Did Judas Really Have a Choice?

How did God determine that Judas would betray Jesus without overriding Judas’s own free will?

Calvinist will frequently point toward the events surrounding and leading toward the crucifixion of Jesus as being a clear example of God’s meticulous decree controlling historical events. James White likes to mock the non-Calvinist position by saying things like, “I guess God had to just hope REALLY HARD that somehow all of the events he wanted to happen just accidentally happened!” as if there is no middle ground between steering the events around the life of Jesus and controlling every choice of every person in all history. Sarcasm is not his greatest strength, but bless his heart, he keeps on trying.

Obviously, because God needed certain things to happen according to His plan, He needed to control the events which would take Jesus to the cross so that he could die for our sins (or, on Calvinism, the sins of those few chosen to be the elect). The Calvinist will then extrapolate out from that, the idea that God meticulously controls all events and all of human history. Which to me is quite the jump. I mean, it’s one thing to say God directed a LOT of things to make sure that the prophecies were fulfilled and Jesus completed his mission of salvation, but to decide that this divine decree of God to bring about the crucifixion of Jesus somehow means that God is determining what snack I choose at 3pm on a given Tuesday more than 2,000 years later seems, to me, hard to defend from the Biblical text. But I digress.

As a non-Calvinist who believes in Free Will, how do I explain the idea that Judas was chosen to fulfill a prophecy and determined by God to betray Jesus, if I believe Judas had the free will to choose whether or not he was going to? If God chose Judas to be the betrayer, did Judas have a choice in the matter? If it was prophesied, wasn’t it determined? And if it was determined, doesn’t that mean Judas didn’t have a choice?

Three things are important to consider in my answer:

1. Judas was the man he was in large part because of the many choices he had made in his life. This is true of all of us. We are deciding every day who we will be by accepting or rejecting various truths and lies, and by choosing or rejecting certain actions.

2. God is not trapped in time. God MADE time, and so he is not trapped inside of it, having to wait just as we do for the future to arrive. When God told the prophets of old what was to happen, He did not need to get out a telescope and peer down the corridors of time, hoping his vision was clear, and neither did He have to work constantly to make those things happen so that no one could call Him a liar like a divine juggler. He knows the end from the beginning, not because He is controlling every choice ever made, and not because He is just really lucky at guessing what is going to happen. He can act in time without being trapped in time. Calvinists and Open Theists both forget this.

3. To KNOW something is going to happen is NOT the cause of the thing to happen. When I watch Star Wars ep IV, I know Luke is going to fire the shot that destroys the Death Star, but my knowing this doesn’t CAUSE it to happen. Similarly, there is no causative relationship between what God knows a person will do and the person’s choice to do it. Because God exists outside of time, He doesn’t need to wait until something has happened to know it’s going to happen, and he doesn’t need to CAUSE something to happen in order to know before it happens that it will happen.

So do I even think God determined Judas to be the one who betrayed Jesus? Yes I do. But not by controlling all of Judas’s choices.

Very simply I think Judas was determined by God to be the one who betrayed Jesus by being chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve. Certainly God, being all-knowing, would know who in Israel would be willing to choose money over the Messiah. God knows the hearts of men. We can assume that there might have been dozens or even hundreds of other men in Israel at that time who given the right circumstances would have been willing to betray Jesus. Judas was not unique in this aspect. He was only unique in his position, a position given to him by Jesus himself. Judas could only be in that position to betray Jesus because Jesus chose to put him in that position.

So in short, the way in which God determined that Judas would betray Jesus was not by removing his free will choices, but by knowing what kind of free will choices he would have made and then putting him in the position to be able to carry out those choices. The only way in which Jesus determined that Judas would betray him was by choosing Judas to be one of the twelve. Judas made his own choices. Jesus determined that Judas would be in a position to make those choices by choosing him to be part of the twelve.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Let me know what you think down in the comments.

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4 Responses to Did Judas Really Have a Choice?

  1. I laughed when you said, “Certainly God, being all-knowing, would know who in Israel would be willing to choose money over the Messiah.” What we often fail to understand is that we are all Judas. God did not have to search hard or hold try outs or anything. Back then and to this day, the vast majority of humankind would chose money over the Messiah. Safety over the Messiah. Power over the Messiah.

    I just wanted to say Judas is a really fascinating character and we can be so blessed by studying him closely. What annoys me about people like James White and some of the others, is that they narrow the conversation down to, “Judas is bad, it was God’s will, don’t be Judas.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jsneese62 says:

    I remember when my son first started learning about God and free will he asked me if God knows what we will do before we do it then how do we have free will? What I told him was this we do not know until we make a choice one way or the other what it will be and God does not force us to make a choice one way or the other so it is free will.
    Even people like Moses and Jonah were not puppets that were forced or Jonah would not have had to be swallowed by a huge fish/whale whatever it was, and Moses would not have struck the rock in anger when God said speak to it. If God was completely controlling them they would have done as they were to told to the letter.


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