FOREKNOWLEDGE –by Vincent Cheung
Those who insist that election is based on foreknown faith or works continue to derive their confidence from several passages, such as Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:2. Since some may not see through their serious misuse of these passages, we should take time to examine them.
Romans 8:29-30 says, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified."
Our opponents claim that the words "whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate" indicate that God's election of individual for salvation is based on his knowledge of the future faith or good works of people.
Accordingly, they claim that the words "foreknow" and "foreknowledge" must mean God's knowledge of the future, such as our future decisions and actions. That is, the "knowledge" here refers to God's cognitive awareness of decisions not yet made, actions not yet performed, and events not yet occurred. Then, they say, God elects individuals for salvation on the basis of such knowledge of the future. God elects a person for salvation if he looks into the future and foresees that this person will accept Christ. God chooses this individual as one of the elect because of this foreknown faith. Thus foreknowledge means prescience (knowledge of something before it happens).
However, this is an unbiblical understanding of God's foreknowledge. Although we have already examined arguments as to why it is impossible that God bases election on foreknown faith, I will offer additional arguments, and arguments specifically about foreknowledge, to refute this view in what follows.
Even on the face of it, it makes no sense to say that God bases election on foreknown faith. Since God is the one who generates faith in someone as a gift, then to say that he elects someone based on foreknown faith only means that God elects someone based on what God himself will do, not what man will do, and foreknown faith would then refer to God's knowledge of what God himself will decide, not what man will decide.
Therefore, unless our opponents can show that faith is not a gift, but that it is something manufactured by man at his own will and by his own ability, then to say that election is based on foreknown faith still does not refute the biblical teaching that it is God who determines who will receive salvation or damnation. However, for our opponents to refute the notion that faith is a gift requires them to refute the Bible. Although the Bible cannot be refuted, to even attempt to refute it would make them non-Christians.
Let us read the passage in question again:
"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30).
Assuming that one already has a general knowledge of the New Testament, it is possible to refute the Arminian interpretation using information available from this passage by constructing a dilemma whose alternatives exclude Arminianism.
This passage describes the "order of salvation" (ordo salutis), or "the process by which Christ's work of salvation is made manifest in the life of the redeemed man." The passage asserts that one who goes through any point of this process has also been through the previous ones, and will certainly go through the ones that come after. That is, "whom he did predestinate…he also called," and "whom he called…he also justified," and so on. In other words, one who has been predestined by God will also be called by God, who will then also be justified by God. Every predestined person will be called, and every called person will be justified. There is no one who is predestined who will not be called, and there is no one who is called who will not also be justified.
According to the passage, the process begins with God's foreknowledge, which means that those whom God foreknows will also be predestined, called, and justified. Now, Scripture teaches that God knows all future persons and events, and all decisions and actions. Therefore, if the Arminian defines "foreknowledge" as prescience, then God must "foreknow" every individual in history, since God knows all things, including all future things. But if this is the case, then it would mean that this passage teaches universal salvation; that is, every person in history would be saved or "justified" before God.
We affirm that God knows all things: past, present, and future. If foreknowledge refers to God's cognitive awareness of individuals, then he foreknows everyone, and there is no one whom he does not foreknow. If he foreknows everyone, then everyone is predestined; if everyone is predestined, everyone is called; and if everyone is called, everyone will be justified – which means that everyone will be saved. This is a conclusion that even the Arminian will not accept. But if one were to be consistent with his definition of foreknowledge as prescience, and so accepts the doctrine of universal salvation, he will be confronted with a host of biblical verses that teach otherwise.
Of course, the Arminian is not saying that God's foreknowledge in this passage refers to his cognitive awareness of the existence of individuals, but that he foreknows the future faith of those who would accept Christ. But this is precisely the problem with the Arminian interpretation. Romans 8:29 says, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate…." Paul relates God's foreknowledge with persons rather than their faith. He does not say, "For whom he did foreknow would believe," or any such thing. There is no mention of the persons' faith or works. This is also consistent with the construction of the rest of the passage. That is, the person whom God foreknows, he also predestines; the person whom God predestines, he also calls; and the person whom God calls, he also justifies. The Arminian adds to the passage what he thinks it should say, rather than reading what it actually says.
