Was Jesus omniscient? What does it matter?

Hey David!!  I really enjoyed reading your response to the question about the validity of the Flood narrative (found here)!!  I thought it was a great response!  You mentioned that Jesus made an "error" when He claimed that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds.  I'm assuming you don't believe in biblical inerrancy, which is totally fine, but do you think this (http://christiananswers.net/q-aiia/mustardseed.html) is a reasonable, compelling response to the mustard seed "error"?  Thanks David!!  


Yeah…I’ve heard that explanation before. :)

It seems we have a two options:
1) Jesus was ignorant of (at least) botanical information of all the earth’s seeds and plants, or
2) Jesus did have complete botanical knowledge and chose to say the wrong thing.

It just seems like option #1 is the most probable. He says that the seed is the smallest “upon the earth,” not “in Israel” or “in Palestine” or “in this region of the earth.”

If He chose to say the wrong thing so that the local people would understand Him, then where is the evidence for this? We have no indication in the text. It would be merely an assumption of Jesuss knowledge.

That is the real rub, in my experience, for certain Christians. Can Jesus be ignorant? Or, is He omniscient during his earthly ministry? If we assume Jesus was not omniscient, in my view, it makes the best of sense of all the data. (I also think Jesus didn’t know about nuclear physics or black holes or everything else that’s been discovered in the previous 2,000 years.)

So, I think it’s this issue, rather than inerrancy, that is really at stake (unless a person were to argue that Jesus really said something else and the Gospel authors wrote down the wrong thing…but I don’t hear this option).

I do think the Bible is “inerrant” in what we need to know about God. It’s clearly not inerrant when it comes to some other things (like believing there are massive, cosmic water sources below and above the earth, that the sky is a hard "firmament," etc.).

That’s my view!

Hey there!!  I had a couple sorta follow up questions to Jesus' omniscience, which are completely hypothetical questions and would never be possible to actualize (unless time-travel were somehow invented, preferably using a Delorean!  Lol! ;-).  But, say I was to go back in time and meet Jesus, and I started talking to Him in English.  Do you think He would look at me strangely because He would have no idea what I was saying to Him?  I think that answer would be most assuredly yes.  My second question, though, is would He be able to know my thoughts?  My thoughts are essentially in English, although I suppose many of my thoughts could be understood solely by visuals.  So, maybe He would be able to see them but not fully understand them.  I don't know, it's just something I thought would be fun and interesting to speculate on, even though I don't think it has any practical application in my walk with Christ.  I'm assuming He had people from outside Palestine and the Roman Empire come to see Him during His ministry who had no knowledge of Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew, but they wanted to see who this amazing man was anyway.  I wonder if knowledge of their languages was supernaturally bestowed upon Him during those moments so He could communicate with them and teach them?  Anyways, pretty bizarre questions, but was just interested what you thought of them.  Thanks David!!  Have a great weekend and a great service this Sunday!!! :-)

Hey Ryan,

These are good questions. They actually surface a great topic: was the earthly Jesus omniscient, and if not, to what kind of knowledge did He have access?

Usually, in my research, people usually are polarized. It's binary: all or nothing. Either Jesus was omniscient or He wasn't. So, typically, interpreters who believe Jesus was NOT omniscient typically don't think Jesus could understand other languages, understand botany, astrophysics, etc. For those who DO believe Jesus was omniscient, they typically say that Jesus knew all of those things, but just didn't teach about them. And, those texts which seem to demonstrate Jesus's ignorance can be explained away.

The real theological impetus behind this question has to do with Jesus's divinity. It's an issue of christology, particularly in Christian philosophy. In Christian philosophical circles, it usually goes like this:

1. Christian orthodoxy maintains that Jesus is the God-Man, Second Member of the Trinity;
2. To be considered deity, one must possess the "great-making properties" that only deity possesses (e.g., omnipresence, omniscience, aseity);
3. If Jesus does not possess even one of these "great-making properties" of deity, than Jesus was not deity;
4. Therefore, Jesus MUST have possessed these properties.

Then, the REAL rub comes from texts like Phil. 2:7, which speaks of Jesus "emptying" Himself. An enormous amount of literature has been written on how to reconcile Jesus "emptying" Himself while still maintaining the great-making properties of deity. The best example of this that I know is The Logic of God Incarnate by Thomas Morris. Morris methodically denounces all theories that attempt to reconcile this issue and offers his own explanation (that William Lane Craig endorses). (In case you're interested, Morris's suggestion is that Jesus must have had subconscious omniscience--it was there below the surface, but He could not access it.)

