HOW MUCH DOES GOD FOREKNOW?: A Comprehensive Biblical Study by Stephen Roy
Does the Bible teach that a portion of the future is fixed and definite and thus can be known by God infallibly, while another portion of the future is indefinite and unknown and cannot be known by God? Open theists answer this question in the affirmative, while Steven Roy, taking the position of classical theism, answers, “God knows the future – exhaustively and definitely and infallibly” (279).
Roy begins with an thorough look at Ps. 139 and 1 and 2 Kings. Then, in a study on Isa. 40-48, he maintains that the centerpiece of Isaiah’s argument against Babylonian idols is that they cannot declare the future. In contrast, Yahweh has successfully predicted the coming of Cyrus (Isa. 44:28; 45:1). Roy also discusses NT references to God’s foreknowledge by means of Jesus’ passion predictions, Acts 2:23, Rom. 8:29; 11:1, and 1 Peter.
However, central to Roy’s investigation is his study of the Hebrew verb nacham with Yahweh as its subject. These texts (e.g., Gen. 6:6-7; Jer. 18:7-10; Amos 7:1-6) depict Yahweh’s “repentance” as a backing up from a previous decision. Roy acknowledges that nacham must be one of the controlling metaphors for understanding the God of Israel. But does the doctrine of divine repentance overthrow the doctrine of God’s complete omniscience? Open theists insist that it does. They stress that the genuineness of God’s repentance demands a less-than-exhaustive understanding of the extent of his foreknowledge.
Roy, however, argues for a position that embraces both of these attributes of God as a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” proposition. He maintains that the biblical teaching of Yahweh’s ability to change course does not negate his complete foreknowledge of the future. Roy embraces both the authenticity of Yahweh’s relenting (he does not place it in the category of anthropomorphic/symbolic language), as well as Yahweh’s exhaustive foreknowledge of everything that will ever happen. He concludes that the doctrine of divine repentance affirms both divine passibility (which affirms that God has emotions) and divine mutability (which affirms that God changes in relationships with people). Yahweh’s repentance indicates a real change in his emotions and his actions.
Open theists, however, assume that the similarities between divine and human change include lack of foreknowledge, while it is better, Roy argues, just here is the major difference. Numbers 23:19, 1 Sam. 15:29, and Hos. 11:8-9 specifically state that Yahweh’s change is different from human change. When God repents, he does not do so in every sense as humans do, because his repentance does not diminish his foreknowledge. Divine repentance texts do not say or teach that God does not foreknow the future in question. That is an inference made by open theists, based on what they think is possible for God to do or say.
At the end of his study Roy pastorally addresses the ways his findings impact the practical aspects of Christian worship, prayer, God’s guidance, suffering and the problem of evil, and hope in the ultimate triumph of God. In each of these areas he shows how an exhaustive understanding of God’s foreknowledge leads to a Christian experience that is more in line with biblical teaching than its nonexhaustive alternative.
This is a careful, balanced and persuasive defense of God’s comprehensive knowledge of the future in the face of the challenges posed by open theism. Roy demonstrates that the historic Christian view is both well grounded in Scripture and more pastorally adequate than its alternatives. I recommend it to pastors, seminarians, and the church at large.