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Does the Bible Affirm Open Theism?

Introduction: Understanding Open Theism

Open Theism is a theological view that posits that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge of future free actions. Proponents argue that God knows all possibilities and probabilities but not the definite outcomes of free will choices. They suggest this view preserves human freedom and aligns with the dynamic and relational nature of God. However, traditional Christian theology, grounded in Scripture, maintains that God possesses complete foreknowledge, including all future contingents, while still upholding human free will.

The Nature of God's Foreknowledge: A Biblical Examination

Simple Foreknowledge: The Traditional View

The traditional view of God's foreknowledge, often referred to as Simple Foreknowledge, holds that God knows everything, including all future contingent events. This knowledge does not causally determine these events. God's foreknowledge is compared to seeing the shadow of someone before seeing the person; the shadow does not determine the person, the person determines the shadow. Similarly, God's knowledge of future events is based on their actual occurrence.

Scriptural Basis for God's Exhaustive Foreknowledge

  1. Isaiah 46:9-10: "Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'" This passage emphasizes God's ability to declare the end from the beginning, affirming His exhaustive foreknowledge and sovereignty.

  2. Psalm 139:4, 16: "Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Jehovah, you know it altogether... Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." Here, David acknowledges that God knows his words before he speaks and has written all his days before any have come to be, indicating complete knowledge of future events.

  3. Acts 2:23: "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." Peter’s statement shows that Jesus' crucifixion occurred according to God's foreknowledge and definite plan, underscoring the certainty and specificity of God's knowledge.

Open Theism's Perspective on God's Knowledge

Key Arguments of Open Theism

Open Theists argue that a genuine relationship between God and humans requires that the future be open and not fully known by God. They suggest that God knows all possible outcomes but does not know the definitive choices individuals will make. They use various scriptural passages to support this view, such as instances where God appears to change His mind or express regret.

  1. Genesis 6:6: "And Jehovah was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart." Open Theists interpret this as God experiencing regret over an unexpected outcome, suggesting that God did not foresee human wickedness to this extent.

  2. Exodus 32:14: "And Jehovah relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people." This passage is used to argue that God can change His plans based on human actions, indicating a dynamic relationship with creation.

Response to Open Theism's Scriptural Interpretations

While these passages might seem to support Open Theism at first glance, a deeper examination within the broader biblical context reveals a more nuanced understanding.

  1. Anthropomorphic Language: The Bible often uses anthropomorphic language, attributing human characteristics to God to help us understand His actions. When Scripture says God "relents" or "regrets," it communicates His relational nature and responsiveness without implying a limitation in His knowledge.

  2. God's Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Passages like Exodus 32:14 demonstrate God's interaction with humanity in a relational manner. However, they do not negate His foreknowledge. God's decisions can encompass human actions without compromising His omniscience. He knew Moses would intercede and factored that into His sovereign plan.

Theological Implications of Open Theism

God's Sovereignty and Omniscience

Open Theism challenges traditional views of God's sovereignty and omniscience. By positing that God does not know future free actions, it limits God's ability to ensure the fulfillment of His purposes. However, the Bible consistently affirms that God's plans are certain and unthwarted.

  1. Proverbs 19:21: "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of Jehovah that will stand." This verse reinforces the idea that human plans are subordinate to God's sovereign will, which is certain and unchangeable.

  2. Ephesians 1:11: "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will." Paul emphasizes that God works all things according to His will, affirming His control over history and future events.

The Assurance of God's Promises

The certainty of God's promises is grounded in His foreknowledge. If God did not know the future exhaustively, His promises and prophecies could not be guaranteed.

  1. Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares Jehovah, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." God's knowledge of His plans for His people provides assurance and hope, rooted in His omniscience.

  2. Revelation 22:13: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." This declaration underscores God's eternal nature and comprehensive knowledge of all things from beginning to end.

