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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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NECESSITY.—We exclude from this article all problems not directly raised by the Four Gospels.

1. Necessity and the Divine nature.—Metaphysicians distinguish between (1) contingent existence, and (2) necessary existence. A thing exists contingently, of which the beginning or end or change can be conceived. A thing exists necessarily, of which neither the beginning, nor the end, nor the change can be conceived. The Universe exists contingently, for we can imagine its annihilation; the laws of Nature also exist contingently, for we can imagine them altered. On the other hand, the laws of Reason, of Mathematics, and of (fundamental) Morality exist necessarily, for we can imagine no beginning or end or change in them.

Thus there never was, or will be, or could be, a time when things which are equal to the same thing could be unequal to one another. Nor can we imagine a time, or a world, in which cruelty would be other than odious, and lying other than contemptible. If cruelty and deceit were seated on the throne of the universe, they would still be what they are, odious and contemptible; and benevolence and truth, their opposites, would still be what they are, admirable and praiseworthy. Time and the vicissitudes of things can make no difference to the laws of Reason and the Moral Law. These are eternally and immutably true,—true not only to the human mind, but to every rational mind that does or can exist; valid not only in this universe but in all possible universes.

There exists, therefore, a body of eternal and necessary truth. But this conception of necessary truth carries with it the further conception of necessary Being, or necessary Substance. A truth cannot exist as it were ‘in the air,’ or in an infinite void: it must be true to some mind. And since the truths in question are independent of all created minds, there must exist some Eternal Uncreated Mind, to which these truths are eternally true. Moreover, since the truths are partly moral truths, this Mind must be moral, or, to use the language of religion, holy. Now it is obvious that to this Infinite Mind the predicate of necessary existence belongs in a higher degree than it belongs to what is called necessary truth. The laws or truths which are called necessary derive their necessary character from the fact that they are the laws of His Mind; but He, the Ultimate and Absolute Mind itself, exists with a degree of necessity transcending theirs. They inhere in Him, not He in them, and consequently He, the Infinite, Absolute, Ultimate Substance, is not only necessarily existent, but also self-existent.

The self-existence, or necessary existence, of the One True, Living, Personal God is a fundamental doctrine of Scripture. It was taught, according to the traditional exegesis of Exodus 3:14, to Moses at the bush, and our Lord endorsed this view of the meaning of the Mosaic revelation (John 8:58). According to the Johannine theology (with which the Pauline is in essential agreement), necessary existence belongs primarily and originally to the Father, who is emphatically ὁ θεός (with the article), and the Living One (ὁ ζῶν πατήρ, John 6:57). To Jesus also, as consubstantial Son, belongs eternal and necessary existence (John 8:58). He has ‘life in himself’ (John 5:26), and is to creatures ‘the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:26). Yet He has this ‘life in himself’ by derivation from the Father (John 5:26, John 6:57), and consequently is (in this aspect) an Effect, of which the Father is the Cause.* [Note: Quite Scriptural, therefore, is the Greek theology which regards the Father as αἵτιος, and the Son and Spirit as αἵτιατα]

2. Necessity and the Divine freedom.—The Divine freedom, though absolute in the sense that God is free to achieve all that is possible, is limited by the laws of necessary truth and necessary substance as defined in § 1. Thus, since the laws of Reason are eternally valid, He cannot not achieve the essentially irrational, or (what is really the same thing) the essentially impossible. For instance, He cannot annihilate the past, or make the angles of a plane triangle unequal to two right angles. Similarly, since He is a necessary Substance, He cannot will His own annihilation; and since He is the supreme necessary, Good (Mark 10:18), He cannot cease to be good, or will what is evil.

The necessary character of the Divine perfections is fully recognized in Scripture† [Note: The perfections of the Son of God have the same necessary character as those of the Father (see Hebrews 13:8).] (Psalms 102:24-27, Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17), as also is the doctrine that God’s freedom is limited by His character. All that is worthy of Him, He can perform, but deceit, cruelty, and injustice are to Him impossible (Genesis 18:25, Job 8:3 etc.).

3. Necessity and the laws of Nature.—It is an important corollary of the Divine freedom, that the laws of Nature do not possess immutable and necessary validity. So far from Nature being a self—contained system of blind, inexorable, materialistically determined forces, it is a realm of Providence, in which a Being friendly to man guides the course of events providentially, with the object of securing ultimately to each individual his proper good (Matthew 10:29 ff.).

In both Testaments the laws and operations of Nature are regarded as expressions of Jehovah’s free, will (Genesis 1, Psalms 104, Job 26, Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:26 ff. etc.), and consequently as capable of being providentially or miraculously interfered with (Exodus 3-15, etc.). The NT lays particular stress upon Christ’s control over the forces of Nature (John 21:1 ff., Matthew 14:22 ff. etc.; see esp. Luke 8:25 ‘Who then is this that commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him?’).

4. Necessity and human affairs.—The recognition of God as the sole Absolute and Ultimate Being, excludes the heathen conception of an inscrutable Fate or Necessity (ἀνάγκη) to which gods and men are subject, but it does not of itself exclude the doctrine of Theological Determinism as taught by Calvin. The advocates of this view can appeal plausibly to a considerable number of NT passages.

