When Calvinists turn to verses to support their understanding of God, one of the first to which they turn is Proverbs 15:3:
Pro 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good.
The Calvinists claim the “axiomatic” meaning of this verse is not only that God knows everything, but also that He is everywhere. But is that what the verse means or even implies?
Proverbs is an interesting book of the Bible. It is not a narrative, such as Genesis or Exodus. We do not find God speaking or telling people about Himself. Instead we find general sayings (“proverbs”). In America, we have our own proverbs such as “Don’t count your eggs before they hatch.” Some of our proverbs even contradict each other:
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”
“Don’t beat your head against a stone wall”
While the first proverb is stating that we should continue to do something until it is done, the second proverb is saying not to try something that is not working. In the same fashion, sometimes the Proverbs of the Bible contradict each other:
Pro 26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.
Pro 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.
How can both be true? The atheists mock Christians with these “contradictions”, and there are several contradictions in Proverbs. The truth is that the statements should be read as proverbs, not overriding rules. To make it clear, the book of Proverbs is literally a book of proverbs. Proverbs have meaning, and Proverbs 15:3 seems to mean that people should account for their actions, because God will know what they do.
So looking at the verse:
Pro 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good.
The Calvinist seizes upon this verse and makes it into a center piece of their theology. Why not use God’s own testimony about Himself? If Calvinists were forced to do that, they would show up to discussions empty-handed. But even besides this unhealthy focus on a stray statement in a book of sayings, does this verse even imply what the Calvinist would have it imply?
Does it imply that God is everywhere? If God literally had to watch every person every moment of the day, would that necessitate that He had to be everywhere? When people are at a football game, the announcer might proclaim “now let’s turn to our ‘eye in the sky’”. They are referencing, not their own eyes but that of a camera. People at home can see events happening although they themselves are not even present. God does not have to be present to know something.
Does the verse imply that God knows everything? If God watched every person at all times (we will even grant that God cannot forget things, like He claims to do in Jer 31:34) does He have to know everything (like which rocks on a barren island were blown over by wind)? This verse specifies exactly what the eyes are watching: “people’s activities”. Of all the verses in the Bible which reference “eyes of the Lord”, not one is about God watching anything other than people. Another thing to note, even if this explains God knows everything, it is limited to current events. The verse does not imply in any sense that God knows future events.
So not only do Calvinists have to explain how Proverbs 15:3 should not be taken as a proverb, they also have to explain how it implies their definitions of omnipresence and omniscience.
On top of this, Calvinists also have to argue that the word “every place” means literally “every place”. Elsewhere in the Bible “every” is definitely an idiomatic expression meaning “a whole lot”. We see Bezaleel was filled with God in “every” manner of workmanship.
Exo 31:2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:
Exo 31:3 And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,
Did Bezaleel know every skill set to ever exist?
Moses gathers “all” the people together.
Exo 35:4 And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying,
So no one, not a single elderly or toddler Israelite, missed out of Moses’ speech to the millions of Israelites?
In Genesis, a spring waters the “whole” face of the ground:
Gen 2:6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
Does this mean that every square inch of every piece of land was watered?
The word “all” rarely means “all”. Usually, it means “a whole lot”. But Calvinists here take “all”, not as meaning “every place” but instead they make it mean “every square inch of every place”. They extend the meaning of “all” further than the text to fit their theology! Then they claim that those who do not think “all” means “all” are guilty of maligning the text.
An acceptable figurative interpretation of this text could mean “general surveillance”. It would be like saying “the eyes of the government are in every house”. This would not mean that the government knows everything (every action of every human being). It would just indicate general surveillance, like the current NSA scandal.
But the interesting thing about this verse, if taken literally, it states that God has eyes. The Calvinist in no way believes God has literal eyes. They want to take that as figurative. To put this in perspective, Calvinists take one word (“eyes”) from the sentence, and want to take it figurative and then want to take another word (“every”), and make it literal. Then they criticize those who take the natural meaning that this is a proverb and both “eyes” and “all” are figurative.
But assuming that the Calvinist was correct, and that “the eyes of the Lord” were everywhere, the Calvinist still needs to define what exactly are the “eyes of the Lord”. They want to take this figuratively. They want it to mean “God’s physical placement and general knowledge”. How “eyes” means either, is beyond me. Two additional possible figurative meanings (besides “general surveillance”) is that “eyes” means recording devices or that “eyes” means angels. Angels is the most probable of all three.
The Bible is filled with references to “the eyes of the Lord”. Here are two very strange references:
2Ch 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth…
Zec 4:10 For who has despised the day of small things? 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.”
In the first text, God’s eyes are said to “run” to and fro. In the second text, the eyes are “the seven” and “they” scan to and fro. If God’s eyes were everywhere, why is there a “to and fro” motion? Zec 4:10 is also paralleled in Zec 3:9:
Zec 3:9 For behold, the stone That I have laid before Joshua: Upon the stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave its inscription,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.
The “seven eyes of the Lord” seem to be angels, messengers. In Revelation 5:6, the verse might be referencing Zec 3:9 in which it describes “seven eyes” as “seven Spirits of God sent out into all the Earth”:
Rev 5:6 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.,
More evidence that 2Ch 16:9 and Zec 4:10 are referencing angels is that they both use the term “to and fro”. In Job 2, this is used in reference to Satan. The scene is in heaven where God is sitting with his angels, and Satan stops by. God literally asks Satan where he has been:
Job 2:2 And the LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.”
Satan was traveling on earth. Did God track him the entire time? Face value reading would say no, although God might have just been getting him to confess. But then the chapter ends with Satan and God betting on Job. God did not seem to be tracking Satan when Satan was going “to and fro”.
