29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
1 Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:
2 “You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.
In any discussion of the biblical topic of predestination, two views are often quickly espoused regarding what predestination means. One view is what we might call the prescience view. Simply put, this view argues that God predestined people for either heaven or hell by looking down through the corridor of time, seeing their future actions with his perfect knowledge, and determining their destination based upon their future choices. Thus, the prescience view would maintain that God foresees that a person will freely choose Christ, and thus God predestines that person for heaven knowing how that person will choose.
There is another view of predestination that is not based on prescience. This view maintains that God, by his sovereign will, destines people for salvation, not based on their future choices, but based on God’s own will and purpose. This view is what might be known as the reformed view.
Occasionally, proponents of a prescience view of predestination will look to Romans 8:29-30 as evidence for their argument. They will point out that God said that those he “foreknew” he then predestined. “Obviously,” they will argue, “this indicates that God’s predestination is based on his foreknowledge of the future decisions of those he is predestining.”
However, this argument from the prescience camp is not sufficient. Looking at Amos 3:2, we can see that God can use the word “known” in a way that is different than simple intellectual knowledge. God said to Israel in Amos 3:2 that they are the only nation that he has known. In that section, God is not claiming to be unaware of other nations or of the decisions of the leadership of those nations. No, God is saying to Israel that Israel is the only one of the nations that he has chosen for himself with which to have an intimate acquaintance.
Thus, the argument that “foreknew” in Romans 8:29 must mean prescience of future decisions is not as strong as originally posited by those holding that view. There is a way in which God uses terms like “known” to indicate more than simply understanding of something. “Foreknown” simply means to know beforehand, which is perfectly in line with the reformed view that, before the foundation of the world, God chose an elect people to be his own, his intimate acquaintance.
Besides, if we look at more than the word “foreknew” in Romans 8:29, but instead include the rest of the chain of events in verse 30, we see that this pair of verses, far from arguing for a prescience view, seems to argue for a reformed view of predestination. Run the chain backward, and it becomes clear. God will glorify all whom he justifies (there is no room in the language for God losing a justified person before glorifying them). God will justify those he calls (there appears to be no option in these verses for the called not to be justified). God will call all whom he predestines (this offers no thought of god predestining all to glory). God will predestine all he foreknew (again, no indication on here of God foreknowing all but predestining only some). The only way that this verse makes sense is with the reformed view of knowing and predestining, not with a prescience view.
Without question, the biblical doctrine of predestination is a difficult one for many people, and I do not pretend to have all of the answers to all of the questions. It is clear, in my view, that Romans 8:29-30 is not a text that should be held to as a prooftext for anything other than a reformed view. There are other verses in the Bible that are difficult for reformed guys to deal with, but Romans 8:29-30 is not such a text.