Did Jesus Believe that “Ought” implies “Can”?

Libertarians typically say that “ought ” implies “can.”  In other words, if we have an obligation to do something, then it must be the case that we can actually do it.  We cannot have an obligation to do something that we do not have the power to do.  For example, a man without legs has no obligation to walk.  The various commandments given to us by God and our obligation to follow them is usually given as Biblical evidence that we have libertarian free-will.  I’m wondering, however, if this is what Jesus taught.

Now, I know it’s dangerous to take just one passage and pretend it overrides everything else, so I’m not really arguing anything, just bringing it to our attention.

In John 6, the crowd of 5,000 men that Jesus fed eventually follows him across the sea.  Jesus says several things that seem to be invitations or callings for them to believe:

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” (v. 27)

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (v. 29)

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (v. 35)

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (v. 40)

Ought implies can, right?  Well, except that in this same speech, Jesus says this:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (v. 44)

No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them.  It would seem that, in this passage at least, Jesus thinks people ought to follow him, but not that they can by themselves.  Thaddeus Williams in his book, Love, Freedom, and Evil, makes the interesting suggestion that, in this passage, ought doesn’t imply can, ought exposes cannot.  This knowledge that we cannot should cause people to cling to God for mercy and remind them of who gets the full credit of saving them.

I’ll look into this more.


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