Apologetics Thursday – A Re-Examination of Open Theism

fisher-v-cantelmoGregg Cantelmo is well convinced that Open Theism has serious issues. He writes:

While it is viewed that open theism is a debate about divine foreknowledge, it is evident that open theism is a grand reworking of historic and orthodox theology. Only a handful of God’s attributes have been addressed thus far, but an historical and theological investigation of open theism shows that it is clearly a comprehensive and aberrant paradigm of God.

This is from his article An Examination of Open Theism. This article serves as a lengthy compilation of common criticisms and a good snapshot of the mindset of those opposed to Open Theism. The bulk of his criticism deserves a longer look. Cantelmo’s real arguments start with hermeneutics:

The hermeneutics of the open theists bring to the Scriptures their presumptions of what Scripture ought to teach and then proceed to teach it. Therefore it is helpful to understand the methods employed by open theists in interpreting the Bible.

This is an interesting claim, as it can be demonstrated that this is projection. The Classical reading of the Bible is founded on the principle of bringing one’s own theology to the text. Imposition of theology is the only way Classical theology is compatible with the Bible. Later in his article, Cantelmo appeals to “Progressive Revelation” as code that the Old Testament should be superseded and ignored, that is, except for vague prooftexts that he pulls from context to support his own beliefs. Malachi 3 is one such example of this textually abusive mindset. Here is a prominent Rabbi, Rabbi Sacks, detailing the textual abuse of Malachi 3:

Far from being timeless and immutable, God in the Hebrew Bible is active, engaged, in constant dialogue with his people, calling, urging, warning, challenging and forgiving. When Malachi says in the name of God, ‘I the Lord do not change’ (Malachi 3: 6), he is not speaking about his essence as pure being, the unmoved mover, but about his moral commitments. God keeps his promises even when his children break theirs. What does not change about God are the covenants he makes with Noah, Abraham and the Israelites at Sinai.

The immediate context of Malachi 3 is about God changing in relation to mankind, yet a small phrase is taken out of context and given a metaphysical meaning. Nothing in the text warrants this, and if the text is taken in a metaphysical sense then this makes Malachi’s argument incoherent (“I the Lord do not change: thus you are not destroyed”). The Open Theist take on this text is in accordance with standard reading comprehension, whereas the Calvinist take is an imposition of theology. This is not an isolated example of this textual abuse, but will serve as just a prima facie case that Cantelmo engages in projection when claiming the Open Theists are the ones bringing their presuppositions to the text.

Cantelmo next surveys a few areas in which he believes that Open Theism is on faulty ground:

Narrative Priority. This means that those passages that describe what God does are given greater interpretative weight than those passages that describe what God is like. This means that those passages that describe what God does are given greater interpretative weight than those passages that describe what God is like. I agree with Erickson who says, “I would propose that the general rule to be followed is that the teachings about what God is like should be the explanation of what he appears to be doing in a given situation.

Cantelmo, and his sources, seem to invent two categories of texts to put in opposition of each other. Descriptions of God (“didactic” texts) are put in opposition to narratives about how God acts. These descriptions are given priority. But interesting enough, this is not how language works. General descriptions are usually broad, based on specifics, and have exceptions. If someone describes their co-worker Bob as “nice”, we are not to interpret every act of Bob through the lens of niceness. If we see Bob stealing candy from a child, we do not need to invent a story about Bob protecting that child from cavities. Instead, our minds instantly understand the statement in context. Perhaps the person describing Bob as “nice” has a different standard of niceness, or they were contextually referring to their own interactions with Bob, or they understand that sometimes Bob has lapses in his niceness but still can be labeled as nice, or they were misinformed. Inventing a niceness narrative to explain Bob’s actions is perhaps the last rational option available to a discerning observer, but in theology, it tends to be the first leap of logic (e.g. God’s continued repentance is reinterpreted in light of non-repentance).

Furthermore, because descriptions have some inherent subjectivity built into the descriptors, it would definitely be a mistake to impose our own standards of “niceness” on Bob. Perhaps someone believes in spanking children as discipline. Perhaps we do not. If someone says Bob is nice, it would be a huge mistake to automatically assume Bob does not spank his children. When we read about characters in stories, general descriptions only go so far. Specific examples of the character in action give a more accurate portrait of that character than general descriptors can ever accomplish. After all, no one approaches the same adjectives in the same way. Do we better know Bob if someone lists descriptors of Bob or tells us a story about Bob illustrating each descriptor?

Cantelmo, and those in his tradition, reverse everything we know about reading comprehension when approaching the Bible. Any description of God is taken in some sort of arbitrary, metaphysical way. The meanings are imposed onto the text. For example, with Malachi 3, God’s statement is not seen as limited to context or specifically about God’s promise to Israel. Instead, it is taken as a metaphysical absolute, encompassing everything in the being of God. This new reading contradicts the immediate context of the verse, which is about God’s repentance. The tension between the narrative and the descriptive texts is manufactured due to a fundamental mistreatment of the text.

Reading comprehension should be the standard; not some conflict between descriptive and narrative texts. When the Bible says “Nothing God proposes to do will now be impossible for Him” this is not about God’s sovereignty or power. When the Bible says “no secret is hidden from you” this is not about God’s omniscience. When the Bible says that God foreknew Paul from the beginning, this is not about eternal foreknowledge. When the Bible says God was and will be, this is not about being outside of time.

