Foreknowledge: There’s More Than Meets God’s Eye

INTRODUCTION

“You don’t believe in predestination, do you?!”

Everyone who openly holds to the doctrines of grace has at one time or another heard this question asked in near hysterical tones. The very question itself implies that predestination is a doctrine dreamed up by John Calvin, sitting alone in his ivory tower, devising ways of making God appear to be mean and unloving. The reality is that anyone who bows to the authority of the New Testament believes in predestination, whether they are Arminian or Calvinistic in their theology. The word is, after all, one that is used throughout the New Testament (Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29,30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5, 11).

And so the issue is not the existence of predestination as a biblical doctrine. That is a given. Rather, the real issue in dispute is the basis of predestination. On what grounds has God predestined some to salvation and left others in their sin?

One position states that God’s predestining work is performed on the basis of His own independent decree. Nothing outside of His own being has impelled Him. He has made His own free and independent choice to elect those whom He wills.

There is another position that states that the electing grace of God has been bestowed upon individuals on the basis of God’s foreknowledge. This has been expressed in various ways, but put simply, this means that God, in eternity past, has looked down the corridor of time and has seen who will trust Him and who will not. His choice, then, is dependent upon this foreknowledge of the decisions that will be made by each free and independent individual.

James Arminius himself put it like this:

From this follows the fourth decree to save certain particular persons and to damn others, which decree rests upon the foreknowledge of God, but which he has known from eternity which persons should believe according to such an administration of the means serving to repentance and faith through his preceding grace and which should persevere through subsequent grace, and also who should not believe and persevere.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the error of the position espoused by Arminius and those who followed him in this concept of foreknowledge. I will be enumerating five specific arguments, each of which results in the concept of predestination on the basis of simple foreknowledge falling of its own weight. Taken together, the evidence is unassailable. The arguments can be categorized as linguistic, biblical and philosophical.

  1. DEFINITIONS

The biblical term, proginosko, does not carry with it only the meaning of simple advance knowledge or precognition. Rather, the term also carries with it the suggestion of intimate, personal knowledge, as well as the concept of selection or to determine upon.

We must be careful from the outset that we not fall into the error of assuming that the biblical terms in view hold precisely and singularly to the meaning of the terms used in their translation. In this case, that would be an extremely faulty assumption. And yet, although this was not the case for Arminius, the idea that “proginosko” contains only the meaning of the English word “foreknowledge” is the foundation of much misunderstanding and error. One cannot go to a twentieth-century English dictionary and expect to accurately discover the meaning of a first-century Greek word. We must, instead, refer to those sources that will inform us concerning how the term under examination was used in the first century, both in biblical and extra-biblical literary works.

When we do this we find that foreknowledge consists of not merely precognition, but speaks of a relationship with an individual in God’s eternal present. Thus, the word “foreknew”, as used here, is understood to be equivalent to “foreloved” – those who were the objects of God’s love, he marked out for salvation. This use of the term is prevalent throughout the Scriptures. See Gen. 18:19; Ex. 2:25; Psalm 1:6; 144:3; Amos 3:2, cf. Deuteronomy 7:7,8; 10:15; Jeremiah 1:5; Hosea 13:5 Matt. 7:22, 23; 1 Corinthians 8:3; Gal. 4:9 2 Tim. 2:19; and 1 John 3:1.

To take only a few examples:

Amos 3:2 – “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (KJV)

Unless one wishes to jettison the doctrine of God’s omniscience, one must believe that God knew all the families of the earth and furthermore, knew all about all of the families of the earth. How then, can He say “You only have I known…”? The answer must be that He knew Israel in a way that He did not know any other family. And this is, indeed, the case. Israel was the family that was uniquely God’s. They were His chosen people. And so we see the idea of “knowing” here demonstrating both the quality of relationship and the quality of selection or determination. In fact, it is interesting to note the ways in which various translations handle the Hebrew of this verse. The RSV, ASV, and KJV all translate the verse as above, “You only have I known…” However, the NIV and the NASB both translate this verse, “You only have I chosen…”

Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (NASB)

Certainly, God is not merely saying that He knew about Jeremiah, but that He knew Jeremiah intimately and personally, He had a special regard for him while Jeremiah was yet in his mother’s womb. In addition, not only was Jeremiah known, but even before he was born he was consecrated, set aside, marked out, not on the basis of anything Jeremiah did, or anything God saw. God simply says, “I did it.”

Jesus uses the term in the same way when He provides this vivid description of the judgement to come.

Matthew 7:22,23 – “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23″And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (NASB)

In what way did Christ not know them? According to the text, He knew them better than they would have wanted Him too! The meaning must be that He never had a personal, intimate, loving relationship with them.

