Apologetics Thursday – Urbach as Used by Calvinists


In a book against Open Theism, a chapter on the Jewish rejection of Open Theism states:

Likewise, Efraim Urbach declares, “The Gemara deduces . . . that the deeds of man that are performed with understanding and in conformity with the laws of ethics and the precepts of religion can assure the desired results only if they accord with the designs of Providence, ‘which knoweth what the future holds.’”45

Piper, John; Taylor, Justin; Helseth, Paul Kjoss. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (p. 32). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

The Urbach reference is cited as “45 Urbach, The Sages, 266.” Urbach’s own views of ancent Israelite conceptions of omniscience seem to mirror that of the scholar Pettazzoni:

Pettazzoni rightly stresses that actually the concept of the Lord as Judge, as a zealous and beneficent God, implies omniscience. The doctrine, which is found among so many peoples, came into being among the Israelites with a nuance specific to their conception of God (p. 108 and p. 437); see above, pp. 52ff.

Urbach, Ephraim E.. The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Kindle Locations 21214-21217). . Kindle Edition.


Pettazzoni describes Yahweh’s omniscience not in the classical way, in which God knows all past, present, and future. But instead, the omniscience is an active observance of the Earth:

Man is therefore the principal object of divine omniscience; man in all his doings and thoughts, in all his conduct. This omniscience is not merely passive; on the knowledge follows a sanction, especially one of a punitive kind.

To Pettazzoni, the use of omniscience within Israelite religion was divine justice. God does not observe for observation sake, but observes to judge. Yahweh is particularly focused on mankind. Here is Pettazoni’s summation of Israelite omniscience:

The omniscience of Yahweh, if we consider it, not theologically, as an abstract attribute of Deity,. i.e., as absolute omniscience, but historically in its concrete, though imperfect formulation as relative omniscience, is so organically connected with the particular and well-defined ideological complex which makes up the figure of Yahweh himself that it is difficult to suppose it has a different origin. In the conscience and the history of Israel, Yahweh is the wakeful, avenging, ”jealous” God, the wrathful God who judges and punishes. Now a God who punishes is a God who knows. Yahweh’s omniscience has for its principal object the doings of mankind, and his punitive sanction is often exercised by means of weather-phenomena. Universal vision and knowledge and punitive sanction are complementary aspects of the figure of Yahweh, and another complementary aspect is his abode in the sky ( cf. the Tower of Babel, Gen. xi. 1 /qq., Jacob’s ladder, Gen. xxviii. I2 sqq., also I Kings xxii. xg, etc.). It is from the sky that he sees what men are doing, and from the sky that he sends his chastisement.

Urbach, although quoted by the Calvinists against Open Theists, seems to take the more Open Theistic Pettazzoni position when detailing the beliefs of ancient Israel.

R. Joshua b. Hananiah

In regards to the R. Joshua quote. The source is from Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 90a (published 400-500AD, and recounting events from around 100AD).

The Romans asked R. Joshua b. Hananiah: Whence do we know that the the Holy One, blessed he He, will resurrect the dead and knows the future? — He replied: Both are deduced from this verse, And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, and rise up again; and this people shall go a whoring etc.25 But perhaps ‘will rise up, and go a whoring’? — He replied: Then at least you have the answer to half, viz., that He knows the future. It has been stated likewise: R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Yohai: Whence do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, will resurrect the dead and knoweth the future? From, Behold, Thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, and … rise again etc.

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