Matthew 11:20-24 (see also Matthew 12:41-42; Luke 10:13; Luke 11:29-32)
Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
Luke 10:13 similarly states: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”
Luke 11:29-32: “As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, ‘This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.’”
(A) Jesus was shaming the unbelieving Jews.
(B) The shame was based solely upon Jesus’ knowledge that those who were regarded as object lessons for immorality (i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon), under similar circumstances of experiencing Jesus’ ministry, “would have” done better than what the unbelieving Jews did.
(C) On account of this, heathen nations are going to rise up on Judgment Day (Luke 11:29-32) to engage in fingerpointing, and condemn the unbelieving Jews on account of this, in order to mitigate their damages, and mount their own defense, given that there are degrees of punishment, as per Luke 11:48.
(D) How could Jesus know, as fact, non-existent events that otherwise never actually happened in our world?
(E) Jesus claims to possess certain information, which information, will be cited on Judgment Day, and will result in the unbelieving Jews being held in great contempt, in comparison to others, which information must be strong enough to withstand any reasonable objection in the form of inadmissible, “divine speculation.”
(F) Jesus knows, as fact, that (1) these others would have repented, and (2) how they would have repented (i.e. in sackcloth and ashes, which was the traditional way of expressing extreme remorse), and (3) that they “would have remained,” and not just remained, as in not being initially judged and annihilated, but that they would have remained “to this day,” which speaks of an enduring legacy. Some agree that Jesus could have known (1) and (2), but not possibly (3), insomuch that it is one thing for Jesus to know what actual people would have done, but a complete fallacy to know what people who never existed would have done. (But the non-existent people are just as non-existent as the actions that actual people would have otherwise made.) It’s also a mistake to make one’s own ideals of what is logical vs. illogical, in to decide whether Jesus must have meant something other than what He appears to say. In other words, either Scripture is authoritative, or our own sense of judgment is authoritative. The fact of the matter is that once you open the door to the fact that Jesus can know something that otherwise never happened in our world, you can’t simply pick a stopping point. If it’s agreeable that Jesus could know, as fact, what never happened, then it cannot be less reasonable to suppose that He could also know the rest of the story as well, for however long, and that would be a way to understand just how Jesus could know that if the miracles that were performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida, were instead performed in these other places, that they would have repented, and in sackcloth and ashes, and would have remained to this day.
(G) Saying that the worst of the pagans would have, under similar circumstances, repented (1) in sackcloth and ashes (2) and remained to this day (3), is a factor of why the unbelieving Jews should feel so ashamed. To detract from any part of that, would necessarily lessen the basis for why they should feel ashamed. Furthermore, what would be the point of Nineveh’s complaint, unless it becomes common knowledge at Judgment that they would have done otherwise and lasted? Also, God told Moses that He wanted to start over with him, and make a great nation. (Exodus 32:10) But without distant Middle Knowledge, what’s to say that they wouldn’t have eventually turned out exactly the same?
Question: Is Jesus merely saying that the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah would be more bearable only because they did not have the light that these unbelieving Jews had?
Answer: No, it’s more than that, since Jesus pointed out not merely what the unbelieving Jews “had” (meaning more light), but also what these others (under similar circumstances with the unbelieving Jews), would have done with it, and not only what they would have done with it, but also how lasting it would have been (i.e. “would have remained to this day”). So how could Jesus know (and speak with authority) in regards to what otherwise never actually happened, and then use that as a basis to assert that one group would be held as more “tolerable” than another?
Question: How do we know that Jesus’ statement that these others “would have remained to this day” (Matthew 11:23), isn’t simply a factor of initial non-destruction?
Answer: First of all, it would detract from Jesus’ point of why the unbelieving Jews should feel shame. Secondly, Jesus was building upon the manner of their would-be repentance, which was in sackcloth and ashes, and thus by saying that they would have remained to this day, tells us just how impactful Jesus’ ministry would elsewhere have been. Thirdly, Jesus could have instead stated that they “would have remained,” but He added, “to this day,” which signifies something enduring.
