FOREKNOWLEDGE –by Vincent Cheung
Reformation theology has contended that the divine foreknowledge contains the ingredient of divine determination. The Reformers claimed that God indeed foreknows who will believe, because believing in Christ is not a human achievement, but a divine gift imparted to men by God's grace and Spirit. Thus God's foreknowledge is not merely prescience, but a knowledge that itself determines the event. That is, in Reformation thought what God foreknows He foreordains…
There are…scriptural passages in which foreknowledge quite explicitly carries the meaning of foreordination. In Peter's speeches in Acts, what Peter says about the predestination of the crucifixion of Christ in 4:28 is almost identical with the meaning of prognosis in 2:23. What happened to Jesus, says Peter, took place according to "the definite plan and foreknowledge of God." Foreknowledge here echoes the idea of God's counsel or plan in 4:28, reflecting that foreknowledge is an ingredient of that determination which made the death of Christ certain. God foreknows the death of Christ because the crucifixion was His planned determination…
That God's foreknowledge contains the idea of divine determination does not rest merely on a few biblical texts but reflects a truth about God that comes to expression in a variety of biblical concepts descriptive of the unique and mysterious character of God's actions. God's foreknowledge is itself a form of determination which accounts for the reality of that which is divinely foreknown…As in God's foreknowledge, all of these divine actions are reality-imparting, blessing-bestowing divine actions, which as such predetermine. He who creates (or recreates) by that very fact determines in advance…
God's foreknowledge is far from mere pre-vision or prior intellectual awareness; even its ingredient of determination is an expression of blessing. In biblical usage God's foreknowledge does not relate to whatsoever comes to pass, to an all-comprehensive divine will. Foreknowledge relates to matters beneficent and salvific…The Bible uses the words "foreknow" and "predestinate" in a salvific context and with a salvific meaning…
In biblical thought, divine foreknowledge includes the idea of foreordination to salvation and we may not enlarge the meaning of either term to include "whatsoever comes to pass." To give it a large coverage is to include those whom the Bible describes as those whom God does not know, as in Jesus' disclaimer, "I never knew you" (Mt. 7:23).
Now that we have clarified the meaning of foreknowledge, we should apply it to Romans 8:29-30, which I will quote 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."
The classic Arminian interpretation of Romans 8:29, that God's foreknowledge of faith is in view, is clearly reading one's theology into the text. Paul does not say: "whose faith he foreknew," but "whom he foreknew." He foreknew us…in Romans 8:29, predestination is not dependent on faith; rather, God predestines us on the basis of his gracious commitment to us before the world was…Perhaps another rendering better expresses the concept behind Romans 8:29: "Those to whom he was previously devoted…" This again, is not to say that God's foreknowledge is devoid of intellectual cognition; to have a personal relation with someone, such as a marriage relation, includes knowledge about that person…God has foreknown us because he fashioned each of us personally and intimately according to his plan…That Paul refers to this concept of a committed relationship with the phrase whom he foreknew in Romans 8:29 is confirmed by the context…Further confirmation of "foreknowledge" in Romans 8:29 as referring to a previous commitment is found in a nearby passage, Romans 11:1-2, where proginosko can have only this meaning: "God has not rejected his people, has he? No way! For I also am an Israelite…God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew." As in Romans 8:29, the objects of foreknowledge are people themselves rather than historical events or a particular person's faith…The Arminian notion of "foreseen faith" is impossible as an interpretation of God's foreknowledge in Romans 11:1-2, and, consequently, in the earlier passage, Romans 8:29, as well. The latter explains that God initiated a committed relationship from eternity with certain individuals whom he predestined for grace.
On this verse, Calvin writes,
"But the foreknowledge of God, which Paul mentions, is not a bare prescience, as some unwise persons absurdly imagine, but the adoption by which he had always distinguished his children from the reprobate…he foreknew nothing out(side) of himself, in adopting those whom he was pleased to adopt; but only marked out those whom he had purposed to elect."
F. F. Bruce agrees:
"God's foreknowledge here connotes that electing grace which is frequently implied by the verb 'to know' in the Old Testament. When God takes knowledge of people in this special way, he sets his choice on them."
John Murray explains:
It needs to be emphasized that the rejection of this [Arminian] interpretation is not dictated by a predestinarian interest. Even if it were granted that "foreknew" means the foresight of faith, the biblical doctrine of sovereign election is not thereby eliminated or disproven. For it is certainly true that God foresees faith; he foresees all that comes to pass. The question would then simply be: whence proceeds this faith which God foresees? And the only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees is the faith he himself creates…The interest, therefore, is simply one of interpretation as it should be applied to this passage. On exegetical grounds we shall have to reject the view that "foreknew" refers to the foresight of faith…Many times in Scripture "know" has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond that of mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with "love," to set regard upon, to know with peculiar interest, delight, affection, and action…There is no reason why this import of the word "know" should not be applied to "foreknow" in this passage, as also in 11:2 where it also occurs in the same kind of construction and where the thought of election is patently present…It means "whom he set regard upon" or "whom he knew from eternity with distinguishing affection and delight" and is virtually equivalent to "whom he foreloved."
