The Foreknowledge of God
Ephesians Lesson #013
December 30, 2018
“Father, we’re thankful that we have Your Word. Your Word explains to us the realities of life. Life is more than just what we see, taste, touch, and feel. Life is more than what our limited finite reason can think through. Life extends to its ultimate Creator; it extends into the heavens, for life is what You have informed us about.
“Life was cut short by sin. We see the entry of sin in the Garden of Eden. The consequence of sin was first and foremost, the sin penalty: Spiritual death—separation from You. And secondly, the consequence of physical death.
“But the promise of Scripture is life and life eternal through faith in Jesus Christ, and this life is ours as part of a plan. A plan that was conceived by You, but even that is a poor word, for it indicates beginning. There’s no beginning in Your thinking. It was always there.
“This plan goes into eternity past, forever and ever. It is been part of Your thinking, Your omniscience, and trying to probe the depths of that knowledge is beyond us. We can understand some things, but cannot understand it fully or totally.
“As we study these doctrines of Scripture—the teaching of Scripture—with regard to election, predestination, omniscience, and foreknowledge, we know that we will be left with many questions. But we can come to understand Your Word more accurately, and it helps inform us in ways that strengthen our faith, our trust in You, and our daily walk with You. Pray that You will help us to understand more about these things as we open Your Word today.
“In Christ’s name. Amen.”
We’re looking at this section from Ephesians 1:3–5, which we began to look at last week, and which brings to our attention actually four words, three of which are used in this passage. A fourth comes into play and is associated with them in other passages.
These words are: foreknowledge, election, choice, and predestination—something simple for a Sunday morning—to think through these complex doctrines. This is good solid spiritual meat and for some who may not have much background in the Word or thinking through these things, this may get pretty heavy, and it’s sort of like going from baby food to a good solid steak.
Sometimes when you hit something that’s a little heavy for you, you just have to set it aside until you come back. Let me tell you, as a pastor, as a seminary student working through these things, and having taught through this over the last 30+ years, every time I go through it, I review and study more; I dig down more, and I add a little here and a little there to my own knowledge and my own understanding, and that’s the same way it’s going to be for you.
Will you ever answer all of the questions that come to your mind? No, not at all because in this we are probing the thinking of God. Man can never understand the thinking of God, for His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His knowledge is a different kind of knowledge than our knowledge.
We will get to this eventually, but the background for understanding what we’re looking at today in terms of the foreknowledge of God, has to do very much with how this term is defined and understood, and how it is defined and understood in relation to the omniscience of God.
The term “omniscience” means that God is all-knowing. Part of the issue that comes up: does God just know that which He has decreed? Or does God know every permutation, every possibility, every contingency and what will happen ad infinitum to each and in each scenario that we can think of that could possibly happen? How omniscient is God?
This has some practical implications for us, because when it comes to our lives, the things that we face and the things that we deal with, one of the great comforts is that none of this is a surprise to God. God has always, always—billions and billions of years ago—known everything that would transpire in your life, in my life, every decision we would make good or bad, and all of the consequences of all of those decisions.
When we study the omniscience of God, we come to understand that God knows everything that can be known about what will happen and what might have happened. That begins to boggle our finite minds. That God not only knows everything that will happen and could have happened and might’ve happened, but that God in His knowledge has always known everything.
Think about this: God never increases or decreases in knowledge; there’s never a change to His knowledge. And His knowledge is beyond boundaries, beyond comprehension. The infinity of God applies to His knowledge, His power, and His presence. Whenever it comes to concepts that involve infinity, our finite minds are going to hit certain walls, and we’re just not going to get very far beyond that.
But God has revealed these things to us, and these words and these terms that we’re going to be studying over the next two or three lessons are important words because God has used them to describe His plan and purpose for our life. There’s a lot of debate and confusion about this, and this is what I began to look at last week.
As a reminder, in this opening section from Ephesians 1:3–14, we see a praise to God—a eulogy in the correct sense of the term, which is a word of praise, praising God. It’s a triune praise: God the Father is praised, God the Son is praised, and God the Holy Spirit is praised.
We need to understand that this, as the opening, lays out a foundation. Because when we get down into the praise to Christ, and Paul talks about the fact that in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin, then we have to understand how that fits within this plan of God for salvation.
That understanding rests on an understanding of these concepts that we are touching on as we look at foreknowledge, choice, election, and predestination.
