THE OMNISCIENCE ARGUMENT
There are many good reasons to believe that Jesus is NOT God. One such good reason is that Jesus was NOT eternally omniscient (all-knowing):
1. Something is God ONLY IF it is eternally omniscient.
2. Jesus was NOT eternally omniscient.
3. Jesus was NOT God.
PREMISE (1) IS TRUE
Premise (1) is based on a definition of “God” that would be acceptable to most Christian philosophers and theologians:
X is God IF AND ONLY IF:
- X is the creator of the universe, and
- X is a bodiless person, and
- X is eternally omnipotent, and
- X is eternally omniscient, and
- X is eternally perfectly good.
There is a strong motivation for Christians to believe that God is eternally omniscient. Christians believe their eternal salvation depends on God’s forgiving their sins, and forgiving those sins for all eternity, not just temporarily. If God were less than eternally omniscient, then God could not guarantee eternal and unchanging forgiveness of a person’s sins.
For example, what if God forgave your sins except for one small sin that God was not aware of? What if two hundred years after you die, God discovered one sin that he had not forgiven? Just one small sin is all that it takes to be condemned to eternal damnation in hell. So, when God discovers that one previously unknown sin, you might well be kicked out of heaven and sent to be tormented eternally in hell.
The theologian James Montgomery Boice makes this point about the omniscience of God:
…because God knows all things, he knows the worst about us and yet has loved us and saved us. In human relationships we often fear that something in us might come to light to break the relationship. …But God already knows the worst about us and nevertheless continues to demonstrate his love. …We needn’t fear that something within us will rise up to startle God, that some forgotten skeleton will come tumbling out of our closet to expose our shameful past or that some informer will speak out against us to bring shame. Nothing can happen that isn’t already known to God.Foundations of the Christian Faith, revised edition, 1986, p.138
Suppose that God forgives all of your sins, every last one of them. But at the time God forgave you, God had an incomplete understanding of the nature or significance of one of those sins. Suppose that five hundred years after you die, God comes to have a full and complete understanding of that one sin that God previously did not fully understand. At that point, God could reasonably change his mind and decide NOT to forgive that one sin, based on his now complete understanding of the nature and significance of that sin. Once again, at that point, you might well be kicked out of heaven and sent to be tormented eternally in hell.
In order for God’s forgiveness to be guaranteed for all eternity, God must know every little sin that you have ever committed, and God must forgive every single one of those sins. God being all-knowing or omniscient would guarantee that God knows every little sin that you have ever committed. If God were NOT all-knowing, then there is a chance that God would fail to be aware of every little sin you have ever committed, and thus be unable to forgive you for every little sin you have ever committed. In order for God’s forgiveness to be guaranteed for all eternity, God must also have a complete understanding of the nature and significance of all of your sins. Otherwise, there would be a chance that God’s understanding of one of your sins might change, and then God might reasonably change his mind and chose to NOT forgive you for that sin.
Since Christians believe that God’s forgiveness is complete and can never change for all eternity, this implies that God’s knowledge of every Christian’s sins, and God’s understanding of the nature and significance of those sins is complete and can never change. That in turn implies that God is eternally all-knowing or omniscient. It implies that God is eternally omniscient, because if God sometimes gains or loses omniscience, then that would involve a change in what God knows and understands, and that would make it possible for God to change his mind about a particular Christian believer’s forgiveness.
Another reason why Christians believe that God is omniscient or all-knowing is that the Bible teaches that God is all-knowing. In the Old Testament there are passages that indicate that God’s knowledge is vast and superhuman:
[God speaking to Job:]
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?Job 38:4-7, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
God knew the actions and even the thoughts of the people of Israel:
18 for I know their works and their thoughts.Isaiah 66:18, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
King David says that not only does God know everything he does and even his inner thoughts but God also knows exactly what David is going to say even before David starts to speak:
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.Psalm 139:1-6, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
God even knew how many days David would live, and God knew this before David was born:
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;Psalm 139:13-16, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
God knows how many stars there are, and God has named every one of them:
4 He determines the number of the stars;Psalm 147:4, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
he gives to all of them their names.
The New Testament also indicates that God’s knowledge is vast and superhuman. According to Jesus, God knows whenever a tiny bird falls to the ground, and God knows how many hairs are on each person’s head:
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted.Matthew 10:29-30, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
An epistle called 1 John, part of the New Testament, explicitly claims that God knows everything:
20 … God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.1 John 3:20, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
And in the letter to the Hebrews, another part of the New Testament, the author asserts that God is aware of every creature that exists:
13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.Hebrews 4:13, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
So, in order to deny that God is omniscient or all-knowing, one must deny the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and deny the inspiration and authority of the teachings of Jesus. Christians accept the inspiration and authority of the Bible and of the teachings of Jesus, so most Christians believe that God is omniscient or all-knowing.
