Divine Knowing and Matthew 24:36

dontknowOne of the most difficult aspects of Christology is the concept of Christ’s mental faculties. While issues of will, memory, reasoning, and self-awareness are tricky in their own right, the issue of the knowledge which the theanthropic person of Christ possessed is particularly tricky.

I would like to present a very brief introductory proposal that I hope will eventually blossom into a paper or thesis at some point.

Although there are a few passages that one could point to in order to illustrate this, the classic example is Matthew 24:36 (Parallel Mark 13:32)

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Now, laying aside the equally difficulty fact that this passage excludes the Holy Spirit from knowing the day of the Parousia, it presents us with a quandary (I’m assuming that the author is only referring to persons with created natures and thus the Holy Spirit is excluded from the range of persons being considered, but I’ll leave the theological work to the Pneumatologists).

How can Christ, who is truly God and therefore omniscient, not know something? That is, one of the defining features of omniscience is the knowledge of all facts, classically this would include future facts. How are we to resolve this without compromising the genuine humanity of Christ as well?

These are questions that have been wrestled over since the earliest stages of Christian thought. I am hardly arrogant or self-deluded enough to think that I will resolve them in a single blog post, paper, or life time. However, I think that we may find some traction that can help us propel ourselves further toward a resolution.

In classic theology, the language we use about God is considered to be primarily (if not exclusively) analogical. This means that when we say that God is X that we are saying a true genuine statement, but we are making use of an analogy to do so. So when I say that God is powerful, I don’t simply mean that God is powerful in the same way that we are but on a higher magnitude. To even say that God is infinitely more powerful in magnitude, but the same in the same way as we are is not correct. God’s power is the type that can bring about matter out of nothing, can exist without cause, never diminishes, etc. It is not only numerically or quantitatively greater than ours, but it is qualitatively different from ours as well.

Now, when we apply this thinking to omniscience we see that rather than God simply knowing all facts in simply a numerically greater way than you or I, we see that he knows all facts in both a numerically greater, as well as a qualitatively different way.

So, while you may describe the knowledge of a human as X-Y=K where X is the total quantity of facts, Y is the facts that a given human does not know, resulting in K for the knowledge content of a given human person… it is not accurate to simply say that for God Y=0. While it is true that there are no factual data that God does not know, this is not enough.

Now, when we come to the Incarnate Logos, this gives us a different model with which to resolve the problem. We can now understand that as a single person who fully possesses both divine intellectual capacities, and human intellectual capacities that for every given fact, Christ knows it in two different ways. When Jesus knew the fact that the Romans were occupying Judea, he knew it in both a divine way and a human way. Since the law of non-contradiction prevents us from saying that A cannot be Non-A at the same time and in the same way, we cannot simply say that Jesus both knew and didn’t know a given fact (in this case, the day and hour of his Parousia). However, if we posit that Christ knew A in one way, but did not know A in another way, then we do not face a contradiction.

We can explain it in formula form as follows.

For data that Jesus knows in a human way:
Jesus knows A in way X
Jesus knows A in way Y

For data that Jesus does not know in a human way (the day and hour of his Parousia, who touched him, etc):
Jesus knows A in way X
Jesus does not know A in way Y

What this leaves us with is a rational way to say that Jesus still possesses and fully actualizes the omniscience of his divine nature (contra Kenotic Christology) and still retain the truthfulness and plain reading of his statement in Matthew 24:36.

While this does not fully relieve the tension of this passage (How can the Father only know? Does this exclude the Son and Holy Spirit from divinely knowing? Why does the author act as though people would expect the Angels to know?) I believe that this approach brings us closer to a rational way to conceptualize this Christological problem.