Is Jesus ignorant of the last day?
An exegesis of Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36
Certain people have tried to undermine the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ by pointing to two passages from the gospels according to Mark and Matthew. In these passages Jesus declares that He Himself does not know when the day of the Last Hour will occur, but that the Father alone knows this. Critics conclude that Jesus cannot be all-knowing and therefore cannot be divine. It is our conviction that a careful study of the aforementioned passages will show that they do not attribute any ignorance to the Lord Jesus Christ and that both the Bible and the apostles in fact teach the opposite.
“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)
Augustine: To know = To reveal
The Bible uses the verb ‘know’ in a number of different ways. Sometimes it is used to mean ‘proclaim’, ‘reveal’ or ‘make known’. It can also mean ‘to know in an intimate fashion’ (Genesis 4:1; Amos 3:1-2). Fifth century church father Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) wrote that ‘God knows’ in Scripture can sometimes mean ‘God reveals.’ When it says in Mark 13:32 that the Son does not know the day or hour, according to Augustine, it means that the Son does not reveal the day or hour. Several patristic authors have held the same view.
Augustine’s figure-of-speech solution is a philologically plausible position, especially if we consider what Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance has to say about the different meanings of the Koine Greek word ‘eídō’ (know):
“εἴδω (eídō) A primary verb; used only in certain past tenses, the others being borrowed from the equivalent optanomai andhorao; properly, to see (literally or figuratively); by implication, (in the perfect tense only) to know: — be aware, behold, x can (+ not tell), consider, (have) know(-ledge), look (on), perceive, see, be sure, tell, understand, wish, wot.”
Theologian and author Francis X Gumerlock summarizes Augustine’s position as follows:
“When it says in Mark 13:32 that the Son does not know the day or hour, according to Augustine, it really means that the Son does not reveal the day or hour. For support, Augustine gave the example of Gen 22:12, where God said to Abraham after his test of obedience in sacrificing Isaac: “Now I know that you fear me.” In reality, Augustine argued, the omniscient God did not increase in knowledge. It was a figurative way of saying, “Now it is revealed that you fear me.” Augustine cited Deut 13:3 as another biblical example of this kind of figure of speech. Here Moses said that God would test the love of his people by means of false prophets. He wrote: “For the Lord your God is testing you that he may know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” According to Augustine, the phrase “that he may know” does not mean that God would increase in knowledge once the Israelites were tested, but that at that time it would be revealed whether the children of Israel loved God.”
Besides Genesis 22:12 and Deuteronomy 13:3 there are other passages which support this view. Paul, for instance, writes to the Corinthians that when he was with them he “decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). This of course cannot be taken as a claim of ignorance by Paul concerning all other matters. After all, we know that Paul was an excellent scholar of Scripture and a tent builder by profession. Paul’s words should be understood as to mean that he decided not to proclaim anything else, because he wanted to focus on Jesus and his crucifixion alone.
One particularly intriguing example can be found in Revelation 19:12:
“His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.”
Undoubtedly this verse speaks of the Son of God. But, contrary to the debated passages in Matthew and Mark, this time the Son seems to know something that the Father is ignorant of. At least, that’s what the literal reading suggests. But, just as with the earlier mentioned cases in Genesis and Deuteronomy, no one would imagine this to mean that the Father is truly ignorant of this fact. Rather, the Son is the only one who proclaims this name. This seems to be a plausible demonstration of how the Son and Father both proclaim certain things by themselves, while the other Person still knows about it in the most literal sense.
This interpretation by Augustine and others coincides well with the context in which Mark 13:32 is found, Gumerlock continues. “The main point of this section of the Olivet Discourse is to warn humans to be ready at all times, because the day and hour has not been revealed. Jesus’ words about people being taken unaware in the deluge of Noah, and Christ’s parables of the faithful servant, the ten virgins, and the talents, all teach this (cf. Matt 24:37-25:30).”
Furthermore, since the Bible teaches that all things are made through Jesus Christ, which would include the day of judgement, and that He will be the judge on that day (Colossians 1:16 & Acts 10:42). Therefore it is reasonable to say that He has perfect knowledge of when that day will be.
Other scholars who have held the same position
As the early nineteenth century Bible commentator Adam Clarke mentions in his exegesis, several of his contemporary colleagues held the same position, one of whom was the scholar James MacKnight who wrote the following:
“It may seem strange, that the Son, who declared that he would come before the generation then in being went off the stage, and who in the prophecy had been pointing out the various signs by which the disciples might foresee his approach, should not have known the day and the hour, or the particular time of his own coming. This difficulty some endeavour to obviate, by supposing that our Lord spoke of himself here only as a man. But the name Father following that of Son, shows that he spoke of himself as the Son of God, and not as the Son of man. Besides, the gradation in the sentence seems to forbid this solution. For the Son being mentioned after the angels, and immediately before the Father, is thereby declared to be more excellent than they, which he is not in respect of his human nature; and therefore he cannot be supposed to speak of himself in that nature. The proper translation of the passage, I think, affords a better solution. The word eido here seems to have the force of the Hebrew conjugation hiphil, which in verbs denoting action, makes that action, whatever it is, pass to another. Wherefore eido, which properly signifies, I know, used in the sense of the conjugation hiphil, signifies, I make another to know, I declare. The word has this meaning without dispute, I Cor. 2:2 “I determined (eido) to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” i.e. I determined to make known, to preach nothing among you, but Jesus Christ. So likewise in the text, “But of that day, and that hour, none maketh you to know,” none hath power to make you know it; just as the phrase, Matt. 20:23 “is not mine to give,” signifies “is not in my power to give:” – “no, not the angels, neither the Son, but the Father.” Neither man nor angel, nor even the Son himself, can reveal the day and hour of the destruction of Jerusalem to you; because the Father hath determined that it should not be revealed. The Divine wisdom saw fit to conceal from the apostles the precise period of the destruction of Jerusalem, in order that they might be laid under a necessity of watching continually. And this vigilance was especially proper at that time, because the success of the gospel depended, in a great measure, upon the activity and exemplary lives of those who first published it.”