If this is denied by the reader, there is good evidence the reader is wrong. All these statements are in the Bible, but they are not about God (the subject was changed to illustrate the concept). All these statements are made about men or angels. Men can do anything they purpose. No secret is hidden from a king. The Jews foreknew Paul from the beginning. The beast was, is not, and will be. These are not didactic texts which teach us about the incommunicable nature of man or angels. To take them that way would be a sign of terrible reading comprehension.

Normal reading comprehension teaches us that hyperbole and generalizations are everywhere. Even in my last sentence, note that hyperbole is not literally “everywhere”, but no one misunderstands what I say because hyperbole is so common that it is virtually unnoticed. This common idiom or communication norm is rejected in texts about God by many Christians, even when there are clear counterexamples to general rules of thumb.

Normal readers, when approaching “didactic” texts, would not label them didactic and put them in opposition to other texts. In fact, normal readers see no contradiction. But when Calvinists and Arminians come to these “didactic” texts, it is often with forcibly imposed meanings. The texts, more often than not, have parallel texts about men which the same readers take as idioms without question. Even predestination texts have parallels in ancient writings that have nothing to do with Calvinist predestination. This just shows the disconnect between Classical reading of the Bible and the use of normal reading comprehension standards. Calvinism hijacks words, it hijacks concepts, it rejects common communication norms, and it imposes its own theology on the text without warrant. In a cruel twist of irony, it then accuses others of its own sins.

Cantelmo brings up 1 Samuel 15 to illustrate his point:

A common example of this poor hermeneutic is the open theist’s use of 1 Samuel 15. Open theists emphasize the narrative portions of this chapter involving God regretting that He has made Saul king (1 Sam. 15:11, 35) while marginalizing the didactic portion that clearly teaches that God is not like a man that he should change His mind (1 Sam. 15:29).

If I were tell my kids I was taking them to McDonalds, but then they started fighting, I might then change my mind. The kids might complain and beg me to take them once again. I might respond with “I am not your mom, that I will change my mind.” No reader with basic reading comprehension would think:

1. I am claiming to be immutable.
2. There is any contradiction with what I just did (in changing my mind) and declaring I will not change my mind.

Competent readers understand that context limits my pronouncement to me changing my mind about not bringing my children to McDonalds. The only way the statement becomes contradictory is if someone unwarrantedly assumes I am making some sort of claim about immutability (a far stretch). No one would think I am giving my children an impromptu lesson on metaphysics.

The Open Theist approach is not denying the didactic text, but understanding it in context. The funny thing is that often in the Bible God does make eternal declarations, but then God repents due to mercy or compassion or unforeseen rebellion. Sometimes God says He repents for His own sake. Repentance is such a strong character trait of God, it is included in actual didactic texts about how God operates (Eze 18, Jer 18).

When Calvinists quote people (who are not the narrator or God), and then reject God and the narrator who speak about God, this is not Biblical scholarship. Samuel is not giving Saul an ad hoc lesson in metaphysics. Do Calvinists really think that Samuel is pausing to teach Saul about metaphysics? How would the argument of “not changing” work if repenting of making Saul could be read in light of “not repenting”? How would Saul take any solid conclusions from Samuel’s pronouncements? How would a quick lesson on metaphysics help Saul? And does not Saul, God’s chosen, already not know about this very important concept of immutability?

If Samuel is teaching metaphysics, the metaphysics would override the point Samuel is trying to make (that God has decided to choose someone other than Saul). Reading comprehension demands that we understand that Samuel is giving a material point that enforces his overall argument. It is just downright atrocious how Calvinists treat 1 Samuel 15.

Note: Contrary to Cantelmo’s claims, Jonah and Amos teach didactically that repentance is an essential part of God’s nature. In Jeremiah 18, God teaches (through His own words) that He will not do what He thinks to do or said He was to do if the circumstances change. Why are these “didactic” texts ignored in favor of texts pulled out of context (e.g. 1 Sam. 15:29)?

Cantelmo next criticizes the Open Theistic Interpretive Center:

Interpretive Center. An interpretive center is the designating of one portion of Scripture as a basis for interpreting other sections of Scripture. A verse or concept is used as the lens through which all other passages are understood. The interpretive center used by open theists in defining their picture of God is 1 John 4:8 which says “God is love.”

No one could reasonably claim that the premier Old Testament scholar, who is an Open Theist, uses “love” has his interpretive center. Walter Brueggemann and other textually based Open Theists do not try to interpret everything in light of “love”. Cantelmo’s criticism is actually against a subset of Open Theists, and thus is not a good argument against Open Theism in general.

If one wants to treat every text with equal weight, we should take our cues from the Canonical Critics, secular scholars who try to understand Biblical theology in its final form. These scholars describe Israel’s theology in very Open Theistic terms. Secular biblical scholarship, who are not pushing metaphysical agendas, is on the side of Open Theism.

Cantelmo then references God’s questions about the future:

He also cites Numbers 14:11 and Hosea 8:5 where God asks questions about the future. Most commentators interpret these verses as rhetorical questions, but Boyd, after acknowledging rhetorical questions as a possibility, concludes that the questions God ask must reflect his lack of knowledge about the duration of Israel’s stubbornness.

What clues in the text lead one to believe these are rhetorical questions rather than real questions with added rhetorical effect? In Numbers 14:10, those faithful to God are threatened with death by those wanting to rebel. God becomes angry and states “How long will these people reject Me?” and threatens to kill all of Israel. God states that He will kill them all. God gives Moses His new plan: God will kill Israel and fulfill His promise through Moses’ lineage. Moses makes an impassioned appeal to God’s reputation among the pagans. God then repents of His plans and “pardon[s], according to [Moses’] word”. These events are is reminiscent of the events on Exodus 32.

