Many people when they hear the idea that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11) will not like the obvious conclusion: a lot of stuff they don’t like has God’s stamp of approval. After all, if God did not approve of it, He would have not worked it out so that it would occur.
Many liberal Christians, in response to a feeling of abhorrence for such a conclusion have embraced Open Theism. Open Theism asserts that God has perfect knowledge, but not of the future because it has not happened yet. This position, especially in light of Biblical prophecy where God shows an understanding of the future, cannot be defended Biblically.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a doctrine of God’s “selective foreknowledge.” Selective foreknowledge teaches that the only thing more powerful than a god that knows everything is a god that can know everything but purposely does not know certain stuff along the way.
“Satan deceiving Eve in the garden? Oops, did not see that one, let me go about cleaning up that mess.”
What Scriptures to Jehovah’s Witnesses often cite to prove this point?
Passages that supposedly show God not knowing everything:
[T]he man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you” (Gen 3:8-9)?
And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (Gen 18:20-21).
The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come” (Job 1:7, Job 2:2)?
[They] have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind (Jer 19:5).
They have set up kings, but not by Me. They have appointed princes, but I did not know it (Hos 8:4).
Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses onto something? Could God have, for some unknown reason, selectively not known what Satan was cooking up in the Garden of Eden just like He apparently did not know where Adam was in the garden?
No. In the first three passages, to extrapolate a doctrine from God asking a rhetorical question (Gen 3:8 to Adam, Gen 18:20-21 to Abraham, and Job 1:7 to Satan), is foolish. Simply read the full context of each of those passages. God says something to the effect of Him not knowing something, and immediately the party to whom He addressed the question answers Him.
Hence, God was merely condescending Himself in His speech to the party paying attention for the benefit of the hearer, not displaying a lack of foreknowledge. It is not uncommon for people to ask leading questions, even when they already know the answer in order to teach someone something.
The latter two verses are more difficult to exegete, but not by much. In Jeremiah 19:5 God says that child sacrifice is something that never even “enter[ed] my Mind [“heart” in Hebrew].” Did God literally not see it coming until it happened? Hos 8:4 appears to unlock how we should read this passage. Just as God “did not know” the princes He obviously did not approve of, God did not approve of the practice of child sacrifice.
Hence, the idea of God “knowing” something here is a figure of speech that refers to having God’s approval. If God does not know someone or some practice in His heart, He does not approve of it. If He does approve of someone, He does know it. This is why the Scripture teaches, “Whoever loves God is known by God” (1 Cor 8:3).
So, while atheists at the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible have poked fun at the supposed contradictions in the Scripture as it pertains to this topic, there is no need for us to take their assertions seriously. They are easily refuted by the exegesis we have above, which is consistent with the preponderance of Scripture that speaks about the topic.
Scriptures that definitively speak of God’s omniscience, particularly in Him knowing all the thoughts of men:
You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men (1 Kings 8:39).
[T]he Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts (1 Chron 28:9).
For His eyes are upon the ways of a man and He sees all his steps (Job 34:21).
The Lord looks from heaven, He sees all the sons of men. From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth. He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works (Ps 33:13-15).
For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord and He watches all his paths (Prov 5:21).
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good (Prov 15:3).
For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes (Jer 16:17).
“Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord (Jer 23:24).
And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen…” (Acts 1:24).
And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Heb 4:13).
God is greater than our heart and knows all things (1 John 3:20).
In light of the preceding verses, the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is hermeneutically inconsistent. God cannot know “all things,” but somehow not know all things. Jeremiah, prophetically speaking for God, did not forget what God said in Jer 19:5 when he related that God sees “all their ways” (Jer 16:17) and laughs off the idea that “man hide in hiding places so I do not see him” (Jer 23:24). Clearly, Jeremiah was aware that God knows of wicked practices such as child sacrifice and disapproved of them using the the strongest possible terms. The wickedness was so great, it was the very antithesis of what is in the heart of God, for God is love.
Our lesson in all of this is not to base a doctrine off of one verse without understanding the context of the verse. It is important to use the rest of the Scripture to interpret it. If you don’t, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you will reach an unbiblical conclusion.