A new feature of this blog will be periodic essays responding to articles in the Watchtower (and occasionally Awake!), the official magazine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. A regular review of this magazine’s articles is in order: the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society claims that it prints over 42 million copies of each issue of the Watchtower in 185 languages. Even if nine-tenths of these copies never get read, that is still a hefty circulation for any publication, let alone a religious magazine.

First up is an article in the January 1, 2011 issue of the Watchtower entitled “Did God Know that Adam and Eve Would Sin?” (13-15). The article answers its question in the negative. According to Jehovah’s Witness theology, God has the “capacity” to know everything ahead of time, including Adam and Eve’s sin, but “does not have to use this capacity” and “wisely uses his ability of foreknowledge selectively…when it makes sense to do so and fits the circumstances.” God’s ability to foreknow some things and to refrain from foreknowing other things is likened to a sports fan choosing to watch a prerecorded game from the beginning instead of jumping forward to see the end (14).

We agree with the theological premises to which the Watchtower appeals in making its case for this doctrine of selective foreknowledge. Specifically, we agree that God made everything good, that Adam and Eve before the Fall had the ability not to commit sin, that the first humans were not “preprogrammed to please God” (13), that God does not tempt people to try to get them to sin, that God is not to blame for Adam and Eve’s sin (14), that God is love, and that Satan “initiated the rebellion in Eden” (15). However, from these biblically correct premises it simply does not follow that God did not know that Adam and Eve would sin.

For example, from the premise that Adam and Eve had the ability not to sin it does not follow that God did not know they would sin. The truth is that Adam and Eve had the ability not to sin or to sin—that is, they had the ability to choose either path. Suppose that instead of choosing to sin, Adam and Eve had chosen not to sin. Would God knowing that ahead of time somehow rob them of their responsibility for making the right choice? Of course not. God could know what they were going to do without compromising their responsibility in doing it. Likewise, God could foreknow the fact that they were going to sin without causing their sin.

The Watchtower article reasons that it would have been “hypocritical for God to warn them against a specific sin while already knowing the bad outcome” (13-14). Assuming God is omniscient, however, the real injustice would have been for God not to have warned them ahead of time against committing the sin. God’s justice required that he give Adam and Eve fair warning of the consequences of disobeying him. It makes no sense to claim that he needed to be ignorant of the outcome in order to be righteous in issuing the warning!

The article asks if it would “make sense for a wise God” to make creatures that “he knew were bound to fail” if other creatures (the angels) were watching (14). This rhetorical question suggests that God would be restrained, as it were, by public opinion. God has the absolute right to make whatever world he chooses, even if he knows that some of his creatures in that world will abuse their God-given abilities.

Virtually the entire article consists of this sort of a priori reasoning about what would make sense for God to do or know. The one supposed example it cites of God not knowing something falls short of proving any such ignorance. The article points out (14) that after Abraham demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, God said, “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12). Yet years earlier God had told Abraham, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years,” after which they would escape “with many possessions,” but that Abraham himself would be “buried at a good old age” (Gen. 15:13-15). How could God know all these things about Abraham and his descendants and not know whether Abraham would pass the test that was coming? Those future events depended on Abraham being the patriarch of promise. The traditional and best understanding of a statement like Genesis 22:12 is that God was accommodating himself to human language by speaking as a human parent would to his child.

The Watchtower’s notion of selective foreknowledge is completely unbiblical. The concept as explained in the article presupposes that it would always be immoral for God to know ahead of time about any specific acts of sin by his creatures. Yet the Bible is full of references to God knowing ahead of time that various individuals and nations would do all sorts of bad things. God knew that Abraham’s descendants would be enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years (Gen. 15:13-14), that Pharaoh would resist letting Israel go (Exod. 3:19-20; 4:21; 7:3-5; etc.; cf. Rom. 9:17-18), and that Israel would become corrupt after Moses’ death (Deut. 31:16-21, 27-29). Jesus knew that people would hate his disciples (Matt. 10:22; 24:9; etc.), that the authorities in Jerusalem would put him to death (Matt. 16:21; 20:18-19; etc.), and that Judas would betray him (Matt. 26:21-25). These are just some of the more prominent examples out of the dozens of such statements throughout the Bible.

