~ Taken from Vincent Cheung, Commentary on Malachi, footnotes excluded ~
We have already argued against the view that the election of individuals for salvation is based on God's "foreknowledge" of human choices and actions. However, those who insist that election is based on foreknown faith or works continue to derive their confidence from several passages, such as Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:2. Since some readers may not see through their serious misuse of these passages, we should take time to examine them.
Romans 8:29-30 says, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Our opponents claim that the words "whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate" indicate that God's election of individual for salvation is based on his knowledge of the future faith or good works of people.
Accordingly, they claim that the words "foreknow" and "foreknowledge" must mean God's knowledge of the future, such as our future decisions and actions. That is, the "knowledge" here refers to God's cognitive awareness of decisions not yet made, actions not yet performed, and events not yet occurred. Then, they say, God elects individuals for salvation on the basis of such knowledge of the future. God elects a person for salvation if he looks into the future and foresees that this person will accept Christ. God chooses this individual as one of the elect because of this foreknown faith. Thus foreknowledge means prescience (knowledge of something before it happens).
However, this is an unbiblical understanding of God's foreknowledge. Although we have already examined arguments as to why it is impossible that God bases election on foreknown faith, I will offer additional arguments, and arguments specifically about foreknowledge, to refute this view in what follows.
Even on the face of it, it makes no sense to say that God bases election on foreknown faith. Since God is the one who generates faith in someone as a gift, then to say that he elects someone based on foreknown faith only means that God elects someone based on what God himself will do, not what man will do, and foreknown faith would then refer to God's knowledge of what God himself will decide, not what man will decide.
Therefore, unless our opponents can show that faith is not a gift, but that it is something manufactured by man at his own will and by his own ability, then to say that election is based on foreknown faith still does not refute the biblical teaching that it is God who determines who will receive salvation or damnation. However, for our opponents to refute the notion that faith is a gift requires them to refute the Bible. Although the Bible cannot be refuted, to even attempt to refute it would make them non-Christians.
In any case, the position saying that election is based on divine prescience is commonly called Arminianism, and the position saying that election is based on divine sovereignty is commonly called Calvinism. However, we must remember that the correct view is in fact the biblical view, regardless of which personality it may be associated, whether John Calvin or Jacob Arminius. As Jonathan Edwards writes:
Nevertheless, at first, I had thoughts of carefully avoiding the use of the appellation Arminian in this treatise. But I soon found I should be put to great difficulty by it; and that my discourse would be so encumbered with an often-repeated circumlocution, instead of a name, which would express the thing intended as well and better, that I altered my purpose….However, the term Calvinistic is, in these days, among most, a term of greater reproach than the term Arminian, yet I should not take it at all amiss to be called a Calvinist, for distinction's sake; though I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them.
That is, we do not believe a doctrine just because a prominent person believed it; rather, we believe a doctrine because the Bible teaches it. Nevertheless, for the sake of convenience, I will be using these two terms to represent the opposing views in this discussion, so that what follows opposes Arminianism, and defends Calvinism.
Let us read the passage in question again: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30). Assuming that one already has a general knowledge of the New Testament, it is possible to refute the Arminian interpretation using information available from this passage by constructing a dilemma whose alternatives exclude Arminianism.
This passage describes the "order of salvation" (ordo salutis), or "the process by which Christ's work of salvation is made manifest in the life of the redeemed man." The passage asserts that one who goes through any point of this process has also been through the previous ones, and will certainly go through the ones that come after. That is, "whom he did predestinate…he also called," and "whom he called…he also justified," and so on. In other words, one who has been predestined by God will also be called by God, who will then also be justified by God. Every predestined person will be called, and every called person will be justified. There is no one who is predestined who will not be called, and there is no one who is called who will not also be justified.
According to the passage, the process begins with God's foreknowledge, which means that those whom God foreknows will also be predestined, called, and justified. Now, Scripture teaches that God knows all future persons and events, and all decisions and actions. Therefore, if the Arminian defines "foreknowledge" as prescience, then God must "foreknow" every individual in history, since God knows all things, including all future things. But if this is the case, then it would mean that this passage teaches universal salvation; that is, every person in history would be saved or "justified" before God.
We affirm that God knows all things: past, present, and future. If foreknowledge refers to God's cognitive awareness of individuals, then he foreknows everyone, and there is no one whom he does not foreknow. If he foreknows everyone, then everyone is predestined; if everyone is predestined, everyone is called; and if everyone is called, everyone will be justified – which means that everyone will be saved. This is a conclusion that even the Arminian will not accept. But if one were to be consistent with his definition of foreknowledge as prescience, and so accepts the doctrine of universal salvation, he will be confronted with a host of biblical verses that teach otherwise.