To the extent that being omniscient is a necessary condition for being God, the loss of omniscience by a person who was previously omniscient implies that that person is no longer God (if he/she was previously God). But Christians don’t believe that God can CEASE to exist or CEASE to be God, so in order for God to be a being who exists eternally, God must be eternally omniscient. Also, Christians believe that God is unchanging, so that is another reason why God is viewed as being eternally omniscient. Someone who ceases to be omniscient was never God in the first place. A person cannot be temporarily omniscient and be God temporarily. To be God, a person must exist eternally and be eternally omniscient.
THE CASE FOR JESUS BEING OMNISCIENT
Before I argue that Jesus was NOT eternally omniscient, I need to examine the arguments of Christian apologists for the belief that Jesus was eternally omniscient. If their arguments FAIL, then it will be appropriate to consider arguments against this belief about Jesus.
In their book Putting Jesus in His Place (hereafter: PJHP), Robert Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski make a case for the deity of Jesus. One of their arguments is based on the claim that Jesus was omniscient. They argue for this claim about Jesus:
The New Testament attributes this same omniscience [possessed by God] to Jesus Christ.PJHP, p.119
However, people who doubt or disbelieve that Jesus was God, don’t usually believe that the New Testament was inspired by God and is 100% correct about every claim it makes.
I, for example, believe that there is no God, no angels, no demons, and that miracles do not occur. I believe that much of the content of the Gospels is fictional. So, my view of the New Testament is that it makes many false historical and theological claims. Skeptics and doubters are not going to be persuaded to believe the fantastical claim that some Jewish peasant who lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago was omniscient just because some Christian author wrote a book or letter in the first century that CLAIMS that this was so.
Since the New Testament contains many absurd, contradictory, and false claims, skeptics are justified in rejecting an argument based on an appeal to the supposed inspiration and authority of the New Testament.
Bowman and Komoszewski reference various NT passages as evidence of the omniscience of Jesus:
- Jesus’ disciples allegedly believed that he knew everyone’s heart (Acts Chapter 1)
- Jesus’ disciples allegedly believed that Jesus “knew everything” (John Chapters 16 & 21)
- The Gospels claim Jesus knew what other people were thinking (Matthew Chapter 9 & 12, Mark Chapter 2, Luke Chapter 6)
- According to the New Testament, Jesus will judge all human beings, which implies that he knows what is in everyone’s heart (Matthew Chapter 25, John Chapter 5, Acts Chapter 17, 1 Corinthians Chapter 4, 2 Corinthians Chapter 5)
- Jesus allegedly knew that a woman whom he had not previously met had been married five times (John Chapter 4)
- Jesus allegedly knew that Lazarus had died before news of this came to him (John Chapter 11)
- Jesus allegedly knew that Judas would betray him and that Peter would deny him three times (Matthew Chapter 26, Mark Chapter 14, Luke Chapter 22, John Chapters 6 & 13)
- Jesus allegedly knew that he would be arrested, tortured, and killed when he went to Jerusalem (Matthew Chapters 16, 17 & 20, Mark Chapter 8)
- Jesus allegedly knew that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed soon (Matthew Chapters 23 & 24, Mark Chapter 13, Luke Chapter 21)
First of all, even if all of these alleged NT claims were true, that would NOT show that Jesus was omniscient. If God exists, then God, who is omniscient by definition, would have been able to communicate information to Jesus that Jesus would have been unable to know by any normal or natural human means.
God could have communicated what was in some person’s heart or mind to Jesus. God could have informed Jesus that a specific woman had been married five times. God could have told Jesus that Lazarus had died before any human brought this news to Jesus. God could have let Jesus know that Judas would betray him and that Peter would deny him three times.
All of the above-alleged examples can be reasonably explained on the basis that God is all-knowing, even if Jesus only had a normal limited amount of knowledge like other humans.
According to Robert Bowman Jr. (in 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists; hereafter: TCE), the prophet Moses correctly predicted (in Deuteronomy Chapter 28) that the nation of Israel would be “conquered by foreign nations, killed in mass numbers, and the few survivors would be scattered throughout the world…” (20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, p.159; hereafter: TCE) centuries before the Israelites were “conquered by the Assyrians in the north, and by the Babylonians in the south.” (TCE, p.159). Does Bowman conclude that Moses was omniscient? NO. Does Bowman conclude that Moses was God? NOPE.
According to Bowman, the prophet Isaiah correctly predicted (in Isaiah Chapter 11) that the remnant of the Israelites (the Jews) would gather in Palestine to once again form a nation (TCE, p.159), which came to pass in the 20th Century. Isaiah made this prediction about seven centuries before Jesus was born. Based on this alleged amazing knowledge of the distant future, does Bowman conclude that Isaiah was omniscient? NO. Does Bowman conclude that Isaiah was God? NOPE.
