Gen 1:1 Timelessness prooftext
Gen 6:5-7 Repentance prooftext
Gen 15:13 Omniscience prooftext
Gen 50:20 Sovereignty prooftext
Exo 3:18 Omniscience Counter-prooftext
Num 23:19 Immutability prooftext””
Jdg 10:13-16 Repentance prooftext
1Sa 15:29 Immutability prooftext
2Sa 14:20 Omniscience counter-prooftext
1Ki 22:52 Sovereignty counter-prooftext
Job 2:10 Infinite prooftext
Job 11:7 Infinite prooftext
Psa 33:11 Sovereignty prooftext
Psa 51:5 Original Sin prooftext
Pro 19:21 Sovereignty prooftext
Isa 31:2 Immutability prooftext
Isa 40:28 Omniscience prooftext
Isa 46:10 Omniscience prooftext
Isa 55:8 Blanket prooftext
Jer 1:5 Omniscience prooftext
Jer 29:11 Sovereignty prooftext
Eze 4:12-15 Repentance prooftext
Eze 26:3 Failed Prophecy counter-prooftext
Eze 33:8-9 Proportional Culpability prooftext
Dan 2:21 Sovereignty prooftext
Amo 3:6-7 Sovereignty counter-prooftext
Amo 7:1-9 Repentance prooftext
Mal 3:6 Immutability prooftext
Mat 22:32 Timelessness counter-prooftext
Mar 13:32 Omniscience counter-prooftext
Luk 1:3 Omniscience counter-prooftext
Act 13:48 Predestination prooftext
Act 15:18 Omniscience prooftext
Act 26:19 Sovereignty counter-prooftext
2Ti 1:9 Omniscience prooftext
Heb 6:17 Immutability prooftext
Jas 1:17 Immutability prooftext
Book of Sirach Omniscience and Sovereignty prooftexts
Gen 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1 is often used to support the claim that God created time, and thus God is outside of time and sees all the future in one instant. Genesis 1:1 is said to be God creating all that exists. It is claimed that time is something that exists, thus time is created in Genesis 1:1.
The striking problems with this position should be obvious.
First, this verse says nothing about “time” being created. That has to be assumed onto the verse. The assumption is counter to normal Jewish thought throughout the Bible that does not see “time” as a thing to be manipulated. There is no slowing of time, reversing time, time travel, or any similar concepts in the Bible. Time is not a “thing” in normal Jewish thought.
Second, the verse just talks about the “heavens and the earth”. Perfectly rational people would be able to claim that this verse is just about creating the physical world. This does not event have to be about creating a spiritual “heaven”, as birds fly in the “heaven” in verse 20. The assumption that “time” is created is unwarranted.
Third, Biblical scholarship such (as Dr. Michael Heiser (known as “liberal”), Dr. James Allman (known as “conservative”), and Dr. Joel M. Hoffman (a secular scholar)) seems to be fairly united that Genesis 1:1 is not an “initial event”. Instead this is a summary of what is happening in the chapter, or, in conjunction with the following verses, is setting up the preconditions before God starts creating. This is most evident in the JPS:
When God began to create the heaven and the earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water – God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
One can still see this in modern translations:
Gen 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Gen 1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Compare to Genesis 2:4:
Gen 2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
Gen 2:5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground,
Gen 2:6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—
Gen 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Notice the starting sentence is prepping the story. It informs the reader about what the story is depicting and then gives starting conditions. In Genesis 1:1, water and a formless earth exist. In Genesis 2:4, no plants exist and God uses rain to create vegetation. This is before creating man.
In short, Genesis 1:1 has nothing to do with metaphysics. God is not creating “time”. That assumption is a fairly presumptuous one, at best.
Gen 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Gen 6:6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Gen 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them”.
Genesis 6 follows the pattern of repentance found elsewhere in the Bible. Something is done by God, there is a change in disposition by God, and then that original thing is undone by God. In Genesis 6, this is God’s own past acts (God is not so much undoing man’s wickedness as he is undoing his past creation). The text, on face value, has God repenting of His own actions. God’s creation has failed and God blames His own actions. The text reads as if God is taking responsibility for the actions of His creation. God is blaming Himself.
The chapter depicts God as seeing that mankind has become evil. New information is flowing to God which prompts God to regret (repent) in making man. This regret is reinforced though a reiteration and use of a synonym (“grieved him to his heart”). The focus of the text changes from the narrator to God’s own words about Himself. God repeats what the narrator has already said. God declares His own regret in making mankind.
God’s solution is to undo all of creation. Although the narrator declares God’s regret in making man, God resolves to destroy everything on Earth including animals and birds. God is utterly undoing all that He has created. This helps the reader understand that God’s regret is really about undoing creation. If this were just about the guilty, then the entire world would not need to be punished.
The situation is unequivocal. God’s learning about mankind drives the plot. God’s repentance adds motivation for the resulting actions. God’s actions are geared toward the object of His regret (His own past acts). Not only the narrator, but God describes the repentance. If there was ever a passage of the Bible describing God changing His mind, it is this passage.
Gen 15:13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.
Gen 15:13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.
Genesis 15:13 reads as if God is foretelling the future. God tells Abraham both that his offspring will be oppressed and adds a timeframe. If this is just a general foretelling of the future, it serves as evidence that God has omniscience of future events (especially if firm time frames are used).
In Genesis 15:13, God explains to Abram (Abraham) that his decedents will be “afflicted” for 400 years. The context of this is Abraham wondering how God will prove to him that he will have decedents as numerous as the stars. In the text, God has Abraham gather animals for sacrifice, and then Abraham passes out and goes into this vision.
This vision is possibly meant to calm Abraham’s fears that his lineage would be cut off. God’s assures that both Abraham’s decedents will be alive for 400 years and under foreign rule for this same timeframe. These facts seem to be presented to alleviate Abraham’s fears.
God could be offering Egypt (or another foreign nation) as protection of Abraham’s family, as Abraham’s decedents multiply. That might be the purpose of this prophecy. This is in fact what happens, as Israel multiplies at so fast a rate that a future Pharaoh attempts to cull their newborns.
If this is the case, then the foretelling of the future is actually a prophecy that God fulfills in order to bread Israel into a mighty nation. God would be able to do this through His own power. If true, Genesis 15:13 is God promising protection rather than just telling visions of future events.
A few items of note. First, Israel is never “afflicted” for 400 years. The oppression described in Exodus 1 only starts within the generation in which Moses is born. Israel, then, only suffers about 80 years of slavery and oppression. Second, Exodus puts the timeframe in Egypt at 430 years (Exo 12:40). Each of these facts mean that the “prophecy” in Genesis 15:13 only came true in a loose sense. It is not as much a vision of the future, as a general prediction of the future. This prophecy is “fulfilled” in the sense that it generally was accurate, but a vision of the future would be expected to better predict the details.
This being the case, Genesis 15:13 is not good evidence that God has omniscience of future events.
Gen 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
This verse is often used by those who want to claim that God makes all evil happen in order to fit into His perfect plans. Evil, it is said, is caused by God for a greater purpose, and exists concurrently with man’s will (a belief called compatibilism).
Here is Calvinist James White:
Joseph’s brothers meant their actions for evil. But in direct parallel, God meant the same action for good. Due to the intention of the hearts of Joseph’s brothers, the action in the human realm was evil. The very same action as part of God’s eternal decree was meant for good, for by it God brought about His purpose and plan. One action, two intentions, compatible in all things. Joseph’s brothers were accountable for their intentions; God is to be glorified for His.
This verse just does not read that way despite those who want to make the concepts mechanical. The verse has nothing to do with eternal decrees, or even God causing Joseph to be sold into slavery. It easily can be ready that Joseph’s brothers purposed to do evil, but God purposed to do good. There is nothing in the reading that suggests God is not repurposing Joseph’s brother’s evil acts. In fact, a future Biblical commenter reads the same passage as God rescuing Joseph from his brothers:
Acts 7:9 And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him
Acts 7:10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.
This is a perfectly acceptable reading of Genesis 50:20, that stands in opposition to God decreeing the evil to happen.
In any case, it is a wild leap of logic to point to one instance of an evil event being used for good, then to posit that all evil events are used for good, God has decreed them all since time eternal, and that God endorses the evil events.
Exo 3:18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’
The context of Exodus 3:18 is Moses’ conversation with God. God tasks Moses with going to the King of Egypt and securing the freedom of Israel from him. God says that Moses should first go to the elders of Israel and those elders would support Moses’ mission. This never happens; the elders reject Moses. Neither do the elders go to pharaoh to ask for release.
Moses himself does not see this statement by God as a prediction of the future (or clairvoyance of future acts). Instead, Moses begins questioning God, skeptical that the elders will listen to him. God responds by giving Moses a series of miracles by which he can convince Israel. Ultimately, none of these work, and Moses receives only resistance from the elders of Israel while he tries to liberate Israel.
God is predicting actions, not foreseeing events. Those actions are free and do not turn out as predicted. Neither Moses nor God treat the future as set and foreknown. Instead, they see God’s predictions as not concrete and not necessarily accurate. God never responds to Moses’ skepticism with an account of divine foreknowledge. God responds with a cascading contingency plan in case the people are not convinced. God treats the future as no settled, and His own predictions as possible scenarios.
Num 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Numbers 23:19 is often quoted as a prooftext for immutability. This quote is said to show that God cannot change in any way, shape, or form. But, contextually, there is likely a better understanding of this verse.
In context, God has intercepted a false prophet, Balaam, from declaring that Yahweh was against Israel. God threatens Balaam into proclaiming blessing, not curses for Israel. Balaam complies, and informs the enemies of Israel that “God is not a man that He should lie or a son of man that He should change His mind.” Contextually, the point is that God has declared blessings for Israel and will not just change His mind. God has spoken, and God will fulfill.
The context is God’s promises towards Israel. God is not fickle in His promises. The context says nothing about God’s essence, being eternally immutable in every respect, or even being impassible. Contextually, at best, this is a prooftext for God never changing His mind. More likely, however, this is a generality (as is common in human communication) and means simply that God is not arbitrary. God does change His blessings into curses throughout the Bible, but it is for reasons such as Israel rebelling against God. No such third party factors are at play in the Numbers verse.
A false prophet is speaking these words, granted under duress from God. Even if the speaker was arguing for pure immutability, the words need to be taken with a grain of salt. Surely, the reoccurring words from God about Himself describing God’s own change of mind have more weight than a false prophet. This text is a poor prooftext for immutability.
Jdg 10:13 Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more.
Jdg 10:14 Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”
Jdg 10:15 And the people of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.”
Jdg 10:16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.
Judges 10:16 is possibly better translated by the NJKV:
Jdg 10:16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.
In Judges 10, God becomes so frustrated with Israel that He proclaims that He “will save you no more”. But the people repent in verse 15. They show humility and accept punishment, only asking that God once again save them. In verse 16, the people forsake false gods, and then the text reads that God’s “soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.” God changes His mind. Although He had proclaimed against Israel to no longer save them, God reverses that position when He witnesses their repentance.
It is important to note that Israel has before been given leniency due to their suffering. In verse 14, God is repenting of continually showing leniency due to suffering. But God reverses His declaration after direct observation of their suffering, yet again. The idea being communicated is both God’s overwhelming frustration with Israel’s cycle of sin, their short-lived repentance, and God’s wasted efforts in salvation. This is coupled with God’s emotional attachment to His people, while seeing them suffer. This passage is about God’s conflicting internal emotions, and God’s commitment to Israel instead of His own declarations.
None of this would make sense in a world where God is impassible, or outside of time, or has a single “perfect” will. This is just one of many examples in which God revokes His declared intentions. In this instance, the text represents God as knowing the people would beg to be saved and would repent. God’s own repentance is not based on intellectual knowledge, but new emotional experiences that sway God against His prior judgement. God’s change is not based on calculated logic, but on passions that the people evoke within God.
1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”
1 Samuel 15:29 is often used to advocate the idea that God is immutable, not only immutable in His word but also in His very essence. Here is the context of the entire chapter:
King Saul has just violated God’s command not to take spoils of war.
1Sa 15:9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
1Sa 15:10 Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,
1Sa 15:11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
This leads God directly to “repenting” of having made Saul the king of Israel. Samuel hears God’s message and the next morning confronts Saul on his spoils of war. Samuel explains to Saul that “Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” Saul immediately repents, and asks for mercy (for his kingdom to not be taken away):
1Sa 15:24 And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.
1Sa 15:25 Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.
Notice Saul’s deep repentance. Saul seeks pardon and wants to go worship God. But this is denied. Samuel says:
1Sa 15:28 And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.
1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.
The context of God not repenting is “repenting that He made Saul king.” When God says He will not repent, God is saying “I will not repent of repenting that I made Saul king (taking his kingdom away).” God is not making a general claim of immutability. God is making the claim that Saul cannot expect to convince God to give him back the kingdom. God has made up his mind.
The statement needs to be understood in context, and not carte blanche applied to everything. In the direct context, not God says says that He repents, but also the narrator. It is the same word used in verse 29. The text is not contradicting itself, and it is not suggesting to elevate the words of Samuel over the words of God and the narrator. Samuel is definitely not launching into a off the cuff sermon on advanced metaphysics to Saul. Reading comprehension does not support 1 Samuel 15:29 as a prooftext for immutability.
1Ki 22:52 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
In 1 Kings 22:52, Jeroboam is said to “make Israel sin”. If there was a passage similarly worded about God, it would be claimed that God controlled those actors in a supernatural sense to force their actions. A common example of this are the passages that describe God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. The Calvinist understanding is that God controls all things and forced Pharaoh’s heart to become hard.
But communication standards allow a better understanding. “Making” someone do something doesn’t necessarily mean coercive force. “Making” someone do something, as used in many passages describing Kings who made Israel sin, is rather about leadership and persuasion. The mechanism is that people freely choose to follow the direction of the king. The king does not even necessarily have to issue decrees or even command the people to do evil. The people might just choose to mimic what they see. The king’s behavior might just a re-enforcing bad inclinations of the people.
1 Kings 22:52 and similar verses teach the reader to exercise caution in the assumptions brought to texts in which God “makes” people do things.
2Sa 14:20 In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.”
An often ignored verse, 2 Samuel 14:20. In context, Joab wants to convince King David to forgive Absalom. He sends a woman to David in order to do the convincing. She begins her speech with flattery. King David, she says, knows “all things that are on earth”. Naturally, this should be taken in a hyperbolic sense.
But the phrase is interesting. Elsewhere, other kings are said to know everything. The idea likely being forwarded is that the king has wide-ranging power. Their access to information is above virtually anyone else.
The same phrase, if applied to God, would be taken as Platonic Omniscience by Negative Theologians. God knows all that can be known, instantly and inherently. But the phrase is instead applied to two creatures, David and the angel of God.
The angel of God could be Yahweh (there is precedence in the Bible for this), but this seems to be applied to creatures as well. King David, himself, is said to be an “angel of God” five chapters later:
2Sa 19:27 And he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king; but my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes.
That this type of omniscience, a knowledge of all things on Earth, would be applied to angels and man, shows the extent of hyperbolic phrases of this type in the Bible. It also is a clear example of this type of speech not being meant in a Platonic sense.
Job 2:10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job 2:10 is often used to claim that God controls all things. Calvinist John Piper writes:
From the smallest thing to the greatest, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure—God governs all for his wise, just, and good purposes… After losing his ten children, Job says, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Covered with boils, he says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
Piper, John; Taylor, Justin; Helseth, Paul Kjoss. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (p. 381). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
There are a few issues with this type of prooftexting. First, the Fallacy of Composition is at play. Piper is going from one statement about Job, the most righteous person on Earth whom God was showing special attention, and then exporting that statement to all things that ever happen. If I had a child, I might give him ice cream one day and revoke his video games the next. The child might rightly claim that “my father gives and my father takes away.” This is not meant to be exportable to all of humanity. A child who I do not show attention would be amiss to say the same thing.
Secondly, standalone phrases have various possible meanings. When modern insurance claims say that houses are destroyed due to “acts of God”, this is not a theological statement nor is anyone trying to attribute that event to God’s express will (although it could have meant that at some remote time in the past). The idiom could be one that because God is in charge of the universe and this event happened, then God is responsible by the nature of His position. It could also mean that God was being blamed for not intervening. There are many alternatives to making this text some sort of prooftext about God controlling all things, even within the life of Job. More context is needed to understand what this means.
The actual context is a gentleman’s wager between God and “the adversary” on if Job would follow God. God does not know if Job’s righteousness is due to his rewards or due to faith for its’ own sake. God sits on his throne and receives reports from angels. All this does not suggest the extreme control that a prooftext on micromanagement sovereignty would have us believe.
Job 11:7 “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
Job 11:7 is sometimes used to prooftext ideas of God’s infinite nature. Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology writes:
1. HIS ABSOLUTE PERFECTION. This is the infinity of the Divine Being considered in itself. It should not be understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of God… In this sense of the word the infinity of God is simply identical with the perfection of His Divine Being. Scripture proof for it is found in Job 11: 7-10; Ps. 145: 3; Matt. 5: 48.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 1207-1214). . Kindle Edition.
When quoting Job, the context is of vital concern. The story of Job is one in which three (or four) friends of Job confront Job and tell him their individual misconceptions about how the world operates. At the end of the book of Job, God condemns these friends (three explicitly, and one, perhaps, by implication) and commends Job:
Job 42:7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
If Job is being quoted, Job is likely (but not necessarily) correct. If any of Job’s friends are being quoted, those ideas need to be treated with skepticism. Surely, the quotes should not find their way into a Systematic Theology textbook as evidence for a particular theology. To find it as evidence of a theology is to find evidence that the author does not understand the context of his evidence. It is poor theology.
This particular comment is a comment by Zophar the Naamathite. This is someone God specifically condemns for wrong speech about Him. The prooftext is suspect, and is not to be used for theology (other than understanding what wrong theology might look like).
Complicating the issue, this verse is striking similar to other comments in the Bible by true believers of God. But it is doubtful that this verse is being used as defending concepts of Platonic infinite, boundless and incomprehensible perfection. Rather, these sorts of comments are usually contextual to the mindset of early peoples: that God is on another level than human beings. A high school soccer player might be said to not be able to even compete with a professional soccer player. The question is one of scope of power. One agent lacks the power and ability to compare to the other. This is evident by the immediate context which questions Job’s ability to understand the limits of the Earth, much less God. Job is a weak creature. God is too complex.
In any case, Zophar is not speaking about qualifying “all the communicable attributes of God”. This is a wild stretch. Using this fleeting phrase as a prooftext for concepts not defined until centuries later is not valid theology.
Psa 33:11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations.
This verse is often used as a prooftext for several Negative Theology positions. This is the primary prooftext of King James Only advocates to claim the KJV is the only inspired version of the Bible. The logic is that God promises to preserve His words. Other theologians will use this verse to claim that nothing can thwart God’s plans in any sense of the word.
But both of these positions seems to be stretching the text too far. In the context of this verse, the idea is that God will protect His people from their enemies. Foreign kings cannot thwart God. Generally it is true that God’s plans will not fail. If God resolves to protect someone, that person will be protected. In the context, the foreign kings are assumed to be working counter to God’s plans. So even in the context of God’s plans prevailing, there is an element of those who seek to undermine God.
It is beyond the context of this verse to stretch the meaning to cover times such as when Moses convinces God not to destroy Israel. Likewise, this verse is not about God repenting of what He said He would do to the Ninevetes after they repent. If God is protecting His people, others cannot thwart that will. This verse is just not about situations in which God desires someone to act one way, and they choose to act in an opposite manner. This verse is about power contests, not personal rejection.
Within the context of Psalms 33, God is said to watch men and then respond to what He learns:
Psa 33:15 He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.
That is how the author of Psalms 33 understood God’s knowledge. God sees. From what God sees God reacts. That is the context of Psalms 33.
Pro 19:21 There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand.
Although this verse is sometimes used to claim that God controls all things, this is just another general verse about man’s will not being able to thwart God’s will. For example, if someone attempted to escape God by running away, God might catch them and humble them (as in the case of Jonah). This verse is about great power, not about Negative Attributes such as “all power”. Notice the unfamiliarity in the writer with how a modern Calvinist might have phrased the concept of complete control of all things. Man is often planning events that are counter to God’s will. This verse is not a problem text for Open Theists, who do not deny God’s power to accomplish. If God really wants something to happen, who can stop Him?
Psa 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Psalms 51:1 is often used to defend doctrines such as Total Depravity or Original Sin. The claim is that King David’s statement is concerning the ontological nature of human beings; that all human beings are sinful from birth. But this is more likely not what King David is speaking about. Walter Brueggemann writes:
c) The statement of verse 5 can be readily misunderstood. It does not mean that sex is sinful, nor that this speaker has a perverted beginning, or that the mother is morally implicated. Rather the speaker asserts that he is utterly guilty, in principle, from the beginning. There never was a time when this speaker was not so burdened. I take this to be not a clinical statement, but an expression of theological candor as the speaker exposes himself to God’s righteousness. One may say that it is a piece of liturgical hyperbole, as is much of the Psalms. We do not need to take the statement ontologically as a ” doctrine of man . ” What is important is that in this moment of drastic confrontation, the speaker has no claim. There is indeed “no health in him.”
Brueggemann points out that the statement need not be more than hyperbole. This would be much like Job who says:
Job 31:18 …from my mother’s womb I guided the widow),
The speech is hyperbolic, meant to say that Job’s entire life is one characterized by helping the poor (Job is protesting his innocence). This is not about Job being sinless by nature. Likewise, King David’s statement is not about man’s utterly fallen nature. Psalm 51 is not even about anyone except King David himself. Instead, this is a submission to God’s judgment in the context of a Psalm exclusively about King David’s own sin and guilt.
Alternatively, it has been claimed by various Open Theists that King David is referencing the conditions of his conception in which his mother sinned to conceive him. But this is speculative in nature.
Isa 31:2 Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster, And will not call back His words, But will arise against the house of evildoers, And against the help of those who work iniquity.
This verse is used to claim that God cannot or will not revoke His own words or repent. But this meaning is divorcing the statement from context and misunderstanding how the phrase is being used. In context, the evil people of Israel are relying in Egypt. God is said to be bringing judgement against the evildoers, and will not recall that judgement. God is not going to recall His curses against an unrepentant nation in this instance (although there are counterexamples to this concept in the Bible). The context assumes the people continue to be evil and do not repent. Although it is not common, within the Bible there are instances in which God promises disaster, but repents upon seeing the people repent. Isaiah 31:2 is neither antithetical to God repenting or antithetical to Open Theism.
Isa 40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
Isaiah 40:28 is used in several ways by proponents of Classical Theism. The phrase “[God’s] understanding is unsearchable” is often used as a prooftext for omniscience. The phrase “[God] does not faint or grow weary” is used to trump other verses which describe God’s mental exhaustion at dealing with unrepentant Israel (e.g. Jer 15:6). This is not a prooftext for either use.
The context of Isaiah 40:28 has God imparting His regenerating power to those who follow Him. Those who reject God grow weary. Those who accept God never grow weary.
Isa 40:29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Isa 40:30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
Isa 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
The idea is about being tired from fatigue. This is about power and strength. This is not about mental stress due to trying interpersonal relationships with loved ones, as in Jeremiah 15:6. Isaiah 40:28 is a claim that no one person can overpower God. The verse it is used to counter is about God’s frustration with dealing with people. Both verses (Jer 15:6 and Isa 40:28) can be true in their contexts without one overriding another.
Likewise, “understanding is unsearchable” is not quite a prooftext for total omniscience of all future events. The words being used don’t even necessarily have anything to do with knowledge, but with ability. “Understanding” is contrasted to “knowledge” in various verses and tends to have more in common with “craftiness”, “cleverness”, and even “skillfulness”. Take Psalms 78:72, for example:
Psa 78:72 With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.
The same word is translated “skillful”. A translation dealing with “knowledge” might work in this verse, but might not communicate the full intent. In any case, one would be hard pressed to equate “unsearchable understanding” to with modern concepts of omniscience. Nothing in the context suggests that this is what the author intended. Absolutely nothing in the context suggest this needs to extended to complete omniscience of all future events.
Isa 46:9 Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me,
Isa 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’
In these verses, Isaiah makes an impassioned appeal to his reader to remember the great works of God. The context is that Isaiah wants his reader to consider the evidence and then be reassured in God. In Exodus, God declares that He will lead Israel out of Egypt and then does so. That is the test. God says He will do something and then completes it. God declares the end from the beginning. It is a far reach to extend the meaning of this verse past God’s specific power acts, ones which He declared before they happened. That is not the point. If no one knew about them before they happened, then people can claim them as acts of other gods or just random happenstance.
The very next verse reinforces this straightforward understanding:
Isa 46:11 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.
God declares it and then God does it. This is not about things that happen without being declared to people, even God’s own actions. This is about proofs of God’s existence and God’s power. This is absolutely not an appeal to Negative Theology, which would defeat the point the author is stressing.
Isa 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
Isaiah 55:8 is often used by those wishing to justify what they claim are God’s acts. Something tragic will happen. God will be said to have done this. And then if they are questioned about this, they will claim that “God’s ways are not our ways.” This is to say that God has some mysterious plan that He is working. But the context of Isaiah 55:8 point to an entirely different meanings:
Isa 55:7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Isa 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
The context is about God’s repentance. If the wicked repent, God will pardon. In this way, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways. While man might not pardon someone who has wronged them, God is open to forgiveness.
The point of Isaiah 55:8 is not that God has some secretive plan that no one can understand, but that God is less vindictive than man. The text is expressly about God telling us how He operates, so it is not some secret surprise. The text is one for clarity, not confusion.
Jer 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
This text is used to promote future omniscience of all events. Each Christian is said to be known before they are born. Pro-life campaigns quote Jeremiah 1:5 as a blanket idea that God knows all babies before they are born. This might be stretching the text too far. Note that this knowledge is never said to be eternal knowledge. The idea that God knows all babies intimately from before the creation of the world is an unwarranted assumption. Likely the text is limited to Jeremiah’s conception, or God creating a specific baby for a specific purpose when a specific need arises.
This text is about Jeremiah. God, throughout the Bible, chooses people from birth to be advocates for him. King David was convinced about this. Isaiah was convinced of this (Isa 49:1). It is a fallacy is to take special people in the Bible and then export their experiences to all of humanity. Not everyone is King David or Jeremiah. This is the logical fallacy of composition.
But even God’s calling doesn’t always go as planned. In Numbers 18, God gives Aaron and his sons the priesthood. But in Leviticus 10:1, Aaron’s immediate sons quickly sin and God puts them to death. They have failed their calling and have failed God.
In 1 Samuel 22, the same thing happens. The sons of Eli sin. God kills them, revokes his promise to Aaron’s lineage, and then promises to raise up a faithful priest instead:
1Sa 2:30 Therefore the LORD God of Israel says: ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the LORD says: ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.
Notice the revocation of God’s promise. If God has foreseen the revoking of His promise, then His promise was a lie. The more natural reading is that although God raised up Aaron’s lineage to be a priest nation, they ignored God’s guidance, and God changed His mind based on their actions. God chooses to raise up a new priest:
1Sa 2:35 Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.
The very next chapter starts with God calling to the boy, Samuel. Samuel was called as a boy, not from before birth, and only because of the failings of Eli’s sons. But Eli was called young, because God raises up people from birth. Sometimes they are a plan B, as with David who receives Saul’s kingdom after God wanted to give Saul an eternal kingdom but then Saul failed. Sometimes God’s chosen fail God.
Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 is often used for a prooftext to claim that God has plans for every person’s life, and often extended to mean that God then brings those plans about by micromanaging all coincidences one experiences. God, it is said, has intricate and detailed plans for everyone which He is constantly bringing to fruition. But Jeremiah 29:11 is just not about this. In context, Jeremiah is addressing Israel. This verse is about the Babylonian exile. Those being addressed are exilic Israel:
Jer 29:1 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
The benefit is specifically stated, and national in scope:
Jer 29:10 “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
This verse is about God’s plans for cooperate Israel. Any extension of the meaning to individuals in the modern world is out of the scope of what is intended. This verse is not about God having plans for individuals, nor micromanaging the lives of everyone on Earth.
Eze 4:12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.”
Eze 4:13 And the LORD said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them.”
Eze 4:14 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I have never defiled myself. From my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has tainted meat come into my mouth.”
Eze 4:15 Then he said to me, “See, I assign to you cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.”
In Ezekiel 4, God is commanding Ezekiel to perform a series of symbolic acts to prophesy to the people of what is to come. Some of these tasks are quite hard, such as sleeping on his side for over a year. One such command is for Ezekiel to cook his food with human poop/dung. Ezekiel was to use the poop as fuel for his cooking fire. The symbolic purpose was to teach Israel that they too would eat unclean food, as the human excrement would defile the food.
But this is too much for the committed Ezekiel. If he were to eat this food, he would be undoing his life’s work in remaining pure in food. God instantly changes His mind and allows Ezekiel to use cow dung instead of human dung. This is an instant change of plan based on a real time petition. God’s original plan is modified to allow for the concerns of his prophet.
This entire incident counters all sorts of classical theology. God’s plans can change based on the desires of people. God’s plans are flexible and can change in an instant. What God declares does not necessarily come to past. God does not mind changing His plans to accommodate people. God sometimes compromises.
Yahweh, as shown in this story, is not outside of time. Yahweh is not immutable, and is definitely not impassible. Instead He cares about people and they can change Him. Yahweh does not know the future, but experiences it in the present. If He were to have an eternal picture of the future, His command to use human dung would be disingenuous. Instead he might have begun with the cow dung, explaining it is a stand-in for human dung, and both represent the uncleanness in the food Israel will soon eat. Instead, what happens is a clear change in God’s plans. This is describing a dynamic God, one who considers humanity when modifying His decrees.
Eze 26:3 therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves.
Ezekiel 26 records a prophecy against Tyre. This prophecy against Tyre fails later in Ezekiel (Eze 29:18). Nebuchadnezzar leads his men against Tyre, but Tyre is not destroyed. Tyre consisted, at that time, of a city split between an island and the adjacent shore. When attacked, Tyre retreated to their more defensible island, and Nebuchadnezzar never was able to breach their defenses.
Ezekiel 26:3 is used to try to salvage this prophecy. The key word that is cited is “nations”. The claim is that God’s prophecy was that multiple different kings would attack Tyre over hundreds of years. The claim then is that Alexander the Great fulfilled the prophecy in xyzBC. Nebuchadnezzar was the first “wave” and Alexander was the final “wave”.
But this claim is not the most likely reading of the text. King Nebuchadnezzar is elsewhere described as a King of nations (Jer 28:11, Dan 4:1). This is a common thought in the ancient world. Different peoples are different nations although they are under the same government. The Kings levy auxiliary troops from these different nations, in addition to using alliance troops in conjunction with foreign rulers (e.g. 2Ch 20:1). In this way, “nations” are to come against Tyre.
This is reinforced by the details of the prophecy along with contextual clues. Tyre is said to become “plunder for the nations”. Nebuchadnezzar did not plunder Tyre and Alexander destroyed Tyre. If “nations” in verse Ezekiel 26:3 is meant to be successive waves of armies over hundreds of years, only one nation actually ended up plundering Tyre. A better understanding is that “nations” refers to a coalition of troops during a single instance.
Within Ezekiel the method of fulfillment is given within the prophecy itself:
Eze 26:7 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers.
The text goes on to list a number of things Nebuchadnezzar would do which also never happened. Nebuchadnezzar did not make Tyre “a bare rock” and “never to be rebuilt”. The context of these statement are what Nebuchadnezzar would do, not some distant king hundreds of years into the future.
The entire prophecy is against the princes of Tyre. A fulfillment, hundreds of years later, does not even fit the intent of the prophecy: to punish current leaders. A punishment of people who have been dead for hundreds of years is not that good of a punishment.
Using Ezekiel 26:3 as a prooftext to claim the prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Alexander the Great is an embellishment of the prophecy. There is nothing in the text warranting this, and the prophecy is better read as meant to be fulfilled under Nebuchadnezzar.
Eze 33:8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
Eze 33:9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
In Ezekiel 33, God explains to Ezekiel the concept of a watchman. The illustration is that of someone watching for approaching enemies. If this watchman notifies the people of approaching enemies, anyone who dies does so at their own fault. After all, they were warned. But if the watchman does not warn the people, then the people’s blood is on the hands of the watchman.
God then uses this principle to apply to Ezekiel. Ezekiel is appointed a watchman. He can no longer stay silent, because if he does then he will receive greater condemnation. Ezekiel’s special tasking, above and beyond the normal duties of individuals, is to proclaim God’s warnings to the people. If he does not then he will not “deliver his soul” (possibly spiritual or physical death).
God’s warnings also increase culpability of the people. If the people are warned and do not repent, their blood is on their own heads. This suggests both that Ezekiel’s message were conditional warnings and that the people had the ability to respond. The fact that the people do not respond increases their guilt.
Dan 2:21 And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.
Daniel 2:21 is sometimes claimed as evidence that God is responsible for the rise and fall of all kings to ever exist. By extension, God controls all governments and perhaps all things in life. But even the first step of logic is unwarranted, and the following steps of logic are definitely too much.
Often when powerful people talk about what they do and how they act, they use similar statements. In Isaiah 14, God speaks to the king of Babylon and uses similar phrases:
Isa 14:5 The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers,
Isa 14:6 that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution.
Isa 14:12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!
The king of Babylon “ruled the nations” and “laid nations low”. Naturally no one would assume the text is about the king of Babylon ruling all nations on earth or destroying all nations to ever be destroyed. Instead, the claims are about characteristic actions of Babylon. When writing about characteristic actions, often this general phrasing is used. It does not matter if it is about people, nations, or even God. This is just a normal way of writing.
To claim Daniel 2:21 is about God controlling all nations everywhere is to import theology onto the text. The more natural reading is much like Isaiah 14 that God is powerful and has characteristically controlled nations (but not necessarily all nations). The statement is a general power claim, not a claim to control everything ever to happen. If the author’s purpose was to proclaim God’s power, and the author believed God controlled all things to ever happen, he probably would have written quite a different point. Saying God controls all things is a much more forceful claim than controlling governments. Not surprisingly, the author never makes the claim that God controls all things.
Amo 3:6 Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?
Amo 3:7 “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.
Amos 3:6-7 is much like the theme of Isaiah 42-48. God is said to declare all His works to His prophets before God acts. The concept is that people can then differentiate between God’s acts and happenstance. It is not very convincing to attribute acts to God “after the fact”. Any false religion can do that. The test of a true God is revealing power acts before those acts are accomplished.
Notice how this passage is antithetical to concepts such as God controlling all things. If God does everything, and everything God does is told to his prophets, then God would have to be communicating all sorts of endless, infinite, trivial things to people that have neither the time nor the brainpower to process. The assumption in Amos is that God does not do everything, and that when God does act in a way to show His power He then makes it public such that He can gain credit.
Amo 7:1 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings.
Amo 7:2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord GOD, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!”
Amo 7:3 The LORD relented concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the LORD.
Amo 7:4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land.
Amo 7:5 Then I said, “O Lord GOD, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!”
Amo 7:6 The LORD relented concerning this: “This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.
Amo 7:7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.
Amo 7:8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them;
Amo 7:9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
In Amos 7:3, the context is that God wants to judge Israel for wickedness. God first begins forming locusts, but Amos intercedes (“please forgive!”), and God repents. Then God begins calling fire on Israel. Amos again intercedes (“please forgive!”), and God repents again. Then God shows Amos a plumb line (used for demolishing buildings), and declares against Israel. The first part might have a period of time implied between pronouncements. It seems to be implied that Amos is recounting a history of his intercessions for Israel.
God is described as having begun to build a judgment by locusts. This is an action that God never finishes. Amos intercedes and God repents. The same series of events occur again after God begins preparing fire as judgement of Israel. Again, God never finishes what He began. Again the prophet intercedes and God repents. This passage would be odd in light of total omniscience of future events. Why would God begin activities He knows He will never complete? Why even delay punishment knowing that He would eventually punish anyways. The delayed punishment seems not to have borne any fruit.
This series of events is reminiscent of the potter and the clay parable found in Jeremiah 18. God begins shaping a pot, the pot is marred, and God makes the vessel into another object. In the Jeremiah passage as well as the Amos passage, God is not completing His original intentions. In contrast, the Jeremiah repentance is in respond to repentance in the people (either repentance to or from evil). In Amos, the repentance is due to the intercession by a valued individual apart from any repentance of the people.
This passage is not about Negative Theology, but God’s long-suffering and people exhausting His patience. This passage is written to communicate God’s excessive steps to reach Israel, steps which bare no fruit.
Mal 3:6 “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
Proponents of Negative Theology use this as a prooftext for Immutability. The context does not warrant this strained use of this verse. In the context, Israel has abandoned God. Their priests profane God’s name. God declares to Israel that if justice were to prevail, He would have destroyed all of Israel. But God remains faithful although the people are faithless. Thus, because God does not change, the people are not destroyed. This only works in the context of covenant Israel, as God destroys plenty of nations throughout the Bible for evil.
Rabbi Sacks points out that the context of this verse is not Negative Theology, but relationships:
Far from being timeless and immutable, God in the Hebrew Bible is active, engaged, in constant dialogue with his people, calling, urging, warning, challenging and forgiving. When Malachi says in the name of God, ‘I the Lord do not change’ (Malachi 3: 6), he is not speaking about his essence as pure being, the unmoved mover, but about his moral commitments. God keeps his promises even when his children break theirs. What does not change about God are the covenants he makes with Noah, Abraham and the Israelites at Sinai.
God sees the works of Israel. They are evil. God should destroy them, but remembers His promise to Abraham. For Abraham’s sake, God forgoes justice in favor of mercy. This is counter to Negative Theology. God sees. God judges. God weighs His promise against their wickedness. God decides to save Israel. In the verse next verse, God says that He will return to Israel if only they return to Him first:
Mal 3:7 Yet from the days of your fathers You have gone away from My ordinances And have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” Says the LORD of hosts. “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’
The context of a prooftext for immutability is God literally saying that He will change in response to man’s actions. The author of Malachi is not a Negative Theologian. He is not proclaiming Immutability. Immutability would undermine the context. Instead, Malachi is proclaiming God’s faithfulness to Israel.
Mat 22:32 ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’ ? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
In Matthew 22:32, Jesus is responding to the Sadducees. The Sadducees were of the opinion that there was no life after death. Death was the end. Jesus references an Old Testament quote by God. The quote is made in the present tense: ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’ (a reference to Exodus 3:6). This statement is made by God to Moses, long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead. Jesus’ point is that if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob no longer existed, then God would have said “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Because it is in the present tense, God continues to be their God after they are dead. They still exist.
What this interaction shows is that neither Jesus, the Sadducees, or anyone else present at that time considered a possibility that God is timeless. If they believed God was timeless, Jesus’ argument would not work. The argument would be made that God is timeless, and thus can forever be currently the God of the dead because all events are happening to God in the same instant. Only without timelessness can arguments about God based on the tense of verbs be entertained. Jesus did not think God was timeless; he did not even consider the possibility. The Sadducees did not think God was timeless; they did not even consider the possibility. Anyone listening to Jesus did not think God was timeless; they did not even consider the possibility. Jewish thought in the time of Jesus did not entertain timelessness as a theological option. Their very arguments about God depend on God not being timeless.
Mar 13:32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
In Mark 13:32, there is an unequivocal statement by Jesus about lacking some information about the future. Jesus states the “Son” does not know the day and hour of the Day of the Lord. What this verse shows is that Jesus was not omniscient of future events.
What this primarily shows is that omniscience of future events is not a requirement for divinity. This is in opposition to many classical claims about the attribute of God.
What this also shows is how generalizations and contextual understandings work within the bounds of language. Jesus is said elsewhere to “know all things” (Joh 21:17) and be the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). The knowing all things is likely only a claim that Jesus has a lot of knowledge. The being the same “yesterday, today and forever” is likely about Jesus’ moral character, in context, Jesus’ steadfast presence.
Additionally, when people point to prophecies of Jesus which did come true, they then are saying a non-omniscient being can make correct predictions of future events. This undermines any case that one has to be omniscient to accurately predict the future. Of course, in these incidents, a critic can claim that Jesus gained his information from the father, but this is assumed onto the text.
Luk 1:3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus,
In the first chapter of Luke, Luke claims that he has had “perfect understanding of all things” and this is “from the very first”. Luke is not claiming to have omniscience of all things to have ever happened. Instead, the “perfect understanding” means an accurate memory, although imperfect. “From the very first” is limited by context to Jesus’ ministry.
This is a hyperbolic figure of speech.
Act 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
This verse is often used to defend the idea that God has elected people eternally for salvation. One Calvinist reports that Acts 13:48 is the Bible verse that made him a Calvinist.
But this Bible verse seems to be mistranslated. There exists a better and more natural translation that better fits the context. The verse very easily could have been rendered:
Act 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as appointed themselves to eternal life believed.
In the Greek language, the Middle and Passive take the same verb form. So unless the context is clear, there is uncertainty in if others are acting upon someone or if those people are acting upon themselves. A Greek Grammar website explains:
Middle and Passive Transitive Verbs Transitive verbs can be either middle or passive, and only the context can help you decide which meaning is intended. (Transitive) Middle Voice Usage For transitive verbs, the implication of the of the middle voice is that the action expressed by the verb directly affects the subject. The verbs in the following sentences are all transitive, and they all have a middle/passive form in Greek. οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε You do not know what you are requesting (Matthew 20:22) ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν• πάτερ, εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου. Jesus said: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46) τί διαλογίζεσθε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς …ὅτι ἄρτους οὐκ ἔχετε; Why are you discussing among yourselves …that you have no bread? In each of these examples, the subject is presented as acting for its own benefit. Compare the following example. The verb used there (δέχομαι) is a lexical middle. ἐμὲ δέχεται [He/she] receives me (Matthew 10:40) The form of this verb that appears in the lexicon (δέχομαι) is middle voice. Since the verb always has a middle voice implication—the action it expresses (receiving) directly impacts its subject—it never appears with active voice forms. Its meaning is best expressed in the middle voice. Passive Voice Usage (always transitive) Observe the following sentences in which the subject is acted upon by someone not explicitly named. οὐχὶ δύο στρουθία ἀσσαρίου πωλεῖται Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? (Matthew 10:19) ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι Your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5) ἕκαστον γὰρ δένδρον ἐκ τοῦ καρποῦ γινώσκεται For every tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:44) Notice that the subject of these verbs would be the object if the verb were active voice. This is the basic meaning of the passive voice. When translating Greek middle/passive forms of transitive verbs you may need to try both middle and passive translations to see which makes best sense in the context.
This cannot be stated enough: When translating Greek middle/passive forms of transitive verbs you may need to try both middle and passive translations to see which makes best sense in the context. Jesse Morrel makes an excellent case as to why this passage would be better rendered as middle:
3. Also notice the passive/middle ending “μένοι.” That means that ordained/disposed can be taken as something which was done to them (passive), in this case by the word, or something which they did to themselves (middle), in this case by allowing themselves to be properly influenced by the word. Given the context of this passage, especially in contrast with vs. 46 that uses the reflexive pronoun “ἑαυτοῦ” to say that they judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, this verb “τεταγμένοι” should be understood to be in the middle voice. Context is the only key in determining whether a verb is in the passive or in the middle, as the ending is identical.
Act 15:18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.
This verse is often used as a prooftext for Omniscience of the future. Adam Clarke comments on this verse:
“The whole of this verse is very dubious: the principal part of it is omitted by the most ancient MSS… Supposing the whole to be genuine, critics have labored to find out the sense… They therefore would translate the passage thus: All the works of God are ever dear unto him. And, if so, consequently we might naturally expect him to be merciful to the Gentiles, as well as to the Jews; and the evidence now afforded of the conversion of the Gentiles is an additional proof that all God’s works are equally dear to him.”
The ESV translates the same verse:
Acts 15:17 …says the Lord, who makes these things
Act 15:18 known from of old.’
The ESV is perhaps the more natural contextual meaning. In the context, James is explaining to a hostile audience why Gentiles do not have to circumcise. This passage is about affirming Paul’s message to the Gentiles. Amos is quoted as precedence (v16-17) for this contentious development. James’ argument is that God has been planning this development for some time, as evidenced in Amos. The text can only dubiously be extended to this as affirmation that even God’s minor actions as been planned from long ago, and even more dubiously extended to mean that God has absolute omniscience over the future. The verse, after all, is about God’s own plans for His own actions.
Act 26:19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
Act 26:20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
Paul is often used as an example of an individual, chosen by God, who had no choice in his ministry. Earlier in Acts, Jesus appears to Paul during his persecution of Christians. Paul is recruited by Jesus to become a full time minister for the message of Christ.
But Paul had the ability to reject God’s calling. Much like the prophet Jonah, Paul could have chosen to flee God’s calling. But instead, Paul declares that he was obedient and that he decided to act on his calling by traveling to the areas of the Gentiles, to preach God’s word. Paul understands that he had every choice to reject his calling.
The context of Acts 26 is Paul explaining his ministry to his captor, King Agrippa. He relates how he saw the vision of Jesus, and the steps he took in order to fulfill his tasking. Paul is not fatalistic in his understanding of the situation.
2Ti 1:9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,
The NKJ translation states that grace was given to us “before time began”. The KJV lists this phrase as “before the world began”. The ESV states “before the ages began”. The Greek phrase is “χρονων αιωνιων” (time eternal). The Word English Bible possibly has the best translation “before times eternal”. The word for “time” is used consistently in the Bible for a passing of time. The word for “eternal” is used consistently to denote a large amount of time, or an unceasing time.
Second Timothy 1:9 is used to claim that individuals were chosen before time began, before any fall of man. Jesus, it is said, was an eternal plan in the mind of God. John Piper writes:
In other words, God not only foreknew in eternity the sinful choice that Adam (and Lucifer before him) would make, but he also planned to give us grace through Jesus Christ in response to the misery and destruction and condemnation resulting from the fall that he foreknew.
Piper, John; Taylor, Justin; Helseth, Paul Kjoss. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (p. 375). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
Piper makes a good point. And the verse could be read in that fashion. This is particularly true if the word for “eternal” is being used as Plato uses it in Timeaus:
… Accordingly, seeing that that Model is an eternal Living Creature, He set about making this Universe, so far as He could, of a like kind. But inasmuch as the nature of the Living Creature was eternal, this quality it was impossible to attach in its entirety to what is generated; wherefore He planned to make a movable image of Eternity, and, as He set in order the Heaven, of that Eternity which abides in unity He made an eternal image, moving according to number, even that which we have named Time…
But the verse does not have to be read in the fashion of eternity. Instead, it could be used in more of a hyperbolic sense. In Polybius’ Histories, he uses the word to mean “a very large number” of writings:
Nor is it necessary to mention any names: but after Alexander’s death, in their mutual rivalries for the possession of various parts of nearly all the world, they filled a very large number of histories with the record of their glorious deeds.
Strabo in Geography uses “eternal” for natural phenomenon of tides, a twice daily event:
For instance, one could not accept such a reason for their having become a wandering and piratical folk as this—that while they were dwelling on a Peninsula they were driven out of their habitations by a great flood-tide; for in fact they still hold the country which they held in earlier times; and they sent as a present to Augustus the most sacred kettle1 in their country, with a plea for his friendship and for an amnesty of their earlier offences, and when their petition was granted they set sail for home; and it is ridiculous to suppose that they departed from their homes because they were incensed on account of a phenomenon that is natural and eternal, occurring twice every day.
In these uses, “eternal” just means “happens all the time” or “a very large amount”. Paul, in this fashion, could be using “time eternal” to mean “since always”, an English expression meaning that something has been in place for a long time, but not necessarily eternal in essence.
The idea of a Messiah is definitely not “eternal” in the Bible. One does not see talk of this Messiah until after the Babylon and Assyrian exiles. This is after the line of David is cut off (David was a Messiah, an anointed). Paul could be referring to expectations that have been in existence since the exilic period.
Alternatively, he may be referencing God’s enduring plan to have a people with whom to commune, a plan first implemented in the creation of man, and then time and time subverted throughout the Bible. The Bible tells a story of God attempting to reconcile man to Himself.
While Piper’s reading is acceptable, there are alternatives which are also likely.
Heb 6:17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
This verse is often used as a prooftext for Immutability. The focus is often placed on the words “immutability of His counsel” while the context is discarded. In context, this verse is referring to the unilateral, covenant promise to Abraham (also see Malachi 3:6). This promise that echoes throughout the Bible. This promise was so embedded in Israelite religion that many Israelites believed they were saved by virtue of being part of Israel. This is the context of “immutability of His counsel”.
If all God’s “counsel” was “immutable”, then why is God confirming it with an oath? Is there any other times in the Bible this happens? Is this an unique oath? If so, why should we assume verses concerning a unique oath are then generally applicable to everything God says, even in the face of verses that describe God doing the opposite of both what He says and what He thinks (see Jer 18)?
The context is about a specific promise and not just about any promise. This promise differs from God’s other promises. God wanted to give Saul an eternal kingdom, but this was dissolved due to sin. God promised David an eternal kingdom, but this was dissolved due to sin. For Abraham’s promise, God swore on Himself to fulfill it and keeps the promise in spite of Israel’s sin. Many passages in the Bible talk about how God may fulfill this particular promise if all of Israel decides to reject God. Jesus says that God can raise out sons of Abraham from the rocks. God tells Moses that God can kill everyone else and use Moses’ lineage to fulfill this promise. To pretend that Hebrews 6 is the same caliber of promise as any other promise by God is to do damage to the text. This was about an eternal covenant.
Jas 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
This verse is often used as a prooftext for Immutability. The metaphor used in James is that God is not the Sun nor stars. God is the father of lights. Whereas the pagans worshiped the lights, God created the lights. James contrasts God to these lights, in which revolve around the Earth (shadow of turning). The idea is that whereas the Sun and stars come and go from the visible sky, God will never leave. James says every good and perfect gift is from God, and in this context God does not disappear. This verse is not about general immutability, but that God does not hide. God is constant and active.
James is not using this verse to proclaim Negative Theology, and he warns his hearers throughout the context of his letter that if they turn away from God then God will revoke His promises towards them (see Jas 1:12). This verse is about reassuring the faithful that they will receive reward for their efforts, not to give them a primer in metaphysics.
The book of Sirach was written somewhere in the second century BC. This book was written during the height of Hellenization of Israel. The author of the book Yeshua Ben Sira writes that he traveled from Israel to Egypt and translated the Hebrew original work into Greek, stating:
You are urged therefore to read with good will and attention, and to be indulgent in cases where, despite out diligent labor in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly. For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language. Not only this work, but even the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books differ not a little as originally expressed.
He urges caution in reading his work. This work incorporates various sayings found in Israel. It makes at least two allusions to outside works, Aesop’s Fables (Sir 13:2–3) and The Egyptian Satire of the Trades (Sir 38:24-39:11). The work seems to show familiarity with outside literature.
Within Sirach, there are various omniscience claims about God.
Sir 15:18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything;
Sir 15:19 his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man.…
In Sirach 15:18 God is said to see everything. The picture is a common one in Jewish writings in which God is watching everything as it occurs. God’s “eyes” are said to be on those who fear Him, signaling God’s protection of his own people. The statement appears to clarify that God knows all deeds of man, even though that man might not be God’s.
Sir 17:19 All their works are as the sun before him, and his eyes are continually upon their ways.
Sir 17:20 Their iniquities are not hidden from him, and all their sins are before the Lord.
Sir 17:23 Afterward he will arise and requite them, and he will bring their recompense on their heads.
Sir 17:24 Yet to those who repent he grants a return, and he encourages those whose endurance is failing.
In Sirach 17:19-20 God is said to see the works of man as the sun lights up the day. Whereas the Sun gives vision to people, God is able to see as if the Sun is always lighting everything. God records man’s sins. The context is God’s judgment. If man does not repent of his sins then God will punish them in measure.
Sir 23:18 A man who breaks his marriage vows says to himself, “Who sees me? Darkness surrounds me, and the walls hide me, and no one sees me. Why should I fear? The Most High will not take notice of my sins.”
Sir 23:19 His fear is confined to the eyes of men, and he does not realize that the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun; they look upon all the ways of men, and perceive even the hidden places.
Sir 23:20 Before the universe was created, it was known to him; so it was also after it was finished.
Sirach 23:18-20 concerns itself with the impious man. A common claim in Israel was that God does not see man’s sin. In verse 18, the reason the impious man believes God cannot see what he does is that he does it in the dark. God’s omniscience, to the impious, was thought to be a function of God’s visibility during the daylight. The author counters this by ascribing a light to God’s eyes.
In these verses, God’s eyes are said to burn 10,000 time brighter than the Sun. The Sun is not the source of God’s knowledge. God’s eyes generate their own light, which sees all things.
The number 10,000 is very interesting and has pagan counterparts. Pettazzoni writes:
The vain fancy of the impious man that he can escape the all-seeing vision of Deity is to be found also in the Avesta, with reference to Mithra, who is a sky- and sun god… Also the “ten thousand eyes” of the Iranian Mithra (Yasht x. 7, 24, 82, I4I) and the thousand eyes of Varuna (Atharva-Veda iv, I6, 4) recall the pronouncement of ben Sirach that “the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun”…
Zeus also is ascribed three times ten thousand spies on Earth who spy on his behalf. Of course, in Israel, Yahweh is not ascribed monstrous eyes. He is not given a multiplicity of eyes, and when the Bible does talk about his eyes (i.e. his seven eyes in Zec 4:10) it is more likely referring to angels of God who act as spies.
Instead of having ten thousand eyes, Yahweh’s eyes burn 10,000 times brighter than the Sun, suggesting a visual omniscience or a figurative claim that nothing in secret will be hidden from God.
Sir 34:16 The eyes of the Lord are upon those who love him, a mighty protection and strong support, a shelter from the hot wind and a shade from noonday sun, a guard against stumbling and a defense against falling.
Verse 34:16 describes the particular focus of God’s omniscience as being towards the fate of those who follow him. God watches His people and protects them and provides them comfort. This mirrors Sirach 15:19, in which God pays particular focus on those who fear Him.
Sir 39:19 The works of all flesh are before him, and nothing can be hid from his eyes.
Sir 39:20 From everlasting to everlasting he beholds them, and nothing is marvelous to him.
Sir 39:21 No one can say, “What is this?” “Why is that?” for everything has been created for its use.
Sir 39:22 His blessing covers the dry land like a river, and drenches it like a flood.
Sir 39:23 The nations will incur his wrath, just as he turns fresh water into salt.
Sir 39:24 To the holy his ways are straight, just as they are obstacles to the wicked.
Sirach 39 might contain a claim of exhaustive divine foreknowledge. God is said to see everything. He sees everything “from everlasting to everlasting”, which could be a claim that He sees the entire future or it is a claim that God watches everything always. God is said in Sirach 42:21 to be from “everlasting to everlasting”, a common claim in the Hebrew Bible. The phrase possibly could mean that while God is living everlasting to everlasting that He sees all.
There is also a hint that nothing takes God by surprise. Verse 20 says “nothing is marvelous to him”. This could be another indication that the author has exhaustive divine foreknowledge in mind. Alternatively, it could be due to mankind not being able to build novelty (as Ecclesiastes 1:9 claims, “Nothing is new under the Sun”).
This passage goes on to affirm some sort of divine determinism. God makes everything for a reason (could this be why God is not taken by surprise?). The same resources God uses for good for those who love him, God uses for evil for those who reject Him. Nothing happens outside God’s providence. This is not to be confused with individuals not having free will, as the idea seems to be that people can repent of their evil and be forgiven (Sir 17:24).
Sir 42:16 The sun looks down on everything with its light, and the work of the Lord is full of his glory.
In Sirach 42:16, omniscience is ascribed to the Sun in a figurative sense. The Sun illuminates all God’s great works. This phrase “looks down on everything” is a type of light-based omniscience that the impious would ascribe to God. Yes, God knows everything, but because He sees everything in the light. The phrase was limited to this understanding. The author of Sirach rejects this. The Sun might be omniscient in a sense, but God is much more so.
Sir 42:18 He searches out the abyss, and the hearts of men, and considers their crafty devices.
For the Most High knows all that may be known, and he looks into the signs of the age.
Sir 42:19 He declares what has been and what is to be, and he reveals the tracks of hidden things.
Sir 42:20 No thought escapes him, and not one word is hidden from him.
Sir 42:21 He has ordained the splendors of his wisdom, and he is from everlasting and to everlasting. Nothing can be added or taken away, and he needs no one to be his counselor.
In Sirach 42:18, God is said to “known all that may be known”. This seems to mirror a common Open Theist claim about God’s omniscience. God’s knowledge is limited to actual facts. God is said to search people and figure out the “signs of the age”. These statements do not appear to affirm exhaustive divine foreknowledge.
God is then said to declare “what has been and what is to be”, signifying, in context, God’s wisdom (verse 21). This also could be a function of divine determinism spoke about in Sirach 39:21. If this is a statement about exhaustive divine foreknowledge the surrounding phrases sound awkward. God “looks into signs” and “searches out the abyss and the hearts of man”. God is said to “consider their ways”. The concept of divine timelessness is definitely not in the mind of this author.
The last statement that God “nothing can be added or taken away” appears in context of “no one to be his counselor”. Is this a claim of Platonistic perfection? It likely is rather a claim of divine wisdom, claiming that God is the wisest of all creatures. God does not need counsel.
Sir 48:22 For Hezekiah did what was pleasing to the Lord, and he held strongly to the ways of David his father, which Isaiah the prophet commanded, who was great and faithful in his vision.
Sir 48:23 In his days the sun went backward, and he lengthened the life of the king.
Sir 48:24 By the spirit of might he saw the last things, and comforted those who mourned in Zion.
Sir 48:25 He revealed what was to occur to the end of time, and the hidden things before they came to pass.
In Sirach 48, Hezekiah is said to be a prophet of God. He is said to have revealed “what was to occur to the end of time.” Could this mean he revealed what was to occur “at” the end of time? This is more likely the case, as with the other prophets (specifically of the exilic timeframe). There is not word in this passage what type of knowledge Hezekiah is imparting. Is this foreseeing the future in a clairvoyant way? Are these loose prophecies which God has plans to fulfill although it is not a literal representation of the future? The context is not clear.
In all, Sirach shows some signs of Hellenization, as one might expect with a text translated to Greek in Egypt. Do Hebrew concepts of omniscience and everlastingness translate well to a Greek speaker? Is the author adopting Hellenistic terms to help give the text a wider audience? Is there leeway in the text to allow traditional Hebrew theology to retain acceptability? It is hard to know the answers.
The Sirach seems to affirm a visual omniscience of all things, in the context of God continued effort to watch the actions of man in order to dispense justice. God is given control over the happenings of the world, creating everything for a divine purpose, but giving individuals the opportunity to choose their own outcome in the divine play.