Jesus and Judas
March 2, 2004 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Religious Question: If Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him before he did betray him, and Jesus is God because he's part of the holy trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), doesn't this prove that there is no such thing as free will? [More Inside]
posted by banished to Religion & Philosophy (40 answers total)
 
I know what you're going to say.
posted by yerfatma at 11:58 AM on March 2, 2004


Judas had no choice if his actions were already preordained, so how can each of us be responsible for our own sins if free will is an illusion? Also, I vaguely remember a vampire movie that was based on this idea, that Judas became the first vampire because he hated God and refuted him for not giving him any other choice but to sin. Anyone remember what I'm talking about? I thought I was the only one with this idea until I saw that movie, but it really brings my faith into question I think.
posted by banished at 12:01 PM on March 2, 2004


Quick answer: no. There's a distinct difference between knowing what is going to happen and taking an active role in it, and if you believe in an omniscient God, then you have to concede that he knows the future. As far as I've read, and I'm far from a Biblical scholar, I've yet to see anything that says that God put Judas on Earth to do such a thing. Humans are born with a sinning nature, God knows our sins, when they will happen and where, but he does not take an active role in either causing them or preventing them. Kind of like "why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?".

That's just my faith though. I know many others will have varying answers, and what it boils down to is personal faith.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:05 PM on March 2, 2004


Silly human. You can't go using that logic mumbo-jumbo when discussing the bible.
posted by bondcliff at 12:06 PM on March 2, 2004


Here's a similar argument. If walking under a ladder is unlucky, and I walk under a ladder, doesn't this prove that everything is preordained and there's no such thing as free will?

The answer: it proves nothing, as it's purely superstition.
posted by Pericles at 12:06 PM on March 2, 2004


Where is the Trinity in the Bible?
posted by the fire you left me at 12:08 PM on March 2, 2004


I think that the reinterpretation of this in The Last Temptation of Christ has interesting things to say. Essentially, that our free will guides us to God, and that God acts through us.

However, as with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, it's impossible for you to ever know enough about God's will to understand what your actions are going to be. Since you have no way of prediciting the future, events are not deterministic.

I dunno. Think in any discussion about free will there's also room for having the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. The fact that you're not God and you don't have the power to remake reality doesn't negate your agency entirely. Perhaps free will is nothing more than a function of attitude. The degree to which you commit to God's will or struggle against it.

I'm not a Xtian so what do I know?
posted by scarabic at 12:08 PM on March 2, 2004


there is a LOT of stuff on predestination already out there, thats essentially what this question is, right?
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 12:11 PM on March 2, 2004


There's a distinct difference between knowing what is going to happen and taking an active role in it.

My problem is, once Jesus says it's going to happen, it has to happen. Judas has absolutely no choice in the matter because if Jesus was wrong, he wouldn't be perfect, and thus, wouldn't be the son of God.
posted by banished at 12:11 PM on March 2, 2004


read Elbow Room by Daniel Dennett. it has nothing to do with religion, and won't provide and final answer to questions on free will, but at least it'll make the issues a little clearer (i'm not saying it's unbiased - it obviously takes a very definite stand - but it does give a helpful discussion).
posted by andrew cooke at 12:12 PM on March 2, 2004


...doesn't this prove that there is no such thing as free will?

Some Christian theologians have come to exactly this conclusion. The followup question ("how can each of us be responsible for our own sins if free will is an illusion?") is why, I think, few Christians today believe in predestination, but that doesn't seem to have troubled the Calvinists and similar thinkers.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:12 PM on March 2, 2004


Ohh and what about how Christians always speak of God having a "plan" for each and every one of us? Is that coming from the Bible, or just something they say?
posted by banished at 12:14 PM on March 2, 2004


I'm kind of ashamed I know this, but the movie in question is Dracula 2000...
posted by mkultra at 12:14 PM on March 2, 2004


My somewhat related question is... If god is all powerful, why did he have to give up his only son to free man from sin, unless if it was only meant as a purely symbolic action?
posted by drezdn at 12:18 PM on March 2, 2004


Terrible AskMe post.
posted by callmejay at 12:19 PM on March 2, 2004


Why would 'foreknowledge' of what we choose preclude our choices?