What is more likely, that this question is only for rhetorical effect? Or that in context God is seeking to destroy Israel because He has been frustrated time and time again by Israel’s consistent rebellion. The text states that “all these men… have put Me to the test now these ten times”. God is legitimately wondering how many more times He has to endure Israel. Where are the indications that God knew the future? Where are the indications that this was planned? Where are the indications that God’s promise to destroy Israel was merely a ploy for rhetorical effect? Did God legitimately offer to destroy them all in favor of Moses’ lineage? The context does not lend itself in the least to ideas about omniscience or Calvinistic sovereignty (in which God controls all things).

But even if the question in Numbers 14:10 was rhetorical, rhetoric has a purpose too. Often these types of statements are used to vent frustration. In Calvinism, God cannot be frustrated. God is impassible and immutable. This is to be contrasted with the Bible, in which God makes emotional based decisions:

Eze 5:13 “Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am the LORD—that I have spoken in my jealousy—when I spend my fury upon them.

Elsewhere, Jeremiah wishes that God check His emotions before punishing him, because Jeremiah is likely to be killed by God:

Jer 10:24 O LORD, correct me, but with justice; Not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing.

Extreme emotion is attributed to God, a God said to be impassible by Calvinists. This just illustrates another reoccurring problem with Calvinist doctrine: their answers to problems often cause a cascading ripple of problems for their doctrine. Thomas Sowell, when applying this superficial thinking to non-economists, calls this Stage One thinking: not being able to think past the immediate results of an economic action. In theology, we can apply this to people such as Cantelmo, whose answers are only concerned about deflecting immediate concerns with consideration of second effects.

Cantelmo then accuses Open Theists of being selective:

He then continues to string together such passages, picking only the instances that support his case. Sanders does the same thing, only in more detail, as he selectively goes through Genesis.58 In doing this they simultaneously ignore the verses from this same block of material that seemingly contradicts the openness position.

Examples would have been nice in this section. Without Cantelmo pinpointing an example of an omission, it is hard to respond to this claim. On the blog GodisOpen.com, Calvinist strong points are specifically addressed in detail and in context. This ranges from the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, to Ezekiel 16, to Romans 9, to Deutero-Isaiah. I am unaware of any untouched Calvinist prooftext. If Calvinists have unaddressed prooftexts, they should be able to point to specific texts without vague and unspecific allusions to these “selectively” skipped texts.

Much more can be said in reference to the hermeneutics of open theism. There seems to be a lack of understanding the nature of progressive revelation in that they seem to attach greater weight to Old Testament passages then they do to New Testament passages. Obscure and infrequent passages are also given precedence over clear and recurring passages.

“Progressive Revelation” is code for rejecting Biblical Inerrancy. Ancient Israel is portrayed as simpletons, unable to grasp theology. And as such, is allowed, presumably, by God to persist in their wrong views about God without an attempt by God’s prophets to correct these views. This is incredibly dismissive of the Biblical text. This is not to mention the major assumptions Cantelmo imposes that the New Testament authors were in disagreement with the Old Testament authors. This is not the case.

Perhaps the New Testament occurs over a shorter length of time so records less of God’s own history and, as such, is referenced less by Open Theists. But even in the pages of the New Testament, God becomes flesh, John the Baptist explains how God can fulfill prophecy in spite of no cooperation of man, Jesus informs everyone the future can be changed, Jesus admits to not knowing everything, Paul describes the process by which information flows to God, Paul explains God’s contingency plan due to God’s failed plan to reach Israel, John describes the new Earth in which God dwells with man with Jesus by His side, etc, etc. There is nothing contrary to Old Testament theology, but Old Testament theology is reinforced and consistently used for allusions and the basis of New Testament theological arguments.

The admission of Cantelmo to believing in Progressive Revelation is an admission of blatant rejection of God described in the Old Testament. It is a telling statement that Cantelmo (and company) need to rely heavily on New Testament texts (taken out of context and used in opposition to the Old Testament). It is also an admission that he believes that God’s dealings with man for thousands of years withheld vital truths on which most Calvinists now claim salvation hinges. That is not a rational position.

Cantelmo then claims that Open Theists appeal to minor and obscure passages. The hypocracy is amazing, considering Calvinist prooftexts feature prominently in Malachi or are found within a quote from false prophets (Num 23). Open Theists appeal to major Biblical events including Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the destruction of Sodom, the Exodus, the summations of the time of the Judges, the life and times of Saul and David, Jonah, the exilic prophets’ major claims, the incarnation, and the restored Earth. This is a veritable survey of every major Biblical event. Can Cantelmo name a major Biblical event that is not evidence for Open Theism? But Cantelmo already has discounted the major events in the Bible, by rejecting narrative. Cantelmo self-admittedly rejects larger stories in favor of fleeting statements.

There are some clear and reoccurring passages that Cantelmo forgets about. Repentance of God is a strong theme throughout the Bible. Here are a sample of texts which use the word “repent” in reference to God repenting, the same word the Calvinists reject when they say God is not a man that He should “repent”:

Gen 6:6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
Gen 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for [repent] that I have made them.”

Exo 32:12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and [repent] from this disaster against your people.

Exo 32:14 So the LORD [repented] from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

[KJV] Deu 32:36 For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.

Jdg 2:18 Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was [repented] by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them.

1Sa 15:11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night.

1Sa 15:35 And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

2Sa 24:16 And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD [repented] from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

1Ch 21:15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he [repented] from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

Psa 90:13 Return, O LORD! How long? [Repent concerning] your servants!

