I have seen several responses to theodicy questions revolving around the concept of "free will." I am not familiar with any self-contained biblical basis for this belief (that is, no extra-biblical support is required to defend the position).

I am aware that there are several variations of the doctrine of "free will," so I would like to limit answers to "free will" defined as:

  • the ability of people to make their own choices (no predestination)
  • applicable to everyone (not limited to groups such as the redeemed)
  • applicable throughout time (not just before the fall; still applicable today)

8 Answers 8


Although the Bible does contain a certain amount of direct, doctrinal teaching, much of its teaching comes in the form of stories. In the Old Testament, there are the various narratives of people and nations and their actions, both good and bad. In the New Testament, there is the story of the life of Jesus and of the people who surround him, who do things both good and bad. And much of Jesus' own teaching is in the form of parables, or stories, rather than direct doctrinal style teaching.

We should therefore not expect the Bible to present a theological discourse on free will. Rather, the biblical basis for free will is found largely in the various stories and how they unfold.

Explicit and semi-explicit statements of freedom of choice in the Bible

Having said that, there is at least one passage that explicitly presents humankind as having a choice between good and evil:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:15–20, italics added)

In this passage, God gives the Children of Israel (long after the Fall) an explicit choice between good and evil, asking them to choose life.

Somewhat less explicitly, in the Book of Revelation:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)

This passage clearly implies freedom on the part of the human being either to open the door and let the Lord in or not to open the door and leave the Lord outside. This statement occurs in the New Testament, in the final book of the Bible, almost as far after the Fall as the Bible story goes.

Stories in which people are presented as having choice and free will

There are other passages in the Bible that can be read as saying that people have a choice between good and evil, or what is the same, a choice between accepting and following God and not accepting and following God.

However, the most extensive biblical basis for free will comes in the narrative itself. In many stories in the Bible, God gives a direction or a commandment, and the people to whom it is given choose not to follow it. The fact that in these stories God does not prevent people from acting against God's will illustrates the principle that people do have real choice and free will.

Of course, in many stories in the Bible God gives instructions or commandments, and the people to whom they are given do follow them. This supports the principle that it is up to the human beings whether or not to act according to God's will.

Here are some of the stories throughout the Bible in which God gives instructions or commandments and people choose not to obey them:

Adam and Eve

In Genesis 2 we read:

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . .

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:8–9, 15–17)

Here God places in the Garden of Eden two trees, one of which he says the people he has created may eat from, and the other of which he says they are not to eat from. Clearly, God is giving Adam (and later) Eve, free will and a choice, or God would not have put these two trees in the Garden.

And yet, in the very next chapter, first Eve, then Adam, eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil knowing that God has told them not to. Eve and Adam, not to mention the serpent, then reap the consequences of their choice to disobey God. In this story, told in Genesis 3, God does not prevent Adam and Eve from eating from the forbidden tree. Clearly they are free to do so. And then they must live with the results of their choice.

This, of course, led to the Fall of Humankind.

And yet, even after the Fall, in the Bible story human beings continue to be given a choice between good and evil actions, and to reap the benefits or to experience the negative consequences of their choices, without God intervening to prevent them from making the wrong choice.


In fact, the very next such story involves Adam and Eve's firstborn son Cain. You can read the full story in Genesis 4:1–16. Here is the most relevant excerpt:

Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it."

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:6–8)

In the story Cain is angry because God has accepted the offering of his brother Abel but not his own offering. God remonstrates with Cain, telling him to overcome the sin that is crouching at his door. But Cain does not listen to God, and instead yields to that sin and kills his brother Abel out of jealousy.

God did not prevent Cain from doing this. Cain was free to carry out his choice to yield to his jealousy and anger even after God pleaded with him not to do so. And Cain had to live with the consequences of his evil choice, as narrated in the rest of the story.

The Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai

Moving on to the book of Exodus, the Children of Israel heard God's own voice proclaiming the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai, among which was the commandment not to worship idols. The Deuteronomy version concludes the giving of the Ten Commandments by saying:

These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. (Deuteronomy 5:22)

So it is clear that the people heard God himself telling them not to worship idols.

