This paper will attempt to briefly analyze the theological meaning of Gods foreknowledge, especially as to how Gods foreknowledge relates to His decree. The format that the writer will utilize to outline this study will follow a grammatical, Biblical, theological, and applicational analysis of the term "foreknowledge".
Traditionally, the debate over the meaning of Gods foreknowledge is a consequence of the debate between Calvinists and Arminians over predestination, particularly as it relates to the doctrine of election. For example, Calvinists hold to the position that Gods foreknowledge is "causative": what God decrees He foreknows. W. Robert Cook explains:
Arminians, on the other hand, view Gods foreknowledge as simple prescience, akin to His omniscience. In relating foreknowledge to election, one Arminian author states:
Therefore, according to the Arminian doctrine, foreknowledge is simply Gods knowing future events apart from His having a causative relationship to them.
The Greek words translated "foreknow" and "foreknowledge" are the verb proginosko and the noun prognosis. The verb has the basic meaning of "to know beforehand", "to know in advance", and the noun simply means "foreknowledge" [Cf. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, A Greek - English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature]
The Septuagint uses the verb proginosko and the noun prognosis apart from any Hebrew equivalent. The verb is attested three times (Wisdom 6:13, 8:8, 18:6), while the noun is used only twice (Judith 9:6, 11:19).
While Septuagint usage does allow for prescience when used of inanimate objects (Wisdom 6:13), when used of God the usage is clearly connected with His decree:
The verb proginosko is used five times in the New Testament (Romans 8:29, 11:2; Acts 26:5; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:17), while the noun prognosis is attested twice (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:2).
In Romans 8:29, foreknowledge is explicitly connected with Gods decree:
Romans 11:2 refers to Gods people Israel whom He "foreknew". It is obvious from the context that this means more than prescience. In Acts 26:5, Paul, in his defense before Festus and Agrippa, discusses his own life and the fact that all the Jews have known (proginosko) him for a long time (i.e., personal knowledge). Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:20 attribute Gods foreknowledge to the mission of Christ. Cook comments:
1 Peter 1:2 relates to Gods election of individual believers "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit". Commenting on this verse, C. Samuel Storms writes:
Storms goes on to say:
The Greek word gnosis (and its cognates) finds its linguistic counterpart in the Hebrew word yada. The Hebrew term refers to knowing with experience or intimacy. For example, it is used of sexual union (Genesis 4:1, 19:8); of personal acquaintance (Genesis 29:5; Exodus 1:8); of knowing good from evil (Genesis 3:5,22); and of knowing the true God (1 Samuel 2:12 - 3:7; Jeremiah 3:22). The Greek noun and verb gnosis and ginosko have meanings that parallel those of the Hebrew yada.
In Matthew 1:25, the statement "he kept her a virgin" is literally "he knew her not" (eginosken). Moreover, in Philippians 3:10, the Apostle states his foremost desire, "that I may know Him" (gnonai). The reference in Romans 11:2 also has the meaning of the Hebrew yada:
In this context, "foreknow" is synonymous with "forelove".
The conclusion is, therefore, that the word "foreknow" carries a much broader possibility of meanings than mere omniscience. In those contexts which speak of Gods electing or predestinating, the idea of personal causation out of personal love is present.
Reformed scholar Loraine Boettner makes the point that what is foreknown is foreordained:
Millard Erickson expands upon the idea that what is foreknown is foeordained and relates it to human freedom:
This line of theological reasoning can be
illustrated in the followng syllogism:
As was mentioned previously, Christ was crucified according to the foreknowledge of God (1 Peter 1:20; Acts 2:23). Does foreknowledge in this context mean that God had no absolute plan or no causative personal relationship to the mission of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ? It would be absurd to deny causation here. In the same way, divine foreknowledge as it relates to any element of Gods predetermined purpose, must relate to Gods active involvement in bringing the event to pass.
In the final analysis we ask the question, "What difference does it make?" Is a proper understanding of Gods foreknowledge as it relates to His plan all that important? The following three reasons for answering this question in the affirmative are offered:
Gods foreknowledge demonstrates His love. Just as Jesus Christ was "foreknown" by God (1 Peter 1:20) in the sense that God has eternally set His love upon Him, believers have been foreknown by God in that He has eternally set His love upon them (Romans 8:29).
Gods foreknowledge demonstrates His soverignty. Gods omnipotent sovereignty entails more than His omniscience. God is not "looking ahead" and planning His course accordingly. His plan is unconditional and complete according to His good pleasure (cf. Ephesians 1:2ff.).
Gods foreknowledge demonstrates His personal care. Predestination apart from foreknowledge might imply impersonal fatalism. However, God is not a God of impersonal fatalism but a God who is intimately involved with His creation and in His plans for it.