In this first section, there’s a praise for the blessings provided by the Father. When we look at Ephesians 1:4, this is translated, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”
There is an important aspect here that is part of the interpretation of the passage, which is, does this mean that He chose us to be in Him? Which is how the strong Calvinist would interpret it: that this is talking about the individual selection to salvation.
Of course, that brings in a related doctrine, the flipside of the coin, that those who are not chosen are either actively chosen for eternal damnation, or they are passively sent to eternal damnation. But the flipside, the dark side of Calvinism, is that if God is choosing some for salvation, He is also choosing others for eternal condemnation.
So, is it this option: He chose us to be in Him? Or should we understand it that before the foundation He chose us who are in Him that we should be blameless?
This relates to a concept that is sometimes described as a corporate election, and we will deal with some of that later on. But the idea here is that in terms of what Paul is saying, God is not looking at individuals who He is selecting to be saved or not saved, but He is looking at this group that is already being viewed as being saved—that is being in Him—and He is selecting them for a particular purpose and destiny.
It’s sort of like this: You may see a mass of people, and you may be going along and saying, “Okay, I’m going to select some from this crowd,” and so you pick some people to go with you, and that’s individual selection. Or you may look down the street and you say, “The people that are in that house are going to go with me.”
Now you haven’t said anything about how they got into the house. You’re just talking about that group that is in the house. So when we see a phrase like this that “He chose us,” one of the questions is, “Well, on what basis?”
We will get into this a little more when we talk about that term, but that’s a really important question because on the Calvinist side, they say this is just hidden in the secret counsel of God. And in fact, some of them will even use terminology that involves words like “arbitrary.”
Is this just God choosing people willy-nilly or arbitrarily, or does He do this on the basis of some criterion? The absence of a mention of a criterion does not mean a criterion does not exist. Does that criterion involve His knowledge or does it ignore His omniscience?
In Calvinism, it ignores in His omniscience. He can’t take into account that which He knows beforehand because according to their view, that means that there is something in man that makes them savable. This boils down to a misunderstanding of what faith means. So is your mind already getting warped out?
This involves so many different things; that’s why it is such a controversial topic and why there have been questions about predestination and election and free will and God’s sovereignty that continued to be the source of debate.
Books are published; new books come out every year, books like Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom. Others are debates between two different theologians, and this goes on and on. It has been a source of great division. It has divided people ever since things began to be solidified in the fifth century in what became known as the Augustinian–Pelagian debate; Augustine being considered presenting the orthodox view and Pelagius teaching a heretical view.
I have no question that Pelagius was heretical, but I’m not sure Augustine was all that orthodox either. I wish I had his PR people! I have known this, any of you who have been to a Bible college or seminary, you will hear professors go on and on about how wonderful and brilliant and influential Augustine was. And yes, he was brilliant, he was influential, and he shaped the thinking of the Middle Ages in profound ways, but that doesn’t mean he was right.
I have gone back many times over the years, and read through Augustine. I had to read him for different courses, both in my study of philosophy as well as my biblical studies. When you look at his exegesis and compare his exegetical methodology to what we think of as solid exegetical methodology today—and I’m not talking about just within a narrow scope, but generally within that which has developed within the last 150 to 200 years within evangelicalism—his exegesis is pathetic.
He is a classic example of those who come along, and they have a very tight, organized, internally consistent system of theology, and then they read that into Scripture.
And that happens, all kinds of people do that, and what we try to do here is to start with Scripture and to build our understanding of theology and doctrine in these issues from the ground up from looking at what individual Scriptures teach.
Last week I pointed out two verses that are very important in this that are usually ignored or there’s just all kinds of intellectual gymnastics made to avoid their apparent meaning: 1 Peter 1:2 and Romans 8:29.
In 1 Peter 1:2, “elect” is on the basis—we have to define what “elect” means, and I’ll come back to that, but just for the sake of argument, we will assume that this has their meaning: “elect according to the foreknowledge of God,” on the basis of, on the ground of, for the reason of. That is the idea of the Greek participle there, KATA, and it indicates that foreknowledge precedes election.
Romans 8:29 gives us an order, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
We read on into Romans 8:30; several more things, including justification and glorification, all related. But the first thing that happens in this chain of events is foreknowledge. What does that mean? We have to understand that.