Jesus’ foreknowledge of Judas’s betrayal is an especially interesting and important case study. Jesus chose Judas to be one of his apostles, knowing from the start that Judas would end up betraying him (John 6:70-71; 13:10-11, 18-26). Had Jesus not chosen Judas to be an apostle, Judas would not have had the opportunity to commit the infamous act of betrayal for which he will forever be remembered. Yet Jesus chose Judas, knowing what he would do. This example, which is associated with the core events of the gospel, refutes the pious reasoning that God would never put someone in a position to do evil if he knew the person would make that choice.

Selective foreknowledge is not only unbiblical, it is unworkable. If God did not foreknow that Adam and Eve would sin, then he could not have foreknown any of the subsequent events in world history, because that whole history is shaped by their act. The whole history of human conflict and struggle, of villainy and heroism, of sin and redemption, of death and resurrection—all of it presupposes the first sin of Adam and Eve. If God didn’t know that event would happen, he didn’t know anything else that would happen in human history. God’s “selective foreknowledge” would be limited to knowing the future movements of astronomical bodies and the times of sunrise and sunset for the rest of earth’s history.

The argument that it would be immoral for God to know about sin ahead of time has things backwards. Suppose God could have known, but chose not to know, that Adam and Eve would sin. Would God not have been negligent to blind himself to what was about to happen? We are not talking about a sports fan avoiding hearing the final score of a football game so he can enjoy the action. We are talking about the Creator of the universe supposedly avoiding knowing what would happen in the creation for which he was responsible.

The New Testament teaches that God knew that his Son, Jesus Christ, would die as a sacrifice for sins before the first sin was committed. Christ, as the “unblemished and spotless lamb” by whose blood we have been redeemed, “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:18-20). God also knew before the foundation of the world that he would redeem his people in Christ. God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). The names of believers in Christ have been “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8; see also Matt. 25:34). The expression “the foundation of the world” in these passages refers to the creation of the world and thus to a time prior to the first sin (see Job 38:4; John 17:24; Heb. 1:10; 4:3). Obviously, for God to foreknow the sacrificial death of his Son for our sins, he needed to foreknow that sins were going to be committed.

We may confidently conclude, then, that God knew that Adam and Eve would disobey him and plunge the whole human race into sin. He knew, because he already had a plan in place for dealing with sin—a plan that would bring good out of evil (compare Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28) and bring glory to him because of his grace (Eph. 1:4-6). It is because God knows all things ahead of time that he is never caught by surprise and his plans for his creation can never be finally thwarted.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 at 12:00 pm and is filed under Jehovah's Witnesses, theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 comments so far

 1 

In other words, you’ll never hear God say, Oh my Me. I didn’t see that coming!”

How do you handle the idea that Jesus is Deity, yet did not know the time of the end? Do you believe that “selective foreknowledge” could answer that question?

January 4th, 2011 at 12:56 pm
 2 

Keith, good question. No, I don’t think that is the best model for understanding a text such as Mark 13:32. The Son chose in his humiliation (Phil. 2:6-7) to experience human finitude in all respects, including being localized, limited in strength, and not knowing everything about the future. That is, he experienced in his human life the lack of the three “omni” attributes. I don’t claim to understand how this worked when he retained his divine nature, which possesses those attributes. This is part of the paradox of the Incarnation. See my book _Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ_, pages 120-23, and the notes on pages 321-22, for more on this subject.

January 4th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
 3 

I just had a “bible study” at my home with two of JW. They are in an awkward position indeed. They line of defense is that the world means people after Adam an Eve, foundation of the world is a starting point when A&E had their first children.

January 29th, 2011 at 4:04 pm
 4 

swiatlo,

Yes, I’ve heard this explanation. As I point out in the article, “the foundation of the world” in the Bible refers to creation, not to the time when Adam and Eve had their first children.

