Archive for the 'Attributes' Category

Was Jesus omniscient while on earth?

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Jesus Key Treasure Chest

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Did Jesus, as God, know everything? This is often doubted because of Jesus’ statement in Mark 13:32, ‘But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (ESV).[1] In the context of Mark 13:24-27, we know that Jesus was referring to his second coming.

We know from verses such as 1 John 3:20 that God is omniscient: ‘For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything’. So the trinitarian God, of whom Jesus is the deity and the second person of the Trinity, ‘knows everything’. How do we match this with ‘only the Father’ knowing the day or hour of Christ’s second coming?

With some people, it is not unusual to hear this kind of statement about Jesus not being or having the attribute of omniscience:

“He knows everything” is not meant as all absolute everything.
Jesus did not know the day of his second coming. Not knowing one things make (sic) him NOT knowing everything.[2]

The Forum thread that led to this comment began with this post: ‘I’m just curious because Jesus learns and finds things out in the Gospels, which doesn’t seem like a conditional possibility for an omniscient [being]’.[3]

1. What is omniscience?

Theologian, Wayne Grudem, has defined omniscience as ‘the attribute of God whereby he fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act’ (Grudem 1999:490). R C Sproul makes these accurate observations: Because omniscience means ‘all knowledge’, such could only be true of an infinite being like God himself who possesses infinite knowledge. ‘God’s omniscience is grounded in His infinity and His omnipotence. God’s omniscience is crucial to His role as the Judge of the world’ (Sproul 1992:46). Sproul refers to this teaching in Psalm 147:5; Ezekiel 11:5; Acts 15:18; Romans 11:33-36 and Hebrews 4:13.

2. Did Jesus have omniscience while on earth?

This is often questioned because of his lack of knowledge of his second coming. How should we respond? Is it a contradiction to state that the trinitarian God has omniscience yet Jesus did not have omniscience in his incarnation? Is that the truth. Let’s take a look at biblical evidence:

(a) Jesus did demonstrate aspects of omniscience

A summary of Jesus’ omniscience is given under the heading of ‘the Son is recognized as God’ and ‘the attributes of Deity’ by theologian Henry C. Thiessen. He wrote:

As for his omniscience, we read that He knows all things (John 16:30; 21:17). He knew what was in man (John 2:24, 25). He saw Nathanael under the fig tree (John 1:49); He knew the history of the Samaritan woman (John 4:29), the thoughts of men (Luke 6:8, cf. 11:17), the time and manner of His exit out of this world (Matt. 16:21; John 12:33; 13;1), who would betray Him (John 6:66), the character and certain termination of the present age (Matt. 24:25), the Father (Matt. 11:27); and “in him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden” (Col. 2:3). In Mark 13;32 He is said to be ignorant of the day of His return. On the basis of this statement some would have us believe that He was ignorant of many other points also. But we must remember that while He had the attributes of deity, He had surrendered the independent exercise of them. He went to a fig tree, “if haply he might find anything thereon” (Mark 11:13); He marvelled at their unbelief (Mark 6:6). All due to the fact that the Father did not allow Him to exercise His divine attributes in these instances. But He, no doubt, now knows the time of His coming (Thiessen 1949:139).

So Thiessen was convinced from the biblical evidence that Jesus did have the atrribute of omniscience but was not allowed to exercise it by the Father on some occasions during his incarnation.