Psa 106:45 For their sake he remembered his covenant, and [repented] according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

Psa 135:14 For the LORD will vindicate his people and [repent concerning] his servants.

Jer 15:6 You have rejected me, declares the LORD; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you— I am weary of [repenting].

Jer 18:7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,
Jer 18:8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will [repent] of the disaster that I [thought] to do to it.

Jer 18:9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it,
Jer 18:10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will [repent] of the good that I had [said] to do to it.

Jer 26:13 Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will [repent] of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.

Jer 26:19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD [repent] of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.”

Jer 42:10 If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I [repent] of the disaster that I did to you.

Joe 2:13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he [repents] over disaster.

Amo 7:3 The LORD [repented] concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the LORD.

Amo 7:6 The LORD [repented] concerning this: “This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.

Jon 3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God [repented] of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Jon 4:2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and [repenting] from disaster.

These are not even every verse in which God repents, but only in which the text explicitly attributes the Hebrew word from repentance to God (the New Testament uses Greek). God elsewhere repents of giving Eli an eternal house. God repents of killing Hezekiah. God repents of deciding to not physically travel with Israel in the Exodus. God repents of mandating that Ezekiel eat food cooked over human excrement.

The astounding rejection of the Bible, both narrative detailing how and why and in what measure God repents and texts that describe God’s general character, is evidence how contrary to the text modern “progressive” interpretation has become. God’s words are rejected. The narrator is rejected. The narration (sequence of events) is rejected. And even God’s prophets are rejected. This is in favor of a few fleeting statements demonstrably taken out of context.

Cantelmo’s next section deals with what he sees as a shortcoming in how Open Theists handle texts of the Bible. He starts with repentance prooftexts:

Open theists contend that these passages teach God’s limited foreknowledge because how could God feel sorrow for something if He knew in advance what was going to happen? The truth is that these two points are not necessarily connected as it is possible to know something in advance and yet still feel remorse when that event transpires.

Cantelmo completely glosses over the primary meaning of “repent”. It is not a change in emotion, but a change of mind. Just a survey of the above texts makes this clear. God says He will do something. God “repents”. Then God does not do the thing that God said He would do. One of the key advantages of omniscience, so Christianity is told by preachers, is that God can foresee events the outcomes of all things. God does not need to repent in Cantelmo’s view. This emotional crutch is often used against Open Theists! But this means repentance is just God acting schizophrenically or engaging in serial lying. God regularly says that He will do things, knowing full well that He will not do those things and never had any genuine intention of doing those things.

God’s constant reversal of doing things He says He will do also undermines another key emotional crutch of Classical Theism: that we can trust everything God says. Cantelmo’s dismissive reading of God’s pronouncements tells his listener that God can blanketly make an infinite number of false claims, only to be salvaged through complex technicalities. Open Theism’s answer is that God is acting in a manner consistent with rational reactions to new information. Trust only can come through consistency. Consistency with God and trust in His proclamations is something only Open Theism provides.

Cantelmo’s key complaint with repentance texts is that the word can be used for emotional sorrow:

It has also been suggested that word “repent” or “regret” in the niphal stem can carry the semantic meaning of “to experience emotional pain.

Cantelmo, without giving specifics about how this definition is to be applied to specific texts, is attempting to cast doubt on the word “repent”. This is the normal word for repentance throughout the Bible, one attributed often to man. The operation of God’s specific repentance is detailed in many of the above repentance texts. In these texts, the nature of God’s repentance is described, and it is often explicit in reversing former decrees. But this not the only problem with Cantelmo’s point.

Rehashing a key point: Calvinists engage in Stage One thinking. What is the reason God “repents” in some of these texts?

Gen 6:6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
Gen 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Examine this text. Repent is used twice, one in a quote by God and once by the narrator. Both times God is repenting of His own actions. If repentance is anger/pain, then God’s own actions are making Him mad/sad. While man’s actions lead to God regretting His own decision, mankind’s evil is only secondary in the text. God is blaming Himself for what He sees. Likewise, 1 Sam 15 reads the same way. God is blaming Himself, not grieving over what He sees:

1Sa 15:11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night.

That is why context is important. God is said to repent of His own actions twice (two instances and four verses) in the Bible (Gen 6:6,7 and 1Sa 15:11,35). In both these instances, God has done something in the past that He is now undoing. The text describes God’s subsequent actions to undo the thing He repents of. What combination of words would a Calvinist accept in the Bible to believe God repents? If the word is emotional pain, this does not solve the problem. What specifically in the text does the text say pains God? It is not Saul or man’s wickedness; it is God’s own actions. This type of compounding problem is typical with Calvinist responses.

This is also furthermore problematic for the Calvinists because their main prooftexts against God’s repentance use the same word for repentance that they try imply means “emotional pain”. In Making God in the Image of Man, Norman Geisler makes the absurdly wrong claim that a different word is used for repentance in 1 Samuel 15 verse 25 than in verses11 and 39. This is a false claim as anyone with access to basic Greek Bible software can verify. In verses 11 and 39 God is said to repent. In verse 25, the “God is not a man that He should repent” line is found. Why would Geisler want his false claim to be true to such extent that he puts it in print? It is because he wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants verse 25 to be about repentance, and verses 11 and 39 to be about something else entirely. But Calvinists cannot have their cake and eat it too. If they kill repentance they kill their prooftexts against repentance.

