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for-no’, for-nol’-ej:

1. Meaning of the Term

2. Foreknowledge as Prescience

3. Foreknowledge Based on Foreordination

4. Foreknowledge as Equivalent to Foreordination


1. Meaning of the Term:

The word "foreknowledge" has two meanings. It is a term used in theology to denote the prescience or foresight of God, that is, His knowledge of the entire course of events which are future from the human point of view; and it is also used in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) to translate the Greek words proginoskein and prognosis in the New Testament, in which instances the word "fore-knowledge" approaches closely the idea of fore- ordination.

2. Fore-knowledge as Prescience:

God is also, according to the Old Testament, free from all limitations of time, so that His consciousness is not in the midst of the stream of the succeeding moments of time, as is the case with the human consciousness. God is not only without beginning or end of days, but with Him a thousand years are as one day. Hence, God knows in one eternal intuition that which for the human consciousness is past, present and future. In a strict sense, therefore, there can be no foreknowledge or prescience with God, and the distinction in God’s knowledge made by theologians, as knowledge of reminiscence, vision and prescience, is after all an anthropomorphism. Nevertheless this is the only way in which we can conceive of the Divine omniscience in its relation to time, and consequently the Scripture represents the matter as if God’s knowledge of future events were a foreknowledge or prescience, and God is represented as knowing the past, present and future.

Denials of the Divine foreknowledge, in this sense of prescience, have been occasioned, not by exegetical considerations, but by the supposed conflict of this truth with human freedom. It was supposed that in order to be free, an event must be uncertain and contingent as regards the fact of its futurition, and that too in the most absolute sense, that is, from the Divine as well as the human point of view. Hence, the Socinians and some Arminians denied the foreknowledge of God. It was supposed either that God voluntarily determines not to foresee the free volitions of man, or else that since God’s omniscience is simply the knowledge of all that is knowable, it does not embrace the free acts of man which are by their nature uncertain and so unknowable. And upon this view of freedom, this denial of God’s foreknowledge was logically necessary. If the certainty of events with respect to the fact of their futurition is inconsistent with freedom, then human freedom does conflict with God’s foreknowledge, since God cannot know future events as certainly future unless they actually are so. Since, therefore, the Divine foreknowledge is quite as inconsistent with this view of freedom as is the Divine foreordination, the view of those who regard God as a mere onlooker on the course of future events which are supposed to be entirely independent of His purpose and control, does not help matters in the least. If God foreknows future events as certain, then they must be certain, and if so, then the certainty of their actually occurring must depend either upon God’s decree and providential control, or else upon a fate independent of God. It was to escape these supposed difficulties that the doctrine known as scientia media was propounded. It was supposed that God has a knowledge of events as conditionally future, that is, events neither merely possible nor certainly future, but suspended upon conditions undetermined by God. But this hypothesis is of no help and is not true. Besides being contrary to the Scripture in its idea that many events lie outside the decree of God, and that God must wait upon man in His government of the world, there is really no such class of events as this theory asserts. If God foreknows that the conditions on which they are suspended will be fulfilled, then these events belong to the class of events which are certainly future; whereas if God does not know whether or not the conditions will be fulfilled by man, then His foreknowledge is denied, and these events in question belong to the class of those merely possible. Nor do the Scripture passages to which appeal is made, such as Ge 11:6; Ex 3:19; De 7:3,4; 1Sa 23:10-13; 2Sa 12:8, etc., afford a basis for this doctrine. The Scripture of course recognizes that God has put all things in relations of mutual dependence, and speaks of what can or cannot happen under such and such conditions; but none of these passages assert or imply that the events are suspended upon conditions which are either unknown or undetermined by God.

3. Foreknowledge Based on Foreordination:

God’s foreknowledge, according to the Scripture teaching, is based upon His plan or eternal purpose, which embraces everything that comes to pass. God is never represented as a mere onlooker seeing the future course of events, but having no part in it. That God has such a plan is the teaching of the entire Scripture. It is implied in the Old Testament conception of God as an Omnipotent Person governing all things in accordance with His will. This idea is involved in the names of God in the patriarchal revelation, ’El, ’Elohim, ’El Shadday, and in the prophetic name Yahweh of Hosts. This latter name teaches not only God’s infinite power and glory, but also makes Him known as interposing in accordance with His sovereign will and purpose in the affairs of this world, and as having also the spiritual powers of the heavenly world at His disposal for the execution of His eternal purpose. Hence, this idea of God comes to signify the omnipotent Ruler of the universe (Ps 24:10; Isa 6:3; 51:5; 54:5; Jer 10:16; Am 9:5; compare Oehler, Theol. of the Old Testament, English translation, II, 280).

The New Testament likewise regards all history as but the unfolding of God’s eternal purpose (Ac 4:28), which includes man’s salvation (Eph 1:4,5; 2Ti 1:9), the provision of Christ as Saviour (1Pe 1:20), and the good works of the Christian (Eph 2:10).

