29 Dec 2013

Yes Virginia, the God of the Christian Bible Is Omniscient

All Posts, Religious 13 Comments

In the comments of my last religious post, some people stated matter-of-factly that the Bible provides different views of God, and that anyone claiming God is omniscient is ignoring the text in favor of a preconceived philosophical notion of God.

No, that’s not correct. If you want to say, “God does some crazy sick stuff in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament,” OK fair enough; I’ve already admitted point-blank that some of those passages are the hardest things for me to understand about my faith. Or, if you want to say, “Give me a break, this stuff is physically impossible, why are we taking seriously a book written in different languages over thousands of years ago?” again I totally understand that. But, if you say matter-of-factly that the Bible doesn’t provide textual support for God’s omniscience (or another popular atheist claim, that Jesus “never said he was God”), then no, that’s just not true.

In the present post I’ll provide just a sampling, going through the Bible (using the King James translation):

==> First of all there are the prophecies, such as God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis and of course the entire Book of Revelation describing the end times. Thus from start to finish, the Bible shows that God has knowledge of exquisite details of the far-distant future. These aren’t generic statements like, “Energy will be conserved in the year 2834.” No, He is giving very specific descriptions of events. How can He do this if He’s not omniscient? It’s as if He’s the Alpha and Omega; oh yes, that’s exactly how He Himself describes it.

==> Job 42:2: “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.”

==> Psalm 44:21: “Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.”

==> Proverbs 15:3: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.”

==> Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”

==> Luke 12:6-7: “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.”

==> John 21:17: “He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”

==> Ephesians 1:4-5: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will…”

==> Let me admit that there are certain passages in the Bible where–if you didn’t have the above to go on–you might think that God is fallible. But many of them are of the form of God asking questions. Yet clearly there are cases where He obviously knows the answer. For example, when God asks Cain where Abel is (whom he has murdered) and Cain infamously retorts, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” does anybody really think that in this story, God didn’t know the answer before He asked?

==> In case someone doubts me on the Cain exchange, try this one from John 18:4: “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”” (That’s the New King James translation.)

So how do we interpret that? One way is to say that the Bible is so contradictory, it can’t even stay on track within a single sentence. Another way is to say that Jesus sometimes asks questions of others even though He already knows the answer. Note that this isn’t some desperate attempt to salvage my position; normal parents and teachers use this technique all the time. Since the God of the Bible is depicted as our Father and Teacher, it shouldn’t be so problematic that He would ask questions even though He already knows the answers.

13 Responses to “Yes Virginia, the God of the Christian Bible Is Omniscient”

  1. Gamble says:

    The toughest thing for us mere mortal humans to understand and accept is although we were created in Gods image, He was not created in our image. Our human minds are finite therefore we can never fully understand God. God is to remain somewhat of a mystery.

    Being a Christians requires large amounts of faith.. Christianity will never pass the Rand sniff test or even all of Mises logic.

    Parity with God, control, power, glory, well you will have to talk to Lucifer about these things…

  2. christopher fisher says:


    There are a few prophecies that do fail, and some for no apparent reason. Nebuchadrezzar’s prophecy against Tyre being exhibit A.


    Long term prophecies are often subverted due to the actions of human beings. God promises a people a land, but then they reject God, and then God revokes his prophecy. This is standard fair. Other prophecies come true because God alone can cause it. Take for example the apocalypse. God does not need to see the future to know that he will end the world. Failed and subverted prophecies alone should prove God does not see the future like a movie.

    Speaking of Revelation, some of the letters and concepts show that this is not a film of the future but instead a symbolic vision. This is not time travel. In fact, of the letters recipients mentioned in Revelation, many of those churches no longer exist. The crazy imagery alone should tell us that John is not time traveling.

    • Futurity says:

      Surely, the omniscient God of the Bible would predict that one day christopher fisher would raise the objection that God’s prophesies did not come to pass.

      “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 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. So when in the future a man named christopher fisher questions me, spread dung upon his face.” Jeremiah 18:7-10b

      Clearly, the prophesies in the Bible can be conditional while the condition is not explicitly stated.

      In case you wonder if God ever spread dung upon someone’s face: Malachi 2:3

      • Christopher Fisher says:

        This is a strange post. When God says “I thought to do”, “I intended to do”, “I planned to do” what does that mean? Would a God who knew the future not do something He planned to do? The very verses you quote undermine your entire point. The verse is all about how God changes in reaction to how people change. It is all about how the future is not set. This just not jive with complete forknowledge of the future.


