Pristine Grace

The Origin of the Free-Will Heresy
by Bob Higby

The Origin of the Free-Will Heresy

     The origin of ‘christianized’ free-will philosophy is not something that can be learned in seminary. Not even in the Reformed seminaries. The typical view is that the apostasy away from Pauline doctrine began after the ‘councils’ had defended the ‘church’ against ‘heresy’ (the 6th century A.D. ff.). My favorite class in seminary was Patristic thought; I set out to write a paper defending the ‘fathers’ on the gospel. I was told repeatedly that the ‘fathers’ were as ‘evangelical’ as the 16th century Reformers; that one only needed to understand the difference in expression. Hogwash. I spent many hours searching through the 100-500 A.D. writings for the gospel. Apart from a few snippets here and there in teachers such as Ambrose and Lactanctius, the cupboard was bare. I ended up writing my class paper on a different subject: the Patristic view of the coming of the Son of Man in Dan. 7:13,14.

     Free will is prominent in Greek and Rabbinic philosophy. Both the liberals (Sadduccees) and conservatives (Pharisees) in Judaism taught and believed it. At the time Christ was born, the predestinarian teaching of the OT prophets was adhered to almost exclusively among the Essenes. But where did ‘christianized’ free-will doctrine have its origin? My personal belief is that it began in the midst of the Pauline assemblies in the form of old wives fables; hence Paul’s silencing of a certain form of woman-speak. But the cancerous influence of this destructive ‘gossip’ transformed into doctrine and was adopted by the ‘wolves’ of false leadership ascending to power after Paul’s death (Acts 20:29,30).

     Although indications of departure from the apostles’ teaching may be found in earlier Patristic writings, the first bold and outright attempt to synthesize Platonic free-will theory with Christian teaching was promoted by Justin in his first Apology. There is no Christian salvation taught in Justin; his doctrine is purely Greek philosophy. There is no atonement, no imputation, no election, no assurance, and no justification by faith alone. The only salvation taught here is that which comes by our own merit, free-will, works, eating Jesus, and water regeneration. Justin defends sacrament as sacred physical mystery in the likeness of pagan religions.

     I also personally believe that Justin taught Unitarianism and denied the Trinity.

     In studying these things, the observations of Kelley are timely and relevant:

Indeed, while the conviction of redemption through Christ has always been the motive force of Christian faith, no final and universally accepted definition of its achievement has been formulated to this day. Thus it is useless to look for any systematic treatment of the doctrine in the popular Christianity of the second century . . . while enumerating all sorts of benefits bestowed by Christ, the Apostolic Fathers nowhere co-ordinate their main ideas or attempt to sketch a rationale of salvation. When we analyse their utterances, we find that their chief emphasis is on what Christ has imparted to us--new knowledge, fresh life, immortality, etcJ.N.D. Kelley, Early Christian Doctrines(Harper & Row, 1978), pp. 163-164. 

It must be admitted that, as compared with the New Testament, the Apostolic Fathers as a whole are not greatly preoccupied with sin, and that their writings exhibit a marked weakening of the atonement idea. Although satisfied that Christ died for us (often the repetition of the formula has a conventional ring), they assign a relatively minor place to the atoning value of his death. What looms much larger in their imagination is the picture of Christ as the lawgiver, the bestower of knowledge, immortality, and fellowship with God. Ibid, p. 165.

     Below are quotes from the first Apology giving evidence of Justin’s many doctrines of devils. My comments are interspersed at times. To check the accuracy of any of the quotes, the full text may be found at the following link:

And we have been taught, and are convinced, and do believe, that He accepts those only who imitate the excellences which reside in Him, temperance, and justice, and philanthropy, and as many virtues as are peculiar to a God who is called by no proper name. And we have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man's sake, create all things out of unformed matter; and if men by their works show themselves worthy of this His design,they are deemed worthy, and so we have received--of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering. For as in the beginning He created us when we were not, so do we consider that, in like manner, those who choose what is pleasing to Him are, on account of their choice, deemed worthy of incorruption and of fellowship with Him. For the coming into being at first was not in our own power; and in order that we may follow those things which please Him, choosing them by means of the rational faculties He has Himself endowed us with, He both persuades us and leads us to faith. And we think it for the advantage of all men that they are not restrained from learning these things, but are even urged thereto. For the restraint which human laws could not effect, the Word, inasmuch as He is divine, would have effected, had not the wicked demons, taking as their ally the lust of wickedness which is in every man, and which draws variously to all manner of vice, scattered many false and profane accusations, none of which attach to us.

     NOTE: Justin above blames the demons for what God actually does in blinding men to the Word: as in the parable of the soils.

But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man's actions.Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. NOTE: Justin completely denies God’s sovereignty here, in the same fashion as the ‘critics’ that Paul silences in Romans 9. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. We see the same man making a transition to opposite things. Now, if it had been fated that he were to be either good or bad, he could never have been capable of both the opposites, nor of so many transitions. But not even would some be good and others bad, since we thus make fate the cause of evil, and exhibit her as acting in opposition to herself; or that which has been already stated would seem to be true, that neither virtue nor vice is anything, but that things are only reckoned good or evil by opinion; which, as the true word shows, is the greatest impiety and wickedness. But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made. 

And the holy Spirit of prophecy taught us this, telling us by Moses that God spoke thus to the man first created: "Behold, before thy face are good and evil: choose the good." And again, by the other prophet Isaiah, that the following utterance was made as if from God the Father and Lord of all: "Wash you, make you clean; put away evils from your souls; learn to do well; judge the orphan, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, saith the Lord: And if your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as wool; and if they be red like as crimson, I will make them white as snow. And if ye be willing and obey Me, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye do not obey Me, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." And that expression, "The sword shall devour you," does not mean that the disobedient shall be slain by the sword, but the sword of God is fire, of which they who choose to do wickedly become the fuel. Wherefore He says, "The sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." And if He had spoken concerning a sword that cuts and at once despatches, He would not have said, shall devour. And so, too, Plato, when he says, "The blame is his who chooses, and God is blameless," took this from the prophet Moses and uttered it. For Moses is more ancient than all the Greek writers. And whatever both philosophers and poets have said concerning the immortality of the soul, or punishments after death, or contemplation of things heavenly, or doctrines of the like kind, they have received such suggestions from the prophets as have enabled them to understand and interpret these things. Ha! Justin blames the darkness of his own Greek philosophy on the prophets! And hence there seem to be seeds of truth among all men; but they are charged with not accurately understanding [the truth] when they assert contradictories. So that what we say about future events being foretold, we do not say it as if they came about by a fatal necessity; but God foreknowing all that shall be done by all men, and it being His decree that the future actions of men shall all be recompensed according to their several value, He foretells by the Spirit of prophecy that He will bestow meet rewards according to the merit of the actions done, always urging the human race to effort and recollection, showing that He cares and provides for men. But by the agency of the devils death has been decreed against those who read the books of Hystaspes, or of the Sibyl,(1) or of the prophets, that through fear they may prevent men who read them from receiving the knowledge of the good, and may retain them in slavery to themselves; which, however, they could not always effect. For not only do we fearlessly read them, but, as you see, bring them for your inspection, knowing that their contents will be pleasing to all. And if we persuade even a few, our gain will be very great; for, as good husbandmen, we shall receive the reward from the Master.

As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regeneratedFor, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, "Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers' wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, saith the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if ye refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."

And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born againand has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the layer the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness. Andthis washing is called illumination,because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed. 

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth,by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion

And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught thatthe food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made fleshFor the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me,(7) this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

     Whatever this is, it is NOT Christianity!