Open Theism/Neotheism -- A Critique

Our subject here is the system of thought called open theism, or sometimes neotheism, or the open view of God -- hereafter designated OVT for short. OVT, perhaps because it posits a God that does not know the future accurately, doesn't seem to have caught on very well with most people (and certainly not to the level of Mormonism). OVT also uses some of the same arguments used by atheists and Skeptics who claim that the Bible does not depict God as omniscient. Hence many of OVT's arguments were already answered on this site.

Our initial subject is John Sanders, author of The God Who Risks (hereafter GWR) and one whom I recognize as the premier proponent for OVT and perhaps its most intelligent advocate.

As an irony, Sanders once debated James White on this subject, in my area; I was not able to attend, but am told that White rather handily took the debate from Sanders, who did not seem prepared for the debate. We also add consideration of the views expressed by Gergory Boyd in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views [13ff].

OVT advances a number of philosophical arguments (related to such things as the argument from evil, as Miller addresses (Link 1 below), but because our speciality here is Biblical interpretation, we will focus mainly on the question, Can the Bible support and OVT point of view?

Within Sanders' GWR, this means we will only look in detail at Chapters 2 and 3 (OT and NT cites). Not all that Sanders offers is off the mark, and in fact, some of his conclusions are the same we arrived at in our look at unconditional election. But this has to do with issues that are not OVT distinctives. On that, Sanders' exegetical methods do go rather too far.

Sanders speaks of "divine risk" in GWR. If by "risk" one means, "God does things knowing that they will not, because of free agents' acts, turn out perfectly" then we have no issue with Sanders; this agrees with our understanding of election and foreknowledge as found in the above link.

But Sanders as an OVTheist advocates a view that "divine risk" here implies that God does things not knowing how they will turn out. And herein lies one of my basic philosophical problems with OVT.

The God of OVT is not only not omniscient in terms of the future, but is also such a poor student of psychology that He cannot even predict our general behavioral tendencies. Even if OVT posits a God who is just a lot smarter than anyone, rather than just omniscient, it seems to me that they "dumb God down" too far -- and don't see the problem in doing so.

The closest I have seen to this realization is where Boyd allows that Peter's denial could be predicted because anyone "who knew Peter's character perfectly could have predicted that under certain highly pressured circumstances [which God could easily orchestrate, if he needed to], Peter would act the way he did." -- 20. Then the same could be said here of Abraham or any other figure. Craig in turn rightly replies that to predict three denials specifically as opposed to silence, flight, etc. infers, by Boyd's logic, a significant manipulation of events that results in LESS free will for humans than the classical view.

The model of ancient personal relationships is such that:

...the "personal relationship" [with Jesus] paradigm shatters upon the point that the "personal relationship" as we know it is a modern phenomenon. Malina notes in The New Testament World [66] that in a collectivist culture, people "did not know each other very well in the way we know people, that is, psychologically, individually, intimately, and personally." People were not considered "psychologically unique worlds" to each other; personal idiosyncracies obviously existed, but were considered unimportant and uninteresting.

Modern persons, Malina notes, would think such people were rigid or highly controlled, or fearful of others; which bespeaks the bigotry and misunderstanding of those Skeptics who i.e., say Paul is an obsessed personality, or that he and others acted in a highly controlling manner.

The bottom line for us here is that the "personal relationship with Jesus" model is an anachronistic product of our own times, a remaking of God and Jesus in our own image.

In light of this consider these quotes from open theists like Sanders:

[Open Theism] . . . Presents an understanding of God's nature and relationship with his creatures, which we call the openness of God; in broad strokes, it takes the following form. God, in grace, grants humans significant freedom to cooperate with or work against God's will for their lives, and he enters into dynamic, give and take relationships with us. The Christian life involves genuine interaction between God and human beings. We respond to God's gracious initiatives and God responds to our responses . . . and on it goes. God takes risks in this give-and-take relationship, yet he is endlessly resourceful and competent in working toward his ultimate goals.

Sometimes God alone decides how to accomplish these goals. On other occasions, God works with human decisions, adapting his own plans to fit the changing situation. God does not control everything that happens. Rather, he is open to receiving input from his creatures. In loving dialogue, God invites us to participate with him to bring the future into being.

Everything unique Sanders lays out is in fact the opposite of a patronal relationship: There is not significant "interaction" but a primarily one-way relationship; there is no "dynamic" attribute or risk, and the patron does not receive "input" from the clients. If the social world of the NT is any indication, open theism is seriously anachronistic.