        • Futurity says:

          No, it means that there is more to prophesies than a 21st century man from totally different culture likes to admit or is ignorant of.

          This is classical example of anachronism. You have your understanding of what you believe prophesies should be and therefor you assume that this is what they were. Another point is that the ancients would understand the message, because they frequently communicated in extremes. Instead of saying:
          If you do not change your wicked ways I will destroy you.
          They would say.
          For your wicked ways I will destroy you.
          It was a way of pressuring the receivers to change.
          And Jonah is example of that:
          “And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Jonah 3:4
          And the next verse is:
          “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” Jonah 3:5
          How possible they would know what to do?? Jonah did not tell them that it is conditional!! Crazy stupid people, right? No. They simply understood his message: Repent and you will be saved.

          I have already gave you a hint that you are wrong.
          The prophesies may also have another function for example to turn people from their wicked ways.
          If they don’t then God does what he planned for them.

          Of course there are prophesies that are not conditional, like the one about coming Messiah.
          God in his mercy promised as Messiah and he kept His word.

          • Christopher Fisher says:

            You failed to answer my one question to you.

            Jeremiah 18:8
            If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.

            What does “thought to do” mean?

            One second thing is that you ignore my prime Example of failed prophecy (I doubt you even read the link you are critiquing). Tell me, wise one, why the prophecy to Nebuchadnezzar failed? The prophecy was against Tyre and for Neb, Tyre never repented and Neb never did anything bad. The prophecy fails for no apparent reason. Neb is given a consolation prize of Egypt, which he also never took. It is almost like that time God predicted Israel would kick out the enemy nations, but then couldn’t because they had chariots:

            Judges 1:19
            And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

            You are so wedded to your platonism, that you ignore the clear teachings of the Bible. God doesn’t mind when various prophecies fail or are subverted. Why do you?

            • Futurity says:

              Sorry for late reply.

              Just because God is omniscient does not mean the universe must be fully deterministic.

              Just because we are given choice by God does not mean God stops to be omniscient. One can easily argue that because God is creator of all things therefor He is omniscient as He in his wisdom set the barriers to our existence and to the world.

              Regarding Ezekiel 26. You take the passage out of context which is set in the beginning of the chapter. You falsely assume that Nebuchadnezzar will be the only one to fulfill this prophesy. In reality he is only the start as God prophesied many nations will destroy Tyre:
              Ezekiel 26:3 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up.
              Key here is “many nations”.
              Ezekiel 26 is used to show how God prophesies came to pass. Read more about it here:

              Judges 1:19
              In this passage author reassures that Lord is with Judah despite Judah’s failure to drive out inhabitants of the valley, because they have chariots of iron.
              Why would God allow Judah to fail?
              Could be that it was not God plan to conquer those lands yet with accordance with Deuteronomy 7:22 “And the LORD thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once ”
              Key words: “little and little” and “thou mayest not consume them at once”
              God set the rules of how the conquering of other nations will commence in Deuteronomy.

  3. christopher fisher says:

    I don’t want to spam, but when Proverbs says the “eyes of the Lord” are everywhere, it most probably means that God’s angels are watching. If that is the case, that means that (as I posted before about Sodom) that God is not forced to be everywhere and see everything. He can, if He wants, use angels to gather information:


  4. Simon Grey says:

    Bob, it seems that your argument for God’s omniscience is based on two things: biblical prophecy and biblical claims of God’s knowledge.

    Regarding the first, I would simply note that plenty of non-God beings have made accurate prophecies (say, the housing bubble of pop of 2008, or the US victory in the first gulf war), so clearly the ability to make correct predictions about the future does not require a high degree of knowledge or intelligence at all. Thus, it could be entirely possible that God is simply extremely knowledgeable and intelligent instead of omniscient, to such an extent that mere mortals cannot appreciate the difference. Also, since God is presumably quite powerful, it could also be the case that he can make his prophecies come true, negating the case for omniscience (i.e. God making a prophecy come true would be akin to a bodybuilder telling me that he is going to beat me up and then beating me up, which is only a fulfilled prophecy in a very technical sense). So, if you’re going to argue that fulfilled prophecies are proof of God’s omniscience, you first have to show that omniscience was necessary for knowing what would happen in the first place.

