By Clinton D. Hamilton
Foreknowledge of God fascinates and puzzles many people. Some contend that if God foreknows anything that this foreknowledge predestinates and foreordains the thing to occur. Consequently, it is argued that if something is foreknown about a person or a group of persons, they cannot avoid the doing of it. In this situation, it is argued that the free will of man would be absent.
Others express wonderment that God could foreknow something and yet call on man to do something to ascertain whether he would do what he is asked to do. This presumes that God foreknows everything. In consideration of fore-knowledge in relation to revelation, God expects one to use the rational nature in him which is in the image of God. The reason for this is that the revelation that God has made to man is one agreeable to the reason; it is rational which is the meaning of the term logikos that is used to describe the word of God (1 Pet. 2:2). In this passage the word spiritual is the translation of logikos in the American Standard Version which I use.
The question to be considered in this article relates to the foreknowledge of God and some implications this fore-knowledge has for individuals.
Question: Did God know of Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac and that he would offer Isaac before Abraham did the actual offering? And Judas and Peter (three times) etc. If he knows, why does he express it as though he did not?
Response: In responding to the querist’s question, attention will be devoted to the meaning and significance of foreknowledge in relation to the nature and power of God, on the one hand, and the freedom of the individual, on the other hand. Implications of each of these come to bear in responding to the question. All three specific individuals mentioned (Abraham, Judas, and Peter) will be focused on in the light of what heaven has revealed about them in the instances alluded to by the querist.
Foreknow in the scriptures is translated from proginosko, which is used five times in the New Testament: Acts 26:5; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:17. Of these uses, two have reference to men. Paul said in his defense before Agrippa that the Jews accusing have “knowledge of me from the first” (Acts 26:5). Peter made certain predictions and exhorted that the brethren “knowing these things beforehand” should beware lest they be carried away with error and fall from their own stedfastness (2 Pet. 3:17).
Foreknowledge from prognosis is used twice in connection with God: Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2. Accordingly, it is used only of God, not of man. God has prescience because if he did not he could not predict future events. When God predicts and knows what will happen does this knowledge of necessity bring the conclusion that the thing predicted is thereby foreordained? This is an issue that needs to be considered also.
A term that must be considered and defined in this context is foreordain or predestinate. This term is from proorizo which means to mark out or determine before-hand. It is used six times in the New Testament: Acts 4:28; Rom. 5:29, 30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11. God determined certain things. These were within the counsel of his own will and must of necessity come to be. They depend on the omnipotence of God. Just how does man with a free will fit into this foreordination? This is a question that deserves our reflection in the light of God’s revelation.
The relation between foreknowledge and foreordination is an important one; it deserves our reflection. Again, we should be content with God’s revelation and we should not run to philosophical speculations beyond the scope of the scriptures. It appears it would be helpful to consider this issue before proceeding further with comments in response to the question.
Being omniscient, God can know everything and any-thing. To say that he cannot is to put a limit on his knowledge which would be inconsistent with the nature of Deity. That God can plan and purpose is made clear in scripture. “. . . I am God, and there is none like me; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient time things that are not yet done; saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:9-10). Assyria was the rod of God’s anger that he would send against a profane and wicked people but Assyria had another purpose in mind than being the rod of God’s anger (Isa. 10:5-11). Although Assyria was the rod of God’s anger, God said of him, “Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few” (Isa. 10:7). God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge can operate independently of the free will of a man in such a manner that God’s purpose as planned is carried out without interfering with the working of the will of the individual. This passage demonstrates this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Assyria would remove nations through conquest and devastation but his heart and purpose would be greed and self aggrandizement but at the same time the counsel of God’s will would be accomplished by Assyria’s fee will action. This is a point of revelation that must not be overlooked.
It has been shown that God can foreknow and predict; his ability to do so is without the constraint of time and the finiteness that attend men. Being able to foresee and to know how men will behave in a given set of circumstances does not cause that set of circumstances and the decisions foreseen within them to be foreordained or determined in relation to the individual or individuals involved. In that given set of circumstances, God used Assyria but independent of Assyria’s decision making process. Assyria was left to do what she would but what she chose to do worked to fulfill God’s plan. God’s prediction of Assyria destroying Israel did not foreordain it, but God was able to see the future as if it were the present or the past. If this were not the case, God’s power to foreknow would be limited.
