Sunday, October 23, 2011

The End of Time and the Omniscience of Christ

Dave Armstrong, a popular Catholic apologist, recently made a post on his blog about the omniscience of Jesus (the fact that he is all-knowing). Never caring too much for succinct titles, it is called: "Biblical Evidence for Jesus' Omniscience, by Cross-Referencing to Parallel Texts Describing the All-Knowing Attributes of God the Father". I highly suggest that you check it out.

Dave makes a very convincing case here, yet when I shared this article with a skeptic recently, he attempted to deny Christ's omniscience by citing Mt 24:26, where Jesus says, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." What should we make of this passage? Is there enough reason here to disregard everything else that is said about the omniscience of Jesus?

Hardly.

I ask the skeptic, if Mt 24:36 means that Jesus is not all-knowing, how then did Jesus know what was in the hearts of men (cf. Mt 9:4; Mk 2:8; Lk 5:22; 9:47; Jn 2:25) and what their thoughts were (cf. Mt 12:25; Lk 6:8; Jn 6:64)? How was Jesus able to tell the Samaritan woman everything she ever did (cf. Jn 4:17-19, 29)? "How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?" (Jn 7:15). How is it that, when Jesus was just a boy, he was able to amaze the teachers in the Temple with his understanding and his answers (cf. Lk 2:46-47)?

You can't just take one verse and disregard all the rest. You have to find a way to reconcile them all. Either Jesus "knows everything" (Jn 21:17) or He doesn't. Either He "searches mind and heart" (Rev 2:23) or He doesn't. Either "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are hidden in Him (Col 2:2-3) or they aren't. You can't have it both ways.

As I see it, the only way to reconcile Mt 24:36 (cf. Mk 13:32) with the rest of the biblical data regarding Jesus' omniscience is to say that this verse (and its parallel passage) are instances of hyperbole, in which Jesus is exaggerating for effect. And this makes perfect sense. Why?

Well, for one, Jesus habitually used hyperbolic language in His preaching. Semitic people are fond of speaking in this way, and Jesus was no different. See, for example:
Mt 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Mt 5:39-42 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

Mt 6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

Mt 8:22 But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.

Mt 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Mt 23:24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Mk 4:31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;

Lk 9:25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Lk 10:4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road.

Lk 14:26 If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Jn 3:26 And they came to John, and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him." [note: a study of the word "all" in the Bible would reveal dozens of hyperbolic statements]

Jn 12:19 The Pharisees then said to one another, "You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him."

This is just a sampling of what could be provided, but you get the idea. The important thing to remember is that it is an anachronism to expect Jesus to always speak as precisely as we expect people to speak today. In our modern, industrial age we don't seem to have time for flourishing, or exaggeration, or circumlocutions, or any of the other elaborate modes of speaking that Semitic peoples employ. We're concerned with being succinct and to the point and being efficient and getting things done. But the peoples of Jesus day had no such concern, and we have to keep that in mind when we interpret the sayings of Jesus.

Secondly, it makes sense that Jesus would use hyperbole here because he is absolutely resolute in His desire that the crowd remain ignorant regarding the day and hour of the coming. It is not the will of God that they know this information. His silence is such that it is as if He did not know it. Jesus is communicating, in an exaggerated way, His utter inability to tell them what they want to hear.

That said, the context of Mt 24:36 gives us every indication that Jesus DID in fact know the day and hour. After all, he knows EVERYTHING ELSE about what that day will be like, what horrors will come, what will portend the Tribulation and the Second Coming (see Mt 24 in full). It's nonsensical to think that He would know all this, and yet somehow not know the day when it will all take place.

Don't forget, this is the same Person who created all things (cf. Psa 33:6; Jn 1:1-3, 10; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:2; 3:3-4; 11:3) and who upholds the entire universe with his power (cf. Heb 1:3). The Father "has given all things into his hand" (Jn 3:35). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (cf. Mt 28:18). Jesus is the one who will be executing the Judgment on that day (cf. Jn 5:22, 26-27). I think He knows when the Second Coming will take place! He just can't tell us.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

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