How do you say that God knows everything that will happen in the future when we read in the Bible passages like the following:
“And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” (Genesis 22:12)
As God says “now I know”, does this not mean that it was then that He knew, and that before that time He did not know?
Now, before I begin to answer this objection and misinterpretation of the Bible, let me quote an important text from God’s holy Word:
“Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all.”
God knows everything absolutely from eternity past, and He does not come to know anything; He is not surprised by any event or thought or action, for He knows. But some false believers today and unbelievers object that such passages like the one quoted above show that God does not know everything and that He comes to know when the given fact happens. We will see in the coming lines how they are in a big error and how the very same passages which they use to prove their point say the exact opposite: that God knows all things before they happen… Actually, those who oppose God’s Word do not really believe it and do not really study it as a whole, in its particular and general contexts, as we will see.
I will take the text quoted above, but I remind you that all texts quoted in defense of this same error each has in its context a similar explanation as the one we will see with this verse:
“And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” (Genesis 22:12)
This verse has a context; it did not suddenly fall from the sky… What is the context? The context is that God commanded Abraham to offer his unique covenant son Isaac to Him, as He was testing Abraham’s faith. If the Bible did not say that God was testing Abraham, one could say “Okay, these people could not know God was testing Abraham, that’s why they object that God did not know…” But the Bible said it clearly in the introduction of this passage:
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.” (Genesis 22:1)
So God was about to put Abraham to a test. If God did not know the outcome of this, do you think He would put Abraham, and not an unbeliever, to this particular test that presented an image of Christ’s Substitution? You will soon see in this article why I asked this question.
Now, WHEN did God test Abraham to know if he feared God? It is in Genesis 22, long after Genesis 15 where we read that God already knew that Abraham fears (believes in) Him! Let’s read that passage:
“And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
If God did not know that Abraham really believed in Him, i.e. that Abraham really feared Him, then He would not count it to him for righteousness. What if Abraham’s faith was not a genuine faith? Then God would be wrong in counting it to him for righteousness. May it never be! God is never wrong! He knew beforehand that this was a genuine faith, because He knows the heart of Abraham and He knows the work that He Himself has done there: He created faith in Abraham’s heart by His Grace. So saying that God did not know whether or not Abraham had a genuine faith in Him is like saying that God did not know what He did in Abraham’s heart! May it never be! This is a blasphemy against God’s Nature. As God knew that Abraham had a genuine faith and that he feared Him, then the test of Genesis 22 would surely prove Him right! Pay attention to the verb “prove” that I just used, because this is very important, as you will see in this article. So God did not test Abraham to find out whether or not Abraham really feared Him (in the plain meaning of the expression “to find out”), because He already knew Abraham feared Him and that his faith was real.
Then why does the above quoted text say that it is after Abraham obeyed that God knew he feared Him? Actually, the inability to understand this very important point is behind all errors concerning justification before God. Many readers will be surprised why I am talking about justification in this context, but I will explain now. Actually, I think all such errors are related to the inability to understand what justification is and what genuine saving faith is and what is the relation between justification and sanctification, therefore I have previously written a detailed article about this subject: The relation between justification and sanctification.
Roman Catholics and all those who say justification is by faith and works have practically misunderstood this “now I know”, therefore they misinterpret James 2:21-23. Indeed, many readers are surprised why I am talking about James 2 when the topic is about “now I know”, but I call them to notice that in James 2 James was explaining this expression “now I know”! How? Well, he wrote:
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” (James 2:21-23)
James said that Abraham’s work of offering his son in Genesis 22 fulfilled the Scripture, i.e. the words that God had already said in Genesis 15. In other terms, James was saying that God already knew in Genesis 15 that Abraham would obey Him, therefore He counted his faith to him for righteousness! God already knew that Abraham had a genuine saving faith. So what does James mean by “was faith made perfect”? He means “faith was perfected, was completely shown in action, was proven as genuine”; he did not mean that Abraham’s faith was not perfectly genuine already, just as Hebrews did not mean that Christ was not perfect when it said: “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:10); again: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience¹ by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). Christ was made perfect through sufferings, i.e. He practically lived the completeness of suffering and thus the perfection of His Nature was revealed practically and thus He saved us. In the same way, true perfect and genuine faith expresses and proves and demonstrates itself completely and in a perfect way through the works of obedience that it does, therefore James said that faith was made perfect by its works. And James says that this fulfilled the Word of God which He had already said in Genesis 15: that Abraham had a genuine faith and that he feared God, therefore God counted his faith to him for righteousness. So James practically explained that the “now I know” of Genesis 22 means that what God already knew in Genesis 15 was proven right in Genesis 22. Ah, now pay attention to this: this verb “prove” has been mentioned again… Those who misunderstand the “now I know” of Genesis 22 surely misunderstand what justification is, because they surely do not understand what James was talking about, and how it did not contradict Paul who said that Abraham was justified by Grace alone through faith alone, and not by his works. They practically do not understand that Paul was talking about the fact that God already knew the heart of Abraham and that He knew Abraham really believed in Him and feared Him, therefore He counted that to him for righteousness even before this faith expressed itself and proved itself genuine in Genesis 22. We have seen how James also explained this same point.
