Luis de Molina (1535-1600) was a Spanish Jesuit theologian who attempted to reconcile the apparently contradictory doctrines of divine sovereignty and human free will by postulating that God has a ‘middle knowledge’ (scientia media).
Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) had taught that God has two kinds of knowledge. The first is a knowledge of the actual: a knowledge, arising out of God’s absolute decree, of what exists in the past, present and future. The second is a knowledge of the possible: of what could exist in the past, present and future, but does not, because God has not decreed it.
Molina proposed a third kind of knowledge, which falls between the two, and is therefore called ‘middle knowledge’. This is the knowledge which God has of conditional future events. God knows what an individual will do under certain circumstances. He therefore, for example, decrees the circumstances under which an individual will be offered grace, knowing that the individual will freely choose to accept it.
In other words, Molinism adds to God’s knowledge of what will happen, and of what could happen, the idea that God knows what would happen (under certain conditions).
Molinists would appeal to texts such as 1 Corinthians 2:7f:-
‘We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’
Such texts, it is argued, support that doctrine of ‘middle knowledge’ precisely because they affirm that God knows what would have happened (‘they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’) under certain conditions (‘if the rulers of this age understood God’s secret wisdom’).
Thomists opposed Molina’s theory, arguing that it denied God’s universal causality. However, it remains within the Roman Catholic church one of the accepted ways of reconciling divine sovereignty and human free will.
William Lane Craig
The theory has been taken up recently by the noted Protestant apologist William Lane Craig. Craig recognises the twin biblical emphases on divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and notes the difficulties involved in reconciling them. He rejects the Augustinian/Calvinist position as entailing a denial of human freedom and making God responsible for sin. On the other hand, Craig thinks that open theism offers too weak a doctrine of providence.
By knowing how free creatures would freely act in any set of circumstances He might place them in, God thereby knows that if He were to actualize certain states of affairs, then certain other contingent states of affairs would be actual as a result. For example, He knew that if Pontius Pilate were the Roman procurator of Judea in A.D. 30, he would freely condemn Jesus to the cross…God thus providentially arranges for everything that happens by either willing or permitting it, and He causes everything that does happen, yet in such a way as to preserve freedom and contingency.’
Some writers have linked God’s so-called ‘middle knowledge’ with the question of the final destiny of those, including adherents of other religions, who have never heard the gospel. They will be judged, it is suggested, on the basis of God’s knowledge of how they would have responded had they received the gospel.
Reformed theology denies that God’s sovereignty negates human responsibility. In the words of A.A. Hodge:-
God’s certain foreknowledge of all future events and man’s free agency are both certain facts, impregnably established by independent evidence. We must believe both, whether we can reconcile them or not.
Furthermore, the scriptural warrant for Molinism is weak. 1 Sam 23:9-12 and Mt 11:22f are cited as showing that God knows what people would have done under certain circumstances, but this cannot be extrapolated into a complete doctrine of providence.
Again, the notion of divine foreknowledge contemplated by Arminians and Molinists does not prove what they think it proves (that God foresees but does not determine future events). For, if God foresees future events, then they must be certain, and therefore foreordained.
Once again, ‘if both the person and the circumstances have been created by God, then ultimately the outcome has been determined by God’ (Grudem). But then this looks very much like the classical Calvinist approach.
Once more: as with open theism this theory denies God’s infinity and eternity by limiting his knowledge and determination of the future to some events and not others. Scripture, on the other hand, teaches that God both foreknows and foreordains the free acts of men and women = Isa 10:5–15; Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28.
Apologetics Study Bible, p1850.
Outlines of Theology (A.A. Hodge), p147.
Systematic Theology (Grudem), p348f.
Who’s Who in Christian History, art. ‘Molina’.