On the 26th of April, I authored an article with some very basic counter points to William Birch’s reliance on Psalms 139:4 as a prooftext. He responded in a disingenuous way, showing that he really did not understand my arguments. On the 5th, I promised to elaborate on my points with critical thinking questions. My points are as follows (in bold) and the critical thinking questions are in plain text.
Here is the verse:
Psa 139:4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
1. This verse may not be generally applicable (the fallacy of hasty generalization if Birch assumes it is). Much like a lot of what King David writes, this is more likely contextually only directly applicable to King David. Does Birch assume he has the same type of relationship with God that King David did? I should hope not. Does Birch think all of King David’s writing is applicable to all people on a 1-for-1, direct basis? I should hope not. We cannot just read other people’s mail as if it were for ourselves.
1-1 Is this verse written in 1st person singular or 1st person plural perspective?
1-2 If this verse is written in 1st person singular perspective, might the verse be limited in scope to the speaker? (This is asking if this is a possibility, however slight)
1-2a If “no”, pretend I wrote the same sentence about my daughter: “Even before a word is on my tongue, daugher, you know it altogether.” Would a random person in the mall who is shown this quote believe I am attempting to claim that my daughter knows all things past and present and future?
1-2b What would the “prima facie” reading of my statement be?
1-3 Are there any of King David’s writings that are in 1st person singular that are limited in direct applicability to only himself?
1-3a If “yes”, how does one know the difference? And how does an example verse differ from Psalms 139:4?
1-4 If this verse is meant to be read as applicable to the 1st person singular perspective, can we make the conclusion that this applies to all people, from all of time (past, present and future)?
1-4a If “yes”, what about statements I make in the 1st person singular? “I will eat stir-fry tomorrow.” Can we conclude that all people will eat stir-fry tomorrow?
1-4b What would the “prima facie” reading of my statement be?
2. Even if this verse was worded to read how Birch claims it is worded, this verse may be hyperbolic (the fallacy of equivocation if Birch assumes his definitive meaning rather than possible others). Hyperboles are everywhere, leading people to not even noticing when they are used. As an example, the last sentence was a hyperbole (“everywhere”). Language is flexible, and we should do well to avoid claiming definitive meanings without strong contextual clues.
2-1 Does the Bible ever use hyperbolic language to illustrate points?
2-2 What genre of writing is the Psalms (poetry, historical, proverbs, fable)?
2-3 The genre of Psalms, is that a genre that uses more or less hyperbole in how it writes compared to other genres?
2-4 Could Psalms 139:4 be hyperbolic?
2-4a If “no”, pretend I wrote the same sentence about my daughter: “Even before a word is on my tongue, daughter, you know it altogether.” Would a random person in the mall who is shown this quote believe I am using hyperbole or idiom to communicate something of value?
2-4b What is that thing they might say I am communicating?
2-4c What would the “prima facie” reading of my statement be?
3. This verse appears to link God testing David to God knowing David’s words (as evident by verse 1), countering the claims Birch wishes to make about this verse. The direct context points against Birch’s claims.
3-1 Does the direct context have any language about God testing or searching?
3-2 If God’s knowledge is inherent (meaning God just knows everything that possibly can be known), then why does He have to search, what does it do?
3-3 If God had to search in order to know, does this suggest God is omniscient or not-omniscient?
3-4 Pretend I wrote the same sentence about my daughter: “Daughter, you have searched me and known me!” Would a random person in the mall conclude my daughter was omniscient?
3-5 If I followed this up with “Even before a word is on my tongue, daughter, you know it altogether” would a random person in the mall believe that my daughter would know if she did not search?
4. Normal human communication allows people to make these types of statements about people they know (no omniscience necessary). Here is one Open Theist:
Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, my daughter knows it all. It’s uncanny. Almost like we have lived together so long she really knows me, who I am, and how I think. She will even say sometimes, ” I know what you are thinking.” And she is right.
4-1 Is this a phrase that a normal person could write?
4-1a If no, pretend I walked up to a random person in the mall and said “My daughter, even before I tell her something she knows what I am going to say. Sometimes she even just says “I know what you are thinking” and she is always right” would they think that claim was absurd?
4-1bc What would they think the “prima facie” understanding of my statement would be?
4-2 Is the father who wrote the statement claiming his daughter is omniscient?
4-3 If a random person could say the exact same thing about their daughter, and it is not a claim for omniscience, then could it also be the case that the same claim is not a claim for omniscience when applied to God?
5. Another point is that the entire context of the chapter is very clearly Open Theism. God tests to know (found both in the first and the last verses of this very chapter!). King David does not believe in total omniscience of all future events:
Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
Psa 139:24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
5-1 Does David assume God has omniscience over all his future thoughts and acts?
5-1a If “yes”, why does David challenge God to test him in order to find out his “thoughts”? Why does David challenge God to “see if there be any grievous way in me”?
5-2 What is David asking God to do in these verses and how does that fit any concept of omniscience?
5-3 What would the “prima facie” reading of the verses be?