John Murray: Insoluble Problems Connected with the Fall

In the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology J. Mitchell Jr. writes concerning John Murray (1898-1975):

“Presbyterian theologian and writer. Born in Sutherland, Scotland, he was brought up in a strict but loving Free Presbyterian home where Calvinistic theology and piety shaped the course of his life. Between studies at Dornoch Academy and the University of Glasgow, he served in France during World War I. His heart’s desire to pastor eventually led him in 1924 to prepare at Princeton Seminary. In 1929 he returned to Princeton from studies at Edinburgh to become assistant professor of systematic theology. Caught in the struggle between historic Christianity and liberalism within the Presbyterian Church in the USA, he joined Gresham Machen in the new Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1930. For the next thirty-six years he taught and wrote at Westminster Theological Seminary…His meticulous exegetical and intellectual skills, honed at Princeton under Hodge, Machen, and Vos…His writings are valued today, especially his two-volume commentary on Romans and his various ethical works.”

The following quotes are from Volume 2 of John Murray’s Collected Writings regarding “The Fall of Man” (Chapter 7). Here Murray is addressing “Insoluble Problems connected with the Fall”:

“I. The Ontological Problem. The question here is that of the divine causality in connection with sin. There are two positions that must be maintained in order to conserve the balance of truth and the proportion of emphasis.

(i) There is divine predetermination or foreordination in connection with sin. The fall was foreordained by God and its certainty was therefore guaranteed. And as divine foreordination ensured the certainty of occurrence, so it was accomplished in the realm of his all-controlling providence. The first sin, like all other sins, was committed within the realm of God’s all-sustaining, directing and governing power. Outside the sphere of his foreordination and providence the fall could not have occurred. The arch-crime of history — the crucifixion of our Lord — was perpetrated in accordance with the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). So, too, was the fall” (Murray, pp. 72-73).

The all-important question is how does Murray explain the certain guaranteed occurrence of specific sins apart from God’s actively causing these sins to occur?

Murray continues:

“(ii) God is not the author of sin. For sin as sinfulness, man alone was responsible, and he alone is the agent of execution. He alone did it. God did not do it. God did not work in the heart and mind of man so as to constrain or induce apostasy. He did not cause to be the act of eating the forbidden fruit. Adam and Eve ate the fruit; they were the agents of the sinful act and of the movement of defection and apostasy of heart and of mind that lay back of and came to expression in the overt act of transgression. The responsibility for the act as sin and as guilt rested with Adam” (Murray, p. 73).

“He TURNED their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants” (Psalm 105:25; caps mine–CD).

If John Murray’s curious comments concerning God’s control over that which He creates was applied to Psalm 105:25, it would be eisegeted and mangled like so:


“He [DID NOT TURN] their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.”
Idolatry includes attributing to the God of Scripture qualities of character that DO NOT belong to Him, NOT attributing to God qualities of character that DO belong to Him, and attributing to the creature qualities of character that belong to God ALONE. Murray attributes to God a kind of “partial-sovereignty,” does not attribute absolute sovereignty to God, and attributes to the creature-man the power of ultimate self-determination in relation to sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.

Rather than bow to God’s absolute sovereignty in actively causing and controlling all actions and events, certain Calvinists have constructed elaborate theories (e.g., “compatibilism,” “divine concursus”) in a vain attempt to explain how God can be IN CONTROL without ACTUALLY CONTROLLING. The truths revealed in passages such as Isaiah 10:15, Psalm 105:25, Acts 17:28, and Romans 9:17-24 are much easier to understand than the idolatrous concoctions of Calvinist theologians.


“Now here is the problem. How can it be that, from the aspect of the divine plan, there is immutable predetermination and accomplishment, and yet from the aspect of man’s agency no coercion or compulsion, no curtailment of his freedom and responsibility, and no alleviation of his guilt? It is a mystery beyond our comprehension. We cannot so diagnose or analyse [sic] the interrelations of these correlative facts that we shall be able to see the perfectly harmonious co-working of these two distinct agencies or factors. There is convergence of both in the one act of the fall. But how they converge, how there can be the combination of divine and human agency in the same event and yet no interference with or curtailment of either, is a matter beyond our understanding. This is what we mean when we say that we are faced with an insoluble problem” (Murray, pp. 73-74).

Murray’s problem is that he does not recognize his proper place in God’s universe. To riff off of one theologically pernicious poet, Murray’s real “problem insoluble” is he does not realize that he is a rebellious pot, and that the Lord is God and he is NOT. Murray is the vaunting axe attempting to cloak with humility and piety his mutinous backchat.

“Shall the axe glorify itself over him chopping with it? Or shall the saw magnify itself over him moving it? As [if] a rod could wave those who lift [it.] As [if] a staff [could] raise [what is] not wood!” (Isaiah 10:15)

Murray and his fellow Calvinists believe that, like the self-glorifying axe, they are the ultimate metaphysical causes of their own transgressions. John Murray and the hordes of "humility" think rods are able to wave the one who lifts it, and that staffs can raise what is not wood. Just like the axe is not and cannot be the ultimate metaphysical cause of its own chopping, so creature-man cannot be the ultimate metaphysical cause of his own actions — that is, unless creature-man is God.

Murray continues:

“The Psychogenetic Problem. How could a being perfectly holy and upright become sinful? How could sin originate in a holy soul and find lodgment [sic] and entertainment there? We cannot tell. It constitutes an insoluble psychological and moral problem” (Murray, p. 75).

You and multitudes of rebellious potsherd Calvinists “cannot tell,” Murray. The simple Biblical reason how “a being perfectly holy and upright [could] become sinful” is that God TURNED the heart to become sinful. John Murray et al

“wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? (Romans 9:19-21).

As one popular poet of tumultuous teapot Calvinism ironically put it:

“Hold your peace you rebellious pot — the Lord is God and you are not.”

Tumultuous teapot Calvinism is the consensus among those who identify themselves as Calvinist or Reformed. These teapots are short and stout, shaking their handles, and emitting seditious steam from their spouts.


“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

“Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation” (Zechariah 2:13).

“What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:18-20).

To the Calvinist potsherds of the earth: “Keep your lid on.”