Christian Apologetics - Lesson 19

Middle Knowledge

Middle knowledge is a form of knowledge attributed to God by Molina.

Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Lesson 19
Watching Now
Middle Knowledge

Possible Worlds

Part 3

III.  Middle Knowledge

A.  Form of knowledge attributed to God by Molina.

B.  Example - Judas' betrayal of Jesus

C.  Apparent Implications

D.  Conclusion

  • Introduction to Apologetics.

  • Apologetics involves finding evidence and presenting arguments to defend the Christian faith.

  • Two prominent worldviews are Christian theism and naturalism.

  • The law of non-contradiction states that A cannot be B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.

  • Explanations and responses to different worldviews.

  • If God is good and all powerful, then why does evil exist?

  • Discussion about how the existence of evil is consistent with God's character.

  • Your noetic structure, presuppositions and view of epistemology are important elements in the formation of your worldview.

  • Discussion of deductive presuppositionalism vs. inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Objections to inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Arguments for and against evidentialism.

  • Arguments for and against foundationalism.

  • Discussion of natural theology.

  • There are valid, sound and cogent arguments for the existence of God, but no coercive proofs.

  • Discussion of different arguments for God's existence.

  • One version of the cosmological argument for God's existence emphasizes God as first in time, another emphasizes God as first in importance.

  • A possible world is a way the real world could have been. Modal logic, propositions, state of affairs and eternal entities are some of the considerations when discussing a possible world.

  • Something is logically possible if its description does not include a logical contradiction. The existence of the laws of knowledge refute the system of naturalism.

  • Middle knowledge is a form of knowledge attributed to God by Molina.

  • Miracles are a dividing line and central to Christianity.

  • David Hume's rational arguments against miracles and responses to those arguments.

  • Two miracles central to Christianity are the incarnation and resurrection.

  • The question of whether or not Jesus is the only savior touches on pluralism, inclusivism and exclusivism.

  • Pluralism is the view that all religions have salvific value.

  • Inclusivism is the view that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for a person to be saved.

  • Salvation is totally the work of God and all children who die in infancy are elect of God.

  • Discussion from a biblical perspective of God's character and attributes.

  • Open theists believe that God does not have a perfect knowledge of the future.

  • Divine omnipotence and divine omniscience are two attributes of God.

  • When contemplating life after death, remember, Jesus has been there and come back. Will you commit your life to him or reject him?

These lectures were given at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida during the fall of 2001.


Dr. Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Middle Knowledge
Lesson Transcript


[00:00:01] I want to talk about middle knowledge. Middle knowledge, which cannot really be understood properly without the doctrine of possible worlds. I don't know about you, but I find this stuff fascinating. Whether or not it happens to be true. Okay, Now, what is middle knowledge? It was a form of knowledge that was attributed to God by a 15th century or 16th century Jesuit named Molina. Let me also admit that he was accused of heresy, but by other Jesuits, so that Roman Catholics, even today, are not particularly fond of the doctrine of middle knowledge. Now, let me let me get us into the mood of middle knowledge by thinking about a particular event in Scripture that may seem to involve freewill. Okay. Let us think about Judas's betrayal of Jesus in the real world. Here it is. Here's Ronnie. The real world. The Jews offered Judas 30 pieces of silver. And what did Judas do? He betrayed Jesus. That's the real world. Now, watch the move here. But what if the Jews had not offered Judas 20 or 30 pieces of silver? Now, let me give you a name to describe that kind of proposition. That is called a contrary to fact, conditional. Now, a conditional statement. I hope you're getting this in your notes. A conditional statement is an if if A then B statement. Okay. But a contrary to fact conditional is one in which the antecedent clause is false. What if the Jews, the Jewish rulers, instead of offering Judas 30 pieces of silver and we know what he did when they did that? What if they only offered him 20 pieces of silver? Okay.