Chapter 2 of Sanders offers, to begin, four points [41] with which we have no disagreement:

  1. We cannot fathom God "apart from our relationship as creatures."
  2. The "creation is due to divine grace" and God was not required to create.
  3. God "works within limits" -- we obviously agree that God works within logical constraints (i.e., God cannot make 2 and 2 equal 5, or create and not create), and also, for God to have chosen to create this possible world means He chose from among possible worlds to create.
  4. God is sovereign in His creation and has no equitable opposition (i.e., dualism in a Zoroastrian sense is to be rejected).

Sanders derives some points from this that are also relatively non-controversial, other than perhaps to hyper-Calvinists and fatalists: God sets limits for men and their behavior, while also giving them freedom to pass those limits, and only in this state can love truly be expressed. As C. S. Lewis once remarked, all other commands, other than not eating of the tree, involved acts that were beneficial to men in of themselves; only the seemingly irrational command to not eat of the tree was a matter of pure obedience out of love.

God also experiences grief (Sanders says "suffers", a word I would not use) and regret over the harmful, free choices of his creatures. Here is our first exemplar of where OVT duplicates atheism. Gen. 6:5-6 and other verses where God "repents" are taken by Skeptics to suggest a non-omniscient God. However, it is possible to grieve and feel sorry over something even if we know that it is going to happen, even if we cause it to happen.

There is something of an irony in this (also noted by Craig in Four Views, 59, who points to the inconsistency of interpreting passages speaking of God's arms, face, etc. metaphorically as the OVT position does, yet not treating passages where God repents, etc. the same way), since the question of God's ability to feel and experience emotion is one that we have encountered in addressing Mormonism.

We have seen LDS apologists use such verses as Gen. 6:6-7 in support of the "God is a man of flesh and bones" theory, and replied in turn that such passages do not require a flesh body -- only a conscious mind. And with that said, there are some cautions to be issued when it comes to passages that speak of God's emotions.

Pilch and Malina in the Handbook of Biblical Social Values [50ff, 56ff] note the emphasis in the Biblical world on dramatic orientation as a point of honor. To be expressive in word and deed was to "gain, maintain, and enhance personal and group honor." Expressions of eloquence, which involve exaggeration and over-assertion, may at times "not [be] intended to be taken seriously but are made solely for effect and are heartily appreciated and applauded by an audience that enjoys such eloquence when it hears it."

Free and unrestrained expression of emotion was normal and acceptable, but may not always be taken seriously; note that this is NOT (as one critic of this article suggested) a matter of "honesty" for contextually in this setting, there is no "lie" being perpetrated (i.e., everyone KNOWS the expression is not "real"). Consider in this light the Jewish practice of paid mourners who were paid to wail, but obviously had no personal grief to speak of.

We note this as a caution against reading too much into passages where God is said to feel or express emotion. To put it in modern terms, some of this may have been "performance art" -- not "real" repentance or grief. And if that is so, one of OVT's leading premises is in need of serious qualification.

Sanders takes a close look at the relationship between God and Abraham. We believe Sanders is right to speak of God having a "divine goal of developing people who love and trust him in such a way that they collaborate with God toward the fulfillment of the project...." Yet this does not, as Sanders implies, lend credence to an OVT view, for the joy of developing such a relationship, and the process, remains the same under any circumstance.

In the end Sanders is at a loss to provide tangible evidence of God's ignorance of the future here. He notes that God warns Abraham of rough times ahead, without being specific (Gen. 15:13-16); yet this is just as well a way for God to forestall any pre-emptive actions on Abraham's part. If Abraham had been told that his descendants would fight Canaanites, how much temptation would there be for Abraham to slit a few throats among those who were contextually innocent predecessors of his descendants' enemies? If I were God, I would be ambiguous as well, even if I knew it all, when it came to telling people what was up with their future. I would keep specifics under wraps or limited to certain persons.

For Abraham to know that much would be "too much information". The reader may wish to consider in this light the Back to the Future movies in which Doc Brown warned Marty that it was never good to know too much about one's future.

This leads to the next passage -- Abraham's forestalled sacrifice of Isaac. Once again OVT posits a God so unaware of human psychology that He needed to genuinely test Abraham, because He did not know how Abraham would actually react. Indeed Sanders sees God's declaration, "now I know," as causing serious theological problems for a traditional theistic view.

