Limited Omniscience And The Test For A Prophet: A Brief Philosophical Analysis -- By: Francis J. Beckwith

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 36:3 (Sep 1993)
Article: Limited Omniscience And The Test For A Prophet: A Brief Philosophical Analysis
Author: Francis J. Beckwith


Limited Omniscience And The Test For A Prophet:
A Brief Philosophical Analysis

Francis J. Beckwith*

Philosophers and theologians in the Christian tradition as well as those in other traditions have wrestled with the problem of omniscience and free will for as long as people have believed that their Scriptures teach both that God knows everything in the past, present and future and that human beings are free moral agents with the ability to make libertarian choices. Such belief, however, poses a well-known problem. If God has perfect knowledge of future events including human actions, and if God cannot be wrong about what he knows, then all human actions will turn out only one way. But if individuals can make libertarian choices that entail the ability to do otherwise, how can the Christian at the same time affirm that the future will turn out only one way?

Christians have tried to resolve the conflict in many ways,1 including one that I believe is successful.2 Some3 have tried to resolve the supposed conflict by denying that God knows the future, although they believe that he is nevertheless omniscient. What they mean by this is that God knows everything that can be known, but since the future is not actual and hence not a thing his not knowing it does not count against his omniscience. As Richard Swinburne puts it, omniscience is “knowledge of everything true which is logically possible to know.”4 And since according to this view it is logically impossible for God to know the future, his not knowing it cannot count against his omniscience.

Such a view, often called limited omniscience, is held by a number of Christian philosophers and theologians, including Swinburne, Richard Rice and Clark Pinnock. Many of the same individuals believe that the Bible is their only standard for faith and practice and in fact argue in some places that their position is consistent with Scripture,5 which I believe is

* Frank Beckwith is lecturer in philosophy at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

clearly an incorrect exegesis of the text.6 In the present paper I will argue that if the defender of limited omniscience takes Scripture seriously a certain philosophical problem arises when one applies the view to the Bible’s test for a prophet. Of course if one does not consider Scripture authoritative in shaping one’s philosophical views, then my argument...

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