Proof that in Romans 8:28–29, God's "foreknowledge" cannot mean foreseeing.

by Francis Turretin

The context as a whole and the aim of the apostle's argument as a whole make that impossible here. The apostle intends to show that for those who love God, all things work together for good. He reasons as follows: Love for God is a consequence of the calling of God, that is, of that omnipotent act by which God has made alive those who are His.

This calling of God as an act in time does not stand alone. It had a reverse side in eternity. Believers are called according to the purpose of God. Again, however, this purpose did not stand alone as a cold determination of will, but something lay behind it that the apostle calls "foreknowledge."

Here the ascent backward from link to link ceases: calling—purpose—foreknowledge, and the descent begins from foreknowledge. The foreknowledge was such that a predestinating to the form of son resulted: "Those whom He has known beforehand, He has also ordained beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers." Hereby the sense of "foreknowledge" is already decided in principle. It is something like what a father feels toward his son, his future son. It is a knowing of love. Since behind God's purpose such a fatherly love functioned with respect to the elect, it ordained the form of son for all those who were the objects of its free choice. Given the fatherly and free character of this love, it is absolutely excluded for the apostle that this fatherly love can be blocked by anything in the realization of its being decreed. With divine certainty and with irresistible power this love aims at its highest goal, the complete glorification of the children in the image of likeness to Christ. It must carry through step by step in its working: "Those whom He knew, those He also called; those whom He called, those He also justified; those whom He justified, those He also glorified." That is the sense of the sequence. Everything follows with infallible certainty from the unique character of the foreknowledge of God.

Now one may wonder whether anything still remains of this beautiful argument and this natural tie, if one is forced to give "foreknowledge" the meaning of "foreseeing." Then everything becomes unintelligible and artificial. The divine act that stands at the beginning of the entire sequence then becomes something dependent and is no longer fit to be the basis, firm in itself, of the rest. We have a root that must draw its sap from the trunk and branches and at the same time must still also guarantee that trunk and branches will not wither—a contradiction.

Further, it may be noted that the likeness to the image of the Son to which believers are predestined refers to His glory as Mediator, not to the divine glory that He possessed from eternity. Only of the former will the elect obtain a likeness (though at a far distance).

Prove that in Romans 11:2, as well, "foreknowledge" must have a similar meaning and cannot be "foreseeing."

Here the apostle intends to show how impossible, indeed, how absurd it would be that God would reject Israel, His people. "Rejecting" and "knowing in advance" therefore exclude each other according to the thinking of the apostle. In the midst of Israel's apostasy and disobedience, he maintains its future salvation, for God, having once foreknown His people, cannot again reject them. One need only attempt to insert the concept of "obtaining knowledge beforehand" and the argument immediately becomes nonsense. In the face of Israel's actual apostasy how can it ever serve as an argument for its future restoration that God has still foreseen something good in Israel? It is completely the reverse: Precisely because in His free choice God took into account not what Israel would be in itself but exclusively His own good pleasure, precisely because the covenant relationship did not originate with Israel but with Him, precisely because of that, He cannot reject them.

May something be deduced from 1 Peter 1:2 concerning the nature of God's foreknowledge?

No, but certainly from 1 Peter 1:20. Here Christ is the object of foreknowledge. And then, of course, according to His human nature. Now by the nature of the case it makes no sense to say that the Father knew something beforehand in the human nature of the Mediator, for that human nature was entirely the result of God's election itself. Without election the Son would not have assumed a human nature. What is a result cannot at the same time be a ground or source. Therefore, it is certain that here this foreknowledge cannot be considered foresight of something that already existed for God outside His counsel.

What is the meaning of the word "know" in Matthew 7:23?

Here the word does not refer to "election" in the strict sense but is nonetheless used in a way that can shed light on its meaning elsewhere. Christ says that on the day of judgment He will say to many, "I never knew you." This cannot mean, "I did not know anything of or about you, … you worker of iniquity." A knowing in the sense of "having knowledge of" is thus certainly present, but not a knowing in the other sense. Christ means to say, "I have not entered into a personal relationship with you." On the day of judgment the lost, as it were, will insist forcefully on the knowledge Christ has by saying: "Did we not prophesy in your name?" However, He says to them, "I never knew you!" On His side had been lacking just that knowing love, that friendship, to which from their side they now appeal.

What about 1 Corinthians 8:3?

