Are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all omniscient?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Are there any scripture verses that say the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are all omniscient? What is the context of the verses? 

Answer: This is an important question… but it is not a simple one: there is more at play than just Bible verses and context, and your question itself shows us why. On one hand, you have differentiated the three persons of the Trinity by name (which speaks to their distinctiveness), but on the other hand, your use of the word “all” brings them back into the unity we know as the Trinity — the Godhead. Therefore, we must look at the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit both in the unity of the Godhead and in their distinctive manifestations; this means that some theological notions and some Bible verses will treat them collectively and some individually. But let me give an overview first so that we might remain oriented during the details.

The Bible does not say that a Trinity of persons exists per se, but it does reveal our one God in three persons. It does this indirectly, however, as the biblical narratives reveal the different persons of God interfacing with creation. So, when we consider our one God ontologically, all three persons in the Godhead share all attributes of God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share the same aseity, omnipotence, omniscience, etc.… but continually — and by definition. However, when the three persons reveal themselves in the creation, they do so distinctly and at a level understandable to humans.

Look at these distinctive actions as examples: the Father draws (Jn. 6:44), the Holy Spirit convicts (John 16:8), the Son judges (John 5:22)… and so on. What distinguishes these from God’s attributes is that they are outworkings, not characteristics, and since they show God “working” in creation, we should view these aspects of God as manifestations of the “economic” Trinity rather than the ontological one. Let’s be clear, though: there is only one Trinity; it’s just helpful to think of that Trinity in two ways: the ontological Trinity describes who God is and the economic Trinity describes what God does.

With that overview in place let’s look at God’s omniscience — but let’s start with Jesus. You see, there is an apartment hole in Jesus’ knowledge… which, if we do not address adequately, supports the position that Jesus is neither omniscient nor divine. So, assuming that “not knowing something” a logical disqualifier for omniscience, how could Jesus be omniscient if he did not know when the end of the age would come?

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3, NIV)

[Jesus speaking] “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36, NIV)

People do not have as much of a problem with God the Father or the Holy Spirit being omniscient as they do with Jesus. But the Father and the Spirit have a perceptual advantage in that they are spirit-beings; they do not have — nor do they appear to have — human limitations. And why not… they never took on human form. But Jesus did (2 Corinthians 8-9; Philippians 2:6-8); he became one of us. And that was his primary distinction in the economic Trinity. But when Jesus left his heavenly home to dwell with humankind, he did not “pull out” of the Godhead — leaving 2/3 of a Trinity behind him. Instead, he remained in ontological unity with the Father and the Spirit, thus retaining his essential omniscience.

But, to be truly human, Jesus had to experience true human limitations… like bleeding and dying on the cross. But he endured other limitations, too. For instance, he gave up his omnipotence — his right to do everything — as evidenced by his deferring to his Father’s will (John 6:38; 17:4-5). He also gave up his omniscience — his right to know everything — as evidenced by his deferring to the Father about the end of the age (Matthew 24:36).

These apparent human weaknesses were evidence of the kenosis — the emptying… and no — we don’t know how that worked! But Jesus, being truly God, remained omniscient in essence… yet he became truly human in experience. Jesus was unique as the theanthropic person, and only such a God-man could have it both ways: knowing all… yet knowing partially.

I’m not sure why this particular characteristic of Jesus trips people up so much. The plan of redemption requires Jesus to endure restrictions of the flesh. Indeed, to be a legitimate redeemer, Jesus had to become related to us (Leviticus 25:25; Ruth)… and how else could a spirit-being do this but by becoming human! As such he had true human emotions, true human physiology and a true response to gravity. Now, ontologically speaking, Jesus was still a spirit-being — and he experienced no restrictions in the Godhead.

But, where the sandals met the road, Jesus wept rather than avoid sorrow (Johns 11:35), he hungered rather than take Satan’s bread (Mat.thew4:4), and he walked through Samaria rather than fly over it (John 4:7). Why is it such a surprise, then, that Jesus responded in human knowledge also? To be truly human, Jesus had to experience every one of our intrinsic limits… except sin, of course — which is a product of volition, not of design.

How do we explain Jesus’ miracles then? These actually prove the previous point. Notice that the purpose of Jesus’ signs and wonders was not to heal the sick (although this was indeed a benefit!) It was to prove that God had sent him.

[Jesus speaking] “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:36, NIV) (See also John 3:2; 9:31-33)

To the Jews then, Jesus was at least a prophet… but more hopefully, the Sent One was looking like their Messiah! But let’s think about the agency of these miracles for a moment. Do you think that Jesus performed these signs by his own divine power while he was human? Do you think that he kept his ontological Godness in his back pocket so that he might access it here on earth — to help himself out or to do some miracles? I do not (although many do).

But I would ask my objectors to remember that non-God people performed miracles all the time… making ax heads float (2 Kings 6:6)… and even raising people from the dead! (1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 4:35; 13:21; Acts 9:40; 20:10). Since God the Father empowered his other prophets to work miracles, and I see no reason for Jesus to access his own deity while on earth. In fact… (and forgive me)… I believe that would be fraudulent — potentially dumbing-down his suffering on the cross — but also violating his true humanity across the board. For this reason, I see Jesus’ “lack of knowledge” as not only appropriate but necessary in his sojourn with us.

The following are some other instances of Jesus’ supernatural knowledge. But I see these as evidence that God was with him as a God-authorized-human-agent — and not proof that he was God himself. Now again… I fully believe that Jesus is God! But I do not believe that the following verses are necessarily proofs of that.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25, NIV, emphasis mine)
(See also John1:48; 13:11; 16:30; 21:17; Matthew 11:27; 22:18; Luke 6:8).

I spent the vast majority of our time focusing on Jesus because of the unique challenges to his omniscience. Now, the Bible teaches that the Father and the Holy Spirit are omniscient, too — but it does so more directly. So I’ll list some of these references, but I’ll refrain from commentary (since it probably would not add to the discussion). But if this response is not adequate, please re-query.

Concerning the Father (or God in general): Genesis 18:20-21; 1 Samuel 23:9-12; Job 34:21-23; Psalm 15:3; 19:12; 33:13-15; 51::6; 56:8; 139:1-6; 12-13; 147:4-5; Proverbs 15:3; Isaiah 29:15; 40:13-14; 41:22-24; Jeremiah 17:10; 23:23; Malachi 3:16; Matthew 6:8; 10:28-30; Acts 1:24; 2:23; 15:18; Hebrews 4:13; Revelation 2:23.

Concerning the Holy Spirit generally: One may ascribe the omniscience of God the Father to the Holy Spirit because they are equals, and logic tells us that things equal to the same thing equal each other. The following are three references to triadic formulas that show the equality of each person of the Trinity: 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2.

Concerning the Holy Spirit specifically: 2 Corinthians 2:10-11; John 14:26; 16:12-13.

To conclude, as members of the biblically revealed Trinity (that is, the ontological Trinity or the Godhead), the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit share every attribute of God — in unity and maximally so — and this condition does not change when they work in their individual persons. But Jesus was unique; he alone took on human form. And to be truly human, he had to take on appropriate human restrictions. He obeyed the earth’s physical laws, society’s governmental laws, humankind’s emotional laws and humanity’s mental laws… and our mental laws say, no one knows everything.

Please note in closing that I hold to an edgier Christology than do many Evangelicals by saying that Jesus had carnal limits. As always, you should consult multiple sources. But — and in no small part because of my position on the incarnate Christ — I feel congruent in affirming that every person in the Godhead is omniscient… in spite of the fact that one of them said, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30).

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