Cantelmo details a second group of prooftexts with which he finds issue:

The second group of passages involves God testing Israel (Deut. 8:2; 13:3; Judg. 3:4). Open theists contend that is was necessary for God to test the nation so that He could learn what they would do under certain circumstances. This is clearly bringing ones preunderstanding to the text. Keil and Delitizsch maintain that the test was actually for the purpose of Israel’s humbling rather than God’s learning. They contend that God was testing His people for the purpose of publicly revealing the genuine condition of their hearts.

Keil and Delitizsch seem to levy a huge imposition on the text. The Bible specifically tells us the purpose of the tests within the very verses which describe the tests:

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.

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.

Jer 17:10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.

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.

The text is explicit about the purpose of the testing: to know. God tests to know (and to judge). When people override the text with their own purpose, this is not Biblical Scholarship. Often Biblical Commenters impose what they want a text to mean over what the text expressly states (ironically a claim Cantelmo makes against Open Theists).

Cantelmo’s third set of problem texts are those involving failed prophecy:

The third group of passages involves allegedly failed prophecies. Open theists argue that there are various predictions found throughout the Bible that were never fulfilled exactly as predicted… which calls into question the very nature of an inerrant Scripture.

If fulfilled prophecy of the future is often used as evidence of God’s absolute omniscience of the future, how is an unfulfilled prophecy not cancerous to any thought that God knows the future? God says something will happen, but then it does not happen, and if it does happen, then not in the way described. If this ever occurs, a rational person should instantly banish all thoughts that God knows the future in some sort of absolute sense. A fortune teller is no good if they only get broad details right, but miss all sorts of small details. Anyone can do that.

I might have personally made 100 correct prophecies about the future (who will win the presidential elections, what I will eat tomorrow, what days I will travel on vacation, if my job interview will go well, how someone will react to a specific joke, that Walmart will be open on a certain day, what exact time to the minute that I will post a certain blog post, etc). A million fulfilled prophecies about the future cannot stand for one failed prophecy. I might have been wrong about the gender of my latest baby. No one will claim I am omniscient because “I got a whole lot of things right, and just ignore my wrong prophecy about my baby”. If I am wrong once then no matter how many correct prophecies I proffer, no one will think this constitutes evidence of omniscience of the future.

God’s prophecy is often vague enough to allow multiple solutions, and even then is flexible enough such that the details do not have to be true. The reader should visualize what prophecy should look like if someone knows the future like a movie, and then visual what prophecy would look like if prophecy is just claims of what one will do in the future. These are not the same caliber of prophecy.

The type, quality, and specificity of a prophecy coupled with the type, quality, and specificity of fulfillment should inform the reader on God’s knowledge of the future, and how He knows it. If I say “someone on Earth will die tomorrow”, I am not some omniscient genius (instead I just have basic knowledge of the world). If I say “Peter will die tomorrow” and then I go kill him, I am not some expert soothsayer (I used my power to make my will a reality). If I say Mr Peter Hickelston, whom I do not know and will never have contact with, of 123, 3rd Avenue, New York, New York will choke to death at 8:47PM while eating chicken while his wife and family call 911 at 8:52, leading to an ultimately failed resuscitation. If this comes true, one might then believe I know a little something about the future, not omniscience, but something.

The vaguer the prophecy and the more ways in which it can be fulfilled the less it is evidence of the future being known. Conversely, the more specific and more detailed the prophecy, the more evidence that the individual had knowledge of the future. The less power the predictor has to force an event to come true, the more likely the prediction was based on knowledge of the future rather than just being a claim about what the person will do. Conversely, the more power an individual has to affect the outcome of the event, the more evidence that this prophecy is one of power, not knowledge.

If the prophecy fails, if details are given but not fulfilled, this suggests there never was any knowledge of the future in the first place. The alternative is that the prophecy was a bold lie. Sure, it might be a lie to inspire response. For example, I might lie to my children that the boogeyman will get them if they do not brush their teeth, but these types of lies cannot be considered admirable. Ends do not justify means, especially if an infinite number of means is available to me. If God knows the outcome of every event, might He not find a route that does not involve a bold lie on His part? If God lies to us in some ways, how do we distinguish lies from truth?

Cantelmo ties failed prophecy with “textual inerrancy”, which is a rich claim coming from someone who dismisses most of the Bible, including the major plot points. This is a willful misrepresentation of Open Theism, and the claim only stands if assuming major philosophical concepts on top of the Bible. Cantelmo is really claiming that the prophets and God are opponents of inerrancy, because they are the ones who unapologetically included these failed prophecies in the Bible. For example:

1Sa 2:30 Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.

Is God proclaiming the Bible is errant? Is the author of Samuel questioning Biblical Inerrancy? In 1 Samuel 2, God changes a unilateral promise to a conditional promised because Eli’s sons acted more wickedly than expected. If God is reacting to unexpected events, there is no “error”. The only way that the Bible is errant is if God foreknew that Eli’s sons would rebel. In this case, God’s unilateral promise was a lie. God would make a promise, unconditionally, knowing full well He would reverse it to make it conditional. This lie by God would be recorded as scripture, and thus scripture would be errant. Cantelmo’s view is the one that questions the integrity of scriptures.

Instead, when the prophecy of Tyre fails, God offers Nebuchadnezzar a consolation prize of Egypt. When Nebuchadnezzar decides to turn back for personal reasons, Ezekiel’s prophecy that Egypt would be uninhabited and untouched for 40 years fails. This is how prophecy, which is contingent on human action, functions. No apologies are made. One has to wait until modern Christian notions of prophecy in order to find complicated and intricate defenses of these failed prophecy.

