Do Prophecies conflict with free will?

If “free will” means that God gives humans the opportunity to make choices that genuinely affect their destiny, then yes, human beings do have a free will. The world’s current sinful state is directly linked to choices made by Adam and Eve. God created mankind in His own image, and that included the ability to choose. However, free will does not mean that mankind can do anything he pleases. Our choices are limited to what is in keeping with our nature. For example, a man may choose to walk across a bridge or not to walk across it; what he may not choose is to fly over the bridge—his nature prevents him from flying. In a similar way, a man cannot choose to make himself righteous—his (sin) nature prevents him from canceling his guilt (Romans 3:23). So, free will is limited by nature.

This limitation does not mitigate our accountability. The Bible is clear that we not only have the ability to choose, we also have the responsibility to choose wisely. In the Old Testament, God chose a nation (Israel), but individuals within that nation still bore an obligation to choose obedience to God. And individuals outside of Israel were able to choose to believe and follow God as well (e.g., Ruth and Rahab). In the New Testament, sinners are commanded over and over to “repent” and “believe” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Acts 3:19; 1 John 3:23). Every call to repent is a call to choose. The command to believe assumes that the hearer can choose to obey the command. Jesus identified the problem of some unbelievers when He told them, “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” John 5:40. They could have come if they wanted to; their problem was they chose not to. “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7), and those who are outside of salvation are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20-21).

But how can man, limited by a sin nature, ever choose what is good? It is only through the grace and power of God that free will truly becomes “free” in the sense of being able to choose salvation (John 15:16). It is the Holy Spirit who works in and through a person’s will to regenerate that person (John 1:12-13) and give them a new nature “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Ephesians 4:24 Salvation is God’s work, at the same time, our motives, desires, and actions are voluntary, and we are rightly held responsible for them. Prophesy is subject to those who are given the prophesies to share. A prophet can choose not to give the prophesy as with Jonah or Baalam. This is not to say that there are not consequences for not obeying the Lord, there are, but the choice remains for both the prophet and they who receive the prophesy.

“And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” 1 Corinthians 14:32 Too prophesy is simply to speak prophecy. Prophecy is the noun, and prophesy is the verb. Prophecy at its most basic definition is “a message from God.” So, too prophesy is to proclaim a message from God. The one who does this is, therefore, a prophet. Although foretelling is often associated with prophecy, revealing the future is not a necessary element of prophecy; however, since only God knows the future, any authoritative word about the future must of necessity be a prophecy, that is, a message from God. In the Old Testament, there were prophets who simply spoke their divine messages to a king or to the people (e.g., Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha). Later, there came a series of “writing prophets” whose messages are preserved in Scripture (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, and Malachi). Quite often the prophets would preface their utterances with words such as “thus saith the Lord” or “this is what the Lord says”. The point is that God had communicated something to the prophets, and they were speaking directly for Him. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:21 According to Deuteronomy 13, there are two signs of a true prophet. First, he must not direct people to follow other gods. Second, whenever the prophet says something about future events, those events must come to pass. If the prophet promotes the worship of false gods, or if his predictions fail to come to pass, then he is a false prophet. God would often give the prophet a message about something that would happen in the short term, to give him credibility on the more long-term message. For instance, Jeremiah told the leaders of Judah that the nation would be conquered by Babylon. But another “prophet,” a charlatan named Hananiah, stood up and said the Lord had given him a different message, and claimed that Jeremiah was not a true prophet. Jeremiah told Hananiah that within a year he, Hananiah, would be dead, and within the year he died (Jeremiah 28). The fact that Jeremiah could so accurately predict the future should have given his other words more credibility.

In the New Testament, John the Baptist proclaims that the Kingdom of God and the Messiah are on the scene, and he identifies Jesus as that Messiah. John is often called the last of the Old Testament prophets. In the rest of the New Testament, prophets are not mentioned very much. The apostles fulfilled the prophetic role, as they spoke directly and authoritatively for God, and their words are preserved today in Scripture. Ephesians 2:20 lists the apostles and prophets as being the foundation of the church, with Jesus the Christ being the cornerstone. Before the canon of Scripture was complete, God may have communicated directly to people on a more regular basis. Prophecy is listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1–11, Romans 12:6–8).

Of great interest today is whether or not the gift of prophecy continues or if it ceased when the foundational period of the church was complete. 1 Corinthians 12—14 is the longest New Testament passage relating to prophecy. The church at Corinth was misusing this gift as well as the gift of tongues. One problem they had was that, when the believers gathered, too many prophets were speaking, and they were interrupting each other as they spoke. Paul says that at most two or three prophets should speak, and they should do so one at a time. Others should carefully consider or evaluate what the prophet says (1 Corinthians 14:29–31). Perhaps the best understanding is that some people in Corinth thought they are getting a word directly from God, but they could have been wrong; therefore, they needed to submit their prophecies to the judgment of the church. As in the Old Testament, if a New Testament prophecy was contrary to sound doctrine, then the prophecy was to be rejected.

As to the specifics of any conflicts of prophesy with free will, there is the view of a person receiving a prophesy, do they have a choice in the matter? There are aspects of Gods will as it relates prophesy. There is the “Decretive will of God”, where there is NO choice in the matter, and God alone will cause His word to come to pass, and the “Perceived will of God”. This is God’s will that is placed in every person at birth. It is prompted by the Holy Spirit. It is our inherent knowledge of right and wrong that no one has to teach us, we know it from infancy. This aspect of Gods will was promised by Him and later performed by the Holy Spirit in man (Jeremiah 31:33; John 14:16-17, 26, 16:7-11). Some prophesy is rooted in this aspect of Gods will. Choice only occurs in the “Perceived will of God” with respect to this type of prophesy. If you do this, the following will happen, if you don’t do this the prophesy will not happen. Only in this regard is they're a condition to a prophesy that requires an act of free will.

Why Christians Believe What They Believe 

© 2020 Tony - Antonakis Maritis