Isaiah 41:21-23 “Present your case,” the Lord says. “Bring forward your strong arguments,” The King of Jacob says. 22 Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming;23 Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together. 24 Behold, you are of no account, And your work amounts to nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination."
In this series on "the Doctrine of God", we've observed God's existence, knowability, and attributes such as His independence, unchangeableness, and eternity. In today's post we continue by taking a look at His omniscience. Theologian Wayne Grudem offers this definition of God's omniscience,
"We pray to a God who, we believe, knows our state and wants, who hears what we say, and who is able to meet our necessities".
Hodge lists the following scriptures which elevate to our attention God's omniscience: Psalm 104:9; 139:1,2,12; 147:5; Proverbs. 15:3,11; Ezekiel 11:5; Matthew 10:30; Acts 15:8; Hebrews 4:13. This is the God of sacred scripture! Psalm 147:5 states most plainly:
"Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite."
So how much does God know? How is it that God knows what He knows? We can attempt to approach an answer by considering typical ways that theologians describe Divine omniscience as revealed in the Bible.
1. God's self-knowledge.
Jesus makes the following statement in Matthew 11:27 -
"All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him."
Let Jesus' words sink in for just a moment. God, by nature and definition, is infinite (Psalm 90:1-2). The Person of the Father, by nature, is God. We understand from Moses in Deuteronomy 32:8 that the Father knows all things, including the future of the nations. The Son comprehends the Father, which tells us that the Son is as much God (by nature) as the Father is God.
2. God's knowledge of all things that "could be", or "natural knowledge".
God's comprehension of Himself is a knowledge that takes into view "what He is" and "how He is" as God. In our definition of omniscience offered earlier, God's knowledge of, "any and all true facts about everything", begins with Himself. However, what about all those things other than Himself? How much does God know about those things which He could make or did make. In the mind of God, all things are known directly and all-at -once.
This aspect of God's knowledge, whereby He knows all things that "could-be", is what we call His "natural knowledge". The reason for this is that all possible outcomes of every event, time and person, are as much known by Him as those same things that did come about in this version of time known as creation. This would apply to the phenomena of Bible prophecy, predicted and fulfilled.1
God's omniscience includes knowledge of Himself and all those things that "could-had-been". But now, what can we note of God's knowledge of our actual world? Sometimes theologians and philosophers define God's omniscience as His knowledge of all true statements about reality (i.e. "propositions"). Hence, when I say "it is raining outside", whether I say that statement in English, Spanish, or any other language, the information content still holds regardless.2
"The divine decree is formed in eternity, but executed in time. There are sequences in the execution, but not in the formation of God’s eternal purpose."
Shedd gives an example of how God's decree to bring about all He knew "could-be" to "what came to be" by Christ Himself:
"There were thirty-three years between the actual incarnation and the actual crucifixion, but not between the decree that the Logos should be incarnate and the decree that he should be crucified. In the divine decree, Christ was simultaneously (in God's mind, which He, the Father, and Spirit have as One God in being) eternally incarnate and crucified: “The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 14:8). Hence divine decrees, in reference to God, are one single act only."
What always blows my mind is to realize that in one act, God not only knew what "may-possibly-be" from the myriad versions of the history of the universe in His natural knowledge, He also knew what "could be, and thus did become" by His decretive choice.
4. Ought we include a category of God's knowledge of "what we would do if in different circumstances" or "middle knowledge"?
If we consider God's "natural knowledge" of all things that "could-be" as a first logical moment in God's mind, then His decree is the source of the second logical moment to bring about our version of history or, "all things that are". But now is there some type of "logical moment" that stands between God's knowledge of possibilities and the decree to bring about our actual history? Some Christian thinkers are convinced that the standard, theological account I outlined above doesn't go far enough.
This so-called "middle knowledge view" attempts to offer scriptures for its support (1 Samuel 13:13-14; Jeremiah 38:17-18; Matthew 11:21-23; 1 Corinthians 2:8, just to list several). According to 16th century thinker Luis De Molina (see endnote #3 below), as God was decreeing to create, He included what his creatures "would do", and, by considering the purpose He so designed to take place, God brought about our version of history.3 Such a view is often called "Molinism" in memory of the thinker who championed it.
In today's post we considered the question: how much does God know? We explored the Biblical teaching on the subject of Divine omniscience. We defined omniscience as, "knowing any and all true facts about everything" or Wayne Grudem's definition, "God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act". We also consider how God knows Himself, has knowledge of all possibilities or natural knowledge, and knows exhaustive details of this universe and all that is in it due to His Divine decree. We briefly considered whether or not God included people's decisions in His plans, or what theologians call, "middle-knowledge", concluding that Biblically, theologically, and philosophically, the idea of middle knowledge is untenable (further details are in the endnotes below).
To borrow and paraphrase an illustration from the 5th century Christian thinker, Augustine, I feel like a little boy who thinks He has grasped the ocean by dipping a cup into it and exclaiming to his parents: