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God's Foreknowledge - 1

Foreknowledge is knowledge about something in advance. It is important that we see that God has total foreknowledge, even of future-free will actions. The alternative, that God does not have complete foreknowledge, is absurd. My point in arguing for complete foreknowledge is to make way later in the book to argue that because God knew all things in advance, he knew early humans would sin. If God knew humans would sin, then even sin is in some sense part of the plan of God, which takes place based on a limitation God abides by, given his goals for the creation.


The classic picture that Christianity has offered the world says that God not only knows the past and the present but also the future. God knows all potentialities, but also all actualities. Although I meet some Christians who are adopting Open Theism (the idea that the future is not known by God with certainty) I have heard very little to show that God’s foreknowledge of all future events is somehow contradictory. I propose Christians hold on to foreknowledge. It helps make sense of much more.


Scripture and Foreknowledge

The Bible has a smattering of verses leaning toward foreknowledge. Some are direct references to Christ being foreknown and others to foreknowledge in general.


1 Peter 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.


1 Peter 1:20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.


Acts 2:23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.


Romans 8:29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren;


Romans 11:2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew (Rom 11:2 NAS).


All these verses lean toward foreknowledge. In each, the Greek word means just what we think it means, “advance knowledge...what is known ahead of time.”[1]


Although the New Testament offers a basic view on foreknowledge, we cannot press these verses too hard. Much New Testament literature uses rhetoric to comfort, condemn, or address situations.[2] “Foreknowledge” in the Bible was often conditioned by community concerns. Therefore, they are not offering a final view on how to think about foreknowledge. Scripture is not the language of final theology or final philosophy.


“Final View”: The language of “final view” is quite important for my case. When theologians or philosophers are offering a final view, they are saying that ultimate reality is addressed by their claims and ideas. Namely, there is little that can be improved upon in their view. Much of what we find in the Bible, does not offer final views about a lot of subjects. Foreknowledge is not reflected on deeply by the authors, or at least finally. They were not philosophers sitting back and imagining all the details of everything. Their language is mostly approximate with community concerns in mind for how they are portraying God. All of this is why foreknowledge is not offered in final sense in Scripture.


All of above is why the whole discussion cannot be settled by the Scriptures. Open theists will likely think they have more Scriptural evidence for their position than those for final foreknowledge. Why? Because all of the writing is condition and limited and they are letting that speak finally for God. Thus, when they see verses talking about God’s emotions (which are many and very rash in the Old Testament) they often feel affirmed in their view. They seldom stop to see how numerous contradictions that the stated emotions create for Scripture. We know from a more final verse, that God is slow to anger and abounding in love. But, from a less final verse we know that God was fast to anger, over seemingly petty thing sometimes. If open theists hang their hat on God’s emotions being spoken of finally in Scripture, they are shooting themselves in the foot. Thus, they cannot choose to use verse about God’s limited knowledge to prop up their view that God knows the possibilities and not the actualities. Since this too is limited language that is not offering a final view.


Most of Scripture, especially such non-final and super conditioned language on emotion and knowledge, is not offering a final view on this subject either way. It is offering a limited human perspective, conditioned by the minds and language of those who were trying to grasp at human language to make better sense of God. We can find tons of non-final verses that seem to affirm various positions. But, since they are not final, they do not actually address the subject in a final way. Open theists are wrong. And using Scripture to back up the view, tells us they are messing up Scripture and its intents, namely it’s non-finality.


Early Christian Thinkers


In the 2nd Century, one of the most attributed Christian theologians and leaders was Irenaeus. He had this to say about foreknowledge.


“For while according to His own benignity He bestowed good in good measure, and made men, like Himself, endowed with free-will; yet in His foreknowledge he was aware of man’s infirmity, and of what would come thereof;”[3]


and


“If therefore even in our time, all those of whom God knoweth that they will not believe (as He knoweth all beforehand)…”[4]


“But God, foreknowing all…”[5]


Clement of Alexandria

“Let us then ask the wise, Is Christ, begotten to-day, already perfect, or-what were most monstrous-imperfect? If the latter, there is some addition He requires yet to make. But for Him to make any addition to His knowledge is absurd, since he is God.[6]



The idea of God “foreknowing” is essential for having a coherent understanding of God’s grand plan through the ages. If God knew early humanity would sin, then the solution, which later was revealed as Jesus Christ, was always God’s original plan for their limitations and weakness. Jesus would always have been Plan A.


God is Timeless (Eternal)

Another reason for thinking that God has foreknowledge is because God is timeless, or eternal. He is not part of the temporal world. There are no moments, no evenings, no mornings. Therefore, whatever God knows, he knows always, since there is no temporal succession in him. You cannot add anything to a perfect timeless being. To exist outside of time is to see everything always. His knowledge happens eternally, not in time. There can be no succession in a timeless being.


