Predestination-Freewill Dyspepsia (P3)
Omnitemporality & Foreknowledge
God is foreknowing; He knows reality before it becomes actuality in real-time. The relevant question is how He manages that foreknowledge regarding individual salvation. What does He foreknow, and what does He do with what he foreknows? Wait, what exactly is foreknowledge?
One aspect of God's sovereignty is omnitemporality, which means He experiences all three time zones simultaneously. He says of Himself in Revelation 1:8 (NKJV, underline mine): "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End," says the Lord, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." The entire time spectrum exists in Him: Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Was and Is and Is To Come, all simultaneously in Him. These phrases are all merely ways of saying, "I AM, no matter where on the time spectrum, I AM." This is precisely why the Lord Jesus made the odd statement, "Before Abraham was born, I am" (Jn 8:58). Jesus did not say "I was already here" or "I was already there" or "I was". He said "I am". He was declaring omnitemporality. To Him, everything is the eternal, instantaneous present tense.
God said His name forever is "I AM" (Ex 3:14). The Hebrew underneath "I AM" is haya, which means "to be". This is not only God declaring He is omni-everything ("I am whatever you need whenever you need it, an ever-present help always"), it is also a declaration of omnitemporality ("The entire time spectrum exists in me, as an eternally present tense being, because I created time"). The name "I AM", therefore, is a declaration that God is omni-everything, and specifically, omnitemporal.
In tremendously insightful, and tremendously subtle, statements, notice how God describes His omnitemporality in Isaiah 41:4 and 48:16.
He said in 41:4 (ESV, underline mine), Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
God said He is the first and with the last at the exact same time. He is at the beginning, He is the beginning, He is the first but also with the last at the exact same time. He does not say He is first at one point and last at a later point. He says He is the first and with the last. And with the last. And with the last. An incredibly insightful statement of omnitemporality.
Then, in 48:16 He said (Young's Literal Translation, underline mine): Come ye near unto me, hear this, Not from the beginning in secret spake I, From the time of its being, there [am] I... The ESV translates the underlined phrase like this: …from the time it came to be I have been there…
Here God said the moment anything comes into being, whether Cyrus' prophesied success against Babylon (the immediate context) or a sparrow falling to the ground, "I am there!" How many kazillions upon kazillions upon kazillions of things have come into being, are coming into being, and will come into being since Genesis 1:1? And yet, only an omnitemporal God can say, "There am I, every single time in every single place."
One aspect of God's omnitemporality is foreknowledge. The word foreknowledge attempts to capture how God knows all reality metaphysically before it becomes reality physically in real-time. God Himself describes it casually as knowing the end from the beginning, and everything in-between, in Isaiah 46:10 (ESV): Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done... For example, God expressed foreknowledge when He told Abraham his descendants would suffer slavery in Egypt for exactly four hundred years (Gen 15:13, Ex 12:40,41, Ac 7:6). Or, notice how He told John (Rev 4:1 ESV), ...Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this. The Lord literally pulled John up into His omnitemporality and foreknowledge.
Joseph referenced God's foreknowledge when telling his shame-smitten brothers (Gen 45:7 NASB), So God sent me ahead of you to ensure for you a remnant on the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Joseph was referring to the seven-year famine God foreknew and made preparations for.
David wrote perhaps the most articulate description of God's foreknowledge in Psalm 139:2,4 (NIV): ...you perceive my thoughts from afar...Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.
God's Foreknowledge in Isaiah
God is especially adamant about His foreknowledge in the ministry of Isaiah. In five distinctly emphatic scriptures, God declares, and even sarcastically questions anyone who will listen, concerning His foreknowledge.
In Isaiah 41:4 He says (ESV), Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
In 42:9 He says (ESV), Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.
In 44:6,7 He even taunts any and all false gods with "the omnitemporality challenge" and "the foreknowledge challenge" (ESV): Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen."
46:10 is probably the most well-known foreknowledge verse (ESV): Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done...
In 48:16 He says (ESV), Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there...
Foreknowledge & Individual Salvation, The Earliest Scripture
The Old Testament background on foreknowledge (and omnitemporality and sovereignty) prequels the New Testament teaching on individual salvation, and the role of foreknowledge in it. Specifically, Genesis 18:19 looms large.