Addressing Common Misunderstandings

The Relationship Between Foreknowledge and Free Will

A common objection to the traditional view of foreknowledge is that it seemingly negates human free will. However, understanding foreknowledge as God's infallible knowledge of future events, based on their occurrence, preserves human freedom.

  1. Acts 4:27-28: "For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." This passage demonstrates that human actions, even those against Jesus, occurred according to God's predetermined plan, yet individuals acted freely.

  2. 1 Peter 1:2: "According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you." Peter acknowledges that believers are chosen according to God's foreknowledge, emphasizing that divine knowledge and human response coexist.

The Role of Prophecy in Demonstrating Foreknowledge

Prophecies in the Bible serve as a testament to God's foreknowledge. Accurate predictions of future events, often centuries in advance, confirm that God knows the future exhaustively.

  1. Isaiah 44:28: "Who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose'; saying of Jerusalem, 'She shall be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid.'" Isaiah's prophecy about Cyrus, given over a century before Cyrus's birth, demonstrates God's precise foreknowledge of future events.

  2. Daniel 9:25-26: "Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing." Daniel's prophecy accurately predicts the timeline of events leading to the coming of the Messiah, showing God's detailed foreknowledge.

The Practical Implications of Foreknowledge

Trust in God's Plan

Belief in God's exhaustive foreknowledge provides comfort and assurance to believers. Knowing that God has a comprehensive plan that includes all contingencies encourages trust and faithfulness.

  1. Romans 8:28: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." This verse reassures believers that God orchestrates all events for their ultimate good, rooted in His perfect knowledge.

  2. Philippians 1:6: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Paul's confidence in God's ability to complete His work in believers is based on God's exhaustive knowledge and sovereign will.

The Call to Faithful Living

Knowing that God has complete foreknowledge should inspire believers to live faithfully, trusting that their actions are part of God's overarching plan.

  1. Ephesians 2:10: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Believers are called to live out the good works God has prepared, knowing that their lives are part of His divine plan.

  2. 2 Timothy 1:9: "Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began." This verse emphasizes that God's purpose and grace were established before time, affirming His foreknowledge and calling believers to live according to His will.

Theological Reflections on Open Theism and Traditional Theology

Reaffirming God's Sovereignty

Open Theism seeks to address the problem of evil and human free will by limiting God's knowledge of future contingencies. However, traditional theology maintains that God's exhaustive foreknowledge does not negate human freedom but rather upholds God's sovereignty and the assurance of His promises.

  1. Job 42:2: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted." Job's confession acknowledges God's omnipotence and the certainty of His plans, grounded in His foreknowledge.

  2. Psalm 33:11: "The counsel of Jehovah stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations." The psalmist affirms that God's plans are eternal and unchangeable, reflecting His perfect knowledge and sovereign will.

The Harmony of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom

The relationship between divine foreknowledge and human freedom is often seen as paradoxical but is harmonious within the framework of traditional theology. God's knowledge of future events, including human choices, does not coerce or predetermine those choices.

  1. Deuteronomy 30:19: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live." This call to choose life emphasizes human responsibility and freedom within the context of God's knowledge and provision.

  2. Joshua 24:15: "And if it is evil in your eyes to serve Jehovah, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah." Joshua's challenge to choose whom to serve underscores the reality of human free will, even as God's sovereignty and foreknowledge remain intact.

Conclusion: The Affirmation of Traditional Theology

The Bible consistently affirms God's exhaustive foreknowledge, His sovereignty, and the compatibility of this foreknowledge with human freedom. Open Theism, while attempting to address complex theological issues, ultimately undermines the biblical portrayal of God's omniscience and the assurance found in His promises.

By maintaining the traditional view of God's foreknowledge, believers can trust in the certainty of God's plan, the reliability of His promises, and the meaningfulness of their free choices. The harmony between divine foreknowledge and human freedom is a profound mystery that underscores the depth and richness of God's nature as revealed in Scripture.

About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).



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