So the text that we read above in the unbelievers’ objection does not mean that God did not previously know whether or not Abraham really feared Him; it means that in Genesis 22, by the test through which God made Abraham pass, He proved Abraham’s faith genuine and made that faith express itself practically; God proved that He already knew Abraham had a genuine faith! He showed how real faith is a present reality, and not a past finished fact as many heretics present it today. We have an article about this: Are we already righteous or not? So you already noted what “now I know” means. The verb to know, in such contexts, means “to prove as genuine”, “to experimentally show as real”, “to show by examination the genuineness of something”, “to scrutinize the real nature of something”. The verb to know is used in this context in a way that can make otherwise inconceivable truths about God’s Nature accessible to any man in history. This biblical method applies to God verbs that are naturally applied to humans in order to make it easy for us to understand God’s Nature to some extent. It is the same method used when God is said to have hands or eyes, etc. (i.e. anthropomorphism). This surely does not mean that God has hands and eyes like us, but it is used to make the idea accessible to our minds. The verb to know is used about God in a similar meaning in many other passages of the Bible such as the following:
God says to Israel:
“You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2)
Does this mean that God did not know any nation on the earth other than Israel?… Of course not! God knows all humans very well, for He is Omniscient. But the verb to know in such contexts means “to have a covenantal relationship with”. Under the Old Covenant, God had a covenantal relationship only with Israel, and not with any other nation.
Again, we read in Psalm 1:
“For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish.” (Psalm 1:6)
Does this mean that God does not know the way of the wicked?… Of course not! But this means that God is in a covenantal relationship only with the righteous. He examines the way of the righteous and leads him in the right way always. As we have seen above, this means that God examines and scrutinizes (i.e. “knows”) the way of the righteous to lead him in the right way. We will see more about this in Psalm 139 below.
In Psalm 139, in the same Psalm, the different facts about the verb to know are used: once the verb is used to mean the past knowledge of God, and once it is used to mean “to prove”, “to try and test”, “to examine and reveal” in the present. Thus the Psalmist begins this Psalm by saying: “Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known [me].” (Psalm 139:1) So this verse uses the past tense to mean the action is finished in the past: this tense is the biblical way to say that the action is an eternal action, i.e. God did not come to know the Psalmist sometime in the past, but His knowledge of him is absolute and eternal, not having a beginning. The Psalmist explains this truth in the same Psalm as he explains how God already knows all things even deeply and closely before they happen. But although the Psalmist has said that God has already searched him (examined him deeply) and has known him very well, and although he said that God knew his thoughts even before he spoke (see verse 4 quoted above), and yet at the end of the same Psalm he says: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) This does not mean that the Psalmist was contradicting what he said at the beginning and in the whole of this Psalm; this means that the Psalmist asks God to keep examining him to prove his heart genuine with Him and to lead him in the right path, as we have seen in Psalm 1 above.
Thus we see how the very passage that shows that God already knew Abraham had a genuine fear of God is used by unbelievers to prove that God does not know everything in the future… This is typical of those who do not know God, as Jesus explained to the Jews: “Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)
Let me add this also: the text that we studied is in a context where God proved the faith of His faithful servant Abraham, but at the same time He gave an image of the Substitution of Christ as He gave a ram as a substitute for Abraham’s son. God had already prepared that substitute ram, so He already knew Abraham would obey Him and would go to offer his son. If He did not know, then He would go and “try His chance” (Oh, God, forgive!) with other people before Abraham to find out who has a genuine fear of Him… He would not know that it was Abraham who had that genuine faith. But the fact is that God knew Abraham feared Him, so He used his example to give an image of His Son’s Substitution. God was in control; He knew what He was doing; He was not trying His chance to see if it would work with Abraham… Thus you see that the foreknowledge of God of all things in the future is an essential part of His Sovereignty: if God did not know how things would turn with Abraham, He would not make a covenant with him; He may have been trying until now to find someone with whom He could make such a covenant… But as faith is the work He does in the heart of man, the work that He did in Abraham’s heart, so He was in full control of all what was happening in the relationship with Abraham: He knew beforehand that Abraham would keep obeying Him, because He knew what kind of faith He worked in his heart, therefore He already gave Abraham in Genesis 15 promises concerning His Plan in relation to him and to his seed, before He proved in Genesis 22 that Abraham’s faith was genuine. Now, just imagine what would happen of God’s Sovereignty if Abraham “surprised” God in Genesis 22 and proved that God was wrong in justifying him for his faith in Genesis 15…
