did Jesus know everything?

did Jesus know everything? July 23, 2015

REBLast week I read a little book by New Testament scholar Raymond E. Brown Jesus: God and Man.

It’s a short little book, 2 chapters in fact, each of which first appeared in journals in the mid-1960s, about the time I was going to first grade with my Monkees lunch box.

In the first chapter, Brown looks at whether the New Testament calls Jesus God, and what that even means. I’ll try to get back to that at some point.

In the second chapter, Brown answers the question, “How much did Jesus know?” I simply found what he had to say very interesting and helpful.

The issue lurking in the background for Brown is the common Christian assertion (Brown, who died in 1998, was a Roman Catholic), that Jesus, being divine, knew everything–at least everything of religious importance.

Brown goes through every relevant text in the Gospels and shows how the biblical evidence is a lot more–wait for it–diverse than can be captured in simplistic assertions.

Brown looks at Jesus’s knowledge about ordinary affairs of life, religious matters, the future, and his own self-knowledge and of his mission.

In working through these categories, Brown shows where Jesus is at times ignorant and at times displays superhuman/extraordinary knowledge, at times clear and at times uncertain, and at times expressing himself in terms of common expectations of the day.

For example, the Gospels include scenes where Jesus knows what is happening elsewhere or what others are thinking (e.g., Mark 2:6-8; Mark 11:2; John 1:48-49). But even in these examples (and others Brown gives), we need to be careful, he tells us, “about any theological assumption that would trace such knowledge to the hypostatic union…” (i.e., the Christian belief that the human Jesus was also fully divine, p. 49).

The Old Testament attributes the same kind of knowledge to Old Testament prophets, like “Ezekiel living in Babylon [who] has visions of events occurring in Jerusalem” (p. 49).

In other words, extraordinary knowledge like this is not an argument for Jesus’s divinity, especially since he also displays ignorance of things as well. And those two features–extraordinary knowledge and ignorance–are not mutually incompatible, since we see them both in the Old Testament prophets.

In his conclusion, Brown reminds us that his evaluation of the Gospel evidence “does nothing to detract from the dignity of Jesus.”

If in the Gospel reports his knowledge seems to have been limited, such limitation would simply show to what depths divine condescension went in the incarnation–it would show just how human was the humanity of Jesus (p. 100).

Here again we are reminded of the offense and humiliation, indeed the mystery, of the incarnation–our discomfort, if we’re honest, with a Jesus who was fully human andI&I2 therefore participated in the limitations of being human.

Here is Brown’s conclusion to the book, where he addresses a reaction to all this that I’ve heard plenty of times:

But when all is said and done, the great objection that will be hurled again and again against any exegete (or theologian) who finds evidence that Jesus’ knowledge was limited is the objection that in Jesus Christ there is only one person, a divine person.

And so, even though the divine person acted through a completely human nature, any theory that Jesus had limited knowledge seems to imply a limitation of the divine person.

Perhaps the best answer to this objection is to call upon Cyril of Alexandria, that Doctor of the Church to whom, more than to any other, we are indebted for the great truth of the oneness of the person in Christ. It was that ultra-orthodox archfoe of Nestorianism (two persons or powers in Christ) who said of Christ, 

“We have admired his goodness in that for love of us he has not refused to descend to such a low position as to bear all that belongs to our nature, INCLUDED IN WHICH IS IGNORANCE.” (my formatting; emphasis original; pp. 101-2).

And then in his epilogue, Brown writes:

A Jesus who walked through the world knowing exactly what the morrow would bring, knowing with certainty that three days after his death his Father would raise him up, is a Jesus who can arouse our admiration, but still a Jesus far from us.

He is a Jesus far from mankind that can only hope in the future and believe in God’s goodness, far from a mankind that must face the supreme uncertainty of death with faith but without knowledge of what is beyond.

On the other hand, a Jesus for whom the future was as such a mystery, a dread, and a hope as it is for us and yet, at the same time a Jesus who would say, “Not my will but yours”–this is a Jesus who could effectively teach us how to live, for this is a Jesus who would have gone through life’s real trials.

Then we would know the full truth of the saying: “No man can have greater love than this: to lay down his life for those he loves” (Jn 15:13), for we would know that he laid down his life with all the agony with which we lay it down.

We would know that for him the loss of life was, as it is for us, the loss of a great possession, a possession that is outranked only by love.” (my formatting; pp. 104-5).

