“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.”
Order of Contents
The Reformed View
At the Reformation, the Reformed, following in the Augustinian tradition, posited that God has two fundamental types of knowledge: (1) knowledge of all things possible, which He could bring to pass if He so chose (WCF 3.2), and (2) knowledge based on His actual, free decree to create and ordain all things that will ever come to pass—an internal and exhaustive knowledge of all things that will come to be realized in the future (WCF 3.2; 5.2).
The reformed understood that God’s free and sovereignly chosen, all-determining decree of all things and all that would ever come to pass was the solid basis for all causation in this universe: even necessary, contingent and free causes (WCF 3.1; 5.2), the latter including man’s natural power and freedom of choice (WCF 9.2). Thus God establishes and uses truly free and contingent causes, including the free actions of his creatures, as a means to fulfill his always effectual decree for his own glory.
What is ‘Middle Knowledge’?
In an alternate attempt to reconcile man’s free will with God’s sovereignty, a certain knowledge in-between the two former types of knowledge mentioned, a ‘middle knowledge’ (scientia media), first came to be posited by Jesuits, most notably Luis de Molina (1536–1600), in the late-1500’s. This paradigm was shortly adopted by Jacob Arminius (1560–1609) and most of his followers.
This hypothesized ‘middle knowledge’ involved a knowledge of what creatures would do in various possible situations considered apart from any decree of God. God chooses such a possible scenario, or world, for His creatures which they would have chosen apart from any decree of his, but which gives God’s desired outcome, and God wills to create it so.
The end result of ‘middle knowledge’, and the paradigm it serves as the basis for, is that man remains autonomous, God’s foreknowledge is based on the creation, and God simply rubber-stamps by his decree what man would have done anyway.
The Problem with ‘Middle Knowledge’
The fundamental problem with ‘middle knowledge’, however, is that it assumes as its starting point that a creature can do anything whatsoever considered apart from the concurring will of God: that a creature can act independent of God’s will. Yet, as God holds all things in existence, it is impossible, by God’s self-sufficiency and omnipotence, and the doctrine of creation, for anything to happen, or to be conceived of happening, apart from the concurring will of God, as the creature is in all ways dependent for his existence and all of his actions on the will of the Creator.
If no creature can exist or move except by the concurring, eternal will of God (which Scripture amply testifies to), then the typical Reformed response to ‘middle knowledge’ was right: it is not possible for ‘middle knowledge’ to exist at all. To put it another way: ‘middle knowledge’ is like re-configuring multi-horned, pink unicorns.
George Gillespie said, “and what is that scientia media which the Jesuits glory of as a new light, but the very old error of natural men, which looks upon things contingent as not decreed and determined by the will of God?” (Treatise of Miscellany Questions, ch. 12, p. 64 in Works, vol. 2)
What about Things that Could have been Otherwise?
How then does one understand Mt. 11:21-24 at the top of this webpage, a text often used in support of ‘middle knowledge’? Jesus states in the passage that if the persons in Tyre, Sidon and Sodom had seen the great works done by Christ in Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, they would have repented.
The answer is that God knows by his natural, innate knowledge all things that are possible, including what would have come to pass if persons in history did otherwise than what they did. The Westminster Confession of Faith, citing Mt. 11:21-24, states: “God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions” (WCF 3.2), including those that never happen.
The WCF also cites 1 Sam. 23:11-13 in proof of this teaching, where David asks the Lord of things that would never happen, and the Lord tells him the answers to his questions:
“‘Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard?…’ And the Lord said, ‘He will come down.’ Then said David, ‘Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?’ And the Lord said, ‘They will deliver thee up.’
Then David and his men… arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbare to go forth.”
Yet in asserting this natural and Scriptural truth, the Westminster Confession, in the same sentence, condemns the theory of ‘middle knowledge’: “yet hath He not decreed any thing because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”
The Reformed View is the Teaching of God in his Word
In validation of the reformed view, the WCF cites Rom. 9:11,13,16,18, which teaches that God’s predetermining will, out of his own good-pleasure, is the first cause of the course of history:
“(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;)…
So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy… Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.”
That free, human decisions are themselves the effects of God’s eternal decree, consider also:
Isa. 10:5-7, “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.”
Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:”
Acts 4:27-28, “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
Eph. 1:11, “being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:”
Phil. 2:13, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
‘Molinism 101’ (2013) 14 paragraphs
‘Middle Knowledge’ in The Providence of God (Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), pp. 55-68
What is Providence Buy (2008)
“Thomas looks at providence and Scripture and explores three historic views of God’s sovereignty: 1. Classic or Augustinian-Calvinistic, 2. Arminian or ‘simple divine foreknowledge’, and 3. Molinism, which introduces the concept of ‘middle knowledge’.”
