Foreknow, Foreknowledge

FOREKNOW, FOREKNOWLEDGE is to know beforehand and is used of the knowledge which men may possess on the basis of information given or revelation received (Acts 26:5; 2 Pet 3:17). Apart from these two instances, however, the term both as verb and substantive (προγινώσκω, πρόγνωσις) is used of God’s knowledge (Acts 2:23; Rom 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet 1:2, 20) and hence in theological usage it is upon God as subject that thought is focused.




The most significant passage (Rom 8:29) requires further examination and the relevant considerations indicate that a different interpretation from that discussed above should be adopted.

1. It is to be noted that Paul says “whom he foreknew.” The persons in view are the object of the verb “foreknew” and they are the object without any qualification or further characterization. The view that supposes foresight of faith or foresight of persons as believing is required to supply a characterization which the apostle does not add. Unless there is a compelling reason for this addition one has no right to append it. We must ask the question: Is there a meaning of the word “foreknew” that can properly belong to it and which avoids the necessity of importing something that has no warrant in the text itself? If such a meaning can be found, a meaning supported by Scripture usage, then an interpretation based upon the need for a qualifying importation is ruled out. This alternative is valid. There is ample evidence for an interpretation in which “whom he foreknew” is intelligible and appropriate without further explanation.


3. Corroboration is found in Ephesians 1:5. That there is an identity of theme in the two passages needs no demonstration. When Paul says, “In love having predestinated us unto adoption,” he intimates that predestination is conditioned by love and springs from it. When foreknowledge is interpreted, as the analogy of Scripture and the terms of the passage dictate, Romans 8:29 expresses the same relationship with the additional emphasis upon the coextensiveness of this love and predestination to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. There is no duplication of thought in either passage. The love focuses attention upon the electing grace, the predestination upon the high destiny to which those embraced in electing love are appointed. The order of thought is similar to Ephesians 1:4, where election in Christ is said to be to the end of being holy and without blame. Electing love is not fruitless affection. It always moves to a goal commensurate in magnitude with the love that impels.

4. The idea of mere foresight of faith does not comport with the governing thought of Romans 8:28-30. The accent in this passage falls upon God’s determinate action, upon His monergism. It is God who predestinates, calls, justifies, and glorifies, and this emphasis appears in confirmation of the assurance of v. 28 and in elucidation of the purpose in accordance with which those concerned are called. Foresight, however true of God it is in itself, suggests a passivity out of agreement with the total thrust of the context. Only the efficient action involved in electing love measures up to this requirement. It is not the foresight of what will be but the foreknowledge that causes to be.

These considerations show that in this allimportant passage “foreknowledge” as applied to God is not to be construed in terms merely of prescience, and so one may not proceed on the assumption that in other instances this diluted sense obtains.

In Romans 11:2 the reference to the people whom God foreknew is most appropriately taken of the people of Israel as a whole after the pattern of Romans 11:28. Every consideration would point to the conclusion that the choice of Israel in love, is in view. The notion of mere prescience is obviously inadequate. Although the full force of the distinguishing love of Romans 8:29 cannot be applied to 11:2, yet the same basic meaning obtains, namely, the love on God’s part by which Israel had been chosen and set apart (cf. Deut 4:37 et al. as cited earlier). What is in view is the theocratic election of Israel, and Paul is assuring us that the love animating this election has abiding relevance and is the guarantee that Israel has not been finally rejected. This instance is additional evidence for the pregnant force of foreknow.

In 1 Peter 1:20—“foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world” (ASV)—foreknown is contrasted with manifested and, in reference to Christ, the distinction is between design from eternity and realization in the fullness of the time. It is apparent that the notion of “foreseen” before the foundation of the world falls short of Peter’s intent. The thought is that Christ was chosen and provided before the world began, but was manifested in the end of the times. If the idea expressed by “foreknown” does not rise to that of “foreordained,” the difference is scarcely perceptible. In any case this instance shows that “foreknow” can properly express the thought of the ordination and appointment of God’s design and counsel.


The usage respecting the verb “foreknow” in each instance where God is the subject demonstrates that in the NT the term possesses an active and ordaining force that the Eng. equivalent would not of itself readily suggest. This must be borne in mind in dealing with the two instances of the substantive “foreknowledge.” The meaning of the verb creates strong presumption that the same force is present in the noun. It should be noted that Acts 2:23 is distinctly similar to 1 Peter 1:20 for the predetermining counsel of God respecting Christ is the thought in both passages. 1 Peter 1:2 is similar to Romans 8:29 because foreknowledge conditions election in the former as it conditions predestination in the latter. This parallelism is a factor not to be discounted.

In Acts 2:23 there are several considerations bearing upon the interpretation of “foreknowledge.”

