What is molinism?

by Matt Slick
6/16/2017
Return to Molinism Page

Molinism is a philosophy that seeks to deal with God's sovereignty and man's free will.  It is named after the 16th century Roman Catholic, Jesuit theologian named Luis de Molina (1535-1600) who formulated a response to the Protestant Reformer's declaration of God's sovereignty in election and predestination of individuals to salvation.  Molina offered what is called "Middle Knowledge" and is an attempt to harmonize the sovereign omniscience of God and the position known as the libertarian free will of man. 

  • "Libertarianism is the view that the morally responsible agent is in some sense the origin of his choices, and that prior conditions such as circumstances are not the final determiner for that agent."1
  • "...some persons may freely choose to do something and God cannot freely make them do something, which would be a contradiction. God must therefore choose another possible/ feasible world to create from."2
  • “Freedom can be understood in the first place insofar as it is opposed to coercion. . . . But freedom can also be understood insofar as it is opposed to necessity. Thus an agent is called free who, with all the prerequisites for action taken into account, is able to act and able not to act, or is able to do something in such a way that s/ he is also able to do some contrary thing.”  In modern terminology, Molina strongly advocated the doctrine of libertarian freedom.  When applied to humans, it denotes their unconstrained ability to choose between opposites in both the physical and spiritual realms. For Molina no circumstances exist that could determine a person’s choices, and if a person chooses to do a particular thing, she or he could have done otherwise or could have refrained from acting at all." (MacGregor, Kirk R.. Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, Zondervan. Kindle Edition, p. 49-50).

So, Molinism is the teaching that fallen man is still sufficiently free to be able to equally choose or reject God if only presented with the right information and he does not resist God's providential will.  Middle knowledge is best understood when compared with other issues pertaining to God's knowledge.

  1. Natural Knowledge - God knows all things that are possible and logically necessary.  He knows all the possible combinations of all events and human choices.  It is natural for God to know such things as logical truths, how many stars there are, and all potential events that might occur in different circumstances.
    1. "God’s knowledge of all logical possibilities. Possible Worlds: “can,” “could”"3
    2. "His natural knowledge: He knows all possibilities, everything that could happen. He knows what reality would be like if He had created a world without you or me in it, or never created anything or anyone at all. These fully formed possible scenarios are generally called possible worlds. There is an infinite upon infinite number of possible permutations of how things could have been." 4
  2. Middle Knowledge - God knows what any free will choice would be of any person at any time in any circumstance.  This means that God's knowledge pertaining to people is contingent on human free will choices.  Another name for Middle Knowledge is 'scientia media.'  Two verses used to support Middle Knowledge are Matt. 11:21-24 and 1 Cor. 2:8.  This is dealing with 'counterfactuals,' things that would have happened if circumstances were different but have not actually occurred.
    1. "God’s knowledge of all true counterfactual propositions, or more precisely, conditional propositions in the subjunctive mood. Statements like: “If something were the case, when in fact it may or may not be the case, then something else would be the case.” Feasible Worlds: “would,” “were”"Andrews, Max., Kindle Locations 162-165)
    2. "God’s middle knowledge contains all of the choices and decisions that free creatures would do if they were created in a particular world. When God chooses to actualize one of these feasible worlds, He knows certainly what will happen." 5
  3. Free Knowledge - God necessarily knows in totality all that actually exists that He has freely chosen to create.
    1. "God’s knowledge of all true propositions in the actual world. Actual World: “was,” “is,” “will”"Andrews, Max., Kindle Locations 168-169)
    2. "God’s free knowledge. This is His perfect knowledge of the world— this world— that He chose to “actualize” (i.e., create). Molina referred to this third moment as “free” because it is the result of God’s free, sovereign decision to bring this particular world into existence. Of the infinite possibilities available to God, He was under no compulsion to choose this one. Yet He chose a world that contains free moral agents— angels and humans— who make genuinely free decisions."  6

Basically, we can see Molinism as the teaching that God knows what the future, potential free will choices of people will be in different circumstances and chooses which situations to actualize in order to save people.  In other words, God sovereignly predestines and saves those whom He knows will choose Him.

"Molinism argues that God accomplishes His sovereign will via His omniscience. First, God knows everything that could happen. This first moment is His natural knowledge, where God knows everything due to His omniscient nature. Second, from the set of infinite possibilities, God also knows which scenarios would result in persons freely responding in the way He desires. This crucial moment of knowledge is between the first and third moment, hence the term middle knowledge. From the repertoire of available options provided by His middle knowledge, God freely and sovereignly chooses which one He will bring to pass. This results in God’s third moment of knowledge, which is His foreknowledge of what certainly will occur. 46 The third moment is God’s free knowledge because it is determined by His free and sovereign choice." 7

Conclusion

Molinism is a philosophical endeavor that attempts to harmonize the concepts of God's omniscience regarding middle knowledge and human, libertarian free will.  Is it biblical?  Yes and No.

"Simply put, Molinism argues that God perfectly accomplishes His will in free creatures through the use of His omniscience. It reconciles two crucial biblical truths: (1) God exercises sovereign control over all His creation, and (2) human beings make free choices and decisions for which they must give account."8

 

 

 

  • 1. Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty (p. 69). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, note that this is a pro Molinism source
  • 2. Andrews, Max. An Introduction to Molinism: Scripture, Reason, and All that God has Ordered (The Spread of Molinism Book 1) (Kindle Locations 146-147).  Kindle Edition.
  • 3. Andrews, Max. An Introduction to Molinism: Scripture, Reason, and All that God has Ordered (The Spread of Molinism, Book 1) (Kindle Locations 159-161)
  • 4. Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty,. B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, pp. 17-18
  • 5. Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty (p. 18)
  • 6. Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty (p. 18)
  • 7. Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty (p. 152), underline added
  • 8. Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty (p. 5). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 
 

About The Author

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