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“for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” 1 John‬ ‭3:20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Considering that God knows everything, that means he would know the future. How do open theists respond to this?

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  • There are different levels of knowing. From experience I know that, if I pour a pitcher of water into a bottle, about 95% of it will go into the bottle and about 5% of it will spill onto the counter. But there is no way I have any knowledge of which 5% of the water molecules will spill. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 2:12
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    @RayButterworth yes there are different levels of knowing, including knowing everything.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 2:21
  • @RayButterworth The salient point is that you are not God. I would expect Him to far exceed your ability to know :) Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 13:17
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    He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). No qualifiers are given and men consistently strive to make Him smaller than He is (so that we can seem more like Him). Good question and, most likely, saddening answers. +1 Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 13:25
  • @MikeBorden Isaiah 46:10 seems to be about God accomplishing His plans. He knows what will come to pass because He works to bring it about, and has sufficient power to do so. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 17:26

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The simple answer is that 'all things' or 'everything' is scoped.

If I am ordering a burger, and the person asks what I want on the burger, and I say "everything," it will generally be understood that I want all the options on the menu, not every thing in the universe.

This pattern is also seen in the Bible, where 'all' is used to refer to things in context. For example, Acts 2:5

"And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven."

Were there Jews in Jerusalem from the Iroquois nations? No. The claim 'every nation' is scoped by a relevant context.

In the immediate context of 1 John 3:20, He knows all things relevant to the heart, and more generally, all things that are knowable.

As far as this passage in particular, the claim doesn't seem to require God knows everything that will happen in the future. Rather, it's that He can read our hearts present-tense (or at some point in the future, when it would then be present-tense). Hence, this passage seems compatible with an open theist understanding of free-will and God's foreknowledge.

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    Concerning what is knowable: What is and what isn't knowable is again determined by him since he set up the rules in the first place, so it's a self-imposed limitation.
    – phk
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 9:18
  • Hmm. Interesting. But couldn’t you just claim that knowing everything about a persons heart would entail knowing everything about what they would do in the future, and thus divine for knowledge stands?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 12:53
  • And who determines what is and isn't knowable? We flowers of the field? Us vapors? Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 13:29
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    @LukeHill "But couldn’t you just claim that knowing everything about a persons heart would entail knowing everything about what they would do in the future, and thus divine for knowledge stands?" Sure, you could. But an open theist presumably would deny that's the correct reading. In this particular passage, the claim doesn't seem to require God knows everything that will happen in the future, AFAICT. Just that He can read our hearts present-tense (or at some point in the future, when it would then be present-tense). Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 16:31
  • @MikeBorden 'Determines' epistemically or metaphysically? Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 16:34
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I believe an open theist would respond with these logical points:

  • If God knew the future, then freewill wouldn't exist.
  • God does know everything there is to be known.
  • So since freewill does exist, and God knows everything, then the future must be unknowable. If everything we do is truly up to us in that given moment then the future has millions of outcomes, not one set course.
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  • I'm sorry, but I don't see how that conclusion follows from the first two premises.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 1:36
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    P1 is false. Complete foreknowledge does not rule out free will. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 13:21
  • @MikeBorden Mmmmmaybe, but that's not a trivial assertion. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 16:37
  • @OneGodtheFather Did God know Adam would eat the fruit? If yes, did Adam choose to do so or did God make Him do it? If no, the cross was a divine reaction and not a plan from before the foundation of the world. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 12:18
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    @OneGodtheFather I agree that, since time is an aspect of creation, God stands outside of/above it. But foreknowledge is likely the best term we can conjure. It may not describe what is happening in God's economy so much as how we perceive it in ours. God knows everything that will happen before it happens in time and when it will happen in time. I think C.S. Lewis postulated well that God perceives the entirety of the timeline at once, trueandpure.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/… Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 12:57
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There is more than one definition for knowing everything. Use the correct one and the Bible does not contradict itself.

1 John 3:20 KJV

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

God knows the hearts and minds of all men that ever lived, but until they have lived there is nothing to know. Of course, God knows everything there is to know when it is available to be known.

The things he has foreknowledge of and prophesies about are things he has determined to make happen in the course of guiding and directing history.

Ezekiel 12:25 KJV

For I am the LORD: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord GOD.

Isaiah 14:24 KJV

The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand:

  1. God knows everything that will ever happen from the beginning. This amounts to predestination of all things.

  2. God knows all there is to know at the moment it becomes knowable and he predetermined certain events that he will make happen.

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  • This doesn't seem to answer the question - can you maybe clarify what exactly you are saying?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 1:38

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