August 18, 2005

Whosoever will

Here's a quick lesson in presuppositions and how they colour how we read the Bible.

It is practically inevitable that when I tell someone I am a Calvinist and believe in predestination, that I get into a conversation that goes something like this.

Free-willy: Oh, so you don't really believe the Bible then.

Me: What do you mean?

Free-willy: The Bible says that whosoever will, may come. John 3:16 says that whosoever believeth has eternal life. You Calvinists can't believe in "whosoever will."

Me: What are you talking about? Of course I believe what John 3:16 says. Every Calvinist believes that whoever believes will be saved.

Free-willy: But you believe that only the elect will be saved, right? John 3:16 says that "whosoever believeth" will be saved. That means anyone may, not just some spiritual "elite."

Me: "Whosoever" doesn't mean "anyone may." It doesn't imply anything about their ability to believe. That is your assumption. It means only that there is a certain category of people: those who believe.

Free-willy: You're really weird.

The problem is that the free-willy imports a certain philosophical presupposition about libertarian free will into the meaning of "whosoever" (or "whoever," if you happen to live in this century). The idea seems to be that if you can actually create a category of believing people, then everyone is automatically an equal candidate for belonging to that category. For example, he might assert the following:

Whoever posts to this chat forum has a computer means that Anyone who has a computer may post to this chat forum.

A simple reductio ad absurdum, however, shows the fallacy of this assertion:

Premise 1: Anyone who has a computer may post to this chat forum.

Premise 2: Joe the Troll has a computer.

Conclusion: Therefore, Joe the Troll may post to this chat forum.

However, suppose I am the webmaster of the forum, and I do not want Joe the Troll posting there, so I have banned his IP address. Therefore, it is not the case that Joe the Troll may post here, and hence there is something wrong with the free-willy's Premise 1.

"Whosoever will" simply does not mean that "anyone may." Verses like John 3:16 simply do not explain, one way or another, who will come to believe in Christ, or how, or how many. It is no more an Arminian verse than a Calvinist one.