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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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‘Foreknowledge’ is the rendering of a Greek word (πρόγνωσις, Acts 2:23, 1 Peter 1:2, the cognate verb being προγινώσκειν, Acts 26:5, Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2; Romans 1:20, 2 Peter 3:17) which occurs nowhere in the Septuagint and not very often in the NT. In the apocryphal book of Wis. it occurs three times (Wisdom of Solomon 6:13; Wisdom of Solomon 8:8; Wisdom of Solomon 18:6), always in the plain sense of ‘knowing beforehand.’ In this sense St. Paul uses the verb in his speech before Agrippa, when he tells him how his manner of life was known to all the Jews, ‘having knowledge of me from the first, if they be willing to testify’ (Acts 26:5); and in this sense also St. Peter uses it in the concluding warning of his Second Epistle when he reminds his readers of their ‘knowing these things beforehand’ (Acts 3:17).

In the remainder of the references given above it is the Divine foreknowledge which is in the mind of the Apostle, the object or objects being not facts or things but persons-these persons being objects of favourable regard-and the theme under consideration being some aspect of the Divine purpose of grace towards men. When St. Peter, in addressing the Jewish multitudes on the day of Pentecost, describes them as having by the hand of lawless men crucified and slain Jesus of Nazareth, he speaks of Him as ‘delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23). That death had been designed and planned in the counsels of eternal love, and the ‘foreknowledge of God’ had rested with satisfaction upon the Divine sufferer who had undertaken, by the sacrifice of Himself, to win redemption for men. Of the same purport is the expression used by St. Peter when in his First Epistle he speaks of the blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish and without spot, ‘who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of the times for your sake’ (1 Peter 1:20). Mere prescience in the sense of previous knowledge does not exhaust the meaning in either of the foregoing passages. Hort (The First Epistle of Peter, 1898, ad loc.) sees in the latter reference ‘previous designation to a position or function.’ And he notes the pregnant sense of ‘know’ in such passages as Jeremiah 1:5, ‘Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee’; Isaiah 49:1, ‘The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name’; and Exodus 33:12 (spoken of Moses), ‘I know thee by name, and thou hast found grace in my sight’ (cf. 2 Timothy 2:19). The pregnant sense belonging to ‘knowledge’ may well belong also to ‘foreknowledge’ (1 Peter 1:2, κατὰ πρόγνωσιν θεοῦ πατρός).

‘This knowledge,’ says Hort in his note on the expressions, ‘is not a knowledge of facts respecting a person, but a knowledge of himself; it is, so to speak, a contemplation of him in his individuality, yet not as an indifferent object but as standing in personal relations to Him who thus “foreknows” him. It must not therefore be identified with mere foreknowledge of existence or acts (prescience); or again, strictly speaking, with destination or predestination (ὁρίζω, προορίζω), even in the biblical sense, that is, in relation to a Providential order, much less in the philosophical sense of antecedent constraint,’

When we turn to St. Paul’s more exact and precise exposition of doctrine we see that ‘foreknowledge’ is still directed to poisons as its object, and also that ‘prescience,’ ‘knowing beforehand,’ is inadequate to the expression of the mysterious thought convoyed. With St. Paul ‘foreknowledge’ is the first link in the chain of the Divine purpose of grace, the first step in the spiritual history of the believer (Romans 8:29, οὔς προέγνω), ‘foreordination’ the second, ‘effectual calling’ the third, ‘justification’ the fourth, ‘glory’ the fifth and last.

‘Mere prescience [on God’s part] of human volition,’ says O. J. Vaughan, ‘leaves man the originator of his own saivation, in utter contradiction to Scripture here and everywhere. That πρόγνωσις which la made the first step in the spiritual history seems to express, not indeed so much as predetermination (which would confuse προέγνω with προώρισεν), but yet a resting of the mind of God beforehand upon a person with approval (cf. Exodus 33:12, Psalms 1:6), which can only he mentally and doctrinally severed from the second step, προώρισεν’ (St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans3, 1870, ad loc.).

That the expression is used also of Israel by St. Paul is quite in keeping with this pregnant sense: ‘God did not cast away his people which he foreknew’ (Romans 11:2). It is ‘the chosen people,’ ‘the covenant people’ (ὁ λαός), of whom the Apostle declares that God ‘foreknew’ them. Here, again, ‘foreknowledge’ is thought of as directed not to a person or a people simply, but to a person or a people in relation to a function, for Israel was ‘designated afore’ to fill that place in the purpose of God which has been theirs among the nations.

There is no ground in the teaching of St. Paul for the view that because God foreknow that certain persons would respond to the gospel call, and remain true to their first faith to the end, He therefore foreordained them to salvation. Those whom God foreknew as His own of sovereign grace, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son; but St. Paul makes this conformity to be the result, not the foreseen condition, of God’s foreordination. ‘Foreknew’ points backward to God’s loving thought of them before time began; their conformity to the image of His Son points to the realization of this thought of God and its being carried to its furthest goal in the course of time. Of any ‘foreknowledge’ by God of others than those who are effectually called according to the Divine purpose neither St. Paul nor any other NT writer has anything to say. According the teaching of the two apostles already referred to, the Divine foreknowledge represents the first step in the scheme of redemption, marking out the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world which taketh away the sin of the world, and the first movement of grace in the heart of God towards those who shall be saved.

The Patristic usage of the word takes no notice of its theological significance as we find it in St. Peter and St. Paul. Clement speaks of the first apostles being endowed with ‘perfect foreknowledge’ to enable them to hand on to approved successors the ministry and service they had fulfilled (1 Clem. xliv. 2). Hermas attributes to the Lord the power of reading the heart, and with foreknowledge knowing all things, even the weakness of men and the wiles of the devil (Mand. iv. iii. 4).

Literature.-F. J. A. Hort, The First Epistle of St. Peter. I. 1-II. 17, 1898, pp. 18, 80; Commentaries on Romans 8:29-30 by C. J. Vanghan (31870), Sanday-Headlam (5International Critical Commentary , 1902). J. Denney (Expositor’s Greek Testament , 1900), and T. Zahn (Introd. to NT, Eng. translation , 1909); C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, i [1872] 397-400, 545; A. Stewart, article ‘Foreknowledge’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) .

Thomas Nicol.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Foreknowledge'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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