For Brown, much is at stake theologically for Jesus not knowing everything. I’m with Brown on this.

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  • Bill Barman

    For Brown, much is at stake theologically for Jesus not knowing everything. I’m with Brown on this.

    Not being a formally trained Bible student, I don’t know if my view of Jesus humanity/divinity is a formal teaching or not, but it seems to me that a lot of what Jesus knew was based in His reading and believing scripture — including Genesis 1-11. With His access to the Word of God, with a sinless nature and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit from birth, He had all the necessary components to partake in the divine nature that He laid aside when He became incarnate. In other words, Jesus humanity shows us we too can partake in His divine nature, having been born again, if we read and believe God’s Word by His Spirit.

    • Chris Falter

      Seems very insightful to this half-baked theologian! I think it would be useful to elaborate this further by stating that Jesus showed that we can partake in God’s divine nature by loving the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; by loving our neighbor as ourselves; by reading and believing God’s Word by His Spirit; etc.

      • Kim Fabricius

        Bill, Chris, the problem with your comments, which are both modest and earnest, is that they do not address either the question “Did Jesus know everything?” nor the answer that Raymond Brown suggests and that Peter endorses. And that means that instead of joining the conversation and engaging the issue you are ignoring it, which, notwithstanding the evangelical fervor of your faith, is kind of discourteous. Your interventions remind me of an advertisement (albeit one about “partaking of the divine nature”) suddenly obtruding in the narrative of a good film.

        • Bill Barman

          And that means that instead of joining the conversation and engaging the issue you are ignoring it, which, notwithstanding the evangelical fervor of your faith, is kind of discourteous.

          If I were omniscient and knew where the conversation was going, I could have anticipated your objections and covered it in my comment which turned out to be the very first comment to the post. In that way I would have avoided offending you all by being discourteous. But alas, I’m human with an inherited sinful nature. So sorry.

        • Chris Falter

          Hi Kim,

          Hope you’re having a great Friday.

          Since Bill didn’t directly address Raymond Brown’s thesis, I didn’t see the need to directly address it either. I suppose I could have thrown a flag at Bill and told him he was discourteous, but I chose instead to engage the substance of his remarks.

          I think you could even make a case for the discussion of Jesus’ relationship with Scripture as being an investigation of an important detail. Brown painted his canvas in broad strokes–or at least, Pete cited the broad strokes–but Bill chose to examine a corner of the canvas with a magnifying glass. I pointed out that other parts of the canvas are, IMO, more important. But we’re all talking about the same canvas.

        • Bill Barman

          the problem with your comments, which are both modest and earnest, is that they do not address either the question “Did Jesus know everything?” nor the answer that Raymond Brown suggests and that Peter endorses.

          Let me have a do over:

          The answer to the question “Did Jesus know everything?” seems to be “No” which I think is what Brown and Peter are saying — it’s difficult for me to get the gist of what you all are saying, much less understand exactly what you all are saying. But I’m not saying this as a fervent evangelical advertiser who is trying to get in your face. I’m saying this a retired engineer/information technology professional, who in looking at the recorded history of Jesus’ life, has come to the conclusion that Jesus set aside His “knowing everything” to knowing only that which a human being would know through what is told or written to Him. But having a sinless nature, He can actually discern that communication which is of God versus that which is of fallen mankind. So, in reading scripture (including Genesis 1-11) He can receive the thoughts that He encoded by His Spirit though His prophets to be decoded by Himself and boot strap Himself up — as it were — to understanding who He really was and what His purpose for becoming incarnate was.

          Warning — advertisement follows: And it was this spiritual communication and his obedience to His own Word that resulted in the sweet communication with His heavenly Father — that is, being at one with each other but separated by a distance (similar to quantum entanglement?). And now access to this fellowship is also available to all who believe as He believed. But alas, some would rather spend their lives straining out gnats while swallowing whole camels instead of believing the Bible as Jesus believed.

          Closing verse: “The righteous shall live by faith”

          Advertisement finished.

  • Paul D.

    I actually asked the assistant pastor at the church I was attending some years ago, during the course of a casual conversation, if Jesus suffered from ignorance like all humans. Did he ever get caught in the rain without an umbrella? Leave something important at home? And so on.

    The pastor just gave me a funny look and steered the conversation elsewhere. I guess I wasn’t supposed to think about such matters.

