A Word About Foreknowledge

One of the most popular views of the doctrine of election takes the omniscience of God and uses it to replace God’s sovereign choice of particular individuals for salvation, with God’s knowledge that certain people will believe. In my experience as a Pastor this seems to be the dominant view of most evangelicals. It goes something like this: God (because he is omniscient) looked down through the corridors of time and saw each individual who would choose to believe the gospel and based upon that knowledge God elected those individuals to salvation. Those who take this view might turn to a passage like Romans 8:29 – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…
This view has some obvious benefits in that it allows God to appear to remain sovereign, while at the same time allowing man to be sovereign over his own salvation. Essentially, what it does is provide relief for those who want to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s totally free will. The problem with this view is that it places God at the mercy of man, rather than man at the mercy of God. Isaiah 46:9-10 says, ...I am God and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done… and Romans 9:15 reads, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” The testimony of Scripture is that it is God who has mercy out of his own unhindered sovereignty, the popular evangelical view places God in a box in a vain attempt to hold on to some semblance of absolute human free will. This is not to say that man is without free will, but God uses man’s free will in order to bring about his predetermined ends.
Another problem with this view is that it does not take into account the meaning of the word “foreknowledge.” Foreknowledge is from the Greek term prognosei. It is a compound word consisting of the preposition pro, which means before and the verb ginosko, which means “to know intimately.” Prognosei does not refer to having knowledge in advance, in the same way that I knew my wife would say yes when I asked her to marry me. Rather, prognosei refers to an intimate personal knowledge that is established in advance. It speaks of \
personal relationships and frequently to the intimacy between a husband and a wife (LXX Genesis 4:1). We see this concept of intimacy in 1 Peter 1:20 where Peter explains that “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.” In this passage Peter tells us that the Father foreknew Christ, in the intimacy of Trinitarian relationship and that because of that relationship the Father sent the Son to make atonement for our sins (John 8:29). If this verse were taken with the typical evangelical understanding of foreknowledge, it would mean that the Father looked down through the corridors of time and saw that the Son came to die for our sins, which caused the Father to make Him the Messiah. Only the proper understanding of foreknowledge, as an established intimacy based upon God’s sovereign choice can make sense of this passage and only this understanding of foreknowledge allows the Scripture to speak for itself when it says that “He has mercy on whom He has mercy.”
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February 16 2008 04:46 pm | Doctrines of Grace

2 Responses to “A Word About Foreknowledge”

  1. The Vander Arks on 18 Feb 2008 at 8:07 pm #


    Seriously, what you wrote here is a great reminder. It really is so easy to explain to others my own Calvinism and settle for what is acceptable to the general public and even myself. This is a challenge for me, thank you for laying out some solidity in my belief, even though you have gone over this many, many, many, many times.


  2. Robert on 01 Jun 2008 at 12:05 pm #

    The idea of the corridors of time is so pervasive today…I just had breakfast with my Pastor and we talked a little about predestination and that’s what he brought up…

    thanks for a good reminder…