A couple of years ago a friendly soul purchased Steven C. Roy’s book, How Much Does God Foreknow from my Ministry Resource List. Other research, however, prevented me from getting to this book until now.
As the title implies, the purpose of the book is to explore the question of God’s foreknowledge. It is meant to be a critical evaluation of open theism, which is the view that God cannot know the future, free choices made by moral agents because the future does not exist. One of the strengths of Roy’s work is that he interacts directly with Open Theists, quoting them at length. This avoids the potential for constructing a straw man argument, and allows the reader to consider Open Theists arguments for themselves.
In the first four chapters Roy argues that the OT and NT provide ample reason to believe God’s knowledge of the future is exhaustive – including the free choices of moral agents – and that the counter-evidence offered by open theists is not persuasive. Texts which imply God’s ignorance are best understood as anthropomorphic metaphors.
Chapter five addresses the claims by open theism that the classical understanding of God’s foreknowledge was colored by Greek philosophy more so than Scripture, and finds it wanting. There is no such thing as Greek philosophy, but rather a myriad of Greek philosophies. Not all Greek philosophy was false, so some amount of conceptual overlap is not necessarily a bad thing. Furthermore, Open Theism is just as influenced by particular philosophical views as was any church father by Greek philosophies.
Chapter 6 rounds out the book by discussing the practical implications of Open Theology on worship, prayer, God’s ability to guide us, suffering, and our future hope.
While Open Theology is not the hot topic it once was 15-20 years ago, it hasn’t gone away, and its influence is still being felt in evangelical circles. If you would like to learn more about Open Theism and what is wrong with the view, or if you know someone who has been influenced by Open Theism, I think you will find that Roy’s How Much Does God Foreknow is an excellent and comprehensive resource.
I am adding the notes I took from the book (including page numbers). This may help give you a better sense of the argument:
Scriptures proclaim God to be “great-knowing” and all-knowing: Job 28:24; 37:16; Ps 139:17-18; 147:5; Is 55:8-9; Rom 11:33 Heb 4:13; 1 Jn 3:20.
How does omniscience square with free will? Open theists claim it can’t.
Origen was the first to articulate the position that God’s omniscience does not negate human freedom because it is our freely chosen acts that inform God’s knowledge.—14
Open theists claim:
- Since the future doesn’t exist, God can’t know it.
- Exhaustive divine foreknowledge is incompatible with libertarian free will
- Scripture supports the claim that God’s knowledge of future, free, contingent acts are not known by God (Gen 6:6-7; 1 Sam 15:11,35; Jer 3:6-7,19-20; 18:7-10; Jon 3:9-10; Ex 32:11-14; 2 Kings 20:1-6; Amos 7:1-6).—18-21
The goal of the book: To examine Scripture to see if it affirms that God foreknows the free decisions of human beings.—23
Divine knowledge of counterfactuals of human freedom are shown in 1 Sam 23:10-14 and Mt 11:21-24—23
Chapter 2 – OT Evidence of Divine Foreknowledge
No Hebrew word for foreknowledge.—27
- Ps 139:4 – God knows David’s words before they are spoken.—31
- While God may be able to predict that someone will speak, and may even – at the moment the person begins to speak – know what they will speak about, how could God know the precise words David would speak unless God has knowledge of future-free-contingent-acts (FFCA)?
- Ps 139:16 – God ordained all the days of David’s life before they came to be.—33
Predictive prophecies (Author counted 4017 predictive prophecies in Scripture, and 2323 of those relate to FFCA.—34)
- 1 Kings 11:34-37 – 10 tribes will secede
- This prophecy depended on the free choices of the 10 tribes to make Jeroboam their king and for the other two tribes to choose to remain loyal to the Davidic monarchy.—36
- 1 Kings 13:2 – Prophecy that Josiah would sacrifice and burn the bones of the priests at the altar of Jeroboam.—37
- How could God know the free choice of what to name children?
- How could God know that Josiah would do this?
