Middle Knowledge in the Bible

by Max Andrews

Any affirmation of counterfactuals does nothing if it is incompatible with biblical teaching.  The Bible acknowledges that God uses counterfactuals to achieve His will and that He knows the truth-value to hypothetical propositions.  An example of this would be in 1 Samuel 23.6-10.  This passage accounts for David’s inquiry to the Lord by means of a divining device called an ephod (which gave a “yes” or “no” answer).  David thus flees the city of Keilah so the predictions do not come true.  What the device had predicted to David was not simple foreknowledge (“Saul/the men of Keilah will do X”), by hypothetical knowledge (“If David stays, then Saul/the men of Keilah will do X”).  The answer given by the ephod were correct answers, even though the events did not come to pass, since the answers were indicative of what would happen under certain circumstances.[1]

Another example may be found in Jeremiah’s prophecy to King Zedekiah:

Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘If you will indeed go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, then you will live, this city will not be burned with fire, and you and your household will survive.  ‘But if you will not go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, then this city will be given over to the hand of the Chaldeans; and they will burn it with fire, and you yourself will not escape from their hand'” (Jer. 38.17-18).

Craig comments on this passage:

In His omniscience God knew what would happen whichever course of action Zedekiah chose.  Indeed, construing certain prophecies as hypothetical warnings rather than as categorical declarations of simple foreknowledge enables us to explain how it is that in Israel the test of a true prophet was the fulfillment of his predictions (Deut. 18.22) and yet, some predictions given by true prophets do not actually come to pass due to a change on the part of the people forewarned (Amos 7.1-6); Jonah 3; Isa. 38.1-5).  In such cases, what God was giving was hypothetical knowledge of what would happen under the prevailing circumstances; but were intercessory prayer and repentance to occur, God would not carry out what had been threatened.[2]

Christ also demonstrates hypothetical knowledge in statements:

“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Mt. 26.24)

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin… If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; by now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.” (Jn. 15.22, 24)

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (Jn. 16.36)

It is clear that God possess both simple foreknowledge and hypothetical knowledge.  However, no matter how much exposition, one cannot show the logical order of knowledge, no amount of proof-texting can prove that such hypothetical knowledge is possessed logically prior to God’s creative decree.  This requires theological reflection, not biblical exegesis.  Thus, while it is clearly unbiblical to deny that God has simple foreknowledge and even hypothetical knowledge, those who deny middle knowledge cannot be accused of being unbiblical.[3]

The strongest arguments are theological, such as the Molinist account of divine foreknowledge.  Consider the following passages:

“This Man [Jesus], delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2.23).

“For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4.27-28).

Here there is a remarkable assertion of divine sovereignty over the affairs of men.  If the word “foreknowledge” encompasses middle knowledge in the biblical use, then God would know all possible circumstances, persons, and arrangements of such affairs, where He would decree to create just those circumstances and just those people who would freely do what God willed to happen.  Thus, the whole scenario unfolds to God’s plan.  Only an omniscient mind could providentially direct a world of free creatures toward His sovereignly established ends.[4]

[1] William Lane Craig, What Does God Know?  Reconciling Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom (Norcross, GA:  RZIM, 2002), 9-10.

[2] Ibid., 10-11.

[3] Ibid., 46.

[4] Ibid., 47.  Craig continues with Paul’s reflection that “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2.8 NIV).  Once one grasps it, the doctrine of divine middle knowledge thus issues in adoration and praise of God for so breath-taking a sovereignty.

4 Comments to “Middle Knowledge in the Bible”

  1. Wow! Great post, Max! (as usual)

  2. Indeed, because the biblical record is not explicit on the logical order of knowledge, neither can the Molinist be labelled unbiblical! I’m considering writing a post evaluating the so-called Scripturalism epistemology that says nothing doctrinal should be affirmed as true if not from the Scriptures. I think it may end up self-defeating. 🙂

    • Boom! Please send that to me when you’re done. I’d love to re-post it and send the reader to your blog.

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