Here Paul contrasts with the pride of those who think they know something love for God as that in which the inner worth of Christian character lies. That worth must not be sought in knowledge that puffs up. That it lies in love is shown by Paul from this, that all who love God are known by God, as Calvin says, are valued, highly esteemed. Here there is a fine play on words in the contrast between the knowledge of man in his confusion and being known by God that truly settles everything.

How about Galatians 4:9?

First, the fact that the Galatians know God is advanced by the apostle as the ground why they must not turn back again to the weak and impoverished elementary principles of the world. But according to the apostle, there is something else that weighs even more heavily. God has known them. That is, He has placed Himself to them in a relationship of love, as a father to His children. If now, knowing this, they turn back to the weak and impoverished elementary principles of the world, they make themselves guilty of ingratitude to the worst degree. All this shows that being known by God must be something still greater and more glorious than knowing God. That rules out the explanation that foreseeing is in view.

What is the case in 2 Timothy 2:19?

Here, too, the words, "The Lord knows those who are His," must not be taken as an intellectual knowledge. It means that God stands in the closest relationship to His children. The apostasy of those who had occupied a prominent place in the congregation is spoken of, and that from their apostasy one could despair of his own perseverance, especially since the pernicious doctrine of these erring spirits was spreading like gangrene. It is of no comfort in the face of that to consider that God indeed knows who are His and who will remain faithful to Him. But it is certainly a comfort in such circumstances to be able to remember that the Lord stands in the closest relationship of love to His own and therefore cannot allow them to fall away. Compare in John 10:27–28 the bond there is between the shepherd's knowing and the sheep's not perishing.

What is the main objection to the conception of God's foreknowledge maintained here?

That it does not indicate what it is that God could have foreknown in the objects of His choice.

a) Some answer, faith. That is the old Remonstrant answer, but it is simply inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture that calls faith a gift of God and in particular, with the Pauline contrast between faith and works that does not permit that one make of the former a kind of work of man, an evangelical obedience.

b) Others say, love. This conflicts even more with the antithesis just mentioned, which would then have to say that man is saved not by external works but by internal works of the law.

c) There is no place for something that God would have been able to foresee or to know beforehand in man. However subtly one may also sublimate the little He must have seen in man by speaking of a kind of receptivity that must be the opposite of all doing and working, it is still always a receptivity that man himself has rendered and to that extent an activity must correspond to it so that again it is "of those who work" and not of the God who shows mercy.

What is the development of the idea of foreknowledge?

The Hebrew יָדַע, "to know," is as good as the same in meaning as בָּחַר, "to choose," "to know." It takes on that meaning as follows: To take note of something closely, to be interested in it, to penetrate to its essence, to care about it—it is in all cases a sign of loving interest that wants to be most closely united with its object. We say, "To understand someone in some matter," or, "He has not understood me in this." Accordingly, divine knowing includes the following:

a) God was first in this act of predestination. The relationship between Him and the objects of His choice originated entirely from Him. Only because He willed to know them and in fact did know them did they become something for Him. That is the element of sovereignty. As an earthly sovereign, if he is pleased with his knowledge of someone or takes note of him, only through this knowledge makes him something of significance, so it is with the knowing of God.

b) This knowledge or foreknowledge of God is not an act of cold arbitrariness but an act of love in which the Lord, as it were, has been absorbed in knowing and contemplating His beloved from eternity.

c) It does not stand on its own but carries in itself the impulse for a range of divine acts of salvation. The knowing of God is fruitful; it brings forth grace and glory.

Can you show this by some citations from the Old Testament?

Yes, in Hosea 13:4–5, just where Israel's sin and declensions are spoken of, "But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt … I knew you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought"; in Amos 3:2, where Israel's unfaithfulness is no less in the foreground, it is said, "You only of all the families of the earth have I known; therefore I will afflict you for your unrighteousness." In Psalm 144:3 the question is raised: "O LORD, what is man that you know him, or the son of man that you consider him?" (cf. also Psa 8:4). By means of the Septuagint the Hebrew meaning was then transferred to the Greek word.

What does the preposition προ mean in the compound verb προγιγνώσκειν?

a) From Romans 8:29 it appears that προ is placed precisely with those acts of God that do not take place in time, namely, with foreknowledge, foreordination, purpose; not, on the other hand, with those acts that do take place in time, namely, calling, justification, and glorification. From this the conclusion may rightly be drawn that προ indicates the eternity of these acts.

b) At the same time there is included here that the acts are done while their objects did not yet exist, whereby God is first in every respect. When God calls, justifies, and glorifies a person, then that person already exists. When, on the other hand, He foreknows, foreordains him, then that person does not yet exist. One must not therefore view the προ exclusively as a "before" in time but also as a "before" in order.