See Predestination.

Now while the writers of the Old Testament and the New Testament do not write in an abstract or philosophical manner nor enter into metaphysical explanations of the relation between God’s foreknowledge and foreordination, it is perfectly evident that they had a clear conception upon this subject. Although anthropomorphisms are used in regard to the manner in which God knows, He is never conceived as if He obtained His knowledge of the future as a mere onlooker gazing down the course of events in time. The idea that the omnipotent Creator and sovereign Ruler of the universe should govern the world and form His plan as contingent and dependent upon a mere foresight of events outside His purpose and control is not only contrary to the entire Scriptural idea of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence, but is also contrary to the Scriptural idea of God’s foreknowledge which is always conceived as dependent upon His sovereign purpose. According to the Scriptural conception, God foreknows because He has foreordained all things, and because in His providence He will certainly bring all to pass. His foreknowledge is not a dependent one which must wait upon events, but is simply the knowledge which God has of His own eternal purpose. Dillmann has called this "a productive foreknowledge" (Handbuch d. attest. Theol., 251). This is not exactly correct. The Old Testament does not conceive God’s foreknowledge as "producing" or causing events. But when Dillmann says that in the Old Testament there is no hint of an "idle foreknowledge" on God’s part, he is giving expression to the truth that in the Old Testament God’s foreknowledge is based upon His foreordination and providential control of all things. The Divine foreknowledge, therefore, depends upon the Divine purpose which has determined the world plan (Am 3:7), and all its details (Job 28:26,27). Before man is born God knows him and chooses him for his work (Jer 1:5; Job 23:13,14), and God’s thorough knowledge of man in Ps 139 is made to rest upon the fact that God has determined man’s lot beforehand (Ps 139:14-16).

The same thing is true of the New Testament teaching on this subject. The Divine foreknowledge is simply God’s knowledge of His own eternal purpose. This is especially clear in those cases where God’s eternal purpose of redemption through Christ is represented as a mystery which is known by God and which can be known by man only when it pleases God to reveal it (Eph 1:9; 3:4,9).

4. Foreknowledge as Equivalent to Foreordination:

While, therefore, the foreknowledge of God in the sense of prescience is asserted in the New Testament, this is not the meaning of the term when used to translate the Greek words proginoskein and prognosis. These words which are translated in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) by the word "foreknowledge," and once by the word "foreordain" (1Pe 1:20 the King James Version), mean much more than mere intellectual foresight or prescience. Both the verb and the noun approach the idea of foreordination and are closely connected with that idea in the passages where these words occur. Thus, in Peter’s speeches in Ac the predestination which finds expression in 1Pe 4:18 is practically identified with the term prognosis in 2:23. Everything which happened to Jesus took place in accordance with "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," so that nothing happened except that which God had foreordained. In this verse the term foreknowledge is an expansion of the idea of God’s "counsel" or plan, regarding it as an intelligent prearrangement, the idea of foreknowledge being assimilated to that of foreordination. The same idea is found in 1Pe 1:20. Here the apostle speaks of Christ as a lamb "foreordained" by God before the foundation of the world. The Greek verb proegnosmenou, meaning literally, "foreknown" (as in the Revised Version (British and American)) is translated "foreordained" in the King James Version. It is evidently God’s foreordination of Jesus as Saviour which Peter has in mind. Also in 1Pe 1:2 those to whom the apostle is writing are characterized as "elect according to the foreknowledge (prognosis) of God," where the election is based on the "foreknowledge." By the prognosis or foreknowledge, however, far more is meant than prescience. It has the idea of a purpose which determines the course of the Divine procedure. If it meant simply prevision of faith or love or any quality in the objects of the election, Peter would not only flatly contradict Paul (Ro 9:11; Eph 1:3,4; 2Ti 1:9); but also such a rendering would conflict with the context of this passage, because the objects of election are chosen "unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of .... Christ," so that their new obedience and relation to Christ are determined by their election by God, which election springs from a "foreknowledge" which therefore cannot mean a mere prescience.

In view of the fact that there was a classical use of the simple verb ginoskein in the sense of "resolve," and more especially of the fact that this word is used in the New Testament to denote an affectionate or loving regard or approbation in accordance with a common use of the Hebrew yadha` (Mt 7:23; 1Co 8:3; Ga 4:9; 2Ti 2:19), there is nothing arbitrary in giving it this sense when compounded with the preposition pro when the context clearly demands it, as it does in the above passage (compare Johnstone, Commentary on Peter in the place cited.: per contra Meyer on passages in Ac and Romans). The word prognosis is, however, discriminated from "predestination." It is that loving regard in God from which the Divine election springs, which election Peter evidently regarded as sovereign, since sanctification is only a confirmation of it (2Pe 1:10), and stumbling and disobedience are referred to `appointment to unbelief’ (1Pe 2:8). Here, then, we have a pregnant use of foreknowledge in which it is assimilated to the idea of purpose, and denotes a sovereign and loving regard.

