In Defense of [Biblical] Foreknowledge

The longer I live, the more I realize how much I do not know. In turn, this motivates me to pursue knowledge of particular interests. In matters of the faith, I am constantly reminded how little I am and sinful sin is.  Ultimately, this leads me to another glimpse of the absoluteness of God and His holiness and grace.

My latest humbling, conviction and confidence has come through studies on soteriology or the study of salvation. There are two views that historically have been the cause of much controversy. These two views are:

  1. By manner of divine grace according to His will, God chooses to save whom He will.
  2. By manner of free will, man chooses whether or not he will be saved from the wrath of God.

This subject as a matter of debate appears to have first surfaced in the 4th century between British monk, Pelagius and Roman Catholic Bishop, Augustine.  Pelagius and Augustine held opposing views on the effects of the fall (i.e. original sin), thus leading to their opposing soteriological positions.  Pelagius held to free will because he didn’t believe Adam’s sin fully corrupted Adam. Nor did he believe sin was passed on to Adam’s posterity – the whole human race.  Augustine held to divine election believing that because of Adam’s sin man is dead toward God and unable to respond to God rightly.

Augustine’s beliefs had a great influence on noted 16th century reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin.  The opposition to Luther and Calvin were Erasmus of Rotterdam and Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius respectively.  Though not Pelagian, Arminius believed that although man was dead in sin, he was “alive enough” to make a free will decision to accept Christ or reject Him.  Arminius’ passionate rejection of Calvin’s soteriological position prompted a response that his followers, The Remonstrants, presented at the Holland State Assembly in 1610. This response became known as the The Five Articles of Remonstrance.  It was in response to this that prompted Calvin’s followers (after Calvin’s death) to present the The Five Points of Calvinism (i.e. T.U.L.I.P. or The Doctrines of Grace) in 1619 after convening the Synod of Dort.  To this day, these are the two prevailing soteriological positions of the church.

dordsesynode1

The Synod of Dort (1618-1619)

Some may wonder why this is important. It’s biblical and it has strong implications on one’s view and understanding of God and His grace.  Such was the case with me.  I first was properly introduced to the doctrines of grace in 2003.  I was improperly introduced to the doctrines of grace in 1999, which led to my ungracious reaction to the proper description of the doctrines of grace. I admit I struggled with it, but through the gracious example and teachings of various brothers in Christ and the work of the Spirit through study of the Scripture, I now understand and believe this to be the biblical teaching of salvation.  I had to cast away my thoughts of how I wanted salvation to be and humble myself toward God.

Election is a very controversial subject.  Its mention, along with synonomous terms chosen and chose in matters of salvation cannot be ignored, but must be given proper exegetical and prayerful attention to have a biblical understanding of salvation.  To properly understand election, we must deal with its precedent.  That is foreknowledge.  This too can not be ignored as it is mentioned in Scripture several times and in several variations (i.e. foreknow, foreknew, and foreknown).

The issue that must be dealt with fairly is – what does foreknowledge mean?  Let’s look at how the Arminian and the Calvinist view the biblical doctrine of foreknowledge.

From the Arminian perspective, God looked down the corridors of time and foresaw who would freely choose Christ and therefore elected them to salvation.

From Calvinism’s perspective, according to God’s eternal purpose to exalt the Son, He foreordained and elected people to salvation in eternity past.

I’m sure you can see the great difference between the two perspectives and how that affects who is truly is glorified in salvation.  It is because of that,  that this necessitates with urgency an honest look at foreknowledge to see which position is actually taught in Scripture. We will look at two verses mainly that contain the concept of foreknowledge.

Foreknowledge is the Greek word prognosis. It and its variations are mentioned in Acts 2:23, Romans 8:29, 11:2, and 1 Peter 1:2, 20. Prognosis means forethought or pre-arrangement. Foreknown is proginosko and means (1) to know beforehand (2) to foreknow as to whom God elected for salvation and (3) to predestinate.

1 Peter 1:20

For He (Christ) was foreknown (proginosko) before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you…

The context of this verse is Peter’s exhortation to scattered believers to rejoice and stand strong in the midst of persecution. It is critical that we not miss the basis of Peter’s exhortation.  The basis of Peter’s exhortation is the assurance of God’s redeeming work that was accomplished by Christ, which no man will frustrate.  They were chosen according to the foreknowledge of God [more later], objects of sanctification by the Spirit and cleansed by the blood of Christ (v1), possessed a living hope and an imperishable inheritance (vv3-4), protected through faith, and Peter repeats they were cleansed and redeemed by the blood of Christ in vv18-19. To strengthen his point, he mentions Christ being foreknown.  Here is where we need to critically assess foreknown.