‘Middle Knowledge’ (2014) 44 min.
Rutherford, Samuel – Samuel Rutherford’s Treatise on Providence: the Table of Contents in English (1649) 8 pp.
Turretin, Francis – ‘Middle Knowledge’ in Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James Dennison, Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1992-1997), vol. 1, 3rd Topic
De Moor, Bernard – Continuous Commentary, ch. 4, ‘On God’
34. Divine Knowledge
35. God’s Knowledge, a Most Pure Act
35. God’s Knowledge Eternal & Self-Sufficient
35. Perfection of God’s Knowledge
35. Perfection of God’s Knowledge Asserted from Hebrews 4:13
35. Perfection of God’s Knowledge Asserted from Romans 11 (by Voetius)
36. God’s Knowledge of All Things
36. God’s Knowledge of Himself
36. God’s Knowledge of All Things Possible, & of All Universals & Particulars
36. God’s Knowledge of Thing Great & Small, Good & Evil
36. God’s Knowledge of the Hidden Things of the Heart
36. God’s Knowledge of Free & Contingent Futures
36. The Socinian Denial of God’s Knowledge of Free & Contingent Futures
36. Remonstrant Hesitation concerning God’s Knowledge of Free and Contingent Futures
36. Answering Objections to God’s Knowledge of Free & Contingent Futures, pt. 1, 2, 3
37. God’s Knowledge of Vision, & of Simple Intelligence
37. Defense of God’s Knowledge of Vision, & of Simple Intelligence
38. Advocates of the Doctrine of Middle Knowledge
38. Verbal Dispute among the Reformed over Middle Knowledge
38. Middle Knowledge: Definitions & Clarification of the Question
38. Refutation of the Doctrine of Middle Knowledge
39. Answering the Molinists, pt. 1, 2
40. God’s Knowledge not properly the Cause of Things
On Johannes Maccovius’s Objections
Willem van Asselt
‘Christ, Predestination, and Covenant in Post-Reformation Reformed Theology’, 2. ‘Predestination…’, pp. 218-9 in eds. Lehner, Muller, Roeber, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800 (Oxford, 2016)
“In the Reformed view, both Catholic Counter-Reformation (L. Molina) and Remonstrant theology (Arminius) had modified this ‘will-based-theology’ [of Augustine and the Reformed] by their adaptation of middle knowledge (scientia media), resulting in a ‘knowledge-based-theology’ in which there is no room for real contingency (Maccovius 1641b, 103-4; Bac 2010).
For Maccovius and most of seventeenth-century Reformed theologians, the main problem of the concept of middle knowledge is that it undermines the fundamental distinction between Creator and creature. Middle knowledge, used to describe a category of divine knowledge structurally or logically antecedent to God’s will, implies a necessity of the objects of divine knowledge (Maccovius 1641a, 25-26). Because middle knowledge postulates objects extra Deum [outside God] that precede his will, a logical contradiction is involved: objects outside God always presuppose the divine will.
Finally. if God’s middle knowledge also contains his decree, then this would imply that it is impossible for God to choose an alternative (Maccovius 1641a, 25). Middle knowledge, then, approximates Stoic fate (fatum Stoicum), a natural or absolute necessity so inherent in the essential nature of things that even God is made dependent, like Homer’s Jupiter [who was constrained by nature] (Maccovius 1641b, 253).”
ed. van Asselt, Bell, van den Brink, Ferwerda, Scholastic Discourse: Johannes Maccovius (1588–1644) on Theological and Philosophical Distinctions and Rules (Apeldoorn, 2009), ch. 4, ‘On God’, p. 119
“Furthermore, one ought to know that the Arminians have fabricated a third category in the divine knowledge; they call this knowledge middle or conditioned knowledge according to which God knows a certain event He has never decreed. But this is absurd. Because nothing happens what God did not decree, Thr 3,37 [Lam. 3:37].”
On Voet’s Analysis
ch. 13, ‘God, Creation, and Providence in Post-Reformation Reformed Theology’, p. 202 in eds. Lehner, Muller, Roeber, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800 (Oxford, 2016)
“Perhaps the most detailed Reformed responses to this new concept [of middle knowledge] were written by William Twisse (ca. 1577-1646) and Voetius… Virtually all Reformed orthodox theologians rejected this solution because it made God dependent on his finite creatures. Moreover, they considered middle knowledge to be superfluous because necessary and free knowledge already covered all knowable objects.
According to Voetius, God indeed knows what free creatures would do in certain circumstances, but this knowledge presupposes the divine decree and thus in the end amounts to a variation of free [decreed] knowledge. Otherwise, this knowledge would be necessary, evoking Stoic fate that eliminates divine and human freedom alike.
