Now I Know

Answered Questions – Explaining Known Answer Questions to Slick

By Christopher Fisher

Matt Slick writes:

If, as the Open Theist wants to assert that God does not know all future events because He says, for example, to Abraham, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me,” (Gen. 22:12), then can we also not assert that since God asks, “Adam, where are you?”, that God is not in all places since if God was in all places, He would know exactly where Adam was? Or if God rests, that does it mean that God is not all powerful? Of course not.

Matt Slick uses a rhetorical question to try to explain how a Known Answer Question question is related to a not-question statement. Slick even answers his own rhetorical question (and answers incorrectly!). Does Slick understand how rhetorical questions work?

A rhetorical question is designed to help the audience think about an issue and lead them into a correct answer. Like a rhetorical question, a Known Answer Question is a question designed to probe if the audience will give the correct response. They are both devices for audience interaction. In the case of Genesis 22:12, God could have been asking a Known Answer Question by saying “Adam, where are you?”. God could have been trying to get Adam to self-identify to God and to show some repentance. Notice that this all assumes the future is not set. God wants Adam to respond correctly and is attempting to guide him to a conclusion. The “parallel” incident in Exodus is not a Known Answer Question question, much less a question. For Slick to compare one to the other is incomprehensible because why would anyone assume a declarative statement would operate like a known answer question? Is this desperation on the part of Slick to explain away the clear text of Exodus?

Secondly, although the question in Genesis could be a Known Answer Question, that is a conclusion brought into the story only by presupposing omniscience and omnipresence, which are not elements in the story (or previous and later stories in Genesis). The author or authors of Genesis have long been thought by critical scholarship to have no concept of these Negative Attributes. This is just another assumption Slick imports onto the text without textual basis.

Slick’s second rhetorical question also is easily answered without resorting to what Slick assumes is the only response:

Or if God rests, that does it mean that God is not all powerful?

I rest all the time even though I have plenty of energy. Resting is an action that anyone can do at any time. What reason does Slick have to think God didn’t rest?

Fretheim on Now I Know

From The New Interpreter’s Bible: Genesis to Leviticus:

Brueggemann notes correctly that this test “is not a game with God; God genuinely does not know…. The flow of the narrative accomplishes something in the awareness of God. He did not know. Now he knows” (Brueggeman, Genesis, 187). The test is as real for God as it is for Abraham.

The test is not designed to teach Abraham something—that he is too attached to Isaac, or that Isaac is “pure gift,” or that he must learn to cling to God rather than to the content of the promise. Experience always teaches, of course, and Abraham certainly learns. But nowhere does the text say that he now trusts more in God or has learned a lesson of some sort. Rather, the test confirms a fact: Abraham trusts deeply that God has his best interests at heart so that he will follow where God’s command leads (a point repeated in vv. 12 and 16). The only one said to learn anything from the test is God: “Now I know” (v. 12). God does not teach; rather, God learns. For the sake of the future, God needs to know about Abraham’s trust.

While God knew what was likely to happen, God does not have absolute certainty as to how Abraham would respond. God has in view the larger divine purpose, not just divine curiosity or an internal divine need. The story addresses a future that encompasses all the families of the earth: Is Abraham the faithful one who can carry that purpose along? Or does God need to take some other course of action, perhaps even look for another?

Is the promise of God thereby made conditional? In some sense, yes (see. vv. 16-18). Fidelity was not optional. God could not have used a disloyal Abraham for the purposes God intends.