The Arminian who defines foreknowledge as prescience has several options.
First, according to Romans 8:29, everyone whom God "foreknows" will be saved, and since God "foreknows" all things (if foreknowledge is defined as prescience), then it means that everyone will be saved.
Second, the Arminian may deny that God "foreknows" everyone, but that he only "foreknows" some people, and only those so "foreknown" will be saved. But since he defines foreknowledge as prescience, then when he denies that God "foreknows" everyone, it means that God's prescience is not comprehensive, and therefore he denies God's omniscience, or that God knows all things.
Third, seeing that the first two options are unacceptable, he can concede that foreknowledge refers to something other than prescience, or foreknown faith.
The first two options effectively make the Arminian a non-Christian, since they entail blatant denial of biblical doctrines. But if he chooses the third, then he has acknowledged that Romans 8:29 does not support his Arminianism. If God's prescience is comprehensive (if God knows all future things), if everyone whom he "foreknows" will be saved (according to Romans 8:29), and if universal salvation is an unbiblical doctrine (the Bible teaches that not everyone will be saved), then this must mean that God's foreknowledge is different from God's prescience. That is, God's foreknowledge cannot refer to his “cognitive awareness” of the future existence, faith, or works of individuals.
Some Arminians say that Calvinists ignore the "obvious" meaning of this passage. However, the Arminian interpretation is not obvious at all, since the passage says that God foreknows the persons who would be saved, and not their faith. Given the Arminian definition of foreknowledge, the obvious implication is not Arminianism, but universal salvation, that everyone will be saved. But universal salvation is unbiblical, since the Bible teaches that many people will be condemned forever. Therefore, what is obvious from this passage is that foreknowledge cannot refer to prescience, and thus it is obvious that the Arminian interpretation fails.
Contrary to Arminianism, although God certainly possesses an intellectual knowledge of all future persons and events, the Bible often uses the word foreknowledge (Greek: proginosko, prognosis) to mean foreordination. The "knowing" here would then involve what the Hebrew yada conveys, as speaking of a personal relationship. It refers to an act of God's will rather than a passive reception of information. That is, the biblical concept of God's foreknowledge involves a type of "knowing" that is both personal and cognitive, and the emphasis is often on the personal.
For example, when referring to false prophets and false disciples, Jesus says, "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:23). When he says, "I never knew you," he cannot be denying cognitive knowledge of the people's existence, thoughts, and works, since he is without doubt cognitively aware of their wickedness when he says, "depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Thus when he says, "I never knew you," he is denying that he has a personal and salvific relationship with them, and not that he has no information about them.
Another example comes from Jeremiah 1:5, where God says, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."
Now, when a verse is in the form of a parallelism, one part expands on or clarifies the meaning of the other part. For example, "For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods" (Psalm 24:2), does not necessarily mean that in addition to having "founded it upon the seas," he also "established it upon the floods." Rather, "established it upon the floods" carries a similar meaning, and helps to clarify "founded it upon the seas." Another example is in the Lord's Prayer, where Jesus says, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13). Again, it is not that we are to ask God to "deliver us from evil" in addition to "lead us not into temptation," but that "deliver us from evil" gives the meaning of "lead us not into temptation."
Likewise, the parallelism in Jeremiah 1:5 clarifies the meaning of "knew": "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations" (v. 5, NIV). For God to know Jeremiah is to appoint him and set him apart. God "knew" Jeremiah before he formed him. The words "knew" is parallel to "sanctified" and "ordained." Thus the type of knowing here carries the idea of choosing. The main sense is that God had chosen and designed Jeremiah before he was conceived.
