Answered Questions – Every Knee

From a Reddit Question and Answer with Greg Boyd:

How can the Open Theist God promise every knee will bow, and every tongue shall confess Jesus is Lord, without compromising anyone’s free will?

Greg responds:

How can a Calvinist affirm this without being a universalist? Look, this is an equally challenging passage for everyone who isn’t a universalist. For my two cents, I’m inclined to see this passage as expressing God’s loving bear hug around all humanity with the hope that all will come in. Yet, because love must be chosen, people always have the freedom to say NO THANKS.

4 comments

  1. Even the heathen will confess that Jesus is Lord. But while they will have a form of religion, they will deny it’s power, and shall be condemned.

  2. God *swore* that every knee would bow and every tongue would swear allegiance to Him. (Isa45:23/Phil2:9-11)

    How does an open theist make sense of this?

    1. Critical Thinking demands we ask a few questions about this.

      The first is “what?”. What is the author saying? Is this hyperbole, generalization, or otherwise an idiom? For example, in Isaiah, he talks about “every knee”:

      Eze 7:17 Every hand will be feeble, And every knee will be as weak as water.

      In context, it is about Israel (not everyone on Earth), and it is a generalization, as in this will generally come true because God will make it happen with force (except if God repents based on circumstances changing as He does throughout the Bible). This “every” would likely not include righteous Israel, because contextually it is judgement against the wicked. Generally the righteous are exempt from punishment. So, contextually “every knee” in Ezekiel is a generalization. Is something similar going on in Romans and Isaiah?

      In what way will people bow? Could “every knee will bow” be an idiomatic expression meaning God will conquer and rule the Earth? It might not even be talking about literal bowing.

      The second is “By what mechanism?”. What is the method by which every knee will bow? Is it by force? Is it by fate? Is it due to anyone not bowing being eliminated? Is it by universalism, as Boyd points out? What is the mechanism that leads to this “every knee will bow” coming true?

      The third is “what would constitute fulfillment”. In the failed Tyre prophecy, Calvinists pretend it is fulfilled 250 years later by Alexander the Great. That sounds awfully convenient that such a specific prophecy can be fulfilled in such a entirely different way than it is stated. With those standards, almost anything could fulfill “every knee will bow”. World annihilation could possibly be interpreted as it.

      Forth, can this be subverted? Plenty of God’s statements are subverted, such as God’s promise to give Eli an eternal house. He removes the unilateral promise and replaces it with a conditional promise. This is proof positive that it was not thought of as “conditional” when first established, and that events changed God’s mind. God’s promises, even eternal promises, are subverted throughout the Bible. On what grounds do you claim this is unique and not subject to conditions?

      In short, remove your assumptions from the verse. Brainstorm what the verses mean, the ranges of interpretation available to use through normal speech, and the range of possible fulfillment. If you are going to claim Tyre is a fulfilled prophecy, I will add that anything can fulfill anything in that worldview. Prophecy is not an issue, because it is unfalsifiable.

      1. Thanks Christopher. I appreciate you taking the time to discuss this with me.

        As far as I can tell, the passages that I quoted provide explicit answers to the majority of your questions. I will restate your questions with the answers beneath.

        Question#1:
        The first is “what?”. What is the author saying? Is this hyperbole, generalization, or otherwise an idiom?

        Answer:
        This is an oath.
        In Isaiah 45:23 God declares,
        “From my mouth I have sworn”
        “a word that shall not return.”

        Question#2
        This “every” would likely not include righteous Israel, because contextually it is judgement against the wicked. Generally the righteous are exempt from punishment. So, contextually “every knee” in Ezekiel is a generalization. Is something similar going on in Romans and Isaiah?

        Answer:
        The immediate contexts of Isaiah 45:23, Philippians 2:9-11 and Romans 14:10-12 make it clear who will be bowing and confessing:

        -“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above EVERY name” (Phil2:9) (The context of the word “every” in this passage is “every name” that the name Jesus is “above”….which is literally “every name”)
        -“Turn to me and be saved ALL the ends of the EARTH,” (Isa45:22)
        -“EVERY knee,” (Isa45:23/Phil2:10/Rom14:11)
        -“EVERY tongue,” (Isa45:23/Phil2:11/Rom14:11)
        -“in HEAVEN, and on EARTH and UNDER the earth.” (Phil2:11) (This shows that the promise is not just for non-Israel)
        -“EACH of us” (Rom14:12)

        Question#3:
        By what mechanism?”. What is the method by which every knee will bow? Is it by force? Is it by fate? Is it due to anyone not bowing being eliminated? Is it by universalism, as Boyd points out? What is the mechanism that leads to this “every knee will bow” coming true?

