Apologetics Thursday – How God Names Babies

In Bruce Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism, Ware is giving evidence that God knows the future when as a side note he writes:

Even more remarkable is the prediction of a future king to whom God gave the name Cyrus nearly 200 years before his parents gave him that exact name.

Ware, here, is perplexed that God could know a name of a baby 200 years in advance. In Ware’s mind, there is no other way to know the name of a future baby than to meticulously see the entire future.

In real life, there are plenty of ways to ensure a baby is named what you desire. You could pay the parents. You could threaten the parents. You could convince the parents. You could publish a popular nickname for someone, supplanting their given name. The possibilities are endless. God is powerful, ensuring a name of a future baby does not seem as impressive as Ware would have us believe. The text itself is found deep in a long series of chapters proclaiming God’s power (Isaiah 40-48). In the text, the author stresses the point God knows what will happen because God is powerful and He will bring it to past. The text is the exact opposite of Ware’s understanding: that God knows what will happen because He mystically sees the future. That the text stresses God’s power as the mechanism makes it antithetical to the knowledge mechanism. It is evidence against the Augustinian view of God!

But all this aside, Ware ignores very similar events in the Bible: the naming of both Jesus and John the Baptist.

Jesus’ naming was easy. God sends an angel to Mary and the angel tells Mary what to name Jesus:

Mat 1:21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Being told by an angel what to name her child is convincing enough for Mary. Mary promptly names her child “Jesus”. Could Cyrus’ parents have had an angelic visit? If God controlled all things, as some Calvinists claim, why would God have to convince Mary in the first place? Mary had a free choice as to naming Jesus and chose the name provided by God.

Another naming story occurs in the person of John the Baptist. In Luke 1, a priest named Zacharias encounters an angel. The angel prophecies that Zacharias would have a son and call his name John:

Luk 1:13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

Zacharias waxes skeptical. He does not believe he will have a son. Zacharias points out he is old. The angel responds by striking Zacharias mute until the things that are prophesied are completed:

Luk 1:18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
Luk 1:19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.
Luk 1:20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

Not only was Zacharias struck mute but he was also given an implicit threat. Zacharias would have the child, but would only be granted the ability to speak once the child was properly named. This is precisely what happens:

Luk 1:24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived…

Luk 1:57 Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son.
Luk 1:58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.
Luk 1:59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias.
Luk 1:60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”
Luk 1:61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.”
Luk 1:62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.
Luk 1:63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled.
Luk 1:64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.

Notice that it is exactly after the moment that Zacharias names John that he is allowed to speak again. Zacharias had already been proven wrong about his wife getting pregnant. For at least 9 months, Zacharias sat mute contemplating the angel’s words. When the angel stated “these things take place”, the angel was including the naming of John the Baptist. Implicit in Zacharias’ mind was that if he deviated from the angel’s instruction then he would not be granted voice. In other words, God coerced Zacharias into naming his son “John”.

God did not force Zacharias’ mouth to say “John”, and Zacharias could have still named John something else (presumably). But Zacharias weighed his options and preferred naming his son sensibly. God used power to fulfill His will.

This is how God can easily deal with an uncooperative agent. Because God is powerful, He can capture fleeing prophets in the mouths of fish and polymorph arrogant kings into wild beasts. What Calvinism does is downplay God’s power. God can only know things because He mystically sees the future, but that is not at all how the Bible depicts God. God knows things because He is powerful to achieve them. God can make these things happen in spite of human free will. When Ware assumes otherwise, he demeans God.

God-is-open

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