Did Jesus “Not Know”?

From The New Theological Movement:

A good example of someone’s theology overriding what the Bible says.

Many will be shocked to discover that Pope St. Gregory the Great, together with all the doctors of the Church after him, expressly condemns the opinion that Our Savior, in his humanity, did not know all created truths including the day and the hour of the final judgment.
This opinion, considered a heresy by the holy Pontiff (and by all the great theologians since him), is called Agnoeticism, meaning “not knowing”. Fr. Hardon summarizes the Agnoetes as follows, “A sect of Monophysites who held that Christ was subject to positive ignorance. The leading exponent of its error was Deacon Themistios of Alexandria. He was condemned by the Church, which declared that Christ’s humanity cannot be ignorant of anything of the past or of the future. To attribute ignorance to Christ’s human nature is to profess Nestorianism (Denzinger 474-76).” (Modern Catholic Dictionary, “Agnoetes”)…
First, how can we claim that the Lord knew the day and hour of the judgment, when he himself expressly stated that he did not?
We assert that the Lord says that the “Son does not know” in the sense that he does not make this truth to be known. That is, he does not reveal it.
This is the interpretation adopted also by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal.” (CCC 474)…
Yet, an even better answer is given by St. Gregory, who maintains that Jesus knew the day and the hour in his humanity, but not from his humanity.
Thus, in his human intellect, the Savior (who was ignorant of nothing) must be said to have known when he would return to judge the world by fire. However, this knowledge was not gained through sense experience, but only from the divine infusion of light upon his human soul. Hence, it is known in his soul, but not from his senses.
Therefore, when the Lord tells us that the Son does not know, he only means to indicate that the time of the judgment cannot be known by any through natural powers (not even by the angels). However, it is truly known to him through supernatural revelation (just as, we may suppose, it is also known to the angels by divine relation).
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  • Jesus has a rock in his right hand, but not his left hand. Thus, he’s telling the truth when he says, ‘The son doesn’t have a rock in his hand.’

    This is nonsense logic.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I completely agree, the post represents absurd logic. How about the notion that a late 6th century Pope maybe invented new doctrine because it appealed to his ideology/theology more? Just like his invention that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.

    That’s my answer.

  • The down side is this thinking has entered ‘mainstream’ Christian thought. Apologists speak to it all the time when defending the hypostatic union.

  • KentonS

    I couldn’t read this without hearing Ricky Bobby’s prayer:

    Dear, 8-pound, 6-ounce, newborn infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant and so cuddly, but still omnipotent.

  • Susan_G1

    What happens when we think we know Jesus better than He did.

  • D. Foster

    I like Chesterton’s take on this:

    “Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete…I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt.”

  • mark

    Yeah, I’m with Chesterton.

    It seems to me that the Catechism is trying to finesse the issue–be reasonable, but without flatly stating that the earlier Popes, etc., were wrong. This is a good illustration of how difficult it can be at times to definitely state what is actual dogma and what is theological opinion. I suspect a poll of theologians would find almost all coming down on the side of Chesterton.

    It’s interesting to note that the picture of the omnipotent and all knowing yet somehow human Jesus is more in keeping with some of the Gnostic gospels (baby Jesus accidentally committing miracles, etc.) than with the canonical writings of the New Testament.

  • Steve

    Ahhh, sorta like how Jesus says, “This is my body” and Protestants turn it into “This is not my body.”

    And, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” turns into, “Eh, just a symbol. Not important.”

  • attytjj466

    There are many paradoxes in the notion that Jesus was the God-man. 100% God and 100% human. Wrestling with “what did Jesus the man in Nazareth know and not know”, if indeed he did “not know” anything, is one of those paradoxes.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Steve, one can play the “do you take everything that Jesus says literally” game all day long. Have you given all of your possessions to the poor? Have you dismembered yourself when that part of your body has sinned?

    John especially is full of mystical language that was never meant to be taken literally.

    Plus, I know lots of non-Catholic denominations that take communion very seriously even though they don’t believe in transubstantiation.

  • Steve

    If that’s the case then this post, which rags on Catholics for nuancing one verse and maintaining that Jesus (who was God) was omniscient, seems unfair.

    If Mr. McKnight wants to say that every word of Christ ought to be taken at face value, with no nuance, then I’d be very interested to see what he does with, “Take and eat. This is my body.”

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t think the post is ragging on Catholics at all, really. For one thing Gregory the Great is a theological heir to all Christians. I just think he’s using this as an example of a particular type of theological reasoning.