        Answer:
        Scripture doesn’t tell us how this will happen in this context…..So I can’t give you an explicit answer from these passages. I personally do not believe they will be bowing or confessing against their will because such insincere worship could hardly be “to the GLORY of God the Father” (Phil2:11). (They honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me -Matt15:8)
        Also, the word “confession” (ἐξομολογέω) is never used in a coercive way but rather carries the idea of a heart that fully agrees with the confession.

        Question#4.
        “what would constitute fulfillment”

        Answer:
        Since God declares this with an oath, (By my mouth I have sworn…a word that shall not return) I would say that nothing less than every knee bowing, and every tongue confessing could constitute the fulfillment of this promise. Hebrews 6:13-18 makes it clear that when God swears by Himself, He makes the greatest promise He can make. Verse 18 suggests that if God didn’t fulfill this type of oath, then God would be lying (which is impossible).

        Question#5.
        Can this be subverted? Plenty of God’s statements are subverted, such as God’s promise to give Eli an eternal house.

        Answer:
        Based on the fact that God swore by Himself in Isa45:23, I would argue that the alternative would amount to God lying. Hypothetically, if God knew this oath could possibly fail, He should’ve known better than to swear by Himself. (Again, see Heb6:13-18)

        Concerning God’s promise to Eli in 1Samuel2:30, God literally promised Eli he would walk before Him for the “olam” (עוֹלָ֑ם) which doesn’t always refer to eternity. “Olam” often refers to an “age.” If this is the case, then God did in fact fulfill His promise to Eli which lasted for an age.
        The following examples show that “olam” is often consistent with the idea of “age.”
        -Jonah was in the fish “forever” [olam]. But only until he left three days later (Jon. 1: 17; 2: 6).
        -Sodom’s fiery judgment is “eternal” [olam]. But only until God returns them to their former state (Ez. 16: 53–55; Ju. 7).
        -A Moabite is forbidden to enter the Lord’s congregation “forever” [olam]. But only until the 10th generation. (De. 23: 3).
        -Hills are “everlasting” [olam]. But only until made low and the earth is burned up (Ge. 49: 26; De. 33: 15; Is. 40: 4; 2Pe. 3: 10).
        -Mountains are “everlasting” [olam]. But only until they are scattered (Hab. 3: 6).
        -A slave serves his master “forever” [olam]. But only until death ends his servitude (Ex. 21: 6).
        -The Mosaic covenant is “everlasting” [olam]. But only until it vanishes away (Le. 24: 8; He. 8: 7–13).
        -The Aaronic priesthood is “everlasting” [olam]. But only until the likeness of Melchizedek arises (Ex. 40: 15; Nu. 25: 13; He. 7: 14–22).
        -These “stones” are to be a memorial “forever” [olam]. Where are they now (Jos. 4: 7)?
        -The leprosy of Naaman shall cling “forever” [olam]. But only until his death, of course (2K. 5: 27).
        -God dwells in Solomon’s temple “forever” [olam]. But only until it is destroyed (2Ch. 7: 16; 1K 8: 13; 9: 3).
        -Animal sacrifices were to be offered “forever” [olam]. But only until ended by the work of Christ (2Ch. 2: 4; He. 7: 11–10: 18).
        -Circumcision was an “everlasting” [olam] covenant. But only until the new covenant (Ge. 17: 9–13; 1Co. 7: 19; Ga. 5: 6).
        -Israel’s judgment lasts “forever” [olam]. But only until the Spirit is poured out and God restores it (Is. 32: 13–15).
        -I will make you an “eternal” [olam] excellence. But only until many generations (Is. 60: 15).

        Question#6:
        On what grounds do you claim this is unique and not subject to conditions?

        Answer:
        The fact that God swore by Himself that this would happen. “I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return.” (Isa45:22-23)
        Coupled with Hebrews6:13-18 that when God swears by Himself, He gives us the most convincing promise He can. The only alternative in this situation is that God would be lying which according to vs18 is impossible.

        Thanks for reading through all of this!
        Now if you don’t mind, I still would like to hear your explicit answer to my question:

        How do you make sense of God’s oath in Isa45:22-23 and Phil2:9-11?

        Would you be willing to discuss this over the phone?

        I appreciate the dialogue.

        Blessings Christopher,
        -Corey

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