Question: How does Jesus know for a fact that these other nations, under similar circumstances, “would have remained to this day”?
Answer: That’s the question that has to be answered before anything else. The hang-up is asserting that Jesus could know what actual people would have done, but could NOT have known what non-actual people would have done. The problem is that until it is first explained how Jesus could know the non-existent events actual people, there is no sense in even going to the next step of asking whether Jesus could know the non-existing events of non-actual people. The former will be asserted, but without any basis as to how, or which would successfully avoid an objection of divine speculation. So the first question that must be answered is how Jesus could know unsettled, undetermined events by actual people, without it simply being divine guess-work, and hence, inadmissible evidence on Judgment Day. The answer is that Jesus can play things out. In other words, if God stands back and lets things play themselves out, here is what would have happened. From that standpoint, God can know non-existent events, and knowing non-existing events, leads to also being able to know non-existing people, and hence, Jesus could therefore know that that there would have been an enduring legacy, under similar circumstances.
Question: Why will the Ninevites rise up on Judgment Day to condemn the unbelieving Jews?
Answer: The Jews had more light, insomuch that “one greater than Jonah is here.” The condemned Ninevites will condemn the unbelieving Jews, but what is their point? Are they alleging that things would have been different, under similar circumstances? Otherwise, I fail to see what their gripe is. Otherwise, for all we know, they would have done no different than Capernaum. But their protest would seem to indicate otherwise, as if drawing upon the information that Jesus indicates at Matthew 11:20-24. If Nineveh would have done differently than Capernaum, then that implies a lasting legacy as well. It seems that at Judgment Day, the condemned will point to the unbelieving Jews as a basis to mitigate their own sentence.
Question: If Calvinism was true, then why should the unbelieving Jews feel shame that these others would have repented under similar circumstances, if the only reason why they would have repented is because they would have received something more, namely, an Irresistible Grace?
Answer: Jesus’ point was based upon similar circumstances, and yet if the only reason why these others would have repented is by an Irresistible Grace, then you no longer have similar circumstances, and that would defeat Jesus’ whole point.
This shows that these cities didn’t need an Unconditional Election or an Irresistible Grace in order to believe. After all, they had neither, and yet Jesus says that they “would have” repented anyway. Furthermore, if there had been a Limited Atonement, as 5-Point Calvinists teach, then what would their repentance have benefited them if Jesus allegedly, didn’t die for them? Thus, the atonement had to be unlimited in order to account for what they “would have” done. Therefore, this passage single handedly wipes out three of the five points of Calvinism.
This passage highlights the fact that the experience of witnessing Jesus’ miracles, first hand, is so powerful that it leaves the residents of Chorazin and Bethsaida with no excuse, in light of the fact that Jesus conclusively knows that had others, even the most depraved (Tyre and Sidon), had seen them, that it would have resulted in their sustained repentance. This passage, therefore, shoots a wide hole through the argument that man needs an irresistible grace in order to believe. Otherwise, Chorazin and Bethsaida could answer Jesus, “Forget your miracles, Jesus, since that obviously has nothing to do with it. We don’t believe simply because you didn’t give us the irresistible grace that you would obviously have to give to these others in order for them to repent. So what exactly does seeing your miracles have to do with anything?” So you see, Chorazin and Bethsaida cannot pin the blame on Total Depravity, because Jesus is saying that the MOST depraved people ever, had they been in their shoes, would have repented. So their lack of repentance was not due to what they couldn’t do, but what they wouldn’t do.
Question: If God desires the salvation of all, and if Jesus knew that such miracles “would have” brought about an ensuing, sustained repentance by the residents of Tyre and Sidon, then why didn’t He carry out His supposed desire?
Answer: Experiencing the miracles of Jesus was the privilege of Israel, on account of Abraham, and also increases their accountability when Jesus says on Judgment Day: “‘The Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.’” (Luke 11:31) Speaking in reference to the queen of Sheba that traveled to hear the wisdom of Solomon (1st Kings 10:1), Jesus reveals that on Judgment Day, unbelieving Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum will receive condemnation from generations past. Ultimately, God could save every person who ever lived by their own Free Will. All God needs to do is simply to drop them into Hell for a brief time, and they will come out as evangelists. Just consider the “rich man” of Luke 16:19-31, who wanted Abraham to let him go back and warn his brothers. However, God typically does not use such force.