Another thing before we get into our specifics of what we’re looking at today, which I pointed out last time is that it’s important to understand the history of these ideas.
I’ve already stated that the Middle Ages was profoundly shaped by AW-gus-teen or Aw-GUS-tin. He was the Bishop of Hippo, which is in North Africa, Carthage area. He was extremely influential through his writings, through his teaching, and this came to be accepted as orthodoxy.
Then it was challenged by Pelagius, and then you had several councils to make matters worse, who said, “Well, we’re not going to go as far as the double predestination of Augustine, so we’re going to drop double predestination and just have single predestination,” and they were called Semi-Augustinians.
Then you had others on the other side that wouldn’t go as far as Pelagius, and so they became known as Semi-Pelagians.
One of the things you have in the course of this debate is theologians who will adamantly assert that if you’re not a Calvinist, then you are Arminian—that there’s only two options.
The problem with that is that there are numerous theologians who do not follow the system of either the five points of Calvinism or the five points of Arminianism, and they reject the definitions that both sides present for their points. There really is a different way and a more biblical way to look at things.
Just to remind you of what I said last time, that the Reformation, which is the challenge to the authority of Rome, the challenge to the interpretation of Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church and by the popes, is initiated by an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther.
The date is October 31, 1517, and he nails onto the bulletin board of the neighborhood, which is the front door of the church, a challenge to debate 95 points. He has moved from being a believer in salvation in the church, which was an Augustinian doctrine, to believing that you needed to trust in Christ alone for justification.
He didn’t have it right by 1517. I believe he was saved by then, but it was his number two guy who came along and really helped him format his theology, and that was a guy named Philip Melanchthon. Under Melanchthon, I think he came to a clear understanding of justification by faith alone, as we would articulate it as free grace.
He influenced John Calvin.
I’ve got a couple of quotes to tell you the influence of Augustine on Calvin. In his treatise on the eternal predestination of God, Calvin wrote, “In a word, Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself, out of his writings.”
He is totally devoted, and here he admits his thinking is totally shaped by Augustine.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, considered one of the greatest preachers of the English language, in a work entitled “Exposition of the Doctrines of Grace” writes, “That doctrine which is called ‘Calvinism’ did not spring from Calvin. Perhaps Calvin himself derived it mainly from the writings of Augustine.”
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, who was the head of the Systematic Theology Department at Princeton Theological Seminary in the early part of the 20th century and considered one of the great theologians of the 20th century, wrote in his book, Calvin and Calvinism:
“The system of doctrine taught by Calvin is just the Augustinianism common to the whole body of the reformers—for the Reformation was, as from the spiritual point of view a great revival of religion, so from the theological point of view a great revival of Augustinianism. And this Augustinianism is taught by him [that is Calvin] not as an independent discovery of his own, but fundamentally as he learned it from Luther ...”
I thought that was a great quote because that pulls it together. That tells us that Luther and Calvin are both completely, totally dependent upon Augustine for their theology. They didn’t agree with everything, because they split from Augustine on a couple of important points, but they’re heavily influenced by Augustine in many matters.
R. C. Sproul, who just went to be with the Lord recently, a very strong adamant Calvinist, amillennialist, and I believe he moved toward Preterism in his later years—the idea that most prophecy isn’t future, it was all fulfilled in AD 70—writes in his book, The Holiness of God, “Augustinianism is presently called Calvinism or Reformed Theology.” That just sets the stage.
Calvin lived in the early part of the 1500s, in the 16th century. His teaching dominates within the French-speaking part of Switzerland, so he is considered the French-Swiss reformer, as opposed to Zwingli, who is the German-Swiss reformer. Geneva was his home base, and because of persecution against those who followed the doctrines of Luther and Calvin in England, Scotland, France, and some other places, they would flee to Geneva and basically go to seminary there under Calvin.
When Calvin died, he was succeeded by Theodore Beza. As that happens, Beza was a more rigorous thinker than Calvin, who had his training in law. Beza was able to take Calvin’s teaching, and he formulates, and he systematized it more.
He is more responsible for the development of what we now call Calvinism than Calvin. In fact, there is a lot of debate that goes on as to how much of Calvinism Calvin really affirmed, but he definitely affirmed predestination and election in the way that Calvinists hold to. The debate is over whether or not he held to limited atonement.