Thus there are texts which teach that the general course of events is predetermined from eternity (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 3:11, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2, 1 Peter 1:20 etc.), and others which seem to deny human freedom of choice. Most of these are in the Fourth Gospel; see, e.g., John 6:37 ‘All that the Father giveth me shall come unto me’ (cf. John 6:39); John 6:44 ‘No man can come unto me, except the Father draw him’ (ἑλκύσῃ αὐτον); John 10:28 ‘they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand’; John 12:39 ‘for this cause they could not believe, for that Isaiah saith again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart’; John 17:9 ‘I pray for them, I pray not for the world’; John 17:12 ‘not one of them perished, but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled’ (cf. John 13:18, John 17:12, Matthew 26:24). Even in the Synoptics we have Matthew 13:11 ff. ‘unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given,’ etc.; Matthew 18:7 ‘it must needs be that offences come’ (ἀνάγκη γάρ ἐστιν ἐλθεῖν τὰ σκάνδαλα); see also Matthew 24:6 and Matthew 26:24.

But these passages of deterministic tendency are balanced by others of opposite import.

Thus Christ’s invitation to be saved is addressed not to selected individuals, but to all men: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden’ (Matthew 11:28); ‘it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish’ (Matthew 18:14); ‘And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto myself’ (John 12:32); cf, 1 Timothy 2:4 ‘God will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’

Since, however, some reject God’s benevolent purpose, and refuse to be saved (Matthew 25:41; Matthew 26:24, John 17:12), it follows that the human will is free, and that the apparently deterministic passages of Scripture must be so interpreted as to leave room for human freedom. We are led, therefore, to some such view as this, that only the main events of human history are absolutely determined beforehand. The persons by whom, and the times when, the Divine purposes are to be realized, are not predetermined absolutely, but only conditionally. Thus God willed conditionally that the Chosen People should play the leading part in winning the world to the gospel of Christ (Isaiah 60-62, etc.), but, when they proved unfaithful, the Gentiles were called (Matthew 21:43; Matthew 8:11-12 etc.). Similarly the time of the Last Judgment is not fixed absolutely, but only conditionally (Mark 13:32 compared with 2 Peter 3:12 (Revised Version margin) ). Applying the same principle to the interpretation of the apparently deterministic passages quoted above, we conclude that Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 3:11 etc. refer mainly to conditional predetermination; that ‘all that the Father giveth me’ (John 6:37) are simply those whom the Father foresaw would be genuine believers; that the statement that ‘no one (i.e. no hostile power) shall snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:28) does not preclude the possibility that they may snatch themselves out of Christ’s hand by unfaithfulness; that the ‘drawing’ of the Father (John 6:44) is the attraction of Divine Love, not the Irresistible Call of Calvinism; that the ‘I pray not for the world’ of John 17:9 is to be read in the light of John 17:23, that the ‘blinding’ and ‘hardening’ of John 12:40 are a penalty for past sin; and that even the case of Judas was not one of individual predestination. The general principle bearing upon the case of Judas is laid down in Matthew 18:7 ‘Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh.’ That is to say, in a wicked world great crimes are morally certain to be committed, but there is no need for any individual to commit them, therefore woe to that individual by whom they are committed. To apply this to the case of Judas—the world being what it was, alienated from God and full of treachery and malice, some one was morally certain to betray Jesus to death. But that some one need not have been Judas. He freely undertook the evil business, and therefore his condemnation is just (Matthew 26:24).

5. The predetermination of the events of Christ’s life.—Much stress is laid by the Fourth Evangelist on the predetermination of the events of Christ’s life, even with regard to such details as their precise dates and incidental circumstances.

See, e.g., John 2:4 ‘Mine hour (for changing the water into wine) is not yet come’ [it came a few minutes later]; John 7:8; ‘I go not [yet] up unto this feast, because my time is not yet fulfilled’ [it was fulfilled a few days afterwards]; John 7:30 ‘no man laid his hand on him, because his hour was not yet come’ (cf. John 8:20); John 12:23 ‘the hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified’ [by death]; John 12:27 ‘for this cause came I unto this hour’ [of my death]; John 13:1 ‘knowing that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father’; John 17:1 ‘Father, glorify thy Son [by death and resurrection], that thy Son may glorify thee.’ Cf. Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:53, Luke 13:33, which imply that the length of Christ’s ministry and the time of His death were predetermined; also the very strong expression in Luke 22:22 ‘the Son of man indeed goeth as it hath been determined’ (κατὰ τὸ ὡρισμένον). In all these passages the language is strongly predestinarian, but, for the reasons given in the preceding section, the present writer holds that conditional predestination is, for the most part, meant.

6. The necessary fulfilment of prophecy.—According to the ordinary view, it is the nature of the future event that determines the nature of the prophecy. But often in the Gospels it is the nature of the prophecy that is regarded as determining the nature of the future event. This conception is specially characteristic of the First and Fourth Gospels, but it is not peculiar to them.