If God is omniscient, why would he have to subscribe to a linear system?
posted by jazzkat11 at 12:22 PM on March 2, 2004


Hmm, on second thought, I do kind of agree with callmejay, this probably isn't the best format for this kind of post.

Banished, I'll be happy to answer your questions via e-mail. Just shoot one to the addy in my profile if you want to follow up. I've got no desire to get caught in a MeFi religion pissing war.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:30 PM on March 2, 2004


Terrible AskMe post.
Not for a Theologian.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:40 PM on March 2, 2004


If god is all powerful, why did he have to give up his only son to free man from sin, unless if it was only meant as a purely symbolic action?

Bingo. He didn't have to. He did it as a demonstration of His love. At least, that's what the Christian part of me says.

Why would 'foreknowledge' of what we choose preclude our choices?
If God is omniscient, why would he have to subscribe to a linear system?


I think that's a good answer for the general question of how God's omniscience can be reconciled with our free will--God is outside of time--but it doesn't answer banished's more specific question, when Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him. At least if you go with mainline Christian theology, which says that Jesus was fully human, which means Jesus experienced time just as any other human, and thus the paradox is reestablished. I don't have a good answer for that one.

And at the risk of discussing in the green what belongs in the brown, I think this is a fine AskMe post. It's not a "doesn't Christianity suck?" kind of post, it's a legitimate question, and at least partial factual answers can be given in the form, "here's what some leading theologians have said about this question..."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:45 PM on March 2, 2004


not to pick on skallas, this was just the first thing I could think of:

I don't think so. If I post something to the blue about how wonderful Christianity is, and how true Christianity has never done anything wrong, and about how awful atheists (you know, like Hitler and Stalin) are, I know that steam will shoot out skallas's ears, and his eyes will go all boggly, and veins will stand out on his forehead like in Scanners, and then he'll call me something unpleasant in the process of pointing out what a stupid jackassed thing that is to say.

But my knowing that doesn't mean that I'm somehow making him do it, or that he doesn't have free will. It just makes him predictable in some respects, even to a fallible human like me.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:57 PM on March 2, 2004


True, but he gets more specific than just making inferences about Judas's nature. Doesn't Jesus say that Peter will renounce him 3 times before the cock crows... or something to that effect?
posted by banished at 1:05 PM on March 2, 2004


Not to stir the already murky pot, but there is plenty of discussion about Biblical contradiction/confusion here.
posted by yoga at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2004


Grace Online Library has a great collection of articles on the dialectic between free will and predestination, from a Calvinist-Baptist perspective.
posted by brownpau at 1:13 PM on March 2, 2004


If God is everywhere, why won't she tell me where my keys are?
posted by tr33hggr at 1:21 PM on March 2, 2004


According to Bob & Sheri, St. Anthony is whom you must pray to in order for your car keys to be found.
posted by studentbaker at 1:35 PM on March 2, 2004


Since this is AskMe and not Mefi, I'm going to answer your question as best I can, banished, and only AFTERWARDS get to my rant.

The short answer is that, yes, this could easily imply a lack of free will.

But then, the bible has no problem with the lack of free will. It shows up all over the place, especially in the Old Testament. Do a text search for "harden" and "heart" and you'll see that God has NO problem forcing people to act out roles, whether they want to or not (cf. especially Exodus, with Pharoah).

Now, rant:

My problem is, once Jesus says it's going to happen, it has to happen. Judas has absolutely no choice in the matter because if Jesus was wrong, he wouldn't be perfect, and thus, wouldn't be the son of God.