January 31st, 2011 at 10:37 am
thom
 5 

I have wondered about this topic and a few verses have me troubled,

If God knew that Adam and Eve would disobey him and plunge the whole human race into sin and he already had a plan in place for dealing with sin, Why did he regret he Made man when he saw what was happening?
Gen 6:5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Gen 6:6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
And why is God long suffering or waiting if he already knows who will come to repentance?
2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

April 25th, 2011 at 3:39 pm
thom
 6 

hello, is anyone there to help me get the answer to my questions?
why did God repent he made man if he already knew they would sin and have a plan in place before he made them?
And why is God long suffering or waiting if he already knows who will come to repentance?

June 6th, 2011 at 10:31 pm
 7 

Thom, I’m sorry your question was not answered sooner. The Bible sometimes talks about God using language that sounds like he is human but should not (and cannot) be taken literally. For example, the Bible says that the earth is God’s “footstool” (Is. 66:1; Matt. 5:35), but this does not mean that God has huge feet propped up on the earth!

When Genesis says that God was sorry he made man, this is a figurative way of expressing just how offensive God found the sinful condition of the human race. We know the statement is not literal because if it were the passage would not go on immediately to talk about God’s actions to give the human race a fresh start with Noah and his family.

Peter’s statement in 2 Peter 3:9 means that God is willing to delay the Final Judgment even though sin and evil and death continue in our world, because delaying that judgment allows more of us to come to repentance. In other words, the delay is for our benefit. We should take advantage of the fact that Christ has not returned in judgment and turn to Christ for salvation now.

August 17th, 2011 at 11:30 am
thom
 8 

Rob I’m glad you answered my questions. I really sound like God took offence when he saw the sinful condition of the human race but the words expressed in Gen 6:6 sounds like he was surprised when he saw what was taking place to the point that he could utter those strong words.
Looking at Gen 1:31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.
I see a God very pleased with his work not knowing the outcome of it, In contrast to Gen 6:6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
Saying that he knew before making the Adam and Eve that they would disobey him also is saying it was inevitable, what is more is he still went along and made them did not give them any choice at all. And if I was Seth and God said the words to my mother:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;
And then he said to my father
cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
And I knew that God knew it was going to happen even before he made them I would blame God
I sum it up this way
If God knew it will happen IT WILL HAPPEN WITHOUT FAIL and the law to them was only a formality because Eve could not of told the serpent NO I am not disobeying my God because her eating of the fruit was already done in God’s foreknowledge
IT WILL HAPPEN WITHOUT FAIL
So I can blame no one else but God that’s why it can never be true that God knew Adam and Eve would sin

If God know the day of the final Judgment and I think you do believe that he do,
How can he delay it according to you words about 2 Peter 3:9?
I can only see that happening if he don’t have a date but only a estimated time

August 17th, 2011 at 8:51 pm
 9 

Thom, it does not follow logically that if God knows something will happen in the future then he causes it to happen. Let me give you an analogy. Suppose you have a time machine that allows you to go back to the year 1955 (what other year would you choose? 🙂 ). If you watched your parents get married, would you be responsible for making them get married, so that they did not really choose to get married? I don’t think so.

Now, God’s role in history is more robust than this, at least in my understanding of the Bible, but the point is that his foreknowledge of what people were going to choose to do is not incompatible with them choosing.

August 19th, 2011 at 11:44 am
thom
 10 

Nice point Rob, but I would prefer a time machine that would take me way back to just one day before he made Adam and Eve, and I will humbly ask God will these people be faithful to you? According to your understanding of the bible God will say no they will not.

The thing that troubles me is that he will say that even before Adam or Eve was made.
Let me paint a picture so I can understand a little better.
Three days before God makes Eve, he knows she will disobey him by eating the fruit but obviously Eve does not know it at that time because she has not been created yet.
Three days passes by and the time approaches when this is to take place.
Could Eve have said no the serpent and remain loyal to God?
If yes, what would be the case with what God knew would happen three days in advance?
If no, she could not, why did God condemn her for something the only person had control over was him?

If God knows the choices people will make before they make it, did it make any sense in him telling his people (…..I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live? Deu 30:19)

August 20th, 2011 at 6:51 pm

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