Known and Foreknown

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.

Upon what basis does God predestine people to salvation? That the Lord predestines is beyond dispute, as the word clearly declares this time and time again. But how does he do so?

In this discussion, we have two key options. Either the Lord predestines people based on his own sovereign will, a divine mystery not available to us, or he predestines based on his foreknowledge of our actions. The Calvinist will argue that God predestines people to salvation based on his own good pleasure. The Arminian argues that God only predestines based on his foresight of who will and who will not choose him. For the Calvinist, the argument relies primarily on the biblical truth that no person can come to the Lord without the Lord sovereignly drawing that person (cf. John 6:44), bringing a dead heart to life (cf. Eph. 2:1-4). The Arminian, opposed to the concept of divine election based on God and not man, inserts the concept of prevenient grace—an argument that god has graciously moved all humanity to a neutral position so that the final decision is still left in the hands of mankind.

One common Arminian argument for a foreknowledge or prescience view of predestination comes from Romans 8:29, which says that those God “foreknew” he predestined. Some believe that this verse is suggesting that God predestined to salvation all those he foreknew—knew beforehand—that they would respond to the offer of grace in Christ. But is this what is being said? Is this the only option?

Without settling the full argument in a tiny little post, I want to point out one verse from my daily Bible reading that shows that the concept of God’s knowledge of a people is something different than simply God having intellectual awareness. In Amos 3:2, God is speaking of the nation of Israel. God says of Israel that they are the only people he has “known” of all the families on earth. I believe this concept bears strongly on whether or not the foreknowledge of Romans 8:29 has anything to do with an Arminian understanding of predestination.

What can the word “known” mean in Amos 3:2? Can it mean intellectual awareness? No. Why? God knows all things. God has intellectual awareness of all peoples. No way can God say that Israel is the only nation of which he has had intellectual awareness.

How is Israel different than the other nations? Israel is a nation that has entered into covenant relationship with the Lord. They are set apart, not because of intellectual awareness, but because of intimate, relationship-based knowing. Remember that the word for knowledge is used euphemistically for the intimate relationship of husband and wife, and you will get the point. God is saying of Israel in Amos 3:2 that Israel is the only nation that he has known, the only nation that he has taken to himself as his own.

Now return to Romans 8:29. Those whom God foreknew, he predestined. In verse 30, we see that all he predestined, he subsequently called, justified, and glorified. Thus, all the predestined are saved. Nothing breaks this chain. And we must conclude that all the foreknown are saved.

Are all human beings saved? No. only those who are predestined are saved. Are all foreknown? It depends on what foreknown means. If foreknown means intellectual awareness, then all are foreknown and should be predestined to salvation. If foreknown means intellectual awareness, then the chain is broken. And note that no language in any part of this verse says anything about foreknowledge of particular actions or choices. That concept is inserted by the Arminian.

But if the “known” in foreknown means the same as known means in Amos 3:2, that God took them to be his own, then the chain makes perfect sense. Beforehand, God chose a people to be in relationship with him. Those he foreknew, took to be in relationship with himself, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Then he called them, justified them, and glorified them without any possibility of failure.