Using almost identical language, Revelation 13:8 says Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world. This tells us that redemption is an eternal issue. God foreordained to save a specified remnant of people through the predetermined sacrificial death of Jesus. (Isaiah 53:10 & Acts 2:23) Hence, in 1 Peter 1:20, foreknown can not mean God only passively knew Christ would die sacrificially, but rather He actively predestined Christ to die for His sheep. I don’t think many modern Arminians or non-Reformed brothers and sisters would deny that.

Romans 8:29

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…

This is the beginning of one of the most well known sets of verses that deal with the sovereignty of God in salvation. Romans 8:29-30 is often referred to as the Golden Chain of Salvation. What sets this in motion to its logical and biblical end is the foreknowledge of God.

Many Arminians or non-Reformeds I know and have discussed this verse with interpret this verse as God knowing who would eventually choose Him and then He elects them. Following that logic means God’s election and overall plan to glorify Christ is contingent on man’s choice. Who is sovereign in that scenario? As we’ve seen from the 1 Peter 1:20 verse and the other cross-references, foreknowledge and its variants in salvific passages can not mean a passive knowledge only. So it can’t mean that in this salvific verse either.  To accept the Arminian view in this verse sets it at odds with other verses that clearly express God’s election stemming from His foreknowledge.  Also, if we apply that line of thinking to 1 Peter 1:20 then we’d have to say that God looked down the corridors of time and saw that Jesus would die on the cross. If that were true, and God didn’t ordain Jesus’ death, then Jesus acted independently of the Father.  If that were true, then 1Peter 1:20 would be at odds with John 4:34.  This inconsistency must be abandoned.

Just as God foreknew (foreordained) the death of Christ, He foreknew (foreordained) the ones whom would be saved by Christ.  John records Jesus’ teaching on this matter in several places in his gospel. In John 10, Jesus said,

14″I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16″I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd….””

Notice for whom Christ died.  He died for the sheep – those the Father foreknew both from the stock of Israel and from among Gentile nations.  Notice also the definitive language Jesus uses in verse 16.  He said He must bring in (save) the other sheep,  they will hear His voice and will become one flock; not that He merely provides a possibility of salvation.

As He continues His discourse with unbelieving Jews, Jesus says,   “26″But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27″My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29″My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

This is key! Take note of verse 26. Jesus says they don’t believe because they’re not His sheep. He didn’t say they were not His sheep due to unbelief. He goes on to say the sheep hear His voice, are known by Him and are the recipients of eternal life and eternal security. Why? Because the sheep essentially belong to the Father because He foreknew them and gave them to Christ. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 affirms this too.

Though the word foreknowledge nor any of it variants appear in Acts 13:47-48, it is a very relevant and worthy mention. Luke records,

47″For so the Lord has commanded us (Paul and Barnabus),
         ‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES,
         THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'”
48When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Preaching the gospel in Antioch of Pisidia, Paul clarifies according to the prophecy of Isaiah 42:6 that the Gentiles will be saved though the witness of Israel’s believing heralds. Verse 47 is strong, but verse 48 brings this beautiful truth of foreknowledge and election front and center. Notice it says, “and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Notice that it does not say, “and as many believed were appointed to eternal life.”  There is simply no other truthful interpretation of that verse. Foreknowledge and election are plainly seen there.  The Greek word for appointed is tasso which means to ordain or to assign a place.

In God’s economy of salvation, foreknowledge (foreordaining) and election are prior to human belief, not based on it.  This alone logically proves that all who come are elected by God and will believe the gospel.  He foreordained the end from the beginning as well as the means to that end. As Spurgeon said, “It is all of grace!”

Conclusion

When investigated hermeneutically and prayerfully, the Arminian view of foreknowledge (and all of salvation) has many inconsistencies and can’t truthfully be reconciled with Scripture. In addition to that, to its logical end, it minimizes God’s grace and makes man the final arbiter of salvation.

While many other verses from both testaments could’ve been used to support the doctrine of foreknowledge, I think this is a good start for those who are investigating this issue.  I also would like to say that this wasn’t written with animosity toward those who do not hold to the Doctrines of Grace.  It is the firstfruits of a five year study of Scripture accompanied by spirited and peaceful discussions with good brothers in the Lord.  I hope this can be of some manner of blessing for the reader either by rejoicing in God’s grace or by mining the Scriptures more intently for His grace gems.

spurgeonHow shall those who are the subjects of divine election sufficiently adore the grace of God? They have no room for boasting, for sovereignty most effectually excludes it. The Lord’s will alone is glorified, and the very notion of human merit is cast out to everlasting contempt. There is no more humbling doctrine in Scripture than that of election, none more promotive of gratitude, and, consequently, none more sanctifying. Believers should not be afraid of it, but adoringly rejoice in it.” – C.H. Spurgeon

It has been said that the man who chokes on the doctrine of election has not yet swallowed the truth of his own depravity.

