Last week we began the study of the attribute of God’s knowledge by briefly looking at the etymology of the word. However, the foreknowledge of God is more complex, and a mere study of the word will not do justice to understanding this attribute. In this regard; Arthur Pink suggests that, “What we need is to find out how the word is used in Scripture. The Holy Spirit’s usage of an expression always defines its meaning and scope. Failure to apply this simple rule is responsible for so much confusion and error,” (Pink). It would be irresponsible and negligent for a student of God to read the word foreknowledge, and inattentively claim that it means to know something before hand, or to know something before it happens; although God does, but to insert this proposition to every text with the word foreknowledge results in misinterpretation. To apply that type of absentmindedness to scripture will have the consequence of bad theology on any bible student. It is fallacious to think that God based His eternal decrees on what He saw men choosing in the future. It makes God’s knowledge subject to what the will of the creature is going to choose in the future, which has the consequence of God’s solitariness, decrees, and knowledge contingent or conditioned on the will of the creature instead of the sovereign will of God; to which Pink claims that, “such logic is radically wrong . . . It takes away the independency of God, for it makes His decrees rest upon what He discovers in the creature,” (Pink).
Let’s consider of few couple written throughout the scriptures, and realize how the meaning of the word can change according to context.
When we think of the word flesh; we immediately think of something corporeal, something physical that we can ascertain with our senses.
Genesis 2:21 And Jehovah God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept. And He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh underneath.
Here we see a literal physical meaning of the word flesh. Skeptics may say; “this is impossible.” Why? Doctors sedate people every day to perform surgeries. If men can surgically remove limbs by God’s revelation of the technology given to them, then God who is omnipotent can sedate Adam and perform a miraculous surgery to create the first woman.
Consider now another passage
Genesis 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh.
Are we going to interpret the word flesh literally as we did verse 21? Of course not; to apply that same meaning may mean to involve Adam and Eve fusing together in some freakish union of physical flesh. Instead the meaning changes figuratively to convey a greater reality. One flesh meaning coming together under God as one husband and one wife the way God intended marriage to be. In commentary to one flesh; John Gill writes, “(A) union between them is so close, as if they were but one person, one soul, one body; and which is to be observed against polygamy, unlawful divorces, and all uncleanness, fornication, and adultery: only one man and one woman, (Gill).
Consider the word immortal. An average English dictionary may define it as something not subject to death, or something which does not die. When we read the word immortality in the bible; we naturally want to think it is referencing the human soul being mortal or becoming immortal. This is wrong. The word mortal and immortal in the bible is in reference not to the soul or spirit, but to the human body in its corruptible state, and incorruptible state.
Romans 8:11 “But if the Spirit of the One who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised up Christ from the dead shall also make your mortal bodies alive by His Spirit who dwells in you.”
The context of Paul’s argument is the resurrection of Christ and the saints. Paul is saying that the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead also dwells in whoever believes in Christ. Furthermore; the same Spirit of God which is in the body of believers, shall make our mortal bodies alive by raising our dead bodies from the grave at the final resurrection. To this point Matthew Henry writes, “The resurrection of Christ: He that rose up Christ from the dead shall also quicken. Christ rose as the head, and first-fruits, and forerunner of all the saints, 1Co_15:20. The body of Christ lay in the grave, under the sin of all the elect imputed, and broke through it. O grave, then, where is thy victory? It is in the virtue of Christ’s resurrection that we shall raise,” (Henry).
1Corinthians 15:53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
The Greek word for incorruption is; Aftharseeah, and it means immortality, or unending existence; not of the soul, but of the body, as it is analogous of; Fthartoos, which is decayed, perishable, or corruptible. In this verse the only thing corruptible or perishable is the mortal body, which Paul says has to put on immortality. Again this is the same line of reasoning Paul was using when he was speaking to the Roman Church. For further clarity let’s consider John Calvin’s commentary on this verse, “For this corruptible must mark, how we shall live in the kingdom of God both in body and in soul, while at the same time flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God for they shall previously be delivered from corruption. Our nature then, as being now corruptible and mortal, is not admissible into the kingdom of God, but when it shall have put off corruption, and shall have been beautified with in-corruption, it will then make its way into it. This passage, too, distinctly proves, that we shall rise again in that same flesh that we now carry about with us, as the Apostle assigns a new quality to it which will serve as a garment,” (Calvin). In a real sense we will have a resurrected body from the same fleshly body we now have. The Spirit of God will miraculously transform our corruptible bodies into an incorruptible state where our new bodies can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The figurative language for this is our mortal body putting on immortality.