The word prognosis is also found in this sense in the writings of Paul, in cases where it is manifestly impossible to regard it as a mere intellectual foresight, not only because of Paul’s doctrine that election is absolutely sovereign (Eph 1:3,4; Ro 9:11; 2Ti 1:9), but also because of the contexts in which the term occurs.

In Ro 8:29,30 the word "foreknow" occurs in immediate connection with God’s predestination of the objects of salvation. Those whom God foreknew, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His son. Now the foreknowledge in this case cannot mean a mere prescience or foresight of faith (Meyer, Godet) or love (Weiss) in the subjects of salvation, which faith or love is supposed to determine the Divine predestination. This would not only contradict Paul’s view of the absolutely sovereign and gracious character of election, but is diametrically opposed to the context of this passage. These verses form a part of the encouragement which Paul offers his readers for their troubles, including their own inward weakness. The apostle tells them that they may be sure that all things work together for good to them that love God; and these are defined as being those whom God has called in accordance with His purpose. Their love to God is evidently their love as Christians, and is the result of a calling which itself follows from an eternal purpose, so that their Christian love is simply the means by which they may know that they have been the subjects of this calll. They have not come within the sphere of God’s love by their own choice, but have been "called" into this relationship by God, and that in accordance with an eternal purpose on His part.

What follows, therefore, must have as its motive simply to unfold and ground this assurance of salvation by tracing it all back to the "foreknowledge" of God. To regard this foreknowledge as contingent upon anything in man would thus be in flat contradiction with the entire context of the passage as well as its motive. The word "foreknowledge" here evidently has the pregnant sense which we found it to have in Peter. Hence, those whom God predestinates, calls, justifies and glorifies are just those whom He has looked upon with His sovereign love. To assign any other meaning to "foreknowledge" here would be out of accord with the usage of the term elsewhere in the New Testament when it is put in connection with predestination, and would contradict the purpose for which Paul introduces the passage, that is, to assure his readers that their ultimate salvation depends, not on their weakness, but on God’s sovereign love and grace and power.

It is equally impossible to give the word prognosis any other sense in the other passage where Paul uses it. In Ro 11:2, speaking of the Jews, Paul says that "God did not cast off his people which he foreknew." It is quite impossible to regard this as meaning that God had a foresight or mere prevision of some quality in Israel which determined His choice of them, not only because it is the teaching of the entire Scripture that God’s choice of Israel was sovereign and gracious, and not only because of the actual history of Israel, but also because of the context. Paul says that it would be absurd to suppose that God had cast off His people because He foreknew them, His foreknowledge of them being adduced as a ground for His not casting them off. Hence, the argument would have no force if anything in Israel, foreseen by God, were supposed to ground an assurance that He had not cast them off, because the context is full of the hardness of heart and unbelief of Israel. The foreknowledge here has evidently the same sense as in the former passage.

Foreknowledge, therefore, in the New Testament is more than mere prescience. It is practically identical with the Divine decree in two instances, and in the other places where the term occurs it denotes the sovereign loving regard out of which springs God’s predestination or election of men to salvation.

See Omniscience; Predestination.


Besides the Commentaries on the appropriate passages, especially those on Isaiah, see Dillmann, Handbuch d. alttest. Theol., 249-52; H. Schultz, Alttest. Theol., 417, 421; H Cremer, Die christliche Lehre volume den Eigenschaften Gottes, Beltrage zur Forderung christl. Theol., I, 93- 101; Stewart, article "Foreknowledge," HDB, II, 51-53. Considerable Biblical as well as historical material will be found in works on systematic theology, such as Bohl, Dogmatik, 54-59; Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatik2 I, 182-95. For a history of the discussion of the problem of foreknowledge and freedom see J. Muller, Die christl. Lehre volume der Sunde, III, 2, 2.

See also literature under OMNISCIENCE.

On the relation of foreknowledge and foreordination, and the meaning of prognosis, see K. Muller, Die gottliche Zuvorsehung und Erwahlung, 37 f, 81 f; Pfleiderer, Paulinismus2, 268 f; Urchristentum, 289; Gcnnrich, Studien zur Paulinischen Heilsordnung, S. K., 1898, 377 f; and on the meaning of proginoskein in Ro 8:29 see especially pp. 382-95; also Cremer, Bibl.-theol. Worterb., 263-65; Beyschlag, Neutest. Theol., II, 109; B. Weiss, Bio. Theol. of New Testament, English translation, I, 205 f; II, 6; H. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch d. neutest. Theol., II, 165 f; B.B. Warfield, article "Predestination," HDB, IV, 52-57. See also discussions of the meaning of proginoskein in the Commentaries on 1 Peter and Romans, especially Fritzsche on Ro 8:29, and Johnstone on 1Pe 1:2.

See also literature under PREDESTINATION.

Caspar Wistar Hodge