Open Theism Contradicts Scripture

This is the first in a series of four posts on the objections made to open theism that I identified in the first post at Open Theism, “An Introduction to Open Theism.” It expands on this passage in the post:

Opponents of open theism…claim that their view (Calvinist, Arminian, or other) makes better sense of Scripture than alternative views, including open theism. They charge that the latter actually contradicts Scripture, which affirms God’s exhaustive foreknowledge (see Traditional Theism) and states that God doesn’t change His mind (Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29).

All quotations from the Bible given in this post are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

God Knows the Future

The section Traditional Theism cites these Biblical passages as indicating that God knows the future:
“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” (Psalms 139:4)
“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.'” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

In my November 24 post, “Biblical Passages Indicating that God Knows the Future,” I explained how Psalms 139:4 and Isaiah 46:9-10 suggest that God foresees the future. Now I’ll indicate how an open theism might respond.

Although Psalm 139:4 can be explained by God’s foreseeing what the psalmist will say, John Sanders observes that it can also be explained by God’s knowing the psalmist so well that He can predict what he will say (The God Who Risks, page 130).

Although Isaiah 46:9-10 can be explained by God’s foreseeing the future, Gregory A. Boyd observes that it can also be explained by God’s intending to bring the events about (God of the Possible, page 30).

God Foreordains Everything

The section Traditional Theism cites these Biblical passages as indicating that God foreordains everything and thus knows the future:
“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37-38)
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how unscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

In my December 8 post, “Passages Supporting God’s Foreordaining Everything,” I explained how Lamentations 3:37-38 and Romans 11:33-36 suggest that God foreordains everything and thus knows that future. Now I’ll indicate how an open theism might respond.

Although Lamentations 3:37-38 seems to say that nobody can make anything good or bad happen unless God has commanded that it happen, Sanders observes that the verses just before the passage assert that the bad that has come upon Israel was a consequence of sin as had been forecast in Deuteronomy 28-30 and thus the passage might just be saying that a specific historical calamity, not all calamity, was brought about by God (The God Who Risks, pages 83-84).

Although John M. Frame claims that “all things” in Romans 11:36 includes events (No Other God, page 87), commentators consistently describe it as referring to all creation or to the universe and explain the verse as saying that God is the source, sustainer, and goal of all things that exist.

God Doesn’t Change His Mind

Above I cited these Bible passages as stating that God doesn’t change His mind:
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoke, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19)
“And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (1 Samuel 15:29)

Here is how an open theist might explain the passages.

The king of Moab, Balak, had asked the prophet Balaam to curse Israel but, as commanded by God, Balaam had blessed them instead. Balak offered sacrifices to try to get God to change His mind. Again Balaam blessed Israel, explaining in Numbers 23:19 that unlike a human God would not change His mind.

God had originally planned to establish Saul’s kingdom over Israel forever but rejected him as king because of his disobeying Him. When Saul tried to get Samuel to intercede for him, Samuel repeated that GOd was going to replace him as king, explaining in 1 Samuel 15:29 that unlike a human God would not change His mind.

In both cases God’s asserted that He would not, rather than that He could not, change His mind and, as Boyd points out in discussing the two passages, there is a big difference between “could not” and “would not” (God of the Possible, page 80). That He could change His mind and sometimes does, I demonstrated in my March 2 and 23 posts, “Scriptures Suggesting a Partly Open Future” and “Open Theism Encourages Prayer.”

Personally I find the explanations of open theists reasonable and thus don’t think that open theism contradicts the Biblical passages given above as affirming God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and His not changing His mind.

Next week I’ll give the second in this series of posts on objections made to open theism.

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19 thoughts on “Open Theism Contradicts Scripture

  1. Andulamb

    What do opponents of open theism have to say about Matthew 26:39, in which Jesus asks God to “let this cup pass from me”? If anyone knows whether or not God can change His mind, or whether the future has been predestined, it would be Jesus. And yet He begged God to find an alternative to His crucifixion.