One other clear passage in this regard is 1 Corinthians 8:3: “if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” (NASB)

Does God not know about those who do not love God? Of course He does. He is omniscient. He knows everything there is to know about everyone. So in what way does He know those who love God, that he does not know those who do not love God? The answer must be, as we have seen elsewhere, that He knows them in the sense of a relationship which does not exist between He and those who do not love Him.

This view of foreknowledge is confirmed in the article on Divine Foreknowledge by J.M. Gundry-Volf, in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters:

“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 word “yada”, “to know” in texts such as Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; and Jeremiah 1:5. The Hebrew verb can come close in meaning to “elect”. The Greek verb ginosko” can also have the sense of acknowledging someone as in Gal. 4:9 and 1 Cor. 8:3 in which the term is used to refer to God’s “knowledge” of human beings which is the basis for their coming to know or love God….In Rom. 8:29, foreknowledge denotes the exercise of God’s will to establish a special relationship with those whom God graciously elects before all time…Foreknowledge as divine choice is thus the basis of predestination to glorification with Christ.”

See also the Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, ed.,

In Paul – I assumes the aspect of a personal relationship with a group of people which originates in God himself…In Rom. 11:2 the vb. expresses God’s election and love of Israel….

In Peter – 1 Peter 1:20 says that Christ was “foreknown” or “destined” (proegnosminou) before the foundation of the world” (RSV).

One who will limit the meaning of foreknowledge to mere precognition will be hard pressed to explain what possible significance there would be in saying that the Father knew about Christ before the foundation of the world. But for Peter to be emphasizing the love relationship between the Father and the Son, it seems to me, would be extremely significant, in the light of the contextual discussion of His redemptive mission. The point that Peter seems to be making is that although the Father and the Son “knew” each other, that is, had an intimate, love relationship, before the foundation of the world, YET (see the connective “but” in v. 20) He appeared in these last times for the sake of you…” The necessary connection is between the perfect love-relationship that existed with the Father, and the sacrifice of that relationship in its face to face form in order to appear in human flesh to accomplish our redemption (Phil 2:5-8). If one wishes to limit the meaning of “foreknowledge” to simple precognition, the entire force of Peter’s argument is negated.

One may examine any of the standard lexicogriphal sources, from BAGD to Kittel to Brown and one will find that what has been described above is the normal and full meaning of the term.

It is also instructive to observe how various translators have dealt with this passage.

Moffatt’s Translation Rom. 8:29 – “For he decreed of old that those whom he predestined should share in the likeness of his Son…”

Goodspeed’s Translation

Rom. 8:29 – “For those whom he had marked out from the first he predestined to be made like his Son…”

1 Peter 1:2 – “whom God the Father has chosen and predestined…”

1 Peter 1:20 – “who indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the universe was laid…”

Phillip’s New Testament

1 Peter 1:2 – “whom God the Father knew and chose long ago to be made holy by his Spirit…”

1 Peter 1:20 – “It is true that God chose him to fulfill his part before the world was founded…”

William’s New Testament

Rom. 8:29 – For those on whom he set his heart beforehand he marked off as His own to be made like His Son…”

1 Peter 1:20 – “who was foreordained…”

It should be noted that none of these translators are known for being overtly Calvinistic in their theology.

In order to further support the fact that this idea of relationship and selection is indeed the meaning behind the Greek term, proginosko, let us move on to our second point.

  1. EXEGESIS

God does not say that He foreknew the decisions that individuals would make, but rather, He foreknew the individuals themselves.

As we have seen, the common Arminian explanation of foreknowledge is that God foreknows those who would believe. That is, He foresees that some will trust in Christ and some will not, and then predestines on that basis. However, upon a close reading of Rom. 8:29 we see that this is simply not what the text says.

Let us examine this crucial passage more closely. Romans 8:29 says,

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn of many brethren.

Notice who or what is foreknown. Is it a decision? Is it a quality, such as faith? No! Rather, it is a person. An individual is known. Paul is making a relational statement. God foreknows persons, not merely events or decisions.

What we find in this passage is that those to whom Paul refers to as “the called” and those who Paul says were foreknown by God, are the same ones who were predestined by God. In each link of this golden chain, we have men portrayed as the passive recipients of God’s gracious action. God calls them. God predestines them. He justifies them, and He glorifies them. If every subsequent link in the chain demonstrates God’s activity and man’s passivity, why should we think that the very first link in the chain, God’s foreknowing, would portray precisely the opposite picture?