On the other hand, God can and did foreordain or predestinate certain things to occur. The remedial work of Christ is one such thing (Acts 4:28), as is the adoption of Christians as sons of God and a heritage of God (Eph. 1:5, 11). God could foresee the character and the state of circumstances in which Christ lived and he did determine that all men were to be saved from sin by the crucified and resurrected Christ. These determinations of his were from the counsel of his will independent of those who may have participated to bring them to pass. In fact, it is said of the men who put him to death that they did it by the hands of “lawless men” (Acts 2:23). They were guilty for their lawlessness but God did not ordain their lawlessness. He foresaw it and knew that it fit into the counsel of his will. The action of the freewill of men could not thwart the purpose and plan of God but neither did his sovereignty in purposing and planning interfere with their freewill. What some men do is to set up a false proposition: God’s foreknowledge causes predestination and God’s pre-destination sets aside free will. It has just been shown from the scriptures that this is not a true proposition.
God can and did test men. It is said, “By faith Abraham being tried, offered up Isaac” (Heb. 11:17). In the Old Testament account of this after Abraham went to the designated mountain appointed by God, he was about to slay his son Isaac when God said, “Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12). Evidently, this is the account that served as the background for the question being considered.
The force and the crux of the question is that if God foreknows and knew what Abraham would do, why command him to do it or as the querist put it, “If he knows, why does he express it as though he did not?” What Abraham did here is in the plan and purpose of God to use as an example of faith for men in subsequent time. The force of the example is seen in the working of Abraham’s faith. Relating that God knew what we would do and therefore not call on him to do it would not have the powerful effect as did the actual happening. Surely, God could know what he would do. But God wanted men to have an example to follow. No doubt, the statement, “for now I know that thou fearest God,” is also in the background as the basis for the question.
By this test of Abraham, God shows to all generations the necessity of trial in the development and perfecting of faith. God had a purpose in mind for men the conveying of which could best be done in his counsel through this example of behavior. Accordingly, he chose the occasion to have Abraham demonstrate what faith is. This is how men are shown to be men of faith. To use only his foreknowledge and not the example of the behavior of the man was not the purpose and plan of God. Men are demonstrated to be people of faith when they behave as did Abraham.
Several times in the New Testament, God shows by example what was in his mind when he called on Abraham to walk by faith. The fourth chapter of Romans is a powerful one on the meaning of walking by faith; at the heart of it is the behavior of Abraham. It is said of him, “Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be. And without being weakened in faith he considered his body as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:18-21). Because he had such faith, it was reckoned to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3, 9, 22). Why the example? Listen to revelation: “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned unto him; but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:23-25)
The example of Abraham’s offering Isaac was used by James to demonstrate the meaning and significance of walking by faith (Jas. 2:23-24). The plan of God was to have this example to teach men the meaning, and the elements, of saving faith. Why should a man complain that God had such a plan? Why should man say that it was unnecessary or useless?
Judas serves as a negative example in the plan of God. His greed (Jn. 12:6) becomes a negative example to show the devastation to one’s well being that yielding to it can bring about. Surely, the Lord foreknew it was he that would betray him but the act of betraying him was in the purpose of God. Judas did the act out of his own heart and its being foreknown did not cause Judas to do it. God permitted the act to occur because there was in his purpose the plan to teach and to use Judas as an example.
Judas predicted that Peter would deny him (Matt. 26:34; Mk. 14:30; Jn. 13:38). Peter protested that he would not. He was over confident and serves as a wonderful example of this and the remorse that comes when one fails. God’s plan and purpose was to demonstrate this to men. The fact that Jesus knew what Peter would do was not the cause of his doing it; foreknowledge did not predestinate it nor did it interfere with Peter’s will to do as he desired.
Another matter should be discussed to bring some further context to the issue before us. It is obvious from Genesis 22:12 that God chose by his command to deter-mine whether Abraham feared God in not withholding his son. This suggests that in God’s purpose he sometimes decides to learn something through commands to men. In a similar vein, God chose to learn about Israel in the wilderness after they left Egypt. “And thou shalt remember all the way which Jehovah thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or not” (Deut. 8:2). To say that God must foreknow a thing is to limit His omnipotence to choose not to know except under a given set of circumstances. Must God foreknow? No. He can choose to know some other way such as to give a command and observe the response to it. He chose this means to ascertain whether Israel would keep his commandments.
Likewise, God chose to send manna and to give commandments about their gathering and eating it. In connection therewith, God said, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that 1 may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or not” (Exod. 16:4). God then gave instructions about what was to be done on the sixth and seventh days (Exod. 16:5). God chose to know their behavior by observing their response to his commandments.
Men not being deity cannot know all there is in the nature of deity except by what God reveals. His revelation makes clear that he can foreknow and predestinate without interfering with the free will of men; revelation also makes clear that God can choose not to foreknow but to observe to gain knowledge. Whether the character, nature, and behavior of God fits our preconceived notions is not the issue. What God reveals should be enough for men. “The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). May we ever have this sentiment in our hearts.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 4, p. 5-7
February 17, 1994