Of course, the Arminian is not saying that God's foreknowledge in this passage refers to his cognitive awareness of the existence of individuals, but that he foreknows the future faith of those who would accept Christ. But this is precisely the problem with the Arminian interpretation. Romans 8:29 says, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate…." Paul relates God's foreknowledge with persons rather than their faith. He does not say, "For whom he did foreknow would believe," or any such thing. There is no mention of the persons' faith or works. This is also consistent with the construction of the rest of the passage. That is, the person whom God foreknows, he also predestines; the person whom God predestines, he also calls; and the person whom God calls, he also justifies. The Arminian adds to the passage what he thinks it should say, rather than reading what it actually says.
The Arminian who defines foreknowledge as prescience has several options. First, according to Romans 8:29, everyone whom God "foreknows" will be saved, and since God "foreknows" all things (if foreknowledge is defined as prescience), then it means that everyone will be saved. Second, the Arminian may deny that God "foreknows" everyone, but that he only "foreknows" some people, and only those so "foreknown" will be saved. But since he defines foreknowledge as prescience, then when he denies that God "foreknows" everyone, it means that God's prescience is not comprehensive, and therefore he denies God's omniscience, or that God knows all things. Third, seeing that the first two options are unacceptable, he can concede that foreknowledge refers to something other than prescience, or foreknown faith.
The first two options effectively make the Arminian a non-Christian, since they entail blatant denial of biblical doctrines. But if he chooses the third, then he has acknowledged that Romans 8:29 does not support his Arminianism. If God's prescience is comprehensive (if God knows all future things), if everyone whom he "foreknows" will be saved (according to Romans 8:29), and if universal salvation is an unbiblical doctrine (the Bible teaches that not everyone will be saved), then this must mean that God's foreknowledge is different from God's prescience. That is, God's foreknowledge cannot refer to his cognitive awareness of the future existence, faith, or works of individuals.
Some Arminians say that Calvinists ignore the "obvious" meaning of this passage. However, the Arminian interpretation is not obvious at all, since the passage says that God foreknows the persons who would be saved, and not their faith. Given the Arminian definition of foreknowledge, the obvious implication is not Arminianism, but universal salvation, that everyone will be saved. But universal salvation is unbiblical, since the Bible teaches that many people will be condemned forever. Therefore, what is obvious from this passage is that foreknowledge cannot refer to prescience, and thus it is obvious that the Arminian interpretation fails.
Contrary to Arminianism, although God certainly possesses an intellectual knowledge of all future persons and events, the Bible often uses the word foreknowledge (Greek: proginosko, prognosis) to mean foreordination. The "knowing" here would then involve what the Hebrew yada conveys, as speaking of a personal relationship. It refers to an act of God's will rather than a passive reception of information. That is, the biblical concept of God's foreknowledge involves a type of "knowing" that is both personal and cognitive, and the emphasis is often on the personal.
For example, when referring to false prophets and false disciples, Jesus says, "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:23). When he says, "I never knew you," he cannot be denying cognitive knowledge of the people's existence, thoughts, and works, since he is without doubt cognitively aware of their wickedness when he says, "depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Thus when he says, "I never knew you," he is denying that he has a personal and salvific relationship with them, and not that he has no information about them.
Another example comes from Jeremiah 1:5, where God says, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Now, when a verse is in the form of a parallelism, one part expands on or clarifies the meaning of the other part. For example, "For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods" (Psalm 24:2), does not necessarily mean that in addition to having "founded it upon the seas," he also "established it upon the floods." Rather, "established it upon the floods" carries a similar meaning, and helps to clarify "founded it upon the seas." Another example is in the Lord's Prayer, where Jesus says, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13). Again, it is not that we are to ask God to "deliver us from evil" in addition to "lead us not into temptation," but that "deliver us from evil" gives the meaning of "lead us not into temptation."
Likewise, the parallelism in Jeremiah 1:5 clarifies the meaning of "knew": "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" (v. 5, NIV). For God to know Jeremiah is to appoint him and set him apart. God "knew" Jeremiah before he formed him. The words "knew" is parallel to "sanctified" and "ordained." Thus the type of knowing here carries the idea of choosing. The main sense is that God had chosen and designed Jeremiah before he was conceived.