According to Bowman, the prophet Daniel correctly predicted in the middle of the 6th Century BCE (in Daniel Chapter 9) that the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which was in ruins at that time, would be rebuilt and then destroyed again (TCE, p.160-162). The temple was rebuilt a few decades later, and then it was destroyed again in 70 CE by the Romans, allegedly over six hundred years after Daniel predicted this event. Does Bowman conclude that Daniel was omniscient? NO. Does Bowman conclude that Daniel was God? NOPE.
So, although Bowman believes that Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel each made accurate predictions of future events that they could not have known about by any natural means, Bowman does NOT conclude that these men were omniscient, nor does he conclude that they were God.
Bowman would explain this by saying that God, who is omniscient, communicated information about some future events to Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel, so they would be able to make accurate predictions about the future without themselves being omniscient. But, OBVIOUSLY, this same explanation can be used in the case of Jesus. So, the evidence that Bowman and Komoszewski provide is CLEARLY insufficient to show that Jesus was omniscient or that Jesus was God.
In their book Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity (hereafter: BDHD), Josh McDowell and Bart Larson also make a case for Jesus being omniscient. Their arguments, like the arguments of Bowman and Komoszewski assume that the Gospels are 100% reliable and accurate, that the New Testament was inspired by God, and that every claim by the NT is true.
Because there are good reasons to deny that the Gospels are 100% historically reliable and accurate accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, almost all of the premises of the arguments by McDowell and Larson are DUBIOUS, just like the premises in the arguments of Bowman and Komoszewski.
Just like Bowman and Komoszewski, McDowell and Larson fail to notice the OBVIOUS point that prophets in the Old Testament (like Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel) also allegedly had amazing supernatural knowledge of future events. Do McDowell and Larson think that Moses was omniscient? NO. Do McDowell and Larson believe that Moses was God? NOPE. Do McDowell and Larson conclude that Isaiah was omniscient? NO. Do McDowell and Larson infer that Isaiah was God? NOPE. They too FAIL to notice that the same logic applies to Jesus. Jesus could have had superhuman or supernatural knowledge without being omniscient and without being God, just like Moses and Isaiah.
The arguments made by Bowman and Komoszewski and by McDowell and Larson FAIL for the same reasons. Their premises are based on the FALSE ASSUMPTION that the Gospels are historically reliable and that the claims of the NT are 100% true and accurate. Thus, their premises are all DUBIOUS. Furthermore, their inferences from those DUBIOUS premises are ILLOGICAL, because there are plausible alternative explanations, even if those premises were true, and they themselves do NOT use their own faulty logic when it comes to their thinking about other people, such as Old Testament “prophets” (e.g. Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel). Their cases for the view that Jesus is omniscient FAIL.
PREMISE (2) IS TRUE
One good reason to deny that Jesus was eternally omniscient is that Jesus was NOT eternal:
4. Jesus was NOT eternal.
5. IF Jesus was NOT eternal, THEN Jesus was NOT eternally omniscient.
2. Jesus was NOT eternally omniscient.
This argument is logically VALID; it is a standard modus ponens inference. Premise (5) is a self-evident analytic truth. So, the only question there is left to determine is whether premise (4) is true. Here is an argument in support of premise (4):
6. Jesus believed that Adam (in the book of Genesis) was the first human.
7. IF Jesus believed that Adam (in the book of Genesis) was the first human, THEN Jesus was NOT eternal.
4. Jesus was NOT eternal.
The logic of this argument is VALID; it is a standard modus ponens inference. Neither premise (6) nor premise (7) are self-evident or obvious truths. However, there are good reasons to believe both premises. I have argued in support of those premises in Part 1 of this series, so please read that previous post if you doubt or deny either of those premises.
Another good reason to believe that Jesus was NOT eternally omniscient is that Jesus was NOT omniscient at some points in his life:
8. Jesus was NOT omniscient at some points in his life.
9. IF Jesus was NOT omniscient at some points in his life, THEN Jesus was NOT eternally omniscient.
2. Jesus was NOT eternally omniscient.
This argument is logically VALID; it is a standard modus ponens inference. Premise (9) is a self-evident analytic truth. So, the only question remaining about this argument is whether premise (8) is true or false.
There are at least three points in Jesus’ life where he was NOT omniscient:
- As a child, Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke Chapter 2).
- At one point, Jesus did not know the day or hour of his future return to Earth (Mark Chapter 13, Matthew Chapter 24)
- Just before he was arrested, Jesus asked God to spare him from crucifixion and death (Mark Chapter 14, Matthew Chapter 26, Luke Chapter 22).
