Scripture and Open Theism
Edgar R. Lee wrote The “Openness of God” From a Pentecostal Perspective. 1
If all the details of these texts were taken literally—without consideration of the larger biblical context—they certainly would suggest that God does not know what human beings will do until they do it. Further, they would suggest that God not only responds personally and dynamically to people but also regularly changes His plans when they do not act as He hopes.
This leaves open whether or not God changes ALL plans based on what ALL people do. It might be argued that, regardless of what people do, some of God’s plans will happen, while others may be contingent on people’s actions.
The above claims a level of ignorance for God that is beyond the state of ignorance of even many humans. Many people, for example, can and do foreknow what other people will do; they know the character, habits, motivations, needs, etc. of others, which give much information about future actions.
Lee says (bold emphasis mine): “… [future] decisions and actions do not yet exist and cannot be known or controlled—even by God.”
Many open theists disagree, and assert that God can control what people do – if God wants to and so chooses. They allow God sovereignty over this decision to control people or not, instead of deciding it for him.
For example, see the scripture about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart; this happened only after Pharaoh himself hardened his own heart multiple times.
Open Theists believe God has the power to force people to do things; even people have some power in this area. We see people raising their hands and obeying police officers on TV, we read and hear of people being manipulated in many ways in literature, etc. And this is not to mention the power of God to do much more than humans! So if people can influence other people to do things, God can do the same, but much more so.
Lee also says: “openness theologians lack adequate scriptural grounding”
We will look at scriptures given in this article, later below, and see the Open View is grounded in scripture far more strongly than the opposing view.
The article concludes with this:
Edgar R. Lee, S.T.D., is former vice president for academic affairs, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri, and chairman of the Commission on Doctrinal Purity for the Assemblies of God.
I will below examine the scriptures used by Lee to support the non-Open view.
Scriptures Against the Open View Examined
•Psalm 139:4: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”
This can easily be interpreted as due to God’s reading a person’s heart. Before speaking, we might reasonably assume the mind knows what is going to be said. If so, then mind-reading by God in the present could explain this scripture, with no requirement of knowing the future. Then this verse would not prove knowledge of the future by God. 2
•Psalm 139:15: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth.”
This again refers to God’s knowing what was happening in the past, while it was happening; when the writer was being made, God knew what was happening. This says nothing about knowing the future, and I am a bit puzzled why it is even on this list.
•Psalm 147:5: “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”
Every Open Theist will tell you God has even more understanding than Einstein, but understanding is not the same as knowing all future decisions and events. Even if this verse explicitly stated foreknowledge instead of understanding, we would need to consider that this could be a synecdoche, as in Gen 6:17 below:
And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. Gen 6:17
However, we know that all flesh that breathed was not destroyed – not Noah, not his family, not the breathing animals taken on the ark. This is a figure of speech in which the word “all” refers to a part that is a large part, known as synecdoche.
•Proverbs 15:3: “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”
If anything, this says God learns the way we do – with eyes, looking and seeing in the present. It again says nothing about future knowledge, or knowledge of the future.
•Isaiah 41:23: “. . . tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods.” [God’s challenge to pagan gods to do what He can do.]
Here, God is foretelling what He will do; this is so people will know He did it. If I claim I have the ability to influence the weather, one might be skeptical. If I were to point to the rainfall on a previous day as something I caused, this would not be very convincing. But, if a month before a rainstorm I am able to explain exactly what will happen, when the rain will start and how much rainfall will occur, then this begins to be fairly good evidence that I have some of control over the weather. Likewise with God.
This is not about knowing the future decisions of people; rather, this is about people believing in the power of God. This is power, not knowledge, that is being dealt with in this passage. Lee’s bracketed comment even agrees with this as being about power: “[… what He can do.]”
•Isaiah 46:10: “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”
Even people, to some extent, do what they please. This says God will do what God pleases. This just says God knows what God plans to do; not what each sinner plans to do.
•Ezekiel 11:5: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and he told me to say: ‘This is what the Lord says: That is what you are saying, O house of Israel, but I know what is going through your mind.’ ”
Again, this is about the present – what Israel is thinking, the word “is” being present tense. This says nothing about the future.