It is interesting Cantelmo does not mention Tyre or Egypt. Cantelmo focuses on a few key failed prophecies: that Paul would be bound, that no stone would be left on another, and Joseph’s dream. Cantelmo writes:

For both Gen. 37:9-11 and Acts 21:11 the Bible never says that these prophesies [sic] were not fulfilled exactly as predicted. Erickson points out that Scripture remains silent regarding how and when an exact fulfillment took place.

Cantelmo appeals to ignorance. Apparently there can be no prophecy that can ever be false because they are fulfilled off screen. This, of course, does not account for time specific prophecies and prophecies that explicitly state that they do not come true. Both types are found in Jonah. Nineveh is prophesied to be overthrown in 40 days, and 40 days later this does not happen. The specific reason given is that God repents and does not do what “he had said he would do to them” (something Cantelmo rejects as a possibility). God repents because the people repent. This is a literally fulfillment of the descriptions of how God regularly acts as found in Jeremiah 18: God will repent of what He thought He would do. God will repent of what He said He would do. And this is based on the actions of people. Cantelmo and Co just rule out Jeremiah 18 ever being fulfilled. God knows eternally everything that He will and will not do. There is no place for not doing something God thought He would do.

Other time specific prophesies that fail are:
-Israel’s 400 years under bondage in Egypt (their actual time in Egypt was 430 years as reported in Exodus and their actual time in bondage was 80 years as reported in Exodus 3).
-Israel’s 70 years in exile in Babylon (the actual time was 61 years)
-Hezekiah was prophesied to die in peace, but he died in war.
-Jesus’ hearers were prophesied to see the Day of the Lord. This prophecy is consistent throughout the New Testament. In fact, Cantelmo points to the prophecy of no stone left on top of each other. This prophecy was in the context of the Day of the Lord. It was never meant to be about Roman destruction, but God’s punishment of Israel during a time in which the angels would round up the wicked and kill them. The stones being left on top of eachother is irrelevant to the overall intent of this failed prophecy.

Cantelmo never addresses the fact that details of various prophecies never do come true. He embraces hyperbole for the stones prophecy, which is rational take. But he also assumes the Jews bound Paul at some unrecorded point, as if the prophecy given to Paul was not about the event that occurs in the temple in which Paul converts from free to imprisoned. His insistence that the Joseph dream is fulfilled off screen is humorous in that Joseph’s dream is often given as evidence of God’s omniscience.

If using Calvinist leeway given to God in fulfilling prophecy, Nostradamus could be claimed to be an amazing prophet. Any prophecy has wide latitude doesn’t have to be fulfilled exactly, can fail for “reasons”, and must have some unrecorded fulfillment if none can be found in history. Any prophecy that looks like it came true, did so, and is proof of Nostradamus’ predictive ability. The Calvinist use of prophecy is a classic case of special pleading.

This view of prophecy makes prophecy meaningless, because prophecy no longer has purpose. Prophecy is meant to inform people what would happen before it happens such that they know who did it when it finally does happen. This is how God describes how He generally works:

Isa 48:5 I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

Amo 3:6 Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?
Amo 3:7 “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.

If prophecy can fail at any moment and brushed aside, if prophecy can be fulfilled with infinite leeway, then how does it teach anyone that the prophecy is God’s work rather than the idols?

Cantelmo then turns to questions throughout the Bible:

The fourth group of passages involves situations where God asks a question. For example in Numbers 14:11, He asks, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” Boyd contends that God asked questions of this nature in order to express his uncertainty regarding the future. Again this seems to impose ones preunderstanding upon the text. It would be more consistent with the biblical narrative to interpret this passage in a similar way as when God asked Adam in the garden, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). God was not playing hide-in-seek, but rather desiring Adam to acknowledge his sinful act and repent. In the same manner God asked the questions of Numbers 14:11 to elicit a response of repentance from the rebellious people of Israel.

Granted, questions do have a varied number of formats and uses. Context is key to determining the function of a question.

In Numbers 14:11, Israel has rejected God. God speaks this rhetorical question to Moses, who has no need of repentance. Moses then argues that by destroying Israel that God’s reputation will suffer. God then repents of destroying Israel. If this is some sort of rhetorical device to get people to repent then it is not well played. The statement is not directed to the right actors and the people never do repent.

The Garden of Eden incident is very interesting. God is walking in the garden. The text describes the coolness of the day, as if God is taking a leisurely stroll. God then calls out for Adam. There is nothing in the text demanding that God knows where Adam is or knows what Adam has done. If this figure is viewed as a manifestation of Jesus, then this would be similar to Jesus’ explicit lack on omniscience in the New Testament. Forcing omniscience into the text is unwarranted.

Granted, the question could be a known-answer question. The purpose of a known answer question is to figure out if the person will admit to what they have done. In other words, the purpose of a known-answer question is to gather knowledge one does not have. In Cantelmo’s mind, however, the known-answer question is transformed from an information gathering technique into a mock call for repentance. God is the parent that calls their child “ugly” to inspire self-sufficiency. What effect does the question have? Does it inspire repentance? Not according to the text. So in Cantelmo’s mind, not only is it passive aggressive manipulation but it is also failed passive aggressive manipulation. Is that what the author of Genesis is trying to describe?

An interesting facet of the Genesis text is that Adam answers in a straightforward manner. His answers are taken on face value and responded to on face value. God does not treat Adam’s answers as if the question is a rhetorical device. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. God punishes the serpent. God punishes Eve for listening to the serpent. God then punishes Adam for listening to Eve. God treats each answer on face value. No hidden agendas are presented.

