The Scriptural Basis for the Foreknowledge of Sovereign God

The Greek word used for “foreknowledge” in the New Testament is “prognosis”. Its meaning then was as a medical term, being first defined as such by Hippocrates about 400 BC. Luke, a medical doctor, knew of its usage and used it accordingly, he being a doctor of medicine. In fact, Luke used a lot of medical terms in his writings – in the book of Acts, and the gospel of Luke. The word “prognosis” still means today the use of some kind of evaluation of the future of a patient in order to make a proper diagnosis, hence “prognosis”!

Calvinism is forced to deny the effective foreknowledge of God in order to deny mankind a free will choice in salvation. Foreknowledge requires free will choices in the future to make sense of foreknowledge. However, John Piper says that God doesn’t need to know about any free will decisions in the future because there is no such thing as free will! Thus, according to Piper, foreknowledge is really the same as choosing!

“God does not foreknow the free decisions of people to believe in him because there aren’t any such free decisions to know…..”
(And then Piper rewrites “foreknew” as “chose”! Continue reading…)
“As C.E.B. Cranfield says, the foreknowledge of Romans 8:29 is “that special taking knowledge of a person which is God’s electing grace.” Such foreknowledge is virtually the same as election: “Those whom he foreknew (i.e. chose) he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
(What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism, 1998 Revision)
(You’d think that if God meant “chose” then He’d say so??!!)

However, the calvinist will often try to teach that man does have some free will, but not entirely. Many like to teach that the non-elect (lost) person has free will only to choose the wrong things, while the elect (saved) person has free will only to choose the right things. (Plus many others who believe in differing quantities of free will, right through to those who believe that man has absolutely no free will at all. For more on this, please follow this link: Foreknowledge and Free Will.

And thus the stage is set for a random selection (= unconditional election) of those who will be saved. Remember that in a random selection, you only need just one condition (other than sample size) for the sample to cease being random. The only thing you can choose in a random selection is the size of the survey group. That means, the only decision God has to make is to decide how big the election group is going to be. Everything else must be random selection!

Foreknowledge and prognosis

With reference to Titus 1:2 (“promised before the world began”) the calvinists delight in trying to “demonstrate” that all God’s plans were from the beginning, and that this somehow “proves” that God through His sovereignty pre-ordained everything, without any input from His foreknowledge, from before time began.
Revelation 13:8And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
At face value this appears to mean that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, which I believe is a correct interpretation. However, note the following where it says that the names are written from the foundation of the world.
Revelation 17:8The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

Thus Revelation 13:8 should be taken to mean both (a) the Lamb slain and (b) the names written, from the foundation of the world. This is a delight to calvinists who love no more than half the truth. They love to show that names are written in before time began, that this proves the election. Well, yes, the election is proven, but not “unconditional” election! There is nothing in the Bible to prevent God from using foreknowledge to determine who He should write in His list of the elect. After all, God has promised that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13), that is, He will honour His promise to choose (elect) to save them if they should call upon the name of the Lord.

Calvin taught that foreknowledge (= prescience) was irrelevant as God already knew all things that would happen because He had already fore-ordained all things!
If God merely foresaw human events, and did not also arrange and dispose of them at his pleasure, there might be room for agitating the question, how far his foreknowledge amounts to necessity; but since he foresees the things which are to happen, simply because he has decreed that they are so to happen, it is vain to debate about prescience, while it is clear that all events take place by his sovereign appointment.
(From Institutes of the Christian Religion (John Calvin) Book III Section 23 Part 6)
Note that “prescience” is “foreknowledge”; they are synonyms!

Note that according to John Gill (calvinist commentary), the foreknowledge of God is without dispute, yet foreknowledge is only right as long as it agrees with God’s absolute decrees. That is, if foreknowledge disagreed with God’s absolute decrees, then it would not be knowledge but merely conjecture! – see the following from Gill.
It must be, and is generally allowed, that God had, from eternity, a prescience or foreknowledge of all future events; of all future contingencies, even of the free actions of men’s wills; of every thing that should be done in time, to the end of the world, and to all eternity. He foreknew what all men would do, or would not do; who would believe and repent, and who would not; and who would perish, and who would be eternally saved: which foreknowledge is not conjectural, uncertain, and precarious, but is real, certain, and infallible; whence it must follow, that whatsoever arguments are advanced upon the attributes of God, his wisdom, justice, holiness, truth, sincerity, goodness, and mercy, or upon the methods and dealings of God with the sons of men, against the absolute decrees of God, are as much opposed unto, and lie as strongly against, the foreknowledge of God; since that as much requires the certainty, and secures the infallibility, of the event, as his absolute decrees do; otherwise his foreknowledge would not be knowledge, but conjecture. (More verbal gymnastics??)
(The Cause of God and Truth, Pp684-685, John Gill)

