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"...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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  • Rev. David Thommen (URC)
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  • Marco Gonzalez

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  • « Has Anyone Seen John Hendryx? by Pastor John Samson | Main | The Wisdom of God in our Afflictions »

    Two Views on Foreknowledge by Pastor John Samson

    "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son..." - Rom. 8:29

    "chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father..." 1 Peter 1: 1, 2

    Assumptions and misunderstandings abound concerning the doctrine of God's foreknowledge. If we are to come to a biblical understanding of the subject, we need to apply dilligence as we allow for the Holy Spirit to lead us into His truth.

    There are two main views held by Christians today regarding foreknowledge:

    1. THE PRESCIENT VIEW - (Pre - before; science - knowledge; i.e. before knowledge)

    The Prescient view teaches that the election and predestination of an individual is based on God knowing ahead of time what a person will do. God merely chooses those whom He sees ahead of time will choose Him. It certainly seems, at least at first glance, to be a fair system. Though a very popular view, and one that I held for many a year, I now believe it to be entirely unbiblical. Concerning this, Vincent Cheung writes:

    "The false view of election first takes foreknowledge to mean a passive prescience. That is, they take it to mean that God passively discovers what his creatures would decide in the future apart from his sovereign control, and then he makes a decision regarding the status of these creatures on the basis of this awareness. But this means that his decision regarding the status of these creatures is in a real sense determined by these creatures themselves, and the difference between these creatures and other creatures are in the creatures themselves, apart from God's sovereign decision to make a distinction between them. It may be said that God is still the one who determines the principles by which men must be saved, but it is the men themselves who decide which ones would receive salvation. The problem with this view is that, even if we allow foreknowledge to mean a passive prescience, the argument remains incomplete and futile. This is because our opponents must establish something else as well, namely, that faith is not a gift from God, but that it is something generated by the creatures themselves. Otherwise, if faith is a sovereign gift from God as the Bible teaches, then for God to base election on foreseen faith would be just another way of saying that he bases election on what he himself will do in the future. That is, if God is the one who grants faith to whomever he chooses, and if men cannot generate faith in and by themselves, then whether foreknowledge refers to mere prescience does not make a pivotal difference for the doctrine of election. In this case, since God knows himself, since he knows his own plans and purposes, and since he knows his own decision regarding how and to whom he would distribute faith, it remains that election is based solely on God's own sovereign will, and not any foreseen condition in the creatures. Therefore, it is not enough for opponents of the biblical doctrine to assert that foreknowledge means mere foresight or prescience, but they must also establish that faith is not a gift from God, and that men is willing and able to generate in and by themselves faith in Jesus Christ, and that even in their depraved condition, they are still willing and able to choose that which is so spiritually good, that is so against sin and unbelief, and that which is the opposite of their spiritual disposition."

    2. FOREKNOWING = FORELOVING. God, in Sovereign grace sets His love upon an individual and decides to do so without any consideration of foreseen faith or merit in the person.

    What the two views agree on is that foreknowing comes before predestination. Romans 8:29 actually states this fact clearly. This is not an argument for either side and should in no way surprise us. 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. In both systems, monergism and synergism, foreknowing would need to come before predestination. The real question then is "what exactly does it mean for God to foreknow somebody?"

    To gain a correct biblical definition of this word "foreknew" (in Romans 8:29), rather than assume its meaning (which is what many do), we need to do some homework and study. When we do this, we find that the word 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..."

    But again, what exactly does this mean? We find the answer to this question by going 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, here's what 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 "foreknew" 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.

    This is important because it establishes 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 the Prescient view of foreknowledge, 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.

    And... if we still need further evidence, lets just read on from Romans 8:29, to verse 30..."...those whom he called he also justified".

    Question: How many of those whom He called did He justify? There is only one answer: ALL.

    Again, as John Hendryx states so well, "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. God's call comes prior to justification, and all who receive that call believe."

    Posted by John Samson on May 3, 2006 08:50 AM

    Comments

    Something I have been wrestling with recently is the concept of foreknowledge in relation to a God who is eternal, exisiting outside of time. It would seem to me (correct me if I am wrong please!) that the entire concept of foreknowledge hinges on our perspective of history and time, whereas the eternal God can see all of human history spread before him. Perhaps this is delving far too deep into the philosophical realm to interpret a single word of Scripture, but if God exists outside time, isn't foreknowledge just simply an attribute of God unencumbered by time, and hence the "fore" part of foreknowledge somewhat non-sensical in relation to God?

    God's eternal nature has also been throwing me for a loop in studying the ordo salutis. It would seem that the finite nature of humanity tends to systematically break down God's plan of salvation into linear time, whereas God's perspective may be entirely different, and not "ordered in time" the way we think of it.

    I would be greatful if someone would help me sort out these ideas, and whether they have some merit or are completely out of whack with Scripture.

