I was reading the Book of Acts the other day when a verse of Scripture jumped out at me and upended a theological pet doctrine that I have had for years. Perhaps you can relate. Have you ever had a passage of Scripture seem to nail you in the forehead and you wonder, “How could I have not seen that before?” Well, that’s what happened to me when I read Acts 15:18 which says, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.”
For years I have said that God knows what He chooses to know, implying that God limits His own foreknowledge. You might say, “Well duh Aaron. How could you believe such an obviously nonscriptural doctrine as that.” Not so fast. You see, there are numerous examples throughout the Bible that seem to indicate that God did not know beforehand an action that a person or a nation would take. One example is God’s dealing with Saul in the Old Testament. Even though God chose Saul to be king, He seems to be taken by surprise when Saul took a turn for the worse. The Bible says, “The Lord was sorry that He made Saul king.” God also tells Saul that if he would have obeyed, He would have established His kingdom forever. Also consider that in Jeremiah, God tells the children of Israel that “it never entered His mind” the sins that they would do. Consider as well that, when Christ was on earth, He did not exercise His attributes of deity which would have given Him unlimited knowledge and power while on earth.
The last argument is fairly easy to refute. When Jesus ascended into heaven, His earthly nature was reunited with His divine nature (in the sense that He was reunited with the Father and was able to fully operate His rights and privileges as deity again). The first two arguments are not so easy. After all, how could something “never enter God’s mind” if God is all knowing and never limits His own foreknowledge in some way? That’s a good question. The answer is that, in the above examples, along with many other passages in the Bible where God is relating to finite human beings, He accomodates to their finite understanding. To say that God accomodates to human understanding may sound a little blasphemous to those who take the strictest possible literal interpretation of every word in the Bible. Such an approach is untenable especially in the light of the fact that the Bible is progressive revelation. God did not reveal Himself to first century Jews in the same way that He revealed Himself to a group of rag-tag slaves in the Sinai desert centuries earlier. Why? Because that would be like trying to explain trigonometry to a five year old.
So how do we know how to interpret the Bible? Here are a few quick rules. Always interpret the unclear in light of the clear. Never throw out numerous verses in favor of a few. Consider the people to whom a certain passage of Scripture is written in its historical context. And lastly, when it comes to understanding the nature and character of God, Jesus is always our starting point. One last comment. Always be willing to change your theology in light of further reflection. Never be afraid to say, “Oops! I was wrong.” God already knows that you don’t know everything, so why not just admit it and move on?