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Open Theism - Part III

Most agree that chapter 11 begins with a reference to the Persian kings who followed Cyrus, extends through Alexander the Great and his successors, and then provides a detailed summary of the on-going conflict between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties (the primary powers of the Greek empire), with special emphasis on Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Let’s consider the implications of open theism on the interpretation of this passage.


If God does not have EDF, how could he have predicted in Daniel 11: 2 that “three more kings (Cambyses [530-522 b.c.], Smerdis [pseudo-Smerdis or Gaumata; 522 b.c.] and Darius I Hystaspes [522-486 b.c.]) are going to arise in Persia”? A prediction of this sort would require foreknowledge of countless thousands of human volitions necessary for three such men to be in precisely those circumstances at precisely the appropriate time to make their ascent to power possible, to say nothing of the countless thousands of other events and decisions that would serve to create the necessary historical and political framework. If God does not have EDF, how could he have predicted in Daniel 11:2 that Xerxes I (486 b.c.), a “fourth”, would “gain far more riches than all of them” and would “arouse the whole empire against the realm of Greece”? If God does not have EDF, how could he have predicted in Daniel 11:3 that Alexander the Great (336-323 b.c.) would come to power, “rule with great authority and do as he pleases”? And how could he have predicted in Daniel 11:4 that when his kingdom broke up it would be “parceled out” to people other than his own sons who, as it turned out, were both murdered (Alexander IV and Herakles)? 

If God does not have EDF how could he have predicted in Daniel 11:5-20 the multitude of intricate details, human emotions, volitional resolve, strategic decisions, etc. that were to transpire in the ongoing conflict between the Ptolemaic (Egyptian) or “southern king” and the Seleucid (Syrian) or “northern king”, all of which occurred between the death of Alexander in 323 b.c. and the emergence of Antiochus Epiphanes in 175 b.c.' Apart from EDF, how could God have known and prophesied that the southern king would “grow strong” (Dan. 11:5) rather than “weak”? And apart from EDF, how could God have known and prophesied that “one of his princes” (Seleucus I Nicator [312/11-280 b.c.]) would “gain ascendancy over him and obtain dominion”? And apart from EDF, how could God have known and prophesied in Daniel 11:6 that Ptolemy II (285-246 b.c.) would make a treaty of peace in 250 b.c. with the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus II Theos (grandson of Seleucus; 261-246 b.c.)? And how could God have known and prophesied that Berenice, “the daughter of the king of the south” (Dan. 11:6) would “come to the king of the North to carry out a peaceful arrangement” only then to lose her power (indeed, she was murdered, along with Antiochus, by the latter’s powerful ex-wife, Laodice)? And apart from EDF, how could God have known and prophesied that one of her descendants (Ptolemy III Euergetes [246-221 b.c.]) would decide to attack the king of the north in retaliation for the murder of his sister?  

And how could God know that Ptolemy III would choose to refrain from attacking the king of the north for two years? And apart from EDF, how could God know and prophesy that the king of the north would have two sons (Seleucus III Ceraunus [226-223 b.c.] and Antiochus III the “Great” [223-187 b.c.]) and would decide to “mobilize and assemble a multitude of great forces” against the king of the south (Daniel 11:10)? And apart from EDF, how could God know and prophesy that Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-203 b.c.), the king of the south, would be “enraged and go forth and fight with the king of the north” rather than capitulate in cowardice or pursue peaceful negotiations or any number of other reactions (Daniel 11:11)? And how could God predict that the armies of the king of the north would be defeated (Dan. 11:11; Ptolemy’s victory occurred in 217 b.c. at Raphia, near Palestine)? And apart from EDF, how could know and prophesy that Ptolemy’s heart would “be lifted up” (Dan. 11:12) in arrogance and pride rather than humbled with gratitude or some other understandable response given the circumstances of the day? And how could God know that Antiochus III, Philip V of Macedon and other insurrectionists in Egypt would “rise up against the king of the South”? Envision for a moment the multitude of decisions and military deliberations and alternative courses of action available to such leaders, any one of which could have derailed the eventual choice that they should attack, none of which, according to open theism God could have known, yet apart from which the ultimate decision, which God did foreknow, could not have happened.