However, the word used for "know" is yada has broad connotations meaning knowledge (when something was not known before) or familiarity, or observation. In the latter sense, it would suggest that God could not logically act in time upon human responses until the response was made. In this context indeed it strongly suggests -- because of the covenant relationship between God and Abraham -- a case of God bearing witness to Abraham's fidelity and providing certification.

Let us moreover consider elsewhere where this word combination, "now I know," is found:

Ex. 18:10-11 And Jethro said, Blessed be the LORD, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.

Did Jethro not know before that Yahweh was "greater than all gods"? He may not have; there is no predecessor text describing what he thought of Yahweh, if he knew of Him at all, but I do consider such ignorance unlikely.

Judges 17:13 Then said Micah, Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.

Did Micah not know before that Yahweh did good to His people? That's rather unlikely. On the other hand, his view of Yahweh is rather stilted (being that he does take a private priest) so that it's not easy to take his words in support of any position.

Judges 18:14 Then answered the five men that went to spy out the country of Laish, and said unto their brethren, Do ye know that there is in these houses an ephod, and teraphim, and a graven image, and a molten image? now therefore consider what ye have to do.

The same Hebrew words are here, but it is clearly not a "I don't know" sort of issue. It is more of a realization or recognition of what is true. The same is so of the next verses:

1 Samuel 25:17 Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.
2 Samuel 24:13 So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.

Here again, the meaning is one of realization and recognition, without lack of earlier knowledge indicated.

Ps. 20:5-6 We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the LORD fulfil all thy petitions. Now know I that the LORD saveth his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.
Jer. 42:22 Now therefore know certainly that ye shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, in the place whither ye desire to go and to sojourn.

From these examples it is clear that "ignorance beforehand" is not implied by the "now I know." Ps. 20:5-6 certainly is not, and Jer. 42:22 comes a few verses after Jeremiah has already said that this is an option. Clearly the word combination can refer to certification of a fact already know, and confirmed by observation.

In the case of Genesis, we would again offer the conclusion that the "now I know" is a contractual seal saying what God has observed in response (in time) to a human act.

There is another parallel phrase: the word "now" is different in Hebrew, but yada is the same:

Gen. 12:11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:

Men, don't imitate Abraham on this one! You think after decades of marriage Abraham didn't already actually know Sarah was attractive? If you think so, you'll sleep in the doghouse tonight! But then again, the same phrase is found here:

2 Kings 5:15 And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.

Namaan as a pagan did learn something "new" here -- but Abraham didn't. Therefore lack of earlier knowledge us NOT integral to the meaning of yada.

Sanders next takes on Gen. 18:22-23 and other verses where God is "prevailed upon" by His creatures, and this is one we have addressed in a link above, thusly: It is the incident in which Abraham intercedes with God on behalf of Sodom, asking Him to spare the city in a classic ANE "marketplace bartering" conversation which probably served to give Abraham some idea what this new God of "his" was like.

Did God here offer to change His mind? Let's put it this way. The story, and Jeremiah 18:7-10 ("If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it."), indicates that with intercession and/or change, God will make a change in an announced plan. But if God is omniscient, then He knew in advance what Abraham would ask for -- and knew also what the end result would be. (Note that God asks, clearly rhetorically [18:17], whether He should tell Abraham what His plans are, and that the number of possible righteous goes only to 10 -- the next logical increment, 5, would have been less than the number of Lot's family of 6: Lot, his wife, his two daughters, and their prospective grooms. In essence Abraham is pleading for Lot's safety here.)

God dealt with Abraham in human terms for his own sake; but even before the conversation started, the matter was decided. God did not change nor compromise, but in fact, in feigning ignorance (v. 21), dropped a very strong hint that intercession on Abraham's part was desired. This incident was more than a typical ANE barter-exchange, then: It was also a tone-setting meeting laying down the terms upon which God would relate to His covenant people. He knew what they would do; but He also wanted them to come to Him in their need.

This general principle of intercession -- which of course was always foreknown -- can be seen in other cites commonly used in this argument: Exodus 32:10-14; Numbers 16:20-35 and 44-50; 2 Kings 20:1-7, and Amos 7:3, 6.

We believe Sanders is right to note that God makes himself available to His people [53] but that he errs in seeing this as a case of the "divine decision" being open (and the future unknown), versus establishing relational parameters between God and His people. Had Abraham known already what God would do, then where would be the relationship?