[00:02:42] Now we have two possibilities. Either Judas still betrayed Jesus. We'll call that. Yes. Or Judas said, What do you think? Who do you think I am? You think I'm going to. You think I'm going to betray Jesus for a lousy 20 pieces of silver? I've got some character people. All right. In which case, the answer would be no. Now we can. We can play. We can pursue these two possibilities through possible worlds. We have a possible world. Let's call this possible world two in which Judas. Judas is offered 20 pieces of silver. And he says, Yes, I will still betray Jesus. I'm disappointed in you. I wanted more money, but I'm going to do it. And then there's world Possible World three in which he's offered 20 pieces of silver, and he says, No, I will not do it now. We know that the that this possible world, the true world, the real world, we know what happened there. But if, contrary to fact, he wasn't offered 30 pieces, but only 20. What possible world to. Have obtained or would possible World three have obtained. It's got to be one of the other friends, right? He either did or he didn't. You can't ride the fence on this. Okay. So which which of these two possible worlds would have obtained? Here's my answer. I don't know. Okay. Are you disappointed in me? You're not disappointed in me. Or you are disappointed in me. Okay. But. God knows. Hmm. God knows which of these two, contrary to fact, conditionals would have obtained. And the means by which God knows which of these two worlds would have obtained is what we call middle knowledge. Molina distinguished three kinds of ways in which God knows. God knows. What has happened and will happen.


[00:05:10] Okay. He knows. He has perfect knowledge of the past, the present, and the future. God also knows what could happen. That's the realm of pure possibility. But God also knows what would have happened under every conceivable set of circumstances. Now. I'm an old man in my 65 years. I have. I have come too many forks in the road. Do you know what Yogi Berra once said to do? When you come to a fork in the road, take it really, really quick. Oh, we're going to miss Yogi Berra. If you're not a you know, if you're not familiar with American culture. Yogi Berra was a baseball player and a manager with the New York Yankees. When you come to a fork in the road, take it all. Okay. I look back over my life and boy, I came to a whole lot of forks. And you know what those forks on the road are? Where do you go to school? Who do you marry? And, you know, we've all many of you know, think of all the choices you made. Have you ever wondered what would have happened if you had made the other choice, if you had taken the other fork in the road? Have you ever wondered about that? Do you know what would have happened? No. But God does. I mean, boy, I'll tell you, I don't know if I should tell you this. I was coming back from England. I was 20 years old. And I had two choices. I'd been offered a church in Hagerstown, Maryland. They called me as a pastor. And I could continue my education at Barrington College. I've been preaching in England and so on, and boy, I was really wrestling with that choice. And I there were days when I was ready to accept that call to that little fundamentalist church in Hagerstown, Maryland.


[00:07:22] But some way, some time during the it was we were crossing the ocean on a little Italian ship and we got caught in the middle of a hurricane. And you know how we passed time during that hurricane? We went down below decks and played ping pong. Dirty Man. And I have a spin that day. I'll tell you what, if I had not continued my education. I'm thinking right now of some friends who are in a similar situation and they didn't. Okay, what if I'd taken that other fork in the road? Who knows? Who knows? No one knows. Well, God knows. Now middle knowledge has some apparent implications for the free will. Divine sovereignty debate. This. Some people think this business of middle knowledge holds the answer to how we can reconcile. Complete human freedom. That's for you are many us who are here. And total divine sovereignty. Here's how. What God does. Is control the circumstances that prevail when we come to make choices. But God li according to one way of thinking. But God leaves the choice to you. But He does control the circumstances. All right. Now, what God did was not actualized. One of these situations He actualized the situation in which Judas was offered 30 pieces of silver. And God knew that if Judas was offered 30 pieces of silver, he'd accept them and he would betray his son. And as we know, Jesus had to be betrayed. But God didn't cause Judas to make his decision. God just put Judas in that situation, and Judas made his decision. It was his free will and therefore he's responsible, not God. Now, do you understand what's just happened? I have solved. The relationship. Between human free will and divine sovereignty. And you have been present here.


