Arminius on Middle Knowledge

, posted by Godismyjudge

The purpose of the post is to so demonstrate that Arminius taught that God had middle knowledge. Recently several authors, who are otherwise adherents to Arminian theology, have made claims that Arminius did not in fact teach middle knowledge.1 I hope to demonstrate that Arminius taught that God had middle knowledge, and it was fundamental to his view on predestination and providence. Since the purpose of this paper is the clarification of Arminius’ views and not a defense of the doctrine itself, I will use far more quotes from Arminius than from scripture.

What is Middle Knowledge?

Middle knowledge is important in being able to explain the co-existence of God’s decrees and providence, and man’s freewill. Simply put, middle knowledge is the view that God knows that if X were to happen, Y would happen.

Middle knowledge gets the name middle, because it is logically in-between two other types of knowledge. If comes after natural knowledge and before free knowledge. Natural knowledge is the knowledge of all things that are possible, or things that can happen. Free knowledge is knowledge of the future, or things that will happen. Middle knowledge is knowledge of what would happen, given a circumstance. Simply put, natural knowledge is what can happen, middle knowledge is what would happen, and free knowledge is what will happen.

Middle knowledge includes freewill acts. So God knows that if I am in situation X, I would freely choose Y. This is invaluable in explaining God’s providence and predestination. If God reveals the gospel in this manner, this man would freely respond. If God provides the circumstance in which the soldier knew Christ was already dead, the soldier wouldn’t break Christ’s legs.

Middle knowledge also helps explain how God knows and can reveal the future. In the logical order, God first knows what can happen, then what would happen, then He chooses which possibility to exercise, then He knows what will happen. So to know the future, God does not have to see events that have not already occurred in time, which can be tricky to explain. Rather, He has to know what He chose.

Why do some “Arminians” say Arminius didn’t teach middle knowledge?

Some people think middle knowledge is too close to Calvinism, and in effect has the same problems. Isn’t God unconditionally electing by choosing what circumstances to provide?

Here’s an example that illustrates the potential problem. Suppose God chooses to save Johnny and Susie, but not Ronnie. He then plans the appropriate calling and circumstances to guarantee Johnny and Susie’s salvation.

In a crude way I will describe this as calling level 1 through 3. God knows Susie would respond to calling level 1, so God chooses to provide Susie with calling level 1. God knows Johnny would not respond to calling level 1, but that he would respond to calling level 3. So God chooses to provide Johnny with calling level 3. God also knows that Ronnie would respond to calling level 3, but that he would not respond to calling level 2. God chooses to provide calling level 2 to Ronnie and Ronnie does not respond and is lost.

In this way God is actually unconditionally electing and He is also making a distinction in the persuasive influences of the Holy Spirit. Based on this objection, some say that Arminius just couldn’t have taught middle knowledge. But he did. I will address this objection from the writings of Arminius, but first, we must establish if he taught middle knowledge or not.

Did Arminius Teach God has Middle Knowledge?

We will begin with Arminius’ statements about middle knowledge in His explanation of God’s attribute of knowledge. Then we will show the pervasive effects of middle knowledge in the rest of Arminius’ theology, to include Arminius’ explanation of predestination, providence and prayer.

God’s Attributes

In discussing God’s attributes, Arminius covers God’s essence and life. He identified knowledge and will as the two main attributes of the life of God. In God’s knowledge, Arminius clearly delineates three types of knowledge in God, including middle knowledge.

XLIII. The schoolmen say besides, that one kind of God’s knowledge is natural and necessary, another free, and a third kind middle. (1.) Natural or necessary knowledge is that by which God understands himself and all things possible. (2.) Free knowledge is that by which he knows, all other beings. (3.) Middle knowledge is that by which he knows that “if This thing happens, That will take place.” The first precedes every free act of the Divine will; the second follows the free act of God’s will; and the last precedes indeed the free act of the Divine will, but hypothetically from this act it sees that some particular thing will occur. (link)

This seems a very clear endorsement and should settle the whole matter. But some say that because he is quoting the schoolmen2, perhaps he is not adopting the view himself.

However, in Arminius’ Private Disputation, we find the same thought, without the quotation from the schoolmen.

9. Secondly. One [quality of the] knowledge of God is that of simple intelligence, by which he understands, himself, all possible things, and the nature and essence of all entities; another is that of vision, by which he beholds his own existence and that of all other entities or beings.

