by Gordon H. Clark
As predestination cannot be understood without an adequate appreciation of God’s omnipotence, neither can predestination be understood without a realization of God’s omniscience. The reason is that predestination relates to God’s purposes and intentions, and these are by definition limited by knowledge. If you or I purpose to buy a box of candy for a friend, we must know the friend, we must know where we can buy it, and how we can take it to him. To be sure, in human affairs this knowledge may turn out not to be knowledge at all. Our friend may have just been killed in an auto accident; or less tragic, the store in which we intended to buy the candy may have gone out of business. But with God these surprises are impossible. In the former case there cannot be intentions without supposed knowledge, and in the latter case there can be no intention without actual knowledge. Since, as just said, predestination is a matter of intention, we must consider the extent of God’s knowledge.
In the previous chapter, where the aim was to show that God created all things, the first step was to indicate that God had created this, and next that, and so on until we exhausted the list and could conclude that God created all things. Here too one could list the items that the Bible says God knows, and finally conclude that he knows all things. This procedure has some advantages. I had a devout and humble aunt, who when a girl had served a term as a missionary to the Mormons. Years later she advanced some theological opinions to her young nephew. God, she said, took care of the important things in the world, and even was attentive to the work of a young missionary; but God does not know what I am doing in my kitchen, she said, for this is too insignificant for him to notice. Undoubtedly this was humility; she did not think of herself more highly than she should. But her Arminian concept of God was far from what the Bible teaches. Humble she was; but she was humiliating God by supposing that he was so limited in his span of attention that he could not attend both to the important things and to the unimportant things as well. If, now, we should list the things the Bible says God knows, we could find out whether he knows what women do when they are in their kitchens.
But there is a better way to proceed, and the details will fall into place just the same. The procedure will be to show how the doctrine of creation relates to God’s knowledge, and how omnipresence and providence relate. With this information the nature of God’s knowledge can then be discussed.
1. CREATION, OMNIPRESENCE, AND PROVIDENCE
There is a story about a visitor to Henry Ford’s auto plant in the early days. Mr. Ford himself escorted the visitor around. They stopped a moment to watch a foreman work on some interesting procedure. The visitor with Mr. Ford’s obvious approval asked the foreman some questions, which he answered satisfactorily. Then the visitor asked, How many separate parts are needed to complete a car? The foreman with slight disgust replied that he could think of no piece of information more useless. Mr. Ford moved on and quietly said, There are 927 (or whatever the number was) pieces.
If now a human inventor and manufacturer has an accurate knowledge of his product, is it surprising that the divine artificer should have an even more accurate knowledge of what he has made? Since God has created all things, we infer that God has a perfect knowledge of all his creation.
Though this is so plausible in itself, we need not rely on Mr. Ford for our theology. Analogies are sometimes deceptive, and we always need Scripture. There is Scripture to cover this point. In Psalm 139:2, 15, 16 David acknowledges that God knows him because God made him. The verses have other implications too, but here attention is directed to the idea that David was made, fashioned, curiously wrought, and all his members were catalogued. The verses are: “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest me though afar off. . . . My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. . . Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”
Take another verse. Psalm 104:24 says, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all.” The construction of the parts of the universe is incredibly intricate, far more so than a Model T Ford. The wisdom and knowledge exhibited in these manifold works are beyond our imagination. Creation is then evidence of God’s omniscience. The same idea is found in many other verses. For example, Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up.” Again, Jeremiah 10:12 reads, “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.” No doubt there are dozens of such verses. These should be enough to show that the doctrine of creation presupposes the doctrine of divine omniscience. If some humble missionary aunt denies the latter, she must in consistency deny the former.
Next comes the idea of omnipresence. There may be some verse in the Bible that speaks only of God’s omnipresence; but all the others combine it with some other doctrine. Therefore, instead of giving a separate proof of the former, we shall combine omnipresence and omniscience in one set of references. The two omni’s go together.
The prophet Jeremiah says, “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (23:24). The reason that no one can escape the attention of God is that God is everywhere. He fills heaven and earth. What is present to him, he knows. And while the verse mentions only human beings who might wish to hide from him, the implication is that God knows everything because he is everywhere.