And yet, during the forty days that Moses was then up on the mountain receiving additional laws and commandments from God, we read:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."

Aaron said to them, "Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf.

Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!"

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord." They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. (Exodus 32:1–6)

In other words, in less than a month and a half from the time that the people heard God's own voice booming the Ten Commandments from the mountain, they broke the commandments against having no other God before him, against making and worshiping idols, and probably several other commandments as well.

Once again, God did not prevent them from doing so. They remained free to break God's commandments, but then had to take the consequences of their actions, as narrated in the rest of Exodus 32.

Solomon and his wives

Moving on to the time of the kings of Israel, King Solomon, son of King David, also violated several of God's commandments, specifically, in taking foreign wives and in building shrines to their gods, as we read in 1 Kings:

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. (1 Kings 11:1–8)

Even though Solomon, who was the king of all Israel, was clearly and flagrantly breaking God's explicit commandments, God did not prevent Solomon from doing so. Rather, God pronounced the consequences of Solomon's actions in the next series of verses: 1 Kings 11:9–13. These consequences were that Solomon's son would have most of the kingdom taken away from him, tarnishing and diminishing Solomon's legacy.

The crucifixion of Jesus

In the New Testament, a prime example of human free will is in the fact that the Jewish religious leaders of the day were allowed to sentence Jesus to death, and that the Romans were allowed to carry out that sentence by crucifying Jesus.

God did not prevent this, but allowed human beings to crucify the Son of God. Yes, this was also part of God's plan. And yet, the people who crucified Jesus were acting for their own reasons, out of their own choice, in order to preserve (as they thought) their own power and position.

However, before that happened, Jesus had already presented sin and repentance as a choice in many of his teachings and parables. Here are just two examples:

If a member of the church sins against you

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:15–18)

Here Jesus tells us that if someone sins, we are to take various steps to get them to admit to it and change their ways. And yet, that person may or may not listen. And Jesus concludes by saying that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. In the context of the teaching, he is saying that whatever choice we make here on earth, that choice will continue to be in effect in the afterlife.

The Parable of the Ten Minas

In the Parable of the Ten Minas as told in Luke 19:11–27 (a variation of this parable also occurs in Matthew 25:14–30), a nobleman entrusts ten of his servants with ten minas, telling them:

Put this money to work until I come back. (Luke 19:14)

The first two do as they are commanded, and make a tenfold or fivefold profit. The third, however, does not do as he is told:

Then another servant came and said, "Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow." (Luke 19:20–21)

Because he did not do what his master told him to do, he was punished by having the money confiscated from him instead of being rewarded by being put in charge of ten or five cities, as had happened to the first two servants, who had done what their master told them to do.

In this parable, the master, who is clearly a figure representing God, entrusts money to his servants, gives them a command, and then allows them to handle the money as they see fit. Those who handle it well as commanded are rewarded, and those who do not are punished.

And once again, the master, representing God, does not intervene to prevent them from acting contrary to his will, but rather gives them freedom to choose to obey or not to obey, and to reap the reward or the punishment for their actions.

Passages supporting the principle that all people have free will

Though none of these stories imply that free will is not available to any class of people, such as the evil vs. the good or the unredeemed vs. the redeemed, or Christians vs. non-Christians, there are several passages in the Bible that build an increasing case that all people have free will.

Ezekiel 18

In Ezekiel 18, God pronounces an end to the practice, common in many ancient cultures, including the Hebrew culture, of whole families being punished for the sins of the head of the household.

God then says that "the one who sins is the one who will die" (Ezekiel 18:4), establishing individual responsibility for a person's good or evil choices and behavior, and individual consequences for that behavior.

The chapter then goes into detail saying that if a man is righteous and does what is good, he will live. But if that man's son does what is evil and violent, that son will die for his sins. But if that man's son sees what his father has done, and instead does is good and right instead, he will live.

The chapter ends with these words:

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. (Ezekiel 18:30–32)

In this chapter, God establishes individual responsibility for one's own sins or good behavior, and calls on people to repent from evil behavior and do what good instead, so that they may live instead of dying.

This is once again a clear presentation of a choice between good and evil on the part of the human being. And it rests that choice squarely on the shoulders of each individual human being.