    Second, your argument from Biblical claims also seems a bit shallow, in that every verse cited is a third party making claims about God’s intelligence. God himself does not claim omniscience (though in Is. 55:9 he claims that his thoughts are superior to Man’s), only those writing on his behalf do.

    Moreover, these claims are made in foreign languages used over two millenia ago, which may mean that our understanding of what, exactly, is meant by these claims is hampered by translation difficulties. E.g. is the sentiment of “The eyes of the Lord are in every place…” that God is closely monitoring even the deepest reaches of other galaxies for human sin, or that he simply has a pretty good grasp on what people are actually doing on a day-to-day basis? Granted, there really isn’t a practical distinction to be made between either state, but the broader point–God knows if you’re good or evil–is really what we should focus on, not whether this implies God is omniscient. Whether he is or he isn’t, it is sure that he does know whether we obey him or not.

    Perhaps it might simply be the case that those who claim God knows everything are akin to the little children who go around bragging that their daddies can do anything. In the case of the latter, it isn’t really true that a human dad is so awesome that he can do literally everything in the universe, but four-year-olds are generally sincere in that particular belief. Likewise, it may simply be the case that God’s spokesmen are so in awe of God’s superiority that they might be exaggerating a little bit.

    Finally, you do have the general problem of tautology. What, exactly, is meant by God knowing everything? For example, we “know” that the earth revolves around the sun. But in a more specific sense, we don’t really know this at all for we do not have any known, fixed, object in the universe by which to gauge objective location. Thus, our knowledge is really a belief that is predicated on the operational reliability of a recursive predictive science model. Does God know that particular model better than anyone else, or does his knowledge transcend it? Does he even care to know it?

    And when the Bible says that God knows the secrets of the heart, in what sense is this true? That he knows every minute expression of human emotion as it occurs in a specific moment? Or that he is simply good at discerning which hearts truly belong to him? (I note that no human could be as good at judging which hearts belong to God as God is, as seen, for example, in Samuel’s selection of King Saul’s replacement.) Again, the question arises: what was the Psalmist trying to get at: that God concerns himself with every last vagary of human emotion, or that God knows which hearts truly belong to him?

    So, when we say God knows everything, are we asserting that he has perfect knowledge and understanding of every fact, system, person, animal, plant, etc.? Or are we saying that he knows everything worth knowing? The former has a more literal meaning than the latter, but the latter is an equally valid use of the term. (It’s like going to the capitol and being introduced to someone who “knows everyone.” The implication isn’t that he knows every last citizen of the capitol, but that he knows everyone worth knowing.) Just how literal is the biblical claim of God’s omniscience?

    I think the more defensible position is that God may or may not be omniscient, but his knowledge and understanding is extremely vast, and its vastness is not, form our view, appreciably different from omniscience. So, even if God doesn’t know every last thing, he does know far more than any human ever will, and so we had best listen to him and obey him.

  5. Matt M (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

    “But, if you say matter-of-factly that the Bible doesn’t provide textual support for God’s omniscience”

    I feel like this is a straw man. I don’t recall anyone, even the most hostile of atheists, saying or even implying this in any recent discussion.

    Speaking for myself, I believe what I have said is that the Bible, in some places, seems to provide heavy textual support for God choosing to act (or not act) based on current circumstances. I’m not sure whether that is technically mutually exclusive with omniscience or not…

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Matt M. wrote:

      I feel like this is a straw man. I don’t recall anyone, even the most hostile of atheists, saying or even implying this in any recent discussion.

      You must not read Ken B. (for which I don’t blame you).

      • Matt M (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

        I thought Ken B. simply rejects the authority of the Bible. Either that or he highlights the contradictions and puts the onus on you to justify how seemingly opposing statements regarding the nature of God can be true.

        I don’t recall him ever claiming that NOWHERE does the Bible offer evidence of God’s omniscience…

        • christopher fisher says:


          I do not think that the Bible contains evidence for complete knowledge of the future (or of the present). I am a fundamentalist Christian. In the second half of this post (http://christopherfisher.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/countering-open-theism/) I talk about the commonly used verses for omniscience. They are lacking in substance. However the Bible depicts God debating humans, saying He never thought things would come to past, expressing sorrow about His own past actions, repenting, revoking prophecy, and even saying He will go places to find things out. The attribute of omniscience is a platonistic attribute that is assumed onto the Bible. It is not compatible with the God of the Bible.


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