By the time you get into the late 16th century, a young theologian that comes to Geneva and studies under Beza is a man named Jacobus Arminius, anglicized to James Arminius, and he goes back to Amsterdam and becomes a pastor there, and then he receives his PhD from University of Leiden in1603.
Now let’s put that in perspective. What’s going on in the Netherlands in 1603? Well, it is a safe space for Independent Baptists and Puritans in England who are coming under persecution by the Anglican Church for their reformed doctrine.
One independent separatist Baptist congregation was pastored by a man named John Robinson. They all leave England, or most of them do, and go to Holland and they’re living there in the Netherlands, but they don’t really like it. It’s much more reformed than they are—by reformed I mean Calvinistic—they’re not comfortable with the culture, and they want to really have more freedom.
Around that time they charter a couple of boats, one called the Speedwell, one called the Mayflower. They ended up with only the Mayflower; they come to North America, and establish themselves; we refer to them as the Pilgrims. They were all in Holland at this same time that all of the debate is going on theologically.
Arminius eventually disagrees with this hard predestination theology. He claims that what he is teaching, what Calvin taught, and his followers basically boil their position down to five points.
Most people think that the five points of Calvinism came first. The five points of Calvinism are just a response to the five points of Arminianism. These folks were called Remonstrants.
1. Total depravity; it’s kind of modified: all men are sinners, but it varies somewhat in how they understand that.
2. Conditional election: that is that God chooses those who are saved on the basis of some condition.
3. Christ died for all: Unlimited atonement.
4. Prevenient and a resistible grace: that is that you can say no to God
5. The possibility of losing salvation.
I’m just hitting the high points here because we’re not getting into a detailed study of each of these, but we would disagree with how they define almost every term here.
They are brought up on charges. Arminius originally was brought up on the charges. He was acquitted; he wasn’t a heretic. But everything develops more and festers more, so they’re going to call a trial together, and the Calvinists answer them with their five points.
Instead of total depravity, they hold to
1. Total inability: that is man can’t do anything.
He can’t even exercise positive volition. He can express no desire to know God whatsoever. Anything that comes out of man, has to be God produced because he’s spiritually dead, and they will say a dead person can’t do anything, so they can’t even express a desire to know God.
2. Unconditional election means that God chooses who will be saved and who will not be saved. And there’s no condition mentioned in Scripture or in God’s mind.
3. Limited atonement:
They believe that Christ only died for the elect that God chose, “I’m going to save this select group of people, and I’m only going to die for that select group of people.” That’s limited atonement.
4. Irresistible grace means that because they are the chosen, that when God the Holy Spirit draws them, they will necessarily respond.
It doesn’t mean it will be immediate. It may take many years, but they cannot finally and totally resist the grace of God.
5. Perseverance of the saints.
This means that if you are truly saved, that is because you are elect. God has given you the right kind of faith, and you have saving faith. Therefore, in your life you will inevitably produce good works that is evidence of your salvation.
There are really two ways that you find Calvinists define perseverance of the saints. One is the way I just articulated, which is what we would refer to today as Lordship Salvation. The other view is to just emphasize the fact that it is not the saints that persevere, but Christ who perseveres in keeping us. That is tantamount to restricting this to eternal security.
We sometimes hear people talk about four-point Calvinism. This is five-point Calvinism. It was settled at the Synod of Dort that occurred at this time, and those who held to Dortian Calvinists, we would also refer to as a high Calvinist. I’ll talk about definitions in a minute.
Then we talk about four-point Calvinists. Now it would seem logical that you would be taking number one out or number five out, but in four-point Calvinists, they don’t agree with limited atonement.
I’ve read, and I think that Calvin did not ever talk about the atonement in that way, and he would not have agreed—there are clear statements and Calvin’s writings. He would not have held to a limited atonement.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, who was originally an ordained Presbyterian and ordained Congregationalist, held to a pretty solid—most people would say—four-point Calvinism, but he didn’t hold to a perseverance or Lordship view of perseverance. So many of us would say he was more of a 3½-point Calvinist. He believed in eternal security.
It’s interesting, in Western Europe or the United States, if you’re talking theology with people, and you get to the point of talking about Calvinism and Arminianism, they will define you as a Calvinist if you hold to—here I’ve put the two position side-by-side—if you hold to unconditional election and limited atonement, then you are a Calvinist. That’s in the West.