Sanders next addresses the story of Joseph. He admits that a "risk-free" reading of the texts is "possible" but attempts to uncover (via Freitheim) "problems" with the view: namely, that the brothers are ascribed responsibility for what happened.

It is hard to see why this "problem" makes OVT more plausible, although it does cause problems for a hyper-Calvinist or fatalist view, and does fit in with what we have written on Unconditional Election in the linked item above. Sanders does not say, however, that the story supports a distinctively OVT model of God's knowledge. Nor does he address this point in his section -- whose subtitle we agree with -- "God works with what is available." Indeed, we have pointed out that it would be an incompetent God indeed that could not get His will done without constantly creating new agents.

Much of Boyd's initial argumentation is along this line as well, answering the traditional use of Is. 46:9-11, speaking of God "declaring end from beginning," by noting that this need not imply that God declares every little detail that happens. This is so, but this does not yet leave a door open for a full-blown OVT view, for it bypasses the median view we offer in the Unconditional Election article linked above. Boyd does not differentiate between the idea that the future may be exhaustively declared and that it may simply be exhaustively foreknown with much being managed in only a passive sense of sovereignty.

As Hunt replies to Boyd, exhaustive foreknowledge only implies that the future is epistemically settled, not causally settled in a way that conflicts with human freedom [53] -- a distinction that Skeptics I have dealt with in the past have also failed to recognize.

Sanders does make much of Moses' refusal to be a speaker, and of God's offer of a "Plan B" to make Aaron the lead speaker. As we have said in another context: Why did God choose people like Abraham, Saul, and David to do His bidding when they turned out to be such rotten eggs? May I just say that this objection is highly presumptuous in that it assumes without the least hint of proof that someone better must have been available. God chose Abraham -- who else was available? Perhaps if (allow me to be facetious here for a moment) unknown to divinity some large chunk of masonry had come crashing down on old Abe's head when he was 20, someone else would have been second choice, anyone from Farmer Nxlhtl in the Yucatan jungles to Sheepherder Wong in desert China.

And: God chose Abraham, for Abraham fulfilled God's purpose precisely, but clearly a second person would have fulfilled God's purpose less precisely, and this is why they were not chosen and Abraham was. Now let me expand this point by a larger example.

One of my favorite fiction genres is that of alternate history, as by Harry Turtledove. A recent book by this author proposed to show what would have happened had George III of England and George Washington made peace, not war. As might be expected from a human production, the world was in many ways "better" but in many ways merely different and seldom "worse": air travel was by dirigibles; ground travel, including by cars, was by steam. Life's pace was more leisurely. The bald eagle was not seen as a heroic bird, but as a filthy scavenger. Alaska still belonged to Russia. An Iriquois nation existed in New York state. John F. Kennedy was alive and was the lecherous editor of a Boston periodical, never having been President. Los Angeles was a city named Victoria. And so on.

Such exercises in creativity are fun, but they make a certain point: Upon the smallest actions may history turn. And thus as well God can exercise sovereignty via a wide range of actions, not always necessarily a decree that you will move your finger "that a way". And like Job before God, we are far too ignorant to say with any authority that what God has ordained thusly, and in any way, is wrong.

This much we agree with, with Sanders.

But Sanders rather overstates the force of Moses' words, "And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee." (Ex. 4:1) Sanders understands this to be Moses questioning God, and he is right, but takes too much out of that God does not respond by "telling Moses he has a false understanding of divine foreknowledge".

Would that have actually answered Moses' objection? Hardly. God gave a tangible answer by showing His power -- mere assurances that He could see the future would just have been begged questions in context. This is not a recognition of a legitimate objection by Moses, as Sanders argues, but a deafening rebuttal to it. By the same token, the later (4:7-10) note that the first signs may not compel belief are far from ignorance on God's part, but once again, the same principle we have noted above about prophecy: If God had told Moses plainly, "that sign will not work," then what motivation does Moses have to do the sign in the first place? Would not the definitive knowledge affect how he acted?

Perhaps an illustration from the realm of fiction would be helpful at this point. Though he portrays an unrealistic dualistic theology, fantasy writer David Eddings is quite on the mark in terms of prophecy and human reaction. Eddings' deities stress that their creatures are NOT told all things, and not always told everything clearly, precisely because if they did know everything, they would tend to foul things up.

A chief human character, Belgarath the Sorceror, protests to the "good" dualistic deity that he should have been told of certain events in advance; the deity replies that it was better for Belgarath not to know, because he had a tendency to stick his nose into things and try to run the show.