Cantelmo’s wordview describes God taking all sorts of actions that God knows will fail. God takes actions to passive aggressively nudge Adam to repent, but this fails. God takes actions to passive aggressively nudge Israel to repent, but this fails. Why is God doing things He knows will fail? This only makes sense in the context of a legitimate attempt (highlighting again that Calvinist answers multiple their problems). At several points in the Bible, God laments that His acts fail to produce any result:

Jer 2:30 In vain have I struck your children; they took no correction; your own sword devoured your prophets like a ravening lion.

Isa 5:4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

Jeremiah 2:30 and Isaiah 5:4 are voices of frustration. God is purposely frustrating Himself and doing things that are bound not to work, that is, if He knows the future. Alternatively, the frustration vented in Jeremiah and Isaiah are legitimate. In Isaiah, God is genuinely expecting to see His work pay off but encounters frustration. In Jeremiah, God expected that His punishments would work, but they failed.

The fifth group of passages used by open theists involves God seeing Israel’s idolatry and noting that it never entered His mind that Israel would behave in this manner. For example, Jeremiah 7:31 says, “They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.”

This is an odd grouping of verses. Cantelmo takes three or four verses and considers it their own category of failed expectations. He fails to include plenty of verses in which things never do enter God’s mind that would fit this category well:

Isa 5:4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

Jer 3:7 And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.

Jer 18:7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,
Jer 18:8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I [thought] to do to it.

Interestingly enough, Cantelmo misses the real reason Jeremiah 7:31 (“Never entered my mind”) texts are not good evidence of God not knowing the future. These texts are better understood that Yahweh never thought to command child sacrifice to Yahweh. Apparently there was an Israelite Yahweh child sacrifice cult that started in Israel. God expresses shock and laments that this was never His intention.

Cantelmo takes these text much like Boyd:

Erickson states that God’s saying that their behavior did not come into His mind should be understood, not as a declarative sentence, but as an expression of rebuke. He says, “When one says, “I never thought you would do that!” it often is a means of indicating how “unthinkable” the action is.” The purpose of such language is to express outrage and scandal.

Cantelmo adds:

Another problem with Boyd’s interpretation of this passage is that hundreds of years earlier God has warned Israel against committing this specific evil act (Deut. 12:31). If open theists are correct in their reading of the Jeremiah passage, then not only is God limited in His foreknowledge and foresight, but He is also forgetful about what He has specifically forbidden in the past.

First of all, God can specifically forbid and action with the expectation that His forbiddance of the action will result in Israel never doing it. If I tell my child “never get into a running car without an adult present” then I might reasonably never expect my children to do such a thing. After all, I specifically told them not to and this corrects any action on their part through naivety. If they disobey me and go joyriding with a friend, I might accurate say “I never expected you do to this.” Boyd’s reading is not inconsistent with this type of senario. Granted, Boyd’s reading is not the best reading.

Second, Cantelmo’s solution does not work because it counters much of his other theology. God is making emotional exclamations. This is not conducive to immutability or impassibility. The context of Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5 and 32:35 is God’s extreme anger. In 32:35, God specifically references how the people provoke Him. The people are so wicked, they affect God’s emotional state:

Jer 32:32 because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah that they did to provoke me to anger—their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Jer 32:33 They have turned to me their back and not their face. And though I have taught them persistently, they have not listened to receive instruction.

In Jeremiah 32, God continually tries to correct, but His correcting is in vain. This is thematic in God’s history with Israel. God’s actions fail to produce the results He desires. When God sees His own people killing their own children, He lashes out in anger threatening to kill everyone. God is not timeless. God does not eternally endure this affront to His person. God is instead solving an immediate problem so that Israel provokes Him no more. None of this is conducive to Calvinism.

Cantelmo’s last section details with a positive case for omniscience:

Ehaustive Foreknowledge. The biblical passages that favor the classical theist position far outweigh those of the open theist. Of the 4,800 passages that bear upon divine omniscience and especially, divine foreknowledge, only 105, or 2.1875 percent, directly argue for the open theist position.

Cantelmo cites Millard Erikson, who cites Bruce Ware, who cites Steve Roy. What this indicates is that Cantelmo has not seen the source text and has zero familiarity with the basis of his claim. Excerpts from Steve Roy’s book What Does God Foreknow can be found on Google Books. The excerpts do not show a very fair and reading comprehension orientated survey of Biblical evidence. Here is Roy:

Christians have long affirmed the omniscience of God, the infinite perfection of His knowledge. This is an attempt to be faithful to the teaching of Scriptute which describes God as being, among other things:

Roy then lists some omniscience related prooftexts. But do they mean what he wants them to mean: that God has infinitely perfect knowledge such that God can never have a new thought and all the future is known to God. Recall that a pagan king was told that “no secret can be hidden” from that king. Is that evidence that the king is omniscient? A good reader will see how much theology Roy imposes on his prooftexts:

perfect (cf. job 37:16, where Elihu describes God as being “perfect in knowledge”)

It is probably a bad idea to quote one of Job’s friends, who gives terrible advice and is corrected by God on his generally inaccurate theology. Also, keep in mind normal modes of speaking. Other beings are said to be perfect. Jesus is said to know everything although elsewhere Jesus admits that he does not. Are the words being used as a generalization? Or is Elihu speaking pure metaphysics of the type embraced by Roy? How much theology should be taken out passing reference to God’s knowledge? And why is a quote by someone who is likely an enemy of God used as a prime prooftext of omniscience? This suggests the textual support is absent. Roy is building inverted pyramids on glancing phrases from unreliable witnesses. This is not good theology.