The earliest scripture in the Bible that combines omnitemporality/foreknowledge with salvation language is Genesis 18:19. Here it is in Young's Literal Translation, notice the underlined phrase: For I have known him, that he commandeth his children, and his house after him (and they have kept the way of Jehovah), to do righteousness and judgment, that Jehovah may bring on Abraham that which He hath spoken concerning him.
God says He knows Abraham will follow the plan of salvation. It is the verb tense, however, underneath the phrase "I have known him" that is so astoundingly revelatory on the subject of omnitemporality and foreknowledge.
The Hebrew verb underneath "I have known him" is yada ("to know"). The verb tense of yada used here is the perfect tense.
The perfect tense of a verb describes an action that is a completed whole, a single event that is complete. Thus, when God says "I have known Abraham" He is not saying "I knew him" (past tense) or "I know him" (present tense) or "I will know him" (future tense). Using the perfect tense of yada, God is literally saying, "Because I am omnitemporal, my knowing of Abraham is a completed whole, a single event, a past-present-future singularity that I know instantly." Even though God is saying this in real-time in Genesis 18:19, His knowledge is not in real-time. His knowledge is an instant, simultaneous, complete singularity. As practical and as frail as grammar might be, the perfect tense of yada captures God's omnitemporal knowing that Abraham had followed the plan of salvation thus far, is currently following the plan of salvation, and will follow the plan of salvation in the future. He knew all three tenses instantly, simultaneously, completely. He did not look ahead (because He is already "with the last"), He did not look back (because He is the first), He did not look anywhere in-between (because "from the time of its being, there am I"). He knew all three tenses instantly, simultaneously, and completely, because the time spectrum exists in Him.
Back to Genesis 18:19. Because of God's omnitemporal knowledge of Abraham's cooperation, He then says the following (Young's Literal Translation, see the underlined): For I have known him, that he commandeth his children, and his house after him (and they have kept the way of Jehovah), to do righteousness and judgment, that Jehovah may bring on Abraham that which He hath spoken concerning him.
Because of His omnitemporal knowledge/foreknowledge of Abraham's cooperation, God says He will proactively and unilaterally bring about everything He decreed concerning Abraham (the idea of Hebrews 6:13-17).
Genesis 18:19 Conclusions
This important scripture seems to emphasize various aspects of salvation and their interrelationship: one, God's omnitemporal knowledge/foreknowledge of, two, Abraham's lifelong cooperation, resulting in, three, God bringing about what was decreed and promised to him. Are the concepts and processes in this scripture isolated to Abraham? Galatians 3:7-9 say No. Rather, Genesis 18:19 lays a conceptual foundation that extrapolates out to every person's spiritual condition and destiny. Paul says this exactly in Galatians 3:7-9 (ESV): Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
God has known, in the perfect tense, every person. He has known whether or not they would cooperate with the way of Jehovah, and from that omnitemporal knowledge (expressed as foreknowledge in real-time), He will or will not bring about to them what has been promised in the Abrahamic pattern of salvation. Galatians 3:7-9 is the crucial scripture that bridges Genesis 18:19 to New Testament soteriology.
Hardline predestinarians object to the idea that God's omnitemporal knowledge/foreknowledge of individuals guides His salvific actions. This, they say, would mean God is "learning" or "discovering" information from a source outside Himself. God's omniscience, they say, is grounded and contained entirely in Himself. They point to Isaiah 40:14, which says (ESV), Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? The subtle endgoal of this line of theologic is to say that God, entirely in and of himself, predetermines who will be saved and who will be an object of wrath.
My response? Yes, it is 100% true that God does not learn or discover from a source outside Himself. Isaiah 40:14 seems clear that God's omniscience about Abraham or David (Ps 139:16) or Jeremiah (Jer 1:5) or Paul (Gal 1:15) or you or I or any person is not learned or discovered from outside of Himself. We need to go deeper, then, to understand how the attribute of omniscience (i.e. omnitemporal knowledge, i.e. foreknowledge) works.
How Omniscience/Omnitemporal Knowledge/Foreknowledge Work
Paul tells the unsaved Athenians in Acts 17:28 (NKJV): for in Him we live and move and have our being...
