Does Matthew 11:20-24 teach Molinism (Middle Knowledge)?


Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina is normally attributed with the Molinist position and its origin, although Fonseca and Lessius put forth the same ideas. They use texts such as Matthew 11 to show that God had "middle knowledge." In our era, William Lane Craig asserts it and The Baptist Faith and Message appears to sum up Molinism: "[God's] perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures" (Article 2).

Molinism in so many words states God has three kinds of knowledge: natural, middle, and free.

  • Natural knowledge is God's knowledge of all possible worlds, (all that concerns the necessary and possible in God's understanding)
  • Free knowledge is God's knowledge of this actual world. By a "free act," he is able to know what he knows absolutely. (So far we are OK, but Molina said this knowledge (free) is not something that is essential in God.)
  • Middle knowledge states that God cannot know the future free acts of men in the same way he knows other things absolutely.
  • Thus, according to Molina, this middle knowledge is dependent upon the free acts of what men will do. Therefore God, in his omniscience, waits for men to act and then will choose them to be saved based on their choice to be saved.

    Now, to our text (which is among their other proof texts of Exod. 13:17; 1 Sam. 23:8-14; Jer. 23: 21-22; 1 Cor. 2:8):

    Matthew 11:20-24 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

    First, middle knowledge is a non-entity. Christ's knowledge here is simply natural (God's knowledge of all possible worlds) not middle.

    Second, Matthew 11 only proves God's knowledge of counterfactuals, not middle knowledge. As Travis James Campbell in Middle Knowledge: A Reformed Critique states:

    At best, the passages often used by defenders of middle knowledge prove, if anything, only "that God, knowing all causes, free and necessary, knows how they would act under any proposed condition. Even we know that if we add fire to powder an explosion would ensue."[A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1972), 148 (italics in original).] In other words, these biblical passages only show us that God knows the nature of the free agent so well that, were that agent placed in another circumstance, God knows exactly what he would do. And this does not reconcile middle knowledge with libertarianism, but with compatibilism. More importantly, it is certainly possible that God knows this information only logically posterior to the divine decree thereby eliminating the need for middle knowledge. Therefore, there is little, if any, biblical warrant for the scientia media.

    Interestingly enough, Craig admits this point, writing:

    Since Scripture does not reflect upon this question, no amount of proof-texting can prove that God's counterfactual knowledge is possessed logically prior to his creative decree. This is a matter for theological-philosophical reflection, not biblical exegesis. Thus, while it is clearly unbiblical to deny that God has simple foreknowledge and even counterfactual knowledge, those who deny middle knowledge cannot be accused of being unbiblical. (Craig, "Middle Knowledge View," 125.)

    Third, they can't leave out (as Paul Harvey would say), "the rest of the story." The text does not stop at verse 24, but continues.

    Matthew 11:25-27 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

    Middle Knowledge is here condemned. When Jesus says, "Father, Lord of heaven and earth," he is saying that God in his sovereignty has, in his good pleasure, hidden knowledge from some and revealed this same hidden knowledge to others. Matthew 11 does not speak about God not knowing anything until man does something, but rather already knowing it and just not revealing it until/if he desires. Matthew chapter 11 is teaching about an upcoming just judgment (Matt. 11:15-19). Note that it has not happened yet, but Christ knows it is going to happen. This is not middle knowledge, but natural knowledge and the free knowledge to justly act as God sees fit according to his pleasure.

    God is sovereign over all things (Prov. 16:33; Matt. 10:29; Rom. 11:36; Eph. 1:11, etc.) - even human decisions (Prov. 20:24; 21:1). Although God does not entice men to sin (James 1:13), he is still working everything, from individuals to nations, to the end that he has willed (Isa. 46:10-11). God's purposes do not depend upon man (Acts 17:24-26), nor does God discover or learn (1 John 3:20; Job 34:21-22; Psa. 50:11; Prov. 15:3). All things are decreed by God's infinitely wise counsel (Rom. 11:33-36).

    The Westminster Confession of Faith substantiates the orthodox position in Chapter III:1-3, On God's Decree:

    I. 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]
    1. Psa. 33:11: Eph. 1:11: Heb. 6:17
    2. Psa. 5:4; James 1:13-14; I John 1:5; see Hab. 1:13
    3. Acts 2:23; 4:27-28: Matt. 17:12; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33.

    II. 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]
    4. I Sam. 23:11-12; Matt. 11:21-23
    5. 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]
    6. I Tim 5:21; Jude 1:6; Matt. 25:31, 41
    7. Eph. 1:5-6; Rom. 9:22-23; Prov. 16:4.

    Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

    Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).