The Heresy of Middle Knowledge


by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

It is interesting to me to see what errors the Devil will keep alive during our present age in terms of the heresies many good men have put to rest by their orthodox pens. Some heresies have been thrown by the wayside; they have come and gone. Others are still in full bloom. Those who think they have a handle on Biblical theology, but have been led astray by these errors and their own twisted thinking have resurrected some again. And it is equally interesting to me that the more harmful errors and heresies at hand surround the doctrine of God or the doctrine of Christ. In this paper, the heresy I am re-refuting surrounds Theology Proper, or the doctrine of God. It is specifically in terms of the doctrine of the knowledge of God, or His Omniscience. The error is called Molinism, or Middle Knowledge (Today Open Theism is its close brother.).

It is unsure as to whether Luis de Molina (1535-1600) actually spawned the doctrine of Middle Knowledge. Others such as Fonseca and Lessius have put forth the same ideas. Whether Molina himself began it is of no consequence. What is important is that it be rejected by orthodox Christians as heresy. In 1609 the Roman Catholic church decided to allow this idea as something acceptable. However, upon close scrutiny, it is easily distinguished as something unbiblical and unorthodox.

According to Molina (as we will presume it was his idea since the term has been deemed thus by his own name) God has three kinds of knowledge: natural, middle and free. Natural knowledge is God’s knowledge of all possible worlds, i.e. all that concerns the necessary and possible in God’s understanding (this is orthodox). Free knowledge is God’s knowledge of this actual world. By a “free act,” He is able to know what He knows absolutely (this is also orthodox). Molina, however, said this knowledge is not something that is essential in God, which is ludicrous in and if itself. Lastly, middle knowledge states that God cannot know the future free acts of men in the same way He knows other things absolutely. Thus, this middle knowledge is dependent upon the free acts of what men will do. God, in His “omniscience”, waits for men to act and then will choose them to be saved based on their choice to be saved.

The real basis for this doctrine is not the Bible, but a twisted form of logic. The Molinian logician will argue that an action must first occur before it can be true. God, then, cannot know anything in this manner as true and absolute unless it has first occurred. God, then, becomes dependent upon the acts of men instead of on His own eternal decrees. And since the actions of men are contingent, the knowledge of such acts would be contingent as well. The Molinian logicians will also argue this in the manner of something being true. The free acts of men cannot be true acts until they are actually acted. Thus, God cannot know something as true until men, in time, act out their free choices. Then God’s knowledge becomes true.

It is certainly easy to see what the doctrine of Middle knowledge is attractive here. Men are ultimately their own little saviors, and every good Roman Catholic loves the idea of working for their own salvation. Secondly, it seems to provide answers to “theological conundrums” such as “hell” and the “problem of evil.” In reality, all of the above is but part of the Molinian facade.

In this position it seems that the Jesuits were simply attempting to preserve the heretical doctrines mustered up by the semi-Pelagians. Today, those who hold to Molinism simply reject the biblical data of God’s eternal decrees, His omniscience and His omnipotent power wielded in the doctrine of Continuous Creation. Molinism is not compatible with these doctrines. Molinians must simply deny most of the Bible in order to hold onto these ideas while at the same time exalt other portions of the Scriptures which they think holds their view together. They must simply deny texts such as Isaiah 46:10-11 because it is incompatible with their “logic;” “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’ Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.” Whenever men are placed in the driver’s seat of the future, God is diminished in His glory and the depravity of those men bolts to the forefront; then, doctrines such as Molinism rise to the surface. In light of the Biblical data, and logical reasoning itself, this doctrine comes to naught. The only reason why anyone would continue to hold this doctrine is due to unbelief – they reject the God of the Bible.