This means Abraham--and everyone who ever existed, exists now, or will exist--does so inside the omnipresence and reality of God Himself. Paul is speaking to an unsaved audience in this verse; He is not referring to born-again Christians placed "in Christ" or "in God" at the born-again event. Paul is speaking on a larger, universal, ontological scale that includes the saved and the unsaved.
He reiterates this concept in Colossians 1:17 (ESV): ...in him all things hold together. In Him all things hold together, that includes the very existence of the unsaved. In Him...all things...in Him...all things...In Him...all things. Paul is saying the same thing in both Acts 17:28 and Colossians 1:17: in some ontological way that truly might be a mystery for now, everyone who ever existed does so inside the omnipresence and ontological reality of God Himself. Because of that, God never learns or discovers outside of Himself. For Him to learn or discover outside of Himself would mean something actually exists outside of Him, outside of His ontological omnipresence. But nothing exists outside of Him, Paul said, for in Him all things hold together, for in Him saved and unsaved live and move and have their being. All knowledge, therefore, is intrinsic to Himself--an instantaneous, singular, complete event of knowing.
Consequently, God does not and cannot "look ahead" to learn something about Abraham's cooperativeness, or anyone's cooperativeness, on salvation. Hard freewillers, Arminians, and others who say God "looks ahead" and "foresees" who will say Yes to salvation are misrepresenting how omniscience/omnitemporal knowledge work. How can God look ahead or foresee something when He is already the Omega, already the End, already the Amen, already "with the last" (Isa 41:4)? Rather, Acts 17:28 and Colossians 1:17 suggest all knowledge is already intrinsically inside Him as an omnipresent, omnitemporal being inside which everything exists ontologically. To humans, because we exist in time and think in time, part of this knowledge is called "foreknowledge". The term foreknowledge helps us, as time-constituted creatures, to understand how God's omnitemporal knowledge plays out in real-time. To God, who created time and in whom time holds together, foreknowledge is simply instant, intrinsic, complete knowledge.
The predestinarian objection, therefore, to certain explanations of foreknowledge is only that--an objection to certain explanations of foreknowledge. When foreknowledge is rightly understood and explained, however, this objection no longer has a target. God's omniscient, omnitemporal knowledge manifests as foreknowledge to time-constituted humans experiencing reality on a time spectrum. To an omnitemporal Being, though, all knowledge is intrinsic and instantaneous and completed, even the salvation responses of every person to ever live. It is this omniscient, omnitemporal, perfect tense knowledge that forms the "the counsel" part of the important phrase "the counsel of his will" (Eph 1:11). God's omniscience provides the counsel that informs and forms His will, or predestination decree. More on that in the next chapter.
Summary & Conclusion
God is omnitemporal, which means He experiences all three time zones simultaneously in an eternal, instant present tense. He transcends the entire time spectrum as Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, First and With The Last, Was and Is and Is To Come, all at the same time. These are God's various ways of saying, "I AM, no matter where on the time spectrum, I AM." The time spectrum exists in Him and in Him holds together (Col 1:17).
One manifestation of omnitemporality is foreknowledge. Foreknowledge is knowing reality before it becomes actuality in real-time. God describes it in Isaiah 46:10 as knowing the end from the beginning and everything in-between.
It is important to realize foreknowledge is a human-friendly, human-facing term. God's omnitemporal, all-at-once knowledge manifests as foreknowledge to humans who experience reality on a time spectrum in real-time. To an omnipresent, omniscient, omnitemporal God, however, all knowledge is intrinsic, instantaneous, and completed. This is because everything and everyone lives and moves and has their being in Him (Ac 17:28) and in Him all things consist and hold together (Col 1:17).
The earliest scripture that combines foreknowledge and salvation is Genesis 18:19. This important verse seems to emphasize various aspects of salvation and their interrelationship: (1) God's omnitemporal knowledge/foreknowledge of (2) Abraham's lifelong cooperation, resulting in (3) God bringing about what was decreed and promised to him. Are the concepts in this verse isolated to Abraham? Galatians 3:7-9 say No; it lays a conceptual foundation that extrapolates out to every person's spiritual condition and destiny. God has known, in the perfect tense, every person. He has known whether or not they will cooperate with the way of Jehovah, and from that intrinsic, instant, all-at-once, omnitemporal, completed knowledge, He will or will not bring about for them what He promised in the Abrahamic pattern of salvation (Gal 3:7-9).
