Foreknowledge

by Mike Ratliff

28 Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν. 29 ὅτι οὓς προέγνω, καὶ προώρισεν συμμόρφους τῆς εἰκόνος τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν πρωτότοκον ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς· 30 οὓς δὲ προώρισεν, τούτους καὶ ἐκάλεσεν· καὶ οὓς ἐκάλεσεν, τούτους καὶ ἐδικαίωσεν· οὓς δὲ ἐδικαίωσεν, τούτους καὶ ἐδόξασεν. (Romans 8:28-30 NA28)

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 NASB)

Unfortunately, “foreknowledge” is a very controversial or contentious term. However, I contend that the debate over it is made overly “intense” by those who really do not understand what it actually means. I have heard more times than I can count from well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ something that goes like this, “Doesn’t ‘foreknowledge’ in the Bible in those verses such as Romans 8:29 simply mean that God looked down through time and had prior knowledge of who would be saved and elected them?” Well my brethren, that simply is not what it means. The root Greek word used in the New Testament that is translated as “foreknew” is προγινώσκω (proginōskō), which also carries the idea of “foreordination.”

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (Acts 2:22-23 NASB)

In v23 we have the word “foreknowledge,” which translates  προγνώσει the Dative, Singular, Feminine case of πρόγνωσις (prognōsis).  What is Peter saying? Is Peter saying that God simply looked down through time and said, “Oh, I see, they will put my Son to death, I’ll use that in my plans for the Atonement!”? That’s silly! He is saying that God foreknew in eternity past that Christ would die on the cross because God purposefully sent Him to do so. God determined this through the council of His own will and purposefully set up boundaries in which men could act.

The root of both προγινώσκω and πρόγνωσις is γινώσκω (ginōskō) “to know by experience.” An example is found in Matthew 1:25 which says that Joseph “did not know” Mary before Jesus was born. Jesus used the same word in Matthew 7:23 where He speaks of those who have professed to be believers but are not: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

1 Πέτρος ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, Γαλατίας, Καππαδοκίας, Ἀσίας καὶ Βιθυνίας, 2 κατὰ πρόγνωσιν θεοῦ πατρὸς ἐν ἁγιασμῷ πνεύματος εἰς ὑπακοὴν καὶ ῥαντισμὸν αἵματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη πληθυνθείη. (1 Peter 1:1-2 NA28) 

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. (1 Peter 1:1-2 NASB)

Here we have the exact same thing. While many would insist this must mean prior knowledge we would then point to v20.

20 προεγνωσμένου μὲν πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου φανερωθέντος δὲ ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν χρόνων διʼ ὑμᾶς (1 Peter 1:20 NA28)

20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you (1 Peter 1:20 NASB)

Christ was foreknown or foreordained before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for you! This is significant because Peter used the same root Greek word in v20 as he did in v2.  Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world and in vv1-2 we see that all believers are as well. Therefore, it is obvious that this does not mean that God simply foresaw that Christ would be manifested, instead, He was as we are, foreordained and foreknown by an intimate relationship before the foundation of the world.

Now go back to the top of this post and reread Romans 8:28-30 knowing that the word “foreknew” there is the same word we have been looking at all through this post.  Which action of God is first in the progression?

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “Foreknowledge

  1. But some people cannot tolerate a sovereign God and so they put the creature on the judge’s bench and turn God into a creature who learn from His creatures. God’s foreknowledge is of persons, not their actions. Romans 8:29 says those whom he foreknew, Romans 11:2 confirms: God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. 1 Peter is addressed to those who are elect exiles … according to the foreknowledge of God. I know of no place in the Scriptures where we find God’s foreknowledge related to choices or actions of humans. Election is unconditional in that it is God’s choice alone, based on His will (John 1:12); and not dependent in any measure on the will or blood of man (John 1:13).

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  2. Amazing revelation. I had always seperated myself as being just foreseen while Christ was fore ordained and faith wise, relationship wise it does make a difference. Thanks.

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  3. Thank you for this post Mike.
    I recently had a similar conversation with a believer who posed the same theory that God looked ahead into time, saw what was going to happen (or who would believe) and then decided what He would do.
    For the past 45 some years I have worked in various types of building and mining projects and all with some minor exceptions had a plan before the first nail was driven. Whether it was a road or school or an excavated hole, some engineer or architect or designer had an image in their mind of what he wanted accomplished. In a large complicated facility there would be a team assembled each with their own mental image of their portion of the work. They had foreknowledge of the building or whatever long before the tradesmen and the users of the facility did. The Architect (fore)knew precisely where the doors would be, the windows, the type of flooring, the various colours, everything – before actual work begins.
    Now, maybe I’ve oversimplified the term “foreknowledge,” but this is the way I understand God’s “foreknowledge.”
    As the Master Architect, He had knowledge, long, long, before anything existed as to what He was going to do; when Jesus would be born; who would be saved; when judgement day will be; etc. etc. All is proceeding according to His divine plan, according to his foreknowledge.

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