10. The knowledge by which God knows his own essence and existence, all things possible, and the nature and essence of all entities, is simply necessary, as pertaining to the perfection of his own knowledge. But that by which he knows the existence of other entities, is hypothetically necessary, that is, if they now have, have already had, or shall afterwards have, any existence. For when any object, whatsoever, is laid down, it must, of necessity, fall within the knowledge of God. The former of these precedes every free act of the divine will; the latter follows every free act. The schoolmen; therefore, denominate the first “natural,” and the second “free knowledge.”

11. The knowledge by which God knows any thing if it be or exist, is intermediate between the two [kinds] described in theses 9 & 10; In fact it precedes the free act of the will with regard to intelligence. But it knows something future according to vision, only through its hypothesis.

12. Free knowledge, or that of vision, which is also called “prescience,” is not the cause of things; but the knowledge which is practical and of simple intelligence, and which is denominated “natural,” or “necessary,” is the cause of all things by the mode of prescribing and directing to which is added the action of the will and of the capability. The middle or intermediate [kind of] knowledge ought to intervene in things which depend on the liberty of created choice or pleasure. (link)

Here, perhaps someone might say that point 11 is worded in a confusing way and therefore isn’t an adoption of middle knowledge as classically defined. Part of the confusion in point 11 may be due to a translation issue. The phrase “if it be or exist” does seem to point back to the thing God knows rather then some circumstance in which the thing God knows would happen. The phrase in Latin is “si hoc sit”, which could be translated “supposing this exists” which would put things back in a more normal, if this, then that construction. The context would seem to support this translation, given Arminius called this knowledge a hypothesis.

If there is any lack of clarity in the above two quotation, it seems to be removed by this third, which accurately describes middle knowledge.

He knows all things possible, which may be referred to three general classes. (i.) Let the first be of those things to which the capability of God can immediately extend itself, or which may exist by his mere and sole act. (ii.) Let the second consist of those things which, by God’s preservation, motion, aid, concurrence and permission, may have an existence from the creatures, whether these creatures will themselves exist or not, and whether they might be placed in this or in that order, or in infinite orders of things; let it even consist of those things which might have an existence from the creatures, if this or that hypothesis were admitted. (1 Sam. xxiii. 11, 12; Matt. xi. 21.)   (iii.) Let the third class be of those things which God can do from the acts of the creatures, in accordance either with himself or with his acts.(link)

At this point someone might say, yes Arminius ascribed middle knowledge to God, but he didn’t carry this teaching out into the rest of his theological system. I will attempt to show the importance of middle knowledge to Arminius’ thoughts on predestination, providence and prayer.


Arminius’ viewed predestination in four logical decrees. The first decree of predestination is that Christ is the Head and foundation of Salvation. The second decree is that faith in Christ is the condition of salvation. The third decree is the provision of the means necessary for fallen mankind to believe. The fourth decree is that God decided to save those whom He knew, given the circumstance of the grace presented in the third decree, would believe.

From these follows a FOURTH DECREE, concerning the salvation of these particular persons, and the damnation of those. This rests or depends on the prescience and foresight of God, by which he foreknew from all eternity what men would, through such administration, believe by the aid of preventing or preceding grace, and would persevere by the aid of subsequent or following grace, and who would not believe and persevere. (link)

Notice Arminius doesn’t say will, but would. Their belief wasn’t future, but hypothetically future. A common misrepresentation of the Arminian view of predestination is that God’s predestination is a sort of rubber stamp of what He has already seen as future. Predestination is a bit of a logical loop or logically speaking “too late” to change the future. This was not Arminius’ view. Rather, God knows what would happen under certain circumstances and predestined that it will happen.

Arminius held this position consistently from his Certain Articles to be Diligently Examined and Weighted quoted above, to his Declaration of Sentiments:

“To these succeeds the fourth decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere”. (link)

as well as in his Apology or Defense of 31 Articles.

“Those persons will be saved, or they have been predestinated and elected, who, God foreknew, would believe by the assistance of his preventing grace, (I add and of his accompanying grace,) and would persevere by the aid of his subsequent grace.” (link)

Arminius’ views on middle knowledge impacted his views on predestination and they carried into his views of God’s providence.


Arminius used middle knowledge to explain how God controls outcomes of free choices without necessitating the choice. In Arminius’ treatise on God’s Permission, Arminius explains that God decides to present arguments, knowing that the argument will result in prevention.