- 2 Kings 7:1-2,16-20 – Prophecy concerning price of flour—40
- God had to know the FFCA of the four lepers to go into the camp, and then to report it to the gatekeepers of Samaria
- God had to know the king’s willingness to investigate
- God had to know the people would rush through the gate, killing the official.
- 2 Kings 20:17-18 – Plundering of temple and king’s descendents by Babylonians—41
- God had to know that Babylonians would choose to attack Israel, and how they would respond with their treasures and royalty
- 1 Kings 15:5-6 – Prophecy of Jeroboam’s wife’s actions—42
- 1 Kings 22:22,29-40 – Prophecy that Ahab would die in battle—42
- 2 Kings 3:18-19,24-25 – Prophecy to Jehoshaphat and Joram that Moab would be defeated.—42
- In Isaiah 40-48 the unique feature of YHWH, and that which proves that He alone is God, is His unique ability to know the future (41:21-29; 42:8-9; 43:9-12; 44:7-8; 44:24—45:6; 45:20-21; 46:9-11; 48:3-5; 48:6-11)—55
- Is 42:8-9 – God will announce the new things before they happen
- Open theists would say God can’t know these events because they are in the future, and the future doesn’t exist. And yet, God says he knows them.
- Is 44:28—45:1 – God predicts not only what a future man will do in regards to Israel, but even his name.
- Is 46:11 – What God is able to declare from the end to the beginning includes the FFCA of Cyrus.—52-3
- Is 42:8-9 – God will announce the new things before they happen
Messianic prophecies (J. Barton Payne counts 574, while Kaiser counts 65 – 27 are quoted or alluded to in 53 passages—55)
- Mic 5:2 – Birthplace of Messiah predicted—56-7
- Required a myriad of FFCA: decision of Caesar to issue the decree, decision of Joseph to obey and travel with pregnant wife
It is impossible for God to know what He will infallibly do in the future since the FFCA of humans could radically change His intentions, or make His plan no longer applicable.—68
Chapter 3 – NT Evidence of Divine Foreknowledge
Greek does have words for foreknowledge. Verb is used five times, three of which relate to God’s knowledge (Rom 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet 1:20). The noun is used two times in reference to God’s knowledge (Acts 2:23; 1 Pet 1:2). Other words too. Prooizo is used six times, each time with God as subject (Acts 4:28; Rom 8:29-30; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:5,11). Verb proorao used four times (Acts 2:25,31; 21:29; Gal 3:8)—73
- Acts 2:23 – God foreknew his own intent to have Jesus killed, and that wicked men would choose to be complicit (See also Acts 4:27-28)—74-5
- Rom 8:29 – God knew in advance who would choose Him –79-80
- Mt 6:34 – We are not to worry about the things of tomorrow because God already knows what we’ll need in the future. Our future needs are shaped by our free choices, as well as the choices of others, so for God to know what we’ll need tomorrow, He must know our free choices in advance.—90-1
- Jesus’ passion predictions (Mk 8:31; par. Mt 16:21; Lk 9:22 | Mk 9:31; par. Mt 17:22-23; Lk 9:44 | Mk 10:33-34; par. Mt 20:17-19; Lk 18:31-33) – Jesus knew that people would betray Him, to whom He would be betrayed, what their verdict would be, that they would hand Him over to the Gentiles, that they would mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him via crucifixion. That’s a lot of free choices!—92-3
- Mk 14:29-31 (Lk 22:31-32) – Jesus predicated Peter’s denial: when it would happen, how many times he would do it, and what would happen immediately afterward. It would also require Jesus’ knowledge that others would freely choose to ask Peter if he knew Jesus—96-100
- Mt 26:2 (Mt 26:20-25; Mk 14:18-21; Lk 22:21-23; Jn 6:64) – Jesus knows He will be betrayed, by whom, and the precise time.
