Answered Questions – Verses Where God Does Not Know What Will Happen

Jack asks:

I’m in the middle of a discussion on one of my posts to my personal page about God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. I’m looking for more verses where God says that He did not know something was going to happen. I’ve already brought up Jeremiah 19:5 and I’m still waiting for my friends reply to that I also plan on bringing up Deuteronomy 8:2.
Does anyone have any suggestions of other verses?

The verse in reference:

Deu 8:2 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.

Throughout the Bible, God tests to know:

Gen 22:1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham…
Gen 22:12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, 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.”

Exo 16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.

Exo 33:5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.’ ”

Deu 13:3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Jdg 2:20 Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice,
Jdg 2:21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died,
Jdg 2:22 so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.”

1Ch 28:9 “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.

1Ch 29:17 I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You.

2Ch 32:31 However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.

Psa 11:4 The LORD is in His holy temple, The LORD’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.

Psa 26:2 Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart.

Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties;
Psa 139:24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.

This concept is found throughout the Bible in varied wording. God tests to know.

As to Jack’s original question, the verses are too numerous to count. Every time God becomes furious at the actions of mankind, this reveals that the future is not set. Every time God urges people to choose Him, this reveals that the future is unknown. Every time God repents or changes His plans or revokes His promises, this reveals that the future in unknown. In contrast to the Classical Theists, who rely on a small handful of texts ripped out of context and given undue prominence (and meaning), Open Theists just have to point to the story of the Bible.

12 comments

  1. I find in my discussions with Calvinists it is more helpful not to state “the future is unknown” but that it is not known as completely determined or settled. God does fully know the future as it truly is, partly settled and partly open. And the open part He knows fully in terms of all the possibilities that truly exist for the future, and all the contingencies that would flow from any free choice that man or He could make among all the possibilities.

    1. That could be a valid way to discuss things, and it probably is effective on Arminians who enjoy that sort of reasoning. I have moved away from that sort of argumentation in recent years.

      The route I prefer to take is to discount philosophical reasoning and focus on what individual passages are attempting to communicate. That way the conversation is not sidetracked by semantics (e.g. people arguing over the definition of omniscience or other non-Biblical words).

      1. I appreciate that sentiment. As far as Scriptures clear evidence, all conditional statements, all invitations, and all verses about God still making choices show that the future is partly open. And all predictions show that the future is partly settled.

        Psalm 147:5 says clearly that God’s understanding is infinite. So He infinitely understands the future as it truly is. Of it does not really exist yet, accept in His mind, partly planned and partly unplanned.

        Since the word “know” in Scripture has a variety of meanings, I think the verses you listed above that sound like God gaining knowledge, I see them more as explaining His gaining experience of something that He already fully understood as a possibility, but now knows as a reality.

        1. I believe that the idea that God does know every possibility although intriguing, has about as much biblical backing as the idea that God knows the future exhaustively.

          I believe that God could spend His time mapping out every possible detail of every future but I don’t see the God of the Bible being so bureaucratic. I mean I don’t see Him wasting so much time on endless files of meaningless information. A possibility that may never come to pass is meaningless until it actually does come to pass.

          In any case our main objection to the shared belief of Calvinists and Arminians of exhaustive foreknowledge is that they don’t have biblical backing for it. I don’t think it’s wise to retort to that with our own philosophical theories that have no more biblical backing than theirs.

          I’m not saying that the exhaustive knowledge of all possibilities theory is incorrect, I’d sooner accept that than exhaustive foreknowledge any day. I’m just saying it’s still a theory and one which I’m not completely comfortable with anyway so I’ll stick to what I can back up biblically and that is only that God can not know the actual (not possible) unsettled parts of the future.

          1. HI Jack! Thanks for the interaction!

            I think we both agree that the Scripture presents clearly that the future is partly settled and partly open. Based on that clear information, you and I have rightly drawn the conclusion that God does not know the open parts also as fully settled, for that would be a contradiction.

            God knows the truth about reality, and the reality is that the future is partly open, right?

            I think the point I am making is that in trying to help others see this truth, it causes less angst to speak positively about God concerning things we have no specific verses for. You have no specific verses that say God does not know all the future as settled. I have none that specifically says He knows all the possibilities of the future exhaustively.

            You are looking for verses that lean towards showing He did not know the outcome ahead of time for some event that finally happened. There are some that lean that way and could make sense understanding them that way. I see verses that speak to “exhaustive” divine knowledge and they must be defined to maintain the truth that the future is partly open. I think they should be defined as His total understanding of every detail of things that He has already planned and His total understanding of any possibility that He is allowing within that plan for Himself and mankind.

            Psalms 147:5 His understanding is infinite.
            Acts 15:18 Known to God from eternity are all His works.
            1 John 3:20 God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.

            And I don’t think it takes much time or that God wastes time knowing all these possibilities. Any one who makes a plan considers such things, especially if he wants to guarantee certain ends. Nor do I see any such information as meaningless.

            I hope this helps explain better, what I was trying to say about describing God’s knowledge of the future..

        2. Isn’t experiential knowledge still knowledge? God surely doesn’t have all experiential knowledge. For example, He wouldn’t know what it is like to lust after toddlers.

          The verse in Psalms seems like the focus is not on knowing but on reasoning. God understands and can process information. Right? Is that what you are getting from that verse?

          1. Agreed! God doesn’t have all experiential knowledge. And that is how I would help explain that verse to a Calvinist, by using similar illustrations as you have just done. But I would also concede to Him that God does have infinite understanding, since that is what the Scripture clearly says.