Another reference to angels going “to and fro” is in Zechariah 6 (the same book and same context of the original quoted verse). To be clear, in the same book of the Bible, the “eyes of the Lord” are said to go “to and fro” and angels are said to go “to and fro”.
Zec 6:5 And the angel answered and said to me, “These are four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the Lord of all the earth.
Zec 6:6 The one with the black horses is going to the north country, the white are going after them, and the dappled are going toward the south country.”
Zec 6:7 Then the strong steeds went out, eager to go, that they might walk to and fro throughout the earth. And He said, “Go, walk to and fro throughout the earth.” So they walked to and fro throughout the earth.
This book also numbers the eyes “seven”. Does God have seven eyes? Are these seven eyes “everywhere”? The natural understanding of “eyes” in these verses is “angels”, of which seven have some sort of status or authority.
So Calvinists would have a hard time arguing that “the eyes of the Lord” cannot be understood as angels in Proverbs. Angels are shown to communicate with God and sometimes even brainstorm actions for God to take (1Ki 22:20). They are his eyes. Within Proverbs itself, “the eyes of the Lord” are said to record things:
Pro 22:12 The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge, But He overthrows the words of the faithless.
This is not at all the picture that the Calvinist would have as to how God gains his knowledge. The verse states that the “eyes” preserve the knowledge. But the Calvinist believes God just inherently has all “knowledge”. So what does this verse mean to the Calvinist in light of Proverbs 15:3? Does the Calvinist interpretation of Proverbs 15:3 hold in Proverbs 22:12?
Or are these verses better understood to mean “messengers” (“angels”). This would be no different than an American understanding of this word. If you are in an ancient kingdom sitting in a bar and someone says “be careful what you say, the eyes of the king in this place”. This would be an acceptable figurative use of the word “eyes”.
In summary: Even if this verse was not a proverb, Calvinists have to explain why “every place” is not a common idiom and instead should be taken literally. Even if they explained that “every place” means all places, they still need to show it means “every square inch of every place”. Even if they did that, they need to explain why “eyes” are not literal in spite of the fact that “every place” is literal. Even if they did that they need to show that this verse means the same things as God “being every place” and “knowing all things”. Even if they did that, they still need to show that this verse means “God knows things in the future”. Even if they did that, they still need to explain why “eyes” is a feature of God’s essence instead of an idiom meaning “angels”, as used elsewhere in the Bible.
With this cascading list of reasons which question the Calvinist’s translation; one has to wonder why the Calvinist is obsessed with this particular verse. Is this the best verse they have, an obscure proverb in a list of sayings? Is this how God wants us to figure out His essential nature, by fleeting references in general lists of sayings? Why don’t the Calvinists ever quote God’s own testimony about Himself? If Calvinists are that adamant on this one verse with such little evidence, what other basic errors are they making? If one of their strongest verses might actually be evidence against their position, how strong is their position? Something smells strange in the state of Denmark.
Calvinists sure have their work cut out for them. Platonism is not easy, folks.
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Christopher, the problem is that John the Apostle clearly taught God is omniscient:
Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”
1 John 3:20
For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
The details of the narratives do not create doctrine, they only support it. Doctrine comes out of the epistolary portions ofvthe Bible. Because the epistolary portion are intending to teach doctrine, not just tell a story or parable illuminating something else.
John was intending to teach omniscience. I am open to change my mind but it seems no way out. Give a look at Molinism, it seems to properly hold to both free will and God Sovereignty.
Thanks for your comment.
For sake of argument, let us first assume John did think God was omniscient. Not only that but we will assume John meant it in the same way you believe “knowing everything” would entail (presumably someone could know “everything” without knowing future events). You are advocating for a very idiosyncratic understanding of the verse.
This does not solve the problems caused in other parts of the Bible, nor should it force us to reinterpret the other text of the Bible out of its context. For “eyes of the Lord”, the more natural meaning is that angels are watching. It could mean God is watching, but that interpretation causes a few problems to the Calvinist understanding of God as well. The main point of this post is to show that Calvinists just assume meaning into verses without warrant. This Proverbs verse is not good evidence for omniscience, especially if it can only be correctly understood using non-contextual assumptions. Basically every verse for omniscience falls under the same circumstances.
But what did John mean by God “knows everything”? One question I often ask Calvinists is “Did Jesus know everything?” Answer that in your mind first. Here are Jesus’ disciples on the issue:
John 16:30 Now are we sure that thou knowest all things…
But here is Jesus on the issue:
Mark 13:32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
Were Jesus’ disciples confused? Or is it more likely that human beings speak in generalities. If I say “all of America has gone insane”, do I mean every single person? If my supervisor says “Chris, you know everything, help me fix this problem in Excel”, is she claiming I am omniscient. Normal human beings use normal figures of speech. The New Testament is a series of personal letters writing using common idioms. We often find this figure of speech elsewhere. See my article on when “all” means “all”.
What is more probable about John’s claim that “God knows everything”:
1. That John is saying that God knows quite alot
2. That John is claiming that God has mystical knowledge of all future events (whether God wants it or not).
What is more rational:
1. To take on face value the Biblical accounts of God being suprised, repenting, claiming not to know things, debating human beings, and having prophecies subverted
2. To pretend those things did not happen because we want a specific understanding of one verse in the New Testament?
Our general rule for understanding the Bible should be to let the Bible speak for itself. We should not try to reinterpret hundreds of verses because of an idiosyncratic understanding of one verse. We should get our theology from the Bible, not impose our theology onto the Bible.
I hope that makes sense.
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