In relation to the word foreknowledge; it is not found in the Old Testament. However; the word knew in the Old Testament has several passages where the word knew contextually has a strong affection for His subjects. In some passages the word knew also contextually has the same meaning as foreknowledge in the New Testament.
Exodus 33:17 And Jehovah said to Moses, I will do this thing also that you have spoken. For you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.
Given to Moses from God is the strongest affection and highest esteem; that is to be known to God by name.
Deuteronomy 9:24 reveals a strong negative connotation from God, “You have been rebellious against Jehovah from the day that I knew you.”
The word knew in Jeremiah 1:5 is equivalent to foreknowledge of the New Testament. “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I consecrated you, and I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Before the prophet was conceived, or did anything right or wrong; God determined to know Jeremiah with an affection of love and ordain him a prophet according to God’s eternal plan.
Hosea 8:4 They have set up kings, but not by Me; they have made rulers, and I knew it not. They have made themselves idols with their silver and their gold, so that they may be cut off.
How is it that God did know these rulers? Since we have learned that God is an omniscient God; it follows then, that this must be hyperbolic language expressing to us that God does not acknowledge, or has Himself chosen these men with His affection to lead Israel.
Amos 3:2 You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.
God is omniscient and knows all families and nations of the earth, but Israel is the only nation God has set His relational love and affection with. It was the only nation God communicated with, revealed Himself too, set His statutes and laws to abide by. In this aspect God only knew them apart from the rest of the nations and families.
Now let’s consider the New Testament passages.
Matthew 7:23 And then I will say to them I never knew you! Depart from Me, those working lawlessness!
We see Jesus Christ here borrowing from the same type of language from the Old Testament, which reveals consistency between the Godhead. Just as God said I never knew these rulers of Israel, families, and nations; Christ is saying He never knew with any affection of any kind toward these men professing His name. John Gill’s interpretation is more sever, which I am in full agreement with. Gill wrote; “I never had any love, or affection for you; I never esteemed you; I never made any account of you, as mine, as belonging to me; I never approved of you, nor your conduct; I never had any converse, communication, nor society with you, nor you with me,” (Gill). (Exhortation) It is a scary concept to think of people who today profess Christ with no repentance. Just as there were false professions then; there are those who falsely confess today. That is why it is so important to preach the full measure of the Gospel without compromise. Never measure the success of the Gospel by how many people repeated a prayer. Anybody can work up people’s emotions with a motivational speech and soft music; get them to recite something and send them on their way to hell, because someone told them that they are now saved because they repeated something like a parrot. Preach the Gospel and let the Holy Ghost do the saving. Don’t worry about getting a confession from them. Anyone who is born again as a result of believing the Gospel, which was preached will eventually make their confession in public as they represent Christ in the world unashamedly every day, and that is a true confession and convert.
John 10:14 I am the Good Shepherd, and I know those that are Mine, and I am known by those who are Mine.
Christ knows by name everyone of His sheep in every measure of knowledge and nothing can pluck us from His hand. The sheep of God know their shepherd. They hear His voice through the Gospel. Through the preaching of the word; they feel His peace, compassion, and love. As a result of the love between the Christ and His sheep; His sheep follow and obey His word and commands.
1Corinthians 8:3 But if any one loves God, he has been known of Him.
It is obviously clear; to be known by God, is to be loved by God. Now think back to the last three attributes, and thank God He has known you from the foundation of the earth.
In relation to the word foreknowledge; it is very important to remember how the word knew in the Old and New Testament was in relation to people and not of actions or events. The term was used in special affection between God and His people, between Christ and His sheep. Likewise foreknowledge is in reference to people God foreknew and never in these subsequent verses is foreknowledge of fore seeing any events or actions from people. Instead the only thing foreknown by God in these passages, are the people.