- Jn 13:19 – According to Jesus, his knowledge of Judas and Peter’s future actions was important because it would serve to confirm Jesus’ divine identity to His disciples. This has verbal and conceptual parallels with Is 41:4 and Is 43:10.—111-2
- Jesus also predicted other events/actions.—113
- God foreknew the fall of man and provided for our redemption before creation (1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:4-5,7; 3:11; 2 Tim 1:9-10; 1 Pet 1:2,20; Rev 17:8 [possibly Rev 13:8])—115-21
Chapter 4 – Examining texts used to support open theism
Repentance of God – Open theists claim that the genuineness of these passages requires God’s ignorance of the future.
- Hebrew verb niham. 35 passages have God as the subject.—127
- Gen 6:6-7; 8:21 – God repented for making man. God later recognized that his decision to judge the whole earth was not wise. Boyd asks how God could have true regret about making man if He knew all along what they would do. Regret only happens when the outcome is different than what we expected or hoped for when the decision ws made. Sanders makes a good point against Calvinism: How could God be grieved if what happened was in His sovereign control and what happened is precisely what God wanted to happen?—128-30,145
- 1 Sam 15:11,35 – God is grieved for having made Saul king.
- Jon 3:9-10 – God changed his mind about judging Ninevah because they changed their hearts and behavior. | While there is no condition attached to Jonah’s message, it is implicit in the very fact that Jonah is telling them in advance that they would be destroyed. Why else would God announce this in advance if He did not hope to change their actions, and avert His judgment?—131-2
- Jer 18:7-10 – God will repent of His announced blessing if the people sin, and repent of His pronounced judgment if the people repent.—133
- Ex 32:7-8 – God repents in light of Moses’ intercessory prayer. See also Amos 7–8; Judg 2:18; Ps 90:13; 106:44-45,—136-7
- 2 Kings 20 – Niham not used, but concept is present. God changes His mind about Hezekiah’s impending death.—138-9
- Joel 2:21 and Jon 4:2 – List God’s repentance as part of a creedal statement. The creed is found elsewhere in the OT w/o the reference to divine repentance (Ex 34:6-7; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 145:8 | Ex 20:5-6; Dt 5:9-10; 7:9; Num 14:18; 2 Chron 30:9; Ps 111:4; 112:4; Jer 32:18; Nah 1:3).—139-40
- Ex 34:6-7 – Moses intercedes for God not to kill leaders of rebellion.—140-1
- Joel 2:12-14 – God will not send calamity if you repent.—141
- Jon 4:2 – A God who relents from sending calamity.—143
- There are 8 OT passages that say God does not repent (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Ps 110:4; Jer 4:28; 20:16; Ezek 24:14; Hos 13:14; Zech 8:14).—147
- Ps 110:4 – God makes an oath and will not change His mind. While divine announcements can be repented of by God, He will never repent of an oath/decree.—148-9
- Num 23:19 – God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind. What God promises he will do. This must refer to God’s nature and not just a choice He is making in this particular situation, otherwise the parallel does not hold. After all, if men can lie and repent sometimes, and not lie and not repent at other times, then they would be no different from God. What makes God unique is that He never lies and never repents, unlike man.—150,156
- 1 Sam 15:29 – Similar statement to Num 23:19, this time in reference to taking away Saul’s kingship and giving it to another. Yet within this chapter, two times we are told that God does change His mind (vs. 11,35). How do we reconcile? In verses 11 and 35 niham is used to mean “experience emotional pain”, but in verse 29 it is used to mean “retract.”—153
- Hos 11:8-9 –
McFague defines a metaphor as “seeing one thing as something else, pretending ‘this’ is ‘that’ because we do not know how to think or talk about ‘this,’ so we use ‘that’ as a way of saying something about it. Thinking metaphorically means spotting a thread of similarity between two dissimilar objects, events, or whatever, one of which is better known than the other, and using the better-known one as a way of speaking about the lesser known.” She says metaphorical statements “always contain the whisper, ‘it is and it is not.’”—160
God’s foreknowledge and repentance are anthropomorphic metaphors. We must ask how God’s F and R are similar to humans’ and how it is different.—168-9
