Romans 8:29 – Foreknowledge

What is the meaning of foreknowledge?

Some define God’s foreknowledge simply as God knowing ahead of time what people will do. So here in Romans 8, the thought would be; “those whom God knew in advance would choose to put their faith in Christ.”

  • Sometimes the verb can be used in this sense of knowing ahead of time what will happen (2 Peter 3:17).
  • A problem with this view is that God foreknows everyone in this sense. God knows ahead of time what everyone will do. And the verse in no way limits “those he foreknew” to “those who would put their faith in Christ.”
  • Even if this definition were granted, it would do little to prove the point many of its advocates are trying to make; that God foreknows, but does not predetermine, those who will be saved. It seems that the logical options are two.  Either the future is open (as the open theists propose) and no one (not even God) knows what will be decided until it happens, or the future is knowable (by God and by anyone to whom he reveals it) because he has planned it to happen a certain way. The idea of foreknowing something that is not yet determined does not make sense.
  • In general, it seems that many who are opposed to the prospect of God predetermining who will and who will not decide to trust in God, are opposed to it based on a false premise.  The assumption is; if a future decision is predetermined, then that decision is no longer a legitimate choice.  If this assumption is correct, then one must choose between predestination and human choice. On one hand, “simple foreknowledge” discards predestination in order to salvage man’s legitimate choosing. On the other hand, hyper-Calvinistics champion predestination and consequently treat human “choice” as hollow. Fortunately, the premise is not sound. A different premise must be found that squares with the Bible. It is the testimony of Scripture that God has predetermined all that will come to pass; and the same Scripture presents people’s decisions as legitimate, with the future (including salvation) being contingent on those decisions. Therefore, we can conclude that human decisions are predetermined by God, and that those human decisions still remain legitimate choices. (For a very helpful discussion of the Scriptures, logic and philosophy of this view see William Lane Craig, in Divine Foreknowledge: 4 Views, 121-125.)

The preferred understanding of God’s foreknowledge in the phrase “those God foreknew” is the idea of choice. Those God foreknew are those God chose to include in special covenant relationship. In support of this conclusion are the following observations.

  • Basically, for God “to know” in the Old Testament “refers to his covenantal love in which he sets his affection on those whom he has chosen” (Schreiner, Romans, 452). The NIV translates yada (Hebrew for “know”) as “chose” in Genesis 18:19 and Amos 3:2, and “care for” in Hosea 13:5.
  • Amos 3:2 recites God’s words to Israel: “You only have I chosen [Hebrew – known] of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” Here the idea of simple knowledge before the fact does not fit, since God has omniscient knowledge of all the families of the earth.  But only Israel was “known” in the sense of “chosen to be God’s covenant community.”
  • In Romans 11:2, “foreknew” is set in contrast to “rejected.” The sense is this: “God didn’t reject the same people he earlier chose [foreknew], did he?”
  • It is significant that the objects of “foreknew” in Romans 8:29 are people, not facts. It is “those God foreknew” not “what God foreknew.” (See John Murray, Romans, 316-317.)  It is “the people God chose to know in a special way” rather than “future decisions for Christ that God knew ahead of time.” Though somewhat simplistic, it still is helpful to observe that we know facts ahead of time, but we choose to know individuals ahead of time.
  • So, in Romans 8:29, the words “foreknew” and “predestined” are similar in that both are related to the chosen will of God. “Foreknew” is the choice of people. “Predestined” is the choice of a plan. God predetermined what people to save and then he predetermined to conform them to the likeness of his Son.
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