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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Does God Know Everything?

Don Stewart :: Was God Unaware of What the People Were Doing at Babel?

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Was God Unaware of What the People Were Doing at Babel? (Genesis 11:5-6)

Does God Know Everything? – Question 7

When the people built the tower of Babel, the Bible records the Lord investigating what they were doing. Scripture records it this way.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:5-6 ESV)

How shall we understand what the Lord said? Does this mean God had to actually go down from heaven to the earth and then see for Himself what was happening? In other words, unless He left heaven and came to the earth He would not have known what was going on.

There are two options which are put forth.

Option 1: God Did Not Know What Was Happening

According to some, God did not know what was happening on the earth until He came down and saw for Himself. His knowledge was therefore limited to what He could personally see. This has been interpreted to mean that the writer of Genesis assumed that God had limited knowledge and understanding of events on the earth. It is argued that the writer of this portion of Genesis had a primitive view of God.

Option 2: The Language Was Anthropopathic: God Did Not Have to Come down to See What Was Happening

The idea that God had to actually leave heaven to discover what was occurring in Babel is contrary to the totality of the teaching of Scripture. The usual way in which this is understood is that language is not meant to be understood literally. It is an anthropopathism. It is describing God’s actions and feelings in human terms. Indeed, He did now have to come down to discover what was going on at Babel.

In this case, the Lord came down in the sense of judgment. He was going to make a comment upon the situation which was occurring in Babel. It is a way of expressing the fact that what the people at Babel had done was displeasing to the Lord.

We do not have to read this passage in such as way as to assume God only knows the things which He can observe. This is certainly not the view of God the Book of Genesis portrays or anywhere else in Scripture for that matter. The God of the Bible is all-knowing. He does not have to investigate to learn anything because it is not possible for Him to learn anything new. Therefore, this passage does not give us an example of the limited knowledge of God.

Summary – Question 7
Was God Unaware of What the People Were Doing at Babel? (Genesis 11:5-6)

In the Book of Genesis there is a statement made about the Lord which seems to indicate to some people that His knowledge is somehow limited.

Scripture says that the Lord came down from heaven to see for Himself concerning certain things which were happening at the city of Babel. He wanted to discover firsthand what was occurring with the tower which was being built. Some believe that this indicates that God’s knowledge of events is somehow limited. It is claimed that the biblical writers did not assume that He had all-knowledge of everything which was taking place. Instead they believed that He had to leave His home in heaven and come down and personally see for Himself.

However, this does not have to be the way to understand this passage. Neither is it the best way to understand what is being taught. The language is anthropopathic. It is attributing human actions to God. The passage does not mean that the Lord has to literally come down and see for Himself before He knows what was going on. God’s presence is not limited to one particular place. Indeed, the Bible says that He is everywhere present.

Therefore, this passage in Genesis does not teach that the God of Scripture is somehow limited in His knowledge. He is not.

Was God Unaware of What Had Happened to Adam and Eve? ← Prior Section
Did the Lord Have to Come down from Heaven to Discover What Was Happening at Sodom and Gomorrah? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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