In the most recent post in this series, we looked at several reasons to reject an Arminian reading of Romans 8:29. Now we will look at the range of meaning of the word “foreknew.”
The Greek word used in Rom 8:29 is proginoskein. I have the six most widely used Greek lexicons. They all show that this word has two possible definitions. The first definition is “to know beforehand.” The second is “to choose beforehand.” There are two uses of the word in the New Testament where the first definition is clearly correct, Acts 26:5 and 2 Pet 3:17. In both of these texts, the subject of the verb is a group of people. In other words, these verses do not speak of divine foreknowledge. This is an important distinction. The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament notes that when the word is used to refer to divine foreknowledge “the idea of election is always present.” Other lexicons make similar statements, pointing out that when the verb is used with God as the subject, the second definition above is to be understood.
This is consistent with the concept of God’s knowledge in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for “to know” is yada, and refers to God’s loving choice. For example, in Gen 18:19 the Lord says, speaking of Abraham, For I have chosen 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." There the ESV translates the word as “chosen.” (So does the NAS, NIV, and NET to name a few.) The idea is not simply that God knew Abraham or was cognitively aware of Abraham. God chose him.
Another good example is Jer 1:5, where the prophet Jeremiah is the object of God’s “knowledge”: "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." This is written in poetic verse with the three clauses being parallel. Parallelism is a device used in Hebrew poetry to convey essentially the same idea in two or more ways. So the author is communicating the same idea three times in this verse, with the verbs “knew,” “consecrated,” and “appointed” being parallel. Obviously, the verse is not intended to express that God merely foresaw that Jeremiah would serve as a prophet. The point is that before Jeremiah was born, God chose him.
Let me also mention Amos 3:2a: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” Does God mean that Israel is the only nation on earth of which He is cognitively aware? Of course not. Israel is the only nation that God lovingly chose.
So it is not at all foreign to Scripture for God’s knowledge of those upon whom He has set His affection to be a reference to His choosing them. This understanding of God’s knowledge is clearly intended elsewhere in the book of Romans, a fact which is devastating to the Arminian argument.
The Greek word, proginoskein, that is used in Rom 8:29 is also used in Rom 11:2, where speaking of Israel, Paul writes, God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. If we impose the Arminian understanding on this text (and it is a dreadful imposition because the words simply are not there), we come up with this: God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew would believe. That is a problem because this comes in a lengthy discussion in which Paul is explaining why the Jews do not believe.
In v7a, he goes on to write, Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. Now if the Arminian is right, that God chooses those who He foresees will choose Him, this seeking for salvation – described in 10:2 as their “zeal for God” – should have triggered God’s predestining them for the benefits of salvation. But that is not what we find as we continue in the passage.
The following verses invalidate the Arminian position: (v7b) The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” 9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; 10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.”
Who obtained salvation? The elect. What about the rest? They were hardened. Who hardened them? God. Why? So that they would not see or hear the truth.
God’s choice of Israel was not based on His foreknowledge of their faith in Him. The OT represents thousands of years of Israel largely rejecting God. So why did He choose them? Deut 7:6-8 tells us: 6 "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. 7 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. 8 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.
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people…” In other words, it was not because of anything about you, that the Lord chose you. He chose you because of something about Him – He loves you. And no reason is offered for why He loves them in a way that He doesn't not love those nations He did not choose. But if we use Scripture to interpret Scripture, Ephesians 1:11 is certainly helpful. God works all things according to the counsel of His will. Said another way, God does everything because He want to.
Now, if God’s choice of Israel was not based on anything they did or were, but was based on His own good pleasure, His special love for them, why would we believe that His choice of the members of the body of Christ would be any different? We can't believe that because the same word ("foreknew") is used to refer to both Israel and the church.
The bottom line is that the Arminian understanding of “foreknowledge” cannot be correct for several reasons. First, the words on the page simply do not say “those whom He foreknew would choose Him…” Arriving at the Arminian position forces us to read material into the Word. Second, the understanding of foreknowledge as a reference to election is universally accepted as a legitimate meaning of the word among the major scholarly Greek lexicons. Third, the term is used of Israel in the near context of Romans, which denies the possibility that this foreknowledge could be foreknowledge of faith.
I will continue with this series dealing with Arminian prooftexts, but I received a great suggestion a couple of weeks ago. It may be helpful to do a short exploration of the concept of freewill. I believe that the cherished idea of freewill is really the main reason that people reject the doctrine of election. It is assumed that if God chooses, man can’t choose. That simply is not the case. God chooses and man chooses. How can that be? Stay tuned.