The Sheep and the Goats

Turning to the New Testament, Jesus' final teaching in the Gospel of Matthew before the events of Holy Week is his account of the Sheep and the Goats, or the Judgment of the Nations, as told in Matthew 25:31–46. It opens with these words:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31–33, italics added)

Note that Jesus states that all the nations, not any one specific nation or group, will be called before the Son of Man. He is speaking of a universal judgment on all people.

He then proceeds to say, in narrative form, that people who have done good things for him by doing good things for their fellow human beings who are in need will go to eternal life, but people who have not done good things for him by not doing good things for their fellow human beings who are in need will go to eternal punishment.

All of the preceding passages from the Bible show that whether or not we follow God's commandments and do good things for our fellow human beings is a choice on our part. This passage in the Gospels extends that principle to all the nations, meaning to everyone on earth.

God's Righteous Judgment

Finally, moving on to the Epistles, Romans 2:1–15 also speaks of the judgment that God will execute on all people. Within that passage Paul says:

For he will repay according to each one's deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:6–11, italics added)

And immediately following this:

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God's sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. (Romans 2:12–16, italics added)

In this passage, Paul explicitly applies the final judgment to Jews, "Greeks" (pagan polytheists), and Gentiles, by which he likely means non-Jews and non-Christians, even though technically it means non-Jews. These general terms cover all the groups of people that existed in Paul's world. And he says that all of these classes of people will be judged for eternal life or for wrath and fury according to their righteous or unrighteous actions, and that this will be done by God, through Jesus Christ.

Paul, then, explicitly applies to all people what Jesus applied to "all the nations" in Matthew 25:31–46, as referenced above.

These passages, taken together with the others, provide the biblical basis for the belief that this freedom to choose between good and evil is not limited to particular groups such as the redeemed (however they are defined), but extends to people of all groups and all nations.

Summary and conclusion

Deuteronomy 30:15–20 states explicitly that God sets before us a choice between obeying or disobeying God. The same choice is strongly implied in Revelation 3:20, which says that Christ knocks on the door, and comes in only if we open the door for him.

There are also many stories in the Bible that provide examples of human beings both before and after the Fall being given choices between good and evil, and then experiencing the good or bad consequences of their choices and actions. The ones mentioned above are just a few among dozens, if not hundreds of such stories in the Bible. In these stories people sometimes choose the good path, and other times they choose the evil path.

Finally, among other passages that could be quoted, Ezekiel 18, Matthew 25:31–46, and Romans 2:1–16 establish individual responsibility for good and evil choices and actions, and extend the judgment and reward or punishment for those choices and actions to all the nations, including Jews, "Greeks," and Gentiles.

All of this provides a solid basis in the Bible for the belief that:

  • Humans are not predestined, but have the ability to make their own choices.
  • This applies to all groups, both the good and the evil, both the redeemed and the unredeemed.
  • Humans have this ability throughout time, both before and after the Fall.

I don’t currently personally affirm libertarian free will, though I used to. It’s been a subject of great interest to me so I’ve researched it at length. If a strong case can be made from the Bible, I think it would have to start with the following passages.

Descriptive passages that sound like libertarian free will

It’s hard to deny these passages sound an awful lot like they're describing libertarian free will or something very much like it, especially the last one.

Jeremiah 7:24:

But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.

Luke 7:30:

But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.

1 Corinthians 7:37:

But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.

“Being under no necessity” seems to imply no outside influence such as God or any other form of fatalistic determinism causing this guy's choice. He's got his own desire “under control” and has “determined this in his heart”. If that’s not libertarian free will it’s hard to figure out what it is. This I would say is the most difficult passage of Scripture for the hard determinist and compatibilist positions.

Decisions that never entered the mind of God

The argument here would go something like, if these choices didn’t even enter the mind of God, then God could not have been sovereign over them and they must have been truly free.

Jeremiah 7:31:

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Hosea 8:4:

They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.”

(Of course, proponents of process theology and open theism love these verses, but they present something of a problem for anyone who holds a more traditional view of God’s omniscience. How could there be a human decision that never entered the mind of God if he knows everything?)