God acts, preventively, on the will by suasion, when He persuades the will by any argument, that it may not will to perform an act, to which it tends by its own inclination, and to effect which the creature has, or seems to himself to have, sufficient strength. By this, the will is acted upon preventively, not of necessity, indeed, but of certainty. But since God, in the infinity of His own wisdom, foresees that the mind of the rational creature will be persuaded by the presentation of that argument, and that, from this persuasion, a prevention of the act will result, He is under no necessity of using any other kind of prevention. (link)

The converse of God’s using middle knowledge for prevention is His not preventing or His permission. Middle knowledge is a fundamental part of Arminius’ definition of God’s permission. Defining permission is critical to Calvinist/Arminian debates regarding the entrances of sin into the world, and we see that middle knowledge is at the forefront of his definition.

VIII. (2.) On the capability also an impediment is placed. The effect of this is, that the rational creature cannot perform the act, for the performance of which he has an inclination, and powers that, without this impediment, would be sufficient. …

But permission is the suspension, not of one impediment or two, which may be presented to the capability or the will, but of all impediments at once, which, God knows, if they were all employed, would effectually hinder sin. Such necessarily would be the result, because sin might be hindered by a single impediment of that kind. (1.) Sin therefore is permitted to the capability of the creature, when God employs none of those hindrances of which we have already made mention in the 8th Thesis: for this reason, this permission consists of the following acts of God who permits, the continuation of life and essence to the creature, the conservation of his capability, a cautiousness against its being opposed by a greater capability, or at least by one that is equal, and the exhibition of an object on which sin is committed. (link)

Causal determination aside, it’s tough to imagine a greater degree of control. God knows that if I provide this argument, this will certainly be the result. So, the result is in His power, without necessitating the event. Arminius carried this logic through to the crucifixion. God knew that if He sent Christ into the world, two things would result, Christ would be killed and some would be converted. The circumstance of sending Christ into the world was the means of accomplishing salvation.

XII. The result was two-fold: The First was one that agreed with the nature of the doctrine itself — the conversion of a few men to him, but without such a knowledge of him as the doctrine required; for their thoughts were engaged with the notion of restoring the external kingdom. The Second, which arose from the depraved wickedness of his auditors, was the rejection of the doctrine, and of him who taught it, his crucifixion and murder. Wherefore, he complains concerning himself, in Isa. xlix, 4 “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought.”

XIII. As God foreknew that this would happen, it is certain that he willed this prophetical office to serve, for the consecration of Christ, through sufferings, to undertake and administer the sacerdotal and regal office. And thus the prophetical office of Christ, so far as it was administered by him through his apostles and others of his servants, was the means by which his church was brought to the faith, and was saved. (link)

Neither sin, nor salvation, escape middle knowledge and are therefore under God’s providential control.


Arminius used middle knowledge to address a difficult question concerning prayer. What does prayer do? Arminians often challenge Calvinists on this point, asking: “if God has already decided what is going to happen, why pray about it?” Calvinist retort: “if God doesn’t control the future, why ask Him to change it?” Calvin adopted the view that prayer is only about our relationship with God and doesn’t change predetermined outcomes.

Arminius, using middle knowledge, took a different approach at an explanation. God doesn’t decide to bless, until He knows that we would pray for the blessing.

1. QUERIES. — Does prayer, or the invocation of God, hold relation only to the performance of worship to his honour? Or, does it likewise bear the relation of means necessary for obtaining that which is asked — means, indeed, which God foresaw would be employed before he absolutely determined to bestow the blessing on the petitioner (link)

The widespread impacts of middle knowledge on Arminius’ theology are obvious. Despite any perceived problems we should not deny that this was his view.

How did Arminius address the objections that middle knowledge leads to determinism and unconditional election?

On the question of whether this view leads to determinism, Arminius drew a distinction between types of determinism.

For it signifies (1.) either “the determination of God by which he resolves that something shall be done; and when such a determination is fixed, (by an action, motion and impulse of God, of whatever kind it may be,) the second cause, both with regard to its power and the use of that power, remains free either to act or not to act, so that, if it be the pleasure of this second cause, it can suspend [or defer] its own action.” Or it signifies (2.) “such a determination, as, when once it is fixed, the second cause (at least in regard to the use of its power,) remains no longer free so as to be able to suspend its own action, when God’s action, motion and impulse have been fixed; but by this determination, it [the second cause] is necessarily bent or inclined to the one course or the other, all indifference to either part being completely removed before this determined act be produced by a free and unconstrained creature.”

