omnipotence in platonism and in thomism

From Plotinus by Lloyd P Gerson:

Where a creation metaphysics such as that of Aquinas differs from Plotinian metaphysics is in its claim that the [ἀρχή] of all is the sole cause not of the existence but of the being of everything else, hence of existence and[i] essence. Accordingly, Aquinas must say that God is not just virtually all things but eminently all things as well. That is, every predicate that belongs to complexes belongs to their simple cause in a higher mode of being. In short, [οὐσία] cannot be a real [ἀρχή] for him. Were it so, this would compromise the omnipotence of God. By contrast, Plotinus is less concerned with preserving omnipotence than he is with preserving the unqualified simplicity of the first [ἀρχή]. One way to express the differences between the two in the matter of omnipotence is to say that although they agree that the [ἀρχή] of all of logical possibility is grounded in the second [ἀρχή], Intellect, whereas Aquinas will want to say that logical possibility and impossibility are ultimately to be accounted for by the first principle, God…

Plotinus certainly emphasizes the idea of supreme power in his characterizations of the One. What precisely is this power supposed to be? How is power to be analyzed? First, as the text in V.3.15.33-6 indicates, Plotinus takes over Aristotle’s distinction between a passive and an active power, identifying the latter with the One (see Metaphysics 9.1.1046a19ff.). Second, the power of the One is indicated by its results, namely, the existence of everything that can exist. But since the existence of everything that exists is not identical with the One, the One’s power is evidently that in virtue of which everything else exists. But this power is in no way really distinguishable from anything else in the One, else its perfect simplicity would be destroyed. The One is virtually everything else, including Intellect. Since, however, the One does not confer existence on a waiting recipient (since the recipient would then already[i] exist), the power of the One is not the power to bring about a substantial change like generation. It is something even more radical than this. It is the power to cause to exist everything that can exist, including eternal Intellect and Forms. With the causal power of the One even eternal truths would not exist.

The [i]’s denote italicized words in the original.

Posted in Platonism | 1 Comment

an overview of the book of job

Main characters:

God (Yahweh) – In this text, Yahweh rules from His court in heaven. The angles approach Him and report on their activities. God is styled as considering what His court attendants bring to His attention. God is propositioned by Satan to see if Job is inherently righteous or if his righteousness is bought by God’s blessings. God entertains this. God acts as an unseen witness during Job’s discussions, ultimately confronting Job to reverse Job’s suit against God.

Satan – Satan acts as a member of God’s court. In this chapter, Satan is tasked with roaming the earth and exposing wickedness. Satan’s job is to punish the wicked. As part of his official duties, Satan questions the loyalties of Job. Perhaps Job only worships God because God blesses Job. God gives permission to Satan to find out the truth.

Job – Job is the most righteous man alive. Job has done nothing deserving of harm, yet God afflicts him. Job’s position is that he is innocent and will die clinging to his integrity. Job laments that there is no justice in this wpovertyorld. Job blames God for not enforcing a system of retributive justice; something that Job wrongly believes is God’s duty. God corrects Job by saying that if Job is not in a position to suggest how the world should operate; if Job wants morality enforced, then Job can do it himself. Otherwise, Job has no standing to question what God should and should not do.

Job’s wife – Job’s wife succumbs to Satan’s afflictions. She serves as the example of someone failing the test. Her advice is for Job to curse God and die. Job ignores this advice.

Eliphaz – Eliphaz is one of Job’s three friends. Eliphaz takes the stance that Job is not truly wicked, but suffering a temporary set-back due to some non-systematic or non-characteristic sin. Eliphaz maintains that Job will die in old age, and not as part of the wicked. Eliphaz operates under the impression that the sin is punished and the wicked are killed.

Bildad – Bildad takes the stance that Job may or may not be wicked. Job’s children were wicked, as evidenced in their deaths. Job has sinned, but may not have committed a sin worthy of death. Bildad says to commit Job’s case to God.

Zophar – Zophar takes the stance that Job is truly wicked, the punishment is evidence and is revealing some hidden sin of Job’s. Zophar maintains that Job is getting his just due, and will be killed as one of the wicked. Zophar operates under the impression that the sin is punished and the wicked are killed.

Elihu – Elihu serves as the last character in the story. Elihu is an interloper. He is not named except in the texts in which he speaks. As such, scholars often claim that his speeches were a later addition to the text. His speech is not explicitly condemned or endorsed or addressed, and he vanishes as quickly as he is introduced. His speeches serve as a bridge to God’s speech, acting as a profane foil to God. Many of his themes approximate those of his friends. Elihu, like the others, believes in divine punishment of the wicked. But Elihu adds that Job’s punishment could be a divine warning from God in anticipation of future sins. Like the others, Elihu is wrong.


The book of Job describes a group of angels reporting to God. One such angel, who is tasked with roaming the world and seeking out hidden wickedness, presents a conundrum to God. Perhaps the righteous are only righteous because God prospers them. God then allows the most righteous man on Earth (Job) to be tested to understand his motives. The angel destroys all that Job loves, but Job holds fast to his integrity.

The angel approaches God again, arguing that a direct threat to Job’s life is what it will take to expose Job. Annoyed at Satan for previously unnecessary suffering, God then allows this final test. Job, although bitter at God and surrounded by false witnesses, endures in his integrity. Job calls for God to judge him, as his friends surround him in judgment.