    • Gary

      I used to be one of those troublemakers. Even on this topic. A Sunday school teacher asked me, in a direct put-it-on-the-line kind of way (I think it was the week after I asked a question about the documentary hypothesis), “so was Jesus perfect or not?” My response? “I don’t know, it’s beyond me to judge; I’m not above perfection so as to be able to judge perfection and whether or not anybody has attained it. It’s simply out of my realm of qualifications.” Did Jesus know everything??? How could one even answer that question without the prerequisite background knowledge of knowing everything oneself. If you ask me, to answer this question in the affirmative can be a nearby neighbor of being a know-it-all oneself. In time–if it hasn’t happened already–the assistant pastor will learn how to better use his time. Better to focus on those who give and those who will take up submissive leadership positions for programs. Nobody wants a troublemaker.

      • Stuart Blessman

        “so was Jesus perfect or not?”

        Ish. I think my mind and PTSD just twitched.

        The answer is no, either way.

      • Stuart Blessman

        Cool thought: when Jesus died on the cross, he didn’t know who you or I was. Not at all.

        Why is that cool? Because when I was born, he met me, and he delights in getting to know me and seeing me grow and develop and change in life.

        And that’s far cooler, imo, than some omniscient being who pretends at being personal but isn’t really.

  • Brown is just great. His commentaries on John are terrific. Restored my faith in commentaries.

    Before the Trinitarianerds get in here to complain, I think the Gospels consistently portray Jesus as a Spirit-annointed man. I’m open to correction, but I can’t think of a single thing in the Gospels that requires Jesus to be divine with the possible exception of the logos/sophia thing in John 1. Even outside of the Gospels, while I believe there are strains that indicate Jesus’ divinity, they are very slight and debatable.

    For me, the consequences come from how much meaning is missed if we write up everything in the Gospels to Jesus being divine. We lose the important OT threads of Jesus’ role as Christ, what that means, and how that is to be demonstrated when it all gets collapsed into, “Of course Jesus could heal that guy. He’s God.”

    • Richard Goulette

      Hi Phil, I tend to agree with you. The eternal God the Son intersected with time and added humanity as a nature unto himself. His miracles and prophecy were Spirit-filled in ways unparalleled, yet quite clearly the gospels mention amazement, lack of knowledge, and even draining of power to not subtract from that amazing paradox. Even the concept of a zimzum where God pulls back some part of himself so we can radically interact in a genuine way is not a foreign concept here.

      • Stuart Blessman

        Even Jesus didn’t give 110%…

        • New challenge to theism: Is there a percentage so high that God Himself couldn’t give it?

          • Chris Bourne

            Or could he create a rock so heavy he could not lift it? I love the games materialist philosophy can play with philosophical categories and remain utterly unaware of just how loopy it all is.

      • dogged

        The Greek gods (e.g.) were divine beings who would frequently masquerade as humans (an illusion.) For anyone to be truly human, that person would experience all human limitations. The Scripture confirms that Jesus had all such limitations–except sin. It is apparent that the Godhead chose to be limited while within the human race.

        • peteenns

          Your point is a big part of Kent Spark’s Sacred Word, Broken Word.

    • “I’m open to correction, but I can’t think of a single thing in the Gospels that requires Jesus to be divine with the possible exception of the logos/sophia thing in John 1.”

      Wise words, in my view. And I think John 1 requiring Jesus to be God/divine melts away upon careful analysis. In brief, the Logos is in him; he, the man, isn’t the logos. More needs to be said, but here’s a first pass. http://trinities.org/blog/podcast-episode-70-the-one-god-and-his-son-according-to-john/

      • Well, I think the way forward through that bit of theological forestry is to figure out how Jesus gets caught up in the Jewish wisdom tradition. In my opinion, Jesus doesn’t need to be divine to be the embodiment of the wisdom of God. The connection with the Greek logos idea is just so dicey; I’m not sure what to make of it, honestly, but I sure wouldn’t want to build a key doctrine off of it.

        • Chris Bourne

          Phil, I have seen your comments on Andrew’s blog but have never commented here before. I still go back to the simple old saw, which is far from exhausted. Where does the explanatory power arise? Also, where does that explanatory power reveal persistent questions? The framing of the statement that Jesus is divine, it seems to me, tells us almost nothing about Jesus (as if divinity were somehow obvious and fully explicated) but it could tell us a great deal about divinity because of the narratives about Jesus. It seems to me, especially in modern thoughtlessness, that this is commonly reversed. Jesus is made mystically impenetrable instead of divinity being made concretely apprehendable.

