Foreknowledge, Predestination, and Election: A Divine Distinction

 

Continuing on with our look at the “U” from the T.U.L.I.P. commonly associated with Calvinism, we have already looked at a general introduction to the doctrine of unconditional election and have pointed out that the Scripture uses different words to convey the idea of election, i.e., elected, chosen, predestined, foreknowledge, before the foundation of the world. We must now pause and examine how a few of these words actually have a nuanced distinction that is helpful for understanding better the doctrine of election.

First is foreknowledge. Foreknowledge is often confused and taken to mean simply knowledge beforehand, i.e. that God knows some information or facts beforehand (Acts 26:5; 2 Peter 3:17). As it is applied to election, the Arminian argument takes foreknowledge to mean that God sees a person’s faith beforehand, via foreknowledge, and elects them on the basis of their foreseen faith. Simply stated, God’s foreknowledge is of a person’s faith before it is exercised in time and space. But that is not what foreknowledge means in the context of divine election. God’s knowledge of events beforehand falls within His omniscience, so in one sense He certainly does have “foreknowledge” or knowledge beforehand that events will happen, but this is because He has ordained them to happen. He does not look down a narrow corridor of time to see what events will take place, He foreordains those events. This is the sovereignty of God.

Therefore, we can begin to see how the Arminian view assumes that God is limited both in His sovereignty and on the basis of a timescale, like we are, as though some new information regarding a person’s future faith had at one time occurred to God. But God transcends time and is not limited in His knowledge to specific time-based events. The thought never occurred to God that a person would believe, He has always known that. He is the Alpha and Omega, determining the beginning from the end.

To see foreknowledge in context, let’s look briefly at Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:1-2;20.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:29

Remember that the Arminian argument from above stated that God’s foreknowledge was of a person’s faith, that He sees the future and knows whether or not a person will exercise faith in Him and then “elects” them on that basis. Here, however, God’s foreknowledge is not in any way related to a person’s faith, but is instead intimately related to a person, “whom” He foreknew. The idea being conveyed here is not of general knowledge of facts, but a relational knowledge. The following verses are helpful uses of this intimate, relational knowledge:

  • Genesis 4:1 “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.”
  • Genesis 18:19 “For I have chosen [known] him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
  • Exodus 33:12 “Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’”
  • Deuteronomy 7:6-8 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
  • Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
  • Hosea 13:4-5 “But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought”
  • Amos 3:2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
  • John 10:27-28 “27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
  • Galatians 4:9 “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”

Note the contrasts here:

  • Matthew 7:23 “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
  • Romans 11:1-2 “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?”

To put this in terms of a human example (that will certainly collapse at some point in the analogy), my wife and I are expecting a baby boy. My knowledge of this fact is not simply general in knowing that this son will come, but it is an intimate knowledge. I am his father, I named him, I have seen him before he has been born and I love him; he is my son…now…even before his first breath. This is the idea that God conveys to Jeremiah in Jer. 1:5. Though our friends may also be expecting a child, my knowledge of the birth of that baby is not the same as the knowledge of my own. In a similar, yet divine and infinite way, God has intimate eternal knowledge, which the Bible calls foreknowledge (or fore-love) of His own children. John Murray helpfully defines the use of foreknowledge from the Romans 8 passage as, “It means ‘whom he set regard upon’ or ‘whom he knew from eternity with distinguishing affection and delight’ and it is virtually equivalent to ‘whom he foreloved’”[1]

The second example, from 1 Peter 1:1-2; 20, shows how the Apostle Peter uses the word foreknowledge in relation to the elect exiles and then in terms of Christ (vs. 20) who was foreknown before the foundation of the world. Does that foreknowledge mean that God looked down the corridor of time and saw Christ’s faith and elected Him? Certainly not, that would be nonsensical. It has more to do with Isaiah 42:1

1To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” 1 Peter 1:1,2; 20

Next is the word predestined or predestination. Strong’s defines the Greek word for predestined as 1. To predetermine, decide beforehand 2. In the NT of God decreeing from eternity 3. To foreordain, appoint beforehand. We can see the distinction between foreknowledge and predestination from the Romans 8:29 passage above, but their action is linked together. In this context, they do not mean the same thing, but refer to essentially the same event. While foreknowledge refers to an intimate personal relationship, predestined refers to the ordained plan of God for that individual person. Note the passage from Romans 8:29 again, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” Here predestination is conformity to the image of Christ. Foreknowledge is the cause, predestination is the plan to bring about the effect of conformity to Christ.

Does predestination to the conformity of Christ happen for everyone? No, only to whom God has foreknown. Notice the order of events in the golden chain of redemption that unfold in the verse that follows: 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:30 In some sense, foreknowledge must precede predestination, which was followed by the outward calling of the Spirit, the justification by Christ, and the certain glorification that will come in eternity with Christ. The predetermined plan of God unfolded in the calling, justification, and glorification of saints whom He foreknew.

A further example may be seen in the Apostle Paul’s use of predestined in the following passage from the epistle to Ephesians:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Finally, a third use of predestined, this time in relationship to the crucifixion of Christ on the cross, 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Acts 4:27-28

That God unfolds His plan on the basis of predetermination or predestination is simply undeniable, as seen in several passages listed below. Therefore, that God saves on the basis of predestination should not be a surprise, as it is consistent with His character, how He fulfills His own prophecies, and how He brings His plan of redemption to fruition.

  • Isaiah 46:9-11 ff
  • Psalm 33:11
  • Isaiah 25:1
  • Isaiah 14:27
  • Daniel 4:35
  • Job 42:2
  • Is. 53:10
  • Eph. 1:11 (The source of predestination – the counsel of God’s Will)
  • 1 Cor. 2:7

Lastly, we arrive at election proper having already devoted much space to the similar concept of foreknowledge and predestination. Election simply refers to God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation.  It is more closely related to the Bible’s use of chosen, than are the other two terms and this is where the heart of the objection lies. While the argument laid out for the understanding of foreknowledge may receive some push back, and the definition of predestination perhaps less so, the opposition is no doubt most concentrated on the meaning of election. Election or references to the elect is actually much more commonly used than the other two terms and many times it even seems that its meaning is already understood, especially by the recipients of Paul’s epistles. The uses are below:

  • Matthew 24:22 “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
  • Matthew 24:24 “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
  • Matthew 24:31 “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
  • Mark 13:20 “And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.”
  • Mark 13:22 “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”
  • Mark 13:27 “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
  • Luke 18:7 “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?”
  • Romans 8:33 “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”
  • Romans 9:11 “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—“
  • Romans 11:7 “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,”
  • Romans 11:28 “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.”
  • 1 Timothy 5:21 “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”
  • 2 Timothy 2:10 “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
  • Titus 1:1 “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,”
  • 1 Peter 1:1 “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,”
  • 2 Peter 1:3 “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
  • 2 Peter 1:10 “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
  • 2 John 1:1 “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth,”
  • 2 John 1:13 “The children of your elect sister greet you.”

The relationship between foreknowledge, predestination, and election is one of similarity, but also distinction. Understanding the terms that the Bible uses in the context that it uses them will go a long way towards untangling any webs of confusion that may develop when attempting to understand God’s sovereign, divine election.

Next, Lord willing, will begin looking at some common objections.

[1] John Murray Romans vol. 1 pg. 317

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