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Good question, Andy! Only one of the two books that I have by opponents of open theism refers to Jesus’ prayer, Bruce A. Ware’s commenting on a parallel passage, Luke 22:42, in his God’s Lesser Glory (page 185). He points out that Jesus’ deepest desire was to do the will of his Father while having a lesser but understandable desire to avoid the cross. He goes on to observe that when reassured in prayer that the cross was indeed God’s will, Jesus submitted fully and joyfully (Hebrews 12:2).

      Although I appreciate what Ware says, I agree with you that Jesus’ prayer indicates that he believed that the future wasn’t determined and that God could change His mind. And we’re not the only ones to think that. Gregory A. Boyd observes in his God of the Possible (page 71) that Jesus’ prayer shows that in his mind there was at least a theoretical chance that another course of action could be taken, and John Sanders observes in his The God Who Risks (page 100) that Jesus’ prayer shows that he didn’t believe that everything must happen according to a predetermined plan.

      Reply
      1. Andulamb

        Thanks for the reply. Ware seems to skirt the issue, doesn’t he? What he says is true, but it doesn’t address whether or not God can change His mind.

        My one guess about what a traditional theist might say about the verse was that Jesus’ prayer was simply intended to set an example, to show us that we must put God’s will ahead of our own. But I don’t know why God would provide us with an example that encourages a misunderstanding of His nature. Jesus’s prayer could have conveyed that God’s will comes first without asking God to change His mind: “Lord, I really don’t want to do this, but this has been your plan since before time began and so it must be done.”

      2. Bob Hunter Post author

        I agree with you, Andy, that Ware’s comment on Jesus’ prayer doesn’t deal with the question of whether or not God can change His mind.

        I like your guess about what a traditional theist might say about the verse, that Jesus’ prayer was simply intended to set an example to show us that we must put God’s will ahead of our own, and checked to see if any of my commentaries on Matthew made a similar suggestion. None did, but a couple expressed ideas that I found interesting. D. A. Carson observed that in light of Jesus’ confession of ignorance in Matthew 24:36 he may not have known whether any other way was possible when he prayed 26:39. Michael J. Wilkins proposed that Jesus’ prayer resulted from Satan’s making a last-ditch effort to convince Jesus that the cross wasn’t necessary just as he had tempted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (4:1-11).

        I also like your response to your guess. Jesus’ prayer certainly seems to express a genuine desire to not have to go through what lay ahead of him.

    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Rose, for your encouraging comment. In June I’ll be posting revised versions of my articles on books and websites about open theism.

      Reply
  2. wstaylor

    Bob,

    Again another good installment on your blog on Open Theism. I couldn’t help but notice that the observations of implied contingency from OT opponents and backers a like seemed to stem from a sense of vicarious experience. That is, the ground upon which Jesus was to have been seeking relief, in Ware’s words ‘having a lesser but understandable desire to avoid the cross.’ Understandable?

    Citing the law of ‘non-contradiction’ that Jesus’ stated purpose in life was to accomplish the work that the Father had given him, culminating in an Atonement : “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. (Joh 12:26-28) that which is ‘understandable’ to Ware and apparently Boyd & Sanders is to gloss over the tacit admission to affirm contingency.

    Didn’t Jesus say that He was the Good Shepherd? A hireling cares only for his own good, and when he sees trouble coming he leaves the sheep for they matter not to him. If one examines closely the prayers in Gethsemane the take away message is that no one in the world has prayed like that – to the point of blood loss. It therefore becomes conspicuous as to why he is praying in that extended manner. A ‘moment of doubt and pain’ is one thing, but Gethsemane’s prayers were first order with nothing like it recorded anywhere.

    I posit that if Jesus was praying to avoid the Cross for such an interval and to such a degree to persuade the Father for another option then he was praying as a hireling. If by ‘understandable’ it is meant that ‘that’s my best effort and I think that I would be seeking to avoid significant trauma’ or something to that effect then I would say, ‘I understand that.’ But that’s just not what’s going on there, nor could it be and we still have a Good Shepherd. Are there no other grounds for one to seek contingent option from the Father?

    Indeed that is the question that not many have had the heart to ask…

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Scott, for visiting Open Theism and for your thoughtful contribution to the discussion of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

      “Are there no other grounds for one to seek contingent option from the Father?”

      How would you answer that question?

