Q: #514. Why does God ask questions in the Bible if He is omniscient, and already knows the answers?
By: Steve Shirley
A: It is said that God (including Jesus) asked over 500 questions in the Bible. The Bible also says dozens of times that God is omniscient. Here are a few verses (Ps 139:1-6)(1 Jn 3:20)(Isa 42:9) (Ezek 11:5)(Ps 147:4-5). These two things seem contradictory, don't they? If God knows everything, why does He need to ask questions? The key is to understand why God asks questions in the Bible. Since He is omniscient, there is no question that God could ask (or be asked) that He doesn't already know the answer to. In addition, we know that He isn't asking to "gain information." Therefore, when we look at a question from God in the Bible, and we keep His omniscience in mind, we know that He isn't asking a question for the same reason a human might ask a question.
What I am going to do in this study is to give you a few different things to think about when you see a question from God in the Bible. While these may not cover every question God asks, it should cover most of them, and help you to understand why He asked them.
#1. Perhaps the primary reason why God asked people questions is because He was trying to get people to examine themselves in some way. He wanted people to examine their thoughts, words, actions, motives, and hearts. He wanted people to realize there was something wrong in their relationship with Him (see: Ps 7:9). He wanted them to confess this problem, confront it, be sorry for it, and repent (see: Ps 32:1-5).
For example, in the first question God asked in the Bible, He asked Adam and Eve, "Where are you?" (Gen 3:9). They were hiding after eating from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," which God had forbidden them to do (Gen 2:17). If we keep in mind the omniscience of God, we know that He already knew where they were. So, why did He ask this? He wanted Adam and Eve to think about why they were hiding. They had never done this before, so why now? He was giving them a chance to confess what they had done, and repent. (They didn't, and instead made excuses for their behavior: Gen 3:12-13.)
This example may help explain. With our technology today, we can track where a person is through their cell phone. You are a parent, and through this technology you know where your child is, but they don't know that you know. One night, you find that they are in a place they shouldn't be, doing something they shouldn't be doing. You call them, and ask them, "Where are you?" You know where they are, but you are asking because you want to give them a chance to confess, be truthful, admit what they have done, and apologize.
We have many other examples of this kind of God-asked question in the Bible:
(1 Sam 2:29)(NIV) "Why do you honor your sons more than me?" (God was confronting Eli's lack of reverence.)
(Mt 8:26) "...Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" (Jesus wanted the disciples to examine their lack of faith.)
(Mt 14:31) Jesus said to Peter, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Jesus wanted Peter to examine his lack of faith.)
(Mt 12:11) "What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?" (Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.)
More examples here: (Mt 9:28)(Mt 15:3)(Mt 17:17)
#2. God asks some questions to get people to think, and to foster their spiritual growth. I often use a method like this when teaching my Bible study classes. I ask questions such as: "What does this verse mean?" or "Why did God say this?" I already know the answers (like God in His omniscience). I am not asking to "gain information," but I am asking to get my class to analyze the verse, and think about it. I find this helps people to learn more efficiently, remember better, and grow more deeply in their walk with the Lord.
Jesus did this type of thing in a number of verses. Here are a few examples:
(Mt 16:13-20) Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of man is?" (Jesus knew who He was.) He then asked the disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." On this confession by Peter, Jesus told Him that he was "blessed," that Father had revealed that to him, and that on Peter, Jesus would "build His (My) church." In this, the disciples grew in their faith (especially Peter), and came to a better understanding of who He was (see: Mt 16:20).
(Lk 10:25-28) Jesus was asked by a lawyer, "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus replied, "What is written in the law? How does it read to you?"
The lawyer gave his answer. (Lk 10:27-28)
Jesus replied, "You have answered right: this do, and thou shall live."
Jesus knew the answer to the question He was asking, but He was confronting the self-righteous attitude of the lawyer (see: Lk 10:29, then the following parable).
(Jn 21:15-17) Jesus asked Peter 3 times, "Do you love me?" Jesus did not ask Peter this question because He didn't know the answer, but because He was publically restoring Peter after he had denied Him 3 times.
#3. Many of God's questions are rhetorical. A rhetorical question is "a question asked merely for effect, with no answer expected" (Webster's Dictionary). "A rhetorical question is a question someone asks without expecting an answer. The question might not have an answer, or it might have an obvious answer" (yourdictionary.com). There are many examples of these. Here are a few:
(Gen 32:27) God asked Jacob, "What is your name?
(Ex 4:2) God asked Moses, "What is that in your hand? Moses replied, "A staff."
(Jonah 4:4)(NIV) God asked Jonah, "Have you any right to be angry?"
(Jn 5:6)(NASB) Jesus asked the paralytic man, "Do you wish to get well?"
(Mt 26:45) Jesus asked Peter, James, and John, "Are you still sleeping and resting?"
No Answer Expected
(Job 38:4) God asked Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?"
(Num 11:23)(NASB) God said to Moses, "Is the Lord's power limited?"
(Mt 26:53-54)(NIV) Jesus said, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (54) But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
#4. I also believe God's questions in the Bible had a secondary purpose, and that was to benefit the readers of Scripture. God, in His omniscience knew exactly what would be a part of Scripture, and His questions often help us to more fully understand the things He wants us to know. For example, at the end of the book of Job (Job Ch. 38-41 - NASB), God asks Job 63 questions. He asks these (rhetorical) questions to show Job His omnipotence, power, sovereignty, and majesty. However, these questions also serve the dual purpose of showing us (as readers of Scripture) the same thing.
We can think about (Job 1:7) in the same way, when God asked Satan, "From where do you come?" (NASB). God knew where Satan had been, but we would not know where he had been if God had not asked. This is a crucial thing for us to know about Satan, and was repeated by Peter hundreds of years later (1 Pet 5:8).
Finally, to further bolster the point that God already knew the answers to the questions He asked, we have a number of places which clearly show us this. Here are a few examples:
(Gen 4:8-10)(NASB) Cain kills his brother Abel. Afterwards, God asks Cain, "Where is Abel your brother? Cain replies, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" God then says, What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." Even though God asked Cain where his brother was, He already knew.
(Ex 4:11) The Lord said to him (Moses), "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?
(Mt 20:22-23) But Jesus answered and said, ... Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. (23) And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with:...
(Mt 27:46) Jesus on the cross asked, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Jesus asked this question knowing it had been prophesied about Him earlier in (Ps 22:1).
There are dozens of what seem to be "contradictions" in the Bible. This is topic is simply one example. However, there are always explanations for these "apparent" contradictions if you take the time to study further. While the list of things I have shared here on this topic is by no means complete, I just wanted to share with you some reasons why God's questions, and God's omniscience do not contradict each other.