"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Foreknowledge by Pastor John Samson

    Question: In Romans 8:29, the text reads "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son..." Does this not therefore suggest that because foreknowledge comes before predestination in the text, then predestination is simply based on God's foreknowledge: because God foreknows or sees in advance (with full and complete knowledge) what a person will do, and who it is that will respond in faith to the Gospel, He simply predestinates those whom He knows ahead of time will believe?

    Certainly this is how I understood this passage for many years and it is the way that many deal with the issue of predestination in our day. Previously, I also pointed to 1 Peter 1:1-2 which talks of those who are "chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father..." and assumed that this verse would add weight to the idea that election and predestination is based on God knowing ahead of time what we will do - God merely chooses those whom He sees ahead of time will choose Him.

    At first glance, it certainly seems to be a legitimate interpretation, yet the fact that foreknowledge comes before predestination should in no way surprize us. That's because God would need to foreknow a person He is going to predestinate to something. God does not predestinate unknown persons, but specific individuals whom He knows. So this not really an argument for either side in this debate. In both systems, Arminian and Reformed, foreknowing would need to come before predestination. The real question then is "what exactly does it mean for God to foreknow somebody?"

    Actually there are a number of problems with the interpretation in the question, not the least of which is that scripture reveals very clearly, that left to himself, man will always choose against Christ, because of his hostile disposition to God. Man is dead spiritually, and needs his heart of stone to be removed and a heart of flesh put in before he has any interest in seeking the God of the Bible (Rom. 3:11; Rom. 8:7, 8; 1 Cor. 2:14). Outside of regeneration, man by nature is the enemy of God.

    The interpretation also falls down because the word "foreknew" does not merely mean to know future actions beforehand. It has a much more precise meaning. The word "foreknew" (Greek: proginosko) in Romans 8:29 is a verb rather than a noun. It is an action word, and as the text informs us, it is something done by God. What exactly does God do then? The text says "those whom He foreknew..."

    To gain a correct biblical definition of this word foreknew, rather than assume its meaning (which is what many do), we need to do some homework and study. In this case it means we need to go to passages of scripture that have God as the subject of the verbal form, as here in this passage. This is because passages that have humans as the subject would differ substantially in their meaning from the ones where God is the subject, because, I am sure we will all agree, we as creatures "know" things on a very different basis to the way God does.

    When we do this we find the verb proginosko is used three times in the New Testament with God as the subject - here in Romans 8:29, then also in Romans 11:2, and lastly in 1 Peter 1:20. This proves to be significant when we ask the question "what, or who is foreknown by God?"

    In Romans 8:29, the direct object of the verb is a pronoun that refers back to the called of the previous verse (v. 28). In Romans 11:2 the object the verb is refering to is "His people," and in 1 Peter 1:20, the object is Jesus Christ Himself.

    Each reference then portrays God as foreknowing persons rather than actions. 1 Peter 1:20 says, "For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you." When God foreknew Christ, did that mean that God simply knew that Jesus would make correct decisions or have faith in His Father? Hardly! It speaks of the Father's personal intimacy and affection for His beloved Son.

    To quote Dr. James White in this regard, "to say that God foreknows acts, faith, behavior, choices, etc, is to assume something about the term that is not witnessed in the biblical text. God foreknows persons not things."

    How does this relate to what we find in the Old Testament? Well there, we have a similar meaning to the word meaning of "forknew" in the New Testament. This is the Hebrew word "yada." It refers in a number of instances to God's "knowing" of individuals. For instance in Jeremiah 1:5, God said to Jeremiah, "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."

    Dr. White comments, "Here God's knowledge of Jeremiah is clearly personal. It is paralleled with the term "consecrated" and "appointed," pointing us toward the element of "choice." This knowledge of Jeremiah is not limited to time. In some manner, God "knew" Jeremiah before Jeremiah came into existence."

    We see this same concept in God's "knowing" of Moses. Exodus 33:17 - "The LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name." Again we see the personal nature of God's knowing of an individual. This refers to a personal intimacy and affection God had for Moses in that he had found favor in the eyes of the Lord. God had chosen Moses to be a recipient of His tender mercy.

