known to God from eternity are all His works

Act 15:18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.

In Act 15:18 there is a curious phrase. The scene is the Paul’s trial in Jerusalem in front of the elders of the church (known as the Council of Jerusalem). The detractors of Paul’s argue that Paul’s message of Jewish-Gentile equality is blasphemous. James argues on behalf of Paul that the Gentiles were long ago singled out for inclusion to some extent with the Jews:

Act 15:13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me:
Act 15:14 Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.
Act 15:15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
Act 15:16 ‘AFTER THIS I WILL RETURN AND WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID, WHICH HAS FALLEN DOWN; I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL SET IT UP;
Act 15:17 SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, EVEN ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME, SAYS THE LORD WHO DOES ALL THESE THINGS.’

Verse 14 recalls that God chose through Peter some gentiles to follow God. James points out that the prophets have written as much. Indeed, this theme of the Gentiles turning to God is systematic throughout the Bible. Peter then adds:

Act 15:18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.

Those wishing to have some sort of view that God has exhaustive omniscience of future events will claim this phrase means that God always knows everything He is going to do. But that does not seem to fit the argument of James:

God has chosen gentiles to serve Him. God has written about this in the prophets. God knows everything He will ever do. Therefor let the gentiles join in fellowship.

This does not flow right. Why add the statement about God’s knowledge. What is it telling the audience that they do not already know? How does it support the argument?

The ESV is translated from the Wescott Hort Greek text. It renders the verses in a more sensible manner:

Act 15:16 “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it,
Act 15:17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things
Act 15:18 known from of old.’

Notice how the ESV translates the same word as “from of old” that other versions translate “from eternity” or “from the foundation of the Earth”. This just helps show that theology dictates translation of texts.

The Alexandrian text does not have the phrase: “to God… are all His works.” Regardless of the Alexandrian text’s accuracy, this meaning can easily be extended to the Byzantine translations.

“Known to God from eternity are all His works.” could be James’ way of saying: “God has let us know that He was going to do this long ago.” There is no reason to extend them meaning to “all things that God will ever do God knows from ancient times”. It makes more sense to be limited to context. In this manner, James’ argument is:

God has chosen gentiles to serve Him. God has written about this in the prophets. God has been planning this for a long time (and has made no secret of it). Therefor let the gentiles join in fellowship.

This is most likely James’ argument.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Calvinism, Open Theism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to known to God from eternity are all His works

  1. Tom Torbeyns says:

    That’s a hard one for Open Theism it seems like…

  2. MK says:

    Thanks for this article; very helpful!

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