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Foreknew (Romans 8:29)


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For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

—Romans 8:29–30

Whether you will be an Arminian or a Calvinist (and you will be one or the other*) will depend partly on your understanding of the word “forknew” as it is used in this passage, for herein we meet predestination, sanctification, adoption, calling, justification, and glorification, all tied together. Who will be the recipients of these blessings? “Those whom [God] foreknew.” Arminians and Calvinists have very different views of who that describes.

imageArminians believe that God, knowing the future, foreknew (knew in advance) who would respond in repentance and faith to the gospel, and predestined them to salvation. In other words, he saw who would respond in repentance and faith to the gospel, and predestined them to respond in repentance and faith to the gospel. (If that seems redundant and nonsensical to you, it’s only because it is.)

Calvinists believe that knew has a much more personal, intimate meaning. God did not merely know about certain people and what they would do—certainly, he knows about everyone and everything they will do—he knew them in a personal, intimate way.

In order to draw the Arminian conclusion, an idea must be added to the text, that is, “whom he foreknew [would believe], he also predestined.” Not only is that idea not found in this particular text, it collides rather violently with the rest of Scripture, perhaps most obviously, Romans 9:11–13:

for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Therefore, foreknew cannot mean that God predestined individuals based on conditions they would meet, and it cannot mean that God knew them in advance, since he knows everyone in advance, and not all are saved. It has to mean more than that. See again the passage above: “Jacob I loved.” This is how orthodox theologians have always understood the foreknowledge of Romans 8:29. To be known, in this sense of the word, by God is to be loved by him.

When the Bible speaks of God knowing particular individuals, it often means that He has special regard for them, that they are the objects of His affection and concern. For example, in Amos 3:2 God, speaking to Israel, says, “You only have I known of the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” The Lord knew about all the families of the earth, but He knew Israel in a special way. They were his chosen people, upon whom He had set his heart. See Deuteronomy 7:7–8; 10:15. Because Israel was His in a special sense, He chastised them (cf. Heb. 15:5–6). God, speaking to Jeremiah, said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”(Jer. 1:5). The meaning here is not that God knew about Jeremiah, but that He had special regard for the prophet before He formed him in his mother’s womb. Jesus also used the word “knew” in the sense of personal, intimate awareness. “On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:22–23). Our Lord cannot be understood as saying, “I knew nothing about you,” for it is quite evident that He knew all too much about them—their evil character and evil works; hence, His meaning must be, “I never knew you intimately or personally, I never regarded you as objects of my favor or love.” Paul uses the word in the same way in 1 Corinthians 8:3, “But if anyone loves God, he is knownby God,” and also 2 Timothy 2:19, “the Lord knows those who are his.” The Lord knows about all men, but He only knows those “who love God . . . who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)—those who are His!

The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 159–160.

* Those who disdain such labels are free to use synergist or monergist, respectively. I actually prefer these, but really, you say tomayto, I say tomahto . . .



Posted 2018·01·22 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Arminianism/Pelagianism · Monergism · Predestination/Foreordination · Romans · The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented

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