    I'll quote just one more passage where we see this word yada used to refer to God possessing a personal intimacy and affection. Amos 3:2 in speaking of Israel says, "You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities."

    The NASB actually translates yada as "chosen," here, and there is a very strong basis by way of context for this word to be translated in this way. Literally it says, "You only (speaking of Israel) have I known..." It should be obvious to us that God didn't merely know about Israel, and possessed no such knowledge of other nations, nor that merely God knew the future actions of Israel, and didn't know the future actions of the other nations. This "knowing" of Israel is deeply personal and intimate and speaks of God's grace in choosing them to be His people for His Sovereign purposes alone. The word yada is used also in Genesis 4:1 when it says that Adam "knew" his wife Eve. The result of this "knowing" was a child, lets remember - revealing a deep personal relationship.

    All this is important because it presents a consistent pattern: understanding how the verb is used in the New testament, along with these insights from the Old, provides a very strong basis for understanding what foreknew actually means.

    Dr. White states, "When Paul says, "those whom He foreknew" Paul is speaking about an action on God's part that is just as solitary, just as God-centered, and just as personal as every other action in the string: God foreknows (chooses to enter into relationship with); God predestines; God calls; God justifies; God glorifies. From first to last it is God who is active, God who accomplishes all these things."

    "Foreknew" therefore does not merely suggest "a passive gathering of infallible knowledge of the future actions of free creatures" but rather reveals that from start to finish, salvation is a Divine accomplishment, for it is God and God alone who saves, to the praise of His glory alone.

    To quote Dr. James Montgomery Boice in his comments on Romans 8:29, "the verse does not say that God foreknew what certain of his creatures would do. It is not talking about human actions at all. On the contrary, it is speaking entirely of God and of what God does. Each of these five terms is like that: God foreknew, God predestined, God called, God justified, God glorified. Besides, the object of the divine foreknowledge is not the actions of certain people but the people themselves. In this sense it can only mean that God has fixed a special attention upon them or loved them savingly."

    I believe this then is the scriptural answer to the question, but before we move on, lets also look at this from a logical perspective. Many believe in foreknowledge as described in the question (the Arminian view) but this position does not answer the challenge of what God knew from eternity.

    What do I mean? Well, as John Hendryx has stated, "if God knew someone would choose hell even before He created them, then this was a fixed certainty (even before their creation), so why did God go ahead and create them? It was obviously, in their view, still within His Providence that these people be lost... or if God already foreknew who would be saved then how can they continue to argue that He is trying to save every man? Certainly God already knows who the persons will be, so why should He send the Holy Spirit to those He knows will reject him." Ultimately, when this view is subjected to scrutiny, it logically undermines the very position it is seeking to assert.

    Posted by John Samson on November 14, 2005 11:09 AM


    Pastor John

    Thanks for the essay on foreknowledge. Great points. Hope it helps people to more deeply understand the issues...

    Another point I often like to make which strengthens your case is that Romans 8:30 (the next verse) actually makes "foreseen faith" an impossible interpretation. This is because in the text it states...

    "...those he called he also justified"

    Now, according to this text, how many of those whom He called did He justify? There is only one answer: ALL

    So if God justifies ALL the persons he calls, it proves beyond all doubt that grace is what sets us apart from other men, not our faith. The grace God exerts in saving us is effectual. We love him because he first loved us. Our faith which infallibly arises from God's regenerative grace is therefore, not what what the verse means by "foreknows". God's call comes prior to justification, and all who receive that call believe, according to this verse.

    Case closed.

    Hi John H.,

    I quite agree - "these whom He called He also justified" is a statement that acts as the final nail in the coffin of Arminianism. Romans 8:28-30 teaches either universalism or Reformed theology but Arminianism is not left as an option. Though not stated in the text, I believe all Christian scholars would affirm the fact that the implication of the text is the word "all." To insert the word "some" makes no sense at all - some of those He foreknew He predestined, some of those He predestined He called, some of those He called, He justified, and some of those He justified He glorified. The rest of Romans 8 could not be written if this were the case, for many things could separate His elect from the love of God.