S. M. Baugh also uses this verse to illustrate the meaning of God's foreknowledge in the Bible:
Another remarkable example of divine foreknowledge is expressed in Jeremiah 1:5, where God says to Jeremiah: "I knew you before I formed you in the womb, I consecrated you before you emerged from the womb; I have given you as a prophet to the nations." The first two lines are closely parallel in the number of syllables and word order…But how can God have known Jeremiah before he was even conceived? Because he personally fashioned his prophet, just as he had fashioned Adam from the dust (Gen. 2:7), and just as he fashions all people (Ps. 139:13-16; Isa. 44:24). God foreknew not only the possibility of Jeremiah's existence – he knows all possibilities indeed – but God foreknew Jeremiah by name before he was conceived, because he knew how he would shape and mold his existence. Given this Old Testament background, we can understand why in the New Testament we have no extended discussion on the nature of God's foreknowledge. There was no need.
J. A. Thompson translates the verse as,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you intimately; Before you were born I set you apart," and comments, "The verb, yada, 'know,' often carried considerable depth of meaning in the OT, for it reached beyond mere intellectual knowledge to personal commitment. For this reason it is used of the intimate relations between a man and his wife (Gen. 4:1)."
"Here it involves a choosing relationship (Gen 18:19; Deut 34:10). The Lord was thinking about Jeremiah before he was born. At that time God had already designated Jeremiah to be a prophet."
Of course, a personal relationship is impossible without intellectual knowledge; otherwise, one would not even know with whom he is having a relationship. But the point is that God's foreknowledge, in a salvific context, refers to a relationship established by his sovereign choice. Therefore, God's foreknowledge refers to his predetermination about persons and events, including the election of individuals for salvation. For God to foreknow someone is to set his affection on that person, even before he is born. It is this meaning of election and favor that Romans 8:29 seeks to convey.
Even when it comes to prescience, we cannot think of God's knowledge as a passive reception of information; rather, even the content of God's prescience is completely determined by his will. God knows all future things because he determines all future things. As Jesus says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father" (Matthew 10:29, NIV). Knowledge does not "happen" to God as an addition to his mind, but since he is the one who determines all events, and he knows his own thoughts, then he also knows all future events, because he knows what he has decided will happen. Therefore, even divine prescience is not a passive knowledge of something that will happen apart from God's predetermination, but prescience is in fact his knowledge of what he has decreed will happen. Since this is the case, the Arminian can appeal to neither foreknowledge nor prescience to support his theology.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says,
"In the case of God, to know, being an act of will, means to make an object of concern and thus carries the nuance 'to elect.'"
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says,
"God's foreknowledge stands related to his will and power. What he knows, he does not know merely as information. He is no mere spectator. What he foreknows he ordains. He wills it."
J. M. Gundry-Volf writes,
Rather than referring to speculative or neutral knowledge (i.e., knowledge of who will believe), the Pauline notion of divine foreknowledge is understood by many interpreters as a knowing in the Semitic sense of acknowledging, inclining toward someone, knowledge which expresses a movement of the will reaching out to personal relationship with someone…This kind of knowing is illustrated by the meaning of the Hebrew yada, "to know," in texts such as Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; and Jeremiah 1:5…In Paul's use of proginosko the aspect of pretemporality is added to the Hebrew sense of "know" as "have regard for" or "set favor on." The result is a verb which refers to God's eternal loving election.
Then, in its article on this subject, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says the following:
Arminian theology, in all its variant forms, contends that God's foreknowledge is simply a prescient knowledge, "a knowing in advance" whether a given person will believe in Christ or reject him. God's election, therefore, is said to be simply God's choice unto salvation of those whom He knows in advance will choose to believe in Christ. God foresees the contingent free action of faith and, foreseeing who will believe in Christ, elects those because they do. But this is destructive of the biblical view of election. In biblical thought election means that God elects people, not that people elect God. In Scripture it is God who in Christ decides for us – not we who, by making a decision for Christ, decide for God.
(to be continued)