(b) A view of Daniel Wallace

Daniel Wallace has written an excellent article about Jesus’ omniscience that I would recommend, “When did Jesus know?” Wallace concludes his article with this summary:

Briefly, here’s my take on things. We need to think of the divine attributes in two categories: moral attributes and amoral attributes. The moral attributes are those attributes that speak of God’s morality – justice, mercy, love, goodness, kindness, etc. The amoral attributes are those that speak of God’s sovereignty – omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, infinity, eternity, immutability, etc. What is interesting to observe in the Gospels is that a clear line of demarcation can be seen with reference to Jesus: he never fails to function on the level of the moral attributes, but frequently does not display the amoral attributes. In other words, the moral attributes seem to be “hard-wired” to his human consciousness, while the amoral attributes seem to be subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and come to the human conscious level at the Spirit’s choosing. At the same time, since he does occasionally demonstrate the amoral attributes, there is no denying his deity. Although Jesus Christ has both a human and divine nature, he is not two persons. He has one consciousness. It is not enough to say that his divine nature does not always operate at the level of his human consciousness. Why? Because it is only the amoral attributes that fit this description. It is partially because of this distinction that I hold to the impeccability of Christ—that is, that he was not able to sin (which is saying more than that he was able not to sin). Further, it is partially because of my christology that I view God’s attributes as amoral and moral instead of as communicable and incommunicable. In any event, if we recognize that Jesus functioned as a mere man in the amoral realm much if not most of the time, we can begin to understand why the scriptures can speak of him as able to relate to us. As man, he represents us to God; as God, he represents the Father to us. He is the perfect mediator, the perfect high priest, and the perfect sacrifice.

So Daniel Wallace’s view is that when Jesus was functioning as a man, he was not omniscient. However, did Jesus function with the attribute of omniscience while he was on earth? We’ll need to check the biblical evidence.

(c) Was Jesus’ incarnational omniscience laid aside?

‘The crowning jewel of incarnational texts is Philippians 2:6-11, an early Christian hymn in praise of Christ’ (Lewis & Demarest 1990:267). For an understanding of Jesus’ incarnation and omniscience, Phil 2:6-7 may have some application:

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

What does it mean to say that, in the incarnation, Jesus ‘made himself nothing’? The New American Standard Bible translates this phrase as, ‘emptied himself’ for the Greek, ekenwsen. The essence of the meaning is that

the eternal Christ chose not to regard existence-in-a-manner-of-equality-with-God a treasure to be greedily hearded. Instead, he voluntarily stripped himself (ekenwsen) of his prerogatives as the divine Son (his God-equal position) by “taking the very nature of a servant” [v. 7]…. Namely, by assuming the form and exhibiting the condition of a common slave. The text indicates that while renouncing participation in the heavenly glory, Christ retained the divine form or morphe…. The One who from eternity possessed the essence and glory of God, and who in an act of supreme self-renunciation assumed the existence of a lowly servant was in truth an authentic man among men (Lewis & Demarest 1990:267).

However, when applied to Jesus’ omniscience, we know that while the time of his second coming was the prerogative of the Father and was not known to the Son while on earth, we do know that Jesus demonstrated his attribute of omniscience during his earthly ministry. This is what the Gospels affirm about …

3. Jesus’ omniscience while on earth

matte-red-arrow-small[4]Matthew 26:21-25, ‘And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so”’. These verses demonstrate Jesus’ omniscience.

matte-red-arrow-small Matthew 26: 31-35, ‘Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same’. These verses demonstrate Jesus’ omniscience.

matte-red-arrow-small Luke 5:21-22, ‘And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts?”’ These verses demonstrate Jesus’ omniscience.

matte-red-arrow-small Luke 6:7-8, ‘And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there’. These verses demonstrate Jesus’ omniscience.

matte-red-arrow-smallLuke 9:46-47, ‘An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side’. These verses demonstrate Jesus’ omniscience.

matte-red-arrow-small Luke 11:17, ‘But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls’. This verse demonstrates Jesus’ omniscience.

