Predestination and Freewill: On the Freedom of the Will, Part II

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

Erasmus of Rotterdam
Erasmus of Rotterdam

In addressing the relationship between divine foreknowledge and human will, Erasmus concludes that while Paul does not adequately address the question,[1] “the will of God, since it is the principle cause of all that takes place, seems to impose necessarily on our will…. God willed Pharaoh to perish miserably, and he willed it rightly, and it was tight for him to perish. Yet he was not forced by the will of God to be obstinately wicked.”[2] Erasmus says concerning Romans 9-11, that “All this shows clearly that Paul’s sole object here is to repress the arrogance at once of the Gentiles and of the Jews.”[3] Erasmus does not interpret the use of the Potter and the Clay to be entirely indicative of the roles of salvation, as he writes that “In these things we are to submit to God as a vessel to the hands of a potter. Yet in truth this is not to take away free choice wholly, not does it exclude our will from cooperating with the divine will in order to attain eternal salvation…. Here the word of Paul is not whether free choice is entirely excluded, but to repress the wicked murmuring of the Jews against God, who on account of their obstinate unbelief were rejected from the grace of the gospel, while the Gentiles were received on the ground of their faith…”[4] Erasmus argues that humanity cooperates with God in the process of salvation, that “What the architect is to his pupil, grace is to our will. Thus Paul in Rom. 8 (26): ‘Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.’ Nobody calls him weak who can do nothing at all, but rather him whose powers are insufficient to perform what is attempted; nor is he said to be a helper who does everything by himself.”[5] Ultimately, Erasmus seeks a balanced understanding of God’s grace and man’s grace endowed free choice that allows for human responsibility in choosing or rejecting salvation under the grace and power of God,[6] as he concludes by writing that, “Pelagius has no doubt attributed too much to free choice, and Scotus quite enough, but Luther first mutilated it by cutting off its right arm; then not content with this he thoroughly cut the throat of free choice and dispatched it. I prefer the view of those who do attribute much to free choice, but most to grace.”[7]

In Freedom of the Will, Erasmus concerns himself primarily with the role of “human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from them.”[8] In reading and interpreting Paul in his letter to the Romans, Erasmus understands Paul to be a champion of free choice who simultaneously understands salvation in terms of God’s prevenient mercy as well as humanity’s actions. [9] Erasmus also believes Paul in Romans to insufficiently treat the interaction between foreknowledge and will. Concerning Romans chapters nine through eleven, Erasmus understands Paul to be repressing the arrogance of Gentiles and Jews, as well as using illustrations such as potter and clay that do not indicate the normative status of the human will concerning salvation, but instead are concerned with addressing obstinate Jews who do not accept the gospel message of Christ by faith. To conclude, Erasmus understands Paul to present a soteriological construction that he can adhere to himself, namely, a balanced understanding of God’s grace and man’s grace-given free choice, that ultimately allows for human responsibility in choosing or rejecting salvation under the grace and power of God.


[1] A position taken by modern scholars as well, as we shall see below. [2] Erasmus, On the Freedom of the Will, 66-67. [3] Ibid., 70. [4] Ibid., 71. [5] Ibid., 81-5. [6] Ibid., 85-97. [7] Ibid., 96. [8] Ibid., 47. [9] A perspective affirmed by Bernhard Lohse as the summation of Erasmus’ soteriology in Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development. Translated and Edited by Roy A. Harrisville. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1999. 161.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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