Although we often say that God is everywhere in the world, it might better be said that the world everywhere is in God. Acts 17:24-28 refers to creation, omnipresence, and by implication knowledge when it says, “God that made the world and all things therein . . . dwelleth not in temples made with hands”; and then when it adds that “in him we live and move and have our being,” we can infer that the “all things” of the earlier verse also have their being in God. Obviously God must know whatever is thus present to him or thus in his mind.
The well-known verses of Psalm 139 use the idea of omnipresence to enforce a lesson concerning God’s knowledge. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit . . . if I make my bed in hell, thou art there.” Not only in hell, but if I fry bacon and eggs in the kitchen, “even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”
The same combination of ideas is found also in Hebrews 4:13, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
As omnipresence and creation support omniscience, so also does providence. Creation and providence are combined in Nehemiah 9:6, where the next to the last phrase is, “Thou preservest them all.” Psalm 36:6 reads, “O Lord, thou preservest man and beast.” Speaking particularly about creeping things and beasts both small and great, Psalm 104:27 continues, “These wait all upon thee, that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.” Other verses on providence will later be used more closely in conjunction with predestination; but here only one will now be added. In Matthew 6:32 Jesus says, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”
This last verse which ties providence to knowledge is most appropriate. How could God exercise providence over all his creation unless he knew it all? Since the providence of God concerns the particulars of life, God must know these particulars. The word providence refers to God’s governance and control of the conditions under which man and beast and creeping things live; but etymologically providence is a matter of seeing or knowing.
If God’s governance of the world covers the distribution of eternal rewards and eternal punishment, though no verses will be quoted on this right here, and if merit and sin depend in part on the thoughts and intentions of the heart, that is, on men’s secret motivations, then this governance depends on God’s knowledge of men’s inmost thoughts. The Apostle tells us that “the Lord . . . will bring light to the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts” (I Cor. 4:5). All such considerations enforce the doctrine of omniscience.
An example of this is Peter’s confession, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee” (John 21:17). This verse is particularly to the point. Christ knows Peter’s heart because he knows all things. The condition of Peter’s love was not just some accidental bit of information that Jesus happened to have. Jesus was Lord, Jehovah, God, and he knew Peter’s love because he was omniscient. With this one may compare John 2:24-25, “He knew all men, and needed not that anyone should testify of man, for he knew what was in man.” These last two quotations are often used to prove the deity of Christ; but note that they do so on the basis that God is omniscient.
2. SHORT SUMMARY
The various considerations now set forth can be summarized and enforced by other verses of general application. The Scriptures teach that God is a God of knowledge. The words of I Samuel 2:3 are, “The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” Psalm 147:5 says, “Great is the Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.”
In case a reader thinks that all this belabors the obvious, it is to be noted that some ministers and theologians have become so confused about predestination that they have denied omniscience. It may be that later on this reader will be tempted to suppose that there are some things God does not and cannot know. Attributing ignorance to God enables us to escape some objections to predestination; but this escape costs the sovereignty, the omniscience, the wisdom, even the deity of God. Therefore the purpose of “belaboring the obvious,” of heaping up the scriptural material on God’s knowledge, is to prevent any such disastrous misunderstanding of predestination. The reader should ask himself, Does not the preceding material, plus the details about to follow, show fully and completely that God knows everything?
It is hard to say whether people who have difficulty with predestination are more troubled with God’s foreknowledge of the thoughts and intents of man’s heart or with his knowledge of non-human details. The latter are not so important to us as the former, but nevertheless one paragraph at least should be inserted somewhere to show God’s knowledge of inanimate particulars. One such item is God’s knowledge of the starry host of heaven. This knowledge is mentioned several times in the Bible. For example, God brought Abraham into the open and said, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them” (Gen. 15:5). What Abraham could not do (for Jeremiah 33:22 says, “The host of heaven cannot be numbered” by man at any rate) God can do, for “He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names” (Psalm 147:4). To this verse, add “He calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power” (Isaiah 40:26).
It is interesting to note in this last phrase that God’s knowledge seems dependent on his power. In the next sub-section on the nature of God’s knowledge, this will be discussed. At the moment it is sufficient to end this short summary by concluding that the Bible most clearly teaches that God knows all things.
