Theological Claims of the Openness View

One such consequence is that their theological claims are partially joined at the hip to their historical claims. The openness view, in fact, recognizes and concedes that Judaism and Christianity maintain the traditional view of God. This concession, however, is potentially embarrassing—have virtually all Jews and virtually all Christians throughout history misread the Old Testament? To explain their concession and to avoid this embarrassment, openness advocates thus advance a historical argument appealing to the influence of Greek philosophy. Their argument, though implied, is clear: if the Rabbis and church fathers had followed the Bible instead of Greek philosophy, they too would have embraced an open view of God. But this explanation has already failed because their historical argument has completely collapsed.

Still, it is helpful to observe the insuperable chasm between Rabbinic theology and openness theology, because the same chasm separates traditional Christian theology from openness theology. Moreover, it is helpful to understand the actual source of Rabbinic theology, because Rabbinic theology and traditional Christian theology drink from the same well. Modern Rabbinic authorities describe the Rabbinic view of divine providence, foreknowledge, and even foreordination, in words that would bring a smile to the divines of Dordt or Westminster. Kaufmann Kohler, for example, depicts God's sovereign rule over human affairs as follows:

. . . God is Ruler of a moral government. Thus He directs all the acts of men toward the end which He has set. Judaism is most sharply contrasted with heathenism at this point. Heathenism either deifies nature

41 Ibid.

32 beyond the bounds or merges the deity into nature. Thus there is no place for a God who knows all things and provides for all in advance. . . . on the other hand, Judaism sees in all things, not the fortuitous dealings of a blind and relentless fate, but the dispensations of a wise and benign Providence. it knows of no event which is not foreordained by God. . . . A divine preordination decides a man's choice of his wife and every other important step of his life.42

Similarly, G. F. Moore describes the Rabbinic view of God's providence most compellingly and appropriately:

Nothing in the universe could resist God's power or thwart his purpose. His knowledge embraced all that was or is or is to be. . . . The history of the world is his great plan, in which everything moves to the fulfillment of his purpose, the end that is in his mind. Not only the great whole, but every moment, every event, every individual, every creature is embraced in this plan, and is an object of his particular providence. All man's ways are directed by God (Ps 37, 23; Prov 20, 24). A man does not even hurt his finger without its having been proclaimed above that he should do so.43

The tension between divine sovereignty and free will in Rabbinic theology does not, however, lessen God's foreordination or foreknowledge:

That man is capable of choosing between right and wrong and of carrying the decision into action was not questioned, nor was any conflict discovered between this freedom of choice with its consequences and the belief that all things are ordained and brought to pass by God in accordance with his wisdom and his righteous and benevolent will.44

Likewise, Efraim Urbach declares, "The Gemara deduces ... that the deeds of man that are performed with understanding and in conformity with the laws of ethics and the precepts of religion can assure the desired results only if they accord with the designs of Providence, 'which knoweth what the future holds.'"45 And finally, Alan J. Avery-Peck writes:

42 Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology (New York: Macmillan, 1918), 167-170.

43 Moore, Judaism, 1:115, 384-385.

45 Urbach, The Sages, 266.

The Rabbis and the Claims of Openness Advocates 33

While thus avowing the existence of free will, the rabbis generally focus on the idea that, from the beginning, God knew how things would turn out, such that all is predestined. This idea emerges from the comprehension that the world was created as a cogent whole, with its purpose preexisting the actual creation. The rabbis thus understand all that was needed to accomplish God's ultimate purpose has [sic] having been provided from the beginning of time. . . . In the Rabbinic view, there are no surprises for God. All is in place and ready for the preordained time to arrive.46

Calvin and Knox could hardly ask for more.

But the Rabbis are their own best witnesses. The Rabbis testify that God foreknows all things. "Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given," says Rabbi Akiba,47 whom Tanchuma bar Abba echoes: "All is foreseen before the Holy One, blessed be He."48 Rabbi Hanina states: "Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of God."49 And Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah responds in a similar way to the Romans:

The Romans asked R Joshua b. Hananiah: Whence do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, will resurrect the dead and knows the future? [After quoting Deut 31:16, which foretells many future free actions] He replied: Then at least you have the answer to half, viz., that He knows the future.50

According to the Rabbis, God foreknows a man's thoughts before he thinks them or even before he exists. Rabbi Haggai in the name of Rabbi Isaac says, "Before thought is formed in the heart of man, it already is revealed before you."51 Likewise, Rabbi Yudan says, "Before a creature is actually created, his thought is already revealed before you."52 Rabbi

46 Neusner, et al., The Encyclopaedia of Judaism, 1:317, 319.

47 Aboth 3.15. J. Israelstam comments aptly: "The verb sfh often means looking ahead in time or distance. When this is said of God, 'foreseen' is, strictly speaking, not applicable or admissible, as God is independent of time and space, i.e., there is with Him neither past nor future nor distance, and He 'sees' everything at once" (J. Israelstam in I. Epstein, The Babylonian Talmud tractate Aboth [London: Soncino Press, 1935], 38).