God appears, silencing Job. Job is not God. In fact, Job does not understand the world as God does. Job is in no position to proffer a new system of justice for the world. As such, Job is operating under misguided presumptions and does not even have a case to present to God. Justice is not God’s job. Justice is not a property of this world or any world. Job is not entitled to recompense. The universe is filled with random chaos. God can intervene or watch or act in whatever way He wishes.

God rewards Job and punishes Job’s accusers. God, then, restores Job to good fortune. The story ends.

Posted in Bible, Morality, Theology | 2 Comments

on an american insurgency

On Popehat, a new contributor (Marc Randazza) posts an ungracious and inflammatory post claiming that having small arms to subvert government tyranny is not a valid reason for gun ownership. As evidence, he offers a hypothetical in which all insurgents cluster into a single city and then the American government is willing to carpet bomb the city. The leaps of logic, the outright nonsense, and the lack of historical understanding are well below par for a Popehat post.

Granting Randazza’s hypothetical triggering situation (the president abolishing the presidency, instituting Islam, and granting the government the rights to have sex with people’s wives), what would an American insurgency look like?

People and Weaponry

America is a nation of 317 million people. Presumably, the hypothetical could at least arouse 1% of the population to rebel (between the people rebelling against Islam, the people rebelling against a change in government, and the people rebelling against gun confiscation, this number would not be hard to hit). This would be 3.1 million people in itself. These insurgents would not be localized in a particular city, but distributed loosely throughout America (probably disproportionately among Military and Police ranks as those populations naturally house more aggressive individuals). The insurgents would have access to the over 357 million guns in circulation; being supplemented by off-grid milling and 3d printing. On a side note: the more progress made in 3d printing, the less realistic any gun control measures.

In order to control this, the government would have to quickly implement a police state with door-to-door confiscation (causing even more ill-will). It is hard to imagine, in Randazza’s hypothetical, that the government would have the intellectual support of the population in their crackdown (people tend not to like forced religion and government officials having sex with their wives). How many guns are unregistered and how can the government begin to manage any sort of confiscation? Imagine the mobilization that would have to occur to police hundreds of thousands of households? Who is confiscating, and are they loyal to the government?

In addition to the limitless small arms available to all insurgents, the insurgents in the military would have access to planes, tanks, and missiles. The problem with insurgents is that they are hard to identify beforehand. Maybe an F16 operator goes rogue? It only takes one (maybe his wife or sister is raped per the new government dictates). Maybe a nuclear silo is captured (maybe the security forces team does not like Islam being the new state religion)? Maybe a fuel contractor places explosives in a fuel truck (maybe the contractor longs for free elections)? This all assumes there is not a military coup in response to the change in government.

Insurgency is asymmetric warfare. Although small arms would definitely play a large role in the insurgency (especially for the common citizen insurgent), they would be supplemented by military and enthusiast tech. The citizen insurgent contingent will inspire the government insurgent contingent. The government is going to have to handle all threats simultaneously and indefinitely. In doing so, they are going to alienate their own supporters with the far-reaching and broad brush strokes needed to accomplish this (how many loyal Soviets were mistakenly executed or sent to gulags?).


Despite Randazza’s hypothetical rebellion, the insurgents probably would not take a town and barricade that town. One: they will probably not be as reckless as to present a military bombing target (unless they were sure the military would not just bomb it). Two: most people in any society are not the types to take up arms over anything (notice the lack of vigilantes in American society). Will an entire town rebel? Probably not, at least not overtly.

One further point: imagine a random town in Montana decided to rebel even without any hypothetical tyranny. Would the current administration even consider carpet bombing? In the real world, governments operate under constraints: financial, material, moral, legal, and political. The cost of carpet bombing is not just money and bombs, but also hearts and minds (local and foreign, civilian and military). Imagine what would happen if the government did carpet bomb and entire town. The entire country would come undone with rage, indignation, and seek to oust those in charge. The government might be able to get by with bombing a Waco compound or two (where those bombed can be dismissed as weirdoes), but not an entire Waco city (where outsiders can identify with those being bombed). More realistically, the government would just cut off trade until the city caves.

With decentralized locations, the insurgents would probably not operate in any unified way. If a leadership develops, it would probably operate in a very decentralized manner (providing agendas and letting insurgency cells operate independently). Attacks would probably be uncoordinated, random, and anonymous (much like other insurgencies around the globe). Insurgents probably would not even know eachother.

Government officials, and their collaborators, would probably be the subject of assassination attempts, carried out by disgruntled loners who don’t care about consequences. How can the government control this? They couldn’t even fight organized assassinations in Pablo Escobar’s Columbia where they knew who was directing them. Decentralized assassinations will be that much harder.

crushed-police-carsWe see modern American examples in the man who flew his plane into an IRS building and the man who smashed police trucks with his tractor. These events are unpredictable and can hardly be guarded against. A widespread insurgency will legitimize use of small arms in the minds of the disgruntled. The body count will demoralize government agents.
The people who care about consequences will operate anonymously. They will set fires, set bombs, operate sniper rifles from vans, smuggle handguns into locations with government loyalists. We see modern American examples in the terrorists who operated a sniper rifle from their van, the individual who shot police sitting in their cars, the individual who shot a few police officers and fled into the woods (they about shut down an entire state to catch the guy). Modern technology, although helpful, could not swiftly prevent or even capture these individuals. It does not take more than a single individual to unnerve an entire city, county, or state.

