Founders Journal · Spring 2000 · pp. 24-27
Whom He Did Foreknow: Observations on Romans 8:29
(This article was given to the Associate Editor by the author nearly twenty years ago on the campus of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee.)
These words suggest three distinct ideas–the objects, the Author, and the act of foreknowing. The first and third of these are especially debated. The second is clear. Yet the fact that God is the One Who did it proves that man did not do it. It could not, therefore, refer to some condition or act foreseen in the creature. No theory of the meaning of the other parts must be allowed to nullify the positiveness of this.
Some claim that “foreknow” means those He foreknew would repent and believe. Some, too, claim that this is general, not specific and individual. They say that He foreknew a nation or class, as the class that would repent and believe. The issue is: Does the word mean mere foresight or prescience?
Even a casual reader can see that the same “whom” that He foreknew, He predestinated, called, justified, and glorified. Stifler says, “This verse presents an argument by means of the recurring words ‘whom’ and ‘them.’ These are also links in the chain, forged in with it. ‘Whom,’ He did foreknow, ‘them,’ all of them, He did ‘predestinate.’ The next ‘whom’ takes up the same persons and carries them to the next stage, and so on to the end. The argument, when condensed, comes to this: that the very ones He foreknew, these, without the loss of one, He glorified.” The chain of grace continues through its five links, and the iteration of the word “whom” shows that it affects the same persons in every particular phase of its work.
We may safely interpret the acts of eternity past by what we experience in time. The calling and justification are individual and personal; so will our glorification be. This shows that the foreknowing and the predestinating, two phases of election, are personal.
The word “foreknow” cannot mean mere foresight or prescience. To claim such is to face the inescapable dilemma: either limit the omniscience of God or teach the glorification of all men. The absurdity of universal salvation is evident. If our word, therefore, means mere prescience, God does not know all things and persons, for all He foreknew will be ultimately glorified. No truth is more assuredly taught in Scripture than that God knows all things–previously, intuitively, instantly, perfectly, universally. Abandon your view or accept one horn of your own dilemma.
To read “whom He did foreknow would repent and believe” is to commit two grievous sins. They are: reading into the passage what is wholly without warrant in the context; contradicting Pauline teaching that we are called “not according to our works but according to His Own purpose and grace” 2 Tim. 1:9.
We repeat: To condition foreknowledge on foreseen repentance and faith is to ground it on character and subvert the whole and chief contention of Romans. Shedd, “God’s electing love is His compassion and not His complacent delight in spiritual excellence and holiness.” Stifler, “What His prescience saw in all men was enmity and helplessness in sin because of a love of it.” Plainly, He foresaw that none would repent and believe and graciously provided in “His purpose” (verse 28) for this. The following links in the chain of His purpose secure what man had not and could not produce, that is, repentance and faith. Had not the acts of predestination, calling and justification procured these to a numberless multitude, all men would still be seen as inpenitent and unbelieving.
We submit a safe principle of interpretation. If the obvious meaning of a word will not make sense, seek another meaning from passages using the same word. “Foreknow” as prescience falls down here; nothing is plainer to a candid mind. Romans 11:2 uses the same word, “God hath not cast away His people Whom He foreknew.” But an omniscient God knows beforehand all nations. He knew Israel as the nation which He had loved and upon which He had lavished His love and care. Deuteronomy 7:7-8, “Jehovah did not set His love upon you nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people, for ye were the fewest of all people; but because Jehovah loved you and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, hath Jehovah brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” Nothing is plainer than that nothing foreseen in them led Him to choose but His sovereign love. Such is the meaning of “foreknow” in our text.
It means the same as Exodus 2:25, “And God looked upon the children of Israel and God had respect unto them (margin, knew them).” The reason for God’s lovingly foreknowing is found in Himself alone, not at all in the one foreknown.
“Foreknow” means the same as “know” in Psalm 1:6. “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” No one would claim that there is a blank place in the mind of God in not foreseeing the way of the wicked. He knows beforehand all things good and bad. He knows the way of the righteous in the sense of caring for and setting His affection upon their way. All that they do concerns Him. Therefore, God foreknew some in the sense of making them objects of His love and concern and will finally bring the same number to salvation in time through repentance and faith and to glory in the future.
“Foreknow” and “know” in the New Testament passages given below are manifest Hebraisms. That is, the mind of Paul was influenced in this use of “foreknow” by the Hebrew and Septuagint meaning of “know.” “Know” often in the Old Testament means “to care for, to regard favorably, to manifest concern in.” Turn to these and read them. Psalm 1:6; 144:3; Genesis 4:1; Jeremiah 1:5; Hosea 13:5; Amos 3:2; Matthew 7:23; 1 Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:5; 2 Timothy 2:19.
We conclude our study by quoting from fourteen scholars who tell us what “foreknow” means in Romans 8:29.
Brown in Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown, “His peculiar, gracious, complacency in them.”
Godet, “Those on whom His eyes fixed from all eternity with love; whom He eternally contemplated and discerned as His.” Pareus, “To love, to care for.”
Shedd, “To fix the eye upon with the additional notion of a benignant and kindly feeling toward the object.” Charles Hodge, “The fixing the mind upon.”
Stifler, “Took note of them.” Forrester, it “carries with it the idea of fellowship or approval.”
Cremer, “To unite oneself before with some one.” Hovey, “An approbation or choice from beforehand.”
MacKenzie in The Westminster New Testament, “To regard favorably.” W. H. Griffith Thomas, “God fixed His regard on them, noted them with favor.”
Haldane, “Before loved or acknowledged.” Garvie, “Looked favorably on and marked out for blessing.”
Denney in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, “Foreknow has the pregnant sense that ‘I know’ often has in Scripture; e. g., in Psalm 1:6; Amos 3:2; hence we may render, ‘those of whom God took knowledge from eternity.'”
Note several translations and one extra commentary. I place the Williams translation last because I think it most nearly catches the Greek idea.
“Those whom He chose from the first” (Beck). “For those whom He had marked out from the first” (Goodspeed).
“For He decreed of old” (Moffatt). “Foredecision–no more foreknowledge of what they would do, but rather what He would do for them” (Moule).
“Because those whom He gave His first recognition” (New World). “For whom He fore-approved” (Rotherham). “For those whom God chose from the first” (Twentieth Century New Testament).
“Those whom God had already chosen” (Today’s English Version). “For those He had in view” (Schonfield). “For those on whom He set His heart beforehand” (Williams).