•Acts 15:18: “that have been known for ages.”
The KJV translation of this verse is below:
Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Acts 15:18
Again, this says God knows what He himself plans to do, and what He has done – his works. Even people know what they have done, and what they will do, as, for example, that they will go to church on Sunday, will go to specific places for vacation, etc. without needing foreknowledge of eternity. Thus, this does not prove foreknowledge of eternity for God.
•Romans 8:29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
God’s knowing happens when? After a person gets saved, or in eternity past? See Gal 4:8-9…
“4:8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. 9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?”
“Now, after that ye are known of God” implies they were not known of God before. Thus this verse implies God did not know them from all eternity past, but rather, knew them when they got saved.
•Hebrews 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, this says God can see – present tense – all of creation. This says nothing about future events that have not yet happened.
Does “all creation” exist in the present? I think we must say yes. When God completed creation in Genesis, did “all creation” exist?
There is no requirement of extending “all creation” to the future. To extrapolate “all creation” to include the future seems to be going beyond what the scripture actually says, which we are warned not to do.
This also refers to God’s eyes providing information to God, which implies present tense and certainly does not imply knowledge of all future events; if anything it implies learning (via eyes), rather than total knowledge, about even the present.
Scriptures For the Open View Examined
Below are some scriptures from the article that are described as given to support Open Theism.
•Genesis 6:6: “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”
•Numbers 14:11: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me?’ ”
•1 Samuel 15:11: “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me.”
•Isaiah 5:4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”
•Isaiah 38:1,5: “This is what the Lord says [to Hezekiah]: ‘. . . you are going to die; you will not recover.’ Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.” ’ ”
•Jeremiah 3:7: “I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not.”
•Jeremiah 19:5: “They have built the high places of Baal . . . something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”
•Jonah 3:10: “When God saw what they [the Ninevites] did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”
•Matthew 26:39: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
•2 Peter 3:12: “as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”
The above indicate, hint or imply that God repents, changes his mind, regrets. Lee admits such:
If all the details of these texts were taken literally—without consideration of the larger biblical context—they certainly would suggest that God does not know what human beings will do until they do it.
Then Lee gives the scriptures in support of his view that we already have examined above and have seen fail to support the non-Open view.
To consider “the larger biblical context” in both testaments, we see that God can change his mind 3, does change his mind 4, and does even change what he has prophesied (for Nineveh 5 and Hezekiah 6, for example).
Yale professor Christine Hayes, in the video titled Christine Hayes on Platonic influence on modern notions of God, 7 tells us that “the larger biblical context” tells us the opposite about God than what the article by Lee claims. She claims the view espoused by this article is not found in the Bible. The closed view is certainly not found in the scriptures presented in the article ostensibly for the purpose of refuting Open Theism, at which they have been shown (above) to fail.
I see, not an absence of scriptural grounding in Open Theology, but an absence of scripture support for the opposing view – at least such absence in such provided scriptures from this article, as shown above. It can be argued that the above refuted scriptures are not all of the Bible, but they were chosen specifically for the express purpose of refuting Open Theism. It would seem strange to ignore the best scriptural evidence for such a purpose in such an article.
The scriptures supporting Open Theism, given in the article, seem to stand as the author noted, and do stand, as is seen by the failure of 100% of scriptures given to refute them.
2. In fact, with enough improvement in sophistication of electroencephalographic (brain wave reading) technology, it is not fantasy to imagine that man himself might one day be able to know what a person is going to say before that person says it – if the person is being examined with electroencephalography.
This is knowing the present – the idea in the mind – not the future. If it is argued that this is still knowing the future, due to knowing what the mind, in the present, is prepared to cause the tongue to say before the tongue says it, then yes; this is knowledge of the future formed by logically extrapolating from knowledge about the present, which obviously is also possessed by man, and which Open Theists would readily ascribe to God. However, this is not the kind of knowledge of the future claimed for God by those opposing the Open view.
3. Ezekiel 18:21-28, Jeremiah 18:7-10
4. 1 Sam 9:17, 1 Sam 15:23
5. Jonah 3:10
6. 2 Kings 20:1, 2 Kings 20:4-6