John Murray makes this point in His commentary on Romans:

This interpretation, furthermore, is in agreement with the efficient and determining action which is so conspicuous in every other link of the chain – it is God who predestinates, it is God who calls, it is God who justifies, and it is he who glorifies. Foresight of faith would be out of accord with the determinative action which is predicated of God in these other instances and would constitute a weakening of the total emphasis at the point where we should least expect it….It is not the foresight of difference but the foreknowledge that makes difference exist, not a foresight that recognizes the existence but the foreknowledge that determines existence. It is a sovereign distinguishing love.

And so we see that the Arminian view of God’s foreknowledge in relation to predestination crumbles in the face of both the linguistics and the grammar of the most crucial passage in the discussion.

III. LOGIC

To assert that proginosko means only precognition is to strip predestination and election of any real meaning.

This conclusion seems unavoidable. If God’s elective action is based upon what He already knows is going to happen….what is there to elect? In the Arminian view, God has already seen who will trust in Him and who will not. Furthermore, He has done nothing to infringe upon the will of any individual in order to cause this trust. What then is the content of this predestination? To what is God predestining them? It cannot be salvation, since He already sees that they will be saved.

What this view does, in essence, is to make God a cosmic plagiarist. He has read the book, decided He likes it, and then has simply declared Himself to be the author. In the Arminian reality, however, He has had nothing to do with the production of the book. Those who will freely trust Him are actually the ones who wrote it. And yet God comes along to take the credit. Although Paul says that God performed the actions of predestining and calling, the Arminian denies these divine actions by positing a series of future decisions in which God has had no part. If the decisions of individuals to trust Christ is foreknown, and yet, man is free, God has no real role in the process described by the apostle. The concepts of predestination and calling have no real content. They have become empty vessels that communicate no true reality.

This should become even more obvious as we see the next implication of this inadequate view of foreknowledge.

  1. FUTILITY

The denial of a real predestination provides no escape from certainty of outcome.

The stripping of predestination and election of their full force of meaning does not accomplish what the Arminian wishes. Indeed, he is left with the same difficulty. If God knows what I am going to do, whether or not the cause of my action is His preordination, then it must be certain that I will perform that action, make that decision, speak those words, etc. The Arminian then, is faced with the same lack of freedom that he finds so abhorrent in the concepts of predestination and election. The only difference is that he has now lost not only his freedom, but also the very existence of a completely sovereign God.

Simply put, what God foreknows, must, by necessity, be as fixed as that which He has decreed. Therefore, to argue for foreknowledge over against predestination by appealing to the freedom of the will is to argue in a self-contradictory fashion. No event can be foreknown unless, in some sense, it has been predetermined. If it has not been predetermined, it would not be certain, and therefore God’s foreknowledge, as the Arminian thinks of foreknowledge, would be useless since the Arminian idea of foreknowledge posits the fact that God is seeing what will actually take place. And so, the Arminian is left with an inconsistency. He must admit to the certainty of future events or forgo the foreknowledge of God, yet he also wishes to maintain the absolute freedom of the individual in regard to their decision-making process. Unfortunately for the Arminian, these two positions are logically irreconcilable.

Foreknowledge demands certainty, and certainty demands foreordination.

There is yet one additional argument against the Arminian position that needs to be addressed. It is probably the most important argument to be made.

  1. GRACE

To say that what is foreseen is someone’s faith, or their decision to trust Christ, is to place the ground of our calling and election in us, making our salvation no longer of grace.

John Wesley himself has written:

We must not think they are because he knows them. No; he knows them because they are. Just as I (if one may he allowed to compare the things of men with the deep things of God) now know the sun shines: Yet the sun does not shine because I know it, but I know it because he shines. My knowledge supposes the sun to shine; but does not in anywise cause it. In like manner, God knows that man sins; for he knows all things: Yet we do not sin because he knows it, but he knows it because we sin; and his knowledge supposes our sin, but does not in anywise cause it. In a word, God, looking on all ages, from the creation to the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all the children of men, knows everyone that does or does not believe, in every age or nation. Yet what he knows, whether faith or unbelief, is in nowise caused by his knowledge. Men are as free in believing or not believing as if he did not know it at all.

Leaving aside for the moment the obvious fallacy in Wesley’s argument, that being the comparison between God’s relationship to his creation and Wesley’s relationship to the sun (the crucial distinction being that God is the Creator and Wesley is not), let us focus on Wesley’s final statement.

Men are as free in believing or not believing as if he (God) did not know it at all.

This statement immediately brings forth the observation that although, according to Wesley, all are free, it is apparent that not all choose to trust Christ. That observation now raises a question that begs for an answer. If all are free, why do some come to Christ while others reject Him? The Arminian will certainly answer, “Because it is a matter of choice. All are free to choose however they wish.” But surely that is too superficial and begs the real question. We must go deeper. Why is it that people make the choices that they do?