48 Tanchuma, Shelach 9.

49 Niddah 16b.

50 Sanhedrin 90b.

51 Genesis Rabbah ix 3.

52 Ibid.

34 beyond the bounds

Eleazar ben Pedath teaches that, unlike man, God judges perfectly through his foreknowledge:

Unless a mortal hears the pleas that a man can put forward, he is not able to give judgment. With God, however, it is not so; before a man speaks, He already knows what is in his heart. . . . He understands even before the thoughts have been created in man's mind. You will find that seven generations before Nebuchadnezzar was born, Isaiah already prophesied what would be in his heart Surely, if God could foresee seven generations before, what he would think, shall He not know what the righteous man thinks on the same day?53

Moreover, God foreknows man's deeds. Rabbi Abbahu says, "At the beginning of the act of creating the world, the Holy One, blessed be he, foresaw the deeds of the righteous and of the wicked."54 God foreknows, based on his foreordination, even mundane events, such as marrying a woman or purchasing a field. Rab Judah says:

Forty days before the embryo is formed an echo issues forth on high announcing, "The daughter of So-and-so is to be a wife to So-and-so. Such and such a field is to belong to So-and-so" . . . as is illustrated by what occurred to Raba, who overheard a certain fellow praying for grace saying: "May that girl be destined to be mine!" Said Raba to the man: "Pray not grace thus; if she be meet for you, you will not lose her, and if not, you have challenged Providence." . . . Thus said Rab . . . from the Torah, from the Prophets and from the Hagiographa it may be shown that a woman is [destined to] a man by God.55

In fact, God foreknows and foreordains even the most insignificant events: "No man bruises his finger here on earth unless it was so decreed against him in heaven."56

Yet, the question remains: Where did the Rabbis get these views? Greek philosophy was a false guide, unable to show us the way. Perhaps another religion—Zoroastrianism, or the constantly mutating pagan

53 Exodus Rabbah xxi 3.

54 Genesis Rabbah ii 5.

55 Moed Qatan 18b.

56 Rabbi Hanina in Chullin 7b. For additional Rabbinic quotes on God's omniscience, see A. Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God (New York: Ktav, 1968), 153-160.

The Rabbis and the Claims of Openness Advocates 35

religions—influenced the Rabbis? This is another false notion, without advocate or evidence. But surely we are kidding ourselves. One needs only to grasp keenly the obvious to answer the question. Indeed, the modern Rabbinic authorities have already instructed us in the way, having pointed us to the answer, both natural and simple—the Old Testament. This, in turn, answers a related question. Where did the Fathers and the church get their views of God? The same Old Testament, of course. The apostles simply maintained the traditional view of God, revealed to them in the Old Testament, taught to them by their rabbis, and affirmed to them by their Lord. The Fathers and Christians have believed this ever since.57 Have the Rabbis misread their Old Testament for centuries? Have Christians misread the same Old Testament—and the New Testament—for centuries? Openness advocates must answer yes, but common sense, supported by the evidence, must answer no.

Openness advocates cannot sustain their claim that the Fathers incorporated Greek philosophy into the church's theology. Sanders cites no evidence; Boyd furnishes only his estimation. Granted, Sanders and Boyd appeal to a few similarities between Greek philosophy and Christian theism, but these similarities do not prove that the Fathers synthesized biblical and Greek philosophical ideas into the church. They have not proved and cannot prove their assertions. They simply beg the question. To prop up their faltering claim and to sidestep their obligation to prove their claim, Sanders and Boyd must put the infection of Greek philosophy into the church before the earliest of the Fathers. This neatly and artfully explains everything: why all the Fathers were duped, and why no evidence exists to prove when the infection occurred— everything just happened so early. The claims of Sanders and Boyd are more like a modern conspiracy theory—the lack of evidence only confirms the conspiracy—than actual history.

57 This is clearly the view of G. L. Prestige: "I have not given any assessment of the Hebrew theism which Christianity inherited. It lies outside my scope, and must for present purposes be taken for granted. My readers will, however, detect repeated signs that it formed the basis of patristic theism. In fact, these chapters really show how Hebrew theism looked to sympathetic Hellenistic minds" (Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, xviii). This Hebrew theism, moreover, came from the Prophets: ". . . how early Christendom sought both to establish and safeguard the supremacy of God in ways appropriate to a people trained to think in the schools of Greek philosophy, from which modern European thought is derived, and also to present the truth of His spiritual nature and moral holiness, which had been taught by the Hebrew prophets as corollary to His divine power. God was firmly held to be supernatural in the deepest and truest sense. Philosophically, this idea was expressed by the word huproche, which may fairly be translated transcendence" (ibid., 25). Prestige equates transcendence with infinite perfection (ibid., xx).

36 beyond the bounds

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