Soli Deo Gloria!

d.

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6 thoughts on “In Defense of [Biblical] Foreknowledge

  1. Nice breakdown.

    LJ shot me this link and as I got about 2/3 the way thru some questions came to mind:

    – how does your understanding of English influence your conclusions here? Usually, theological arguments that have their basis in past times are usually argued as close as possible to those languages and contexts in order to better frame the initial view from the current one.

    – was foreknowledge a theological issue before the 4th century (ironically, this was the century at which the Faith became a national affair, and these questions could be posed). Because if it were not an issue of contention before that, is this a theological issue worth being even called an issue?

  2. Antoine,

    Thanks for offering some questions/thoughts. My answers to your questions are:

    1. My conclusions were derived from studying particular words or whole verses (a) from its original language – Greek and (b) in context of God’s redemptive plan obviously starting (in time) from OT accounts.

    2. It very well could have been an issue before then, since false teaching abounded even during the times of Christ’s earthy ministry and shortly after His death and ascension as Jesus warned about and Paul’s letters lay claim to. Explicitly, in the NT writings, foreknowledge doesn’t appear to have been an issue defended, despite its several mentions in the NT.

    However, just because something wasn’t an issue at one point doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy issue now. In fact, it’s been an issue longer than it hasn’t been one. As I stated in my blog, it is an issue because it’s in the Bible. I believe that we should study the Scriptures and humble ourselves under them so the integrity of God and the faith won’t be compromised. Having a man-centered view of salvation will only corrupt other doctrines of the faith, inaccurately depict God (peep into the Open Theism issue), and have an effect on our ecclesiology.

    Maybe the question that should be asked is why did it become an issue in the first place? Why did Arminius choose to challenge the historic teachings of the Bible and defect from what he once claimed.

    Personally, I believe our sin keeps us from giving God glory. Man wants glory for himself no matter what he does; even salvation. (The sin of pride is the root of all sin.) So in doing so, he must alter the true Scriptures to fit his doctrine. Instead, like I said earlier, we need to humble ourselves under the Word, cast away our presuppostions and let God be God.

    Coming to grips with this truth has caused me to increase my worship of God because I see grace from a different perspective. I once had an anthropocentric view of the faith, but now it’s theocentric. God does all that He does ultimately for His glory and purposes. Our salvation ultimately highlights the grace and mercy of God. Salvation itself is Theocentric and Christocentric!

    Paul’s doxology in Romans 11:36 sums it up best.

    “36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

    Our election is part of “all things”!

    Grace & Peace,

    d.

  3. Hey D, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m a student of culture, faith, and thought. Hence my line of questioning.

    Considering your point under #2 here:

    Maybe the question that should be asked is why did it become an issue in the first place? Why did Arminius choose to challenge the historic teachings of the Bible and defect from what he once claimed.

    I’ll commence towards looking at Arminius’ theological tradition and if that might have something to do with the Nazerite/Edomite/Pharasic debates that were being engaged during Jesus’ earthly ministries. Thanks for the pointing towards this direction.

    You also stated:

    However, just because something wasn’t an issue at one point doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy issue now.

    To this statement, I would only say to be careful. If something was not an issue, what in our context makes it an issue that is not something grounded in vanity and pride. The line between a healthy question and such pride can be a precarious cliff.

  4. By the way, I agree totally with you when you say:

    God does all that He does ultimately for His glory and purposes. Our salvation ultimately highlights the grace and mercy of God. Salvation itself is Theocentric and Christocentric!

    Amen my friend, Glory and Honor to God alone 🙂

  5. Antoine,

    Amen, bro! The sovereign grace of God continues to humble me when I think about it.

    Above you said:

    “To this statement, I would only say to be careful. If something was not an issue, what in our context makes it an issue that is not something grounded in vanity and pride. The line between a healthy question and such pride can be a precarious cliff.”

    If you’re inferring that the defense of biblical foreknowledge is rooted in pride, I would disagree with you. Although, people can have prideful defenses, the defense itself isn’t prideful. It became an issue when The Remonstrants publicly spoke against historic soteriology. I would say their outspokenness could be rooted in pride, thinking man can, by himself, do only what God enables him to do. That paints a better picture of man than the Scriptures do. Therefore, to preserve the integrity of God and His sovereign election (Romans 9), biblical soteriology was defended for 18 mos. and Arminianism was considered heresy.