      Reply
  3. W Scott Taylor

    “What if”, the Prince of this world, during his hour and the power of darkness is allowed to ‘touch’ His Servant. Not with boils of the skin but with the oppression of the central nervous system and overload his ‘circuits’ with the apprehension that He will not make it to the Cross, that for which He came? What if, the Lord Jesus was truly made to sense the apparent reality of the failure of the Father’s purpose to give a propitiation for the sins of the world? Please look at the following verse in that light:

    Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Mat 26:36-39 KJV)

    Notice the way he spoke of what He was then experiencing…

    and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he … My soul is exceeding sorrowful
    ἤρξατο λυπεῖσθαι καὶ ἀδημονεῖν. Τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Περίλυπός ἐστιν ἡ ψυχή

    even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
    μου ἕως θανάτου· μείνατε ὧδε καὶ γρηγορεῖτε μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ

    These words λυπεῖσθαι and ἀδημονεῖν, are themselves first order in nature, which if you had them one would never forget. He was visibly stricken, beyond being able to mask it to the disciples. And then tells them about it! He tells them that he is so overcome that it was a near death experience! Now it seems to me that it is not only the disciples who have been sleeping during the telling of this crisis – but a world that lies in torpor, anesthetized by neo-plantonism, with which its real author has masked the true heart of benevolence. The record of such drama experienced in the flesh can only be comprehended by an intellectual theology that can reach no higher in motive than *self interest* on the part of the Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

    I say the record shows, that by his own admission Jesus was experiencing the greatest shock and derision of unthinkable magnitude his body was wracked with the premature rigors of death. Why? Because it looked humanly impossible under that load that He would make it to the Cross. He was overcome in view of the potential loss to the Father! And to His mind that was the worst conceivable outcome. He was not agonizing to the point of death at the prospect of harm to himself.

    Mark this day, for I tell you that you will never find this accounting for the contingency of being spared death before he could accomplish atonement for the sins of the world, in Process Theology! And you will never find in those who call them self Open Theist leaders who are more concerned with redacting the Scripture to ‘get this’ make God look better! May that go to hell!

    Because you asked my friend, I have taken the time to give you another motive for the ‘prayer that implied contingency’ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Please excuse the warmth my last statement ( I will not change it), it is not meant or directed at you. Blessings!

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks for answering my question, Scott.

      Your suggestion that Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane resulted from oppression of his nervous system by Satan makes good sense to me.

      That God might allow Satan to tempt Jesus is demonstrated by the Holy Spirit’s leading Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan at the beginning of his ministry (Matthew 4:1).

      That God might allow that temptation to include physical affliction is demonstrated by His allowing Satan to afflict Job physically (Job 2:6).

      That Satan tempted or afflicted Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane is suggested by an angel’s ministering in him while he was praying in the garden (Luke 22:43) just as angels had ministered to him after he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11).

      Reply
  4. B. P. Burnett

    “Although Psalm 139:4 can be explained by God’s foreseeing what the psalmist will say, John Sanders observes that it can also be explained by God’s knowing the psalmist so well that He can predict what he will say (The God Who Risks, page 130).”
    _____________________

    This is entirely mistaken. Notice how Sanders has to change the object of the verb and the meaning of the verb itself n order to maintain his view. The Psalmist believed that God “knows” what “the words” will be–and the words are spoken freely by the Psalmist if you’re a libertarian. Sanders suggests that the Psalmist is saying that God knows “the Psalmist”! But that’s no the object of the verb in this passage! What God knows is “the words” temporally prior to (“before”) being spoken. Sanders reinterpretation is just desperate.

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Brendan, thank you for visiting and commenting at Open Theism.

      Perhaps my summary of John Sanders’ observation was misleading. Here is what he actually says in The God Who Risks: “The psalmist says that before a word is on his tongue God knows it (Ps 139:4). This may be explained by divine foreknowledge or by God’s knowing the psalmist so well that he can ‘predict’ what he will say and do.” I understand the second explanation as saying that God knew the Psalmist so well that He knew what he would say before he said it. As an open theist I find this plausible, but I realize that Calvinists and Arminians with their belief in divine foreknowledge wouldn’t.

      Since reading your comment, I’ve visited and browsed The Daily Arminian. Impressive!