In St. Matthew, Christ is born of a virgin at Bethlehem, is named Jesus, sojourns in Egypt, resides at Nazareth, migrates to Capernaum, heals the sick, speaks in parables, enters Jerusalem riding an ass, is deserted by the disciples, is betrayed and put to death, ‘that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet’ (ἵνα πληρωθῆ το ῥηθεν ὑτὸ τον Κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, κ.τ.λ.: so, with slight variations of phrase, Matthew 1:22; Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:23; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:17; Matthew 13:35; Matthew 21:4; Matthew 26:53; cf. Matthew 2:5; Matthew 13:14-15; Matthew 26:31; Matthew 27:9). similarly, St. John regards the blindness of Israel as the result of a prophecy of Isaiah (John 12:39, referring to John 6:9); the betrayal of Jesus as happening ‘that the scripture (i.e. Psalms 41:9) might be fulfilled’ (ἵνα ἠ γραφὴ τληρωθῇ); the prevalent hatred of Jesus as coming ‘to pass that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their law [viz. in Psalms 35:19; Psalms 69:4], They hated me without a cause.’ See also John 17:12, where ‘the son of perdition’ perishes ‘that the scripture might be fulfilled’; John 19:24, where the casting of lots is necessitated by the prophecy, ‘They parted my garments among them’ (Psalms 22:18); John 19:36, where the piercing of Christ’s side takes place to fulfil Psalms 34:20, and the refraining from breaking His legs to fulfil Exodus 12:46; cf. also Exodus 18:9 and Exodus 20:9. For Synoptic parallels see Luke 24:26; Luke 24:44.

Without entering deeply into the philosophy of the question, we may point out that the two views in question do not necessarily exclude one another. We may suppose that God has a plurality of motives for causing or allowing events to happen, and that when events have been predicted by a duly accredited prophet, one of His motives in causing or allowing them to happen, is to maintain the credit of the prophet. This, at any rate, seems to be the view of the Evangelists, who esteem prophecy so highly that they regard a prediction once uttered by a prophet as (in a sense) placing God under a moral obligation to fulfil it. Jesus Himself, on several occasions, acknowledged the obligation of fulfilling the ancient prophecies (see Matthew 26:53; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 21:4, John 19:28, etc.).

7. The necessity of means to ends.—The ‘musts’ of Christ, of which there are numerous examples in the Gospels, generally refer to the necessity He was under (in order to fulfil the purpose of His Incarnation) to do or to suffer certain things. His original purpose to become incarnate, and to redeem the world, was freely chosen (Philippians 2:7, 2 Corinthians 8:9 etc.); but the choice once made, a whole series of experiences (many of them painful and humiliating) became necessary.

As a child of twelve, He was already conscious, according to one interpretation of Luke 2:49 (see (Revised Version margin) ), of the necessity of being about His Father’s business, and the same idea frequently recurs during the ministry. Almost at the beginning of it He declares to Nicodemus that His purpose to give eternal life to believers can be achieved only by His death: ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must (δεῖ) the Son of Man be lifted up’ (John 3:14).* [Note: Some critics assign this saying to the Evangelist, not to Jesus.] He frequently declared the necessity He was under of working during the appointed time—‘We must (δεῖ) work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work’ (John 9:4); ‘Howbeit I must (δεῖ) go on my way to-day, and to-morrow, and the day following, for it cannot be (οὐκ ἐκδέχεται) that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem’ (Luke 13:33); ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to accomplish his work’ (John 4:34; cf. John 5:17; cf. John 5:19 etc.). His visit to Zacchaeus was determined by a redemptive purpose (Luke 19:5 ‘to-day I must (δει) abide at thy house.’ From the time of Peter’s confession at (Caesrea Philippi, intimations of the necessity of the Passion and Resurrection become more frequent; ‘From that time began Jesus to show unto his disciples how that he must (δει) go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up’ (Matthew 16:21); ‘but first must (δεῖ) he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation’ (Luke 17:25); ‘Behoved it not (δὐκ ἐδει) the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory?’ (Luke 24:26).

Corresponding to Christ’s obligation of doing and suffering all that is necessary for man’s salvation, is man’s obligation of appropriating (if he would be saved) the necessary means. Frequent stress is laid upon the latter obligation in the Gospels: see, e.g., Matthew 4:17 (the necessity of repentance), Matthew 18:3 (of conversion), Matthew 22:37 (of love), John 3:5 (of baptism), John 6:53 (of the Holy Supper), John 15:4 (of abiding in Christ), etc.

Literature.—See under Free Will, and add W. James, ‘Necessary Truths’ in Principles of Psychology, ii. 617 ff.; Boutroux, La contingence des lois de la nature.; J. Edwards, Freedom of the Will; Momerie, Personality; Martineau, Study of Religion, bk. iii. ch. 2; Lotze, Microcosmus, i. 144 ff.; Sturt, Personal Idealism (iii.); A. Moore, Essays (vii.); J. S. Mill, Hamilton’s Philosophy Examined (xxvi.), and Logie, bk. vi. ch. 2.

C. Harris.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Necessity'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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