For the Reformed orthodox, contingent reality was rooted in the divine will rather than in knowledge. In this they followed the Augustinian-Franciscan tradition, together with most Dominicans and Franciscans of their age (Voetius 1648, 264-339; Twisse 1639; Beck 2007, 264-322, 435-39; Bac 2010, 41-210).”
Lecture Notes of Archibald Alexander on Theology, Questions 178-180
178. Is there any Scientia Media [middle knowledge]?
This signifies a middle species of knowledge between the two just mentioned, differing from the knowledge of intelligence (or natural knowledge), because it relates to future things, and from that of vision, because it refers to things only hypothetically future. [Francis] Turretin’s arguments against a Scientia Media are:
1. That the other two kinds of knowledge embrace everything that is capable of being known;
2. Because things cannot be foreseen as true that are not true;
3. Because all the acts of a created will are subject to the divine providence;
4. No uncertain knowledge is to be attributed to God;
5. Scientia Media:
A. Destroys God’s dominion over the free acts of the will.
B. If there were a Scientia Media, some other cause might be assigned for predestination than the mere beneplacitum [good-pleasure] of God.
179. By whom and for what purpose was it invented?
By the Jesuits to support the semi-Pelagian doctrine respecting the foreknowledge of faith as the cause of election, and to maintain the freedom of the will.
180. Does the knowledge of God extend infallibly to contingencies?
Anything is said to be contingent in the language of theology that in the nature of things might have been otherwise than it is. It refers not to the event that is certain but to the mode of production. That God knows things contingent is proved:
1. From its being said in the Bible: “Hell and destruction are before the Lord, how much more the hearts of the children of men.” [Prov. 15:11]
2. From His predicting them;
3. From the perfection of His nature;
4. From His decreeing them.
“The doctrine of middle knowledge, however, represents contingent future events as contingent and free also in relation to God. This is with reference not only to God’s predestination but also his foreknowledge, for just as in Origen, things do not happen because God knows them, but God foreknows them because they are going to happen. Hence, the sequence is not necessary knowledge, the knowledge of vision, the decree to create (etc.); instead, it is necessary knowledge, middle knowledge, decree to create (etc.), and the knowledge of vision.
God does not derive his knowledge of the free actions of human beings from his own being, his own decrees, but from the will of creatures. God, accordingly, becomes dependent on the world, derives knowledge from the world that he did not have and could not obtain from himself, and hence, in his knowledge, ceases to be one, simple, and independent – that is, God.
Conversely, the creature in large part becomes independent vis-a-vis God. It did indeed at one time receive “being” (esse) and “being able” (posse) from God but now it has the “volition” (velle) completely in its own hand. It sovereignly makes it own decisions and either accomplishes something or does not accomplish something apart from any preceding divine decree. Something can therefore come into being quite apart from God’s will. The creature is now creator, autonomous, sovereign; the entire history of the world is taken out of God’s controlling hands and placed into human hands. First, humans decide; then God responds with a plan that corresponds to that decision.”
Twisse, William – A Free Dissertation on Middle Knowledge, in Three Books (Arnhem, 1639) ToC 500 pp.
“Perhaps the most detailed Reformed responses to this new concept [of middle knowledge] were written by William Twisse (ca. 1577-1646) and Voetius.” – Andreas Beck in eds. Lehner, Muller, Roeber, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800 (Oxford, 2016), p. 202
Maccovius, Johannes – 9. ‘Of Middle Knowledge’, pp. 24-28 in A Theological Collection of all that which is Extant, including Theological Theses through Common Places in the Academy of Franeker (Franeker, 1641)
Trigland, Jacob – Meditations on Various Opinions on the Will of God & Universal Grace, where yet is something on Middle-Knowledge (Leiden, 1642) ToC
Trigland was one of the professors of theology at Leiden and an author of the Synopsis of Pure Theology.
Voet, Gisbert – Select Theological Disputations, vol. 1 (Utrecht, 1648)
“Perhaps the most detailed Reformed responses to this new concept [of middle knowledge] were written by William Twisse (ca. 1577-1646) and Voetius.” – Andreas Beck, in eds. Lehner, Muller, Roeber, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800 (Oxford, 2016), p. 202
Holtzfus, Barthold – 7. ‘Of the Distinctions in Divine Knowledge [Scientiae], in Theory & in Practice, Natural & Free, of the Knowledge of Simple Intelligence & Vision, & so of Conditional, Middle Knowledge & of the Wisdom of God’ in A Theological Tract on God, Attributes & the Divine Decrees, Three Academic Dissertations (1707), pp. 71-106
Holtzfus (1659-1717) was a reformed professor of philosophy and theology at Frankfurt.