3. THE NATURE OF GOD’S KNOWLEDGE
In the discussion on providence, just above, it was said that the word etymologically refers to seeing things, and more definitely refers to seeing things ahead of time. John 6:64 says, “But there are some of you that believe not; for Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.” The phrase “from the beginning” might mean only from the time these people began to follow him. Or, it might mean from the beginning of man’s history. Or it might mean from eternity, in the same sense in which the Apostle says, “In the beginning was the Word.” Since the Old Testament prophesies that Christ should be betrayed, it would seem that this knowledge antedated Judas’ birth. When compared with other verses, this one most probably means that Jesus knew from all eternity. God’s knowledge is eternal.
If God’s knowledge were not eternal, then he must have learned something at some time. And if he learned it, he must have previously been ignorant of it. And if he had been ignorant and learned something, why could he not forget some things after a while?
However, God neither learns nor forgets. “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). I Corinthians 2:11 says, “What man knows the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” This verse indicates, what is otherwise not surprising, that God knows himself; and if God is eternal and uncreated, the original Self Existent, then his knowledge of himself must be eternal.
The phrase that refers to God as “declaring the end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10), and the verse “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18) indicate the eternity of divine knowledge. If anyone should insist that the words “from the beginning of the world” push back God’s knowledge only to the date of creation, a reply has already been noted in God’s knowledge of himself and in his eternal freedom from ignorance. Another reply will be given at the beginning of the next chapter.
Perhaps a verse should be included to show that God is eternal. If he were not eternal, then of course his knowledge would not be eternal. Now, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo presupposes the eternity of God, but a particular verse is “The high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15); as also Genesis 21:33, “the everlasting God”; Psalm 90:2, “even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God”; Psalm 102:26-27, “They shall perish . . . but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end”; and I Timothy 1:17, “the King eternal.”
At the end of the last sub-section there was a verse connecting God’s knowledge with his power. He knows because he is omnipotent. In fact, there are several verses that connect God’s knowledge and his power. This is to be expected if we keep in mind that God and his power are eternal. When as yet there was nothing, and only God existed, God knew all things. Obviously this knowledge came out of or resided in himself. He could not have derived it from anything else, for there was nothing else. It was really self-knowledge, for his knowledge of the universe was his knowledge of his own intentions, his own mind, his own purposes and decisions.
In philosophical language this means that God’s knowledge is not empirical. He does not discover the truth. He always has the truth. The point is rather important, and it has important bearings on predestination. Let us say it over again for one more paragraph.
If God is indeed as the Bible describes him, with eternal self-knowledge, by which he creates and controls every particular in the world, obviously God’s knowledge depends on himself and not on created things. God’s knowledge is self-originated; he does not learn from any outside source. Note that Proverbs 8:22 says, “The Lord possessed me from the beginning of his way.” And the idea is repeated and reinforced in the immediately following verses. This shows that God did not learn about me from observing me. It does not say that God knows me from the beginning of my way, but from the beginning of his way. So too Isaiah 40:13 says, “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel and who instructed him . . . and taught him knowledge.” Therefore God is the source of his omniscience. He does not learn from things: his knowledge depends on himself alone and is as eternal as he is.
4. STEPHEN CHARNOCK
There is now a more efficient way to pursue the question of the nature of God’s knowledge. A great Puritan writer, Stephen Charnock, wrote a tremendously long volume on The Existence and Attributes of God. Though it will be impossible to reproduce all he said on the Knowledge of God, some selections from chapters VIII and IX will carry the discussion forward and at the same time give us an example of Puritan theology.
Charnock says, “God knows himself because his knowledge with his will is the cause of all other things; . . . he is the first truth, and therefore is the object of his understanding. . . . As he is all knowledge so he hath in himself the most excellent object of knowledge. . . . No object is so intelligible to God as God is to himself, . . . for his understanding is his essence, himself” (Vol. I, p. 415, ed. 1873). Then a few pages later: “God knows his own decree and will, and therefore must know all future things. . . . God must know what he hath decreed to come to pass. . . God must know because he willed them . . . he therefore knows them because he knows what he willed. The knowledge of God cannot arise from the things themselves, for then the knowledge of God would have a cause without him. . . As God sees things possible in the glass of his own power, so he see things future in the glass of his own will” (ibid., p.433).