But in the East: Baptists in Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union, Belarus, Russia, any of the former Soviet Republics where you have Russian Baptists, Russian Baptists are not like American Baptists. It’s always amazing to me how many American Baptists love the Russian Baptists, thinking that they believe the same thing because they both had the name “Baptists.” But Russian Baptists are full-bore Arminians. They do not believe in eternal security.
I remember the first time I preached at the Christmas Church in Zhytomyr [Ukraine] where Igor was working at the time. I’d taught a sermon, I understood this, and I didn’t want to stomp on toes to get people to immediately close their ears. So I was just focusing on the gospel and didn’t want to get anybody riled up over eternal security.
Of course, I was teaching through an interpreter, and after I finished, I went back down, took my seat on the front row. They had several things that were going on, Igor was up there making some announcement about something and somebody else coming to speak. I heard the lady behind me say something, and my interpreter leaned over to me and she said, “She hopes the next speaker isn’t another Calvinist.”
See, in their culture, a Calvinist is just someone who believes in eternal security. You can disagree with the other four points, but if you believe in eternal security, you’re a dirty Calvinist. All of this has to do with certain perspectives.
But it’s important to understand how we use these terms, because that also illustrates that for many people someone who seems a little more inclined towards an emphasis on the sovereignty of God is considered by us to be a Hyper-Calvinist.
Y’all hear people say, “Well, I know so and so, and they’re just a Hyper-Calvinist.” And I say, “No they are not. They just believe in exactly what Lewis Sperry Chafer held.” “Really? Chafer believe that?” “Yes, he was a four-point, 3½-point Calvinist.”
That’s the tradition of Dallas Seminary. Just because somebody emphasizes the sovereignty of God a little more than you do, doesn’t make them a Hyper-Calvinist.
These are terms that have specific definitions.
A Hyper-Calvinist is a Calvinist who believes that no one must or needs to evangelize.
Since God has chosen who will be saved, He will save them without our help. That is almost a direct quote.
A very famous man named William Carey, who is considered the father of modern missions, went to India and introduced the gospel to India and had a tremendous impact there. Because originally he was a shoemaker, when he came back to England, he had not been supported by the Baptist Church there, which was Hyper-Calvinist. He met with the leaders in the Baptist Church in England, and one of the men stood up and said, “Young man, if God wants them to be saved, He will save them without any help from you or me.”
That’s Hyper-Calvinism. You don’t need to tell anybody the gospel. If God’s elected them, they will get saved whether we tell them or not. God will take care of it. That’s Hyper-Calvinism.
High-Calvinist is a term for a Dortian Calvinist, someone who holds to the five points of Calvinism.
The term Modern Calvinism is used to describe anyone who is four-point or three-point or 2½-point. In fact, one of the theologians at Dallas Seminary in the late 40s and early 50s was a theologian by the name of Henry Thiessen, and many of his notes were published. Many of us have read them. He is very close to what my views are, and yet there are some I know, friends of mine, who would be “Chaferian” type Calvinist, four-point, 3½-point, and they would say that Thiessen was an Arminian.
But I listened to a great set of lectures about 10 years ago that were given by a Brit whose PhD—and whose focus in teaching—was on the history of Calvinism, taught at one of the major universities over there (I don’t remember which one now).
He was a High Calvinist, but he was very objective. See a lot Calvinists, if they don’t agree with your particular views of four-point or five-point, then you’re Arminian. And he said, “No, even Thiessen was a moderate Calvinist.” So that’s important to understand. There’s often a lot of heat and no light.
At the heart of these issues are these important words. Words are important for us. Words communicate ideas. Even if you change from one synonym to another, you slightly shift the focus or the emphasis of the idea that is being expressed by that particular word.
The words of Scripture are important to study, not just in English, but in the original language: In the Greek and in the Hebrew.
For example, in the history of these ideas, say in the 1540s, you’re beginning to translate Scripture. Let’s say you’re translating the Geneva Study Bible. Let’s say even earlier than that, approximately the same time as William Tyndale. A lot of the words that we still have in our English text, even if you’re using an NIV or ESV, a large percentage of the words that are used today are the same words that Tyndale used in translating into the English in the 1530s, 1540s.
That’s important because these men are influenced by Augustinianism. So, they’re frontloaded by their theological framework to take these terms in a certain way, and that gives them a certain sort of deterministic look. But what we need to do is go back and look at how these words are really used in Scripture.