Thomas R. Schreiner holds the same view:
Some have argued that…God predestined to salvation those whom he saw in advance would choose to be part of his redeemed community…According to this understanding predestination is not ultimately based on God's decision to save some. Instead, God has predestined to save those whom he foresaw would choose him…It is quite unlikely, however, that it accurately represents the meaning…in Rom. 8:29 the point is that God has predestined those upon whom he has set his covenantal affection. Note that the object of the verb…is personal, "those whom"…God set his affection upon.
Douglas Moo likewise argues for this position:
In [Arminianism] the human response of faith is made the object of God's "foreknowledge"; and this foreknowledge, in turn, is the basis for predestination: for "whom he foreknew, he predestined." But I consider it unlikely that this is the correct interpretation…The NT usage of the verb and its cognate noun does not conform to the general pattern of usage…the three others besides the occurrence in this text, all of which have God as their subject, mean not "know before" – in the sense of intellectual knowledge, or cognition – but "enter into relationship with before" or "choose, or determine, before" (Rom. 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:20; Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2)…That the verb here contains this peculiarly biblical sense of "know" is suggested by the fact that it has a simple personal object. Paul does not say that God knew anything about us but that he knew us, and this is reminiscent of the OT sense of "know…."Moreover, it is only some individuals…who are the objects of this activity; and this shows that an action applicable only to Christians must be denoted by the verb. If, then, the word means "know intimately," "have regard for," this must be a knowledge or love that is unique to believers…This being the case, the difference between "know or love beforehand" and "choose beforehand" virtually ceases to exist.
Therefore, as the Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary says,
"In Romans 8:29 and 11:2, the apostle Paul's use of the word foreknew means 'to choose' or 'to set special affection on.' The electing love of God, not foresight of human action, is the basis of His predestination and salvation."
At this point, some Arminians object that if foreknowledge does not mean prescience but foreordination, then why does Romans 8:29 say, "whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate"? That is, if "foreknow" means what the Calvinist says it means, then does not the reference to predestination become redundant? As Godet says in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, "Some have given to the word foreknow the meaning of elect, choose, destine beforehand…but what is still more decidedly opposed to this meaning is what follows: He also did predestine."
This is a stupid and amateurish objection. It is a desperate and futile attempt to escape the conclusion that we have so firmly established. In fact, only the most incompetent would make such an argument after carefully examining the passage, or even just having read verse 29 to the end. The entire verse 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." Paul is telling us that whom God has chosen for salvation, he has also predestined the same people "to be conformed to the image of his Son." Foreknowledge in this verse refers to God's election of individuals to salvation, while predestination reveals the specific purpose or end that God has designed for his elect.
Thus Gundry-Volf writes:
Paul distinguishes between divine foreknowledge and divine predestination in Romans 8:29: "those whom he foreknew, he also predestined." While foreknowledge denotes the exercise of God's will to establish a special relationship with those whom God graciously elect before all time, predestination expresses God's appointing of them to a specific goal before all time…In Romans 8:29 this goal is conformity with the image of the Son, a reference to the final salvation of the elect…Foreknowledge as divine choice is thus the basis of predestination to glorification with Christ…Foreknowledge does not have to be understood as foresight of faith in order to be distinguished from predestination.
Wuest recognizes that foreknowledge in this verse refers to God's sovereign election of individuals, and so he translates verse 29 and 30 as follows:
Because, those whom He foreordained He also marked out beforehand as those who were to be conformed to the derived image of His Son, with the result that He is firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, those whom He thus marked out beforehand, these He also summoned. And those whom He summoned, these He also justified. Moreover, those whom He justified, these He also glorified.
The GNT translation says,
"Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them."
Without additional arguments, we have also refuted the Arminian interpretation of 1 Peter 1:2. The verse says that we have been chosen "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." Of course this is true, since foreknowledge means foreordination. Peter is saying that our election for salvation is based on God's sovereign decision – that is, his foreordination or foreknowledge.
Calvinism is repulsive to many people who claim to be Christians. But as Charles Spurgeon said, Calvinism is nothing other than biblical Christianity. Thus if you do not affirm Calvinism, you do not affirm biblical Christianity. If you call yourself a Christian, then you are obligated to affirm and promote Calvinism, and to denounce and refute Arminianism.