Mount Ranier in the background
Snow capped peaks in the Olympic Mountains
Sea Shore on West Coast of Vancouver Island
Olympic Mountains at Sunset
Deer by small lake in Olympic Mountains
Small alpine lake in the Olympic Mountains
Near the small town of Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada
Olympic Mountains with fresh snow
Olympic Mountains in the early summer
Shoreline near Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada
Snow capped peaks in the Olympic Mountains

Middle Knowledge: Foreknowledge and Foreordination.

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." John 4:10 (NIV)

Object to Person

The most common way for humans to acquire knowledge is to study external objects. The objects that surround us in the universe are the sources of this type of knowledge. In fact, this is the normal way we learn and acquire knowledge.  Humans are not born with a storehouse of knowledge, so we have to acquire knowledge about the world that daily surrounds us by investigating it.

Person to Object

The second way to know about an external object arises within a person himself. Probably the easiest way to think about this way is to imagine an artist. For example, a creative painter knows there are a wide range possibilities within his field of expertise. He could paint in water-colors. Or, if he chooses, he could do an oil painting. But, maybe, he would rather do a charcoal drawing. Next, he must choose the subject matter to depict in his painting. Will it be a seascape? Or will it be an abstract painting or a mountain scene? In other words, depending upon the creative genius of the painter, the painter knows mentally a wide array of potential paintings that he could choose to realize. As the artist paints a particular scene, he brings what he knows within his mind to realization on a canvas. In other words, a painter conceptualizes his finished painting in his mind before it is expressed outside of his mind on the canvas.

This second manner of knowing is the type of knowledge that God possess. Before God created the universe, God conceptualized the universe, as well as its entire history, in his mind. God did not learn anything by observing creation. Before the beginning of space and time, there was no creation to observe. God is the Creator and Artisan of the universe. God made all creatures of the universe as well as creating the matter from which the creatures were fashioned. A painter does not create the materials to do a painting; however, God created the very materials of creation as well as each kind of creature. God's knowledge of his creation arises because God knows his own power and wisdom and that which they cause to be.

But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. Jeremiah 10:12 (NIV)

Possible and Free Knowledge

Possible (natural, potential, or power) knowledge describes the knowledge that the painter has of all the possible paintings that are within his mental powers to conceive to do. Obviously, his possible knowledge is much greater than his knowledge of his actual paintings. While an imaginative painter may conceive of an infinite number of mountain scenes, he must finally decide which one to do. In other words, before the artisan actually paints a picture, he must choose just one possible painting from the numerous mental possibilities that could be done. The painter’s possible knowledge is always greater than his knowledge of the painting that he has actually put to canvas.

From our illustration of the decision process of the painter, we observe the sequence. First, the painter knows a vast number of possible painting that are within his power to do. This knowledge is termed, possible (natural, potential, or power) knowledge. Next, the painter makes a choice to bring to realization one of the possibilities. This choice is the result of the free choice of his will. The painter’s knowledge of what he actually paints is termed, free knowledge. As can be seen, the term, free, arises because it is the knowledge of what the painter actually willed to paint. Now, it should be clear that possible knowledge is pre- volitional, while free knowledge is post-volitional.

This same framework can be used to describe God’s knowledge of all possible universes and God’s choice from among within those infinite number of possible universes. So, while God’s possible or natural knowledge consists of all possible universes, his free knowledge is limited to his knowledge of this particular universe. God freely willed to create this universe. Like the illustration of the painter, God’s knowledge of this actual universe is termed his free knowledge, because it is the knowledge that God knows by his divine decree to create.

Omniscience and Creature’s Will

Now, the above description is not adequate to illustrate the situation where one of God’s creatures has the ability to choose according to its own will. For example, if a person were to choose to arrange some stones in a particular pattern on a field, the stones would remain where they were placed subject to the predictable laws of physics. And, a person would know where they would be located the next day. However, children in a field would hardly be static, because children have wills of their own and they move about. So, it is unlikely that a person could predict where the children will be after a couple of hours have passed.

God’s will is not the only will that exercises free choice in the universe. There are secondary sources of free choice. God chose to bring the universe into existence with angels and humans who are endued with the power of free choice. So, the problem naturally arises, How does God know infallibly the future, when there are creatures who have the power of the free choice? There seems to be a dilemma between God's unerring knowledge of the future when humans have the freedom to choose according to their own wills.

1. If God had determined their wills, then they would not be free and everything would happen by divine necessity. This would mean that no one really had any choice in their behavior and that free choice is an illusion. If this were the case, human freedom and responsibility would to be eliminated in order to sustain God's omniscience and sovereignty.

