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An Omniscient God: A false Greek idea?

This is a topic that has been on my mind for a little while. Namely, how much of our religious conversation and ideas are born out of incorrect tradition instead of what is actually in the scriptures. We can always purify our understanding of things (case and point is when President Nelson did away with Home and Visiting Teaching in April to introduce what he called a "holier" and more scripturally consistent approach to ministering).

To get straight to the point, is God actually omniscient? As a foreshadowing comment, the word 'omniscient' or 'omniscience' does NOT occur in any of our standard works. It is not used in the KJV of the Old and New Testament nor is it used in the Book of Mormon, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price. A simple word search or concordance of sorts shows that. Granted it is used in our "study helps", but the word is not actually used in the scriptures. I can't help but think there is a reason for that since the word usually had in association with omniscient is used in the scriptures; namely the idea that God is 'omnipotent'. That word is used once in the New Testament and six times in the Book of Mormon.

To me, this begs the question as to why the word "omnipotent" is used but its counterpart "omniscient" is completely absent. Terryl Givens shares some interesting thoughts as to why. In short, omniscience is a word formed out of the Augustinian and Creedal Christian belief of a God without body, parts, or passions. Omniscience suggests a distant relationship outside of time and space. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism explains it well:

"The thesis that God is beyond time has sometimes been introduced to account for God's omniscience or foreknowledge. Only if God is somehow transtemporal, it is argued, can he view past, present, and future as "one eternal now." This position is assumed by much postbiblical theology. But, again, this leads to contradiction: What will happen in the infinite future is now happening to God. But "now" and "happening" are temporal words that imply both duration and change. For Latter-day Saints, as for the Bible, God's omniscience is "in time." God anticipates the future. It is "present" before him, but it is still future. When the future occurs, it will occur for the first time to him as to his creatures. The traditional concept of "out-of-time" omniscience does not derive either from the Old or the New Testament but is borrowed from Greek philosophy."

In light of all of this, could it be that the scriptures use such phrases as "the Lord knoweth all things" instead of simply stating "the Lord is omniscient" because the Lord's knowledge of all things is partly experiential and not coming from one who simply has knowledge with no experience or feeling (i.e. a God without body, parts, or passions). This idea is put succinctly by Elder Holland when he states, "When [Christ] says to the poor in spirit, “Come unto me,” He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way."

Conversely, Christ does not know the way by virtue of some "omniscience". He knows the way because of his experience and obedience.

There are other interesting points this raises; namely, what does "one eternal now" mean. Could it mean that the Lord does see all things but by virtue of the relativity of time and planetary Urim and Thummim? This would preserve the idea that God does NOT live outside of space and time.

What application does this have for us? I think an increasingly refined understanding of the God we worship and an increasingly purer language as to "things as they really are" always invites more light, truth, and joy into our lives. It can also lend itself to help us not "charge God foolishly" in the midst of suffering.


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