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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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Awareness and anticipation of events before they occur. The words “foreknowledge” and “foreknow” are rarely used in the Bible, but the concept of God's foreknowledge is found throughout Scriptures. Other terms such as “election” and “predestination” are closely related to foreknowledge. In the New Testament, the verb “foreknow” comes from the Greek word proginosko; and the noun “foreknowledge,” from the Greek word prognosis .

In the Bible, God alone has foreknowledge. Nothing is outside of His knowledge—past, present, or future. Nothing is hidden from Him, and only fools think they can hide their deeds from God (Psalm 10:11; Psalm 11:4-5; Proverbs 15:11; Isaiah 29:15-16 ). God knows completely the thoughts and doings of human beings (Psalm 139:1 ). Jesus taught that God has complete knowledge of human beings (Matthew 10:29-31 ), and the author of Hebrews wrote that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight” (Hebrews 4:13 NIV).

Foreknowledge of the Future God's foreknowledge encompasses future events. The perspective of faith can say that all that happens has been previously planned by God. Events of history are perceived in faith as the unfolding of God's eternal plans (Genesis 45:4-8; Isaiah 14:24-27; Isaiah 42:9; Jeremiah 50:45 ). The New Testament writers perceived in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the outworking of God's eternal plans to save sinful humanity. Thus Paul proclaimed the gospel which God had promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures (Romans 1:2 ). The gospels similarly declare that those things which the prophets had said were now fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus (Matthew 1:22-23; Matthew 2:5-6:15; John 19:24 ). Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:20 declare that the crucifixion of Christ was not a chance happening of history. It was according to the foreknowledge of God, according to His eternal plan.

Even the prophets' knowledge of future events presupposed God's revelation to the prophets. Amos 3:7 (NRSV) proclaims, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets,” indicating that the prophets acted and spoke on behalf of God and not at their own initiative. Concerning the false prophets in Israel, God says, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned from their evil way” ( Jeremiah 23:21-22 )

Foreknowledge and God's Will In the Bible, God's foreknowledge of people is not primarily a reference to His intellect, but to His kind will by which He sets people apart to Himself. So Jeremiah heard God's word to him saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV). Similarly, the apostle Paul perceived that God had “separated me from my mother's womb that I might preach him among the heathen” ( Galatians 1:15-16 ). God's foreknowledge must be understood in terms of personal relationship of God to His creation. To affirm God's foreknowledge is a statement of faith—that God's purpose existed before mankind's response to God (Psalm 139:16 ). The initiative lies with God. Thus Paul wrote, “But now that you know God—or rather are known by God” (Galatians 4:9 NIV).

In Romans Paul wrote that those whom God foreknows, He predestines to be conformed to the image of His Son; and those whom God predestines, He calls; and those whom He calls, He justifies; and those whom He justifies, He glorifies (Romans 8:29-30 ). In the same letter, Paul declared that God had not rejected the Jewish people whom He foreknew (Romans 11:2 ).

Foreknowledge and Human Freedom Such statements raise the difficult theological question of human freedom. If God already knows in advance who will be saved or elected, does that not eliminate free human will? Does God predestine some people to salvation and others to damnation?

One major attempt to answer this question is associated with James Arminius (1560-1609) who argued, as did the pre-Augustinian church fathers, that God's foreknowledge is a prescient knowledge, that is, God knows in advance what a person's response will be, so He elects to salvation in advance those whom He knows will freely accept Christ. This Arminian view is called conditional predestination , since the predestination is conditioned on God's foreknowledge of the individual's acceptance or rejection of Christ.

Another major Christian tradition is the Augustine-Luther-Calvin tradition. This view claims that God's foreknowledge is not simply God's foreknowledge of faith. Rather, for God to foreknow means that His knowledge determines events. He predestines some to be saved, but not on the foreknowledge of how they will respond; rather in His foreknowledge He foreordains apart from any human response.

Both views are supported by texts from Scripture. While Romans 8:29-30 are key verses in any discussion of God's foreknowledge, it is perhaps more correct to interpret these verses in terms of the doctrine of assurance rather than of predestination. Paul's point in Romans 8:29-30 is not to discuss who is foreknown and predestined to be saved and who is not. This passage may naturally give rise to that question, but it does not lead to any one answer. The doctrine of predestination was developed in the reformed tradition in an attempt to solve problems raised by Paul's writings and by other biblical texts. Paul's concern in this passage was rather to assure the Christian readers that their security is based upon God's eternal purpose and not upon the Christian's initiative. Nothing, therefore, can separate them from God's love!

1 Peter 1:20 also declares that the Christian readers in Asia Minor were chosen by God according to His foreknowledge. Directed to Christians experiencing persecution because of their faith in Jesus, 1Peter's reference to the foreknowledge of God was intended to bring assurance that their existence is part of God's will and plan and that they have a sure and certain hope that is not tied to changing circumstances or events. Other such affirmations in the New Testament ( Ephesians 1:4 ,Ephesians 1:4,1:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Revelation 17:8 ) should be read from the same faith perspective. The writers were not attempting to answer the question of whom God saves and whom He rejects, nor were they intending to limit free human choice. They were rather expressing the conviction and assurance of faith that the individual's salvation lies entirely and securely in God's hand and in God's eternal purpose. See Knowledge; Election; Predestination .

Roger L. Omanson

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Foreknowledge'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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