What is the second word that Scripture uses in connection with this doctrine?

Ἐκλέγεσθαι. In biblical Greek this verb occurs only in the middle voice. It corresponds with the Hebrew בָּחַר. The meaning of the Greek word contains the following elements:

a) Giving preference to a certain object in distinction from other objects that could also have come into consideration.

b) Choosing accompanied by good pleasure, that is, with an inclination of the will.

c) Setting apart for a certain relationship in which the chosen object must become mutually related to the one who chooses.

How do you prove that the first element, distinction from others, is in fact in this word?

It is in the preposition "out," "to choose out of." The Hebrew verb also sometimes expressly indicates this by having מִן follow it. In the Greek ἐκ is sometimes repeated. In Deuteronomy 18:5, Levi is chosen out of all the tribes of Israel; John 15:9, "I have chosen you out of the world"; Luke 6:13, "And chose from them twelve." Sometimes this concept of being chosen out of can recede into the background because the emphasis falls more on one of the other two elements mentioned above, but it is never entirely absent; Isaiah 58:5, "Is that a fast that I have chosen?" (= that, especially in distinction from other ways of fasting, meets my approval).

How do you prove that the second element mentioned above is also in "election"?

In itself it need not be in ἐκλέγεσθαι. One can choose without good pleasure, for example, the most evil out of evils. But generally all choosing is accompanied by an inclination to a preference. One may compare the connection between the Latin verbs diligere and delectari, which are both connected with "to pick," "to pick out" (λέγειν); Genesis 6:2, "And they took wives from all whom they chose"; Psalm 78:68, "He chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which He loved."

Does this then mean that in the objects of His election God saw something good, something well-pleasing, in which He could delight Himself?

No, that is not at all what is meant. In fact, in back of "election" lay "foreknowledge." One may compare with each other Deuteronomy 7:7–8, where it is emphatically stated that no good quality of Israel contributed to Israel's election, and Genesis 6:2, where the situation is quite different.

Where in the word "election" is the third element mentioned above?

In the use of the middle voice. We should actually have to translate it, "to choose for himself." In the Hebrew that is seen even more clearly (for example, in Num 16:7 and 2 Chr 7:16, where it is said of the person or thing chosen that it is holy, set apart for the Lord; (Pss 105:26; 33:12; 135:4).

Is the word "election" always used in the specific sense of election to salvation?

No, it is evident from what has been noted above that it often occurs with another sense. This, however, does not eliminate that it also has this specific sense.

Must one add "to salvation" to "election"?

No, that is not its primary meaning. It is for another word that this meaning must be added. To "election" one must add "to a special relationship of belonging to God." This relationship is such that eternal salvation is connected to it, but one should not shift the biblical point of view. God chooses for Himself a possession. He predestines to eternal salvation. And both continually accompany each other.

What is your proof for this?

One may compare the meaning of the word in the middle voice in Deuteronomy 14:2 and texts like Ephesians 1:4, "that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love."

What is the third word mentioned here?

Προορίζειν, which we find used in Romans 8:29, where it immediately follows "foreknow." It means "to predestine." It is distinguished from both preceding terms because it requires an addition. To say that someone is foreknown or elect provides, at least in the language of Scripture, a complete thought. To say that someone is predestined immediately elicits the question, "To what?" Ὁρίζειν means "to establish boundaries," "to make a determination, a reckoning." Furthermore, it is a completely neutral word, that is, it can be used for good as well as for evil. Election and foreknowledge have only a good sense; predestination also has a bad sense. Compare Acts 2:23, where the ὡρισμένῃ βουλῇ … τοῦ θεοῦ, "the determined counsel of God," occurs as that by which Christ was handed over (cf. also 4:28).

Besides in Romans 8:29, the more specific meaning of "predestined" appears in Ephesians 1:5, 11, "Who has predestined us for adoption as sons," and, "in Him we have obtained an inheritance, we who were predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will."

The purpose of election is a certain relationship; the purpose of predestination is a certain status, a condition, an image, a destiny. Compare "those whom He has also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son." Thus, here it is a likeness, conformity to Christ, which is the object of predestination. In this connection one should think of His glory as Mediator, as was noted above.

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