The Foreknowledge of God

(The following is an edited version of a presentation I gave in seminary.)

1.  Thesis Statement and Introductory Remarks

All Christians believe that God knows the future, but there is debate as to exactly how God knows the future.  Does God “look down the corridors of time” in order to know what will happen in His universe?  Or does He cause the universe to be and therefore knows everything that will occur therein?  The former is called the “simple foreknowledge” view, and the latter is called the “foreordination” view.

Taking into account all the available evidence—philosophical, theological, and biblical—one must conclude that divine foreknowledge is best understood as foreordination.

The concept of divine foreknowledge contains God’s foresight of future events.  This means that God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).  But divine foreknowledge is not merely God’s passive knowledge of information about the future; rather, divine foreknowledge is, properly speaking, God’s knowledge of the future based upon His will and purpose for the future. 

2.  Philosophical Argument

A slight modification to the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God will demonstrate that God’s foreknowledge is the same as His foreordination. 

  1. Everything which is not God has a cause.
  2. Something which does not need to be caused must exist to cause everything that is not God to exist.
  3. God does not need to be caused.
  4. God causes everything which is not God to exist.
  5. Since God causes everything which is not God to exist, there can never be a point when God passively comes to know things outside of His causing them to exist.
  6. Therefore, there can never be a point when God passively comes to know the future.
  7. Therefore, God knows the future because He causes the future to exist.

3.  Theological Argument

God is omniscient, and therefore knows all things.  The issue between the simple foreknowledge view and the foreordination view is not that God has knowledge of all future events, but how He has this knowledge.  Theologically speaking, to assert that God only passively knows the future, as the simple foreknowledge view does, is to imply that God relates the world in a deistic manner, at best.  That is, God created the world and let it run, and then He comes to know how it will turn out. 

But this is not the God of Christian theism.  Our God is not only transcendent, but He is immanent.  He not only created the world, but He governs it.  A sparrow will not “fall to the ground apart from [the] Father,” Matthew reminds us (10:29).  And this necessarily means that God governs all events in creation.  And if God governs all events in creation, all events are, in a qualified sense, under the direct ordination of God.  And if all events are under the direct ordination of God, it follows that all events have been foreordained by God.

The simple foreknowledge view holds that God does not have any sort of divinely initiated plan of governance for the universe.  He does not have a specific purpose in mind at creation, nor does He act now according to any sort of intelligible purpose.  At best, the only thing the prescient view can claim is that God planned to do whatever the creation itself ended up doing apart from His governance. 

4.  Biblical Argument

Though the word “foreknowledge” is not used in the OT, the word “know” often signifies to regard with favor, denoting not mere cognition but affection for the object in view:

Exodus 33:17 “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”

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.”  Here, God’s foreknowledge is equated with an action: He knew Jeremiah and had appointed him to be a prophet to the nations.

Hosea 8:4 “They made kings, but not through me.  They set up princes, but I knew it not.  With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.”  Are we to gather from this passage that God did not actually know the idols his people had set up?  God knows of the idols in a cognitive sense, otherwise how could He have referred to them?  “Know,” here, means affection or approval.  

Amos 3:2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”  Here, God’s knowledge of them must mean more than simple cognition (for He also refers to all the families of the earth).

Genesis 4:1 “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…”  The word “know” here obviously means more than mere apprehension of reality.  It’s a word of intimate affection.

In the NT, the word “foreknowledge” is never used in connection with events or actions; it always has reference to persons.

Acts 2:23 “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed…”  Notice the connection between the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.  God knew the crucifixion would happen because it was His definite plan.  The simple foreknowledge view says that God does not have a specific plan for the universe, but that He passively approves of what He knows will happen.  So, according to that view, God knew the crucifixion would happen, but it wasn’t His plan.  This text, on the contrary, argues that God planned the crucifixion in His specific purpose for the universe.    

Romans 8:29-30 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  Here we see the text says those whom God foreknew, not that which God foreknew.  God knew/loved a people and thus foreordained/predestined them to be conformed to the image of the Son.

Romans 11:2 “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.”  Foreknew must mean something other than mere cognition for these are God’s people, and He obviously knows (in a cognitive sense) all other people.

1 Peter 1:2 “elect exiles…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”  They are elect according to the foreknowledge of God, and as we have seen that means more than that God knows they are elect; He loved them, elected them, and caused them “to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1:3).

Isaiah 46:9-11 “remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”  This text should put any doubt out of our minds.  There is no one like God, for He declares the end from the beginning, the things not yet done.  What it means for God to be God is that He not only knows the end from the beginning, but He declares it and makes it come to pass.  God will accomplish all His purpose, He has spoken and will bring it to pass, He will do it.  God has a foreordained purpose for the entire cosmos, and He will accomplish all of it.

 5.  Questions

  1. Is God’s foreknowledge passive? If so, what does Acts 17:25, 28 mean? “Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything….In him we live and move and have our being.”
  2. If everything was not planned by a holy and loving God, shouldn’t we be absolutely terrified to even wake up tomorrow?
  3. The simple foreknowledge view maintains that God merely sees what will happen in the future without causing it to be.  How then, did God decide that Jesus was to bear the sins of the world?  Was it by passive permission?
  4. How would the simple foreknowledge view deal with texts like Isaiah 46, Romans 8 in light of my arguments?
  5. Is it logically plausible for the simple foreknowledge view to claim that God has any kind of legitimate plan or purpose for the universe? 

Thanks for reading.  Have any additional thoughts?  Leave a comment below.

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