Middle Knowledge in Scripture

, posted by Godismyjudge

Description of Middle Knowledge

The twin foundations for middle knowledge are the beliefs that the bible teaches libertarian free will and the bible teaches God’s providence over all things.  Middle knowledge reconciles the two by stating that God knows what we would choose under any circumstance and He uses this knowledge to accomplish His goals without removing man’s freedom.  In middle knowledge, God primarily uses His knowledge rather than His power to achieve His ends.  Middle knowledge gets the name middle, because God’s knowledge of what would happen is logically after God’s knowledge of what can happen and logically before His decision and knowledge of what will happen.  So for example, God knows if you are in an ice cream shop today you could choose chocolate or vanilla, and you would choose chocolate and He decides to let you choose chocolate so He permits you to be in the ice cream shop today knowing you will choose chocolate.  Man’s freedom is preserved in that God does not decide what we would freely do under any circumstance – God cannot make you freely do something.  God’s providence is preserved in that God decides what circumstances we find ourselves in and therefore what will happen.

Middle Knowledge Passages

One of the criticisms I repeatedly hear of middle knowledge is that it’s a philosophical system rather than scriptural. Now the two scriptural pillars of middle knowledge are the many passages saying men choose and the many passages saying God is in control. Middle knowledge reconciles the two.

 However, there’s no shortage of the passages more directly supporting middle knowledge – those passages showing that God’s knows what we would choose under different settings. It’s not as if scripture limits middle knowledge to the famous examples of David in Keilah or the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon. Here’s a list of passages showing God does know what we would choose in various circumstances : Exodus 3:19, Deuteronomy 7:3-4, Deuteronomy 28:51-571 Samuel 23:6-101 Kings 11:29, Ezekiel 3:6-7Jeremiah 49:9Obadiah 1:5Matthew 11:21-23Matthew 12:7Matthew 23:27-32Matthew 24:43Luke 16:30-31Luke 22:67-68John 8:39John 8:42John 14:28John 15:19John 18:361 Corinthians 2:8Galatians 4:15, and 1 John 2:19.

Some may still protest this fall short of a full-fledge systematic presentation. Well show me the scriptural full-fledge systematic presentation of supra or sub lapsarianism or the Trinity or your brand of eschatology.

Let’s look at a few middle knowledge texts:

 Deuteronomy 7:3-4 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.

Compared with:

1 Kings 11:29: They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love…. verse 9  The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.

God uses His middle knowledge to warn people. If you put yourself into a given circumstance, you will do this. God knew what would happen if the Israelites intermarried. He knew what the foreign wives would do and how the Israelites would respond. Sadly, Solomon didn’t listen.

On divine determinism, God’s foreknowledge is logically “too late” to serve as a warning.  All  (even the hypothetical – if you intermarry, you will fall away) is determined by God.  So 1 Kings 11 turns into “I told you I determined you would fall” as opposed to “I told you you would fall”.

Here’s another passage:

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. (Exodus 3:19)

Pharaoh wouldn’t let the Hebrews go – not out of love for God or the Hebrews.  Not from guilt or respect or fear or reason or wisdom.  No, it took force.  And how did God know that all non-forceful ways would not lead Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go?  Because He knows what anyone would choose under any circumstances.  This passages support for middle knowledge is less famous then say, Matthew 11:21, but it is more broad.  God knew that a vast array of options Moses could have tried would not lead Pharaoh to freely release the Hebrews.

Alternative Explanations of Middle Knowledge Passages

Generally, those who reject middle knowledge providing two alternative views of these texts. The first grants that the passages teach what a person would do in various settings but denies we have libertarian free will. For biblical arguments we have libertarian free will see (link).  Here’s an example from Steve Hays:

  •  God knows what might have happened because he knows how things would turn out had he decreed that alternative.
  •  And that’s also consistent with God as the final source of every alternate possibility. What’s possible is a measure of divine omnipotence. God knows what God is capable of doing. Divine omnipotence is the engine generating those possibilities. (link)

I don’t think omnipotence (i.e. God’s capabilities) is enough to account for these passages. Imaging God creates Santa (which of course He could do). God could have Santa deliver toys this year or He could have Santa occupy Wall Street instead. How does He know which would happen if Santa existed? God must not only be able to do either, but He must choose one.

The Dominicans (early opponents of the Molinists) said God decrees not only what will happen, but also what would happen under every possible scenario. If you believe God’s has decreed what would happen in every hypothetical world, then you could use that view to account for these texts. And they accuse me of imposing speculative philosophy on scripture. James White once said middle knowledge reminded him of the Star Trek episode when Spock had a beard. Welcome to the club.

Others take the middle knowledge passages as figures of speech.  For example, in Matthew 11:21-23, Christ uses a figure of speech meaning Capernaum is more hard-hearted than Sodom. (link)   Unquestionably Christ is teaching Capernaum is more hard-hearted than Sodom, but how is He teaching that? Are we looking at a divine guess? No way I am buying that. Is it exaggeration? Rhetorical exaggeration works if the person knows you are exaggerating. If I tell my kids, have some of this salsa here, but not that salsa there or smoke will come out of your ears, it works, because they know I am exaggerating. But is it obvious Christ is exaggerating? No, what He is saying is plausible. Besides, His point is better made with the truth.

Brandon also suggests that in 1 Corinthians 2:8, if the leaders knew who Christ was, they could not have killed Him. Granted, it would have been much harder, but impossible? What about Satan or Judas? They faced hard evidence and still rebelled.

Additional Resources

Hopefully my blog is helpful on middle knowledge (middle knowledge tag) But here’s a bunch more resources.

Offline Resources 

  • On Divine Foreknowledge (Part IV of the Concordia) by Luis de Molina
  • Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom by William Lane Craig
  • The Only Wise God by William Lane Craig
  • Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views edited by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy
  • Four Views on Divine Providence edited by Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers
  • Divine Providence: The Molinist Account by Thomas P. Flint
  • Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach by Kenneth Keathley
  • Molinism: The Contemporary Debate by Ken Perszyk
  • ‘Was Arminius a Molinist?, Eef Dekker Is Molinism as Bad as Calvinism?, Jerry Walls