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.

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, Figures of Speech, God, Jesus, Omniscience, Open Theism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to jesus’ knowledge in the gospel of john – part 1

  1. Pingback: Jesus’ Knowledge in the Gospel of John – part 1 | God is Open

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