vast (cf. Ps 139:17-18, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I Were I to count them, I they would outnumber the grains of sand”)

If King David believed in omniscience, including omniscience of the future, he might more accurate say that God has all knowledge and all thoughts about all things that would ever happen. This is a Psalm of praise, and it is interesting how tame the statement is compared to the Calvinist idea of knowledge. Later in the Psalm, David challenges God to test him to find out what is in his heart. King David was no believer in exhaustive divine foreknowledge. King David, earlier in the Psalm claims that God knows him because God is watching (not some inherent knowledge from time eternal). Roy’s prooftext, in context, refutes Roy’s claims. Roy proffers a bad reading of the text with imposed meaning.

limitless (cf. Ps 147:5, ‘•Great is the Lord and mighty in power; I his understanding has no limit”)

This is about God’s understanding. It is about how God processes information. This is not about omniscience of having all knowledge. The generality principle applies here as well. Without more specific context detailing the meaning, Roy’s view of this verse is just wild speculation.

all-encompassing (cf. Job 28:24, “[God] views the ends of the earth I and sees everything under the heavens”; 1 Jn 3:20, ‘•God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything”; Heb 4:13, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”)

Again, generalities cannot be ruled out unless the context is specific. It is not. Theological claims based on fleeting statements are speculative. The same omniscience claims could be said about the Prince of Tyre.

These texts also do not mention “how” God knows what He knows. As detailed earlier, God tests to know. How does God know something? He tests to find out.

Open Theists see these verses as evidence of current omniscience. Nothing is said about omniscience of all future events. For Roy to write an entire book of foreknowledge, perhaps he could cite one verse that details God’s omniscience of all future events. That verse does not rank in his top omniscience prooftexts, because that verse does not exist.

Roy has an interesting book, but his lack of critical thinking jeopardizes his findings. If his best verses do not mean what he wants them to mean, then it is guaranteed that he is taking extreme liberties with countless other verses as well. Gordon Olsen has a similar study, listing countless verses for and against future exhaustive omniscience. This study has a lot less bias, as evident in his attempt to categorize counter-examples. https://godisopen.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/goresearch.pdf

For Cantelmo to citing this study means very little. Perhaps he, like Roy, could start with a single verse that proves future omniscience of all events. Cantelmo does proffer Psalms 139, which is funny because the context rules out Cantelmo’s interpretation yet again:

An especially difficult passage for the open theist is Psalm 139, which declares God’s exhaustive knowledge of the psalmist. Verse 4 declares that God knows his speech even before there is a word on his tongue. This means that God is aware of the human contingency of the spoken word even before the human decision to speak takes place. In verse 16 the psalmist declares that God was aware of all of his days before one of them came to be.

Verse 16 is not about God foreknowing days. Here is John Calvin on the issue:

Some read ימים, yamim, in the nominative case, when days were made; the sense being, according to them — All my bones were written in thy book, O God! from the beginning of the world, when days were first formed by thee, and when as yet none of them actually existed. The other is the more natural meaning, That the different parts of the human body are formed in a succession of time; for in the first germ there is no arrangement of parts, or proportion of members, but it is developed, and takes its peculiar form progressively.

Cantelmo does not know this fact. Cantelmo does not consider it. Cantelmo is just not familiar with the Hebrew behind Psalms 139. Verse 16 is about fetology, not about knowing David’s future life.

Verse 4 is about God knowing David’s speech before he speaks. We do not have to guess how God knows what David will say before he says it. David is explicit: God watches David from afar. David’s point is that God knows him so well that God knows how David thinks. This would not be unlike me saying that “my wife knows what I will say before I say it”. It would be a huge mental failure to think I am claiming my wife is omniscient of all future events. My statement is not even a claim of present omniscience.

Psalms 139 is a personal Psalm, so nothing being said is meant to be generally exportable to everyone that exists. Cantelmo’s reading undermines the personal bond David is illustrating by claiming the reason God knows what David will say in advance is due to some sort of inherent knowledge. No, the knowledge is due to a personal relationship. In fact, David challenges God to test him in order to know what is in his heart:

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!

King David was an Open Theist. Psalms 139 is an Open Theistic psalm, which is revealed by applying just a little critical thinking to what is being said. This is not evidence of omniscience of all future events, but evidence against such a strange position.

understanding psalms 139

Cantelmo also cites Isaiah 40-48. Cantelmo claims:

The text is repetitive in its message that the God of Israel is known as the true and living God in contrast to idols, and this is evident on the basis that the true God knows and declares the future before it occurs.

Cantelmo is wrong. The test is not one of knowledge, but of power. Isaiah is not about a trivia contest (“My God knows more than your god”). Isaiah is a power contest (“Let’s say what we are going to do before we do it to prove that we are powerful, and stop after-the-fact claims of power acts”). This is likewise poor evidence of future omniscience of all events. God knows what will happen because God makes it happen. This is not applicable to everything that happens, but just what God wants to do.

understanding isaiah 41

More can be said about Cantelmo’s prooftexts and further comments. But this will have to suffice for the time being. Cantelmo doesn’t treat Open Theism is a generous fashion. Cantelmo rejects reading comprehension standards when approaching the Bible. Cantelmo’s criticism are unfounded and do not stand up to scrutiny. Someone in good faith should see Cantelmo’s article for what it is: a standing testament to uncritical thinking.

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