The Foreknowledge of God Necessitates the Co-Eternality of People?

Open Theism is a philosophy regarding the limited knowledge of God that is used as a hermeneutic by which Open Theists interpret the Bible regarding that knowledge. That comment should not come as a surprise from an Arminian, or a Calvinist, as a primary complaint about Open Theism. Also, this remark does not indicate that Open Theism is unbiblical merely because it is primarily philosophical; after all, Molinism is primarily philosophical, and Molinist scholars also use a philosophy regarding the knowledge of God as a hermeneutical grid by which they interpret the issue. So does the Calvinist; so does the Arminian; so does every other believer regarding their own respective ism.

Having briefly explained to his readers the philosophy of Open Theism, Arminian scholar Dr. F. Leroy Forlines commences with his defense of simple foreknowledge, and begins with the views of Jacob Arminius (1559-1609) on the issue of the exhaustive knowledge of God.1 I have done the same when engaging the Open view. Some Open Theists, however, imagine that Arminians begin with Arminius in an effort to close the discussion: i.e., since Arminius rejects Open Theism then Open Theism must be in error. This summation is itself an error. Arminius is appealed to because we are Arminians. What we are insisting is that Open Theism is not a classically Arminian position. Open (or Free Will) Theism, then, retains its own identity. An Open Theist, therefore, can share tenets with Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, or Arminianism without any suggestion that Open Theism is Arminian in nature.

Recently, someone proffered the following philosophical issue regarding simple foreknowledge and the eternal mind of God, and I promised to respond. Matt Placek argues (emphases added):
With regard to free agents however, as I have said, where the content of God's knowledge is dependent on a fact, that fact must be coextensive with the knowledge, and the existence of the determiner of the fact must precede (at the very least logically) the fact. Whether "foreknowing a people who do not yet exist" or "people ontologically present" -- if that knowledge is factual then at minimum a commitment to the future existence of the people is logically prior to the knowledge (and thus co-eternal if the knowledge is eternal) even if they are not coextensive temporally. Counterfactual knowledge doesn't have this problem, but it has others
I argue that, since the people about whom God foreknows do not yet ontologically exist, they can in no sense be rendered co-eternal with God. Matt disagrees. He proffers that, because God foreknows the people, in a simple foreknowledge construct, including what those people will freely do, then "the future existence of the people is logically prior to the knowledge (and thus co-eternal if the knowledge is eternal) even if they are not coextensive temporally." I think his final statement -- "even if they are not coextensive temporally" -- fails to support his prior conclusion -- "the future existence of the people is logically prior to the knowledge (and thus co-eternal if the knowledge is eternal)" -- on the very ground of ontology (being, existence) itself. In other words, knowledge of a people is not tantamount to the existence of such people, and thus his co-eternal argument fails. He disagrees.

Granted that God can possess knowledge of an event that never takes place (cf. 1 Sam. 23:9-12), what does that potential reality suggest with regard to ontology, eternity and the eternal mind of God? Is potential yet non-reality co-eternal with God, since God, by a simple foreknowledge view, knew of the potential capture of David by Saul's men in the city of Keilah, though such a scenario would never happen? But there is also a problem in Open Theism with concepts perceived as existing. Richard Rice argues: God does not know "the content of future free decisions, and this is because decisions are not there to know until they occur."2 Future free decisions do not exist in the abstract: decisions and concepts are brought to fruition by temporal people.

But if God can foreknow people then He can foreknow aspects of those people. He is the one, after all, who conceived of creating human beings. Are we to believe that He knew nothing of the creatures He would create? If He knows certain aspects of their existence then could He know every aspect? If not, why not? When the Open Theist answers, "Because future free decisions do not 'exist' for Him to know," we respond: "Then how could God know an event that would never take place?" The problems, however, begin to increase.

Open Theists suggest that God "knows infallibly the content of his own future actions," even though they insist that God exists in a "presentist" reality, and that the future is open, unsettled, and does not yet exist. Therefore, God cannot know what does not yet exist. If so, then that would include His own future actions, since those actions do not yet exist. But the difficulty here is compounded: If God "knows infallibly the content of his own future actions," why are those actions necessary? To or with what is God interacting and, thus, acting towards? Open Theists almost appear to be suggesting that God has a plan for the future, the future that He cannot know exhaustively,3 the future that does not yet exist -- the future, then, about which He can know absolutely nothing at all.