          • Oh, hi Chris! Good to see you over here, too, especially since Andrew has played a big role in making me revisit my thoughts on this issue.

            I like your take on it and am certainly more comfortable with defining divinity by seeing what Jesus was like as opposed to starting with abstract propositions about what divinity means and trying to make those apply to Jesus.

            But then the nasty hook of that route becomes: is there really any difference then between divinity and ideal humanity? And if so, how would we come to know the difference?

            I think we have to take into account the revelation of YHWH before Jesus comes on the scene.

          • Andrew Dowling

            To that question, I think divinity outside of the human experience is unknowable by humans. I think there IS aspects of the transcendent that transcend human knowledge, but that becomes simply a fun exercise in philosophizing. WE can only know what we know. As Dirty Harry eloquently stated “a man’s got to know his limitations.”
            So for now, I see the divine in those amazing moments of pure love we are fortunate enough to experience in this life. Like my daughters’ giving me an unasked for hug or the nuzzles from a happy dog. In those times, I feel they emanate from something greater than pure reductionist structuring.

          • Chris Bourne

            A big yes to that. There comes a point, and we are reluctant to admit how early it comes, when we must hesitate and then rapidly fall silent. The ontological assumptions are flawed because they have to be, (we cannot cross the divine interval and see from above, no matter what we do with Greek influences) and the epistemological assumptions just don’t get us over that hurdle. But you put the question in an interesting way.

            It becomes so interesting, and wonderful, then, that we have to live with both ‘the fullness of the Godhead, bodily’ of Coll 2:9 and the ‘firstborn among many brethren’ of Rom 8:29. And, indeed, the conclusion of the Collosians sentence, ‘and we are complete in him’. And this is to say nothing of the issues of finitude, of Being and beings, of the nature of true transcendentals all of which take a long time to develop through the patristic periods and become gloriously convoluted in medieval metaphysics. (I guess this is why we need people like Hart!)

            I suspect, though, that you are as troubled as I when it comes to the impoverishment of late modernity, when the ontological assumptions are presented as if they were ever descriptive of an actual pathology, as if we had both God and Jesus under some sort of spiritual MRI scanner. So we return, as we must, to admit that the only functional language of metaphysics is poetry.

    • Ross

      A very good point, however for me the “divine mystery” that God visited us, in the person of Jesus, is very compelling. I admit that a “questioning reading” of the NT will find this elusive, in the Gospels at least. But from someone who would like to “see God face to face”, I’m really coming round to seeing him in Jesus. I can’t really relate to an ever non-present divinity, but seeing the man Jesus (who possibly looked like a young Yasser Arafat) turn to me and tell me he is G*d here and now is something I may perchance relate to.

      • Well, I definitely think when we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. We just might haggle a little over how that’s true.

        • Ross

          I’m not sure about haggling, cos I haven’t the faintest idea how it’s true! Personally the intro to the Gospel known as John stirs me more than anything else I know and sums up the “divine” nature of Jesus. The mechanics of the thing I don’t know.

          • Andrew Dowling

            It’s helped me to think about this in the context of the earliest Christian proclamation and what the incarnation meant in the 1st century. Incarnation was already a common concept in ancient Rome; Caesar was incarnato. If you were going to preach Jesus, saying he was a man who walked on water and did miracles would’ve gotten shoulder shrugs. The tales of the emperors and other wonder workers were filled with even greater divine feats. What the selling point lied was a question of VALUES. What does God look like to you? Does he look like Caesar, preaching power, loyalty, military strength? Or is it Jesus preaching humility, compassion, forgiveness. That was the fundamental question and that is the heart of incarnation. Debates about what divine powers Jesus had or didn’t have is missing the point entirely.

    • Veritas

      Jesus said that if we have seen him, we have seen the father, “for the father and I are one” and also, to quote Thomas “my Lord and my God”
      These are pretty clear statements of Jesus’ divinity, no?

      • No.

        If you have seen Christians, you have seen Jesus because of the unity we share by the Spirit. If you had seen Adam, you would have seen the Father because Adam was the image of God (he is even called the Son of God in Luke). Jesus is the image of the Father.

        He prays that the disciples would be one as he and the Father are one. He did not intend for the disciples to actually become one being. They were, instead, separate beings united by the Spirit. I am 95% sure that your first two examples are not indicators of divinity anymore than calling us the “body of Christ” or the “image of God” means we are divine.