The quotation from Charnock mentions a knowledge of things possible. This is an additional idea that deserves a little explanation. With merely a general knowledge of Scripture one might suppose that God knows what he could have done, but did not. It would be queer to say that God knows the actual planets around the sun, but does not know what other planets he might have created. Yet let us not be satisfied with merely a general knowledge of Scripture, the residue of a vague memory of previous reading. Romans 4:17 says, “God . . . calleth those things which be not as though they were.” I Corinthians 1:28 adds, “. . . hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” What God calls and chooses is not unknown to him. Thus he knows what is possible, whether or not he ever makes it actual.
5. NUMEROUS DETAILS
God also knows what is impossible. Since he knows himself, he knows that he cannot lie. This “inability” is not a limit on his omnipotence; it merely means that whatever God declares is ipso facto true. To say that God can lie is as much a misunderstanding of the nature of God as to say that a triangle has only two sides is a misunderstanding of the nature of a triangle.
For the purpose of studying predestination it may not be so necessary to insist on God’s knowledge of the possible as it is to insist on his knowledge of what is or will be actual. The reason is that predestination has to do with what God intends and purposes.
What he does not purpose cannot come to pass, because the world is made according to the divine omniscience of foreknowledge.
Let us continue therefore to note how explicitly and in detail the Scripture asserts God’s knowledge of what is or will be actual. These two divisions are both found in Scripture, and indeed are found together in one verse. When the Lord challenges the idols and their makers in Isaiah 41:22, he says, “Let them . . . show us what shall happen: let them show the former things . . . or declare us things for to come.” The force of the challenge lies in the fact that the idols know neither the past nor the future, while God knows both.
As for things past it was necessary that God should know them in order to reveal, for instance, the stages of creation and the events in Eden to Moses many centuries later. We could hardly suppose that the circumstances of Cain’s murder of Abel, much less the sentiments of Lamech in Genesis 4:19-24, could have been handed down to the time of Moses by word of mouth. But if anyone should seriously entertain this possibility, God still would have had to assure Moses that the tradition was accurate. As for Genesis 1:1-25, if there were any tradition, God would have had to know and reveal these past events in order to start the tradition.
Knowledge of the past underlies Ecclesiastes 3:15, “That which has been is now, and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.”
Other verses which assert God’s knowledge of past, present, future, or all three, are: Genesis 1:18, 21, 25, 31, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.” Psalm 50:11 says, “I know all the fowls of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are mine.” God knows all the actions of men, for Job 31:4 says, “Doth not he see my ways and count all my steps?” It would be foolish to suppose that God knew only Job’s steps, and not Adam’s, Paul’s, yours and mine. Even if this were so, it would still imply that God foreordained all of Job’s steps; and this has considerable weight in connecting foreordination with tragedies. In addition to Job, David would also have to be included, for Psalm 56:8 says, “Thou tellest my wanderings; put thou my tears into thy bottle; are they not in thy book?” Here the Scripture asserts that God knew and knows what David did; even his tears are kept in the divine memory. Not only are Job and David known to God, but the foolishness of not extending God’s knowledge to all men is seen in Proverbs 5:21, “For the ways of man [all men] are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings.” God is not ignorant of even a single thing that any man does. This verse in Proverbs is completely general and includes all the actions of men that are still future to us.
Similarly when the Lord says, “The very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30), he implies knowledge of the past and the future. The statement is not intended to be limited just to those Jews who actually heard his words at that time and place. It is a perfectly general assertion of God’s knowledge of all details at all times and in all places.
The same is true of Luke 22:11. Jesus knew that “when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you bearing a pitcher of water. . . and he shall show you a large upper room furnished.” It is true that in our every day lives we often say, “Go to the store and you will find Mrs. Smith at the cosmetic counter,” without our claiming omniscience. But our predictions sometimes fail. Mrs. Smith may have met with an accident that morning and will be in the hospital instead of at the counter. The store may even have dropped its cosmetic line and no such counter will be there. But Jesus’ prediction, like all the other prophecies, often made centuries in advance, is based on a knowledge of all details so that there is no possibility that the man did not find a pitcher that day or fail to fill it with water. God knew not only that the pitcher and the water were available; he also knew that the man would choose to fill the pitcher and carry it at the given time and place. “He discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). “Hell and destruction are before him, much more then the hearts of the children of men” (Prov. 15:11). God told Elisha, and therefore must have known, the secret plans of the King of Syria (II Kings 6:12). “Thou understandest my thoughts afar off” (Ps. 139:2).