How did the disciples take Jesus’ statement?
To seal this matter completely we will show that the apostles themselves never interpreted Jesus’ words as to imply ignorance on his behalf. We know that, according to contemporary Biblical scholarship, the gospel of Mark was written first, followed by the gospels of Matthew and Luke and lastly that of John. We see that John still describes the other apostles as attributing all knowledge to Jesus:
“Thus his disciples said, truly, ‘Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.’” (John 16:30)
“’Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’” (John 21:17)
If we consider that the disciples witnessed Jesus uttering the ‘don’t know’ statements first in Mark and later in Matthew, it becomes clear that the above statements in John indicate that they never considered those statements to imply ignorance on behalf of Jesus.
The wisdom behind us not knowing the day of the Last Hour
Apart from the fact that only the Father proclaims the day of the Last Hour, there is another likely motivation behind Jesus not disclosing the exact date on which these events will occur. Archbishop Michael Sheehan discussed this when he stated:
“In Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, Jesus Christ is telling his disciples that it is not part of his mission to reveal the time of judgement day. By doing this, he is discouraging his disciples, and us, from asking him when judgement day will be. Jesus does this by using a manner of speaking that his disciples were familiar with and can be understood by people familiar with the Bible, as I briefly explained above. After his resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples that they are not meant to know the times and periods determined by God (Acts 1:6-7).”
Surely one can understand how disastrous it would be if Jesus were to pinpoint the exact date of the Last Hour, for all to know. People would become lazy and inclined to simply wait until that day draws near, before preparing themselves for the Bridegroom to come and collect His bride. It is no surprise then that Jesus, immediately after explaining how no one will proclaim the day of the Last Hour except the Father, warns us to “stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42-44).
Inconsistent Islamic criticism of Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36
At this point we care to mention that, besides Unitarian Christians, Muslims tend to stand on these texts in order to prove from the Bible that Jesus is not divine. In their case there is a particularly effective way for Christians to undermine their criticism by appealing to consistency.
The Quran regularly states that Allah comes to know something or is yet to know about something, often because Allah tests people concerning the sincerity of their belief. Examples of this are Surah 2 verse 143 and Surah 5 verse 94. Most generally accepted translations, according to islamawakened.com, have no issue with the literal implication that Allah can grow in knowledge. Commentators on the Quran, however, have made efforts to ensure that readers understand such passages to mean that Allah ‘makes known’ or even ‘shows’ the results of his test.
Therefore, if the same “difficulty” is found in the Quran, surely Muslims can accept the Christian solution for Deuteronomy 13:3, where God is said to test his people through false prophets. Likewise the solution for Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36, which suggests that Jesus does not ‘make known’ the day of the last hour, can’t be too much of a stretch. After all, if Muslims demand that Christians merely accept the literal text and resist all hermeneutics, they can’t go back to their Quran without acknowledging that Allah, by the same standard, must have grown in knowledge several times in history.
Another interesting observation one could mention when confronted by Muslims is the gradation in the passages, as already mentioned by James MacKnight. Jesus clearly laid down a type of hierarchy when He explained how “that day and that hour knoweth (1) no man, (2) not the angels, (3) neither the Son, (4) but the Father”. Those Muslims who accept this passage as truth would be required to acknowledge that Jesus places himself above creation (humans and angels) after which there is nowhere else to move except the divine essence which the Son and the Father share. Besides, if Jesus considered himself to be merely a man, it would be redundant if He were to utter his own name after mentioning mankind.
Also consider that Muslims tend to omit their passages of choice from the context of the book or even the very chapter in which they found them. The same applies to their reading of Mark 13, where it says in verse 27 that the Son of Man (Jesus) will “send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven”. Surely no mere prophet could ever utter these words. Moreover, Muslims must even refuse part of the very verse they claim to understand truthfully, since they could never consider the Almighty God to be called Father (see for example surahs 112:3-4 & 5:18).
In conclusion we reiterate that Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36 can be, and we would argue should be, interpreted as to attribute no ignorance on behalf of Jesus whatsoever. As we have shown this is the most philologically and contextually sound interpretation.
 MacKnight, James; ‘A Harmony of the Four Gospels: in which the natural order of each is preserved’, fifth edition, volume II; Strahan and Spottiswoode, Printers-Street, London; p. 435
 Archbishop Sheehan, Michael; ‘Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, A new edition revised by Fr Peter Joseph’, The Saint Austin Press, London, 2001, p. 384-385
 See the Quran: 2:143, 3:140, 3:142, 3:166, 3:167, 5:94, 18:12, 29:3, 29:11, 34:21, 47:31, 57:25, 72:28
 See for instance Tafsir Kashani, Tafsir al-Jalalayn and Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn ‘Abbas on Surah Al-Baqarah (2) verse 143 concerning “and We did not appoint the direction you were facing, except that We might know…”; link 1, link 2, link 3