        Thomas’ declaration is trickier; I’ll give you that. I’ll drop this one to 75%. But his declaration could have easily been meant to glorify God upon seeing the resurrected Messiah.

  • Wayfaring Michael

    I was fortunate enough to meet Brown at a Christian bookseller’s convention in the late 90s, and as I write this I am looking at a signed copy of his Introduction to the New Testament. I was still a Catholic then, and had not yet read a whole lot of the Bible, or seriously studied theology at all. (Yes, Catholics are weird that way, though some of them are getting better about that.) After a conversion experience and a switch toward a more Baptist-oriented belief, because I had Brown’s Introduction, that was one of the first works of its kind that I read. I was later somewhat surprised to find Brown being quoted favorably by heavy-hitting Protestant Old Testament and New Testament theologians.

    (Baseball analogy intentional.)

    FWIW to the non-academics reading this, getting a tenth anniversary edition published of a book like Inspiration and Incarnation is a sure sign that the author is a heavy hitter.

    I will certainly try to get my hands on this little gem. Thanks, Pete, for the reference.

  • hecansing@yahoo.com

    This is actually very moving and a fair and balanced view of Jesus as man and Lord. However I don’t think even with Jesus’ seemingly limited knowledge that he was ignorant of what awaited him after death…He must have had an inkling being aware of both angelic beings (Garden of Gethsemane) and the company of Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration. He may have dreaded the physical pain of the manner of his death and certainly the spiritual harshness of bearing our sin but I doubt he was ignorant of what awaited him ‘on the other side’.

  • gimel

    In this sort of discussion I usually rely on the fourth and fifth chapter of Hebrews. I maintain that, while Jesus in his human nature (“en tais hmerais ths sarkos autou” – “in the days of His flesh”) did not have full access to the entirety of what we call human condition, while He could not have experienced manifold paths set before humanity as a whole, He still, nevertheless, experienced (“pepeirasmenon de kata panta kath omoiothta” – “tried in all these alike [us]”) the crucial points of what makes us human.
    Birth, childhood, adolescence, adult life; fear, anger, joy, pain, pleasure, sadness; love, loss, friendship, enmity, betrayal; finally (or not), death. I find it hard to believe that curiousity does not make this list. Harder still to think that ignorance – imperfection of knowledge (and there are few things more human than imperfection) was alien to Him. He did not become one of us to miss out on the crucial stuff, did He?

  • Dean Hawkins

    Acknowledging the fact that Jesus is 100% human (along with being 100% divine) seems to be hard for a lot of Christians. I’ve expressed to friends before that we often neglect the human side of Jesus, the only side we can relate to.

    But ultimately, I always get the same reaction. “Well, we have to be careful about that. We wouldn’t want to fall into any heresies by focusing too much on Jesus’ humanity.” The irony is that this kind of belief begins leaning toward a modern-day Docetism.

    Acknowledging Jesus’ full humanity makes Christians uncomfortable for some reason, as if by suggesting any kind of limitations on his part would offend him, or something.

    • Stewart Felker

      // The irony is that this kind of belief begins leaning toward a modern-day Docetism. //

      We don’t have to qualify this with “modern-day”: as much as they insisted otherwise, even those like Athanasius were basically docetists re: Jesus’ human nature. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they were _exegetical_ docetists: they explained away all of those inconvenient, all-too-human episodes in Jesus’ life in various ways: explaining them as Jesus giving teaching lessons in combating future heretical Christologies, adopting alternate translations to avoid the scandal of his ignorance, etc.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Yes despite it being formerly condemned docetism has been a live factor in much of ‘orthodox’ Christianity since the 3rd century. Humans not liking any ‘weakness’ or vulnerability in the object of their worship is not a new dilemma.

    • Gary

      I find many present-day believers (in the wake of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy) obsessed with the divinity claims so much to attach limited belief to the humanity claims. I’ve heard what once would been considered outright Docetism from the pulpit a number of times over the years. Nobody really cares. I think it’s less concern about offending a man (humans do take offense) and more about propping up against the angst of popular just-a-man claims.

  • John

    This is great. Thanks Pete. Related to this topic is God’s relationship to time and whether the future already exists and is knowable in an absolute sense.