Supply lines would be hit. The military and police agencies rely on many private companies to exist. Fuel, food, electricity, water, clothing, technology… all become targets. A complicated supply chain leads to untold vulnerabilities and plenty of opportunity for insurgent objectives. With insider threats, this cannot all be defended and will be very costly to manage (just look at what normal services and supplies cost in Iraq).

Literally, the insurgency can continue on indefinitely (and there is no withdraw like in Iraq). To stop an embedded and anonymous insurgency requires heavy public support, a massive surveillance state, massive prisons, and a lot of other resources. This will not be like Iraq, in which the insurgents are a foreign population hiring other foreigners to fight against a unified American military. The insurgency will be Steve (the neighborhood hockey coach) augmented by unidentifiable sleeper agents embedded throughout the government. The current government has problems killing even current people who are in need of killing, now they are going to wage war on their own population. Unlikely.


The population probably would identify with the rebels. Forced religion, a subverted government, and having your wife raped would probably be enough, but if the government is engaging in the type of carpet bombing that Randazza imagines then this lack of government support would surely increase. Some commenters on Randazza’s post hypothesized that the government would use foreign mercenaries. This is also a bad policy for local support. Having foreign nationals kill citizens is likely to be seen as a foreign occupation and will increase rebel sympathies.

Government officials and loyalists would probably live in fear of assassination. The local population who has nothing to do with the insurgency would live in fear of both the insurgents (for being executed as loyalists) and the government (for being accidently branded as having insurgent sympathies). Top government officials may even attempt a second coup to stabilize the government (such as what happened in Chile).

Even if the population does not identify with the rebels, people quickly tire of war. Even if the insurgency is not generally supported, how long does support for prolonged warfare last? How would a well-armed insurgency affect long term popular opinion about prolonged war? Surely, the prospect of a sniper behind every bush is more threatening than a disarmed insurgency. People do not want to live in a world of uncertain violence (especially middle class Americans).

Insurgency without Guns

black panthersOf course, the point of Randazza’s original post is that deterring the government is not a
good reason for having guns. It should go unsaid (but sadly needs to be said) that it is irrational to assume that deterrence takes the form of a city rebelling and starting a new government, rather than historical deterrence (black panthers carrying shotguns to deter police abuse or farmer militias stopping federal enforcers from taking land). It is interesting that modern drug raids are carried out by heavily armed and armored police, suggesting that guns really do impose real and tangible threats to the government. Armed police often accompany Child Services when taking people’s children. When police and government officials are scared of being killed randomly, one might take this as evidence that guns do deter government action.

So, what if the government took all guns, and then somehow was able to control milling and 3d printing? The insurgency probably would take a major hit. In Communist Russia, Socialist Germany, and Communist China, and unarmed population was easily subdued (what heavily armed population was ever oppressed by their government?). Granted, the American fighting spirit would probably be greater than in these countries, with our long history of independent spirits. But not having a gun in every hand would definitely give the government a large starting advantage.


This is just a thought experiment on how an American insurgency would play out. Washington agencies are well area of these things, as they are tasked with mapping out various contingency situations. No doubt they have gone through scenarios looking at this exact thing, and have built contingency response plans. But how does one fight a well-armed local insurgency? It is near impossible.

If America were pushed to an insurgency, even an insurgency of 1% of the population, small arms would play a major role (as they do in Iraq, Afghanistan, gang activity, current anti-government violence). Small arms and asymmetric warfare can inflict untold damage on the government. If current gun ownership plays a major role in how the government currently acts and behaves, how much more when a large segment of the population is provoked?

Posted in Goverment | Leave a comment

popehat builds a gun strawman

On Popehat, a new blogger, Marc Randazza, posts an unusually dull and misinformed piece on guns. The name of the article is “You Are Not Going to Resist the Government With Your Guns”. In this article, the blogger imagines the government becomes tyrannical. Guns owners decide to resist by barricading a city but then the government just bombs them to oblivion. Randazza’s point is that gun owners should drop arguments of government deterrence in their list of reasons for gun ownership.

In the comments, Randazza is utterly destroyed for his silly straw man argument. Some of the best comments:

Brad writes:

Marc makes the common mistake of assuming that in any violent conflict between the American people and the American Government that the military will not only fall in line but also be employed to maximum effect. Both assumptions are ridiculously simplistic and therefore false.

TMLutas writes:

The stupid, it burns. First of all, government tyranny comes in all shapes and sizes and we have well upwards of 80k governments in this country, each of them having the potential to pick our pockets or break our legs. The utility of the 2nd amendment’s resistance to tyranny isn’t about how well it works on the most well armed of these governments but how well it works in making the yahoos in the other 80k governments rethink any dumb ideas they might have to behave like little tyrants.