Although the Scripture could not be more plain in announcing the fact that there is “no one who does good, there is not even one” ( Rom. 3:12), and that there is “none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11), surely the Scriptures must be wrong on this point. For if our salvation is a matter of our own choice, there must be something good within us that is causing us to seek God. The Arminian has no choice but to call Paul a liar and to deny the inspired Word of God!

Furthermore, whatever it is that exists within the person who chooses to trust Christ, must necessarily be lacking in the person who does not trust Christ. Where then, is the vaunted freedom that the Arminian is so concerned to protect? It is destroyed by his own system. What has happened to human responsibility in the Arminian scheme? It does not exist, because the Arminian view of freedom has destroyed it. There is something, whether internal or external, which causes one man to turn to Christ and another to turn away. Most importantly, where is grace? Grace is no more. I can now boast in my salvation because there is something within me that my neighbor does not possess. There is something that has enabled me to believe, when my neighbor cannot. There is no grace here. There is a salvation based on human merit and ability.

In the Arminian scheme there is something within the creative work of God that has done this. Be it a part of the man, or a part of his environment, there are forces working on his will. The result is that no man is truly free, as the Arminian wishes to believe. The only question that remains to be answered concerns who or what is impinging on the will.

The Scripture tells us that God foreloved his people. He chose them before the foundation of the world. He had mercy on them and made them alive in Christ, even while they were yet dead in trespasses and sins. He took from them their heart of stone and put within them a heart of flesh so that they might believe. The Scripture is clear. Absolute freedom of the will is a myth. Our will is controlled by something. It is controlled by our fallen nature which blinds us to the things of God and makes us unable to will to love Him, or our will has been taken by a loving Father. By His hand, He has turned us to Him. By His graciousness, He has caused us to love Him.

The Arminian really has only two choices if he is concerned with consistency. In the final portion of this paper we will examine those choices. Only one is a biblical option, although many who were once Arminian and still refer to themselves as such have gone in the other direction.

TWO ROADS DIVERGED…

This dilemma in which the Arminian finds himself can be avoided in one of two ways. One is to submit to the biblical teaching concerning God’s ultimate sovereignty in election. The other choice, which is gaining a foothold in evangelicalism in our day, is to give up God’s sovereignty all together and stake out the position of men such as Clark Pinnock and Greg Boyd. These men are moving in the direction of Process Theology and have openly denied that God has any foreknowledge whatsoever. They represent the modern version of the Socinian heresy of the 16th century. At the point of foreknowledge, they are at least more consistent than Arminians. They deny that God has foreknowledge. God cannot know the free acts of free agents. This is only logical, because they see the truth in point four, above. If something is foreknown, then it must, of necessity, be certain and therefore, not free. Pinnock, Boyd, and others, have simply followed the logic of the problem and come to the conclusion, unbiblical though it is, that God does not know what decisions and actions His free creations will make and perform. And so a redefinition must take place. Omniscience no longer is defined as God knowing all things, but rather that God knows all that can be known. Listen to Pinnock himself,

Obviously God must know all things that can be known and know them truly. To be able to know all that can be known is a dimension of God’s power….omniscience need not mean exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events. If that were its meaning, the future would be fixed and determined, much as is the past. Total knowledge of the future would imply a fixity of events. Nothing in the future would need to be decided. It also would imply that human freedom is an illusion, that we make no difference and are not responsible.

and,

It would seriously undermine the reality of our decisions if they were known in advance, spelled out in a heavenly register and absolutely certain to happen. It would make the future fixed and certain and render illusory the sense of our making choices between real options…This implies that God learns things…If this matter of God’s learning surprises anyone, be reminded that simple foreknowledge also implies that God learns from what creatures do. I am not speaking in a temporal sense now but in the sense that part of what God knows depends on what creatures do.6

These statements by Pinnock can be multiplied many times over with statements by other “evangelical” theologians, such as Gregory Boyd, Richard Rice, William Hasker, John Sanders, David Basinger, L.D. McCabe and Gordon Olson.

The Arminian, if he is to be consistent, must take one of two roads. One of which is the biblical teaching that God is completely sovereign and has complete knowledge of all things precisely because he has determined all that will come to pass. The other is to follow the path laid forth by Clark Pinnock, who followed his Arminianism out to its logical conclusion until he arrived at a God who is no longer recognizable as the all-knowing, all-powerful God of the Bible.

Both of these paths are logically consistent, but only one is both consistent and biblical. Arminianism and its view of foreknowledge as simple precognition, is neither.