Simply saying that God is timeless does not guarantee that he has foreknowledge, but it would guarantee that whatever knowledge he has, he has it eternally. In the next chapter we will see why God has foreknowledge. It may be important to say something here for some readers. As a human I use the word “Foreknowledge.” For God, his knowledge is not before. It just is. We use it to make sense of our standpoint, but it does not convey him perfectly. It is however fine to use language from the temporal world, for we are temporal beings. It is what we have available to us. I will keep using the word for clarity’s sake.


God being timeless makes great sense of a classical Christian distinction; the creator/creation distinction. When God brings things into being, he is not those things. He stands outside of the series of events that he gets going. To maintain timelessness is to protect the distinction. If we change this, we will then begin to picture God as bound by creation or as some kind of part of the creation.[7]


Creation is a progressing and developing thing. The Creator is not. Creation is a thing that experiences succession. The Creator does not. The whole construct of our experience has to do with change. God is outside of that whole construct of our experience and does not change.


In Scripture we have recourse in the classic “I AM” statements.[8] To say God is the “I AM” is to say that God contains all of himself all of the time. This assumes self-sufficiency, there is nothing God needs to be more fully God. Being eternal can protect this understanding. Being in time, destroys it.


Some scholars try and argue that timelessness is not in the Bible. Moreover, they try and point to timelessness coming about from Platonist Philosophy. These scholars are misguided. Whether Hebrew and early Christian minds utilized Greek categories or not, we should admit that the backdrop of timelessness makes better sense of a self-existing being (I AM) than a being who shares time with us, bound by its constraints. For to make God under the auspices of time, makes his self-existence and totally actualized self, illogical.


Moreover, these scholars are committing the genetic fallacy. Just because you can show the genesis of something, does not say anything against or for that something. Thus, even if their case was true that timelessness came from Greek philosophy, it would not undermine the idea that timelessness protects the “I AM” statements and their full meaning.


The Big Bang and Eternal God

God as eternal is helped along by understanding the kind of universe that we live in. We live in a universe where time is relative. There is no universal time clock that we go to in space and guarantee everything runs according to that timer. Instead, as expounded by Physicist Stephen Hawking, we learn that it may only be helpful to speak of the arrows time regarding our world.[9] Namely, that forward progression is happening as a whole throughout the universe, but with no universal clock.


If the universe can be measured in a succession of moments, or events, or physical objects unfolding progressively, then whatever began the universe stood outside of the series of events and objects. I think this implies that the cause of the universe is timeless and changeless. The Philosopher William Lane Craig points out that whatever brought the universe into being stands outside of the stuff of the universe.[10] From Hawking and Craig, we can learn that Time actually begins at the Big Bang (start of the universe). God by definition, as the creator of all things, stands outside of time.


There are other arguments for the existence of God that can bring forth God’s attributes. One of my favorite arguments is based on the contingency of this universe. That word “contingency” is implying there are things, in this case the entire universe, which are not necessary. They do not self-exist. All the ‘stuff’ of this universe relies upon something else for its existence. The things of this universe do not cause themselves or uphold themselves eternally. Everything in the system, relies on something else for its existence.


If the universe(s) is all there is. If EVERYTHING relied on something else for its existence, we would run into a contradiction. To say ‘everything is contingent’ is absurd. There needs to be at least one necessary being. When I use the word “necessary” I am trying to communicate that something relies on nothing else for its existence. It self-exists. My view is that God is the best candidate for a necessary being.[11]


A necessary being who stands outside of all the contingent beings (or things) must self-exist. And, to self-exist, would mean that this being is not affected by the progression of other entities. Not only does this imply a timeless and changeless being, it also implies that this ‘being/s’ has incredible power to create or start a series of events that were not always in existence. Moreover, if this being has power to do so, and chose to do so, then it would imply that this being has the power to decide.


With that very brief overview of how reason can get us to some of the attributes of God we get near God being…

1. Self Sufficient – this is to say “I AM” relies on nothing else for existence. He contains all he needs to be himself all the time.

2. Changeless – Because God is always God, he is not added to or taken away from, and therefore he is changeless. No potentialities to be acted upon, just pure actuality.

3. Powerful – In the sense that God can start a series of contingent events out of apparently nothing, implies a special kind of power.

4. Choice – This being was conscious, aware of himself, and made a decision to create.

5. Timeless – This being created the constructs that allow us to measure time relative to other things. God stands outside of that series. Therefore, God is timeless/eternal. No events are going on in God, that would imply change. He is always one singular God, nothing being added and nothing being taken away from himself; This implies God does not change.



Sources

[1] Friberg Lexicon πρόγνωσιν - Prognosin). [2] See “New Testament Rhetoric” by Ben Witherington III [3] Against Heresies, p. 439 [4] Against Heresies p. 396 [5] Against Heresies p. 441 [6] Clement of Alexandria "The Instructor" p. 91 [7] See “Eternity” by Paul [8] Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 [9] See “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking, specifically chapter 2. [10] See “Reasonable Faith” by William Lane Craig [11] Edward Feser’s “5 Proofs for the Existence of God” is a good read on this topic.

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