Question: Why didn’t God put Tyre and Sidon in the most optimal circumstance for repentance?
Answer: Because God doesn’t always give optimal grace. He gives sufficient grace, and the greater measure of grace, the greater measure of accountability. Besides, Romans 1:20 and Acts 17:26-30 indicate that man is without excuse, simply based upon the general revelation of God.
Question: Does this mean that God withholds optimal preceding grace because He has a greater desire to withhold it?
Answer: There is indeed a greater desire on God’s part, which is faith. The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17), and without faith, it is impossible to please Him. (Hebrews 11:6) Jesus told Thomas: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” To provide the most optimal grace, Jesus could appear before everyone as He did with Saul of Tarsus along the road to Damascus, and yet He does not, and yet people become saved anyway. How? Although He may not provide the most optimal situation for everyone, He does provide sufficiency. So while Tyre and Sidon may not have had the most optimal grace, it is through the testimonies of the prophets that God had sent from time to time, that perhaps gave rise to a sufficient grace, at least sufficient enough for accountability and judgment. Chorazin and Bethsaida bear a greater degree of accountability for having received a greater degree of grace, and that’s why the heathen nations (in their own defense) will rise up against them at Judgment.
In other words, God is just as concerned about how one comes to salvation as whether one comes to salvation. God could rescue us without our consent: without our faith, but He declared that we shall be saved by faith, and whatever made Him put the condition on salvation, also causes Him to make revelation conditional as well.
To assume that because Tyre and Sidon could have been saved, had they seen Jesus’ miracles, that it somehow proves that God didn’t want them to be saved, is to assume that seeing Jesus’ miracles is the only way to be saved, when yet it is not. Otherwise, how do you explain the salvation of everyone who never saw His miracles?
“Salvation is from the Jews,” as Jesus told the Samaritan woman (John 4:22), and the Jews were commanded to witness (Ezekiel 33:7-11), and God did in fact send Jewish witnesses to heathen nations, such as God sending the prophet Jonah to Nineveh, the capital city of the marauding Assyrian empire. They didn’t see Jesus’ miracles, and yet, for a time, they indeed repented. Don’t forget the Sodom had the witness of Lot, however much a testimony it was, Lot bears some degree of responsibility for his own testimony.
James White: “How God can know future events, for example, and yet not determine them, is an important point….” (Debating Calvinism, p.163, emphasis mine)
Question: To a Calvinist, God foreknows nothing contingently, but that all life is scripted, in which God’s knowledge flows from such an alleged script, and if such divine knowledge of the future would necessarily make men less free, then based upon what Jesus said concerning Tyre and Sidon, would they have been less free in their would-be choices, concerning repentance, had they been under similar circumstances with respect the miracles performed among unbelieving Israel?
Answer: The first question needs to be answered, and that is, did Jesus “determine” in a potential, parallel script, what “would have” occurred with Tyre and Sidon, had they seen His miracles? First of all, He didn’t determine it because it didn’t happen, and second, if what He’s saying about Tyre and Sidon is only true because He would have determined it that way, then how is that going to trigger the conscience of unbelieving Israel for their failure to do the same under similar circumstances? Again, this is the basis for a future time in which Tyre and Sidon will rise up on Judgment Day against unbelieving Israel to defend itself, and perhaps to mitigate its own damages. So how would any of that make sense if their would-be actions were just part of a divinely determined script which could-have been written that way? The only way that this makes sense is if Jesus’ knowledge is of what they would have freely done, unscripted, under similar circumstances. Adding a script breaks it down.
The logic that befuddles James White, befuddles an Atheist as well. I asked an Atheist how Jesus could know (with 100% absolute certainty) that the events concerning Tyre and Sidon “would have” taken place, and he responded:
An Atheist argues: “He didn’t. He’s just confident that he is right, and you trust his judgement, that’s all. How exactly does god know what a person’s choice will ultimately end up being, BEFORE they make that choice? This idea of yours that God can look into the future sounds pretty hocus pocus to me. God wouldn’t hardly be able to see the future, if the choices that it will contain are not settled yet somehow.”
