If you want to start a quick and fiery theological debate, just mention the words "election" or "predestination." Two sides will clearly be drawn; those who hold to the view that man's salvation hinges completely upon the work of God alone ("monergism") and those who see salvation resulting from a cooperation of both God and man's work together ("synergism"). The former view holds that man has no power in and of himself, as a result of the fall, to come to faith in Christ and the faith that he exercises to do so must have been given from God Himself and results entirely from the work of His Spirit while the latter sees man as containing the ability to believe, often due to a work of God's grace equally done to all men that allows them to freely come to Christ or reject Him (often referred to as "prevenient grace"). This debate often centers on the word foreknowledge which is connected with the Bible's description of election (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:1-2). The question is what does foreknowledge actually mean. Is it that God looks forward into time, seeing who will believe in Him, and then in turn choosing those ones to be saved? Or does it indicate something else? I would argue that a closer look at the word and how it is used in Scripture indicates something different which might aid in solving this current argument over the role that God and man plays in man's salvation.
Object of Persons
The term foreknowledge basically means to know beforehand. It is having knowledge of a fact or event that has not yet occurred. This is not the same as the word foresight which communicates the idea of seeing something beforehand. The three Greek words used for foresight in Scripture are never used in reference to God but either persons or the authors of Scripture concerning OT prophecies of Christ (Acts 2:31; 21:29; 24:2; Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:8). The word foreknowledge on the other hand is used a total of seven times in the Bible (Acts 2:23; 26:5; Romans 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:2, 20; 2 Peter 3:17) and all but one occurrence describes an action of God. (Acts 26:5 serves as the exception.) One thing that we notice about the word is that it almost always has select persons as the object of what is known beforehand. For instance, in Acts 26:5, Paul states that the Jews knew him beforehand and thus could testify of his former life as a Pharisee. Paul states that God knew the people of Israel beforehand (Romans 11:2), not anything specific about them regarding their faith or faithlessness. And Peter points out that God knew His people beforehand (1 Peter 1:2) and Jesus Himself (1 Peter 1:20). We must be careful to note that in one of the classic passages that this debate centers on, Romans 8:29, the apostle states explicitly that it is those whom He foreknew that God predetermined to be made into the image of His Son. It is the persons that He knew in advance and not anything specific about them such as whether or not they would be receptive to Him or place their faith in Him. The people themselves. Nothing else about them and their will is even mentioned. We must be careful not to read anything into the text that is not explicitly stated or clearly implied. The focus is on God's work in the lives of His people with the all things that occur in their lives (Romans 8:28). His people who are called according to His purpose are those He knew in advance.
Close Connection With God's Plan and Purpose
Another thing we notice about this word foreknowledge is that it has a close connection to God's plan and purpose. In Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, he states that this man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death (Acts 2:23). It was not only according to God's foreknowledge that Christ was handed over to be crucified but also a part of His predetermined plan. It would not make sense here to say that God knew in advance the actions of Judas and the high priests which would result in Jesus being nailed to the cross and therefore described it as His predetermined plan. That would be God taking credit for the work of man instead of showing Him as ordaining all things that occur which would be consistent with the rest of the teaching of Scripture. Logically, God would certainly know all that occurs if it is part of His predetermined plan. Also, the fact that the phrase predetermined plan precedes the term foreknowledge in this verse may indicate that God's plan preceded His knowledge. In fact, through the pen of the prophet Isaiah, God argues that the very reason that He knows the future with complete certainty stems from the fact that He serves as the cause of all events in the future. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure (Isaiah 46:10). According to this verse, why does God say that He can declare the end from the beginning? Because His purpose will be established and He will accomplish all His good pleasure. Because He is in control of all that occurs in the future. This point is communicated even more powerfully when one realizes the context of Isaiah 40-48; a sermon making the case why God is supreme over man-made idols. A wooden statue is powerless to predict the future because it has no control over the future unlike God who orchestrates all things and that is demonstrated to the people at the present time with His prophecies of what is to come, particularly concerning this bird of prey from the east, Cyrus, whom God intends to use to free the Jews from their coming Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 46:11). God's foreknowledge cannot be separated from His predetermined plan. God knows all that He plans to do and since He works all things according to His will (Ephesians 1:11), He thus knows all things. He knows those who are His people because He planned to make them His people.
Significance of the Term "Know"
Something that is often forgotten about in an examination of the term foreknowledge concerns the use of the word know that serves as part of this compound word. In several places in the Bible, know often conveys the idea of an intimate relationship. When we read that the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain (Genesis 4:1), we certainly have to understand that Adam must have known a lot more about Eve than just her existence for this conception to happen. He had an intimate relationship with his wife. Jesus uses the word know similarly in His Sermon on the Mount to describe those on the last day who did not trust in Him. He states that He will say to such I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:23). Jesus, being fully God, knows every single person whom God brings into existence, so this cannot be referring to cognitive knowledge of the people. Again, the idea is that Jesus did not have an intimate relationship through faith with this group. Perhaps the key in properly understanding Paul and Peter's use of the word foreknowledge can be found in Amos 3:2 referring to Israel. You only have I known among all the families of the earth. Now God certainly knows the existence of every single nation or people among all the families of the earth as He is the one who forms and gives each individual their life (Psalm 139:14-16; Jeremiah 1:5). The point here is that out of all the families of the earth, God has chosen to have an intimate relationship with the people of Israel and not those of any other nation at the time. According to Deuteronomy 7:6-8, God chose the nation of Israel to be His people solely because He chose to love them. Not because of anything about them at all. When Peter refers to the scattered saints that he wrote to as God's chosen people according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, he uses the language of the Old Testament to describe God's people of Israel. They were consistently referred to as being chosen to be God's people. Peter begins his letter as acknowledging that these Christians are also part of God's chosen people. In fact, later, Peter will use several titles that originally belonged to Israel and that now also apply to the church (1 Peter 2:9-10). In light of these connections, it appears that Peter very well may be indicating that God chose these people who trust in His Son according to His intimate relationship He determined to have with them beforehand, His love He chose to bestow upon them beforehand in eternity past (Ephesians 1:4), by the work of His Holy Spirit in the new birth that He causes within their heart and through the shedding of Christ's blood in the place of these for the inauguration of the new covenant they become part of. Paul's use of foreknowledge in Romans 11:2 confirms this understanding. God's foreknowledge of His people Israel would resemble Amos' reference to the type of intimate relational loving knowledge of that people earlier. God loved His people whom He chose beforehand. More likely, Paul would best be understood to use the term the same way a few chapters earlier in Romans 8:29. It is those that He has chosen to bestow His love upon beforehand that He has predetermined to be made into the image of Christ and whom He ultimately will glorify (v. 30).
Know (without any pun intended!) that my main goal is to seek to understand what God's Word says about this matter. The preceding is the result of a few years of in depth study of Scripture concerning this topic. I encourage you to evaluate this argument and most importantly what the Bible itself says to help you come to your conclusion of where you may fall on this much important debate concerning God's and our role in our salvation. We want to make sure that we give God the full credit for His salvation that His deserves and appropriately be humbled at His full grace and mercy in doing the full work of redemption in our lives. And if you have not trusted in Christ to save you from God's wrath through His death on the cross and following resurrection, I encourage you to consider the claims of Scripture pertaining to Who He is and what He has done. I call you to repent and to look to Him alone as your only hope; not in who you are or anything that you may do. If, by God's grace, you respond to this call, then you can rejoice and praise Him for saving you, recognizing that you have been chosen according to the love He has had for you before the very foundation of the world. To God ALONE be the glory!
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15
- I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.