For those wishing to present a case for free will and personal accountability, using the Early Church as the basis, it is quite easy because the Early Church fought a type of Predestination, known as Fatalism. We will be presenting some of this case from the early writers (within 150 years of Jesus death and resurrection), specifically discussing Romans 8:29-30 and the term Foreknew. We investigate how this term was understood and used by the Early Church.
We will show the Early Church:
We also look at:
Below is the verse used by Calvinists, or those who believe in Predestination, to support the case that man has no genuine choice or free will in regard to salvation. Looking at the scripture at surface level it could be used to support their case, however we will see how the Early Church saw the scripture to prop-up the case for free will.
Collins English Dictionary states predestination is "a. the act of God foreordaining every event from eternity, b. the doctrine or belief, esp associated with Calvin, that the final salvation of some of humankind is foreordained from eternity by God", and "a. God foreordained everything that would happen, b. God predestines certain souls to salvation and, esp. in Calvinism, others to damnation" (Collins 2023*W0).
Free will in Christianity is the idea that God has given man the ability to choose or reject Him, based upon a choice of our will. As Iranaeus [A.D. 120-202.] (an Early Church Father) states 1. This expression [of our Lord], “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not,” (Mat 23:37) set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests (ad utendum sententia) of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves. On the other hand, they who have not obeyed shall, with justice, be not found in possession of the good, and shall receive condign punishment: for God did kindly bestow on them what was good; but they themselves did not diligently keep it, nor deem it something precious, but poured contempt upon His super-eminent goodness." (Rev. Rambaut W. H. 1867, Ch 122-End*E0)
The following are quotes are taken from Justin Martyr [A.D. 110-165.] as found in the eBook of Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 (Rev. Dods 1867*E1). They show the meaning that was applied to the phrase.
We see the terms usage by Justin Martyr in the passages that follow, foreknow his text shows does not mean God made some wicked, he says that the wicked can seek repentance and find it. This is contry to the Calvanistic idea that "b. God predestines certain souls to salvation and, esp. in Calvinism, others to damnation" (Collins 2023*W0). So predestination, or foreknowledge can not mean God assigns some to salvation and some to damnation.
"...Furthermore, I have proved in what has preceded, that those who were foreknown to be unrighteous, whether men or angels, are not made wicked by God’s fault, but each man by his own fault is what he will appear to be..." (Rev. Dods 1867, Ch 122-End*E1)
Justin also uses the term Foreknown, with the phrase "foreknown to believe in him". There is a suggestion with the term "to believe", that God is looking forward to a time when He can see people will believe in Him; at the time before creation He knows there will be those who accept His ways.
"...And this prophecy proves that we shall behold this very King with glory; and the very terms of the prophecy declare loudly, that the people foreknown to believe in Him were fore-known to pursue diligently the fear of the Lord..." (Rev. Dods 1867, Ch 67-83*E3)
In the following passage Justin Martyr states that the church does not believe in a Fatalistic view of foreknowledge, that man has genuine free will. This idea is also supported by Iranaeus [A.D. 120-202.], who strongly supports free will not Fatalism, as shown below. In summary they say:
In light of the Early Church, there is 0% chance that Romans 8:29-30 should be read to mean "b. God predestines certain souls to salvation and, esp. in Calvinism, others to damnation" (Collins 2023*W0). The Early Church supports the idea of free agency (free will) in salvation. They state there is no compulsion (forcing of will) with God, that God gives His good will to all people. As is supported by scriptures like "1Timothy 4:10 (NKJV) For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. " and "1 John 2:2 (NKJV) And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world".
Furthermore Romans 8:29-30 can be read to mean the ones foreknown to believe in Jesus. Meaning God knew at creation people would believe in Him, and He marked those ones out for salvation.