S. M. Baugh also uses this verse to illustrate the meaning of God's foreknowledge in the Bible:
Another remarkable example of divine foreknowledge is expressed in Jeremiah 1:5, where God says to Jeremiah: "I knew you before I formed you in the womb, I consecrated you before you emerged from the womb; I have given you as a prophet to the nations." The first two lines are closely parallel in the number of syllables and word order…But how can God have known Jeremiah before he was even conceived? Because he personally fashioned his prophet, just as he had fashioned Adam from the dust (Gen. 2:7), and just as he fashions all people (Ps. 139:13-16; Isa. 44:24). God foreknew not only the possibility of Jeremiah's existence – he knows all possibilities indeed – but God foreknew Jeremiah by name before he was conceived, because he knew how he would shape and mold his existence. Given this Old Testament background, we can understand why in the New Testament we have no extended discussion on the nature of God's foreknowledge. There was no need.
J. A. Thompson translates the verse as, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you intimately; Before you were born I set you apart," and comments, "The verb, yada, 'know,' often carried considerable depth of meaning in the OT, for it reached beyond mere intellectual knowledge to personal commitment. For this reason it is used of the intimate relations between a man and his wife (Gen. 4:1)." Huey writes, "Here it involves a choosing relationship (Gen 18:19; Deut 34:10). The Lord was thinking about Jeremiah before he was born. At that time God had already designated Jeremiah to be a prophet."
Of course, a personal relationship is impossible without intellectual knowledge; otherwise, one would not even know with whom he is having a relationship. But the point is that God's foreknowledge, in a salvific context, refers to a relationship established by his sovereign choice. Therefore, God's foreknowledge refers to his predetermination about persons and events, including the election of individuals for salvation. For God to foreknow someone is to set his affection on that person, even before he is born. It is this meaning of election and favor that Romans 8:29 seeks to convey.
Even when it comes to prescience, we cannot think of God's knowledge as a passive reception of information; rather, even the content of God's prescience is completely determined by his will. God knows all future things because he determines all future things. As Jesus says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father" (Matthew 10:29, NIV). Knowledge does not "happen" to God as an addition to his mind, but since he is the one who determines all events, and he knows his own thoughts, then he also knows all future events, because he knows what he has decided will happen. Therefore, even divine prescience is not a passive knowledge of something that will happen apart from God's predetermination, but prescience is in fact his knowledge of what he has decreed will happen. Since this is the case, the Arminian can appeal to neither foreknowledge nor prescience to support his theology.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says, "In the case of God, to know, being an act of will, means to make an object of concern and thus carries the nuance 'to elect.'" The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says, "God's foreknowledge stands related to his will and power. What he knows, he does not know merely as information. He is no mere spectator. What he foreknows he ordains. He wills it."
J. M. Gundry-Volf writes,
Rather than referring to speculative or neutral knowledge (i.e., knowledge of who will believe), the Pauline notion of divine foreknowledge is understood by many interpreters as a knowing in the Semitic sense of acknowledging, inclining toward someone, knowledge which expresses a movement of the will reaching out to personal relationship with someone…This kind of knowing is illustrated by the meaning of the Hebrew yada, "to know," in texts such as Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; and Jeremiah 1:5…In Paul's use of proginosko the aspect of pretemporality is added to the Hebrew sense of "know" as "have regard for" or "set favor on." The result is a verb which refers to God's eternal loving election.
Then, in its article on this subject, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says the following:
Arminian theology, in all its variant forms, contends that God's foreknowledge is simply a prescient knowledge, a knowing in advance whether a given person will believe in Christ or reject him. God's election, therefore, is said to be simply God's choice unto salvation of those whom He knows in advance will choose to believe in Christ. God foresees the contingent free action of faith and, foreseeing who will believe in Christ, elects those because they do. But this is destructive of the biblical view of election. In biblical thought election means that God elects people, not that people elect God. In Scripture it is God who in Christ decides for us – not we who, by making a decision for Christ, decide for God.