Second, I believe the most recent successful sagebrush rebellion in this country was in 2014. That is slightly more relevant to the evaluation of the 2nd amendment as a 21st century brake on tyranny than the 1700s example of Shays rebellion. In what legal backwater is ancient example of real world practice more relevant than contemporary practice within living memory? The tyranny claims in the Bundy case are actually more interesting to boot. Shays Rebellion was about claims the government could not lay a particular tax. But in the Bundy case we have the BLM explicitly and flagrantly violating federal law in its wild horse policies (it won’t sell to people who will slaughter horses) which means all that land has too many horses because BLM can’t store all the horses needed to keep the land up so they’ve been pushing out the cattle ranchers for decades. Only a crazy man would stand in their way. Enter Mr. Bundy who fits the bill of too resourceful and ornery to give in to the pressure and crazy enough to grab for any theory to hand.

Caleb says

As others have pointed out, the purpose of of an armed domestic insurgency isn’t to stand toe-to-toe with the regular armed forces. It’s purpose is to wage distributed asymmetric warfare across wide swaths of territory, thereby raising the costs of effective occupation to prohibitive levels. See: any US (or Russian) attempted occupation of hostile territory since Vietnam.

Moreover, the current value of an armed domestic population isn’t in the actual use of the arms for these ends. It’s in their potential use for these ends. Any potential hostile occupier can look at the numbers of civilian firearms owned, plus the numbers of potential civilian combatants, plus the sheer size of US territory, and know that any attempted hostile occupation of the US will be an absolute nightmare. Best to seek power by other means.

Dylan says:

What last stand? When I was in Mosul the insurgents didn’t group up with AKs and attack people. Or declare a people’s republic in some warehouse and dare us to come kill them.

They packed 2000+ lbs of homemade explosives in dumptrucks and blew them up near US and Iraqi government compounds. Or they walked up to two Iraqi soldiers standing watch in a market, shot them in the head with pistols, and walked off into the crowd, never to be heard from again and no one saw anything. Or they dropped pipe bombs with a remote trigger in a trash bag on a street and blew them up the next time a police officer walked by. Or they set up a car with 80 lbs of home made explosive in a neighborhood and when it was found early by the Iraqis they blew it up and then three minutes later shot at the responders with their AKs for 20 seconds before vanishing into the night. The helicopter that had been overhead when it blew up didn’t help at all to identify or track the shooters.

That’s about half of the incidents I personally dealt with. That was in early 2009 when the security situation was the best it had ever been and they were ready to remove all US forces from Iraqi cities. You may heard a bit of how Mosul developed last year.

And in the few months I was there they killed lots of Iraqi soldiers and police and a few of the US soldiers in my company. My battalion killed zero of them, but we did kill some innocent civilians while shooting at teenagers throwing grenades. I had 20 men with body armor and real military small arms and four armored vehicles and .50 machine guns and sometimes I had helicopters with rockets and chain guns working for me to look for threats and ready to kill any they saw. It didn’t matter to the things I actually had to deal with.

The big problem with insurgency in urban environments is intelligence and knowing who to target. If you’re smart and can rely on enough people to help you or can terrorize people enough not to identify you the drones and aircraft don’t do any good at all unless you just want to kill everyone. Unless your opinion of liberals (or whoever) is that they won’t endorse burning away entire neighborhoods of Iraqi women and children but will in Oklahoma City I’m not sure why you think any of that shit matters.

Tom writes:

Many commentators have already pointed the inaccuracy of this post out, but I’ll jump in too. As author (and admitted gun nut) Larry Correia so aptly put it:

“You ever note in every discussion about the topic of the 2nd Amendment being powerless against a modern government, it is always the peacenick afraid of guns with zero understanding of fighting, combat, logistics, or tactics arguing about how easy national confiscation would be against the trigger pullers, veterans, and people with a clue?”

Now, granted, this is not exactly a polite or non confrontational way to phrase it, but the statement is nevertheless accurate. I note that the author of this piece, at least according to Wikipedia and his posted bios, does not have any type of military or law enforcement background. He is also not an accomplished scholar in military history or a related field. So why is it that he is so confident in this opinion? If the author happens to read this comment, I’m not trying to be belittling or insulting; I’m simply pointing out that you have no real grounding in the relevant subject matter. Did you, then, consult with subject matter experts?

As a military veteran and current private contractor for the Federal government with extensive experience overseas, I not only have relevant personal experience, training and education (including a Master’s degree focusing on a related subject) but have also spent the last ten-plus years in daily contact with the undeniable subject matter experts on insurrection and irregular warfare. Members of the JSOC and USSOCOM, the 75th Ranger Regiment, Army Special Forces and the supporting Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command , NSW, MARSOC and the Marine Corps’ Reconnaissance battalions, and the Intelligence Community. My experience, and that of the vast majority of the professionals mentioned above, indicates that the author’s point is nothing short of laughable and that a population armed with light personal weapons is more than capable of effectively resisting a government they refuse to accept.

I do not expect my claim to be taken at face value, but I do raise the question. Has the author consulted with subject matter experts, and what do they say? If not….why not, and why would you expect your opinion to be taken seriously when you are speaking on a subject you have no expertise in?

Hasdrubal says:

Why are we even having this discussion?

About 32,000 people a year die from guns, but most of those are accidents and suicides. Let’s not talk about that because I don’t think anyone is talking about banning assault weapons to prevent suicides.

About 11,000 a year die from homicides. Roughly 2% of those are committed by “long guns”: shotguns, rifles, assault weapons.

AND, the trend is down. The murder rate is roughly 60% of what it was 20 years ago.

