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.


  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 · ·

    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.


  3. ROY THOMAS · ·

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


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


  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.


  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.


  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


  17. Bob, do you have to conclude that those who do not agree with you must not have understanding?

    Yes, in the garden mankind was totally separated from God, unable to restore himself. Without the sacrifice of Jesus, none could find salvation. Did a sovereign God have to go to the cross? No, but He chose to do so.

    Does God convict the world of sin? And desire all to be saved? And weep over Jerusalem? And repent that He made man (Genesis 6:6)? And so love the world that He sent His Son? Yes a sovereign God is sufficiently powerful to give all men power to believe His gospel, desire that all come to salvation, weep as most refuse to believe, and yet fully accomplish His plan to establish a perfect holy bride of Christ. He does not lose His sovereignty by giving to all power to believe or refuse to believe. Rather in so doing He proves His sovereignty!

    What an awesome God!!

  18. Bob Geliske · ·

    I think that most people who have friends and loved ones who are unsaved are afraid that their friends may not be part of the elect of God. They can’t put their faith in a righteous sovereign God but cling to the hope that the unsaved will change their mind. They just can’t see God as being the motivation behind changing the minds of the unsaved. In never ceases to amaze me that perhaps the greatest evangelist of all time, Paul, under the devine inspiration of God wrote the passages that cause so much controversy. He did so without apology and then clarified what he was saying in Romans 9 and following. In truth I feel sorry that they are missing the joy of knowing the full meaning of grace. I just them they needn’t worry all those who want to be saved will be saved.

    I agree what an awesome God!!!

  19. Bob: I think you missed my point. I do believe God chooses and that He had no obligation to choose any. The question is whether He chose to pour His love on some individuals and not others for no reason whatsoever, which is what Adam and you accuse.

    God’s selection was based upon what He knew (why accuse God of making a decision on partial knowledge? – He is perfect and has complete knowledge which includes knowledge of all past, present and future events). We were chosen “according to foreknowledge” (1 Peter 1:2), “according to His own purpose” (2 Timothy 1:9 and Ephesians 1:11). God had a plan and purpose. None of us would disagree. And we all acknowledge that God made His selection based upon His knowledge of the future. Why do I say that? Consider: He chose before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9). Before the world began man had not sinned and there was no need for a Savior. But God then chose some. Why? Because He knew that man would sin. And He knew that Jesus would shed His blood and therefore He could choose some, according to His perfect plan, and His choice would be just. We all agree that God chose based upon His knowledge of the future.

    However, you accuse God of making this decision based upon only partial knowledge of the future. You claim that God would not consider the most important question facing mankind: how we will individually respond to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Honestly, I think it is tragic to teach that God chose some randomly, based only on a partial knowledge of the future, and therefor all cannot be saved. I believe this is a very sad accusation of God.


  20. Bob Geliske · ·

    Peter if you have scripture to support that I would love to see it. As far as I can tell we aren’t told what God foreknew except by the use of the pronouns “whom” and “those” we deduce that He foreknew individuals not a thing or event. I have heard many people talk about God choosing those He knew would accept the gospel but to that is entering into the text what isn’t there. In addition you have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to fit that concept into the flow indicated indicated in Romans 8:28-29. I find it far more logical to stick with the scriptures and say that God chose individuals according to His own good pleasure. I think Paul presents a solid case for that in Romans 9 and 10. I also find that it fits perfectly with grace where the action is motivated by the will of the giver. Regardless it is still all an act of love displayed by God to the elect.

  21. Colin lennox · ·

    All people who believe in elect sticks at Romans 8 and 9 read the rich young ruler Christ ask him to come but he choose not to this is bad doctrine john and Charles Wesley hated this this is man idea coming from calavin God never intended mankind to be in hell calvery was his love for the whole world john 3 v 16 preach the gospel and forget about mans doctrine man has free will that why God says salvation is a gift u have to take it before it yours stick to the whole bible that why so mutch trouble in churches

  22. Peter Saputo · ·

    Bob: You ask for scripture. That is a very fair request. But first, I think it is fair that I ask the same question. On what basis do you conclude that God ignored His full knowledge when He chose some and not others? How could He even do that? You do agree that God has perfect knowledge of the future? What scripture accuses God of making a decision based only upon limited or partial knowledge?

    I believe we agreed that God had a plan and used His foreknowledge. You are correct it does not state whether He foreknew people or events. Of course, we know He knows both. Indeed, even without these scriptures, we would know that when God chose, He foreknew all persons and events. It is contrary to God’s omniscience to claim the contrary. So the real question becomes not whether this particular scripture states God foreknew events; rather, it is whether we can find any scripture to say that when He made this choice, He ignored future events. Keep in mind that since He is omniscient, it is you making the strange argument that God made this one particular choice while intentionally trying not to know a portion of His knowledge.

    As to Romans 8:28-30, it is clear that from God’s perspective that all of our past, present and future is completed. If we are the predestinated, we are in God’s presence, seated with Him and glorified. This tells us nothing of why He chose or predestinated. Indeed 8:28 begs the question: if we are “called according to His purpose” what is the purpose?