Do these claims that are made about the meaning of the word EKLEKTOS for choice or chosen, is that what they claim?
Does foreknowledge mean something that is predetermined? That’s how it’s translated.
Does it mean an elective knowledge, a selective love? That’s how some will translate that, so we have to look at that.
Predestined: Does that mean predestined to salvation or is it talking about something else in those contexts?
What about God’s will; understanding God’s will? His sovereignty is such I believe, He is so great and powerful and knowledgeable that God is able to bring about His plan and His purposes without it being destroyed by any autonomous decisions on the part of man. Now that’s a much greater God than a God who has to determine every detail along the way in order to secure the end result.
The first time I came to understand that was when I was studying in creation and evolution, and studying God’s creation as He created everything perfect and He created all the kinds, and these are rigid categories. They’re much broader than what we think of as species, that’s a whole different discussion, but God creates kinds. He creates various physical laws. He creates various spiritual and moral laws.
What happened when Adam and Eve sinned? As sin entered into the creation, the creation was ruptured and corrupted by sin. Death entered into every aspect of creation, not just man’s spiritual death, but from that point on, they will die physically.
It affects the morphology of animals. You think about animals such that we know today as being primarily carnivorous, and yet there were no carnivores before the Fall. So there’s a different gastrointestinal system, maybe a different dental structure, and we know that in the Millennial Kingdom, that’s going to reverse, and you will not have carnivores. You will have lions and leopards and tigers, but they will not be carnivores. They’re going to reverse back.
What happens is God in His omniscience, knowing how everything would be affected by sin, builds enough flexibility into the categories to handle the chaos that will come from sin. Now that is a powerful God.
The same thing applies in terms of human will. He has a plan that He governs, and He sometimes overrides us, but He will always bring about His purposes. Within the structure of His plan there is enough variation, there’s enough flexibility to handle the chaos that comes from human failure and sin and bad choices. And yet God is still able, without destroying individual human responsibility, to bring about His solution.
In Ephesians 1:3–5, there are four terms that are going to be important. The first word that we run into is the word “to choose,” the second that we see here is the word “predestined,” third is “His will,” and then the fourth, which is not in this passage, is the term “foreknowledge.”
We need to ask these three questions. (I’m not going to get through all of this today unless you want to stay till about 1 o’clock.)
1. What is the meaning of “foreknowledge”?
Does it simply mean to know things beforehand, or does it mean to determine things beforehand? That’s the debate.
2. Key verses that we have to look at where this word, either the verb PROGINOSKO or the noun PROGNOSIS is used.
3. What is the relation of God’s foreknowledge to His omniscience?
In Calvinism, God does not know anything unless He has already predetermined it, because unless God has set it as that which will happen, how could He know what will happen? To me that is a limitation on God.
1. The first word that we run into when we look at this passage is in Ephesians 1:4 where we read, “… just as He chose us in Him …”
We have to look at this word, and there are three forms of it.
a. The verb “to choose” EKLEGOMAI,
b. The adjective EKLEKTOS,
c. The noun EKLOGE.
How do we understand these words?
2. The second word that we see is the word that is translated “predestination,” and that is in Ephesians 1:5, “without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons.”
That’s an important word, and we also see this word in the chain of words used in Romans 8:29, “for whom He foreknew He predestined.” So it’s very clear there from the language that predestination is based upon foreknowledge.
We have to bring foreknowledge into our four words, because in Romans 8:29, and later we will see in 1 Peter 1:2, foreknowledge is the starting point of this chain of words.
3. The term “His will,” we are adopted “according to the good pleasure of His will” brings to the forefront the issue of divine sovereignty versus human will.
No one really believes in complete autonomy in terms of human will. Everyone believes there are limitations on human will. There were limitations on Adam’s will. There are greater limitations on our will.
There are some things we will never do. There are some things we can desire to do that are great and wonderful things that would glorify God, and God never gives us the opportunity. He shuts it down in terms of His permissive overriding will, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t desire those things.
What we’re really focusing on here is the issue of the freedom to choose the gospel, to believe it or not to believe it. I can’t choose where I was born. I can’t choose where I’m going to die. There are many times in life when I’ve been faced with choices. I really wish I had a third, fourth, or fifth choice, and there’s no way that could ever happen. God limits our choices. I have to choose between A and B, and that’s it. I don’t have that kind of autonomy, but in the area of my eternal destiny, I have a choice.