    • Gary

      Great related question. I think must of the Judeo-Christian narrative (ancient, Medieval, Enlightenment, …) plays into a cosmology where space is “inside of” time, not where time is yet another dimension of spacetime. One of the more fascinating things that I’ve observed related to this is that people don’t pray for the future, they pray for the unknown. Say a student submits a test to be scored. Their markings are fixed. The teacher’s answer key is fixed. Thus the score is fixed (errors and unscrupulous behaviors aside for now). Yet they pray for the result to be good. More than past vs. future, happened vs. yet to happen, perhaps known vs. unknown and trusted vs. untrusted are more interesting axes.

  • Christy

    Nice post. Thanks.

  • Nice post, Peter. I agree. What, then do you make of this argument?

    1. God is essentially omniscient.
    2. Jesus is not essentially omniscient.
    3. Therefore, Jesus is not God.

    of if you like,

    1. Any fully divine being is essentially omniscient.
    2. Jesus is not essentially omniscient.
    3. Therefore, Jesus is not a fully divine being.

    I accept both as sound. You?

    • They are both valid, but I’m not sure about sound. There are some assumptions packed into those first premises.

      • Yes, Christian assumptions about what it takes to be divine, supported, arguably by both scripture and perfect being theology.

        • As others have pointed out, you’re assuming that A) God is omniscient, and B) Omniscience is a universal and communicable facet of what it means to be divine. I think A is difficult to prove and B is virtually impossible.

          • Chris Falter

            There is even the question about how you would define omniscience. Does it mean perfect knowledge, right now, about every detail of the universe until it comes to an eschatological close? Or is knowledge inherently constricted somehow by time?

            Not trying to answer that here, I’m just stirring the pot a little.

    • Gary

      I think the slippery slope that leads here is a primary contributor to modern Doceticism.

    • You’re ignoring the mysterious voluntary grace of Kenosis.

    • Chris Falter

      I agree with Phil, the first premise (“any fully divine being is essentially omniscient”) doesn’t cover the case where the divine being has taken on human nature. Apollonarius said the divine and human natures could not be mixed, but I contend that in the same way that a photon has a wave nature and a particle nature, Jesus had both natures in one being.

      It is a mystery, for sure. But there are many mysteries in religion–evil, prayer, free will, and I could go on. If you want a religion without mystery, I’m not sure where you’re going to find it.

      • “doesn’t cover the case where the divine being has taken on human nature” OK. Let’s just be clear what’s going on. You’re revising your understanding of the divine attributes because of your two-natures christology. As best I can tell, no one did this till the 19th c. This should give us pause.

        By itself, it is consistent, I think. My one-time prof. Stephen T. Davis of Claremont makes this move, and realizes what he’s doing. This implies that the Father is not omniscient (full-stop), but rather, he has something this property: omniscient-unless-he-freely-decides-to-become-incarnate.

        • Chris Falter

          Hope you’re having a great Lord’s Day, Dale. Considering that the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures was decreed as the universal teaching of the church at the Council of Chalcedon, in 451 A.D., you might want to reconsider your timeline. Or perhaps you think that what I said does not agree with the Council of Chalcedon. Or that Chalcedon didn’t address your analysis of the divine attributes. I’m always open to civil conversations.

        • Veritas

          Could this problem really be rooted in how we inadequately define divine and/or God?
          Omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent…. Yes, but these are not complete, and in what way does this describe the case of fully human? Certainly Jesus in human form is not omnipresent.
          What about omnipotent? In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus spoke out loud to the Father so that others could here, but wasn’t it through the father that Lazarus rose via the prayer of Jesus? And wasn’t Jesus unable to work many miracles in Nazareth because of their lack of faith?
          In what way does the father commune with the son? Would not this be the case of through perfect prayer? But if fully human, are there things which even a divine human mind could not fully grasp?
          The Father has no limits, by definitions, but for those he puts upon Himself…including the garment of the incarnation?

          • Fred Fauth

            “Certainly Jesus in human form is not omnipresent.” THIS. EXACTLY :-)…. Whenever we are having that omniscient discussion I always think – well, we have no problem with the fact that Jesus was only in once place in the cosmos (at least physically) – that he had to actually WALK or BOAT places, he wasn’t just teleporting around. Also, Jesus had a human brain as far as we know, and we know there is a cognitive upper-limit to human brains… even if it’s far more than mine. I reject the syllogisms being discussed above because there really is no wrapping our heads around Jesus being both God and man at thesame time.

