Responding to Challenges of Openness Theology

Responding to Challenges of Openness Theology
By Millard J. Erickson

Psalm 139:4

For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.

Psalm 139. This is the passage in which the psalmist expresses wonderment at the extent of God’s knowledge and especially God’s knowledge of him. In v. 4 he says: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, 0 Lord.” The point of the passage is that God knows the psalmist exhaustively, and this is offered as an example or illustration. That even before he speaks, God knows every word, the noun (kullah) meaning “both all of it and every one,” is seen as a clear indication of divine foreknowledge. Ware contends that this advance knowledge of what we are going to say cannot simply be reduced to what he considers to be “informed guesses as to what we will say. 39

The Terminology of Foreknowledge. While there really is no Hebrew word for foreknow or foreknowledge, the New Testament vocabulary is rich on the subject. The primary verb is (Greek word) (proginosko), with the noun form being prognosis. Proginosko means simply to know in advance. It is used twice of humans having known previously (Acts 26:5 and 2 Peter 3:17). It is used of divine knowledge, referring to persons; and here it seems to carry something of the Old Testament term yada, which was used of intimate knowledge, even of the most intimate relations of husband and wife. Thus, it appears to carry something of the idea of choosing or electing. The noun, prognosis also conveys this idea of choosing or election in Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:2. In addition, some other terms–most notably (Greek Word) (proorizo), sometimes cited as indications of divine foreknowledge—actually refer to foreordination and therefore are evidence for the Calvinist view. If foreordination is correct, then of course God also foreknows what he has foreordained. I have omitted such from this consideration, limiting the textual evidence to those ideas accepted by both Calvinistic and Arminian views of full divine knowledge. 48

Matthew 26:33-35

33 Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.

34 Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.

35 Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.

It is difficult to imagine a more detailed prediction of the future action of a human being and fulfillment of the prediction. If there ever was a case of Jesus knowing the future as it pertains to human willing and acting, this must be it. There certainly was no desire on Peter’s part to fulfill this prophecy, to say the least. Thus, Jesus must have had foreknowledge that Peter obviously did not have. 51

He notes several unusual features of the account. Many factors had to fit perfectly. What if Peter had become so confused, frightened, shocked, and bewildered that he had run away after the first encounter rather than remaining to have the second and third? What if those that were there had seized Peter and taken him before the authorities, where he might have repeated the denial several times? What if another disciple had been with him, shaming him so that he did not deny Jesus? What if those who questioned him had either asked him several times in rapid succession or delayed part of their questioning so that the cock crowed before three denials? The prediction of what Peter would do involved not only the knowledge of Peter’s character but also that of several other persons whose action bore upon the outcome of the incident. Since God allows free choices, and since he does not rescind that freedom, and since he cannot foreknow free human actions, it would seem to require quite a lot of intervention or “orchestration” on God’s part to bring about the fulfillment of this prophecy. Ware says, “In the open view, since Jesus (or the Father) does not know the future free actions of people, he could not have known whether any of these possible and reasonable scenarios (or innumerable others) might have occurred. Honestly, I am simply incredulous that the proposal would be seriously made that Jesus could accurately predict that Peter would deny him three times, based on God’s perfect knowledge of Peter’s character. 53

This article “Responding to Challenges of Openness Theology” by Millard J. Erickson is excerpted from his book What Does God Know And When Does He Know It?