Open theists make the mistake of thinking that God’s repentance is like ours. Since we only repent because we cannot foresee the future and because we made unwise decisions, the same must be true of God.—173
“Divine repentance denotes God’s awareness of a change in the human situation and his resulting change of emotions or actions in light of this change situation.” Bruce Ware noted that “just because God knows in advance that some event will occur, this does not preclude God from experiencing appropriate emotions and expressing appropriate reactions when it actually happens.”—174-5
Just as God could plan for Jesus to die, and yet still grieve over it, likewise God can know that X will happen, and yet grieve over it when it does.—176
Divine testing – The only reason for God to test someone is because He doesn’t know what they will choose to do—177
- Dt 8:2 – Wilderness wanderings were a test to see whether Israel would keep God’s commands
- 2 Chron 32:31 – God tested Hezekiah to know what was in his heart
- Gen 22:1,12 – God tests Abraham, and after he obeys, God says “now I know that you fear God….”—177
- Geisler writes: “There is nothing here about God’s desire to learn Rather, God wanted to prove something (cf. 2 Chr 32:31). What God knew by cognition, he desired to show by demonstration. By passing the test, Abraham demonstrated what God already knew: namely that he feared God.”—180
- Ware and Piper argue there is a difference between what God knows by foreknowledge and what God knows by observation/experience.—181
- The text doesn’t say God did not know what Abraham would do. God said that now he knew Abe feared Him. Using the open theist’s “take Scripture at face value” hermeneutic, would that mean that God did not know Abraham’s heart before he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, or that Abraham did not fear God prior to then? No, so surely God already knew. This is similar to Gen 3:9 in which God asks Adam and Eve where they are, and in verse 11 where He asks them whether or not they ate from the tree. Also, Gen 18:20-21 where God has to go see if the things He’s heard about Sodom are true. Would violate His knowledge of the past and His omniscience.—182-3
- Boyd says we should interpret something as an anthropomorphism only if taking it literally is ridiculous, or if the genre is poetry.—183
Divine “perhaps” – 5x God says perhaps (Is 47:12; Jer 26:2-3; 36:3,7; 51:8; Ezek 12:1-3), indicating His uncertainty about the human response. It would be deceptive or inauthentic for God to speak this way if He already knew the outcome—185
- Jer 26:2-3 – Perhaps the people will repent, then I will repent of planned disaster.—185-6
- God is choosing to speak to the people from a human vantage point. From their perspective, their future response is uncertain because they have not yet chosen. It’s God’s recognition that their choice is free. Note that God did not tell the people this, but told Jeremiah to tell the people this.—186
Divine foreknowledge knows not only the end, but the means to that end.—190
Unfulfilled divine expectations – At times, what God expects to happen does not happen, surprising God.—191
- Jer 3:6-7 – I thought that Israel would repent.—191
- The point is that God had so ordered their circumstances that the average person would repent. But that does not mean that God did not know they would not act like the average human.—193
Chapter 5 – Two Critical Interpretive Questions
- Has Greek philosophy shaped our analysis of Scripture?
- Does the Bible teach a twofold understanding of the future and of God’s knowledge of it?—195
Which Greek philosophy? Diversity of thought.—198-201
Cicero argued like OTs to say that if God knows future free acts, then free will is not possible.—200-201
Just because there are similarities in thought does not mean Christians borrowed from Greek philosophy. And not all of their philosophical thinking was wrong.—203-4
Open Theism is also influenced heavily by philosophy, namely libertarian free will and A-theory of time and process thought.—211-7
Chapter 6 – Practical Implications—229
- If God does not know the future, His will might not be what we want done—245
- Like me, he argues that OT is not off the hook for explaining evil because God perfectly knows the present. He did not stop the Holocaust.—262-4
Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), 15.
Bruce Ware, God’s Lesser Glory (), 90-92.
Norm Geisler, Creating God in the Image of Man? (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1997), 88, quoted in How Much Does God Foreknow?, 180.