If the word “DETERMINED,” in the article here proposed, be interpreted according to this first method, far be it from me to deny such a sort of Divine determination. For I am aware that it is said, in the fourth chapter of the. Acts of the Apostles, “Both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against Jesus, to do whatsoever God’s hand and counsel determined before (or previously appointed) to be done.” But I also know, that Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Jews, freely performed those very actions; and (notwithstanding this “fore-determination of God,” and though by his power every Divine action, motion and impulse which was necessary for the execution of this “fore-determination,” were all fixed,) yet it was possible for this act (the crucifixion of Christ,) which had been “previously appointed” by God, not to be produced by those persons, and they might have remained free and indifferent to the performance of this action, up to the moment of time in which they perpetrated the deed.

But if the word “DETERMINED” be received according to the second acceptation, I confess, that I abominate and detest that axiom (as one that is FALSE, ABSURD, and preparing the way for MANY BLASPHEMIES,) which, declares that “God by his eternal decree has determined to the one part or to the other future contingent things.” (link)

Arminius held that the type of determinism this leads to is not causal necessity, but certainty in the mind of God.

“But if he resolve to use a force that is not irresistible, but that can be resisted by the creature, then that thing is said to be done, not necessarily but contingently, although its actual occurrence was certainly foreknown by God, according to the infinity of his understanding, by which he knows all results whatever, that will arise from certain causes which are laid down, and whether those causes produce a thing necessarily or contingently. From whence the school- men say that “all things are done by a necessity of infallibility,” which phrase is used in a determinate sense, although the words in which its enunciation is expressed are ill-chosen. For infallibility is not an affection of a being, which exists from causes; but it is an affection of a Mind that sees or that foresees what will be the effect of certain causes”. (link)

Because God sees what men would freely do under certain circumstances, He isn’t causally necessitating it. They are still free. Nor does what is known to be free through middle knowledge become necessary after God chooses it. Rather, the choice establishes the freedom.

Though the understanding of God be certain and infallible, yet it does not impose any necessity on things, nay, it rather establishes in them a contingency. For since it is an understanding not only of the thing itself, but likewise of its mode, it must know the thing and its mode such as they both are; and therefore if the mode of the thing be contingent, it will know it to be contingent; which cannot be done, if this mode of the thing be changed into a necessary one, even solely by reason of the Divine understanding. (Acts xxvii, 22-25, 31; xxiii, 11, in connection with verses 17, 18, &c., with xxv, 10, 12; and with xxvi, 32; Rom. xi, 33; Psalm cxlvii, 5.) (link)

This freedom from necessity carries right through to salvation. Those that are saved could have resisted and those that are lost could have believed. This is the foundation of their responsibility. God’s predestination is congruous with their freedom.

3. Are those who are thus the elect necessarily saved on account of the efficacy of grace, which has been destined to them only that they may not be able to do otherwise than assent to it, as it is irresistible,

4. Are those who are thus the reprobate necessarily damned, because either no grace at all, or not sufficient, has been destined to them, that they may assent to it and believe,

5. Or rather, according to St. Augustine, Are those who are thus the elect assuredly saved, because God decreed to employ grace on them as he knew was suitable and congruous that they might be persuaded and saved; though if regard be had to the internal efficacy of grace, they may not be advanced or benefited by it,

6. Are those who have thus been reprobated certainly damned, because God does not apply to them grace as he knows to be suitable and congruous, though in the mean time they are supplied with sufficient grace, that they may be able to yield their assent and be saved (link)

Arminius’ response to the charge that middle knowledge leads to unconditional election is that A) none are elected to salvation without the condition of faith, or to reprobation without the condition of sin and resistance and B) God is providing sufficient grace to those who are lost, that they could be saved. These two differences make his view different then the Calvinist view.

He did however hold to God’s sovereign right to not provide every means possible to save, so long as God was providing sufficient grace for salvation.

God is not bound to employ all the modes which are possible to him for the salvation of all men. He has performed his part, when he has employed either one or more of these possible means for saving. (link)

God’s love and man’s responsibility are seen through God providing the means that make their salvation possible.

Whomsoever God calls, he calls them seriously, with a will desirous of their repentance and salvation. Neither is there any volition of God about or concerning those whom he calls as being uniformly considered, that is, either affirmatively or negatively contrary to this will. (link)

This view of God’s sovereignty in predestination and providence, within Arminius’ theology provide striking insight into the views of the Calvinists that opposed him. Control was not enough for these Calvinists. God has to causally necessitate man’s actions. Some of what passes as Calvinism these days is actually Arminianism and sadly, much of what passes as Arminianism is semi-Pelagian.

1Roger Olson, Arminian Theology Myths and Realities. P 196.
2Schoolmen is a reference to Catholic philosophers who reconcile faith and reason. Molina, the first to fully articulate middle knowledge was one of them.