From every temptation there is a way of escape

I’ve seen people argue that this is the strongest passage for free will.

1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

The argument goes, there’s no such thing as a temptation that overrides our free choice. God makes sure we always have a choice to follow the temptation or to escape it, and it’s up to us.

Countless mundane examples

In addition to the above passages, there are countless passages that speak of humans freely choosing or willing all kinds of things, so it's virtually inarguable that humans have some sort of will and routinely make real, consequential choices. Compatibilists like me would argue these choices are always secondary to and compatible with God’s ultimately sovereign will, but someone who affirms libertarian free will could conceivably point to these verses as direct (if relatively weak) support of their view.

Examples of “will”, “willing”

Genesis 49:6; Exodus 21:14; 35:22; Judges 5:2, 9; 2 Samuel 6:10; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 29:5, 9, 14; 2 Chronicles 29:31; 35:8; Ezra 7:16; Proverbs 31:13; Isaiah 1:19-20; 30:9, 15; Jeremiah 16:12; Ezekiel 3:7; 20:8; Daniel 11:3, 16, 28, 36; Luke 13:34; 23:25; John 7:17; 8:43–44; 2 Corinthians 9:5

Examples of “choose”, “chose”

Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15, 21–22; 2 Samuel 24:11–13 (cf. 1 Chronicles 21:9–12); Psalms 25:12; Proverbs 1:29; 3:31; Isaiah 7:15–16; 56:4; 65:12; 66:3–4

Examples of “freely”

Deuteronomy 15:10; 1 Chronicles 29:9, 17; Ezra 1:6; 7:13, 15; Psalms 110:3; Proverbs 11:24

“Free will” in the Bible

And of course the words “free will” do themselves appear in the Bible, though mostly in the case of something called a “freewill offering” which was an element in the old covenant sacrificial system:

Freewill offering

Exodus 35:29; 36:3; Leviticus 7:16; 22:18, 21, 23; 23:38; Numbers 15:3; 29:39; Deuteronomy 12:6, 17; 16:10; 2 Chronicles 31:14; 35:8; Ezra 1:4, 6; 3:5; 7:16; 8:28; Psalms 119:108; Ezekiel 46:12; Amos 4:5

In conclusion

This is my attempt at an exhaustive study of this topic. Am I selling the biblical data short? Do you think I've built a stronger case for free will here than I want to admit? Are there verses I'm missing? Hit me up in a comment.

  • 3
    Great work. In regard to being an exhaustive resource on the topic, I'd suggest also including categories/references that best describe the nature of sin in general (as opposed to undreamed of abominations in particular) as being a transgression of God's commands/will (eg 1 John 3:4) and also the nature of judgment requiring accountability for our acts (eg matt 12:36). Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 7:15

There are a lot of answers to this question, but none that directly reference my preferred verses in Romans or the story of the Exodus. I like using these verses, because they appear in the same context as the ones used to "prove" lack of free-will.

The story of the plagues in the book of Exodus

After the first plague, Exodus 7:22-23

Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this.

After the second plague, Exodus 8:15

But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the Lord had said.

After the third plague, Exodus 8:19

But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had said.

After the fourth plague, Exodus 8:31-32

And the Lord did according to the word of Moses; He removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. Not one remained. But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.

Often the story of Pharaoh is referenced to "prove" Calvinism by pointing out that it says God hardened Pharaohs heart. However, we see that God only first says that Pharaoh's heart became hard and also explicitly that Pharaoh himself hardened his own heart. It isn't until the 6th plague where it says God hardened his heart. So the Bible actually teaches a synergistic hardening of Pharaoh's heart.



But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.


Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

So we see that Paul does not teach that election or grace has anything to do with some permanent choosing of God done without consideration of the hearts of his children, but rather that we as Christians must walk in faith continually so as not to fall from grace and be "cut off". And those who are not yet Christians must heed the call of God, although it is certainly true that our salvation begins and ends with grace.

