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What Does God Know and Why Does He Know It?

God’s Infinite Knowledge

What does God know, and why does He know it?  The Bible says that God’s understanding is infinite.

“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” (Psa. 147:5)

The New American Standard Bible translates this Hebrew word “ayin” as infinite. Infinite means limitless or eternal. God’s knowledge has no boundaries. The Psalmist is saying that God’s knowledge is without limits. God knows everything knowable!

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.” (Isa. 40:28)

Here the same Hebrew word “ayin” is used, but it is translated not infinite, but “inscrutable.” It means unfathomable.  We cannot reach the depths of God’s knowledge.

God’s knowledge, unlike ours, does not come in a series of thoughts, one following the other.  The events in time do not parade across God’s mind to be viewed event by event.  He sees all of history at one glance. God knows everything perfectly and He knows it all at once. He does not grow more intelligent with time. God does not gain or lose knowledge. He cannot grow wiser. He has perfect knowledge. He has had perfect knowledge of everything knowable throughout eternity.

The Latin word “omniscience” is often used to define God’s knowledge. The word “omni” is all, and the word “science” is knowledge. Put together it means all-knowledge. God knows every microscopic detail of everything knowable.

Why Does God Know Everything?

Why does God know everything knowable?Ask these searching questions!  Is there something to be known “outside” of God’s domain? Is there a realm outside of God’s realm? Is there any part of God’s knowledge that comes to Him by taking in new information that He was not conscious of before? Is there anything that God knows that He did not create? Is there anything that He knows that He did not determine to be?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (Jn. 1:1-3)

The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus Christ created everything that is.  Nothing “came to be” apart from Him. Said another way, there is nothing created outside of God!

Not only that, but God continuously sustains everything that He has created.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Col. 1:15-17)

“Consist” is the Greek word sunistemi, or “hold together.” Jesus Christ not only created everything but He holds everything together. I assume this includes every atom from the smallest to the greatest of all of His creation from the beginning to end. This means that every atom that makes up every raindrop that falls and every hair on our heads is created and held together by God.  Nothing exists that God did not will to exist! Nothing exists that God has not brought into being! Nothing exists that God does not continue to hold together. This means that God did not create something and then allow that creation to leave his domain! That would be a scary thought! God from the beginning set in place a plan, and He has throughout history carried out His plan.

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36)

God Determines What He Knows

If all things were and continue to be brought into being by God, and He holds all things together, ask these questions!  What can God learn that He did not cause to be? What could God know that He did not determine?  If all things are “from Him,” what could God observe that is outside of His being?  Absolutely nothing!

Nothing is apart from God’s being! God brought everything into existence by willing it into existence. And God sustains everything that has existence. Therefore, He knows what exists because He willed it to exist and sustains its existence. This is the reason for God’s omniscience. It is true that God knows every microscopic detail of everything knowable.  But God knows everything knowable because He has determined everything that He knows. God does not wait for anything to happen outside of His being and then know it.  Why? Because there is nothing that can happen outside of God’s being.

“In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17: 27)

“The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works”  (Psa. 33:13-15).

“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13)

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:1-6)

God’s Applied Knowledge

Speaking of the Jews the prophet Amos says:

“You only have I known among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)

God says that out of all the nations of the earth He knew Israel only.  The Hebrew word “known” is Yadah. The NASV translates this word “chosen.” That seems to be a more accurate translation. “Yadah” means to have a relationship with. Israel is the only nation that God determined to have a relationship with. God is not saying that Israel was the only nation that He knew anything about among all the families of the earth?  God always knew who all the families of the earth would be because He determined their existence. God also determined all of history from the beginning.

“Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.’” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

Notice that God determined the end from the beginning and He determined a special relationship with Israel. That is the meaning of the Hebrew word “Yadah.” It means, “to have a personal relationship with.” God’s knowledge of Israel is marked out by the word “only.”  God knew Israel in the sense that He chose to have an intimate relationship with Israel!

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5)

God is not telling Jeremiah that He knew that Jeremiah was going to be formed in the womb, so He formed him there. Nor does God mean that He knew who Jeremiah would be?  Nor does God mean that He knew that Jeremiah was going to choose Him so He chose Jeremiah. Before God formed Jeremiah in the womb, God knew Jeremiah!