So, why are we even discussing “military grade rifles and machine guns?” Why are we even getting into Constitutional territory over something that, even if it works perfectly, will get lost in the statistical noise? There’s a tremendous amount of political capital being spent, and a tremendous amount of antagonism being generated, over something with at best a tiny real world impact. Is it worth it? President Obama probably increased Republican turnout by at least a couple percent last night, was that worth it for something with a theoretical maximum of 2% improvement on the murder rate?

Or, is the fear of “military grade rifles and machine guns” specifically due to mass shootings? Again, is it worth it? Is limiting access/banning a (very nebulous) class of guns the best way of preventing these attacks? Is it even in the top 5 most effective courses of action to prevent these? Do you have solid data, or even a testable theory, on why banning semi automatic rifles would prevent mass killings? Or does it simply seem obvious that making scary guns harder to get means fewer people will kill school kids? Are you arguing from emotion? Do you want to get into Constitutional territory with an argument based on your gut feeling?

Posted in Guns | Leave a comment

jesus’ knowledge in the gospel of john – part 1

I was recently challenged on the concept of Jesus in the gospel of John. The challenger stated that Jesus is depicted as omniscient or semi-omniscient. Jesus, throughout the gospel of John, seems to have access to God’s knowledge (and power) and utilized it on a regular basis.

The first thing to note about the writing style of John is that it is more ethereal and cryptic than the other gospels. John introduces about 90% new material, and uses that material in such a way that it presents Jesus as more divine than the other gospels. Much more of Jesus’ statements are contextless and not very concrete. There is a lot of confusion for the listeners and the readers. The text sometimes, but not always, follows up with clarifications.

The book also tends to divorce Jesus from his Jewish apocalyptic primary message depicted in the other gospels. This suggests a late date of writing, when the followers of Christianity began to expect the imminent end was not so imminent and the Gentile mission was larger. The book seems to be written to later Greek converts (having to define terms such as “Rabbi” and “Messiah”). The cryptic nature probably appealed more to the Greek sense of mystery than the Jewish sense of apocalypticism.

Jesus shows clairvoyance

Jesus is depicted as having access to much of God’s knowledge. There is a very early scene in which Jesus recalls having seen someone in a place where Jesus was not present:

Joh 1:47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”
Joh 1:48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Joh 1:49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus’ knowledge of the character of Nathanael is based on seeing Nathanael earlier. Something about this scene gave Jesus the indication that Nathanael was doing something under the fig tree that spoke to his character. Perhaps Nathanael was in prayer. Jesus’ claim would be that God showed him Nathanael’s prayer.

Jesus knows the character of man

In the second chapter, Jesus is said to know the character of his new converts. He knows not to trust them, because he understands “man”:

Joh 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.
Joh 2:24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people
Joh 2:25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

How this is worded seems to say that Jesus knew the general character of man, especially the people who are claiming to be his disciples. This instance seems to be referenced in a much later context:

Joh 6:60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
Joh 6:61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?

Joh 6:64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)

If John 6:64 is a reference to John 2:25, it would appear that Jesus knew who would betray him because he knew the character of the people with which he was dealing. Unlike the John 1:48 instance, Jesus is not tapping into divine knowledge for this event.

Jesus acquires new information

John 4 begins with Jesus learning about the actions of the Pharisees. In this case, Jesus did not have foreknowledge or clairvoyance (assumedly) about something that happens.

Joh 4:1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John
Joh 4:2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),
Joh 4:3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.

Jesus is operating in a manner in which he learns something, after it happens, and then Jesus responds accordingly.

Jesus knows a woman’s past

John 4 cuts to Jesus interacting with a woman at a well. In this interaction, Jesus is able to recall events from this woman’s life with accuracy:

Joh 4:17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;
Joh 4:18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Joh 4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.

To this woman, that Jesus could recount her past put Jesus in the role of a prophet, someone who communicates with and for God. The woman’s normal interpretation of these events is not to bestow omniscience on Jesus, but to understand Jesus as operating through the power of God.

This passage reveals several idiomatic expressions, hyperboles. The woman says that Jesus “told me all that I ever did” and she says that Christ would “tell us all things.” These normal idiomatic expressions are very important, because within John, the disciples tell Jesus that Jesus knows “all things”:

Joh 16:30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”

The phrase “all things” most naturally is limited to a hyperbolic expression that needs to be taken in context. It would be a mistake to assume some sort of literal and metaphysical sense to these words unless the context is explicit.

Jesus changes the future

Jesus’ ministry is entirely in the context of saving people from things that can happen. One does not see in Jesus a sense of fatalism. Jesus warns people that their actions will be responsible for future contingencies. Jesus attempts to avert the worst with warnings.

In John 5, Jesus warns someone he has just healed that he needs to refrain from sinning to avert judgment:

Joh 5:14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

Jesus attempts to save people:

Joh 5:34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.

Jesus uses the power of God

Consistent with the events of Nathanael and the woman at the well, Jesus makes the claim that his power is through God.

Joh 5:19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.


Joh 5:30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Jesus tests the disciples

Although Jesus generally knows people’s hearts, sometimes Jesus tests them in specific ways to learn what they will do:

Joh 6:5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Joh 6:6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

Jesus planned on performing a miracle, but wanted to see if the disciples would put their faith in Jesus’ power. The disciples are thinking of the non-miraculous, and seem to fail the test.