4. Foreknowledge, found in 1 Peter 1:2, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”
A lot of times we just stop when it says, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” That’s a very important verse, because it tells us that whatever elect means, it’s on the basis of or on the ground of what God knew ahead of time. That is the basic meaning of foreknowledge. There’s no evidence that foreknowledge means anything other than prescience—to know ahead of time what will happen.
But this “elect” is also by the “… sanctification of the Spirit …” That’s going to throw it into a different category of understanding. It’s not a choice or a selection, but it’s emphasizing quality. It is the quality or the excellence of those involved. We will get into those details.
What the Bible teaches about foreknowledge.
What do we learn here? Just to cover a few things at the very beginning to get us focused, and then we will have to deal with all of the verses when we come back.
This is important; there is a Calvinist claim—if you haven’t ever heard this, then you’ve been rather sheltered. I was sheltered; I always heard one view growing up. But when I started to think about going to Dallas Seminary, I went up there, visited with Randy Price, you’ve heard me tell that story.
He was telling me that the big debate on campus, and this extended for almost the entire time I was at Dallas [Seminary], so for six or seven years the hot button issue was on Calvinism versus Arminianism, and you couldn’t sit down for lunch or just to have a coffee or coke without getting into heated discussions with other students, as we were all trying to work our way through and understand.
That’s one of the things that students miss by not going to a sticks and bricks seminary. I learned more about how to think, how to argue, how to present my case from sitting around with eight or nine men, some of whom agreed, some of whom did not, and debate and argue and discuss these ideas for an extended period of time. It teaches you how to think, and how to reason, and how to articulate your position.
One of the big arguments is that when you have the word “to know” in Scripture, it means more than just intellectual awareness of something. It means to have a personal, loving relationship. So they will go back to a passage, such as “Well, Adam knew Eve. See, that shows a deep intimate relationship,” and that kind of a statement is then extrapolated to foreknowledge.
There are several problems with that methodologically. First of all, you have to be careful when you go to Hebrew or Greek to make sure there is a connection there. Secondly, yada’ simply means to know. It is not a word that communicates foreknowledge.
GINOSKO is how yada’ is translated most of the time. That is simply the word “to know.” PROGINOSKO, adding that prefix PRO means beforehand. That changes the meaning of the word. You can’t argue from yada’ to PROGINOSKO without committing about three or four logical fallacies.
This is from a Louis Berkhof quote. For most of seminary we would have readings in Chafer in theology classes, but we also had to read Berkhof. Berkhof was a premier Reformed theologian, and we had to read him.
Some guys would gripe about that, but you have to learn what other people say and what other peoples’ views are. Whether you agree with them or not isn’t the purpose of just telling seminary students, “You’re only going to read people you agree with.” You have to learn to read and understand people you don’t agree with and be able to think through why you don’t agree with them.
He was considered a premier Reformed theologian. He says, “The word yada’ may simply mean to know or to take cognizance of someone or something, but may also be used in the more pregnant sense …”
Now whenever you read that, your radar ought to go off. Where are you getting this pregnant sense, this fuller meaning?
“… pregnant sense of ‘taking knowledge of one with loving care’ or ‘making one the object of loving care or elective love.’ ”
See they’re reading election, foreordination, and predestination into their meaning of foreknowledge, when you can’t do that.
“In this sense it serves the idea of election, Genesis 18:19, Amos 3:2, and Hosea 13:5.”
If you look at those verses, he’s reading that into those verses.
He goes on to say, “The meaning of the words proginoskein and prognosis in the New Testament is not determined by their usage in the classics …”
He has to say that because there’s absolutely no place outside of the Bible where you find any evidence that these words relate to elective love or choice. Every usage in everyday Greek—Koine, Classical—all had to do with knowing something ahead of time.
“… but by their special meaning of yada’. They do not denote simple intellectual foresight or prescience, the mere taking knowledge of something beforehand, but rather a selective knowledge which regards one with favor and makes one an object of love, and thus approaches the idea of foreordination.”
He shifted from foreknowledge to foreordination and gives some verses.
They base this meaning of elective love on foreknowledge on five uses of yada’ out of 944 uses of the word in the text. That’s a logical fallacy. That’s an exegetical fallacy. You’re really forcing a meaning without evidence or without definition.