According to some gospels, Jesus can be wrong. In one, I forget which, he cuts a board incorrectly and then uses his magical powers to fix it.

Also, taking the bible only at its word, the idea of Jesus being the perfect, holy, unfailing son of God is something of a stretch. It seems to have been added in through interpretation. He definitely comes off by my reading as a human character, with flaws and weaknesses. I'm thinking most notably in the pathos of Gethsemane, where he is afraid and asks for company, and even considers giving up.

But then, if you read the bible itself, God is incredibly imperfect, and it's clear the bible writers viewed him way differently than the later theologians and philosophers.
posted by Hildago at 1:41 PM on March 2, 2004


This is a bad Ask MeFi post whether one is a theologian or not. There is no answer to this question--unless god is a MeFi member and we don't know it--therefore no one could help this MeFite find the answer to their question. Ergo the question shouldn't have been asked here.

A better forum for this would be with a theologian, a priest, a minister, etc. But not Ask MeFi.
posted by terrapin at 1:49 PM on March 2, 2004


... few Christians today believe in predestination

I'd have to disagree with this. I'd argue that at least a soft form of pre-destination has dominated Christian though since at least Augustine. It got quite a boost during the Reformation, and still holds a pretty heavy tight grip in most evangelical Protestant circles.

In terms of the original question, to summarize a former Christian Thought professor of mine, who is now the dean of a VERY Reformed seminary in California, "What's so wrong with losing one's free will?" His point is that free will is purely a matter of perspective. We don't really have free will relative to God, but we don't always choose to see it that way.

This is one of the longstanding philosophical and theological debates within the church. For recent developments, see Clark Pinnock or John Sanders work on open theism.
posted by marcusb at 1:56 PM on March 2, 2004


> In one, I forget which, he cuts a board incorrectly and then uses his magical powers to fix it.
That was not from a canonical gospel, but was from one of the later-written apocryphal New Testament accounts which the early church rejected. The current canon of gosepls and epistles had already been mostly settled by 400 AD simply by virtue of common knowledge as to which were authentic copies by actual disciples or folowers of those disciples, and which were mere Gnostic fanfics.

>Also, taking the bible only at its word, the idea of Jesus being the perfect, holy, unfailing son of God is something of a stretch.
Biblical writers make it clear that Jesus was just as much man as he was God, that he chose to limit himself in certain ways so as to be closer to us and to be able to sympathize with us. That's why he said he did not know when the end would come, could be tempted and worried, and could feel forsaken by his own father. The Gethsemane references you mention are perfect examples, and tie quite well into the free will topic -- Jesus actually exercising free will by submitting his will to that of his Father, rather than giving in to the temptation to act selfishly and not carry out the sacrifice, therefore losing his free will to the evil one.

(Aside: that's how I understand the symbolism of the Garden scenes in Mel Gibson's "Passion," by the way: Satan and the snake and all that.)
posted by brownpau at 1:57 PM on March 2, 2004


"Oh dear," says God. "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

"Oh, that was easy," says Man, who goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed at the next zebra crossing.

or words to that effect.
posted by keswick at 3:02 PM on March 2, 2004


My problem is, once Jesus says it's going to happen, it has to happen. Judas has absolutely no choice in the matter because if Jesus was wrong, he wouldn't be perfect, and thus, wouldn't be the son of God.

Judas still has a choice, it's just that Jesus knows exactly which choice he's going to make. Here is an example to illustrate how such a thing is possible: I could round up all the people in the world that do not want to die, put them on the edge of a cliff, and tell them that they have to either jump off and die or walk away and live. Then, I know exactly what each one of them is going to do, but each one still has a choice.
posted by epimorph at 3:56 PM on March 2, 2004


...by virtue of common knowledge as to which were authentic copies by actual disciples or followers of those disciples, and which were mere Gnostic fanfics.

