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Don Stewart :: Are There Some Things That God Does Not Know?

Don Stewart

Does the Bible teach that there are some things beyond the knowledge of God? There seem to be passages that teach the limitation of God's knowledge. They include the following.

God Called Out To Adam In The Garden

After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the Bible records the following.

But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" (Genesis 3:9-11).

God was not asking Adam where he was because He needed the information. God wanted Adam to confess that he was hiding from the Lord. He also wanted Adam to admit his sin of eating from the forbidden tree.

The Incident At The Tower Of Babel

When the people built the tower of Babel, the Bible records the following.

The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them" (Genesis 11:5).

Does this mean God had to go down from heaven to the earth and then see for Himself what was happening? Not at all. The Lord came down in the sense that He was going to make a comment upon the situation. It is a way of expressing the fact that what the people at Babel had done was displeasing to the Lord.

God's Knowledge Of Sodom And Gomorrah

God said the following about Sodom

Then the LORD said, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know" (Genesis 18:20-21).

Again we find Scripture saying that God must go down and look at something to see if it is so. The language used in this context is not literal but figurative. In this context, God pictures Himself like a human. Human beings would have to go and check out something and see if it were as bad as they had heard. God pictures Himself that way to emphasize the severity of the sin against Him. We are not to assume that He had to literally leave heaven and come down to the earth to find out if the story about the sin of Sodom were true.

The Incident Of Abraham And Isaac

When Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac we have the following statement from the angel of the Lord.

He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Genesis 22:12).

Does this mean that God did not know this before the episode with Abraham and Isaac? Again, God knew ahead of time what Abraham would do. The fact that Abraham obeyed God confirmed the fact that he totally trusted the Lord.

The Statement Of Isaiah

In the Book of Isaiah the Scripture says.

What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:4).

This passage seems to teach that God was surprised that Israel did not produce good grapes. This, however, is the comment of God upon the lack of fruit that was borne. He is reminding the people that He expected grapes to be brought forth in His vineyard. He is not asking the question because He doesn't know the answer. God wants the people to consider the reason why the vineyard did not yield grapes.

Does God Forget Sin?

A passage in Jeremiah seems to teach that God has a memory lapse concerning sin.

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:44).

The idea that God will not remember the sin of the people means that He will not hold it against them in the day of Judgment.

Was God Ignorant?

The following passage seems to indicate God's ignorance on a certain matter.

They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind that they should do this abomination, causing Judah to sin (Jeremiah 32:35).

Did not enter the mind of God does not mean that God never thought about this possibility.

These Passages Do Not Contradict The Idea That God Is All-Knowing

Therefore none of these passages under consideration contradicts the doctrine that God is all-knowing.

There Are Other Points To Consider

There are a number points that need to be considered when assessing passages such as this.

First, we need to discover if a statement about God's knowledge is clearly made, or if it is merely inferred by the passage,

Second, the use of figurative language has to be appreciated.

Third, it is a cardinal rule of Bible interpretation that you always interpret the obscure passages by the clear, not the other way around.

1. There Are No Clear Statements About God's Lack Of Knowledge

Each section that seems to teach that God has limited knowledge is a historical narrative - it is not a direct statement. Rather it is an explanation of something that occurred. 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. This being the case, all of these passages must be understood in that context.

It is an important rule of biblical interpretation that historical narratives are always read in light of direct statements about a topic, not the other way around. We do not create doctrine from historical accounts of what happen. Bible doctrine is compiled from direct statements in Scripture.

2. There Is Figurative Language Involved

A second thing that needs to be understood when dealing with texts like this is the employment of figurative language. The Bible testifies that it sometimes speaks in figurative, or non-literal, language.

Jesus said to His disciples.

These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will speak no more to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father (John 16:25).

Paul wrote.

Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case (Romans 3:5).

Again Paul wrote to the Romans.

I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness (Romans 6:19).

In Galatians we read.

Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case (Galatians 3:15).

3. We Must Interpret The Obscure In Light Of The Clear

There is a central rule in biblical interpretation that says the obscure passages must 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.

Summary

Certain Old Testament passages, on the surface, seem to teach that God does not know certain things. However once they are understood in their context, and with the totality of biblical teaching on the subject, they teach no such thing. Scripture is clear that God knows everything - nothing escapes His notice.

In addition, when considering passages such as these key facts must be kept in mind - there are no clear statements in these passages about God's lack of knowledge. The Bible itself testifies that it speaks in figurative language. Anything unclear in Scripture must be interpreted by the clear.

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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