The early Christians were strong believers in free will.
For example, Justin Martyr made this argument to the Romans: “We have learned from
the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements,
and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man's actions.
Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is in our own power.
For if it is predestined that one man be good and another man evil, then
the first is not deserving of praise or the other to be blamed. Unless
humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice,
they are not accountable for their actions—whatever they may be.... For
neither would a man be worthy of reward or praise if he did not of himself
choose the good, but was merely created for that end. Likewise, if a
man were evil, he would not deserve punishment, since he was not evil
of himself, being unable to do anything else than what he was made for.”
Clement echoed the same belief: “Neither praise nor condemnation, neither
rewards nor punishments, are right if the soul does not have the power
of choice and avoidance, if evil is involuntary.”
Archelaus, writing a few decades later, repeated the same understanding: “All
the creatures that God made, He made very good. And He gave to every
individual the sense of free will, by which standard He also instituted
the law of judgment.... And certainly whoever will, may keep the commandments.
Whoever despises them and turns aside to what is contrary to them, shall
yet without doubt have to face this law of judgment.... There can be
no doubt that every individual, in using his own proper power of will,
may shape his course in whatever direction he pleases.”
Methodius, a Christian martyr who lived near the end of the third century,
wrote similarly, “Those [pagans] who decide that man does not have free
will, but say that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate,
are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause
and author of human evils.”
The early Christians weren't simply speculating about this matter, but
rather they based their beliefs on the following Scriptures, among others:
• “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that
whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John
• “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness,
but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but
that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
• “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!' And let him who hears say, ‘Come!'
And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take
the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
• “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose
life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19).
So originally, it was the pagan world, not the Christians, who believed
From Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up
by David Bercot
To learn more about what the early Christians believed about free will
and predestination, we recommend the following resources:
What the Early Christians Believed about Predestination and
Free Will. The theological battles between the Calvinists and
Arminians that is, between those who believe in predestination and
those who believe in free will is quite well known to students of
theology. But in which camp, if any, did the early Christians fall?
The historical witness on this matter is quite clear.
70 min. CD
of Early Christian Beliefs
$34.95 $19.95 On Sale!
David W. Bercot, editor. This scholarly work collects together over 7000
quotations from the writings of the early Christians, arranged alphabetically
by topic. Find out what the early Christians believed on various doctrines
and lifestyle issues. Each quotation contains a citation back to the volume
and page where the quotation can be found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers set.
So this work also serves as an excellent index to the Ante-Nicene Fathrs.
A must for every pastor and serious Bible student.
704 pp. hardback.