According to the Gospel of Luke, as a child Jesus “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). Wisdom is concerned with practical knowledge, being able to make good decisions in life:
WISDOMCambridge Academic Content Dictionary
the ability to make good judgments based on what you have learned from your experience, or the knowledge and understanding that gives you this ability
In the second sense, wisdom just IS “the knowledge and understanding” that gives one the ability to make good decisions and choices. In the first sense, wisdom is that ability itself.
Obviously, in the second sense, in order to GROW in wisdom, one must GROW in “knowledge and understanding”. So, in that second sense, GROWING in wisdom logically implies GROWING in “knowledge and understanding”, and GROWING in “knowledge and understanding” means that prior to that growth, one had LESS “knowledge and understanding” than after that growth. Therefore, if Jesus GREW in wisdom in the second sense, then Jesus was clearly NOT omniscient (i.e. all-knowing) prior to that growth in his wisdom.
What about the first sense of wisdom, where wisdom refers to the ABILITY to make good decisions and choices? Does GROWTH in such ability imply GROWTH in “knowledge and understanding”? One might argue that good decisions and choices are based on relevant facts and data, but the relevant facts and data that one knows don’t form conclusions or decisions or choices by themselves. Someone needs to THINK about and REASON with those facts in order to arrive at a conclusion, decision, or choice. Two people could have the same basic set of relevant facts, and yet arrive at very different conclusions, decisions, or choices. One person might be better at THINKING and REASONING from a given set of facts than another person.
Using facts and information to draw conclusions, make decisions, or make choices requires intellectual skill and ability, and one person might be better than another person in terms of their ability to THINK or REASON using facts and information. Therefore, a person could GROW in the ability to make good decisions and choices by GROWING in their skill or ability to THINK and REASON using facts and information, even though they had the same set of facts and information prior to GROWING in their skill or ability to THINK and REASON as the facts and information they have after GROWING in their skill or ability to THINK and REASON.
Nevertheless, this would involve GROWTH in KNOWING HOW TO THINK or REASON. Thus, a person who GROWS in wisdom in this sense increases in KNOWING HOW to do something, namely how to THINK and REASON using facts and information to make a decision or choice. Such a person INCREASES in their KNOWING HOW to do this, and that logically implies that prior to GROWING in their skill or ability to THINK and REASON, they had less KNOWLEDGE of how to THINK and REASON than after they have experienced this GROWTH. Therefore, someone who experiences GROWING in wisdom in this first sense, logically cannot have been omniscient (all-knowing) prior to experiencing that GROWTH in wisdom.
So, if we understand “wisdom” to be the “knowledge and understanding” that gives someone the ability to make good decisions and choices, then a person who GROWS in wisdom cannot have been omniscient (all-knowing) prior to that GROWTH. On the other hand, if we understand “wisdom” to be simply the ability to make good decisions and choices, then it is still the case that a person who GROWS in wisdom cannot have been omniscient (all-knowing) prior to that GROWTH. Thus, if Jesus “grew in wisdom” as a child, then there was a point in Jesus’ youth when Jesus was NOT omniscient. This gives us a good reason to believe premise (8) is TRUE:
8. Jesus was NOT omniscient at some points in his life.
Another good reason to believe premise (8) is that Jesus told his disciples that he did NOT KNOW the day and the hour that he would be returning to the Earth “coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition, see also Matthew Chapter 24):
But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.Mark 13:32, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (see also Matthew 24:36)
So, at that point in time, there was something that Jesus DID NOT KNOW. But someone who is omniscient knows everything, including every detail of what is going to happen in the future. So, at that point in time, Jesus was NOT omniscient. Therefore, premise (8) is TRUE.
A third good reason to believe premise (8) is that shortly before his arrest, Jesus prayed this:
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.”Luke 22:42, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (see also Mark 14:36 and Matthew 26:39)
Clearly, Jesus did not want to be crucified and killed. However, if he was omniscient, then he KNEW that he would be crucified and killed, and he knew exactly when that would happen. So, there would be NO POINT or REASON to ask God to spare him from being crucified and killed.
According to the Gospels, Jesus BELIEVED that he was going to be crucified and killed soon. But BELIEVING this would still leave open the possibility that it might not happen. KNOWING, however, that he would soon be crucified and killed, leaves no possibility that he would NOT be crucified and killed. So, the fact that Jesus asked God to prevent his crucifixion and death implies that Jesus DID NOT KNOW that he would soon be crucified and killed. Thus, this prayer by Jesus implies that at that point in time Jesus DID NOT KNOW that he would soon be crucified, and at that point in time Jesus was NOT omniscient. Therefore, premise (8) is TRUE.
There are at least three good reasons to believe that premise (8) is true, and we have good reason to conclude that the above argument is SOUND, and that premise (2) has been established:
2. Jesus was NOT eternally omniscient.
In the next part of this series, I will provide a third argument in support of premise (2).