    No, the implication in the text is the word "all." All those God foreknew He predestined, all those He predestined He called, all those He called He justified and all those He justified He glorified.

    Note that all these things are actions performed by God alone. These form an unbreakable five link chain that starts in eternity and goes on into eternity. Even though in time, many of us are yet to experience glorification, and even today His elect are coming to Christ and being justified, each term is written in the past tense to show us that from God's perspective, all 5 of these things are as good as done!

    Unless we believe all people in human history are justified and therefore glorified (universalism), the only thing left on the table is Reformed theology, pure and simple.

    I am a student at Reformed thelogical seminary, Mkar in Nigeria. I need to know the relation between foreknowledge and divine election and predestination. Before 6-1-06.

    Hi, right now I am struggling with both these views. Most all my family leans toward the Arminean side. Then I got married and my Husband and the church I now attend with him agree with you. So I am trying to study it out with an open mind. It is hard though when my family is well studied on their side and I am close with them. I have a question about the first comment posted. The bible does not say "All He forknew" It says "Those He predestined". Why is it not possible still that He knew us deeply and therefore also knew our hearts and knew we would except Him, so He predestined those He knew would except Him?

    Hi Analee,

    I understand your struggle, as it is one I have gone through myself. I haven't always believed as I do now. I found that my struggles were the fruit of faulty teaching I had received which was never questioned. It takes discipline and a good degree of humility to acknowledge the traditions we have in our minds and hold them up to the light of scripture to see if they can stand the rigors of serious study. We all need to do this constantly, for we all have our traditions, and as my friend James White says, those most enslaved to them are those who don't believe they have any.

    Let me try to answer your question: In what theologians refer to as "The Golden Chain of Redemption," (Romans 8: 29, 30) God is revealing to us an unbreakable chain that starts in eternity past, goes through time, and on into eternity future. This chain is forged by God Himself, and has five unbreakable links: God foreknows, predestinates, calls, justifies and glorifies.

    Regarding the word "all", you are right to say it is not found in the text. However, though it is not actually stated I believe it is definitely implied. In fact, I believe it is the necessary implication of the text.

    Let's see this clearly by inserting another possible implication by way of contrast, the word "some."

    "For (some) whom He foreknew, He predestined; (some) He predestined, He called; (some) He called, He justified; and (some) He justified, He glorified."

    What kind of comfort and security would that give to us? Would we be able to say "who can separate us from the love of Christ?" I think our answer would have to be, many things could separate us (if the intended implication was the word "some" in this passage). It would make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and certainly would not give us any kind of security in Christ, the very thing Paul is seeking to do in this passage. Instead, I believe 100 out of 100 Bible scholars would all agree that the implication of the text is that all He foreknew, He predestined; all He predestined, He called; all He called, He justified; and all He justified, He glorified.

    If God were to look down the corridors and time and choose those who responded to His offer of the gospel, no one would be elected and therefore no one would be saved. That's because I am convinced that scripture teaches that because all men are hostile by nature to God (Rom 8: 7,8) all God would see would be spiritually dead people making no positive response whatsoever.

    What we need is resurrection from spiritual death - or an effectual call that brings spiritual life. We need to be made alive, or born again, before we can enter the kingdom of God.

    There's a lot more that could be said, but I trust you will find some good articles here on this site and over at that will point you in the right direction.

    God foreknew that the people of Sodom would have repented had He performed the same miracles as in Capernaum. Yet God did not do the same miracles that would have saved Sodom.

    Matthew 11:23

    "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.

    What was the reason? The people of Sodom were not God's elect and they were not predestined by God.

    Even if we take the position that God predestines based on His foreknowledge who is responsible for creating the saving faith? God Himself!!! God needs to open a persons heart as He did in the case of Lydia for someone to come to faith. So again this blows a hole into the "predestination is based on foreknowledge" argument.

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