    • [sound of crickets chirping]

    • Ross

      God may or may not be omniscient
      Man definitely aint omniscient
      therefore maybe man can never understand the answer even if the question is quite pertinent.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Placing requirements on the divine is kind of a silly concept when you think about it. I don’t accept the assumption that divinity requires omniscience.

  • My lunchbox had KISS on it. Your argument is invalid.

    • Gary

      IIRC, one of my friends had KISS on his lunchbox and my mom wouldn’t let me sleepover at his house anymore.

  • Ew! You like the Monkees? You know they don’t write their own songs.

  • Kim Fabricius

    Here is another syllogism:

    1. God is essentially omniscient.
    2. Jesus is God.
    3. Therefore, Jesus is essentially omniscient.

    This is the logic of Apollinarius of Laodicea (c.310-c.390), who dismissed the idea of the fallibility of Christ’s knowledge.

    The argument was rejected by the Cappadocian Fathers (a) as expressing an
    essentially docetic Christology and presenting us with a rather grotesque human being (Gregory of Nyssa); (b) as failing the critical soteriological test that “the unassumed is the unhealed” (Gregory of Nazianzus); and (c) as clashing with a bunch of gospel texts (as Brown details).

    Apollinarius’ Christology was ultimately condemned for denying the integrity of the humanity of Jesus at the Council of Constantinople (381).

    • Kim, that argument is plainly valid. So, which premise(s) did the Cappadocians reject? I would’ve thought they would endorse the argument as sound. I’m sure I’ve read at least one of them urging that Jesus really did know the day and the hour, BUT [then they concoct some cockamamie suggestion about why he said he didn’t].

  • Jesus had a human body, a human brain, and a human life. And Trinitarian Christians believe he is God and human. If we say Jesus is God but deny the physical and mental humanity, we essentially make his humanity meaningless. The whole point of “God with us” is for God to truly be at our level. There’s always going to be a tension there. So I’ve heard a kind of soft Docetism mentioned as a problem by folks in this comment thread. Ironically, in conversations with religious folks, I feel religious people lean towards a perfectly omniscient Jesus as an act of greater piety. But such a view does seem to clash with glimpses of Jesus we get in the gospels. The way I think about it, Jesus would burst through with spiritual insight much in the same pattern that he performed miracles. It was not a consistent manifestation of divinity working through the physical to overcome all limitations of his humanity (after all, Jesus still needed to eat and sleep on a regular basis), and the same can likely be said for his mental and even spiritual state (Matt 26:39 comes to mind).

    The way I hear a lot of religious people talk about it colloquially, Jesus’ physical and mental powers sound more influenced by “The Matrix” than the New Testament. When you bring up the fact Jesus said himself that he did not know certain things (Matt 24:36), a cheat card is invoked to say he *could* have, but chose not to. In the same way that Neo from “The Matrix” chooses to download kung fu training into his brain. Yet when Jesus is tempted in the desert, all the temptations seem posed to disrupt that fragile balance between divinity and humanity.

    The thing I’m stumped by is the pre-existence of Jesus. Post-incarnation and even post-resurrection, the incarnational dual nature of Jesus is *somewhat* easier to consider. But preexistence in general gives me a headache. Mormon friends seem to love pre-existence concepts though – it’s their bread and butter.

    • Gary

      I’m glad somebody brought up the mind-body problem in this dialogue.

      The Neo Kung Fu example captures one aspect–speed of learning.

      Another one though–amount of knowledge–seems to warrant more dialogue.

      Simply (at least without the magic of large Cartesian dualism), one needs lots of gray matter and lots of calories to support it to have lots of thoughts.

      How could Jesus “know everything” at 2,000 calories per day powering a three-pound brain? Garry Kasparov would be an IQ around 190. There are other examples with greater than 200 IQ.

      What kind of IQ would one need to know “everything?” What would be the amount of gray matter and calories required?

      I think you’re on to something when you suggest it’s more so a matter of declaration of piety.

  • Stuart Blessman

    Can I ask the scary question: what if a lot of Jesus’ (and OT prophets’) knowledge about other places came after the fact, when everything was written down and stories were shared and commonly known?

    What if, like so many things nowadays, evidence of God’s workout comes in hindsight and through faith?

    • Somebody get the tranquilizer darts. *phoot*

    • Ross

      Good point, If I understand you correctly. The Gospels are some retelling after the event (I believe CNN wasn’t even in it’s infancy then), and the prophets, well who knows what they were up to, or when.

      This God bloke really needs to sort himself out and be a bit clearer over what he means. Or is he trying out some game where we have to seek him instead?