Despite Eddings' dualism, the principle he expounds is sound. OVT takes the matter beyond what is needed, because it views the situations in oversimplified black and white terms.

Craig [119] posits a similar scenario using Ebenezer Scrooge: If the Ghost of Christmas Future had answered his question, "Are these shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?" by candidly saying, "No, these shadows are not scenes of of things that will be" then "Scrooge might have felt no cause for alarm at all, since none of what he had witnessed would in fact come to pass" causing him to repent and change his life.

We have little argument (as noted in the link above) with Sanders' characterization of the use of Pharaoh and Egypt, or with his understanding of the human relationship with God as "bilateral". Our notes above about Abraham and Gen. 6 offer the same answer to Sanders' appeal to Moses' intercession with God at Sinai, Num. 23:19, and 1 Samuel 15. The idea that God "lisps" to us is inventive and unnecessary in this context. We refer to our item at Link 2 below, with a special point now to our comments about "prophetic hyperbole" as noted by Caird:

A prophet was a messenger and an exhorter. His words were never set in stone. A key verse for this is Jer. 18:7-10 --

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

With this verse, and the fact that the role of a prophet was more than just as a predictor, it is quite clear why it is pointless to object when, for example, God withholds judgment upon Nineveh (Jonah 3:10). We may read it as a definitive prophecy, but it would be understood by the hearers as exhortation allowing for the disaster to be avoided.

Following ancient rules of rhetoric and the constraints of oral communication, as well as the nature of the Semitic mindset which, typically expressed itself in extremes, it would be less appropriate for a prophet making a popular declaration to delineate possible exceptions in his general proclamation. Such side-tracking would make his message less memorable and effective in an era when retention and effect was far more important in the short term than detailed analysis.

G. B. Caird in The Language and Imagery of the Bible [112ff] uses several passages cited typically by Skeptics in this context as examples of "prophetic hyperbole" intended to express matters in an unqualified way, yet hardly meaning that there was no chance to escape judgment.

Sanders uses Jonah 3:10 (as well as 2 Kings 20) in a way that is little different than modern Skeptics -- and his use is just as erroneous.

Sanders has certain philosophical problems with the idea that God could always foreknow an event, and yet also react emotionally to it. As noted above, his understanding lacks certain social science graces; and in terms of the alleged problem of God being provoked to an emotion at a particular time, one might compare this objection to that of Skeptics who say that the Bible errs in speaking of "sunrise" and "sunset". As the latter terms are used, even today, from a "geocentric" perspective, so it makes sense that notes of God's acts are related from an "ethnocentric" experiential perspective. We are creatures locked to a certain space and time, so detailing the matter from our own perspective is only to be expected.

Sanders offers a focus on passages like these [74]:

Ezekiel 12:3 Therefore, thou son of man, prepare thee stuff for removing, and remove by day in their sight; and thou shalt remove from thy place to another place in their sight: it may be they will consider, though they be a rebellious house.

According to Sanders, passages like these where God is "explicitly depicted as not knowing the specific future" are evidence for an OVT paradigm. Other than that telling Ezekiel "no, they will not repent" would lead to despair and no reason for Ezekiel to act (as noted above), this is again a case of OVT making God lessapt at human psychology than a human psychologist.

It is far more likely that God's words in passages like these are sarcasm of the sort one might say thusly: "No, he would not want that job, because then he'd have to take more responsibility." Taking more responsibility is ordinarily regarded as a good thing to do, but if we speak here of a person who is lazy and shiftless, the comment takes on a sarcastic tone.

Relatedly Boyd points to passage like Is. 5:4:

What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?

Boyd argues that the declared "unexpected" occurrence of wild grapes points to an OVT position; he approaches the text, however, from a Western conception that no one would ask such a question unless they needed an answer. The use of a rhetorical question as a means of shaming one's subject is a far better contextual understanding of this comment and others like it (Jer. 3:19-20) -- whether God is the one delivering the question or not. To speak as Boyd does of a "straightforward reading" of the text is to be anachronistic.

The chapter next engages an extended discussion on God's anger and wrath. As noted above, such passages should be viewed with caution; one obviously may agree that God is involved with His people, but it is too "black and white" to assume that God's anger is like human anger. Sanders does not discuss how God's anger is different from human anger (other than noting that the former is righteous) and this is a topic I feel he should have covered.