Question: When Jesus said “would have,” did He mean,
Answer: Jesus’ knowledge of what “would have” taken
place is such an assurance that it is admissible evidence on
Judgment Day, for which it will be “more tolerable for the
land of Sodom in the day of judgment.” What does that tell
you about the certainty of Jesus’ statement?
The Atheist then appeals to the Law of Non-Contradiction: “...saying a human’s future choice is BOTH certain AND non-certain at the same time, a classic case of violating the law of non-contradiction, which says nothing can possibly be A and non-A at the same time. The choice of the human therefore can be only certain to occur or not certain to occur, but not both.”
The fact is that Jesus claimed to know, that which is incompatible with human limitations to know. However, once it is conceded that God has a capacity for knowledge that is greater than man’s, all such human projections upon God’s Foreknowledge and Middle Knowledge are overthrown.
Question: How did Jesus know for certain that if Tyre and Sidon had seen His miracles, that they really would have repented and remained to this day?
Answer: The answer from Calvinism is Determinism, in that God knows absolutely everything that will ever come to pass because He has predetermined absolutely everything that will ever come to pass, like an author writing a book. However, Determinism doesn’t account for those things that the Lord knows would occur, though never does. Therefore, the correct answer is Middle Knowledge.
Question: What is Middle Knowledge?
Answer: Middle Knowledge is simply the knowledge of contingencies.
If “X” occurs, then “Y” will follow.
“X” = personal experience of Jesus’ miracles.
“Y” = an ensuing, sustained repentance by the residents of Tyre & Sidon.
As an example of contingencies, consider 2 Kings 2:9-10: “When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’ He said, ‘You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.’”
Middle Knowledge is simply a knowledge of the what-ifs. However, Jesus’ Middle Knowledge is so certain that it is admissible evidence on Judgment Day (rather than divine speculation or hearsay), which will be used against the unrepentant cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida. If it wasn’t certain, then it would have to be stricken as mere hearsay and speculation.
Question: Did what happened to Tyre and Sidon go against the plan that God had laid out for them?
Answer: What happened in Matthew 11:20-24 wasn’t even in the plan, and that’s the point. How can you say that God knows ONLY what actually happens, when yet clearly, we have an instance of God knowing what WOULD have happened. God knows all of the what-ifs, and governs the universe according to such omniscient Middle Knowledge. For instance, at Genesis 50:20, God knew all of the what-ifs of Joseph’s brothers, and God intervened accordingly. At Acts 2:23, in terms of Calvary, God knew all of the what-ifs of the Jews, and intervened accordingly, from which the plan of the Cross was formulated. Now some Calvinists try to oversimplify by insisting that life is a Divine Play, with man as its actors, which has been playing out since Genesis. That’s human philosophy, and such Calvinists force every verse in the Bible into subjection to that philosophy. Nevertheless, at Matthew 11:20-24, we can at least debunk the notion that God’s knowledge is restricted to only what actually occurs. God has Middle Knowledge and providentially governs accordingly.
Middle Knowledge teaches that, with respect to Tyre and Sidon, God “knows everything they would have done in all possible circumstances.” (Why I am Not a Calvinist, p.136) The Bible also teaches: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1st Corinthians 10:13) How does God know what you are able to handle, if He does not have Middle Knowledge? Psalm 147:5 states: “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” God knows the choices of every man, given an “infinite” number of changes in his environment, with an “infinite” number of variables interacting with him. “Thus, by knowing his own essential nature, he can know the created order through and through. This basic idea is intelligible enough and helps us understand how God can know the potentialities of his creatures and the range of possible choices they might make.” (Why I am Not a Calvinist, p.140) These things answer how God can know future events without predetermining them.