[00:09:54] This has been your privilege to hear it. Now, are you going to let me sit here and get away with this? How many of you think something fishy is going on here? Raise your hand. You don't even know whether to raise your hand or not. You think You think there's something peculiar going on here? You think there's something on. Wait a minute. You think there's something unbiblical about what I've just done? Seems to me it seems. Oh, ho ho, ho ho, boy. Yeah. Seems to him. Yeah. Hmm. Do you realize every other time I've taught this. There are three or four or 20 truly reformed people jumping all over me. I mean, they're ready to leap off the desk at me here with their hand and and and you're just sitting. Is it because you're tired or you can't think or you know what's going on? What's wrong with this presentation? You know, I once had the last time, I guess I was with Dr. Jim Packer. We were at a cookout at a golf course in Lake Mary somewhere. It was a seminary function, and Jim Packer and I got on the subject of middle knowledge, and he disparaged it as a as a an Armenian move. I said, Jim, no. This is a reformed move. This is a way for a reformer, a thoroughly reformed guy, to reconcile God's total sovereign, control, everything, and still preserve human responsibility. And he said, you know, you've got a point there. Lots of people. It meant that I have points. Not often, but it happens once in a while. Now, do I have a point or not? If I have a point now, I won't finish that sentence. Are there not advantage? I mean, do you realize that if this if this works, we have done in this room what nobody else has ever done before in the history of the church? We've resolved the Armenian Calvinist debate.


[00:12:00] We can all be Calvinist and still believe in free will. Amen. Oh, man. Okay. Well, may I give the. But. All right, man. Guys, I mean, you spoil my fun. All right. Let me tell you. Oh, I see. I'll never be able to fool you again. Because I gave my I gave this everything I got. All right, Now let me just tell you where I come down on this and you spoil my fun. And you realize that means I'm going into this week when I'm going to grade your exams and I'm in a bad mood, like, All right, now, listen, listen, listen. Have you ever heard the word entrapment? Mm hmm. Do you associate anything good with the process of entrapment? Not usually. Okay. The most likely example in which entrapment occurs is a situation in which the police lure a criminal into committing a criminal act. When under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have done it. There's something unsavory about entrapment. Okay. Even if middle knowledge and this whole business were to create a situation in which Judas acts according to his own freewill, whatever that means. Okay. And incidentally, you know, I sort of give up the ghost here because I have a chapter in this book in which I say there is no such thing as free will. Maybe you read that chapter. Okay, this does look like God is stacking the deck against people. And so here's here's what I began to think about. I used to think there was something to this middle knowledge business. I really did. And it looks good. But let me just recount why I gave it up. Finally, in order for God. Now, forgive the way I describe this, but this is this is, I think, part of the middle knowledge thing.


[00:14:13] In order for God to bring about the state of affairs in which Judas is offered 30 pieces of silver. God basically has to manipulate. The entire state of affairs in the history of the world. To bring us to that particular place. In other words, God had to do the same kind of thing with the Jewish leaders so that they offered Judas not 20 pieces of silver, but 30 pieces of silver. And in other words, you have all of these antecedent conditions which God has to bring about in order to guarantee the Judases in a situation where he's offered 30 pieces of silver. And it just occurred to me one day that a sovereign god doesn't have to get involved in that kind of. Infinite number of regresses. I mean, if if God wishes to bring about a situation, he doesn't have to change a whole series of causes and effects going back to eternity. He can just move upon a particular mind or a particular will in order to bring about his will. So I finally decided that the whole business of middle knowledge attributes and immerses God in far too complex a series of procedures and. God doesn't need that in order to guarantee that his his sovereign will is worked out. So my brief flirtation with middle knowledge lasted all three, four years. And I've grown up and I don't you know, it's a lot of fun to think about it and it it and I will say this and then I'll stop. I do believe that God has middle knowledge. All right. In fact, I agree with a very good philosopher named Paul Hill. Paul Helm says either in an article or in a book, he says unless God does possess middle knowledge, he can't be in sovereign control of the whole world.


[00:16:28] If God only knows what will happen, then He's reacting. God knows all of the possibilities, and that is middle knowledge. But he doesn't use it in the way that certain proponents of middle knowledge describe it. Thank you for listening to this lecture. Brought to you by biblical training, dawg. Your prayers and financial support enable us to provide a biblical and theological education that all people around the world can access. Blessings. As you continue to study and live out your faith and as you grow in your relationship with the Lord.