This is important to understand—where they’re coming from, and the methodology that is used in order to support and substantiate their particular view.
Yada’ is definitely used of relationships over 90 times to describe a personal relationship, but not the idea of an elective love … always have to look at context.
I’m going to give you little evidence here. In Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, that’s a classic Greek definition. The first definition is “to know beforehand or in advance, to have knowledge of something ahead of time.”
Notice the second definition: “To choose beforehand.” What’s their evidence? Romans 8:29, Romans 9–11, and 1 Peter 1:20.
Wait a minute! Those are the passages where the debate exists. This is a problem in this dictionary. Everybody has to understand these dictionaries aren’t perfect. They’re all informed by the thinking of the guys who are developing it.
These are great scholars, but they’re reading their theology in here. Because it’s a methodological flaw to take the passages that are in doubt and use them to prove the doubtful definition. That’s just a basic flaw there … then Acts 26:5 to know from time passed.
All the dictionaries, I’m not going to go through all of them, but all the other dictionaries emphasize the idea of knowing something ahead of time.
The Liddell, Scott, Jones, which is your classical Greek lexicon.
Moulton and Milligan, which is your Koine Greek outside of Scripture. It means “to foreknow or to know previously.”
The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology gives evidence that this was a term that was used since Hippocrates, and it denotes the foreknowledge which makes it possible to predict the future.
See, it’s really clear. Everywhere else it means just knowing ahead of time, so the conclusion is that the Lexicons can provide no examples outside of the Bible where PROGINOSKO means anything other than prescience: to know something ahead of time or beforehand.
There’s no hint in any usage. Even the passages that they claim demonstrate this, are dubious. They’re reading it in. It’s methodologically flawed. We have to start at the building blocks of any sentence, use words, and we have to understand those words, and we have to build on those words.
I’ll just conclude with this, we will start here next time, but Acts 26:5 gives us a non-theological use of the term. Paul is on trial, and he is talking about the Pharisees and what they knew about him when he had come and studied as a Pharisee. Now much later as a Christian, they’re attacking him and so he says, “They knew me from the first.” That’s how it’s translated. The word there “knew me from the first” is PROGINOSKO.
Now this word means not just “to know me,” but it also implies “to know about me.” That’s why I put that in there. It’s always expressing that about the object. That will be important. We will review it next time. It will be important in a couple of other passages.
It’s not just talking about a personal relationship, because he may not have had a personal relationship with all these Pharisees, but they knew who he was. They knew what he did as a Pharisee. They knew things about him. That’s beforehand.
They had heard about him after he had become a Christian, so they’d heard these things before he came back to Jerusalem. And when he came back, he can say that they already knew things about me. They knew it ahead of time.
That’s the basic meaning of this particular word.
It’s also used in Matthew 12:33 when Jesus says, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.”
In other words, you can know something about the tree by looking at the fruit. You see an apple, you know something about the tree, that it’s an apple tree. The word doesn’t mean that a tree is electively loved by its fruit. That doesn’t even make sense. See you can’t be reading these things in them.
We’ve gone through a lot and set the stage. We’re working through these words to see how they’re actually used in Scripture, to look at these claims that are made about election and predestination, so that we can refine our understanding and not be influenced by bringing illegitimate meanings to what we read as we read through the Scripture.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things, and Father, to help us think through them, to realize that yes, You are sovereign, You do overrule, and You oversee all of Your creation, and all of human history. But at the same time, You do not overrule or override individual volition in relation to the gospel.
“That we each have a test; a test to determine if we are going to accept Your solution for sin or reject Your solution for sin. That is the essence of salvation, to determine whether or not we trust Christ as our Savior as the One whom You sent to pay the penalty for sin that we might have eternal life, or whether we’re going to try to earn that in some way on our own.
“Father, we pray that as we go through this that You will clarify this in our understanding. Help us to unscrew the inscrutable, as it were, and that we might have a greater appreciation for the profundity of Your plan of salvation.
“We pray for those listening, that if they have not ever understood the gospel, that they would understand it more clearly, that Christ died for your sins. You have a choice. It’s not something God predetermined. It is an issue related to your own decision.
“Father, we pray that for each of us as believers that You would help us further to understand who You are, Your knowledge, and Your plan, and Your purposes.
“In Christ’s name. Amen.”