Acts 2:22,23 Men, Israelites, hear these words. Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by powerful works, and wonders and miracles, which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know, 23 this One (Christ) given to you by the before-determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and by lawless hands, crucifying Him, you put Him to death.
Who is foreknown in the verse? Christ is foreknown. What is said to be foreknown about Christ? Merely Himself; God foreknew Christ from eternity, meaning that from all eternity God knew Him, God loved Him, and God chose Christ to be the redeemer and predetermined to put Christ in the hands of the lawless to be crucified.
Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology explains that, “In the New Testament God’s foreknowledge is clearly linked to the death of Christ and to the salvation of the elect, “Before the creation of the world” Christ was “chosen” or “foreknown” to be the Redeemer; a clear indication that God knew from the beginning that humankind would fall into sin. On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter denounced the wicked men who put Christ to death, but he acknowledged that they had acted in accord with “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” Evil rulers conspired to kill the Son of God, but yet his death was something that God “had decided beforehand should happen.”
Romans 8:29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be the First-born among many brothers. 30 But whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, those He also justified. And whom He justified, these He also glorified.
This verse is said to have foreknown a multitude of peoples whom God predestined to be conformed to the image of His son Christ. Again; look at what is foreknown, it is people who are foreknown, not the actions of people. To the credibility of this verse; A W Pink writes, “Weigh well the pronoun used here. It is not what He did foreknow, but whom He did. It is not the surrendering of their wills nor the believing of their hearts, but the persons themselves, which is in view,” (Pink). The Apostle Paul is dealing with hard hitting theology. He is expounding on the fact that God foreknew all those whom He set is love upon. All who God foreknew are all who God fore-loved, then predestined, then called, then justified, then glorified, which is also known as the golden chain of salvation.
There is a common misconception of Romans 8 29,30 revolving around election and foreknowledge; which John Macarthur identifies clearly, “A common explanation of election is that the elect are chosen because God knew beforehand what they would do. That defines foreknowledge as foresight. I’ve heard it explained that God looked down through the eons of history, saw by virtue of His omniscience what you and I would do, and then chose or didn’t choose us based on whether we did or didn’t believe. That at first sounds like a good explanation–but it’s not the truth. There are several reasons for wanting to believe that God’s foreknowledge means foresight. Our fallen nature desperately wants some responsibility for our salvation. Likewise our fallen perspective makes God’s sovereign choice appear unfair. But because our minds are polluted by sin, we are in no position to exalt our pride and call ourselves virtuous, or pull down the justice of God and call Him unfair,” (Macarthur).
Romans 11:2 God did not thrust out His people whom He foreknew.
1Peter 1:1,2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
There is no foresight of men’s actions in this context. There is no God choosing an elect based on men first choosing God. Foreknowledge again is in reference to the Christian Jews scattered throughout different locations who are the elect of God who He foreknew in eternity pass to be called, justified, and glorified. Grace and peace be on o them and on to us. Remember that although the word foreknowledge may also be defined as foresight of something. It is not defined that way in these passages because the context of scripture will not allow for it. Remember that in many cases of biblical interpretation; context is not defined by the definition of the word; the definition of the word is defined by the context of scripture.
In closing with a couple more citations; Bible Expositor, Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “God’s foreknowledge has an element of determinism in it because whatever really happens that God knows beforehand exists or takes place because of His sovereign will. Therefore when Peter wrote that God chose according to His foreknowledge he did not mean that God chose the elect because He knew beforehand they would believe the gospel. God chose them because He determined beforehand that they would believe the gospel,” (Constable).
Dr. Warren Wiersbe writes, “The truth is that the salvation of every believer is known and determined in the mind of God before its realization in time. This is “heavy” theology and I believe cannot be fully comprehended by finite men. Instead of complaining that God is not fair (as some who think too much on this attribute do) we should bow to the incredible truth that in eternity past, before Adam and Eve even sinned, God planned the redemption of undeserving sinners through Jesus Christ. Stated another way, the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden did not take God by surprise. He knew it would happen and He also knew and had planed what He would do in view of it and that His only Son would carry out His plan. The ultimate cause of Jesus’ death was God’s plan and foreknowledge,” (Wiersbe).