A section is then offered which is little different from what we have reported about primary causality in the link above [81ff]. We agree with Sanders' statement: "...God has sovereignly decided to providentially operate in a dynamic give-and-take relationship with his creatures." [87] This closes Sanders' look at the OT.

We now move to the NT, and here we must offer a substantive caveat that way well affect cites in the OT used by Sanders. We have previously answered in Link 3 below the alleged problem of places where Jesus somehow seems to be ignorant of things -- leading to the question, "How can Jesus be God, yet not know things (i.e., not be omniscient)?"

We noted that the typical answer -- that Jesus emptied himself of his power -- makes a good point, but does not go far enough, for it doesn't explain the Holy Spirit's implicit "ignorance" in Mark 13:32. Our further reply was that we had come crossover temporality of the two functionally subordinate members of the Trinity which required them to divest themselves (or be divested, or not have access) of certain abilities.

Under this consideration we may well understand that the places in the Old Testament, in fact, where Sanders sees God showing "ignorance" may in fact be a case of the pre-incarnate Word, or the Spirit -- the temporal extensions of the Father -- being already "kenotically" emptied and therefore indeed to some degree, as Jesus on earth, lacking in knowledge of the future. If Abraham was relating to the pre-incarnate Word (or perhaps the Spirit) then the lack of knowledge shown is no more problematic than Jesus', and does not support an OVT view with respect to the Father.

Indeed certain advocates of an OVT position claim something close to this -- namely, that God chooses to selectively blot things out of His own knowledge. Such advocates may consider that they are applying their findings to the wrong member of the Trinity.

It is with this groundwork that we now turn to Sanders' treatment of the NT. Here we see some of the same arguments as before, merely with different subjects: Mary as a chosen person rather than Abraham [92], for example, and the Canaanite woman playing the same "interactive" role as Abraham; and again, an OVT God whose knowledge of human psychology is so poor that He was not even aware that Herod would go out and kill innocent children. At the expense of emotional dissonance, Sanders proposes a deity that could not have even looked back on the 40 years of Herod's reign and foreseen someone so cruel and vicious as to do what he did, or could not have known from even Judas Iscariot's personal tastes in the present that he would betray Jesus in the future [96-7]. Sanders' God, to put it mildly, is not an awesome God.

Sanders then deals with texts that predict the crucifixion and declare that it was ordained from eternity. Ps. 22:16 is dismissed with the same arguments used by Skeptics addressed in Link 4 below (the issue is much more clear than Sanders allows). 1 Peter 1:20 is explained as God foreknowing Christ but not necessarily the specifics of his life, as are other passages: I.e., God planned Christ from the foundation of the world, but "did not know which of the rationales for the incarnation would be actualized until after sin came on the scene." [102] When it comes to definitive evidence of the Father's ignorance of the future, however, Sanders has no cards to turn that serve him uniquely and distinctively.

Since much of Sanders' NT chapter is a reworking of what he wrote for the OT one -- or else again, not offering substantiation for OVT distinctives -- we will only have a few more points to add. Like many Skeptics, Sanders fails to recognize Jesus' allusion to Ps. 22 on the cross in light of the Psalm's closing note of triumph, and this adds it to his case for an OVT-safe Messiah [105]. We readily allow for Sanders' point that God need not have foreordained deaths [114] but this does not affect the idea that God would have foreknown such events.

We would contrast Sanders' ideas on election (and Romans 9 specifically) with that which we have offered in the link above. Sanders' treatment of predictions [126, 133ff] is rather lacking in the methods of Jewish exegesis Miller outlines in Link 5 below.

We will close this edition of this article with a look at Sanders' analysis of texts appealed to as proof of divine foreknowledge, in which he interacts with not only texts but also William Lane Craig's The Only Wise God -- which, it so happens, I thankfully have a copy of, as this book has been out of print for a while! Craig runs through the following cites which assert God's omniscience and foreknowledge; we will note Sanders' comments on each and reply as needed:

Ps. 139:17-18 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.

Craig [21] notes that this asserts that "it is impossible to come to the end of God's knowledge." The only way that this would be possible, of course, is if God has knowledge of the future over an infinite stretch. Similar passages are Is. 40:28 and Ps. 147:5. However, Sanders mentions none of these.

Craig provides cites showing God's knowledge of present and past, which OVT would not argue with (and Sanders does not; cf. 131). We move to cites showing God's knowledge of the future [26ff].