Reformation theology has contended that the divine foreknowledge contains the ingredient of divine determination. The Reformers claimed that God indeed foreknows who will believe, because believing in Christ is not a human achievement, but a divine gift imparted to men by God's grace and Spirit. Thus God's foreknowledge is not merely prescience, but a knowledge that itself determines the event. That is, in Reformation thought what God foreknows He foreordains…
There are…scriptural passages in which foreknowledge quite explicitly carries the meaning of foreordination. In Peter's speeches in Acts, what Peter says about the predestination of the crucifixion of Christ in 4:28 is almost identical with the meaning of prognosis in 2:23. What happened to Jesus, says Peter, took place according to "the definite plan and foreknowledge of God." Foreknowledge here echoes the idea of God's counsel or plan in 4:28, reflecting that foreknowledge is an ingredient of that determination which made the death of Christ certain. God foreknows the death of Christ because the crucifixion was His planned determination…
That God's foreknowledge contains the idea of divine determination does not rest merely on a few biblical texts but reflects a truth about God that comes to expression in a variety of biblical concepts descriptive of the unique and mysterious character of God's actions. God's foreknowledge is itself a form of determination which accounts for the reality of that which is divinely foreknown…As in God's foreknowledge, all of these divine actions are reality-imparting, blessing-bestowing divine actions, which as such predetermine. He who creates (or recreates) by that very fact determines in advance…
God's foreknowledge is far from mere prevision or prior intellectual awareness; even its ingredient of determination is a expression of blessing. In biblical usage God's foreknowledge does not relate to whatsoever comes to pass, to an all-comprehensive divine will. Foreknowledge relates to matters beneficent and salvific…The Bible uses the words "foreknow" and "predestinate" in a salvific context and with a salvific meaning…
In biblical thought, divine foreknowledge includes the idea of foreordination to salvation and we may not enlarge the meaning of either term to include "whatsoever comes to pass." To give it a large coverage is to include those whom the Bible describes as those whom God does not know, as in Jesus' disclaimer, "I never knew you" (Mt. 7:23).
Now that we have clarified the meaning of foreknowledge, we should apply it to Romans 8:29-30, which I will quote again: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified."
The classic Arminian interpretation of Romans 8:29, that God's foreknowledge of faith is in view, is clearly reading one's theology into the text. Paul does not say: "whose faith he foreknew," but "whom he foreknew." He foreknew us…in Romans 8:29, predestination is not dependent on faith; rather, God predestines us on the basis of his gracious commitment to us before the world was…Perhaps another rendering better expresses the concept behind Romans 8:29: "Those to whom he was previously devoted…" This again, is not to say that God's foreknowledge is devoid of intellectual cognition; to have a personal relation with someone, such as a marriage relation, includes knowledge about that person…God has foreknown us because he fashioned each of us personally and intimately according to his plan…That Paul refers to this concept of a committed relationship with the phrase whom he foreknew in Romans 8:29 is confirmed by the context…Further confirmation of "foreknowledge" in Romans 8:29 as referring to a previous commitment is found in a nearby passage, Romans 11:1-2, where proginosko can have only this meaning: "God has not rejected his people, has he? No way! For I also am an Israelite…God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew." As in Romans 8:29, the objects of foreknowledge are people themselves rather than historical events or a particular person's faith…The Arminian notion of "foreseen faith" is impossible as an interpretation of God's foreknowledge in Romans 11:1-2, and, consequently, in the earlier passage, Romans 8:29, as well. The latter explains that God initiated a committed relationship from eternity with certain individuals whom he predestined for grace.
On this verse, Calvin writes, "But the foreknowledge of God, which Paul mentions, is not a bare prescience, as some unwise persons absurdly imagine, but the adoption by which he had always distinguished his children from the reprobate…he foreknew nothing out of himself, in adopting those whom he was pleased to adopt; but only marked out those whom he had purposed to elect." F. F. Bruce agrees: "God's foreknowledge here connotes that electing grace which is frequently implied by the verb 'to know' in the Old Testament. When God takes knowledge of people in this special way, he sets his choice on them."
John Murray explains:
It needs to be emphasized that the rejection of this [Arminian] interpretation is not dictated by a predestinarian interest. Even if it were granted that "foreknew" means the foresight of faith, the biblical doctrine of sovereign election is not thereby eliminated or disproven. For it is certainly true that God foresees faith; he foresees all that comes to pass. The question would then simply be: whence proceeds this faith which God foresees? And the only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees is the faith he himself creates…The interest, therefore, is simply one of interpretation as it should be applied to this passage. On exegetical grounds we shall have to reject the view that "foreknew" refers to the foresight of faith…Many times in Scripture "know" has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond that of mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with "love," to set regard upon, to know with peculiar interest, delight, affection, and action…There is no reason why this import of the word "know" should not be applied to "foreknow" in this passage, as also in 11:2 where it also occurs in the same kind of construction and where the thought of election is patently present…It means "whom he set regard upon" or "whom he knew from eternity with distinguishing affection and delight" and is virtually equivalent to "whom he foreloved."
