it. It can’t just be pure speculation that’s always right

  9. Allright, I thought about this one overnight:

    And seriously, how much market does this verse have for giving insight regarding open theism or God’s supposed foreknowledge?

    Here’s where I am–

    First of all, this verse deals with Jesus’ foreknowledge during his incarnation, not God’s. I think there’s a difference.

    Second, an inability to explain how God does something may tell us more about our own lack of imagination than anything else.

    Third, the denial of Peter is historically a possibility — it meets both the criteria of embarrassment and that of multiple attestation. The prediction doesn’t.

    Fourth, it seems dicey to deal with Gospel texts in general and the passion narrative in particular for much of anything other than their own “intent.” They’re shot through with theology, but not the precise intersection of agency and foreknowledge that we’re lookin’ for.

    So I’m thinkin’ that it would probably be better to find a text whose author had more or less the same set of assumptions about what agency and God’s foreknowledge as we have — something post-Enlightenment. A nice predictive text from this dispensation, rather than something created in a distinctly different historical context.

  10. They’re shot through with theology but not the precise intersection of agency and foreknowledge that we’re lookin’ for

    That was my knee-jerk reaction as well. Paul is the guy for the theology, IMO. He, one might say, perfected what was said before him. I love Paul!

    Oh, and I thought of another excellent pre-existence of Jesus verse besides John 1 — Colossians 1:15-20. Maybe you could give us another interpretation on that one? (Actually, one need not fancy exegetical method to understand it — seems quite straight forward in the English).

    Sorry Mogget, I’m asking you to do all the exegetical grunt-work, but you seem bored, and you’re good at it, and Greek is… icky. (I actually got high grades in Greek, but once Gk. classes ended, it was [strangely] almost immediately purged from my brain. Call it a flush, if you will). 😉

  11. I thought about this one overnight, as well:

    My main question is what happens when you’re told what you’re going to do – don’t you essentially lose your agency then?

    In Peter’s denial, it’s the implied reader who knows what is going to happen because this individual trusts Jesus as the most reliable character in the story. Peter himself doesn’t know what’s going to happen because he doesn’t trust what he’s heard.

    Contrast with Joseph — he’s told and he knows = trusts?

    There are some real issues with making theology out of narratives and I’m beginning to wonder…

    On other fronts:

    Yesterday I polled the theologians who made the mistake of walking past my table in the library on the topic of agency and foreknowledge. To a man, they all rolled their eyes.

    They don’t think it’s a stupid question, but neither do they think that there is an adequate answer, or even a responsible suite from which to select from. Very interesting, I thought.

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