John Calvin: “Now lest anyone should raise difficult questions about the secret judgments of God, we must take it that this saying of the Lord’s was accommodated to the ordinary grasp of the human mind. In comparing the city of Bethsaida and its neighborhood with Tyre and Sidon, He is not concerned with what God will foresee as the future of the one or the other, but just what the facts show Him these others would have done.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, A Harmony of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Vol. II, p.15, emphasis mine)
How does Jesus know what they would have done if not for Middle Knowledge?
John Calvin: “We have already said that Christ was speaking in a human way and not revealing the heavenly secret of what would have happened if a prophet had been sent to Sodom. If this explanation does not satisfy the contentious, there is one thing that will deprive them of any opportunity for cavil, that, although a remedy for the saving of the Sodomites lay in God’s hands, yet His vengeance in destroying them was righteous.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, A Harmony of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Vol. II, p.17, emphasis mine)
There is nothing like explaining a passage from the perspective of denying its substance, just as Calvin has done with this passage, by suggesting that “Christ was speaking in a human way.” Jesus says they “would have” believed. Calvin basically says: No not really; It’s just a matter of speaking. So who are you going to trust? Jesus, who is omniscient, or Calvin who is obstinate? Nevertheless, to address Calvin’s point, the fact that Tyre and Sidon had not received this ministry during their window of time on earth, does not mean that God didn’t care about them. Their blood will be found on the hands of Israel who had been elected for the purpose of blessing all of the families of the earth. (Genesis 12:3; 28:14) Thus Chorazin and Bethsaida, along with their forefathers, are twice-guilty:
Ezekiel 33:8: “When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” [KJV]
God throws accountability, not upon His alleged secret election, but upon His people who fail to warn the lost, and this is because God cares about the lost. However, according to Calvinism, God couldn’t care less since He “passed by” them in His alleged eternal decrees from before the foundation of the world. That’s Calvinism, but it’s not Jesus, since He repudiated such doctrine at Luke 10:30-37.
There is another question worth addressing: “Might there be persons who are damned in the actual world who, as God knows through middle knowledge, would have been saved if they had been placed in different circumstances?” (Why I am Not a Calvinist, p.141)
The answer is yes, as Tyre and Sidon are perfect examples. The result, though, is that they will receive a less severe punishment on Judgment Day than Chorazin and Bethsaida who had witnessed Jesus’ miracles (Matthew 11:22, 24), and who, by virtue of being the descendents of Abraham, were appointed to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3), whereby “salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22) Again, this is the principle that Jesus taught: “But the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Luke 12:48)
Dave Hunt: “God exerts His influence upon men and events (exactly as He has foreknown He would from eternity past) in order to create the future for us that He desires and has willed.” (What Love is This?, p.184, emphasis mine)
This is a Molinistic perspective. In all of the worlds that God could have effectuated, the one that is, is the one that in some way represents the world that God had desired and willed, though this is speaking only in terms of God’s influence. In much of the world, God has permitted man to exercise his “own way” (Acts 14:16) according to his “own thoughts.” (Isaiah 65:2) Yet, in the midst, God has exerted His own way and His own thoughts, manifested in the form of such things as Calvary. (Acts 2:23)
Dialogue with a Calvinist:
Calvinist, Steve Hays: “The future is known to God because it has been determined by the decree of His free will. … In the eternal decree, all that comes to pass has been foreordained. There is no place for chance or indeterminacy in the system of reality. … God determined, by the free decree of His sovereign will, which of the possible worlds should be actualized. ... God freely chose to bring about this world rather than any of the other infinite possibilities.” (My predestination is all freewill)
1) How do you, Steve, believe that God determines “infinite possibilities”?
2) By the force of reason, on what basis could Tyre and Sidon rise up on Judgment Day and say, “We’re better than you, Chorazin and Bethsaida!, because if we were under similar circumstances, unlike you, GOD would have determined us to repent. So there. We’re better. Wait. If God, ok, so then. (Ok, if we would have repented only because that was determined....) Oh well, Yeah, we’re better than you guys! See God, we deserve less punishment than them.”
The inevitable Calvinist paraphrase of determined-contingencies would be:
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, [I would have determined that they] would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, [I would have determined that] it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”