    Todd

    Excellent post, Pastor Samson. I have made the same point on my own blog.

    Even if the Arminian does not accept that 'foreknow' means 'forelove', he must at least agree that the idea of predestination by foreknowledge is, at best, superfluous. Why would God predestine something to happen if He already knows it will happen? Such an act would have no effect on the outcome of the future.

    Keep the good posts coming.

    God be with you,

    A. Shepherd
    Aspiring Theologian


    The Aspiring Theologian - A Reformed 11th Grader's Blog

    Todd:

    Thanks for your thoughts. Indeed God created time ... otherwise God Himself would be under something greater than Himself, which of course, is an impossible supposition.

    But as far as the ordo salutis is concerned, Ephesians says, that "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world..." so the Bible itself speaks of something occuring "before" time and space as we know it. So you are correct that God sees all time at once .. indeed we exprerience things linearly but we also must remember that He determined all things. He not only knows the future, He determined it, He decreed it .... down to the hairs falling from your head.

    Eph says, "we [are]... predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will." (Eph 1:11)

    He works "all things" not some things, but all things after the counsel of His will. There is no such thing as chance. Nothing takes God by surprise... for if chance existed, it would make God Himself subject to Fate....for even He would have no control over events.

    So God, in eternity, in His Triune counsel determined by covenant to send the Eternal Son into history to redeem His elect and sent His Holy Spirit to regenerate those Jesus came to save.

    He knew all things as they would come to pass before He created anything, because He also determined how and when it would come to pass.


    Great post,

    I have a question and I'm not sure how its going to come across but I need an answer. I read (study, browse...) a lot based on the recommendations of sites like this one, monergism, challies, pyromaniacs..etc. Not many writers quote Vincent Cheung. I also realise that he's hardly ever mentioned in the accepted (for lack of a better word) reformation circles. As an example, the recent T4G conference or
    http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/bio/contempreform.html
    I'm not implying that I expect every Tom Dick and Harry pastor to be there. For instance, I love Alistair Begg and I listen to him online here in Ottawa everyday but he was not at T4G...
    All I want to know therefore is whether he (Cheung) is worth reading. Are there any controversies with regards to his theology???

    Thanks

    God's Sovereign Grace is truly amazing. His foreknowledge of each of His elect was His act according to His will to accomplish His purpose of predestinating them to be conformed to the image of His Son. All of the the acts of our salvation flow from that. God foreknew and elected. The Son accomplished the atonement for our sins on the cross. The Holy Spirit makes the calling effectual in our hearts.

    We should be completly humbled by the fact that we in no way deserve this being depraved and sinful people. However, by His Sovereign Grace we are regenerated, justified, adopted, sanctified and glorified unto the image of the Son.

    I think this is why we need to hear the gospel anew time to time to remind us of how far the Lord has taken us.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

    Kobby,

    I have benefited from a lot of Cheung's writings. However, he has a "take no prisoners" style of refutation. But, so have Martin Luther and many others. I particularly enjoyed his piece on "Professional Morons". Nevertheless, I can see why some would wince at his writing style.

    Also, I feel pretty confident in saying that he is a "hard determinist" and strongly opposes compatibilism. Some may argue that this would make him a hyper-calvinist. I'm not sure I would agree with that assessment.

    Nevertheless, I have found him to be extremely thorough in his treatment of Scripture and apologetics in general.

    Hope this is helpful. If others disagree, I, too, would be interested in the reasons because I have not read everything he has written. But, I have much of it.

    Great post, Pastor John. The Prescient View of foreknowledge is the "go to" argument of many with whom I have entered into discussions of God's sovereignty in salvation. It is good to see posts to this blog and the articles on monergism.com addressing this argument with the compelling force of Scripture.

    Thanks again.

    Great post and the timing is impeccable! I am in a debate with a friend on this exact topic. My friend attended a calvary chapel church (about 5 years) before he moved to where he is currently living. Of course he highly esteemed chuck smith teaching as very biblical. I mentioned that chuck's teaching on God's foreknowledge is arminian(prescient view). That did not sit too well with him! So the debate continues! I will point him to your helpful article.

    blessings.

    Hi Todd.

    I tend to think about time issues in the following manner:

    1. The Bible has "befores" and "afters" concerning election.

    2. Those "befores" and "afters" point a particular theological direction.

    3. Many Christians are opposed to that theological direction for various reasons.

    4. Therefore a way of reinterpreting Biblical "befores" and "afters" is necessary to them.

    5. There is no in-depth passage (comparable to that like Romans 9) that substantiates how any theory of time could rid us of "befores" and "afters" in election.

    6. Therefore, whatever God's relation to time, it is irrelevant to our understanding of the "befores" and "afters" that He has given us concerning election.

    Blessings to you for your love of the truth!

    O24H

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