2. However, if God did not determine their wills, then it would seem difficult for God to know infallibly the future. God’s omniscience would appear to be sacrificed to allow for human freedom, but it would be blasphemous to deny divine omniscience.

Middle knowledge

So, there must be some other aspect of divine foreknowledge that is distinct from natural knowledge and free knowledge. Divine natural knowledge is always the same, because it includes all of God's creative possibilities and is grounded solely in God's own power and wisdom. God's free knowledge is his knowledge after he has decreed this particular universe. Neither possible nor free knowledge solve the dilemma between God's foreknowledge of angelic or human freedom and their causal contribution to the history of the world. 

However, there is nothing inherently contradictory to argue that God knows every potential choice that an angel or human would make in every possible universe. Middle knowledge is the term that has been used to designate God’s pre-volitional knowledge of all choices that a free-willed creature would make in all possible situations. Logically, it comes after natural knowledge but before free knowledge, hence the term middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is designated as God’s knowledge of human free choice for all future conditional situations, and it does not make any difference if those situations would ever be actualized. If such a circumstance arose, the God knows what the choice would be.

Scriptures give us examples of middle knowledge. In one case, David asked the Lord, "Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard?" The Lord knew the answer to David query via his divine middle knowledge. If David were to remain in Keilah, then Saul would come to capture him. Middle knowledge entails God’s knowledge of all hypothetical situations, so God answered, yes. As we know, David fled the city of Keilah and King Saul decided not to come down. However, the Lord knew the future conditional truth that, if David were to remain in Keilah, then Saul would come down. It was likewise true that, if David were to flee Keilah, then Saul would not come down. 

Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake.
Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. 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, which were about six hundred, 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. 1 Sam 23:10-13 (KJV)

Both God’s possible (natural, potential) knowledge and his middle knowledge are logically prior to God’s free knowledge. In other words, God knows all possible worlds that are within his power to create. Furthermore, he knows all the choices that his creatures would choose for every possible circumstance. In light of his natural and middle knowledge, God decreed to bring into existence this particular universe, knowing all the circumstances and the choices that each human being would make during their individual lives. Everything that occurs, occurs exactly according to God’s free knowledge. Yet, it occurs with full respect for the free choice of the human will, because human free choice is recognized before the divine decree to create this particular universe. In addition, it preserves God’s omniscience, divine decree, sovereignty, and prophecy.

Providential Knowledge

The thoughts above haven’t taken into consideration divine contribution to human history. God knows what he could potentially create in his natural knowledge. He knows all the choices that all possible creatures would make for all possible circumstances in his middle knowledge. Then, with this background knowledge, God elects to create this particular universe.  With his free knowledge, he knows everything that will actually occur. God is sovereign because nothing occurs except what he has decreed.

However, God knows his own causal contribution to the history of the universe. In other words, God did not simply create the universe and leave it to unfold without contributing to its outcome. For example, God created Adam and Eve in this world by his power and wisdom. Adam and Eve freely willed to violate God's command. Then, God intervened and gave them the promise of the seed of the woman, the coming Messiah. The logical order is,

1. The potential creation of the world with its glory and beauty were known via God's possible foreknowledge.
2. The potential sinful choice of Adam and Eve was known via God's middle foreknowledge.
3. The potential providential intervention of the Messiah was known via God's providential foreknowledge.
4. The divine decree occurs.
5. The divine decree to create this particular world with its particular history are post-volitionally foreknown via God's free knowledge. The divine decree has determined to actualize a particular history of the world based upon divine pre-volitional possible, middle, and providential foreknowledge. Of the infinite number of possible worlds, God has chosen freely to actualize this particular world with its particular history, and God's foreordination occurs exactly as he has decreed. 

In the example above, David prayed to the Lord and the Lord answered him. The Lord foreknew that David would be in Keilah and pray for divine guidance. The Lord foreknew, likewise, that he would answer David’s prayer to give him divine wisdom.  In John's gospel, Jesus encountered a woman of Samaria.  The Lord Jesus knew that if the woman knew God's gift and who asked her for a drink, then she would ask him for living water. By divine middle knowledge, Jesus knew what her choice would be, if she were given the choice. By divine providence, she was afforded the choice.  

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." John 4:10 (NIV)


Divine foreknowledge has different aspects with respect to divine foreordination or divine degree. So, the divine mind ordained this particular universe on the basis of his prior possible, middle, and providential foreknowledge. After divine foreordination, God's free foreknowledge is the knowledge of his free and sovereign decree. Everything occurs exactly as he has divinely decreed.  Yet, it occurs with full respect to human freedom and divine intervention.

1 Craig, William L., The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge & Human Freedom, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1987, pp. 157.

2 Molina, Luis de, On Divine Foreknowledge (Part IV of the Concordia), Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1988, pp. 286.