This appears to admit that foreknowledge is indeed relevant, yet devalues it simply because it cannot be allowed to oppose the absolute decrees of God. That is, according to Gill, foreknowledge cannot oppose the calvinist view of the absolute sovereignty of God! Even MacArthur appears to try to do away with foreknowledge, suggesting that it actually refers to God’s establishing of a love relationship with that person.
Occasionally someone will suggest that God’s election is based on His foreknowledge of certain events. This argument suggests that God simply looks into the future to see who will believe, and He chooses those whom He sees choosing Him. Notice that 1 Peter 1:2 says the elect are chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” and Romans 8:29 says, “whom He foreknew, He also predestined.” And if divine foreknowledge simply means God’s knowledge of what will happen in advance, then these arguments may appear to have some weight behind them.
But that is not the biblical meaning of “foreknowledge.” When the Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge, it refers to God’s establishment of a love relationship with that person. (But where does the Bible say this??)
(Grace to You, “Considering Election (Not Politics)” – Article 132)

So why is foreknowledge such a problem for calvinists? Why cannot God make promises before time began, based upon the free will decisions of mankind that occur from then until time ceases again? After all, He must be capable of determining what free will decisions man might make in the future! He is sovereign! Therefore, why not take a more in-depth look at the occurrences of foreknowledge in the Bible, especially the New Testament.

Firstly, on a bit of a side issue, what is a “prognosis”? If you go to a doctor, you should get a prognosis, that is, an outline of what you are suffering from, what its effect is upon your life, and what might be done about it, if anything, to change such a prognosis. However, it is only a recent development to do more than just inform you as to your condition and probable outcomes.

Wikipedia“Prognosis (Greek πρόγνωσις “fore-knowing, foreseeing”) is a medical term for predicting the likely outcome of one’s current standing. When applied to large statistical populations, prognostic estimates can be very accurate: for example the statement “45% of patients with severe septic shock will die within 28 days” can be made with some confidence, because previous research found that this proportion of patients died. However, it is much harder to translate this into a prognosis for an individual patient: additional information is needed to determine whether a patient belongs to the 45% who will die, or to the 55% who survive.
A complete prognosis includes the expected duration, the function, and a description of the course of the disease, such as progressive decline, intermittent crisis, or sudden, unpredictable crisis.”

Note that “prognosis” was being discussed as such as early as 400 BC!
Wikipedia One of the earliest written works of medicine is the Book of Prognostics of Hippocrates, written around 400 BC. This work opens with the following statement: “It appears to me a most excellent thing for the physician to cultivate Prognosis; for by foreseeing and foretelling, in the presence of the sick, the present, the past, and the future, and explaining the omissions which patients have been guilty of, he will be the more readily believed to be acquainted with the circumstances of the sick; so that men will have confidence to intrust themselves to such a physician.”
For 19th century physicians, particularly those following the French school of medicine, the main aim of medicine was not to cure disease, but rather to give a medical diagnosis and achieve a satisfying prognosis of the patient’s chances. Only several decades later did the focus of efforts in Western medicine shift to curing disease.

Also note To trace the course of a disease through its various stages, and to be able to see what is portended by symptoms in different diseases and at different stages of those diseases, was an art upon which Hippocrates laid great stress. He called it πρόγνωσις (that is, “prognosis”), and it included at least half of the physician’s work.
(Hippocrates Collected Works I By Hippocrates Edited by: W. H. S. Jones (trans.) Cambridge Harvard University Press 1868)

To recap, Wikipedia – Prognosis (Greek πρόγνωσις “fore-knowing, foreseeing”). That is, prognosis isn’t a translation of the Greek word we know as “foreknowledge”, it is that word! The meaning of “prognosis” hasn’t changed since Hippocrates discussed its use in 400 BC. It had nothing to do with the establishment of a love relationship then in the original Greek, and it still has nothing to do with such! (Or else why strike doctors off the medical register for attempting to establish a love relationship?!)

