The plain reading of scripture

Open theists claim that the best way to read the Bible is to read it for its plain meaning whenever possible.  This is a good presupposition, but it cannot always be done.  There are scriptures that do not allow plain readings and we must interpret them in light of other verses.  The open theist agrees with this.  But, because the open theist teaches that God does not know all things in the future and/or the future is not knowable, then when they approach scriptures where God relents, repents, or tests people, they then state that the best way to read these scriptures is plainly and clearly.  Thus, they find support for the idea that God is learning, making mistakes, and taking risks.  But the problem is with their presupposition and its imposition upon various texts without regard to other texts that contradict their presupposition.  For example....

The Bible says in 1 John 3:20  "...for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things."  Also in 1 Sam. 15:29 the Bible says, “Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind."  Of course, the plain meaning of these texts is obvious; we see that God knows all things, not just the present and we see that God does not change His mind.  Yet, the open theist will tell us that God does not know all things and that He does change His mind.  Of course, these verses need to be examined contextually and in light of other verses, but the point is clear: open theists have a presupposition through which they interpret the Bible and that presupposition isn't always consistent with scripture.

It is this presupposition of open theism that has led to such comments as this:

"While some (including myself) argue that the development of the classical view of God was decisively influenced by pagan philosophy, classical theologians have always maintained that it is deeply rooted in Scripture."1

This is overkill, "decisively influenced by pagan philosophy"?  Perhaps it is open theism that is influenced by pagan philosophy, since it teaches that God can make mistakes, doesn't know all things, and changes His mind.  Which is more majestic and sovereign: the God of open theism, or the God of classical theism which says that God is absolutely sovereign, in control, knows all things, and makes no mistakes?

The plain reading of scripture

The plain reading of scripture is the best way to approach the scripture, but it is not always the best way.  Following are some examples of where a plain reading isn't sufficient to explain the text:

  1. "Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
    1. Did God not know where Adam was after Adam had sinned?  Of course He did.  The plain reading of scripture would tell us to assume that God didn't know.  But, since God knows all things (1 John 3:20), God certainly knew where Adam was.  Furthermore, God wasn't asking about physical location, but about spiritual condition.
  2. "You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I,'" (John 14:28).  
    1. The plain reading of this text could be used to suggest that Jesus is not God in flesh since the Father is greater than Jesus.  How could that be so, if Jesus is God?  But, we need to go to other scriptures for clarification. 
      Jesus said the Father was greater than He not because Jesus is not God, but because Jesus was also a man and as a man he was in a lower position.  He was ". . . made for a little while lower than the angels . . ." (Heb. 2:9).  Also in Phil. 2:5-8, it says that Jesus "emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men . . ."  
      Jesus has two natures.  Jesus was not denying that He was God.  He was merely acknowledging the fact that He was also a man.  Jesus is both God and man.  As a man, he was in a lesser position than the Father.  He had added to Himself human nature (Col. 2:9).  He became a man to die for people.
  3. "And He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation," (Col. 1:15)
    1. At first glance this verse could imply that Jesus is the first created thing in the universe.  Besides being wrong, that is heresy.  In order to understand this verse, we need to understand others.  Did you know that "firstborn" does not mean first created, but is a transferrable title demonstrating pre-eminence?
      Gen. 41:51-52, "And Joseph called the name of the first-born Manasseh: For, said he, God hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house. And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath made me fruitful in the land of my affliction" (NASB)
      Jer. 31:9, "...for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn (NASB)."

As you can see, the plain reading of scripture isn't always the best way to look at something - and the open theists agree.  The truth is that sometimes we need to look elsewhere for clarification on verses that are sometimes difficult.  This principle is no different with the verses the open theists focus on.  But, when they have a presupposition that God doesn't know all things and can make mistakes, then they will have to interpret some scriptures in a way that best suits their theology -- without looking deeper into God's word -- and this isn't a good idea since the result in openness is a God who is growing in wisdom and knowledge, who has areas of ignorance, who makes mistakes, and who hopes that people will do what He wants them to do.  This is a weaker and unbiblical concept of god.

  • 1. Boyd, Gregory A., God of the Possible, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001, p. 24.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.