To mention further particulars, implied in the previous verses and explicitly stated in others, God knows the sins of every man. In Job 11:11, Zophar says, “He knoweth vain men, he seeth wickedness also.” If someone suggest that we cannot accept Zophar’s words as indubitably true, for at the end of the book God declares that Job’s comforters have not spoken well, nevertheless Psalm 14:2-3 says, “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. [But] they are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no not one.” When David says “Cleanse thou me from secret faults,” he implies that God knows them, for otherwise God could not cleanse him. He knows these sins before they are committed. In Deuteronomy 31:20, 21 God says, “When I shall have brought them into the land . . . that floweth with milk and honey . . . then will they turn unto other gods and serve them . . . and break my covenant. . . . for I know their imagination [intentions] which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land.”
The last verse for this chapter is Genesis 50:20. After Joseph’s brethren had sold him into slavery and had later rediscovered him as the second ruler in Egypt, and after their father Jacob had died, they were afraid that Joseph would take vengeance upon them. Joseph replied, “As for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.” God knew all the sins of Joseph’s brothers, and he also knew long before it happened that good would result from these sins.
Did God merely know these sins ahead of time, or did he predestinate and foreordain them? All this insistence on God’s knowledge, God’s knowledge of all things, God’s knowledge of all sins, centuries before they occurred, from eternity in fact, is preparation for the proper understanding of predestination. As will be seen, some who think they are Bible students get so confused with predestination and objections against this doctrine, that they have taken the extreme step of denying that God is all knowing. Surely enough has already been given to rule out such an impious refuge from the biblical doctrine of predestination.
Yet this impious refuge has some consistency to it. Whether or not God foreordains sinful acts, this chapter has made abundantly clear that he knows these sinful acts from all eternity. This knowledge of the future is not the same as alleged human knowledge of the future. We may say carelessly that we know it will rain tomorrow. We really do not know. We may have a plausible opinion that it will rain; but since our plausible opinions are several times mistaken, we cannot say that we really know. But God knows. He does not entertain a merely plausible opinion that may turn out to be mistaken. What he knows always happens. When Cain killed Abel, God knew that Joseph’s brothers would sell him into slavery. This evil act was therefore inevitable. It could not not-happen. Foreknowledge implies inevitability. If Joseph’s brothers had killed him, as they first thought of doing, then God would have been mistaken. The sale had to take place. Does this mean that God foreordains sinful acts? Well, it surely means that these acts were certain and determined from all eternity. It means that the brothers could not have done otherwise. Then who made those acts certain? The brothers could not have made them certain, for they were not yet born at the time of Cain and Abel. If God did not determine them, then there must be in the universe a determining force independent of God. You can escape this conclusion simply by denying that God knows all things.
This simple escape is simply an escape from God and the Bible. The verses selected for this chapter are only a few that could have been used to show that God knows everything; but they are more than enough to make the point. No one can now deny that the Bible teaches God’s omniscience. But as has just slightly been seen in the last paragraph, these verses yield further implications, which with the help of additional passages will take us the next step on our way. It has to do with God’s eternal decree.
Gordon H. Clark, at the time he wrote this article, was professor philosophy at Butler University, and since 1945, head of that department. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and earned his Ph.D. at that institution, continuing his graduate studies in the Sorbonne, Paris. Prior to his appointment at butler University, Dr. Clark taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at Wheaton College.
Dr. Clark's major publications include: A Christian Philosophy of Education, A Christian View of Men and Things, What Presbyterians Believe, Thales to Dewey, James and Dewey (Modern Thinkers Series), The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, Peter Speaks Today, Karl Barth's Theological Method, and Religion, Reason and Revelation. In 1968, Ronald H. Nash edited The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark, a Festschrift in his honor. Dr. Clark is the editor of the University Series (Philosophical Studies) of the Craig Press.
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"Omniscience" is a chapter from Predestination by Gordon H. Clark, copyright 1969, 1978, and 1987, Lois A. Zeller and Elizabeth George; copyright 2002 John W. Robbins. "Predestination" is available for purchase from The Trinity Foundation, POB 68, Unicoi, Tennessee 37692.
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