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 theand the (British and American) to translate the Greek words proginoskein and prognosis in the , 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
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 (
The New Testament likewise regards all history as but the unfolding of God’s eternal purpose (
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 (
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 (
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" (
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` (
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 (
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
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.
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
See also literature under PREDESTINATION.
Caspar Wistar Hodge