Turretin states the heresy and objections well, “The question is not whether God knows future contingencies…Rather the question is whether they belong to a kind of middle knowledge distinct from the natural and free [knowledge He already possesses of all things]. The latter we deny…therefore the question is whether besides the natural knowledge (which is only things possible) and the knowledge of vision (which is only of things future), there may be granted in God a certain third or middle knowledge concerning conditional future things by which God knows what men or angels will freely do without a special decree preceding (if placed with these or those circumstance in such an order of things). The Jesuits, Socinians, and Remonstrants affirm this; the orthodox deny this.” (Institutio, v1, Page 214)

Middle Knowledge is a non-entity. The reasons for this are many: First, both natural and free knowledge embrace the knowing of all things for God. There is nothing left to know after these. There is nothing in the nature of any thing whatsoever which is not possible or future. God’s knowledge cannot be said to move out of these bounds. He knows all things possible or future before the foundations of the world. Middle knowledge, then, is a non-entity. Second, no future conditional thing can be knowable before the divine decree. Thus, things not true cannot be foreknown as true. Third, all things are under the power of God’s providence, and thus, no thing can be independent of that providence. Fourth, the Bible does not ascribe to God any type of knowledge this is uncertain (the author is aware of the resurgence of “Open Theism” which is adequately dealt with by Bruce Ware in his book, “God’s Lesser Glory”). Molina would have God confused about all things since God’s knowledge is dependent upon the free acts of men. Thus, any knowledge about any thing in the created order would necessitate that all knowledge God has about the universe would be contingent upon the free acts of men in that universe – which is nonsense. God, then, would simply be a resurrected kind of “Zeus” figure from ancient mythology. Fifth, middle knowledge destroys the dominion of God over creation since all acts are not preformed by God’s decree, but the acts itself. Man, then, becomes “God.”

Molina did not place truth in is proper context. God’s knowledge of reality is not based upon that which is contingent, but His own nature. This means that God’s knowledge is not contingent on the condition of the things known. It based on His asiety, or His necessary being. Since God’s being is necessary in this manner, everything in known to Him is necessary not contingent. If God’s knowledge is dependent on the free actions of men, then God is not really God at all. It would be just as well to bow down to a graven image or an idol made from your own hands. He would have no power to act independently of men, nor would he have the power to enact any change whatsoever, not even the act of creation.

There is no position in between the two poles of logic – God is the cause of all things, both primary and secondary means, (this Calvinism affirms) or, He is dependent upon other free acts (Roman Catholicism and Arminianism affirms). God is either cause, or He is effect. The epistemological nature of God’s knowledge will not allow Him to become an Olympian god who peers over the clouds to see what trickery men have played against Him that day. Efficacious salvation would be impossible with such a “god.” How could Zeus ensure the salvation of any individual if the individual is the author and finisher of his own faith? Molinism does not only deny the cardinal doctrines of Theology Proper, but also denies the depravity of man at this point (and this the usual goal of such doctrines – to relieve man of his true misery and place in his hands a form of “power” that the serpent tempted Eve by).

Turretin sums up these ideas nicely, “The cause of the existence of thing differs from the cause of their fruition. Second causes can concur with God to cause the existence of a certain thing because they exist and are active at the same time with God. But no second cause can concur with him to cause the futurition of things because futurition was made from eternity, while all second causes are only in time. Hence it is evident that the futurition of things depends upon nothing but the decree of God, and therefore can be foreknown only from the decree.” (Institutio, v1, Page 218)

Brief Scriptural Support for the infinite knowledge of God and His power, and the Biblical denial of Molinism:

Acts 17:24-25, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

Col. 1:17, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”

Acts 17:28, “…for in Him we live and move and have our being…”

Rom. 11:33-34, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?”

Psalm 147:5, “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.”

Heb. 4:13, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

Acts 15:18, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.”

Ezekiel 11:5, “Then the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and said to me, “Speak! ‘Thus says the LORD: “Thus you have said, O house of Israel; for I know the things that come into your mind.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith substantiates the orthodox position on this subject in chapter 3:1-3 – On God’s Decree.

  1. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:[1] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[3]
  2. Psa. 33:11: Eph. 1:11: Heb. 6:17
  3. Psa. 5:4; James 1:13-14; I John 1:5; see Hab. 1:13
  4. Acts 2:23; 4:27-28: Matt. 17:12; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33
  5. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions,[4] yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.[5]
  6. I Sam. 23:11-12; Matt. 11:21-23
  7. Rom. 9:11, 13, 16, 18

III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels[6] are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.[7]

  1. I Tim 5:21; Jude 1:6; Matt. 25:31, 41
  2. Eph. 1:5-6; Rom. 9:22-23; Prov. 16:4