      Reply
      1. B. P. Burnett

        Thanks for the thought, and for the compliment of my blog. I suppose I would just wonder how you would reconcile the fact that the object of the verb in the utterance is not the psalmist himself but rather the words the psalmist will say. If we believe that God knows the words the Psalmist will speak (which seems to be the simple reading of this text) then we should believe that God knows in advance what the psalmist will say. It sounds like your interpretation needs to shift the object of the verb from the words to the psalmist, but that’s simply incorrect.

        Also, a question. Why are you an Open Theist? Is it for scriptural exegetical reason (i.e., it really is exegetically defensible that God does not foreknow the future acts of human creatures), or is it for primarily philosophical concerns (an argument demonstrating that libertarian free will and foreknowledge are incompatible)?

        I am inclined to believe that, if freedom and foreknowledge were incompatible, I would reject freedom, since I think foreknowledge of human actions is so exegetically demonstrable.

        Thanks. ~

      2. Bob Hunter Post author

        “It sounds like your interpretation needs to shift the object of the verb from the words to the psalmist.” I don’t agree.

        “Why are you an Open Theist?” My January 26 post, “O God, Why Did You Let Esther Dies?” tells how I became an open theist, and my February 16 post, “God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom,” explains why I think that libertarian freedom and complete foreknowledge are incompatible.

  5. Allison

    My apologies for coming into this discussion long after your post. I have another question, similar to that posed by Andulamb.

    What do opponents of open theism have to say about Genesis 6:6? It says, “The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth….” At the very least, the verse suggests God can change his mind about his own decisions.

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      “My apologies for coming into this discussion long after your post. I have another question, similar to that posed by Andulamb.” Thanks for reviving the discussion, Allison.

      “What do opponents of open theism have to say about Genesis 6:6?” Here is what Bruce A. Ware says in God’s Lesser Glory: “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. So, although God may have known that the world would become morally corrupt (Gen. 6:5-6)…nonetheless God may experience internally and Ii>express outwardly appropriate moral responses to these changed situations when they occur in history. He compares the situation to a mother’s knowing exactly what will happen when she takes her daughter for her first filling of a tooth and yet feels distress when she observes what actually happens.

      “At the very least, the verse suggests God can change his mind about his own decisions.” As you know, I agree with you. The mother’s distress didn’t result in her trying to remedy the situation, but God’s sorrow made Him decide to destroy man except for Noah and his family.

      Reply
  6. kai

    some body help to know the omniscience of God by an open theist… and foreknowledge, predestination and human free will in relation with the will of God.

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Kai, you asked, “some body help to know the omniscience of God by an open theist… and foreknowledge, predestination and human free will in relation with the will of God.” Open theists come from different religious backgrounds and thus have different understandings of open theism in relation to other religious beliefs. Thus I can just say how I think that most open theists would answer your challenging question.

      the omniscience of God: Open theists believe that God is omniscient in that He knows all that it is possible to know — all the past, all the present, and all of the future that has been determined. However they believe that God’s having free will and having given some creatures, including us, free will means that some of the future has not been determined and thus is unknowable by anyone, including God.

      foreknowledge: Open theists believe that God foreknows all that He has foreordained or that follows necessarily from events in the past and present.

      predestination: Open theists believe that God has predestined that those who accept the Gospel will be saved and that those who reject it will be condemned.

      human free will in relation with the will of God: Open theists believe that God has given humans the ability to choose in accordance with or against God’s will. However they also believe that God is sovereign and can shape circumstances, etc., so that humans do His will, as for example He seems to have done with Pharoah before and during the Exodus.

      Reply
    2. Bob Hunter Post author

      For a good overview of open theism, see:
      Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Open Theism”
      http://www.iep.utm.edu/o-theism/

      For a consideration by me of omniscience and free will, see:
      Open Theism, “God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom”
      https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/gods-omniscience-and-mans-freedom/

      For listings by me of other Internet material on open theism, see:
      Open Theism, “some Websites on Open Theism”
      https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/some-websites-on-open-theism/
      Open Theism, “some Websites and Blogs on Open Theism”
      https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/some-websites-and-blogs-on-open-theism/

      Reply

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