Jesus knows that Judas will betray him

Later in John 6, Jesus has a falling out with many of his disciples. These are probably many of the same disciples that Jesus did not trust in John 2:25. Jesus calls them out and then a bunch leave. The text then states that Jesus knew they were not true converts, adding in that Jesus knows who would betray him:

Joh 6:64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)

The text then identifies that individual, by name:

Joh 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
Joh 6:69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Joh 6:70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”
Joh 6:71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

How does Jesus know Judas would betray him? The knowledge about the other disciples was per their character. Would it not be safe to assume Jesus knew the character of Judas? There are no hints of divine information sharing in this text.

Jesus avoids dangerous situations

After this, Jesus decides to avoid Judea because there would be a chance he would die:

Joh 7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.

Jesus, here, is not operating with exhaustive future omniscience, but is minimizing risks of future occurrences by avoiding dangerous situations. Someone with exhaustive future omniscience could easily inject themselves into dangerous situations and overcome. Someone operating within the bounds of human activity, with some divine help, needs to take precautions.

Jesus eventually does go to Judea, but is careful not to let that information out:

Joh 7:10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

Jesus’ divine protection

In John 7, Jesus gives a speech that incites the authorities. They attempt to arrest him, but Jesus escapes. The stated reason is that “his hour has not come”:

Joh 7:30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.

Perhaps this is because Jesus was given divine protection. If this is the case, divine protection thwarts what would have been. The future is being changed through divine action. The Jews are thwarted at the end of chapter 8 where they attempt to stone Jesus:

Joh 8:59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Jesus runs away. This is reoccurring:

Joh 10:39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

Jesus learns about a man

In chapter 9, Jesus heals a blind man. The Jewish authorities expel the man from the synagogue for declaring Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus learns about this and then seeks out the man:

Joh 9:35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Part 1 conclusion:

The text presents Jesus as knowledgeable, with the ability to tap into God’s power. Jesus is not depicted as omniscient. And the future is portrayed as flexible and indefinite.

Posted in Bible, Calvinism, Figures of Speech, God, Jesus, Omniscience, Open Theism, Theology | 1 Comment

the greek origin of omniscience

The concept of omniscience in rooted in the idea of God’s “perfection”. In platonism, the perfect cannot change. Thus, if god changed (such as learning new information) then god would not be perfect. Omniscience, then, is an extension of platonistic musings on perfection. Christianity, early in its infancy, adopted these notions of perfection and with it an idea of Omniscience in which God’s knowledge does not change. This is why there is such great objection to Open Theists who want to redefine omniscience to mean knowing “all things current”. Redefining omniscience to allow God’s knowledge to change divorces Omniscience from its roots in platonistic perfection.

Modern Christians often say the following:

Even reason teaches us that no change is possible in God, since a change is either for better or for worse. But in God, as the absolute Perfection, improvement and deterioration are both equally impossible.

This is from the most popular systematic theology book today: Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof. This reasoning is ubiquitous in Christianity, everywhere from to “refutations” of Open Theism.

This line of reasoning comes straight from Plato, and is nowhere found in the pages of the Bible. To Plato, god was immutable because any change would be for the worse:

But surely God and the things of God are in every way perfect? Of course they are. Then he can hardly be compelled by external influence to take many shapes?… If he change at all he can only change for the worse, for we cannot suppose him to be deficient either in virtue or beauty… Then it is impossible that God should ever be willing to change; being, as is supposed, the fairest and best that is conceivable, every god remains absolutely and for ever in his own form.

But, plenty of perfect things change. A perfect baby changes. A perfect river changes. A perfect clock changes. But this is not quite what this maxim was designed to describe. Instead, this maxim was meant to describe Plato’s theory of forms, that the material and changeable is corrupt, and that somewhere in an eternal heaven is a perfect form of those things, never changing. The doctrine of perfection is a doctrine of platonistic dualism in which change (the material world) is corrupt and immutability (the heavenly realm) is perfection.

Plato writes:

First then, in my judgment, we must make a distinction and ask, What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is. Now everything that becomes or is created must of necessity be created by some cause, for without a cause nothing can be created. The work of the creator, whenever he looks to the unchangeable and fashions the form and nature of his work after an unchangeable pattern, must necessarily be made fair and perfect; but when he looks to the created only, and uses a created pattern, it is not fair or perfect.

In Plato’s mindset, “the perfect” was abstract and “the corrupt” was the material world. Change implied imperfection. Change is a feature of imperfection. But because god is perfect, god does not inhabit change. Instead, god falls within the changeless realm:

Now the nature of the ideal being [the Platonistic god] was everlasting, but to bestow this attribute in its fullness upon a creature was impossible. Wherefore he resolved to have a moving image of eternity, and when he set in order the heaven, he made this image eternal but moving according to number, while eternity itself rests in unity; and this image we call time. For there were no days and nights and months and years before the heaven was created, but when he constructed the heaven he created them also. They are all parts of time, and the past and future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence; for we say that he “was,” he “is,” he “will be,” but the truth is that “is” alone is properly attributed to him, and that “was” and “will be” only to be spoken of becoming in time, for they are motions, but that which is immovably the same cannot become older or younger by time, nor ever did or has become, or hereafter will be, older or younger, nor is subject at all to any of those states which affect moving and sensible things and of which generation is the cause. These are the forms of time, which imitates eternity and revolves according to a law of number. Moreover, when we say that what has become is become and what becomes is becoming, and that what will become is about to become and that the non-existent is non-existent-all these are inaccurate modes of expression.

