Genesis 15:5-6: He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be. Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
What a monumental event. Did God foreknow Abram’s belief? Most Christians say yes. The question I would like to ask is, is such a belief consistent with simple foreknowledge?
Simple foreknowledge is the view that God simply knows the future. Those who hold to simple foreknowledge are not divine determinists; they hold to libertarian freedom. Likewise they are not Molinists, God does not have middle knowledge (the idea that God knows what people would choose in various settings). Also they are not open theists, they believe God has exhaustive foreknowledge. They say God simply knows the future.
But simple foreknowledge is providentially useless. Consider the grandfather paradox (i.e. you go back in time an kill your own grandfather). Similarly, on simple foreknowledge, God cannot change the future He foreknows. It’s logically “too late” to do anything about it. This is because on simple foreknowledge, God foreknows the future because it is future.
I argue that by extension, on simple foreknowledge, God cannot foreknow the results of what will happen based on a prophecy. Imagine, on hearing he will become a great nation, Abram says, “this ain’t for me” and does not do the things needed to become the father of a great nation. God’s statement about the future would turn out to be wrong. Simple foreknowledge cannot account for this prophecy because the prophecy shapes the past of the foreknown event.
God’s telling Abram he will be the father of a great nation motivated Abram to believe and to try to become one. Abram’s actions result from and are logically dependent on God’s telling him the future. So the prophecy logically precedes and helps explain the foretold events. But on simple foreknowledge, God knows the future because it is future. Foreknown events logically precede and help explain God’s foreknowledge. The simple foreknowledge view is in trouble - God’s foreknowledge of Abram’s actions is logically before and after Abram’s actions. That’s a contradiction.
This rends a huge hole in God’s foreknowledge, under the simple foreknowledge view. The downstream consequences of Abram’s faith are history shaping. Any events resulting from any prophecy could not be foreknown, under a simple foreknowledge view.
The answer is of course that God knew that His prophecy would motivate Abram to believe and obey. But that’s beyond simple foreknowledge, and gets into middle knowledge.