“prognosis” is Strongs Greek No. 4268 πρόγνωσις prognosis which is used twice in the New Testament, both times translated as “foreknowledge”, Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:2.
Acts 2:23Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge (“prognosis”) of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: (and remember that Luke used the term “prognosis” here as a physician)
1 Peter 1:2aElect according to the foreknowledge (“prognosis”) of God the Father
And unless the Scripture specifically prohibits God from using foreknowledge to determine man’s free will decisions, or even prohibits man from having free will, then to deny God’s use of foreknowledge to determine such free will decisions is to deny His absolute sovereignty!

Note that MacArthur claims When the Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge, it refers to God’s establishment of a love relationship with that person.
(Grace to You, “Considering Election (Not Politics)” – Article 132).
However, there is nothing in the usage of that Greek term to demonstrate this in any way at all. Perhaps it could be an individual interpretation of Acts 2:23 (by an amazing stretch of the imagination, and a wild assumption that Luke knew nothing of the proper medical use of the term “prognosis” despite him being a physician), but in no way does the context rule out God using His foreknowledge to know the future. It is a far more viable interpretation to claim that God used His foreknowledge to set up the circumstances that led Jesus to the cross. Foreknowledge, particularly when used by God, is not a passive “knowing” of the future, but rather a use of perfect foreknowledge in order to “shape” the future such that His sovereign will remains absolute.

The doctor does the same today, howbeit not so accurately. He makes a prognosis on your condition, and then, where that prognosis might be unfavourable, makes decisions, where possible, in order to reshape your future back to a more favourable outcome, that is, hopefully closer to what you would desire to be.

God uses His perfect knowledge of the future (that is, foreknowledge) to rule with absolute sovereignty. Nothing God plans to come to pass will fail to do just that – it will come to pass! For example, no matter what free will choices mankind may make, God’s prophecy will always occur exactly as foretold. God, through foreknowledge (“prognosis”), determined from the foundation of the world what free will choices would affect His will adversely, and then, also from the foundation of the world, set changes in place to bring the outcome in line with His perfect and sovereign will. This is true Scriptural sovereignty!

And it is difficult to see MacArthur’s interpretation of foreknowledge in 1 Peter 1:2 as even remotely viable, let alone an alternative! So, what if it can be shown that the word can be used as a simple foreknowledge of the future, that is, a knowledge of something that would happen in the future (and translated as such)? Or even just as we would use the word “prognosis” today: a statement of what might happen in the future based upon what can be seen and understood now?

A New Testament word from the same Greek root word as “prognosis” is 4267 προγινώσκω proginosko, used in the five following passages. This word “proginosko” has been translated as (knew, know before, foreknow, foreknew, foreordained)
In particular, look at the usage of “proginosko” in Acts 26:5.
Acts 26:4-54 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; 5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
know (Vs 4) – 2467 ἴσημι isemi
knew (Vs 5) – 4267 προγινώσκω proginosko

It is impossible to see how MacArthur’s definition of foreknowledge fits into this passage! How can this be discussing God’s (or anyone else’s for that matter) establishment of a love relationship with that person? (Although some calvinists have been guilty of desperately trying to establish a relationship between Paul and the other Jews in the use of “knew” in the above passage!)

Look also at the usage of “proginosko” in 2 Peter 3:14-17.
2 Peter 3:14-1714 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. 15 And account {that} the longsuffering of our Lord {is} salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all {his} epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as {they do} also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. 17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know {these things} before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
know before (Vs 17) – 4267 προγινώσκω proginosko

Also note the following uses of proginosko:
Romans 8:29For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate {to be} conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Romans 11:2aGod hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.
1 Peter 1:20Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,

There is nothing more in all of these, other than an active (as opposed to passive) foreknowledge of God being used to establish His will as sure and certain.
Only three New Testament writers have used “prognosis” (noun) and “proginosko” (verb). Luke has used each once, Paul has used the verb derivative twice, and Peter has used the noun once and the verb derivative twice. Not one other writer has used either of these words.