    Like I said, I struggled with this for a while and my pride fought against it. By the grace of God, He wouldn’t let me be willfully dishonest with His Word and so He humbled me with this divine truth.

    I appreciate your comments, thoughts and questions. I need the mental “challenge”, so feel free to drop by anytime and comment.

    Grace & Peace

    d.

  6. Great discussion….David I look forward to our building “live” in a minute upon this. As I was sharing with you, my brother in Christ, here in ATL, was disillusioned and distraught over being served the “left foot” of fellowship as a result of teaching God’s Sovereignty over salvation in his sunday school class. Brother described his encounter with the leaders of the Sunday school as going before the Sanhedrin–or something, LOL!

    And all he was doing was teaching the Scriptures. He was not even advocating any position. He was simply explaining that view of God in contrast to what is normally understood and he was rebuked, by elders, thinking he was seeking to be contentious–a young whipper snapper, who wants to argue theology (I witness him to be grown and beyond such immaturity). He was even told not to teach Romans 9. And brace yourself, he was told “sunday school is no place for Theology?” YIKES! They basically told him to dumb it down and that “..the people ain’t trying to get into all that. All that is not necessary.” Basically, play it safe and teach from a “man centered” perspective.

    This thing of leadership determining what’s best for “a people”, (whom they lead only by the kindness of God, btw) without meaningfully ENGAGING the people to know what the people want/need is very prideful and POPE-ISH. You’d think such “called ones of God” would be more fearful in their treatment and decision making over people God gives them influence over.

    Excuse my exasperation, but that sounds like the Roman Catholic Church when Wycliffe, Luther, and the rest wanted to translate the Bible into the common language. They insisted against such citing the Word in the hand of the common man would create too many problems and they were too common and uneducated to understand the Scriptures.

    But the translators argued, in essence, they’d rather leave men in the hands of God to correct rather than in the hands of men to control.

    This internal debate within the Body, whereby we don’t want to discuss “doctrine or theology”, specifically this particular one, because it’s unnecessary and what not sounds akin to how humanists want to silence creationists in the schools.

    I mean, at least, let both options be viably on the table for the people to grapple with and hear from God on! I don’t know. What my brother experienced from that leadership looked like that sort of controlling behavior humanists and homosexuals do when their point of view is threatened.

    Relative to Antoine’s expressed concern about pride being rooted in one’s compulsion to argue for this biblical truth, I completely feel his need to advise caution. Paul Washer does a great job at highlighting this caution amid “young theologians”. He and Piper are great examples of passion, compassion and balance in these weighty things of God. They are into the “living out” the doctrines of grace–if you will.

    So there is ABSOLUTELY the need to KEEP REMINDING US TO BE CAUTIOUS in articulating these truths. But, too, does our sinfulness in trying to communicate nullify God’s truth? And with that in mind, I feel, too, David’s response to that good concern. For I use to think it was unnecessary but I, like David is discovering, see how all of our approaches to God hinges on what we believe about Him. If our view is man centered, it puts us in a position to error most heinously.

    I remember when I first came face to face with this doctrine and how uncomfortable it was. I remember hearing my peers defend it and picking apart how prideful they must be to hold such a view of God. But my conscience was held captive by God’s Spirit who quickly graced me to humble myself under Psalm 115:3 and muzzle my mouth at His unfathomable prerogatives.

    Now having been on the other side embracing a man centered view of Scripture and hearing of experiences like my brother had (not the first time I’ve heard of such), I’m convinced that the need for caution of pride is very necessary, too–if not moreso, on the opposing side (Arminian). For when I look back when I was apart of a certain Atlanta mega Church, I’ve often recalled with a tremble, how self-centered I was in my Church going, serving, scripture reading, etc. It was all about ME and what God was going to do for ME.

    My new question is, “Why do Christians get soooo heated, almost raging mad at the mere question or suggestion of God’s sovereignty over salvation?” This peevedness over this–to the point of wanting to break fellowship, is alarming. It reeks of the sin of self-righteous pride being disturbed. If we are really working from the premise that God is loving, good, and merciful and can do whatever He likes, then in approaching this topic, one should do so as an unbiased researcher or a lawyer looking for facts to support or NOT support their case? I hope I made some kind of sense! I mean if He’s in control and good, then it’s okay to take a walk on the wild side and seriously consider the Scriptures that bear witness to this strange way of our God. If it’s really all about God, then it should be okay to be wrong? Right? Can we ever condescend to be wrong? It takes a big person to look at their stance and say, “I’m wrong. Let me turn all the way around and try this again!”

    Again great discussion…..

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