In Platonism, this concept was very important. This is why god cannot become jealous, this is why god cannot have parts, and this is why god cannot learn something new. For God to learn something new, this implies change in god. But change is impossible.

Very early in Christianity, these Platonic concepts were adopted. God’s entire being was centered around this idea of changeless perfection. Philo of Alexandria, a platonistic Jew in the time of Jesus, says the following on God’s repentance in Genesis 6:

Perhaps some very wicked persons will suspect that the lawgiver is here speaking enigmatically, when he says that the Creator repented of having created man, when he beheld their wickedness; on which account he determined to destroy the whole race. But let those who adopt such opinions as these know, that they are making light of and extenuating the offences of these men of old time, by reason of their own excessive impiety; (22) for what can be a greater act of wickedness than to think that the unchangeable God can be changed? And this, too, while some persons think that even those who are really men do never hesitate in their opinions, for that those, who have studied philosophy in a sincere and pure spirit, have derived as the greatest good arising from their knowledge, the absence of any inclination to change with the changes of affairs, and the disposition, with all immovable firmness and sure stability, to labour at every thing that it becomes them to pursue.

Philo denounces, in strong terms, those who think that God can repent. The issue at stake is not God’s knowledge. This issue is not that God is learning something new. The issue is that repentance implies change. God foreknew the wickedness in man, not because God has “all knowledge”. But God foreknew the wickedness in man because any new information would be a change that would destroy the godhead.

Augustine, similarly states in his writings on the Trinity:

But other things that are called essences or substances admit of accidents, whereby a change, whether great or small, is produced in them. But there can be no accident of this kind in respect to God; and therefore He who is God is the only unchangeable substance or essence, to whom certainly being itself, whence comes the name of essence, most especially and most truly belongs. For that which is changed does not retain its own being; and that which can be changed, although it be not actually changed, is able not to be that which it had been; and hence that which not only is not changed, but also cannot at all be changed, alone falls most truly, without difficulty or hesitation, under the category of being.

Changes, even the slightest change, would destroy God. This is why God’s knowledge of the future is set. From Augustine’s writings on the Pelagians:

For the ordering of His future works in His foreknowledge, which cannot be deceived and changed, is absolute, and is nothing but, predestination.

The early Platonized Christians were obsessed with immutability. This was the core attribute of God. The quotes can be multiplied indefinitely. All else flowed from God’s unchangeableness, even God’s omniscience. Omniscience is not a Biblical concept. The concept of Omniscience is rooted in “perfect being” theology. Omniscience is a quality of immutability, and has little to do with God’s knowledge. For this reason, redefining Omniscience into a concept that does not involve immutability, is destined for failure.

Posted in Augustine, Bible, God, Greek History, Immutablility, Plato, Theology | 2 Comments

satan as an agent in the court of God

There is a scene in Job in which Satan approaches God. God asks Satan where he has been. Satan claims he has been running “to and fro” on the Earth. This leads God into a question as to if Satan has considered Job. Here is the text:

Job 1:7 The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
Job 1:8 And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

This series of events happen twice: once in Job 1 and once in Job 2. This is odd, considering the conversation is casual and at least on face value, the conversation seems genuine. Satan is running to and fro on the Earth, and Satan is “considering” people. Something interesting is happening which is perhaps missed by most people:

Satan is acting as an agent of God. Satan has been tasked with searching the Earth on behalf of God and evaluating human beings. In this capacity, Satan is acting as one of the “eyes of the Lord”, a group of angels who watch over human activity (punishing and blessing people according to their works). This concept is consistent with Satan’s overall role in the Old Testament and the terminology used in Job.

One key concept that most people miss is that Satan is not a proper noun in Job. Satan is called “the satan”, as if he is someone fulfilling a role. “The satan” (the adversary) is just one of the “sons of God” who has been assigned a particular task. There are other satans throughout the Bible, some angelic and some human.

While the satan in Job is paired with an article, other times in the Bible Satan could be a proper noun. We see the term “Satan” being used in 1 Chronicles 21. In this case, also, Satan acts as an agent of God:

1Ch 21:1 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

The parallel text replaces Satan with Yahweh, God’s proper name:

2Sa 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”

At least one of these authors, and probably both, considered Satan as doing Yahweh’s will. Yahweh is the one inciting David, but Satan is the agent carrying out the action. This is one of three divine references to Satan without an article. Another is in Psalms:

Psa 109:6 Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand.
Psa 109:7 When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin!

In these verses, King David is asking God to set wicked (perhaps “brutal” would be a better conseptual translation) rulers over the wicked people who are his enemies. Satan would act as an advisor to this king in order to council the king’s judgment. With both a brutal ruler to punish and Satan to accuse, David is assured that his enemies would be killed. Satan’s role, in this case, is one of prosecutor to a king.

Satan appears again with Balaam, enforcing the will of God:

Num 22:22 But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.

In this case, an angel (an adversary or “satan”) opposes Balaam. This satan is “the angel of Yahweh”. In the text of Numbers, the satan’s job is to act on behalf of God’s wrath. God is angry with Balaam, and this angel opposes Balaam to stop Balaam.