Is. 44:6-8 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them show unto them. Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.

Craig links this with verses that speak of Christ as the "first and the last" or the "Alpha and the Omega" as well as passages that speak of God's plan "hidden for ages" and of Christ being "destined before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20).

We have already seen hw Sanders dismisses passages like the latter above, by way of selectivity: Christ was destined, yes, but the crucifixion of Christ wasn't.

Craig also appeals to the pattern of prophetic activity, and the surety guarantee of Deut. 18:22, which would of course be outrageous as it would suggest that God could be responsible for an error that would cost a prophet his life.

Craig also notes the appeal by NT writers to fulfilled OT prophecy (which Sanders has only marginally dealt with) and to this passage:

Is. 41:21-24 Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and show us what shall happen: let them show the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.

The implicit challenge would be useless unless God could do all of the things mentioned. Sanders, however, says nothing of Is. 41:21-24 and only references Is. 44:6-7 with no discussion.

Sanders does offer a discussion of the word foreknowledge, noting that it is used a couple of times of human knowledge and therefore does not imply exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. One may then readily insist that God's foreknowledge is limited to that which the text specifically says He foreknew -- which is essentially what Sanders does with reference to the crucifixion.

It is clear that these are contrivances Sanders must use to maintain an OVT position. Thus for example, when Ps. 139:4 says, "For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether," sanders admits [130] that this can be explained by divine foreknowledge, but also by "God's knowing the psalmist so well that he can 'predict' what he will say and do." Later Sanders adds that God's seeming foreknowledge may be based on "exhaustive knowledge of past and present." [131]

Really? Sanders has now posited a God that conveniently here knows the psalmist well enough for this, but was too lacking in knowledge to predict what Abraham would do, and this being a God less competent at human psychology than a human psychologist. Sanders is apparently unable to see the inconsistency of calling God the "consummate social scientist" while claiming He would not be sure what Abraham would do.

After more comments on Jer. 18:7-10 and similar verses (see above), and on prophetic fulfillment (see above), and defending the idea that God could be "mistaken" by suggesting that God never is mistaken because he hedges His bets (!), Sanders replies to those who find his explanations "strained and unconvincing" [136] by essentially saying, "Well, that's what we think of your explanations, too."

We remain with the conclusion that while Sanders makes some excellent points against fatalism and hyper-Calvinist sentiments, his work on divine foreknowledge is incomplete and out of touch with exegetical realities.

Some of my critics are so obscure that I sometimes don't hear about the criticisms until I just happen to find them. One such critic, who I won't bother to name, wrote a critique of a certain point I made in my article on neotheism; namely, that when God says "now I know", it does not reflect a lack of knowledge, but rather a sort of legal recognition. (The critic ignores the more important point I made that the neotheist view requires that God was ignorant of things a competent human psychologist would know about; but we won't worry about that.)

The critic spends most of the space in the article laying out and categorizing "now I know" statements in the Bible, none of which is controversial. My argument is not that it is never used of people responding to knowledge, or to new information; my argument rather is that it is not semantically exclusive to such situations. Rather than answer this, the critic immediately jumps into denial, saying that my idea of the phrase as a legal recognition is "not a concept found in the Bible." And so it seems we're back to the typical fundamentalist diatribe again: "it's not in the Bible", even though it is in the social world of the Bible i.e., Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac is exactly the sort of event that would require a legal witness (covenant confirmation). None of that is answered or dealt with by the critic, who at least is willing to say he likes my answer better than the answer that "now I know" is anthropomorphism.

The critic states: "A 'contractual agreement' idiom is just not supported by the context or other context of similar word use." Well, no, because not everyone is using it to express that they are a witness to a legal event-it just so happens that when God uses it, that's exactly what He's doing!

A final criticism launched-for some unknown reason-argues that:

James Patrick Holding next includes texts which do not include the iconic phrase. Both Genesis 12:11 and 2 Kings 5:15 contain the English phrase "Now I know", but the "now" is actually an interjection like "Hey."

"Hey, I know you are beautiful." Gen. 12:11

"Hey, I know there is no other God." 2 Kings 5:15

It is said that I "fail" to explain the meaning of the new word, but it is not explained what would have constituted "success" in this context. Whether the word is or is not an interjection is beside the point that I am making, which has to do with whether "know" means new knowledge, and the critic doesn't contest that at all, or explain how the presence of the interjection changes anything.

In sum, it is probably for the better that many of my critics remain unknown.


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