The Divine and Perfect Knowledge of God (Turretin)

Back in 17th century Europe there was a religious group of people called Socinians. This group originated with the teachings of Lelio Socinus and his nephew Faustus Socinus. The former rubbed shoulders with Reformers such as Henry Bullinger, Philipp Melanchthon, and John Calvin. Lelio Socinus’ teachings worried the Reformers because of his habit of always questioning everything. His nephew Faustus went headlong into unorthodoxy because of his rationalism. For example, Faustus denied the doctrine of the Trinity, he denied Christ’s death as a substitutionary sacrifice, and he denied the immortality of the soul, just to name a few of his heresies. This 17th century group might be called proto-unitarians or the trailblazers of the 19th century rationalistic biblical criticism movement. Although I don’t think people call themselves Socinians today, some Socinian teaching is still around (e.g. some say the OT couldn’t have prophesied about future events because God doesn’t know the future).

Speaking of this, here’s Francis Turretin’s excellent explanation of the knowledge of God. This explanation is from a historic Christian and biblical perspective – what we call classical Christian theism:

Concerning the intellect of God and the disquisition [analysis/discussion] of his knowledge, two things above all others must be attended to: the mode and object.

The mode consists in his knowing all things perfectly, undecidedly, distinctly, and immutably. It is thus distinguished from human and angelic knowledge:

Perfectly, because he knows all things by himself or by his essence (not by forms abstracted from things, as is the case with creatures, both because these are only in time with the things themselves, but the knowledge of God is eternal, and because he can have no cause out[side] of himself.

Undividedly, because he knows all things intuitively and noetically [intellectually], not discursively and diagnostically (by ratiocination [logic/reason] and by inferring one thing from another). If God is sometimes set forth as inquiring or reasoning, this is not said properly, but humanly (the Scriptures lisping with us to the perfect and certain knowledge of God).

Distinctly, not that by a diverse conception he collects diverse predicates of things, but because he most distinctively see through all things at one glance so that nothing, even the most minute, can escape him.

Immutably, because with him there is no shadow of change, and as he himself remaining immovable gives motion to all, so he sees the various turns and changes of things by an immutable cognition.

The object of the knowledge of God is both himself (who most perfectly knows himself in himself) and all things extrinsic to him whether possible or future (i.e., as to their various orders and states; as to quantity – great and small; as to quality – good and bad; as to predication – universals and singulars; as to time – past, present, and future; as to state – necessary and free or contingent).

Turretin is saying that God knows all things perfectly, completely, and without having to discuss or ruminate to learn about them. God has always been perfectly omniscient in this way; he does not advance in knowledge or have to learn in order to keep up with the changes in creation. Turretin continued this thought:

Indeed Scripture is so clear on this subject as to leave no room for doubt. For why should Christ say that the hairs of our head are all numbered and not one sparrow can fall on the ground without the will of the Father (Mt. 10:29, 30)? How could Paul assert that all things are naked and open unto him [God], and there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight (Heb. 4:13)? How could the psalmist intimate that God tells the number of the stars and calls them all by their names (Ps. 147:4) unless God beheld individual things? And if God created and governs them, why should he not also know them?

Turretin then spent a paragraph explaining the unorthodox teaching of Socinus, who said that God does not know things before they happen, nor does he know future contingencies. Turretin responded with this:

“On the other hand, the orthodox maintain that future contingent things fall under the infallible knowledge of God.”

The above quotes come from an excellent section of Turretin’s Institutes called “The Knowledge of God.” Yes, it is deep theology and you may have to read it a couple of times to better understand it. But it is an important biblical teaching from a classical Christian and biblical perspective. Knowing the truth about God’s perfect knowledge keeps us from errors today, such as Socinianism popping up in again some ways. And knowing the truth helps keep us walking hand in hand with the historic Christian church and her great confession.

(Turretin’s quotes are found in volume one of his Institutes, pages 207-208.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015