Negative Theology – Omniscience

Reknew on Active v Passive Knowledge

From How People Misunderstand Open Theism

I’m always puzzled as to why many defenders of the classical theism spin the debate with open theists as a disagreement over the perfection of God’s knowledge. For example, they publish books with titles like How Much Does God Know? (Steven Roy) and What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? (Millard Erickson). Since open theists believe God always knows everything, why do they continue to argue as if we don’t?

Part of the explanation, of course, may be simple propaganda. My sense is that, while spinning the debate as about God’s knowledge rather than the nature of reality certainly is advantageous for the purpose of propaganda, the critics who argue this way also seem to sincerely believe what they’re saying. How can this be?

While researching some ancient philosophers who influenced theologians like Augustine and Boethius, I uncovered something that may help explain this curious phenomenon. Let me briefly explain.

First, Plato argued that we see not by light entering our eyes (as we now know is the case) but by light proceeding out of our eyes (Timaeus 45b). For Plato, seeing is an active, not a passive, process. Since knowledge was considered to be a kind of seeing, Plato also construed knowing as acting on something rather than being acted upon (Sophist 248-49). I’ve discovered that this mistaken view of seeing and knowing is picked up and defended by a host of Hellenistic philosophers.

Second, several Neoplatonistic philosophers (Iamblichus, Proclus and Ammonius) used this theory of eyesight and knowing to explain how the gods can foreknow future free actions. They argued that the nature of divine knowledge is determined not by what is known but by the nature of the knower. Since they assumed the gods were absolutely unchanging, they concluded that the gods knew things in an absolutely unchanging manner, despite the fact that the reality the gods know is in fact perpetually changing. This allowed them to affirm that the future partly consisted of indefinite (aoristos) truths (viz. open possibilities) while nevertheless insisting that the gods knew the future in an exhaustively definite, unchanging way.

Bavinck on Omniscience

Knowledge In addition God is conscious of and knows all that exists outside his being. Scripture nowhere even hints that anything could be unknown to him. True, the manner in which he obtains knowledge is sometimes stated in striking anthropomorphic language (Gen. 3: 9ff.; 11: 5; 18: 21; etc.), but he nevertheless knows everything. The notion that something should be unknown to him is dismissed as absurd. Would he who plants the ear not hear, and would he who forms the eye not see? (Ps. 94: 9). Over and over mention is made of his wisdom, might, counsel, understanding, and knowledge: תּבוּנָה, עֵצָה, גְּבוּרה, חָכְמָה, γνωσις, σοϕια (Job 12: 13; 28: 12– 27; Prov. 8: 12ff.; Ps. 147: 5; Rom. 11: 33; 16: 27; Eph. 3: 10; etc.). All creatures fall within the compass of his knowledge. It extends to everything and is therefore omniscience in the strict sense. His eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth (2 Chron. 16: 9). Before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to his eyes (Heb. 4: 13). The most minor and insignificant details (Matt. 6: 8, 32; 10: 30); the most deeply concealed things: the human heart and mind (Jer. 11: 20; 17: 9– 10; 20: 12; Ps. 7: 10; 1 Kings 8: 39; Luke 16: 15; Acts 1: 24; Rom. 8: 27); thoughts and reflections (Ps. 139: 2; Ezek. 11: 5; 1 Cor. 3: 20; 1 Thess. 2: 4; Rev. 2: 23); human origin, nature, and all human action (Ps. 139); night and darkness (Ps. 139: 11– 12); hell and perdition (Prov. 15: 11); wickedness and sin (Ps. 69: 5; Jer. 16: 17; 18: 23; 32: 19); the conditional (1 Sam. 23: 10– 13; 2 Sam. 12: 8; 2 Kings 13: 19; Ps. 81: 14– 15; Jer. 26: 2– 3; 38: 17– 20; Ezek. 3: 6; Matt. 11: 21); and the things of the future (Isa. 41: 22f.; 42: 9; 43: 9– 12; 44: 7; 46: 10), particularly the end of a person’s life (Ps. 31: 16; 39: 6; 139: 6, 16; Job 14: 5; Acts 17: 26; etc.)— all are known to God. He knows everything (1 John 3: 20). This knowledge is not a posteriori, obtained by observation, but a priori, present from eternity (1 Cor. 2: 7; Rom. 8: 29; Eph. 1: 4– 5; 2 Tim. 1: 9). His knowledge is not susceptible of increase (Isa. 40: 13f.; Rom. 11: 34); it is certain and specific (Ps. 139: 1– 3; Heb. 4: 13), so that God’s revelations are all true (John 8: 26; 17: 17; Titus 1: 2). All his works make known to us his wisdom (Ps. 104: 24; 136: 5; Eph. 3: 10; Rom. 11: 33) and prompt us to worship and adore him (Ps. 139: 17ff.; Isa. 40: 28; John 11: 7ff.; Rom. 11: 33; 1 Cor. 2: 11).

Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics : Volume 2: God and Creation (p. 166). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.