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

Don Stewart :: What Should We Conclude about Certain Passages That Seem to Teach God's Limited Knowledge?

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What Should We Conclude about Certain Passages That Seem to Teach God’s Limited Knowledge?

Does God Know Everything? – Question 20

There are a number of passages in the Scripture which seem to teach that the God of the Bible had only limited knowledge of future events. While He fully knows what happened in the past and knows what is going on presently, He does not know what is going to occur in the future. Therefore, the future is open as far as what will take place. Even God does not truly know what will happen.

What should we conclude regarding these passages? Is the future open? Is God surprised by certain events which happen? We can make the following observations.

There Are Clear Statements in Scripture That God Knows Everything

To begin with, there are a number of clear statements in Scripture about the knowledge of God. Indeed they make it plain that He knows everything. These statements leave no doubt as to what the Bible teaches about the extent of the knowledge of God. He knows everything which is possible for Him to know whether it be events of the past, the present or the future.

There is something else. Each section of Scripture that seems to teach that God has limited knowledge is a historical narrative; it is not a direct statement of the knowledge or lack of knowledge of God. Rather, it is an explanation of something that occurred in an historical situation.

It is an important rule of biblical interpretation that historical narratives are always read and interpreted in light of direct statements about a topic. It is not the other way around. We do not create doctrine from historical accounts of what happens. Bible doctrine is compiled from direct statements in Scripture by God or by one of His chosen spokesmen.

There Are No Clear Statements in The Bible about God’s Lack of Knowledge about Anything

What we do not find in these passages, or anywhere else in Scripture, are direct statements about the limitation of God’s knowledge. On the contrary, Scripture from beginning to end asserts the fact that God is all-knowing or omniscient. This being the case, all of these passages which seem to imply that His knowledge is incomplete must be understood in that context. Thus, we have clear statements as to the extent of God’s knowledge, but no clear statements declaring that He lacks knowledge.

There Is Figurative Language Involved in These Passages

The use of figurative language also has to be appreciated. The question needs to be asked, “Is the passage meant to be understood literally or figuratively?” The Bible testifies that it sometimes speaks in figurative, or non-literal, language. In fact, Jesus said to His disciples that He did use figures of speech in His teaching.

“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” (John 16:25 NRSV)

The fact that our Lord said this should be taken seriously. Thus, everything He taught does not necessarily have to be interpreted literally. The context must determine how any passage is to be understood.

The Apostle Paul wrote about his use of this type of figurative language. He wrote the following to the Romans.

But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) (Romans 3:5 NRSV)

Here he admits that he is speaking in a “human way.”

Again, when Paul wrote to the Romans he specifically said that he spoke, at times, in human terms. He wrote,

I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Romans 6:19 NKJV)

Therefore, we have two instances of this occurring in the Book of Romans.

In Galatians, we read about Paul using an example from everyday life. He wrote,

Dear brothers and sisters, here’s an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or amend an irrevocable agreement, so it is in this case. (Galatians 3:15 NLT)

Since the Scripture tells us that it sometimes communicates in this manner, we should be not be taken by surprise when we find it occurring.

We Must Interpret the Obscure in Light of the Clear

There is a central rule in biblical interpretation that says the obscure passages must always be interpreted in light of the clear ones. It is not correct to try and make a biblical doctrine out of an unclear passage, and then reinterpret the clear passages in light of the unclear. If God has revealed Himself in Scripture, His revelation will be consistent. Since He has clearly and consistently revealed that He has all-knowledge, any thought to be contrary is inconsistent with what He has said about Himself.

Control Passages Should Be the Clear Ones, Not the Obscure

There is something else. Those who believe in the limited knowledge of God use these passages as their “control passages.” They view all other passages in the Bible light of them. However, the reverse should happen. These passages need to be read in light of the clear statements found elsewhere in the Bible.

What is plain from Scripture is that God does have all knowledge. John declared that the God of the Bible knows everything.

Whenever our conscience condemns us, we will be reassured that God is greater than our conscience and knows everything. (1 John 3:20 God’s Word)

This statement could not be clearer. He knows everything.

Everything means everything. We also read in the Book of Hebrews,

No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. (Hebrews 4:13 HCSB)

Nothing is hidden from Him. This also includes coming events.

This, therefore, should always be our starting point; the unlimited knowledge of God.

Summary – Question 20
What Should We Conclude about Certain Passages That Seem to Teach God’s Limited Knowledge?

There are some Christians who believe that God’s knowledge does not extend to the future. While He knows everything about the past and the present, He does not know what will happen in the future. Since the future has not yet occurred, it is uncertain to every creature on earth as well as in heaven. Even God does not know what will take place. To support their case that God does not have knowledge of future events, open theists appeal to Scripture. They believe that it clearly teaches that God’s knowledge is limited to the past and present.

There are some Old Testament passages which on the surface seem to teach that God did not know certain things which took place. He seemed surprised by what occurred.

However, once these verses are understood in their proper context, and with the totality of biblical teaching on the subject, they teach no such thing. Scripture is clear that God knows everything that is possible for Him to know. Indeed, nothing escapes His notice. In fact, this is the Lord’s own testimony about Himself! He makes it clear that His knowledge extends to the future as well as to the past and present.

In addition, when considering passages such as these some key facts must be kept in mind. For one thing, there are no clear statements in these passages about God’s lack of knowledge. Indeed, no direct statements can be found that teach God is somehow limited in His knowledge.

There is also the issue of figurative language in Scripture. The Bible itself testifies that it speaks in figurative language in certain instances. Jesus Himself said that He used this type of language. Consequently, we must ask ourselves if these passages are to be understood literally or figuratively.

Furthermore, there is a fundamental rule of biblical interpretation that the obscure passages must be interpreted in light of the clear. Thus, we first go to the passages which state the matter clearly and then attempt to understand other passages based upon what these clear passages teach. We do not go to the obscure passages first.

Therefore, when all the evidence is in, it will be plain that these passages do not teach that the God of Scripture is limited in His knowledge. The God of the Bible know the future exhaustively. Nothing will ever take Him by surprise.

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