Besides the Sovereignty of God, and in close relation with it, the unchangeable Nature of God also is affected by this satanic doctrine that says that God does not know the future and that He comes to know some things in time. Indeed, if God did not know something in the past and comes to know it now, then His knowledge has changed now! Then something — whatever that something is, but in this context it is His knowledge — has changed in God! Then God has changed: He has become more knowing now! And this contradicts the very Nature of God, the very definition of what “God” means: That He does not change. This Nature is expressed in the very Name of God (YHWH, i.e. “I am”, i.e. the One who does not change): “For I Jehovah change not“ (Malachi 3:6). This is why I said above that those who oppose God’s Word do not really believe it as a whole, and they do not really study it as a whole, in its particular and general contexts. God says that foreknowledge is the proof that He is God, because foreknowledge is in the very definition of who God is: “Produce your cause, saith Jehovah; bring forward your arguments, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forward, and declare to us what shall happen: shew the former things, what they are, that we may give attention to them, and know the end of them; — or let us hear things to come: declare the things that are to happen hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods; yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be astonished, and behold it together. Behold, ye are less than nothing, and your work is of nought; an abomination is he that chooseth you. … I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come, — from the rising of the sun, he who will call upon my name; and he shall come upon princes as on mortar, and as the potter treadeth clay. Who hath declared [it] from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, [It is] right? Indeed, there is none that declareth; no, none that sheweth; no, none that heareth your words.” (Isaiah 41:21-26)
And before I close this article, let me remind you that we have previously seen on this blog another example of how unbelievers misunderstand an anthropomorphic image (“I will remember”) and use it to prove the exact opposite of what the image was meant to prove. That example is in the introduction of our long article or rather booklet What did the Church Fathers believe about baptism? I will quote that passage here to show you how all such expressions are misunderstood by unbelievers and how they are used to prove the exact opposite of what is actually said:
The biblical language is different from our modern ways of expression or the analytic and systematic ways that theology teachers use to explain biblical truths today. For example, you can’t find in the Bible any passage where baptism or the Lord’s Supper or the Trinity is explained in an analytic way. When the Bible talks about the signs that God gives as the seals of His promises, it doesn’t say “this sign is not the truth itself, but it only signifies the assurance of the promise”; it naturally links the promise to the sign, calling the sign by the name of the effect or the promise itself, because the sign is given by God for this very purpose, i.e. to make the sign truly express that promise and its unshakable and sure nature. For instance, after the Flood, God said to Noah: “I set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be for a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass when I bring clouds over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud, and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living soul of all flesh; and the waters shall not henceforth become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living soul of all flesh that is upon the earth.” (Genesis 9:13-16) Here is an interesting passage where we see how the Bible expresses things that the modern man misunderstands. Note that the rainbow is not a bow that God would use in His wars, although He calls it “my bow”… Skeptics, when reading this passage, conclude that the Bible presents a god who forgets and needs to be reminded of things… But that’s because they don’t know what the signs are according to the biblical language. Indeed, before God gave this sign to Noah, He already had the eternal purpose not to destroy all flesh anymore again as long as the earth remains: “And Jehovah said in his heart, I will no more henceforth curse the ground on account of Man, for the thought of Man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will no more smite every living thing, as I have done. Henceforth, all the days of the earth, seed [time] and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22) So God would never smite every living thing as long as the earth remains, and that rainbow was not the reason why He would not do that. But why did He say those things to Noah while giving him the sign of the rainbow? It’s because the sign was given as an assurance for Noah that God would never forget His promise, and thus the promise was sure! In other words, the sign expressed the following truth, but without words: “Noah, later on some strong floods will still happen on earth. When they happen, and even if the weakness of your faith or of the faith of any believer may make you think that God may have forgotten His promise and that that flood will destroy the whole earth again as it did in the days of Noah, just look to the rainbow, and you will get assured that the flood will not destroy the whole earth, because God has given you that sign as an assurance of His promise not to destroy the whole earth again”. You see how a misunderstanding of the signs makes you understand the exact opposite of what is said. Indeed, in this passage God is saying that He may never forget His promise and that He has even given a sign of assurance, while the skeptic understands from it that God may forget… Actually, if God may forget, then how can we be sure that He will not even forget what the rainbow signifies?…
So the unstable use biblical passages to prove the exact opposite of what the passages say, because they do not understand God’s Word. This proves what Peter has written by the Holy Spirit: “as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16) They misunderstand God’s Word to their own destruction; we should be careful not to listen to their corrupted interpretations, otherwise we also will misunderstand God’s Word to our own destruction, for we will then blaspheme against God by denying His Sovereignty, Omniscience, and unchangeable Nature, as we have seen in this article.
In conclusion: God is Omniscient; He knows all things very deeply and very well long before they happen; actually, He just knows! There is not a time when God comes to a knowledge. He is outside time, and He knows all things eternally, but in time we practically experience His knowledge continuously in our lives, as He proves and examines (“knows”) the genuineness of all things in our lives through tests: God expresses all this with the humanly understandable expression “now I know” or “I will know”, etc. By the way, the Bible teaches us that this fact should lead us to rejoice and thank God when we pass through tests or trials: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into various temptations, knowing that the proving of your faith works endurance.” (James 1:2-3) As you see, James says those trials aim to prove our faith and thus to prove its genuineness.
All Glory to God in our Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ
1 A detailed explanation of this learning of obedience in relation with how our faith is shown practically through God’s disciplining us is given in the following article: God disciplines His children.