The Biblical Meaning of “Foreknowledge”

Many people deny predestination because of the phrase in Romans 8:29-30, “foreknew”.  Here is the verse “For those whom He foreknew, He also presdestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;  and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

Those who deny predestination based on this have one thing right, and one thing wrong.  The one thing they have correct is that predestination is founded upon God’s foreknowing those whom He will choose.  What they have wrong is their definition of what it means to “foreknow”.  To “foreknow” can be defined in two ways: a philosophical way and a Biblical way.  The philosophical definition of foreknowledge or “foreknowing” is simple.  God, before the world was made, looked down into the hallway of time and saw those people who would choose Him.  Based upon this foreknowledge of these people’s choice of Himself, God chose, or presdestined them.  This idea is  not in the Bible.

The Biblical definition of God’s foreknowledge is different.  It does not mean God’s prior knowledge of what we have chosen.  Rather, it means a specific and intentional action of God loving certain people and setting His affection on them alone.  Confused?  Look at Amos 3:2 “You (Israel) only have I known among all the families of the earth…” Does God only know of Israel on the planet?  Is he ignorant of all other people?  Of course not.   God knows all people, there is nothing hidden from Him (Heb. 4:13).  So what does it mean when it says God only knew Israel out of all the families of the earth?  God only set His favor and affection upon Israel out of the all the families of the earth.  This is what the word ‘know’ means throughout the entire Bible.  When a man has sex with his wife, the Bible calls it, ‘knowing’.  “Adam knew Eve…” (Gen 4:1).

So what does “foreknowledge” mean?  It does not refer to God’s actual knowledge of anything beforehand, rather it refers to God’s setting His affection upon His people beforehand.  God intimately chose His people, just as a husband intimately knows his wife.  It is true that this foreknowing is the foundation of predestination, and the Biblical definition of it makes this so much clearer.  So if we were translate the Biblical meaning of foreknowledge into Romans 8:29 it would read like this, “For those whom God intimately set His affection upon beforehand, He also predestined…” This meaning is in sync with the rest of the Bible.  Labor to rid your mind of philosophical definitions for Biblical words.  Let the Bible define words for itself.

8 comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this and agreed with everything you said but I do have a question regarding the uses of “knowledge”. I realize the word knowledge is used two different ways in the scriptures but how would you prove that in Romans it means He set His affections on us and not simply that He had a knowledge of us?

  2. A. W. Powers · ·

    Stephen,
    Thanks for your comment, that is a great question. I would argue that everytime the word “knowledge” is used IN THE BIBLE, it is used in the “set my affections upon” way. I do not think the mere “knowing” use of it is used much at all, if any. So we should always make a distinction between the way the Bible uses words and the way our culture uses words, and then read the Bible in the right manner. Does that make sense? Let me know your thoughts when you can.

    Adam

  3. ROY THOMAS · ·

    Is there a search tab in this blog?
    I wanted to find Trinity matters.
    Thanks.

    RoyT

  4. Roy,
    There is now! Thanks for the suggestion Roy.

    Adam

  5. Sean Mullin · ·

    Adam, thank you for your explination on the word “foreknowledge” I am in full agreement with you on this and would like to add that 1 peter 1:20 fall right into this explination. If not, then Christ’s sacrifice on the cross would have been “foreseen by God and not preordained by God” This word “Foreknown” is the same word root word as “foreknowledge” in 1 Peter 1:2 and is refering to those” who are chosen” in (v1)

  6. hi, I just read your definition of foreknowledge and I must say that I don’t entirely agree with it, because the bible states that God declares the end from the beginning if this is not the so called philosophical definition of foreknowledge that you have stated, I am not sure what is. Yes God does know his people intimately however this does not restrict God to only that kind of knowledge. I believe that foreknowledge means that God knows before hand, just exactly as the bible states it. God is able to declare in advance what will happened and that is why among the church he has placed prophets, so that they can draw on God’s gift of foreknowledge to see before hand. I disagree with the limit you have set on the definition.

  7. Thanks for your comment, and for reading the post. I do disagree with you, because the whole idea of foreknowledge meaning simply “knowing before” is a philosophical definition imposed on the bible. I do not limit this, it’s actually you and those who think like you do. This is, of course, not to say that God does not know what will happen before hand, that belongs in the omniscient reality of who He is, not foreknowledge.

    Based on the Bible alone, foreknowledge means fore “loving” as Amos 3:2 makes clear.

    Thoughts?

  8. Bennie Odiase · ·

    We must understand and realize that the bible was written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The implication of this is that the correct interpretation of any word used in the scripture and the context thereof, can ONLY come from the author of this book – The Holy Spirit. We must allow for the renewal of our minds by the Word and Spirit of God, else we’ll never come into conformity to His image and likeness.

    Philosophies of men, systems, patterns of the world, doctrines of man and philosophical definitions of words used in the scripture aim to reduce the potency and substance of the message God seeks to bring to us. If we allow this, we can never enter into His fullness for us. The result will be a form of godliness that denies the power of God, which means the Kingdom of God can never be manifest in and through us. The totality of God is encapsulated in His Word and it’s interpretation can only be by His. Spirit. Again, I encourage us to allow Romans 12:1-2 have it’s full course in us, so that the power in His word and His Knigdom can be revealed.

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