    Now, as to scripture. He did not choose some. That is obvious. Why not? What was His plan? Scripture states that the Lord is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Isn’t it absurd to claim He wants none to perish and He had the power to save all, but His plan was different? He wants all to repent but He gave no power to most to repent? It says He desires none to perish. It says He wants all to repent. I interpret His plan and foreknowledge and election consistently with these verses.

    Is your answer that “all” does not mean “all”? And do you then claim that He desires that most perish even though He says He is “not willing that any should perish”?

    If so, I think I know where you need to go next: to Limited Atonement, to claim that He only wanted the elect to repent and He wills or desires that all others perish. Wow! He desires that most perish! Wow! I have a real problem with that view. And John 3:16 seems so clear that He so loved the world that whosoever believes finds life. But, Limited Atonement would state that this verse does not apply to the “world” as we think of the world, but only to the elect. Consider: if this is your response, you simply prove that without Limited Atonement, which does require some very odd interpretations, the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional election falls.


  23. You interpret the “world” in John 3 :16 to mean mankind however in the very next verse the “world” is making referencing to God’s entire creation, which stands under condemnation because of the fall in the garden. In John 3:19 there is a separation made between the world and people in the world. In all occurrences the same Greek word is used. If you do a word study of “world” you will find that the general meaning is not limited to only mankind. We told in Romans 8 that all of creation longs for the time when all things will become new. I think we can agree that God’s salvation on applies to those who believe, so the question becomes who will believe. I think Paul in Romans 1-3 as well as Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, and others that man is at complete odds with God and left to himself will not seek God or is even capable of seeking God. God must take the first action in salvation. Though it is stimulating to have these discussions in my experience it is often not profitability for Christian unity. Therefore I will not continue this discussion and say in love that we must agree to disagree.

    May God bless and keep you until we meet in Glory

  24. John 3 v16 means the world calavism tries to wreck this lovely verse God died for the all mankind its up to man to choose the bibile says choose u this day whom u will serve calavism is not the gospel only man and that why it caused so much turmoil in god people stick to the book not men ideology
    Bob follow God not calavin he was wrong and caused so mutch hurt in churches over many years colin

  25. Patrick K. B. · ·

    I believe that in order to stay safe with scriptural interpretation, we build upon foundational principles.
    Long before Jesus gave Paul the revelation in Rom 8:29 and others, He himself had stated John 3:16

    Rom8:29 is not supposed to contradict John 3:16! Both came from Jesus because Jesus gave the revelation to Paul.

    So , we have to be careful how we interpret these scriptures.
    If we fully understand John 3:16, then we have to interpret Rom 8:29 in such a way that it does not remove the foundation stone John 3:16 otherwise the whole building will collapse.
    Now we all know from probabilities, that in many cases we know the population. (in some cases).
    For instance, in throwing a die, we know that the sample space is 1,2,3,4,5,6. But we know that any one of them can be selected. I do not agree with random selection made point concerning God’s election, but I want to state a fact here, that if God indeed made a random selection, then he must have know the sample space from which he was picking in full detail. I have scriptures to back all this up , but don’t want to be too wordy on my first post.

  26. Patrick,
    I thank you for commenting on this. I disagree with you.

    You cannot simply interpret all of Scripture through the lens of John 3:16, just as I cannot interpret all of Scripture through Romans 8 or Ephesians 1. The whole counsel of God gives us the whole doctrine of God.

    You also cannot ignore predestination, the Bible teaches it – so we must come to terms with it. Everyone has a doctrine of predestination, the question is: is your view of predestination Biblical?

  27. Randall Daniels · ·

    I think one fundamental aspect that is missing here is the question posed by Peter, why how or who is drawn. We all agree that he chose before the world began, but why you and not him. The answer is fairly simple, the Lord knows those that are His. Not just His in the sense of foreknowledge but in the sense of Seed. Genesis 1 says everything will bring forth according to its seed, it can not change. Jesus came to redeem us, which means to bring back or restore or going back to where you came from or your original state of being. He can not bring you back if you were never there to start off with. We were in God as seed before the world was, He is our progenitor. Therefore He knows His Seed and those we name the elect, called, ordained and predestinated in and through Christ. The rest is serpent seed.

  28. Peter Saputo · ·

    Randall: I agree that who is drawn and why is the fundamental question. And Jesus told us: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” This is so consistent with the Holy Spirit reproving the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). He points out our sin, and shows us what is right and warns of His upcoming judgment. And with a loving hearth He sincerely draws all to Him. His desire is that we respond. He desires that none would perish. Yet, He is so Sovereign as to be capable of giving us the ability to reject Him, and yet He will complete His church. Hallelujah! Glory be to Jesus!

    Since the cross, God is drawing all men, desiring that none should perish.

    It is so sad that some turn these verses into the opposite, concluding to the precise opposite of the plain language, that God only draws some and that by His so-called decision to only call a few, it is His plan and therefor His desire that most perish, that only a limited few would be saved. We make God a respecter of persons (contrary to 1 Peter 1:17), loving the elect more than the non-elect (by limiting God’s love in John 3:16 so as to extend to the elect only, which is so contrary to John 3:14-15 where all had the power to look at the brass serpent and be saved from the death by the bite of a fiery serpent). We make the warnings to the sinful meaningless. Why did God warn Cain that sin lied at His door, if Cain had no ability to resist?

    I urge all to see God with a big heart and wide-open arms, calling all to believe and to repent and to spend an eternity with Him.

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