1. The term indicates that the counsel of God involved in the crucifixion of Christ was prior to the event; it was beforehand. The analogy of other passages (Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20) would require that this priority was eternal, before the foundation of the world.

2. The words with which foreknowledge is conjoined, “determinate counsel” (ὡρισμένῃ βουλῇ), denote the immutable purpose and decree of God. Stronger terms to express predetermination could not be found. It may not be argued that appeal to God’s foresight of the crucifixion and of all the circumstances associated with it would be inappropriate in conjunction with the emphasis upon determinate counsel. Foreknowledge could relevantly draw attention to God’s eternal omniscience in order thereby to assert that the efficient decree was made in the light of comprehensive knowledge of events and implications. But this notion of foreknowledge does not take proper account of the construction. It was, Peter says, “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge” that Jesus was delivered and the agency or instrumentality that is exercised by the determinate counsel is applied also to the foreknowledge. This implies for the foreknowledge an efficiency comparable to that of the fixed counsel. The mere notion of prescience does not possess this quality. The thought requires an active, determining element of which prescience falls short (cf. Rom 8:29). It is not simply conjunction of counsel and foreknowledge that the text mentions but a conjunction of determining decrees, and foreknowledge for this reason requires the strength of foreordination. It may not be objected that there is virtual duplication of ideas. It is characteristic of Scripture to emphasize something by adding a virtual synonym. Here, however, this is not necessarily the case. Foreknowledge points to the pre-ordination, determinate counsel to the immutable decree.

3. It is significant that the writer of 1 Peter 1:20 is the speaker in Acts 2:23. The determinate force of “foreknow” in 1 Peter 1:20 is an index to the meaning of the noun in Acts 2:23. Since the two passages deal with God’s counsel respecting Christ, conclusive evidence would have to be available if differentiation on the question at issue were to obtain. This evidence does not exist. As maintained above, the considerations point to an identity in respect of active, determining will.

4. It would not be legitimate to press unduly the analogy of Acts 4:28. It is conceivable that the terms of 4:28 were intended to express foreordination in a way that 2:23 does not. Yet, since other considerations evince that foreknowledge in 2:23 carries the force of foreordination, it is not possible to discount the unequivocal terms of 4:28 in interpreting 2:23. They both reflect on the same subject. Peter is the speaker in the one case; he is closely associated, if not the actual spokesman, in the other. There is proximity in the literary composition. It would be natural to regard them both as enunciating the same doctrine. If so, the foreknowledge of 2:23 would have to perform the service of “foreordained to come to pass” in 4:28.

It must be concluded, therefore, that the exegetical considerations claim for “foreknowledge” the same determinant force as is apparent in the use of the verb “foreknow.” What is to be said for 1 Peter 1:2?

1. If one proceeds on the assumption that “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” is taken with the words “elect sojourners” (vs. 1 ASV), then the foreknowledge of God is to be regarded as conditioning election and causally prior to it. As indicated earlier, the similarity to Romans 8:29 is apparent. The considerations adduced in connection with Romans 8:29 against the notion of mere prescience would be equally valid: foreknowledge here is not qualified any more than “foreknew” in Romans 8:29 and the pregnant meaning applies as much to “knowledge” as it does to the word “know.”

2. In 1 Peter 1:2 there is another factor pointing to the active force of foreknowledge. The foreknowledge of God the Father is coordinated with “sanctification of the Spirit” and “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” Foreknowledge is the source or, at least, the pattern of election, sanctification the sphere within which it comes to effect or the means by which it is operative, and sprinkling of the blood of Christ, the end to which it is directed. One cannot think, therefore, of foreknowledge in less efficient terms than sanctification of the Spirit and sprinkling of Christ’s blood. There is in this case what has been apparent in other contexts, namely, the active force that foresight does not possess. It is this quality that imparts to the foreknowledge of God the Father the efficiency in reference to election which the construction would lead one to expect. Foreknowledge is itself causally operative and determining.

3. Since the predetermining character of foreknow and foreknowledge is necessary in the other instances, one should expect the same meaning in 1 Peter 1:2, and, unless compelling reasons for exception should exist, the analogy of usage would throw its weight in favor of the same interpretation.

The upshot then is that “foreknow” and “foreknowledge,” when applied to God in Scripture, designate much more than what belongs to the attribute of omniscience. In each instance these terms refer to God’s determining will and, though each passage views this will from the aspect appropriate to its own context, yet the terms take on the strength of “foreordain” and “foreordination” and in some cases express the same thought. It is also significant that they are used only in reference to what falls within the sphere of salvation. In terms of Scripture usage and, strictly speaking, foreknow and foreknowledge do not designate God’s all-inclusive determining will, but His will as it concerns the provisions and objects of saving purpose.

Bibliography See Elect, Election.