Do Jesus' own words prove compatiblism is true?

by Matt Slick
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Compatibilism is the view that human free will is compatible with God's divine sovereignty. Compatibilists would affirm that people can exercise free will, that is ordained by God, and also be held morally responsible for their decisions. Verses in support of this can be found in Acts 4:27-28 where God predestines people to crucify Christ yet, according to Acts 2:23, they were responsible for their actions.

Nevertheless, critics of compatibilism, who also hold to libertarian free will, say that a person must be free to make uncoerced decisions between options. Otherwise, they're not free. 

"For our purposes, when we use the term “free will” we mean what is called libertarian  freedom: Given choices A and B, one can literally choose to do either one, no circumstances exist that are sufficient to determine one’s choice; a person’s choice is up to him, and if he does one of them, he could have done otherwise, or at least he could have refrained from acting at all. One acts as an agent who is the ultimate originator of one’s own actions and, in this sense, is in control of one’s action." (J.P. Moreland, James Porter; William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, p. 240. InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)

In light of the Molinists' position, I ask them if they consider Jesus to have had free will.  You will see that Jesus cannot choose to other than what the Father commanded him to do.  Please consider the following verses.

  • John 5:19, "Jesus therefore answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner."
  • John 5:30, "I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
  • John 6:38, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
  • John 8:28, "Jesus therefore said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me."
  • John 8:29, "And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him."
  • John 12:49, "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak."
  • John 14:10, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works."
  • John 17:8, "for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me."

In these eight verses, we learn that Jesus said he could do nothing of himself (John 5:19) and that he could do nothing of his own initiative (John 5:30; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10). He did not come to do his own will, but the will of the Father who sent him (John 6:38). And, that the words God gave to him, he did not speak on his own initiative (John 14:10), and he gave them to the disciples (John 17:8).

So then, in what sense did Jesus have free will if he was not able to do anything of his own initiative and he only did what he saw the Father do (John 5:19)? To have the initiative is to exercise free will. Moreland, Porter, and Craig in the above quote affirm that free choice means that one can "literally choose to do either one" among different options, that a person "could have done otherwise."

Yet, Jesus says he could do nothing of his own initiative. In addition, Jesus said his food was to accomplish the Father's work (John 4:34), that he was doing the works the Father gave him to do (John 5:36), that he did exactly what the Father commanded him to do (John 14:31), and that he accomplished what the Father gave him to do (John 17:4). In fact, Jesus said that the very words that he spoke were not on his own initiative (John 14:10), that the words the Father gave to him, he gave to the disciples (John 17:8). So, was Jesus free? Did he have libertarian free will? It appears that Jesus came to do what God sovereignly determined to occur in the life of Christ.

Isn't this compatibilism?

We know that Christ has two distinct natures: divine and human. He is a single person with attributes both God and man. Therefore he has to have a will.  If he didn't, he wouldn't be human. 

Furthermore, everything that Jesus did was what was foreordained for him to do by the Father, because Jesus had to accomplished the works that the Father gave him to do (John 5:36; 9:3-4; 10:25; 17:4). The Son cannot sin. That is why Jesus said in John 8:29 that he always does the things that are pleasing to the Father. Please consider the following verses which demonstrated Jesus came to do with the Father ordained him to do.

  • John 5:36, "But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish - he very works that I do - testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me."
  • John 17:4, "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do."
  • John 18:11, "So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”"

I think it's clear that he came to do only with the Father sent him to do and that he could only do what the Father sent him to do (John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28). This means that the Father had predestined the son to do what he had foreordained for him to accomplish. To me, this demonstrates compatibilism.


If libertarian free will is true, then Jesus didn't have libertarian free will because Jesus did not speak out of His own will, His own initiative but only what the Father gave Him to do. It should be clear that the words of Christ would support compatibilism and not libertarianism because Jesus who is a human with free will was only able to do what God foreordained for Him to do. Yet, Jesus still free.




About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.