But would the three users of these terms in the New Testament have been aware of their true medical meaning? Luke as a physician would have been intimately aware of the correct use of prognosis as propounded by Hippocrates. Paul, as Luke’s constant companion, would also have been fully aware of the true meaning and usage of these terms. And, Peter, out of all the other writers, was the one who had more significant contact with Paul than the others, and even quotes Paul in his usage of proginosko in Vs 15 of 2 Peter 3:14-17.

Thus a more correct translation of the two usages of “foreknowledge” in the N.T. should really read as follows:
Acts 2:23Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and prognosis of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
1 Peter 1:2aelect according to the prognosis of God the Father

I have observed Piper in the past to be careless when it comes to Bible interpretation. Now MacArthur, in declaring “When the Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge, it refers to God’s establishment of a love relationship with that person” (Grace to You, “Considering Election (Not Politics)” – Article 132), has likewise apparently demonstrated carelessness when it comes to teaching the truth of the Bible. (Or, next time the doctor gives you a prognosis on your health, should you also take that as him establishing a love relationship with you??!!)

By the way, MacArthur appears to claim that the word “know” (yada) in the Old Testament means the similar establishing of an intimate relationship.
For example – let me give you some illustrations so you’ll not be confused.  Jeremiah 1:5.  God says of Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I – ” what? “ – I knew you.”  That’s the kind of knowing.  What do you mean?  I predetermined a relationship with you.  That’s what it means.  I predetermined a relationship with you.
Amos 3:2.  “Israel only have I known.”  What does he mean?   Israel is the only people I know anything about?  They’re the only ones I’m observing?  No.  They’re the only ones with whom I have an intimate predetermined relationship.
(“Chosen by God” Part 2 – John MacArthur Pages 5 & 6)

Please note that “knew” here is the Hebrew word “yada” which is used 947 times in the Old Testament, translated as “know” or “knew” 645 times in the KJV (and “known” another 105 times). MacArthur tries to say this is a special relationship of intimacy between God and His people. However, the same word is used in the following:
Genesis 19:5And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.
The exact same word “yada” is used, but cannot be translated as being anything to do with an intimate relationship at all! These men want homosexual intercourse with the angels inside Lot’s house.

Likewise note the following passages:
Judges 19:22Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him. (that is, sexually)
Judges 19:25But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her (that is, sexually), and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go.

Instead of careful Bible interpretation from these “teachers”, we get word gymnastics that appear designed to mislead rather than assist with determining the truth. The truth is simple: God uses foreknowledge to determine man’s free will decisions. Nothing could be clearer than that. And, it doesn’t lessen His sovereignty a bit; in fact, it enhances His sovereignty by allowing Him the right to choose for Himself whether or not He uses foreknowledge. Instead, the calvinist is guilty of determining on behalf of God that He may not use foreknowledge, even when His word doesn’t prevent Him from doing so! If God should allow free will decisions, and then require an accounting from every person for every free will decision made in the judgment, then that is absolute sovereignty. Every guilty person is responsible for his or her own sin, and goes to heaven or hell based upon his own responsibility. Justice and righteousness are fully accounted for when God allows free will and then demands an accounting for everything later on (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Appendix of notes from “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” (L Boettner)

Boettner teaches that we have to be saved before we can believe in Christ!
“A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved.”
(“The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” P 75)
This is clearly heresy when compared with
Acts 16:30-31 30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
It is quite impossible to be saved before believing, when you have to believe before being saved!

Now I’ll look a bit more at his other writings in this same book. In Chapter 6 he says that
“Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined.” (P 30)
So true doctrine is now determined by common sense!?! I thought we were to read the Bible for true doctrine! The Bible says the following about common sense:
Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof {are} the ways of death.
It does appear here that common sense actually can lead to death! So much for common sense being a true doctrine!

