As a reminder of the definition from last week, a person or organization commits the error of rejecting biblical authority when “either the Bible as a whole or texts from the Bible are examined and rejected because they do not appear to agree with reason or other revelation.”
Admittedly, the issue of God’s foreknowledge is a very difficult one, even for the most brilliant of theologians. The conflicting views are still being debated and refined to this day.
The Watchtower has staked out a rather extreme position on this issue, based on what it considers to be fair and just.
For example, it teaches that God voluntarily restricted his knowledge of the future such that he didn’t know Adam and Eve were going to sin:
- “…he does not choose always to intrude his foreknowledge into what his creatures are going to do, but lets them exercise their free will as free moral agents. That is what God did in the case of Adam and Eve and of the covering cherub whom he anointed to be over them. For God to exercise foreknowledge concerning their case would have been to predestinate them, because that foreknown course would then have been required to fit God’s foreknowledge. In which case Adam and Eve and the covering cherub would not have stood a chance of going straight. That would be unjust on God’s part, to set before them verbally an opportunity to enjoy everlasting life in happiness in a righteous world, whereas all the while he foreknew and hence predestinated that they would never make it. It would be raising false hopes, which would be deceptive and unfair.” (Watchtower, 1/1/1951, pp. 31-32)
- “If God truly had foreknown that this perfect couple would sin, what would this imply? Such a notion would attribute many negative traits to God. He would seem to be unloving, unjust, and insincere. Some might label it cruel to expose the first humans to something that was foreknown to end badly. God might seem responsible for—or at least an accomplice to—all the badness and suffering that followed throughout history. To some, our Creator would even appear foolish.” (Watchtower, 1/1/2011, p. 13)
- “The ability to refrain from using foreknowledge can be illustrated with a feature of modern technology. Someone watching a prerecorded sports match has the option to watch the final minutes first in order to know the outcome. But he does not have to start that way. Who could criticize him if he chose to watch the entire match from the beginning? Similarly, the Creator evidently chose not to see how things would turn out. Rather, he chose to wait and, as events unfolded, see how his earthly children would conduct themselves.” (Watchtower, 1/1/2011, p. 13)
The first problem with this approach is that it starts with what the Watchtower considers fair and reasonable and then works backwards. That’s what this error is all about—twisting the Bible to comply with what we have already concluded is or isn’t reasonable.
The second problem is that—if applied consistently—this line of reasoning would mean that God has no idea what any human being will or won’t do because to know it beforehand would allegedly eliminate that person’s freedom to choose otherwise.
The third problem is that it ignores a significant number of scriptures.
- Isaiah 45:10: “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.”
- How can God make know what will happen if he doesn’t know it himself?
- John 17:12: “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”
- How did Jesus know for certain that Judas would betray him?
- Acts 2:22-23: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
- What’s this about “God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge”?
- 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”
- If God didn’t know Adam and Eve would sin, how does he know what this man will do?
- 1 Peter 1:1-2: “…To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood…”
- “God’s elect”? “Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God?”
Contrary to its own stated doctrine about God limiting his foreknowledge, in other places the Watchtower has to acknowledge that the Father and Son know in advance what specific people will do:
- “This foreknowledge of God was revealed some 200 years previously when Isaiah the prophet spoke of the coming of a king, a liberator, who would be named Cyrus.—Isa. 44:28; 45:1.” (Watchtower, 2/1/1979, p. 29)
- “We must admit that, to make prophecies, the Author of the Book had to be sure of himself; he had to have foresight and foreknowledge (Watchtower, 10/15/1961, p. 614)
- “Jehovah God is unlimited in his powers to foretell the future, because not only does he possess all the facts, but he can control all the factors. He has a perfect record of accuracy in foretelling the future. Even events that all evidence available to men would indicate are very unlikely to occur, Jehovah God can foretell perfectly.” (Watchtower, 3/1/1968, p. 133)
- “However, Jesus knew beforehand, due to his divine foreknowledge, that Peter was going to deny him. In fact, just a few hours before, Jesus had spoken to Peter about this, saying: “I have made supplication for you that your faith may not give out; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) (Watchtower, 6/15/1976, p. 368)
Combatting This Error
The problem with the Watchtower isn’t that it struggles with difficult topics like this.
The first problem is that—because it concludes that it is Jehovah’s sole channel of communication—it tries to explain everything rather than humbly admitting that some things are beyond its understanding.
The second problem is that in announcing a doctrine, it doesn’t indicate any doubt caused by scriptures that don’t match its conclusion; it simply ignores them in favor of what it considers to be reasonable.
The third problem is that because the Watchtower believes only it has the truth and understands the deep things of God and that adherents of all other religion are false and satanic, it ignores the writings of theologians such as Jacob Arminius and John Calvin and keeps Jehovah’s Witnesses ignorant of them.
I certainly don’t claim to be able to resolve definitively the tension that exists between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.
I prefer to approach a subject like this by pointing out what I call “error boundaries.” By that I mean that we have fallen into error which is contradicted by scripture if our reasoning process leads us to conclude any of the following:
- That God doesn’t know what is going to happen (he knows the end from the beginning)
- That God’s foreknowledge turns people into robots who have no free will (there would be no point in the Bible exhorting people to come to Christ for salvation)
- That human beings are only actors following a script (there would be no point in the Bible exhorting people to do anything)
- That our choices aren’t real (God considers them to be real)
- That God is responsible for sin because his foreknowledge gives us no choice but to do everything that we do (God is not the author of sin)
- That we are not responsible to God for our decisions because he forced us to do everything that we do (God will judge every human being)
- That there is no need to evangelize because God will save the elect whether we do anything or not (the same God who ordains the ends ordains the means, and he had commanded us to share the gospel)
My own view of this issue is that we humans can only think sequentially, whereas for God all of history is an eternal present.
I believe that God’s type of existence is beyond our ability to comprehend in this life, much as horses are incapable of understanding the musical compositions of Beethoven.
“For now, we see through a glass darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wrestle with difficult issues and seek understanding.
It does mean that in this life we need to admit that there are limits to our ability to comprehend.
- Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible, James W. Sire (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1980), p. 160.