  • Andrew Dowling

    ? Not sure when Scot said every word must be taken at face value (or argued for Jesus possessing omniscience) The post simply shows a theological assertion and its history (all via a link to a Catholic website). The only commentary he adds is saying how its a theological development that went beyond the Bible . . .and as RCs place tradition and the Church on equal footing with Scripture in terms of authority, I don’t know any Catholics who would argue with that.

  • Steve

    Note that Mr. McKnight used the word “overriding what the Bible says” to describe this particular interpretation.

    He wasn’t merely claiming that these theological interpretations are part of a developing tradition of Christological exegesis, but that they are contrary to the Bible.

  • Steve

    Saying, “A good example of someone’s theology overriding what the Bible says” …. followed by a Catholic explanation of how Mark 13 comports with Christ’s omniscience isn’t just innocently displaying an example of exegesis.

  • Phil Miller

    I think you’re being a bit touchy about it… I’m sure there’s plenty of Protestant examples as well.

  • chris2002white

    Well, no one is arguing that when Jesus walked this earth he was omnipotent, but maybe someone might. But could someone also argue that when Jesus walked this earth he was omnipresent? He is, though, the exact representation of the Father, and when the disciples saw Jesus, they saw the Father. I’ll let others debate that but what is gained in declaring that he was omniscient? He went to the Father daily in prayer and his Father shared with him the things to do and say. Jesus then went and did and said those things, an obedient son. Beyond that, we cannot know what he knew and it is useless to assert otherwise. Go and do and say what the Father has told you to go and do and say. That is the example of our Lord we are to follow.

  • Steve,

    This is not a Prot-Catholic issue. I can give you a great conservative Protestant example: cessationism. The NT says things like “I would like all of you to prophesy” and “Don’t forbid speaking in tongues” and many similar positive examples in teaching and example. But for many conservative Protestants whose central guiding principle is to follow the scriptures, the central principle gets worked around on that issue.

    So Prots do it too, even those who would say that sola scriptura is at the center of their faith.

    But this one (Jesus, while here on earth, knew all) is a poor hill to die upon. It’s not just that Jesus denies certain knowledge explicitly, but there are many other conversations that make little sense if Jesus knows all, including the prayers in the garden before the crucifixion. Jesus also said he *could* do nothing on his own, but only what he saw the Father doing. He also said he did the works he did by the power of the Holy Spirit, not on his own. This is important for us because he often asks us to do things that are beyond our ability, but he is our example. He empowers us with the same Spirit that empowered him to do his works, even raising him from the dead.

    When we ignore Jesus on this point, we lose him as our example because none of us is the second person of the Trinity like he is. But when we see that he was led by the Father and empowered by the Spirit (just as we are), we see him (more) as someone we can follow.

  • scotmcknight

    Steve, This blog just had an appreciative post Lumen Fidei. This had nothing to do with Prot polemics with RCC. Trust me.

  • Trin

    I think we elevate the “fully divine” at the expense of the “fully human” in Christ, out of fear that we’ll accidentally, and heretically, imply anything less than divine.

    Fully human, peeps. Fully. Human.

  • Exactly. It should be just as worrying when people dehumanize Jesus as it is when they take away his divinity.

  • Brian Evans

    Who touched me?

    Not my will but thy will be done.

    All kinds of interesting explanations to explain those away.

  • Joe Anderson

    A better place to look for a careful consideration of Jesus’ knowledge, His divinity and His humanity, is “The Human Knowledge of Christ,” by Bertrand De Margerie, S.J.

  • NateW

    There is, I think, a powerful distinction to be made between a human idea of what it means to “know” (and thus to be omniscient) and spiritual knowing. We think of omniscience as an encyclopedic knowledge of every possible fact and event along a predefined continuum of events and catalog of facts, but I think that spiritual knowledge is less concerned with possessing instances of correct facts and more so with possessing the inner constitution to rightly see and perceive the depths of significance and meaning that lay in the relationships between facts, between people, between objects and times and places. Biblical knowledge isn’t about knowing definitions and times and places, its about seeing and perceiving what the true nature of any given thing really is, understanding the spirit of the times correctly in relation to eternity, and seeing what is true, seeing God, in the very place you stand rather than always looking for Him somewhere else.

    Maybe Jesus knew every fact and maybe not, but it doesn’t really matter because it isn’t the point. Jesus could discern what was in people’s hearts, what was happening on the spiritual airways flowing within times, events, places and relationships. The primary contents of his knowledge is that which cannot be spoken so as to be known, but can only be birthed within others by relationship with one who has lived it. He was omniscient even if he didn’t know every fact because facts are not true knowledge to begin with. What we call facts are profoundly secondary in importance, important, yes, but in the sense that they point to what is deeply and abidingly true, as road signs and historic plaques on old buildings. It’s too bad that we so often obsess over memorizing the google maps directions rather than actually walking the roads.