Now some more confusion! In the following Boettner describes his God as unable to foresee future events as determined by man’s free will, and thus his God must wait until man has made his free will decisions before he can act upon that information. Boettner describes such a God as “a disappointed and unhappy being who is often checkmated and defeated by his creatures.”
“A view which holds that the free acts of men are uncertain, sacrifices the sovereignty of God in order to preserve the freedom of men. Furthermore, if the acts of free agents are in themselves uncertain, God must then wait until the event has had its issue before making His plans. In trying to convert a soul, then He would be conceived of as working in the same manner that Napoleon is said to have gone into battle-with three or four plans in mind, so that if the first failed, he could fall back upon the second, and if that failed, then the third, and so on, —a view which is altogether inconsistent with a true view of His nature. He would then be ignorant of much of the future and would daily be gaining vast stores of knowledge. His government of the world also, in that case, would be very uncertain and changeable, dependent as it would be on the unforeseen conduct of men. To deny God the perfections of foreknowledge and immutability is to represent Him as a disappointed and unhappy being who is often checkmated and defeated by His creatures.” (P 31)
So a God who cannot rule with any sovereignty if man has free will is a God who has limited sovereignty, and surely not the sovereign God that I worship!

Boettner also says that the only way God can foresee free will decisions of mankind is by having already made certain what such decisions will be; that is, foreordained!
“The actions of free agents do not take place because they are foreseen, but they are foreseen because they are certain to take place.” (P 32)

Also from “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” (L Boettner)
Even the fall of Adam, and through him the fall of the race, was not by chance or accident, but was so ordained in the secret counsels of God. We are told that Christ was “foreknown indeed (as a sacrifice for sin) before the foundation of the world,” 1 Peter 1:20. Paul speaks of “the eternal purpose” which was purposed in Jesus Christ our Lord, Ephesians 3:11. The writer of Hebrews refers to “the blood of an eternal covenant,”13:20. And since the plan of redemption is thus traced back into eternity, the plan to permit man to fall into the sin from which he was thus to be redeemed must also extend back into eternity; otherwise there would have been no occasion for redemption. In fact the plan for the whole course of the world’s events, including the fall, redemption, and all other events, was before God in its completeness before He ever brought the creation into existence; and He deliberately ordered it that this series of events, and not some other series, should become actual. (P 172)

What this means is that God, not knowing what decision Adam with a free will might make, had already from the beginning of time put into place the plan of redemption. But what if Adam should choose to not sin? Thus, in order to support God’s plan of redemption, Adam needs to be made to sin. Because redemption was before God in all its completeness before time began, then the work of that redemption (that is, redemption from sin) had also to be in place from the start of time. Thus redemption is no longer the consequence of Adam’s sin, but instead God’s plan of redemption has become the cause of Adam’s sin! It would be greatly embarrassing for calvinist doctrine, if Adam didn’t sin, for then God would have prepared a solution to a problem that never existed! So God had to ensure that sin existed!

Likewise, that other great work of God put into place before time began, that list of the saved in the Lamb’s Book of Life, instead of being the consequence or result of redemption being applied to Adam’s fallen race, would then, for the calvinist, become the cause of salvation for those on that list. That is, being on that list is what saves you, not the cross of Jesus!! No longer do people have to believe in order to be saved; they are saved from the beginning in order that they might believe later! Note the quote of Boettner at the start of this appendix. “A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved.” (“The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” P 75) In fact, it appears irrelevant what you believe, as long as your name is on that list of elect!?!

The key to it is foreknowledge (“prognosis”). In order for the calvinist to change “consequence” to “cause” in redemption and salvation, God cannot be permitted to know the free will choices of mankind before they happen. If He could, then calvinism is destroyed, because if God were permitted to use foreknowledge, then redemption would be the consequence of a sinful choice by Adam, and the list of the saved would be the consequence of that redemption among the lost of Adam’s race. And salvation would be dependent upon a choice to believe in Jesus Christ as the only way, truth and life, something the calvinist consistently fights against! Calvinists must hate Romans 10:13!

Thus, for the calvinist, foreknowledge has to become no more than the knowledge of what God has already decreed should happen. (Which is just as Calvin taught!) Mankind can have no effective free will choice at all, not matter what side of the fence he’s on. And, God has now become a dictator who can only rule by force. This is satanic doctrine, based upon control, for when we see control (not regulation, which is of authority, but control) being enforced upon mankind, we also see the hand of satan and his demons who have no authority to regulate mankind, but must resort to control (force) to enforce their self-proclaimed authority.

Destroy the calvinists’ doctrine of a foreknowledge of God bound only to what He decrees, and you destroy their very foundations indeed! Their lies will bind us, but the Truth will always set us free!

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