  • Is the act of accepting Salvation through Jesus Christ a work? Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 14:21
  • 1
    @KorvinStarmast - According to whom? Calvinists would say yes. Free-will Baptists would say no. I would disagree with the abstract formulation of faith and works that allows belief and faith to be considered as 2 separate entities. What a man does and what he thinks/believes/confesses are inseparably linked and the Grace of God is always present in such actions done with a righteous intent. Paul makes a distinction between faith and the works of the Judaic law and a legalistic mindset, not a distinction between faith and effort/work in general.
    – Ian
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 22:00
  • Based on the question I asked, apparently the Calvinists say no. Thanks. :) Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 1:16

In my experience free will is generally justified based on reasoning about:

  1. Accounts of Jehovah giving people a chance to repent before being destroyed. If he already knows that they will not repent, there's no reason to delay their judgement.
  2. Accounts of those with God's blessing later losing that blessing because of their decisions. God wouldn't bless people who he knows are going to later rebel against him.
  3. If we cannot serve God by choice, there cannot be an answer to Satan's challenge to God's sovereignty. Fear of God would be automatic and unearned.
  4. Jehovah pays attention to our faithfulness in order to determine if we belong in the "book of life". Ones can later be removed from the "book of life" if they have sinned against God.
  5. It would be cruel and unloving for God to predestine humans to experience great suffering. If we cannot choose for ourselves how we will act, it would be unfair to be punished for our actions.

My perspective is from one of Jehovah's Witnesses, though I don't believe these reasons are in any way specific to the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses. I have linked to the New World Translation, but you are invited to use whatever Bible translation you choose.


First I'm going to assume agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and to act for ourselves.

The earliest reference I can find is in Genesis 2:16 where Adam can freely choose what tree to eat from (except from the tree of knowledge of good and evil).

  1. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

While this is directed at what trees they can eat from, it also shows that God lets us make choices of our own. God created a beautiful garden and gave Adam and Eve basically free reign in the garden. Free will or agency encompasses everything, from the smallest choice to the largest.

In Deuteronomy 11:27-28 we learn we are blessed when we keep the commandments and cursed when we don't. Man can choose for himself whether he does good or evil. This is stated another way in John 14:15

15: If ye love me, keep my commandments.

We can freely make any number of choices and God allows us to make the choice. There are consequences to our actions but that doesn't change the fact the God lets us choose how to act. Following the commandments shows that we are willing to follow God though we have other options, but the base act of choosing to follow Him is agency; we could choose to not follow Him.

  • I think your answer would be strengthened if you expanded the Garden of Eden quote by a verse. As it stands, it seems like the free will we were given was to choose between cherry trees and lime trees. Also, I don't want to muddy the waters of the question too much, but something addressing Free Agency as opposed to a false sense of free will (cf. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/9963/…) could be beneficial as well.
    – Tavrock
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 5:47

I would like to add to the list of very clear indications of the Bible's position on free will.

The observation comes from this verse:

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:8, King James Version)

"He that loveth not" speaks of a choice that we make. The act of love is a choice.

Love requires free will to exist. Without free will love cannot be. Consider a robot that is programmed to replicate the act of love, it does not and cannot love in any true sense because it has no choice but to act according to a predetermined set of rules and functions.

Also, observe the sentence "God is love". If free will does not exist, then love cannot exist, and hence God does not and cannot exist where there is no free will. It just means that the Christian God must be favorable towards giving free will to his subjects. Unless the biblical God is a disillusional God.


As you defined free will or the ability to choose, begins in the garden of Eden. God gave it to mankind when he told Adam;

(All Scripture is quoted from the King James Version)

Genesis 2:16 and 17  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

There are two important parts of what God said;

  1. God only denied one tree, and all of the others there were no penalties for taking, and Adam could take as much as he wanted.

  2. God proclaimed that there would be a terrible and inescapable penalty, for doing what he had decreed not to do.

An Omniscient God already knew they would disobey, having this prior knowledge of their disobedience the question arises 'Why did God give them a choice knowing the future?'

The answer to that question is the concept of free will.

Free will does not begin with mankind. If that were true then how would there have been:

Revelation 12:7 and 8  And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

So what does that have to do with man's free will you ask. Well that's a good question and I'm glad you ask it.