I realize this is becoming a bit tedious, but perhaps this is precisely the sort of biblical tedium that is needed to expose the fallacies of open theism. Daniel continues to prophesy of Antiochus and his decision to “set his face to come with the power” of his kingdom, yet with a “proposal of peace” (Dan. 11:17), as well as the decision of his daughter (Cleopatra) to give her loyalty to her husband Ptolemy rather than her father (11:17), as well as the latter’s decision to attempt the capture of several Mediterranean islands (Dan. 11:18-19), as well as Antiochus’s ultimate demise (he was murdered by an angry mob in 187 b.c.). If that were not enough, additional predictions are made of his son, the infamous Antiochus Epiphanes. But apart from EDF, how could God know and prophesy that this man would be “despicable” (Dan. 11:21) rather than kind and that he would “seize the kingdom by intrigue”? After all, Demetrius I, young son of Seleucus IV, was next in line to receive the crown. On what possible grounds could even the consummate divine “social scientist” know that the man who, given the available data, should have been crowned would in fact be outmaneuvered by another? And apart from EDF, how could God know and prophesy the strategic “alliance” or the “deception” or the decision to distribute plunder or the “schemes” he was to devise, all of which are described in Dan. 11:23-24? Explicit declarations of yet future “courage” rather than cowardice or hesitancy (Dan. 11:25), carefully devised counter “schemes” (Dan. 11:25), the mutual intent of “evil” in the heart of the kings (Dan. 11:27), their resolve to lie one to another rather than speak the truth (Dan. 11:27), and the choice of Antiochus in his “heart” to set himself “against the holy covenant” (Dan. 11:28), are inexplicable apart from EDF. And apart from EDF, how could God know and prophesy of Antiochus being “disheartened” (Dan. 11:30) and “enraged,” yet showing favor to the unfaithful in Israel (Dan. 11:30)?


Every human decision, every volitional resolve, every state of the hearts of those described in this period of history, every counter-decision, retaliatory strike and choice that the former evoked, are described one-hundred, two-hundred, three-hundred years in advance. Each of these human volitions was part of an indescribably complex nexus or interrelated web of cause and effect that entailed yet millions of other decisions, no less a part of yet more millions of decisions, all of which are portrayed as morally relevant, deserving of either praise or blame, the very thing which open theists insist is not possible, being incompatible one with the other. It would appear that only three options are available to the open theist: either acknowledge that the foundational incompatibilist assumption on which their view rests is unbiblical, or silently ignore Daniel 11 altogether and pray that no one notices, or, what I suspect is likely to occur, eliminate Daniel 11 from the debate by conveniently interpreting this portion of the book as history rather than prophecy (vaticinium ex eventu).


The mere existence of the many rulers, emperors, kings, and military commanders described in Daniel 11 and elsewhere, notes Edwards,


“undoubtedly depended on many millions of acts of the will, which followed, and were occasioned one by another, in their parents. And perhaps most of these volitions depended on millions of volitions of hundreds and thousands of others, their contemporaries of the same generation; and most of these on millions of millions of volitions of others in preceding generations. As we go back, still the number of volitions, which were some way the occasion of the event, multiply as the branches of a river, till they come at last, as it were, to an infinite number. . . . [The mere conception in the womb of such persons] must depend on things infinitely minute, relating to the time and circumstances of the act of the parents, the state of their bodies, etc. which must depend on innumerable foregoing circumstances and occurrences; which must depend, infinite ways, on foregoing acts of their wills; which are occasioned by innumerable things that happen in the course of their lives, in which their own, and their neighbor’s behavior, must have a hand, an infinite number of ways. And as the volitions of others must be so many ways concerned in the conception and birth of such men; so, no less, in their preservation, and circumstances of life, their particular determinations and actions, on which the great revolutions they were the occasions of, depended” (Freedom of the Will, 249).


Edwards is led to conclude that “these hints may be sufficient for every discerning considerate person, to convince him, that the whole state of the world of mankind, in all ages, and the very being of every person who has ever lived in it, in every age, since the times of the ancient prophets, has depended on more volitions, or acts of the wills of men, than there are sands on the seashore” (Freedom of the Will, 250).