Doesn’t Psalm 139:16 refute the open view of the future?
One of the passages most frequently cited in attempts to refute the open view of the future is Psalm 139:16. Here David says that God viewed him while he was being formed in the womb (vs. 15) and then adds:
“[Y]our eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.” (TNIV)
It is argued that this suggests that “our days are numbered” before we’re born. God knows exactly how long we’re going to live, in other words. According to this view, when someone dies (by whatever means–even murdered children!), it is right for people to proclaim: “It must have been their time to go.” Not only this, but since there are a trillion variables affecting how long a person lives, including the free decisions of other people, if God foreknows the exact time of our death, he must foreknow everything.
The argument initially looks impressive, but there are, in fact, a number of strong objections against it. Right now I’d like to address what I think is the most important one (for others, see my book, God of the Possible). In a word, the Hebrew in this passage is notoriously ambiguous, rendering a number of differing translations possible. The King James Version, for example, reads:
“Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”
To modernize this translation a bit, the KJV is saying, “Your eyes saw my body when it was yet unformed. You recorded in your book all my body parts which eventually came to be fashioned, and you did this before they existed (as formed body parts).
The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation in essence agrees with the KJV. It reads:
“Your eyes saw my unformed limbs;
they were all recorded in Your book;
in due time they were formed,
to the very last one of them.
How weighty Your thoughts seem to me, O God.”
So the Hebrew is obviously sufficiently ambiguous to allow experts to disagree on what was pre-recorded in God’s “book”. The issue of whether David’s “days” or “unformed limbs” were pre-recorded in God’s “book” must thus be settled on other grounds, the most important of which is the immediate context of the passage.
Given that this whole passage is about God’s intimate knowledge of David when he’s growing in the womb — not about God’s foreknowledge of David’s life — it seems much more reasonable to favor the translation that has God pre-recording David’s body parts. If so, David is simply expressing God’s loving care in making sure all that’s supposed to eventually be part of David’s body is in fact being formed in the womb. (By the way, it’s important to remember that we’re reading poetry here. It’s thus a mistake to try to draw out metaphysical conclusions about what this implies for babies who are born with body parts missing or deformed.)
In any event, it’s clear that Psalm 139:16 provides no strong objection to the open view of the future.
T. C. Moore has posted some of his reflections from the Open Theism conference. T. C. was one of several people who pulled this conference together and he did a great job. He’s also incredibly smart and very active in the open view community. Also, he’s a young church planter in Boston and I’m sure he’s…
Chris Moore via Compfight Roger Olson recently published a blog arguing that there really are no new ideas out there in the realm of theology. Everything has pretty much been thought of or proposed. That idea or book that’s causing such a stir? Rewarmed material that someone else already thought of. So what is there…
Leah expects more from God. Should she? Greg confronts God’s inactivity and underperformance. Episode 510 http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0510.mp3
If a position is true, every avenue of reflection ought to point in its direction. What follows are two more “pointers” to the view that the future is at least partly open (indefinite, composed of possibilities). I’ll first consider an argument from quantum physics, followed by a pragmatic argument regarding what we ordinarily assume to…
Revelation 13:8 refers to “everyone whose names have not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life.” How does that square with open theism?
Three possibilities exist in terms of reconciling Revelation 13:8 with open theism. 1) First, the “from the foundation of the world” clause can attach to either “everyone whose names have not been written” or to “the lamb that was slain.” For example, the TNIV translates this passage “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the…
The Lord states his intention to destroy Israelites because of their wickedness: “Now let me alone,” he says to Moses, “so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them” (vs. 10). Moses “implored the Lord” (vs. 11) and, as a result, “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that…