Let's start with God does not make anything to be fodder for the fire. And yet we know that:

Revelation 20:11 through 15  And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

The reason these and Satan and his angels are incinerated for eternity is not because God wanted them to fuel the fire, but because of what we know as free will.

At this point we have to explain a few things;

  1. Angels do not have Souls they are souls.

  2. Man has a soul, but is more than a soul.

  3. Man may sacrifice his mortal body and yet save his soul.

4 Angels can only sacrifice their soul, having no mortal body to sacrifice for their disobedience.

With that understanding we now must understand the process of sacrifice. In the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy we are taught that life is required in restitution for our disobedience. In those books we see a physical life forfeited in repenting (or turning away from sin).

So why cannot we just forfeit our physical life in repentance for our sins? There is a small catch there; the life that was sacrificed in repentance there had to be without blemish. Our physical bodies were no longer without blemish when we first exercised our free will and disobeyed God just as did Adam and Eve in the garden.

So you say in that case we are doomed, there is no way for us to repent, and get back into God's good graces. Well have heart! Leviticus exists to teach us that there is a way! The unblemished life that was sacrificed in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were not the lives of the sinners, they were substitutionary. The animals sacrificed were not sinners the people were.

That is the mystery of the cross.

So free will in it's most basic form is our ability to choose eternal life or eternal dying, but never complete death since;

Revelation 20:14  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

It is worthy of note that God did not tell Adam that he would suffer death for his disobedience, but that he would surely die; death is the result of the process of dying.

Free will then manifests itself as the ability to choose our eternity; and is the hope of Christianity, in that we are not eternally damned if we make the right choice.

Jesus put free will into its proper perspective in:

Mark 8:35 through 37 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Hope this helps

  • The questioner says "I am not familiar with any self-contained biblical basis for this belief"[ i.e.free will]. That means, I think, that the questioner is asking if free will can be validated from the Bible. He has not assumed that it can be.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 15:28

There are many explicitly clear passages that prove man has free will.
Following are a few that are particularly significant that make the case especially well, and that underscore the role of free will in salvation - weighing the costs, in choosing to follow Christ or refusing/denying him. What are the implications of making this choice? What will I gain and what will I have to pay/ lose.

  • Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24: 14-15. 14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

This is significant because in this passage, we not only see a free will choice, but the text is clear that it involves discerning what is good and what is evil, and choosing to "serve God in sincerity and faithfulness." also a choice of the will.

  • The Rich young ruler - Again - this passage is especially significant for three reasons.
  1. It shows a conscious choice of keeping the laws- ie, understanding right from wrong and making sacrifices, giving up something for a greater good.
  2. It shows a free will action of evaluating the cost of following Christ [specifically salvation, so it can't be said that this was service as in the military, or a civic duty] and 3. because it refutes the notion often used by Calvinists to say that grace is irresistible, or you can't refuse if God draws you. The rich young ruler was clearly drawn to Christ, and came to him, asking Christ how to inherit eternal life. We also see that his heart was already drawn to God because he was familiar with the law. Christ told him to keep the commandments, and he replied that he had been doing so since his youth.

Then Christ said "go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). The young man decided that Jesus was asking too much. “He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (verse 22). Rather than obey Jesus’ instructions, he turned his back on the Lord and walked away. The man’s choice undoubtedly saddened Jesus as well, because Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21).

  • The other prime example is the passage is in Romans 10:9-10, which show the connection between believing, confessing with your mouth,[acts of free will] and salvation. It's not enough to simply believe - because scripture says that even the demons believe and tremble.

Romans 10:9-10 NIV If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Another excellent verse that proves free will is actually found in at least two of the Gospels - Christ is telling people very clearly that the cost of being his disciple is very great indeed. In fact, he even says that doing so will cost someone his life, and in return, he gains eternal life. Take Up Your Cross Matthew 16:24 23But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me. For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” 24Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.…

In order to understand the context of this verse - One must remember that in Jewish culture, being crucified on a cross already was a curse. So it's not only being stripped naked and tortured, but a source of total shame for the family - particularly brutal and used on the most vicious and vile criminals. Imagine Christ saying, If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must take up his electric chair and follow me.
In fact, according to church history, most of the 12 apostles were indeed martyred for following Christ.

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