Other than these verses, all other references to “satan” without the article are in reference to human beings (1 Sam 29:4; 2 Sam 19:23; 1 Kings 5:18; 1 Kings 11:14; 1Ki 11:23). The term, “satan”, in these verses, are just people who generally oppose others, or people raised up by God for specific acts of opposition.

With the article, the angelic satan is seen elsewhere in the Bible. In Zecheriah 3, a satan is standing at the right hand of God. This position suggests affiliation and membership with the court of God. In this text, the satan is rebuked by God:

Zec 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
Zec 3:2 And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”

Satan seems to have been accusing Jerusalem (rightly). God was in the process of punishing Israel, but never entirely. Jerusalem (Israel) was a firebrand, burning but never consumed. God silences Satan before Satan can speak. The high priest appears, in this text, and is purified by God. The image is the equivalent of God washing away one’s sins. Satan wanted those sins punished. God wanted them forgiven.

Satan is not being accused or silenced due to evil intent. Satan, instead, wants God to exercise righteous judgment in place of mercy. Satan is acting as a divine councilor in a heavenly court. His role is to advocate justice.

This fits the scene in Job. In Job, God asks the satan if he has “considered” Job. This considering would have been a normal part of satan’s duties as Satan wanders the Earth. The wandering, itself, is interesting. The satan has been going “to and fro”, language associated heavily with God’s angels, who judge the wicked. These angels are known as the “eyes of the Lord”.

The “eyes of the Lord” function much like “the satan” in Job (and possibly are one and the same). In 2 Chronicles, the eyes of the Lord (like the satan in Job) run “to and fro” over the Earth. In this case, they support the righteous:

2Ch 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”

The same running “to and fro” are attributed to other eyes in Zechariah:

Zec 4:10 … For these seven rejoice to see The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.” [This is the NKJV because the ESV substitutes “scan to and fro” with “range”]

The “plumb line” was a measuring device, a symbol for judgment. The “eyes of the Lord” are functioning as that tool of judgment. There are seven, and these seven seem to be assigned to Israel:

Zec 3:9 For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.

In Revelation 5:6, there seems to be a reference to these two verses in Zechariah. These seven “eyes” are spirits which God sent into world (Revelation is a book of judgment). These eyes seem to be fulfilling the role of prosecutor. The “eyes of the Lord”, in these verses, are functioning as agents of judgment.

In Jeremiah 5, God’s eyes run to and fro throughout Jerusalem, exposing lies:

Jer 5:1 Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her.
Jer 5:2 Though they say, “As the LORD lives,” yet they swear falsely.
Jer 5:3 O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth?…

This fits one of the Proverbs:

Pro 22:12 The eyes of the LORD keep watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor.

Throughout the Bible, the “eyes of the LORD” watch everyone:

Pro 5:21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.

Pro 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.

Isa 49:5 And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength—

The “eyes of the Lord” find all sorts of people both righteous and unrighteous:

Amo 9:8 Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the LORD.

Righteous: Noah (Gen 6:8). Zadok (2Sa 15:25), David (1Ki 15:5). Asa (1Ki 15:11, 2Ch 14:2 ). Jehoash (2Ki 12:2). Amaziah (2Ki 14:3, 2Ch 25:2 [but not with a whole heart]). Azariah (2Ki 15:3). Pekah (2Ki 15:34). Hezekiah (2Ki 18:3, 2Ch 29:2). Josiah (2Ki 22:2, 2Ch 34:2). Joash (2Ch 24:2). Uzziah (2Ch 26:4). Jotham (2Ch 27:2).
Unrighteous: Ahaz (2Ki 16:2, 2Ch 28:1).

The “eyes of the Lord” also watch the land. The eyes are assigned to a land, and if Israel moves to that land, Israel will gain increased scrutiny by these eyes:

Deu 11:12 a land that the LORD your God cares for. The eyes of the LORD your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

With all these passages in mind, the satan found in Job can be best understood as an agent of God. This satan is tasked with evaluating human kind. The wager between God and satan is part of satan’s duties, to expose corruption. The satan fails.

None of this requires that New Testament references to Satan have to be the same courtly position. Michael Hiesner suggests that the term morphed into one concerning those who were critical of God. Through this morphology, the label became affixed to “the Devil”:

Basically, “the satan” in Job is an officer of the divine council (sort of like a prosecutor). His job is to “run to and fro throughout the earth” to see who is and who is not obeying Yahweh. When he finds someone who isn’t and is therefore under Yahweh’s wrath, he “accuses” that person. This is what we see in Job — and it actually has a distinct New Testament flavor. (We also see it in Zechariah 3). But the point here is that this satan is not evil; he’s doing his job. Over time (specifically the idea of “being an adversary in the heavenly council” was applied intellectually to the enemy of God — the nachash (typically rendered “serpent”) in Eden, the one who asserted his own will against Yahweh’s designs. That entity eventually becomes labeled “Satan” and so the adversarial role gets personified and stuck to God’s great enemy (also called the Devil). This is a good example of how an idea in Israelite religion plays out and is applied in different ways during the progress of revelation.

God could have an adversary named “the Devil”, but the satans of the Old Testament are probably not him.

Also see:

Posted in Bible, Theology | Leave a comment