The Attributes of God: His Omniscience [Part 3]
‘Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.’ A God without omniscience is no God at all. He would certainly not be worthy of trust, as Hannah innately recognizes. And yet, in the present day, there are those who seek to argue that God’s knowledge is limited. It seems that they do this so that God might be accommodated to the size of their own minds, thinking that His actions must accord with their idea of logic and reason. The thinking is tortuous. Some suggest that God knows all the endless possibilities that there are in the universe without knowing precisely which will come into actuality. John or Jane might decide to do this or that: God knew that these were possible decisions which John or Jane might make but He did not know that they would decide to do this rather than something else. Others say that God knows all things but things that have not yet happened do not exist and are therefore not knowable.
One of the areas of divine knowledge that is sometimes misunderstood is His foreknowledge, especially as it relates to individuals and divine purpose. The New Testament refers on five occasions to divine foreknowledge in verb and noun form. The noun, prognosis, occurs in Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:2. The verb, proginosko, occurs in Romans 8:29, 11:2 and 1 Peter 1:20.
In each reference it is persons who are the subject of divine foreknowledge. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that God knows all things beforehand, as we have seen, the Scriptural use of the term in relation to God is always of persons. These persons are Christ in Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:20: those who shall be conformed to the image of His Son, Romans 8:29: those who are elect, 1 Peter 1:2; and Israel, Romans 11:2. Those who are elect in 1 Peter 1:2 and those who shall be conformed to the image of His Son in Romans 8:29 are the same.
In thinking of Christ, Acts 2 indicates that He was ‘delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’. Some suggest that all that divine foreknowledge embraces here is that God knew what men would do to Him. But this is evidently not so. He was delivered by both the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. ‘Foreknowledge’ can therefore readily be seen as being epexegetical (or explanatory) of ‘determinate counsel’: He was ‘delivered by the determinate counsel even the foreknowledge of God’. Foreknowledge was clearly not simply ‘passive’ knowledge of what would be.
This first mention of divine foreknowledge in the New Testament will set the tone for every other mention, not least in 1 Peter 1:20. It is impossible to think that all that Peter is saying is that before the foundation of the world God foreknew that Christ would shed His blood in the way described or that He simply ‘was known before the foundation of the world’. What would be the significance of this? (The word is ‘foreknow’ not simply ‘know’.) Rather, divine purpose is in view, as it is in Acts 2. It is not Christ’s acts which are stated to be foreknown, nor facts about Him, but He Himself. The King James Version has it exactly right in translating the word ‘foreordained’.
Again, in Romans 11 it is hardly plausible that all that Paul is saying is that God knew all about Israel beforehand. It is because He foreknew them that divine purpose will be fulfilled towards them. This is the whole rationale of Romans 11. God’s foreknowledge concerns His actions rather than the actions of the nation. It was God who reserved seven thousand to Himself in the days of Elijah, God who broke off the branches, and God who will act favourably towards them when the full number of the Gentiles has come in. This accords with all that is said in chapters nine and ten, especially chapter nine where the whole argument hinges around the fact that Israel cannot complain about Gentile blessing because God is free to act according to sovereign purpose, just as He did in connection with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Again, it is clearly divine purpose that is in view.
Romans 8 follows the same pattern. Divine foreknowledge is actually stated to be linked to divine purpose! The word ‘for’ at the beginning of verse 29 is to be noted. It amplifies and explains verse 28. Some say that ‘all people are equally foreknown by God’ but the passage is actually teaching the very opposite! In this section Paul is showing how that ‘God is for us’. How is He for us? Because of ‘the all things’, v.v. 28, 32. Those who love God, a generic term for all believers as against all unbelievers, are called according to His purpose; and the apostle immediately, by way of explanation, makes reference to divine foreknowledge. That is limited to those who will be glorified. This does not to restrict divine omniscience but specifies the nature of divine foreknowledge. How strange it would be if in this five links chain of divine purpose God acted in predestination, call, justification and glorification but was passive in foreknowledge! The same thought is in 1 Peter 1:2. Election is in accordance with foreknowledge. God chose those whom He foreknew and this has resulted in the obedience of faith and the appropriation of all the value of the blood of Christ to the believer.
May we thank God today for all His thoughts of love towards us.
Ian Jackson is commended with his wife from the assembly that meets in Marine Hall, Eastbourne (UK), to the preaching and teaching of the word of God across the world.