Genesis says that Adam knew (Yadah) his wife Eve (Gen. 4:1) and she bore a son, and Cain knew (Yadah) his wife and she bore a son (Gen. 4: 17).  Does “Yadah” mean that Adam knew who his wife would be, so he married her and decided to have a child by her?  Does “Yadah” mean that Cain knew who his wife would be, so he determined to marry her and to have a child by her?  Not at all!  It means that they knew their wives in an intimate way.

God had foreordained a relationship with Jeremiah before Jeremiah was in his mother’s womb.

God’s Foreknowledge

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.   Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Rom. 8:29-30)

I have heard this taught: God’s foreknowledge is an attribute of God, but predestination is an act. This means that God foreknew what was going to happen, but He did not ordain it to happen. In other words, God foreknows everything knowable by intellect (prescience). This is the most common answer to God’s electing grace.  Many deal with God’s election of believers by saying that God knew beforehand by omniscience what every human being was going to choose concerning His Son. If the person had determined to accept Christ, then God would choose that person. But if someone decided to reject His Son, then God would determine to condemn that person. The Creator knew what the creature had determined to do, but the Creator had nothing whatsoever to do with causing them to do it. This would place sovereignty in the hands of human beings.

But this cannot be! One cannot say that God always knew who would be lost and then say it is not God’s will that any be lost. This would imply that God is frustrated!  It would mean that God could not help but create someone that He always knew was going to be lost.

No one can consistently say that God foreknew who would be lost and then preach that the Spirit does all He can to save every person in the world.

If this is the correct definition of God’s foreknowledge, there are some things that happen outside of God’s being and out of His control. That is not a comforting thought! It would mean that God, at some point, has become a mere observer of historical events before they occur. Some have taught that God chose to place this limitation on Himself by a decree. But this decree is strangely missing from the Bible.

What is the meaning of the Bible word “foreknowledge”?  The Greek words ”foreknow” and “foreknown” both come from the root word proginosko. The word literally means, “to know beforehand.” But God’s knowledge is based upon His bringing all things to be and His sustaining all things. God does not know anything by observation because He does not have to.  If we apply the correct view of God’s knowledge to the Greek word “proginosko,” then it means to determine a relationship beforehand. And that is precisely what it means! Consider Peter’s use of the word.

“Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” (1 Pet. 1:18-20)

Here the word “foreknown” is applied to Jesus Christ. It cannot mean that God knew who Jesus Christ would be or that God knew what Jesus Christ was going to do!   That would imply that God was looking down from heaven from eternity past at Christ’s identity and His work and saying, “Oh, I know who Christ is and I see what Christ is going to do therefore I will redeem man through His work.” How absurd!  It means that God had predetermined Christ to die for sin before the foundation of the world. The passage could read, “For He was ‘determined to be’ before the foundation of the world.” Peter verifies this truth in the book of Acts.

“This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge (prognosis, predetermined act) of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Acts 2:23)

Whatever “foreknow” means in 1 Peter 1:20 and Acts 2:23, it also means in 1 Peter 1:2.  Here it speaks of believers.

“Elect according to the foreknowledge (prognosis, predetermined act) of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:2)

Peter is not saying that God knew that these believers were going to choose Christ, so He chose to set His love upon them. Peter is saying that God predetermined a relationship with these believers. Remember, God does not know anything by observation alone! God knows that which He has destined to be!

The Bible does not use the word “foreknow” to insinuate that God knew about believers beforehand but that God had determined a personal relationship with believers beforehand.  God knows because God has determined! God foreknows because God has predetermined! The Greek word, “proginosko” should be translated foreordained or “to determine beforehand.”

Now we have some insight into Christ’s words spoken to the Pharisees in Matthew 7.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”(Matt. 7:21-23)

Does Christ mean that He never knew who they were? Not hardly! Christ is equal with the Father in every way! Just as the Father is omniscient, He is omniscient. Christ meant that He had not determined a relationship with this religious crowd.

Therefore, to ”foreknow” the believer means that God foreordained a relationship with the believer long before the believer was ever here.

“For whom He foreknew, (determined beforehand) He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom. 8:29)

 

Sources

New American Standard Bible

John MacArthur

Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology

Bible Knowledge Commentary; Old Testament