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.

17 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.

  9. Don’t agree with this at all God knows all things this again is calavism gone mad Did God knew David was going to sin yes he knew Peter was going to sin and prayed for him did he knows all things he does not choose men for hell it’s man choice that why he loved the world john 3v16 he loved the rich young ruler how can u love mankind and choose some for hell Read the faith of God elect by John Parkinson. Good book

  10. Thanks for commenting Colin, obviously I disagree with you, yes John 3:16 says whosoever will can believe, even more John 6:37 says Jesus won’t turn away any that comes to Him. So we must ask the question then, WHY does anyone come to Him? Because of John 6:44, check it out. This is not Calvinism gone mad, this is Biblical.

  11. Hi adam u taking the verse out of context verse 40 say they would not come their choice not gods U can resist gods spirit that why I told u to read the rich young ruler Christ said one thing he had to do his choice salvation is a gift paid for at Calvary man has to choose I resist God pleading and then ask God into my heart I choose my friend did not he knows what I was going to do and then I was part of the elect

  12. Sorry do not agree God forknowledge means he knows what is going to happen did he know that David was going to commit sin of course he did was his will no man has free will God does not choose men for salvation he provided the way and give man the choice eg the rich young ruler go and sell and follow me but God knew what he would do his choice not gods.

  13. You say that ‘foreknowledge’ means “God’s setting His affection upon His people beforehand.” You like this definition because you claim it is not a philosophical definition, but rather biblical. I would say that it simply is the ordinary meaning given to the words, both in English and Greek. But, even if you are correct, the question that needs to be asked is why He set His affection on some and not others? Should we assume that He made this decision in ignorance of who we are and will be? He knew us before we were born. Would you not expect a wise and all-knowing God to take that into consideration? So, just what do you think He considered when He decided who to choose or who to set His affection upon?

  14. Peter you are correct to take my definition to its logical conclusion, and once you arrive there you do need to ask the question “what did God consider when He decided who to choose or set His affection upon?”

    The answer is clear from the Bible: election/predestination (John 6:44, Eph. 1:3-14, Romans 9, 2 Tim. 1:9 to give a few references)

  15. John 6:44: Yes He must draw us before we can come to Him. But the same question remains “who” is drawn and “why are they drawn”?

    Ephesians 1: Yes He chooses us. But the question remains “why did He choose some?” What did He consider when He decided?

    Romans 9:

    In verse 9:11 Paul refers to “the purpose of God according to election”. Again the same question: why did He choose some?” What did He consider when He made His election? What was the “purpose of God”? Was it random? Or was it based upon His knowledge of the future?

    In verse 9:13 Paul quotes from Malachi 1:2b-3a: Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Malachi is quite clear that it is a reference to the future they represent: Israel and Edom. Having knowledge of their future, Edom “shall build, but I will throw down” (Malachi 1:4). We see that He hated one and loved the other because of His knowledge of their future heritage.

    In verse 9:21 Paul refers to Jeremiah 18:6-8 “as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” Again the same question: why does He make a particular vessel in a certain manner? The answers involves the future.

    So, the verses you cite do not provide such a clear answer. And Romans 9 seems rather to support what you call a philosophical definition, that God, who knows the future, makes His decisions based upon that knowledge. Indeed, why even elect any to salvation? When God made His election, man had not yet sinned. He would not have elected any except that God considered the future – man would rebel and unless He elected some, all would perish in their sins.

    Peter

  16. Bob Geliske · ·

    Adam with some you will never win this discussion because they do not understand how completely mankind was separated from God in the garden. They also don’t understand that a sovereign God does not need any reason to make His choice of certain individuals and while passing over others. God is under no obligation to save any of them. He could easily let all die in their sin. He makes the choice because it meets His will and purpose He not sitting around ringing His hands and waiting for mankind to make a decision. The fact that He chose some is a act of love towards those chosen and as Romans 9 so eloquently states the rest have no right to challenge Him. Paul writes Romans 8:28-30 so those who had the indwelling Holy Spirit would have confidence during trials and tribulations would know that the glory they hoped for was guaranteed because God ordained it before creation. Hang in there the truth will win out in the.

    There is the mistaken belief that the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. A simple search of the mention of the Holy Spirit will show that He is sent to be a helper, teacher, and companion of the believer and is at odds with the unregenerate (Romans 1-3).

    My personal opinion is that many hold the position that God knew they would believe because they fear there is someone who wants to be saved but is not one of the elect. To that I in all confidence can say they is not one person who truly wants to be saved who won’t be saved. God is in absolute control and His plan will be carrying out.

    May God bless you richly in Christ Jesus

    Bob

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