Thomas R. Schreiner holds the same view:
Some have argued that…God predestined to salvation those whom he saw in advance would choose to be part of his redeemed community…According to this understanding predestination is not ultimately based on God's decision to save some. Instead, God has predestined to save those whom he foresaw would choose him…It is quite unlikely, however, that it accurately represents the meaning…in Rom. 8:29 the point is that God has predestined those upon whom he has set his covenantal affection. Note that the object of the verb…is personal, "those whom"…God set his affection upon.
Douglas Moo likewise argues for this position:
In [Arminianism] the human response of faith is made the object of God's "foreknowledge"; and this foreknowledge, in turn, is the basis for predestination: for "whom he foreknew, he predestined." But I consider it unlikely that this is the correct interpretation…The NT usage of the verb and its cognate noun does not conform to the general pattern of usage…the three others besides the occurrence in this text, all of which have God as their subject, mean not "know before" – in the sense of intellectual knowledge, or cognition – but "enter into relationship with before" or "choose, or determine, before" (Rom. 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:20; Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2)…That the verb here contains this peculiarly biblical sense of "know" is suggested by the fact that it has a simple personal object. Paul does not say that God knew anything about us but that he knew us, and this is reminiscent of the OT sense of "know…."Moreover, it is only some individuals…who are the objects of this activity; and this shows that an action applicable only to Christians must be denoted by the verb. If, then, the word means "know intimately," "have regard for," this must be a knowledge or love that is unique to believers…This being the case, the difference between "know or love beforehand" and "choose beforehand" virtually ceases to exist.
Therefore, as the Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary says, "In Romans 8:29 and 11:2, the apostle Paul's use of the word foreknew means 'to choose' or 'to set special affection on.' The electing love of God, not foresight of human action, is the basis of His predestination and salvation."
At this point, some Arminians object that if foreknowledge does not mean prescience but foreordination, then why does Romans 8:29 say, "whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate"? That is, if "foreknow" means what the Calvinist says it means, then does not the reference to predestination become redundant? As Godet says in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, "Some have given to the word foreknow the meaning of elect, choose, destine beforehand…but what is still more decidedly opposed to this meaning is what follows: He also did predestine."
This is a stupid and amateurish objection. It is a desperate and futile attempt to escape the conclusion that we have so firmly established. In fact, only the most incompetent would make such an argument after carefully examining the passage, or even just having read verse 29 to the end. The entire verse says, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." Paul is telling us that whom God has chosen for salvation, he has also predestined the same people "to be conformed to the image of his Son." Foreknowledge in this verse refers to God's election of individuals to salvation, while predestination reveals the specific purpose or end that God has designed for his elect.
Thus Gundry-Volf writes:
Paul distinguishes between divine foreknowledge and divine predestination in Romans 8:29: "those whom he foreknew, he also predestined." While foreknowledge denotes the exercise of God's will to establish a special relationship with those whom God graciously elect before all time, predestination expresses God's appointing of them to a specific goal before all time…In Romans 8:29 this goal is conformity with the image of the Son, a reference to the final salvation of the elect…Foreknowledge as divine choice is thus the basis of predestination to glorification with Christ…Foreknowledge does not have to be understood as foresight of faith in order to be distinguished from predestination.
Wuest recognizes that foreknowledge in this verse refers to God's sovereign election of individuals, and so he translates verse 29 and 30 as follows:
Because, those whom He foreordained He also marked out beforehand as those who were to be conformed to the derived image of His Son, with the result that He is firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, those whom He thus marked out beforehand, these He also summoned. And those whom He summoned, these He also justified. Moreover, those whom He justified, these He also glorified.
The GNT translation says, "Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them."
Without additional arguments, we have also refuted the Arminian interpretation of 1 Peter 1:2. The verse says that we have been chosen "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." Of course this is true, since foreknowledge means foreordination. Peter is saying that our election for salvation is based on God's sovereign decision – that is, his foreordination or foreknowledge.
Calvinism is repulsive to many people who claim to be Christians. But as Charles Spurgeon said, Calvinism is nothing other than biblical Christianity. Thus if you do not affirm Calvinism, you do not affirm biblical Christianity. If you call yourself a Christian, then you are obligated to affirm and promote Calvinism, and to denounce and refute Arminianism.