            So those words – infinite understanding – have to be defined to show the Calvinist that there is a reasonable understanding for those words that agrees with the Scripture’s plain reading of a future that is partly settled and partly open.

            1. One thing we should always keep in mind is how generalizations and hyperbole work. In the same way God can say “man can do anything”, the disciples can say Jesus ” knows everything”, the Pharisees can say they knew Paul “from the beginning”… In that same way people can say God’s understanding is infinite although in Isaiah 5 God wonders what more He could have done to reach Israel. The Bible does not seem to attribute the same theological significance to fleeting phrases that westerners tend to.

              1. Christopher, do you really believe the Psalmist was exaggerating when he said God’s understanding is infinite? Does He infinitely understand all that has already happened in the past? Does He infinitely understand all that is happening in the present? Why would it be impossible for Him to infinitely understand a future that is partly settled because of things He has decreed must happen and partly open because He hasn’t decreed everything about the future?

                I fear that if you see hyperbole in such clear verses about God’s knowledge, you will have no argument against the Calvinist who sees anthropomorphism in the verses that point to the openness of the future. Look at Is. 5 again, it is not proof that God wondered what else He could have done.

                He is asking them a rhetorical question, suggesting that He knows He did all He could do, and what He did was sufficient to expect a freewill response in His favor. The passage does prove openness for the future and free will, but it also affirms God’s full understanding of the situation!

                1. Ancient Israel just was not interested in Negative Theology. Really, this is why the Classical crowd only has a handful of prooftexts in a document that has 31,000 verses. No one should have to flip to an obscure prophet in the book of Malachi to make their point. No one should have to flip to a fleeting statement in Psalms. Hebrew theology is systematic. It focuses on God’s person and action. It is unconcerned with God’s being.

                  Yes, if an author says that God’s understanding is limitless, it would be absolutely a violation of standard reading comprehension to assign our Negative Theological values to those terms and then suggest the author was speaking in the same fashion… a fashion not present in the rest of his writings.

                  Let’s pretend the Bible had the phrase “Nothing God proposes will be impossible for Him”. Advocates of Negative Theology will attempt to assign Negative categories to these words: oh, God is omnipotent. But the Hebrew mindset did not work like that. The Hebrew mindset only generalized after examples were taken into consideration. Actions lead to attributes, not attributes to actions. The phrase in question is actually God talking about mankind:

                  Gen 11:6 … And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

                  Mankind is not omnipotent. The power claim was a generalization based on evidence, and importing theology into the phrases is the exact wrong way to deal with the text. You would be assigning Greek thought onto Jewish authors.

                  Walter Brueggemann says it best:

                  What is most crucial about this relatedness is that Israel’s stock testimony is unconcerned to use a vocabulary that speaks about Yahweh’s own person per se. Israel has little vocabulary for that and little interest in exploring it. Such modest terminology as Israel has for Yahweh’s self might revolve around “Yahweh is holy,” but this sort of language is not normally used, and most often it occurs only in specialized priestly manuals. More important, Israel’s characteristic adjectival vocabulary about Yahweh is completely lacking in terms that have dominated classical theology, such as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. This sharp contrast suggests that classical theology, insofar as it is dominated by such interpretive categories and such concerns, is engaged in issues that are not crucial for Israel’s testimony about Yahweh and are in fact quite remote from Israel’s primary utterance.

                2. Isaiah 5 is a long parable, and the meaning is explained… the meaning is then appropriated onto the current situation. For the Classical theologian to make the claim that the explanation to clarify a parable is itself a figure of speech… that is an irrational claim.

                  We have a couple main features of Isaiah 5. Not only does God not know what else He could have done, but God expected an outcome that never materializes:

                  Isa 5:2 … So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes.

                  Isa 5:4 What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes?

                  The story is as follows:

                  God attempts to raise a righteous Israel.
                  God does everything that He can to prosper Israel.
                  God expects Israel to be righteous.
                  Israel becomes wicked.
                  God burns in fury and destroys Israel.

                  This parable is explaining God’s motivations behind His actions, actions we see described in the prophet. To call it anthropomorphism (a concept invented for the sole purpose of dismissing these texts) is an affront to the point of the prophet and to reading comprehension. It would be a claim that the prophet is just inventing rational that is inapplicable to the situation and then communicates that rational to his readers as if it was real. It would not be an anthropomorphism, but a lie.

                  You expect anyone with basic reading comprehension to assume that Isaiah and His audience knew the reality behind the figures of speech? And this is the same Israel who constantly denies that God has present knowledge of things? It is a highly irrational claim.

                  1. Let me know Christopher where you think we are on the same page. You agree that Is 5 does prove man has free will and the future is partly open, correct? You just think that when God’s asks the Israelites, “What more could I have done” He was teaching clearly that He guesses there must be more He could have done, but is just ignorant of those options. Is that where we disagree? And you do understand that I am saying that He is only asking the Israelites this question because He knows the truth that there is not anything else He could have done and their rebellion lies directly with their free will. I actually think you are entertaining some of what you call “negative theology” in this passage to try to prove your point.

                    Also, I think you would agree that we should not try to make passages say more then they do. I am not sure where you got your translation of Gen 11:6, but it is a rather poor one and makes more of God’s words then are true. A more word for word literal translation would be “…and this is their beginning to do, and now it will not be restricted from them all which they are purposing (or have purposed) to do.” God is only talking about their voiced plans mentioned in 11:4.

                    I still wish you would comment on what you believe about God’s knowledge of the past and present. Also, do you believe He is everywhere present throughout all creation, with perfect understanding of what is going on everywhere? Thanks.

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