Predestination, Prescience, and Romans 8:29-30

Romans 8:29-30


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.


Amos 3:1-2


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.

7 thoughts on “Predestination, Prescience, and Romans 8:29-30”

  1. The most troubling aspect for me regarding the prescience view requires is that it requires something other than God to be the first cause in salvation. Namely, this view puts man in the driver seat. Do you think it's possible for one holding this view to not slip down a slope into open theism?


  2. Chase, I suppose the fall into open theism is possible if the person is then willing to say that God knows “possibilities” instead of absolutely certain future events. However, either way, the problem of leaving humanity in the driver's seat instead of God is still the problem of problems for me.


  3. BTW, I deleted the other comment, as it appeared to be a bit of advertising which I didn't catch at first glance. If I am incorrect, and Bill's post is not a commercial, I will be happy to apologize to Bill and re-post a similar comment (it was actually complimentary of the blog post).


  4. Well, it turns out that Bill wasn't doing any advertising–and now doesn't like me very much.

    Bill, I do apologize for misinterpreting your post. What threw me was the phrase in quotes and capitalized words. It struck me that you might be trying to send people to a web site or toward a resource. I get several such comments that I do not post, and so perhaps I am a bit overzealous in my comment moderation. I am certainly sorry for my misconstrual of your comment, and humbly seek your forgiveness.


  5. And, as promised, I will tell you that Bill said that my insights on this topic are profound, and he thanked me for the post. (Not his exact words, but this is what Bill communicated (and no, I'm not making a joke there)).


Comments are closed.