When I grant to Matt an example from the names of individuals being written in the Lamb's Book of Life prior to, or from, the creation of the world (Rev. 13:8; 17:8), wondering how God might know whose names to place in that Book, since God cannot foreknow the details of such people, Matt argues that there is a distinction between "from the foundation of the world" and "before the foundation of the world." He offers Luke 11:50 and Hebrews 9:26 by way of support. Luke 11:50 uses ἀπὸ, from, while Hebrews 9:26 uses ἀπὸ, from, regarding the foundation of the world. What do we find in the Greek New Testament from Revelation 13:8 and Revelation 17:8? The author uses ἀπὸ, from, in both passages. Here, then, we have a distinction without a difference. Why must an Open Theist construct this distinction? Because the most obvious interpretation of the Revelation passages is that God recorded certain names in the Lamb's Book of Life ἀπὸ, from, the foundation of the world.

But this problem remains impossible for the Open Theist no matter the distinction. In other words, whether we view the issue of those names being recorded in the Book of Life from eternity past, or just prior to creation, or in light of creation or even after creation, the point is so painfully clear: those names were recorded in the Lamb's Book of Life before such persons existed. Since this is an uncontested truth of Scripture, then God Himself, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, inspired the intellect of the authors to record the truth that the names of specific people were written down in the Lamb's Book of Life before they existed. By what knowledge could God write down those names? Matt's argument, then, would have God's own stamp of approval: people are to be considered co-eternal with God.

Now, we know that this is an absurd statement, but the philosophical wrangling that the Open Theist is obliged to engage is due primarily to the problems the system itself creates. Let us return to the subject of God creating human beings in His image. If we assume an Open Theistic and "presentist" understanding of the knowledge, character and nature of God, then we must confess that God, regarding the creation of the first human being, decided in the moment (presentism) to create a mortal from the dust of the earth. I suppose we could assume that God had prior thoughts about this mortal creation. But what could God know about this mortal that He would create? From an Open Theistic philosophy, God could know His own intentions about Adam, but He could in no sense know with certainty what Adam would choose to do once he was created and lived out his life freely.

Did God foreknow that He Himself would create Adam? If so, then the Open Theist is back to square one with the problem presented by Matt, and Adam becomes co-eternal with God -- since God knew the future existence of Adam, and since that knowledge of Adam was an eternal truth, then Adam is co-eternal with God. In this sense, then, God must have, in a presentist framework, have spontaneously decided to create Adam with no prior thoughts of Adam and with no thoughts proper as to what Adam would freely choose to do. The question arises, then, how an Open Theistic God could insist the following with regard to Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jer. 1:5)

The Hebrew word terem, before, indicates a prior and not-yet reality. These are the very words spoken to the prophet Jeremiah by God Himself. (Jer. 1:4) So we know that poetry is not being used, nor is apocalyptic language or lyrics from a Psalm, so the Open Theist cannot deflect by proffering the biblical motif is not to be interpreted literally. If God could "know" Jeremiah before He created him in the womb, and even make definite and certain future plans for Jeremiah prior to his foreknown birth, could God not know aspects of Adam prior to creating him from the dust of the ground? If God can know some aspects of Adam then can He know all aspects of Adam? If not, why not? Jesus foreknew who would betray Him. (John 6:64) By what conceivable knowledge could Jesus have possibly foreknown His own betrayer? If Jesus foreknew this aspect of Judas, could He have foreknown all aspects of Judas? (cf. John 2:24) If not, why not, given what is argued in this post?

Arminians presume upon the eternality of God. If God is eternal, and if God is infinite in nature, then His knowledge, too, must be eternal and infinite. I fear that Open Theists too often are willing to sacrifice the infinity, character, and nature of God on the altar of free will. For many of us Arminians, this is a tragic unnecessary sacrifice, since God's knowledge of our future free will decisions renders intact both the sovereignty of God and the free will of His creatures. Mistakenly thinking that an act can only be free if it is unknown by God, a philosophical system is birthed, and the infinite nature of God is lost. No, a foreknowledge of people in no sense renders those people co-eternal with God, and we perceive of such an argument as an attempt at undermining the simple foreknowledge view and as a means (an unconvincing one at that) of promoting the novel theory of Open Theism.


1 F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 61-64.

2 Richard Rice, "Divine Foreknowledge and Free-Will Theism," in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1995), 134.

3 Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational View of Providence (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015), 115.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.