Deuteronomy 29:29 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Deu 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

This verse is often used for transcendence, often as a way to claim God has two wills in opposition to each-other. Michael S. Horton writes:

The second corollary is the “hidden-revealed” distinction. “Truly, you are a God who hides yourself . . .” (Isa. 45:15, ESV). We are reminded in Deuteronomy, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29, ESV). God has his own independent intra-Trinitarian life apart from the creation, and this life is hidden from view and unknowable to creatures. Yet God has condescended not only to create and enter into a personal relationship with creatures, but to reveal his character insofar as it pleases him and benefits us. It does not benefit us to know the secret essence of God or to probe the hiddenness of his Trinitarian life, but it does benefit us to know that God the Creator is also our Redeemer in Jesus Christ.

Piper, John; Taylor, Justin; Helseth, Paul Kjoss. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (p. 207). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

To Horton, this verse is about God’s private life, but contextually this verse is found in the midst of punishment texts. Timothy Mcmahon writes (in a private conversation):

As for the meaning of the verse, most Christians take this as addressing theological truths (God reveals some truths and conceals others). But the rabbis believe that this verse, as it concludes the section on blessings and curses, refers to overt and private sins. It is Israel’s collective responsibility to punish overt violations of the Torah, but God will punish sins committed in private. Thus, God will hold Israel collectively responsible for public sins that go unpunished, but the nation collectively will not be held responsible for sins committed without the community’s knowledge. All of this is to enable Israel to “perform all the matters of this Torah” without fear of being held liable for what they don’t know.

This understanding would fit the context much better. Isaiah is to be punished. The secret sins will be punished by God. The public sins are to be punished by Israel.

Furthermore, the use of this verse to prop up contradictory theology fails for other reasons. The use of the verse in this manner does not tell us Calvinism is right and everyone else is wrong. Instead, the verse show prompt individuals to consentrate on what is revealed. <a href="

“>Ben (under username kangaroodort) writes:

Calvinists often appeal to Deut. 29:29 when caught in a theological dilemma. Ask a Calvinist how God can exhaustively determine all things and yet not be the author of sin and you might get an appeal to mystery and a quick reference to Deut. 29:29. Ask a Calvinist how God’s unconditional election doesn’t make His choice of some over others for salvation arbitrary and you will likely get more of the same. Yes, Calvinists love Deut 29:29 as it provides such a convenient theological escape hatch when they are called on to explain aspects of their doctrinal system which appear to be hopelessly contradictory. But have they carefully thought about the teaching of Deut. 29:29 and the problem it poses for their peculiar hermeneutic?

Doesn’t the passage teach us that the “secret things” belong to the Lord? Doesn’t this suggest that the secret things do not belong to us? If they do not belong to us then doesn’t that suggest that we should certainly not attempt to build our entire theology on those things which are “secret?” But isn’t that exactly what Calvinism does? Isn’t their entire theological system built on the foundation of eternal “secret decrees” which are nowhere to be found in the pages of Scripture?

It seems to me that Calvinists have put the “secret things” that do not belong to them before the “things revealed.” This is exactly the opposite of the message of Deut. 29:29…

Calvinists, of course, believe that they have gained insight into these secret eternal decrees by what the Bible reveals in passages which discuss depravity, election, and predestination. The obvious problem is that their understanding of these passages leads them to embrace a theology that makes “secret decrees” and “hidden” contrary intentions lurk behind so much that God has revealed (as in Jer. 13:15-17 above). Wouldn’t it be wise for them to carefully re-evaluate whether the secret should determine the revealed or whether the revealed should determine and control their theology? If we take the Lord’s words in Deut. 29:29 seriously the answer should be obvious. But perhaps there is some “secret” meaning hidden behind that passage as well. If that is the case we will need to wait until Calvinists reveal the secret to us, for it would seem that the “secret things” belong not only to “the LORD our God”, but to Calvinists as well.

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