What about Galatians 4:9?
Galatians 4:8,9 (NASB, underline mine): However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God...
The underlined phrase indicates God begins to know us at the born-again moment, when we repent and accept His salvation. How does this harmonize with God's perfect tense omnitemporal knowledge--a singular, completed, instantaneous knowing--that we learned from Genesis 18:19 and many other scriptures? The Galatians 4:9 phrase is identical in nature to all the "that I may know" statements God makes in Scripture, seemingly sounding as if He is still learning or discovering. Here are those scriptures first, then I will explain. Note the underlined (all underlines mine).
Genesis 22:12 (ESV): He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."
Exodus 16:4 (ESV): ...I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.
Deuteronomy 8:2 (NASB): ...the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, in order to humble you, putting you to the test, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
Deuteronomy 13:3 (ESV): you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Judges 2:22 (NASB): in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk in it as their fathers did, or not.
Judges 3:4 (NKJV): And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the LORD...
2Chronicles 32:31 (NKJV): ...God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.
The Galatians 4:9 phrase that indicates God begins knowing the saved at the salvation moment is in the same conceptual category as all these verses that sound as if God keeps discovering. How do all these passages harmonize with all the passages that explicitly declare God's omniscience-omnitemporal knowledge-foreknowledge? We'll answer that in the next section, Knowing Metaphysically vs Knowing Experientially.
(Here is a sample of the omniscience passages, especially as pertains to God knowing a person's innermost thoughts and what they will do: 1Samuel 16:7, 23:10-13, Psalm 44:20,21, 94:11, 139:1-4, Ezekiel 11:5, Hebrews 4:13, 1John 3:20. Here is a sample of more general passages about God testing or searching the heart and mind: 1Chronicles 29:17, Psalm 7:9, 94:11, Jeremiah 17:10, 20:12, 1Thessalonians 2:4, Revelation 2:23.)
Knowing Metaphysically vs Knowing Experientially
First of all, let us be clear and certain: Scripture is not contradicting itself, and God is not contradicting Himself. God cannot be omniscient and yet discovering at the same time. Harmonizing God's Word, therefore, means we have to analyze why God uses discovery language at certain moments while declaring omniscience at other moments. Jeremiah, in a fascinating, enlightening, and paradoxical statement, recognizes both and sets them side by side in Jeremiah 20:12 (NKJV): But, O LORD of hosts, you who test the righteous, and see the mind and heart…
See what Jeremiah is saying? He is acknowledging that God tests people (all the "that I may know" verses), but then follows that by saying God already sees the mind and heart. Is Jeremiah confused or contradicting himself? Not at all. He understands the harmony of both layers of divine activity.
The resolution to this superficial dilemma is in understanding metaphysical knowledge in the eternal state versus experiential knowledge in real-time on earth. The first type is the knowledge God possesses in the eternal realms of omniscience, omnitemporality, and foreknowledge. The second type is the knowledge that God or anyone experiences in real-time on earth. For example, the Son offered Himself before the foundation of the world (Heb 9:14), and Old Testament prophecies speak of His sacrificial death in the past tense, as if His first coming was already complete (Isa 53). This is because God gave those prophecies from a metaphysical, omnitemporal perspective where past, present, and future are a completed singularity in Him. However, that transcendent knowledge did not become experiential knowledge in real-time on earth until Mary became pregnant to when Jesus said It is finished! and died. Thus, when God says He is testing someone(s) "that I may know" what is in their heart (2Chr 32:31) or what they might do (Jdg 2:22, 3:4), He means knowing experientially in real-time on earth what He already knows metaphysically in the eternal state.
It is in this same sense that Paul writes Galatians 4:9, that we began to be known by God at salvation. Of course He already foreknew us in the eternal, omnitemporal, metaphysical, transcendent state, but when we were saved in real-time on earth that transcendent knowledge became experiential, practical knowledge.