Here are my quick thoughts about all this (and these are just quick thoughts).

First, Jesus was/is most certainly the God-Man. I hold to the Social Trinity Model (for a great explanation, read here). I hold to the neo-Apollinarian Christological view (i.e., that the divine Logos was/is the "soul" of Jesus. The Logos united with a human body, and thus, Jesus became the God-Man. To contrast, I also hold the view that human souls are created new. Jesus's soul was NOT created new--it's the eternal Logos/Word.)

Second, the "great-making properties" that is common in Anselmian philosophy holds some value. However, I typically don't make much of them. Why? Because (1) philosophers are still not in agreement to what counts as "great-making" so that causes confusion in the theological discussion; (2) great-making properties seems largely culturally determined, which is deeply problematic; and chiefly, (3) they are foreign to how ancient Jews thought (in many regards). 

Ancient Jews thought of deity primarily (though not only) in function, not in ontology (or "essence"). So, they would say that deity creates, judges, rules over the cosmos, issues moral commandments, etc.. I tend to stay with the Biblical text and the way they thought. (To be clear, I'm NOT against the Christian philosophical tradition!)

Third, and this is a big one!, I'm convinced that everyone who reads Phil. 2 as "emptying" great-making properties or "deity-ness" in some sense are completely wrong. I'm convinced that Paul was not talking about that whatsoever. Rather, in context, Paul is simply speaking of Jesus's role of Ruler over the cosmos. Remember, to Jews, only God rules over all. So, for Jesus to "exist" in utter "equality" with God (the Father) (2:6) is NOT to be a slave, but a Ruler. This is precisely the contrast Paul is making in 2:7. Jesus let go of His rule over the cosmos and became humanity's servant.

So, the only thing Jesus "emptied" Himself of (in this Philippian hymn, at least) is His function of ruling over all the cosmos. Nothing of His "essence" (or ontology) changed in this hymn. (What precisely happened in reality--what it takes for a divine soul to reside in a human body--is unknown to me. I just know that this hymn doesn't tell us!)

So, bottom line, I think every single author on this topic among Christian philosophers has completely mis-read Paul. I know--that's a big charge--but I'm convinced they're wrong. They are importing into this text WAY more than Paul could have possibly imagined. He was a first-century Jew, not a post-Anselmian philosopher!

Therefore, I see no dilemma to resolve. We don't have to reconcile great-making properties with deity if we avoid the later philosophical categories, and instead employ biblical terminology, and then properly read Philippians 2.

This is why I have no problem believing that Jesus was not omniscient during His earthly ministry. I don't need omniscience as a great-making property of Jesus so that He can still be considered deity to me. Why? Because first-century Jews didn't need to understand Jesus as omniscient in order to believe He was deity. If they didn't need it, neither do I.

So, when when Jesus demonstrates ignorance (e.g., Mark 4:31; 5:30; 13:32), I think it's OK. What matters to a first-century Jew are things like whether or not Jesus really can forgive (Mark 2:5-7) or judge/gather the "elect" (Mark 13:26-27; Luke 9:26; John 12:48) or create (Mark 6:43). 

I think (most of?) Jesus's earthly knowledge was limited to His training and education just like yours is and mine is. I don't think Jesus would understand one word that I spoke to Him if I were to travel back in time. English wasn't invented yet. 

Moreover, I don't think Jesus could read minds (verses like Mark 2:8 don't demonstrate He could read minds; it demonstrates Jesus knew how people thought--He could tell what they were thinking, not read their minds). (Also, it's much more likely that Jesus simply knew the man who would have a room prepared in Mark 14:13, rather than Jesus made some prophecy. Remember, Jesus had spent considerable time in Judea during His life. John's Gospel has Jesus almost exclusively in Judea, rather than a Galilean locale as in the Synoptic Gospels.)

Now, I certainly believe Jesus had wisdom and insight from the Spirit. He seems to have received this insight when He prayed (as is implied in texts like Mark 1:35-38 and 14:36). I also am convinced, along with N.T. Wright and others (though this is a hotly debated topic in scholarship!), that Jesus really had a deep-seated, intuitive sense that He wasn't a normal human. I'm convinced Jesus really did believe that He was God's anointed One who was to usher in the Kingdom of God, and upon whom the sins of the world were to be placed for our salvation. It's just that this kind of knowledge or awareness doesn't mean that Jesus could teach you calculus or the the nature of quantum mechanics.

So much for my "quick thoughts." I know this might generate new questions--which is fine!--but I wanted to spend a little bit of time unpacking my view because you asked.

In Christ,