Does Omnipotence Necessarily Entail Omniscience? -- By: Frederick Sontag

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:4 (Dec 1991)
Article: Does Omnipotence Necessarily Entail Omniscience?
Author: Frederick Sontag

Does Omnipotence Necessarily Entail Omniscience?

Frederick Sontag*

In much of the Christian theological tradition “omnipotence” in God has been assumed to involve “omniscience”—that is, foreordination and even predestination. There are many reasons for this, but as a matter of fact, at least in the Protestant tradition, few of them come from the NT documents. It would be too complex, and actually unnecessary, to ask why each individual theologian opted to bind the world so closely to God (and God to the world). Our need is only to explore whether asserting God’s unlimited power—that is, not limited by anything outside divinity itself—requires us to tie this to omniscience, to God’s complete knowledge of all events, past and future.

In recent eras some (e.g. process theologians) have limited God’s power in order to allow greater freedom to human beings so that their self-determination is not controlled by divine power. In a time of quite general agreement to stress and to offer the maximum amount of human freedom possible, such theological effort is admirable. The price that has been paid, however, is to restrict God’s power to save. The problem is that the divine salvific offer in the life and work of Jesus has been central to Christianity since its beginning. Of course, at the time God’s power was being restricted, human power, particularly scientific, was growing, so that perhaps for a century it seemed that the future needed no divine assistance in order to fulfill human potential.

But with growing disillusionment in our human power to “save” mankind as well as our growing pessimism over the fact that we are still our own worst source of destruction, Christians at least need to ask if it is still possible to assert God’s ability to offer salvation, even to release us from death, without necessarily surrendering our human potential for freedom. (We say “potential” because we can bind ourselves to an inescapable necessity quite as tight as God’s predestination.) To do this involves asking if we can separate omnipotence from omniscience in our characterization of the divine nature. In the tradition, human nature was often bound by necessity in order to preserve God’s full power to save.

Is it possible for God to have the one without the other? The answer depends on how the divine attributes are conceived. Early in the origins of Greek philosophy (the source of much theological structuring of God)

*Frederick Sontag is professor of philosophy at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

“nature” was taken to be fixed. If establishing the created order involved God in no contingency, the di...

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