  • Ian Paul

    Peter, thanks for this, which is really important.

    One observation, not least on the discussion below, is that there is a distinct difference between the UK and the US. In the US, an insistence on Jesus divinity simpliciter does lead to the kind of docetism which Brown is keen to avoid. This is much less obvious amongst evangelicals in the UK–though perhaps we correspondingly struggle with Jesus’ divinity…

  • Ch Hoffman

    first – define who you believe Jesus was. Was he a man with a mission or an extension of God.

    If he was a man – he knew what he had learned, experienced, or was told by God
    If he was an extension of God – his knowledge was as infinite as his power

    • I’m not sure this clears it up. God is a god with a mission.

  • cken

    Jesus was half man and half God, kind of like Hercules, so he probably only knew half of everything. If Jesus was the only son of God then we cannot be sons of God but must be His grandchildren. But that would mean Jesus created us. I am so confused. Somebody explain this please.

  • HenryC

    He did not know everything, the human mind is incapable of holding that much knowledge. He was just right about everything. God knows everything, but Christ is only part of god, not the full Godhead.

  • 4 WIW

    The real mystery in the question of what Jesus knew is how is it that God can limit His own knowledge – even for a short interlude of 33 years? As the Nicene Creed states regarding Jesus: “begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

    As stated in the WCOF Chapter 8 Christ as Mediator: “2. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.”

    It is apparent from the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament that Jesus, in human form, did limit His knowledge – for a season. This is not a hard concept to accept, once you get past the idea that God would condescend to live as a mortal to actually experience death – on our behalf. That is the harder concept to accept – because we are not worth it.

    • Andrew Dowling

      The question is are all of the assumptions of Nicaea found in the Gospel writings; I think most biblical scholars would concede they are not.

    • I was wondering when someone would get around to bringing up the WCF.

      • 4 WIW

        Greetings Phil. The first time I read the WCF (in the old English) I concluded by thinking that those guys really had it together. Upon further reflection, I realized how arrogant I was for thinking that way. As I have become more familiar with the work of the Westminster Divines and the make-up of the group of pastors and their deliberations, I have developed a sincere appreciation for their efforts. Their work is definitely scholarly and I believe Spirit -lead. Their work product is certainly worth more esteem and consideration than anything any individual would put out today as far as theological commentary or discourse.

        Thus that is why I brought it up in regard to this discussion topic. For those not familiar with the concept of Jesus being all man and all God and of one substance with the Father, the WCF is a good starting point for understanding what the long-standing English Reformation view has been. Everyone is free to believe what they want – the only question to always consider is: “Is what one wants to believe – worth believing?”

        • peteenns

          4 WIW, if I may…I’ve been around the block with WCF and the catechisms and have had my own process of seeing strengths and weaknesses. The real problem with it is when it is looked upon as a standard of some sort. That arises out of and breeds great arrogance, particularly when it’s particular social and historical setting is forgotten. As some of us used to say (as students), “Yes, the WCF is absolutely and without question the best sectarian, regicidal confession the Reformation produced.”

          • 4 WIW

            I agree. We are perfectly capable of making anything an idol, even a confession of faith. All extra-Biblical tools miss the mark, but some are useful.

  • Norm Oliveau

    Two things that immediately come to mind are: 1. Jesus said Himself, when asked by His disciples, that He did not know when he would return and that only the Father knew that information. 2. The Apostle Paul states in a few places that “the mystery” had been hidden and was not made known until it was revealed to him.

    Although Jesus makes references to what would occur after His ascension, I don’t think He knew the details of “the mystery”, i.e. the Gentiles being fellow heirs and members of the Body, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”, and I believe remission of sin is included by the Apostle Paul, as well. I believe Jesus had an idea of the magnitude of what would occur, but, again, I don’t think He knew the details.

    The word “mystery” is from the Greek ‘musterion’ and can be translated “secret”. It is from the root word ‘muo’ which means “to shut the mouth”. I believe when scripture says “had the princes of this world known (the mystery), they would not have crucified the lord of glory”, it emphasizes the delicate and highly classified nature of the information. I think God kept His mouth shut until it was spoken to Paul. Whether Jesus knew as soon as the redemption was a done deal is a lingering question of mine.

    I also believe that He still has no idea when He will return, but that is still information only the Father has and He keeps it to Himself…..hopefully, one day we’ll all be clued in and we’ll get to see who was right!