4. A dominant question about Jesus not being omniscient

This is a fairly standard objection to Jesus having omniscience:

What do you do with,
32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. (Mar 13:32 KJV)[5]

Some of how to respond is expounded above, but here are some further pointers (there may be some overlap with what is above):[6]

a) Since Jesus is fully God (and fully man) as a member of the Triune God, he has to be omniscient (all-knowing) as that is one of the essential attributes of God himself. Since Jesus is God himself, he is omniscient.

b) There are many times when Jesus based what he said and did on his divine nature (see examples above). But there are other times when Jesus states something about himself that is based on his human nature (Mk 13:32 is one example). Scripture clearly demonstrates that Jesus may be identified according to both human and divine natures.

c) Take 1 Cor. 2:8 as an example of this apparent paradox where the rulers of this age ‘crucified the Lord of glory’. How could the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Lord God of glory be crucified? It’s an oxymoron unless we understand that this is a statement from the perspective of Jesus’ human nature.

d) I, as an orthodox evangelical who has a high view of Scripture, understand the oneness of the three persons of the Trinity. In this oneness, they know all things (are omniscient). In his humiliation as a human being (see Philippians 2:6-7), God the Son did not use his divine attributes except when they were needed for his mediatorial work.

e) Therefore, Jesus’ omniscience while on earth was used in a very restricted way. That is what is happening with Mk 13:32 when Jesus’ human nature does not know the day or the hour of his second coming.

f) This is a mystery to us as human beings. How could the omniscient second person of the Trinity, while on earth, restrict the use of his divine attributes in such a way? Mystery it is, but it is a fact beyond dispute according to the biblical revelation, that Jesus is fully God but when speaking from his human nature, his omniscience is very restricted.

g) Understanding Mark 13:32 is on a parallel with understanding 1 Cor 2:8. The human Lord of glory, who was fully God, was crucified. The human Jesus, who was fully God, did not know the time and hour of his second coming.

h) We must not strip Jesus of his deity and omniscience when we don’t understand how the human Jesus did not know the specifics about his return.

i) However, those of a theological liberal persuasion, with a low view of Scripture, can easily conclude that here is a gross contradiction of Scripture in Mk 13:32. However, such a conclusion is based on a false understanding of the nature of the Trinitarian Lord God Almighty.

But I will say that our view of God has a massive impact on our understanding of Mark 13:32. It was A. W. Tozer who wrote,

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself (Tozer 1961:1).

5. Conclusion

There are three possible interpretations[7] of Jesus not knowing the time of his second coming:

  1. Jesus continued to exercise some dimensions of omniscience while on earth and the full exercise of his omniscience was subject to God the Father’s parameters;
  2. Jesus never failed to function on the level of the moral attributes, but frequently does not display the amoral attributes such as omniscience as these seemed to be subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and come to the human conscious level at the Spirit’s choosing (Dan Wallace’s view).
  3. In his incarnation, Jesus laid aside the use of his attribute of omniscience.

I hold to number 1 until further information is received and further understanding is achieved. Why? That there were times when Jesus’ omniscience was deferred to another member of the Godhead is obvious from Jesus not knowing the time of his second coming. However, my understanding is that this is a function of omniscience in the Godhead. It is not meant to deny Jesus’ omniscience while on earth.

I will not have fullest understanding of how the Trinitarian God’s omniscience functions until I’m in his presence. I wonder if that will be an issue then.

Works consulted

Grudem, W 1999. Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith, J Purswell (ed). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Lewis, G R & Demarest, B A 1990. Integrative theology, vol 2. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books (Zondervan Publishing House).

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential truths of the Christian faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Tozer, A W 1961. The knowledge of the Holy.  San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Notes:

[1] Unless otherwise stated all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] Christian Forums, Theology, Christian History, The Historical Jesus, ‘Was Jesus omniscient?’ Maite Els#303. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7474786-31/ (Accessed 20 April 2013).

[3] Ibid., cubinity#1.

[4] I posted these references in ibid., OzSpen #310.

[5] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Questions for Synergists’, Butch5#328, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7742165-33/ (Accessed 6 May 2013).

[6] Ibid. This is from my response, OzSpen #327.

[7] Sceptics will want to introduce a fourth ‘interpretation’: ‘The Bible promotes a contradiction when dealing with Jesus’ omniscience vs. his limited knowledge’. However, the biblical evidence provides an antidote to the sceptics.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 October 2016.

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