That reads to me as an awfully casual dismissal of a significant body of work. "mere Gnostic fanfic"? Or are they in fact the real deal, and the gospels are the fiction? And how would you know?
posted by five fresh fish at 3:58 PM on March 2, 2004


I could round up all the people in the world that do not want to die

You could? How? I'm not just being facetious--this seems central to the question at hand. How would you know, for certain, without error, whether a person wants to die? I don't think you can just gloss over that by saying you'll simply round up all the people who don't want to die. This is for all intents and purposes impossible--if it were possible I'm not convinced that's compatible with free will.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:54 PM on March 2, 2004


Terrible AskMe post

Amen. Not only is it unanswerable, it pollutes the well. Look at how many pointless snarks/jokes there are in this thread; you don't get those with real AskMe questions.
Besides, it makes the baby Jesus cry.

Here's Aquinas on free will, if you really want to get into this. But if you just want college-dorm bull-session jabber, I guess the green is the right place to ask.
posted by languagehat at 4:58 PM on March 2, 2004


Guys, guys, guys...

It's just like Morpheus said in The Matrix:
"Sooner or later, Neo, you're going to realize just like I did the difference between knowing the path and walking the path."
posted by armoured-ant at 5:04 PM on March 2, 2004


DevilsAdvocate, you're absolutely right, I could never really know for sure who wants to die and who does not. My example was simply intended to illustrate the point that as long as one has knowledge of a person's nature and about his circumstances, then one is able to predict his choices. So if we suppose that there is a God (as I assumed to be the context of this discussion), and that He can read our minds, then He could perform the experiment I described and get the same results, and all this without the need to control anyone or take away anyone's free will.
posted by epimorph at 7:04 PM on March 2, 2004


double damn you armoured-ant, beat me to the punch!
posted by signal at 6:53 AM on March 3, 2004


Time for the Jewish Point of View! (This ain't really talmudic or anything.. just one of many ways we Jews would discuss Jesus.)

We know that Jesus was a Jew. We know that he must have been a good, observant Jew, because he had many contemporary followers, who were also Jewish. During his life and the century afterwards, the Jesus "cult" was only one of many Jewish cults in Palestine. It was only later that St. Peter and St. Paul adapted this Judaic cult into the universalist religion that became so strong in the ancient Roman world. (Part of this popularization was to do away with circumcision as a requirement for inclusion.) And it was a century or more later when the events surrounding Jesus' life and death were encoded into written "Gospels."

Most Jews essentially consider Jesus to have been a rabbi, that is, a teacher. Modern historians working with the Dead sea scrolls tend to believe that he was possibly an Essene leader, i.e., a revolutionary anti-Roman. What his followers made of him later is something else.

As a Jew, Jesus would have believed in free will - it is an individual's choice to follow the torah law or not, and a "good jew" chooses to follow it. As an Essene Jew, he would have been adamant about it.

As for the Messiah issue: we Jews don't believe that Jesus was the Messiah. We have caught a huge amount of flack over the centuries for it, but we have these old Testament prophecies about what exactly constitutes the Messiah and Jesus didn't quite fit the regulations. It's mostly in Isaiah. You got to have heavenly trumpets and popping up out of the ground on Mt. Zion and stuff like that. Also, you have to be from the house of David. Jesus' mother, Mary was supposedly descended from Kind David, but in Jewish law (and believe me, ain't no law as inflexible as Jewish Law) you descend from your father's line. Which would infer that God was a descendant of Kind David.
posted by zaelic at 9:48 AM on March 3, 2004


oops! King David. Spell checker is having a sinful day...
posted by zaelic at 9:50 AM on March 3, 2004


We know that he must have been a good, observant Jew, because he had many contemporary followers, who were also Jewish.

But he wasn't a good, observant Jew. He ate unclean animals and worked on the Sabbath. He even said they were ridiculous laws. Jesus not being an observant Jew is why Christians don't keep kosher.
posted by Hildago at 3:49 PM on March 3, 2004


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