Did Jesus Admit He Was Ignorant?
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13.32)
In Christian theology, God is omniscient (He knows everything). If the Son really is part of the Trinity and co-equal with the Father, then the Son should likewise be omniscient. How is it, then, that Jesus said that there was something he didn’t know?
This has long been a source of difficulty for Christian theologians and apologists, and it is easy to understand why. There have been many attempts to explain it, but I think the standard ones go about it all wrong. I want to share what is really going on here, but to be able to do that, I need to explain a few things about the ancient world first.
Time was measured by the lives and actions of important people
Consider how Luke introduces the birth story of Jesus. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.” (Lk 2.1-3)
The mention of Caesar Augustus and Quirinius serve no purpose except to locate this story at a particular point in time (relative to the lives and actions of important people). If Luke and his audience were modern Westerners, he might say instead “In year X, there was a census, and all went to be registered, each to his own town.”
We still do this today to some extent, even though it is not as common now as it was back then. Have you ever heard someone talk about how things were during “the Regan years” or “the Clinton administration?” References like these aren’t necessarily attached to a political agenda, and depending on your point of view, either one can be positive or negative. Primarily, things like this serve to give us a point of reference to the general time frame being talked about.
An event happened when the most important person was ready for it to happen
Suppose you were living in Jesus’ day and your friend told you about a bbq up in Galilee (not pork, obviously). If he said that it was going to start at 7:00 PM, what time would it actually begin?
In the modern West, an event set to start at 7:00 might start at, say, 7:30 - to give time for people to be fashionably late as well as make sure everyone was there. In Jesus’ day, it would have been different. It would not have started until the most important person arrived (the senior, male figure) and was ready for it to begin. That might be 7:30, or it might be 9:00. The person was the marker of time rather than a “clock.”
This verse in Mark is simply referencing God as the most senior figure
Jesus’ audience would not have thought he was saying he did not know something and was therefore ignorant of some important fact. Rather, they asked him when certain things would occur, and he simply responded that it would happen in the Father’s time.
God the Father is the most senior figure, and when He says it is time for something to happen, it will be the appropriate time for it to happen.