Foreknowledge of God - Interpretations

Article Index


Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

2 Peter 1:20

This chapter is going to examine how these three theologies differ in their interpretations of Scripture. The following passage in Romans has been chosen as it will easily highlight the differences in these positions.

Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Romans 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

Comparing the three interpretations of Reformed, Closed, and Open Theology on these two verses will clearly distinguish their deviations in understanding the Scriptures. The key word in these verses is going to be the word ‘whom.’ The interpretations differ in who it is that words represent. Who or what is foreknown and predestinated.

Reformed Theology interprets the verses as speaking of individuals. It is understood as being each and every saved individual that is foreknown to God by having been predestinated by him individually. Taken to its logical extreme leaves Churches that are not evangelical, no need for their ministers or individual congregants to be soul winners. But thankfully, some associated with Reformed Theology have understood the need to preach the gospel to all.

Closed Theology also asserts as Reformed, that it is each and every saved individual. Though, Closed Theology rejects predestination. It states God just knows which individuals would and would not receive the grace of God. This knowledge comes by means of God seeing all history from his position in eternity.

Open Theology is confident that the Bible not only shows but necessitates that history is flowing and the future has not yet happened, even if much of it is predetermined by God to happen. In Open Theology, men are known to God at their conception, at whatever point in history that takes place. Even though Open Theology has a record back to the fourth century it holds up under the recent discoveries of science. It has not been very long since men discovered the mystery of conception, DNA, Chromosomes, and Genes. A person’s existence begins when the two strands of DNA from their parents come together.

Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

“Before I formed thee in the belly,” not before he was in the belly! which is what Reformed and Close Theologies assume. At conception two strands of DNA come together with all the information about you in one cell. It is said that the information in the DNA would compare in size to a 12+ volume, small print, encyclopedia. At the moment of conception, you are known to God.

In accordance with this knowledge, Open Theology approaches these verses not as speaking of individuals, known or predestinated, but that both verses are referring to the group, or set, of individuals that will be saved according to his plan of salvation. The group consists of those that will of their own free will accept Christ Jesus as Saviour. At the point in history each does, they are predestinated to certain things common to all in the group.

There is a second possibility for Open Theology but more groundwork must be laid before discussing it. Lets establish the meaning of the words ‘foreknowledge’ and ‘foreknow.’

Foreknowledge is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as:

  • knowledge of an event, etc. before it exist or happens; prescience
    • Prescience is defined as; knowledge of events before they happen; foreknowledge
  • Know before hand as liable to, destined to

Foreknow is defined by the OED as:

  • To know beforehand, have previous knowledge of
  • To have previous knowledge of

This study is an advocate of the Bible establishing proper definitions if the context is unclear, and in so doing providing the proper context. In the case of the word foreknowledge we have the following:

Acts 2:23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

1 Peter 1:2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

These are the only uses of the word “foreknowledge” in the Bible. Both of the passages refer to God’s predestinated plan of salvation. It was the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” that caused the action of crucifying the Lord, i.e., God made it or the circumstances that lead to it happening. God did not see these things in the time-space continuum from eternity, he directed the flow of history. The foreknowledge is what he determined he was going to do, not what he was seeing that had already happened. In support of the meaning we have the reference use above:

Isaiah 42:9 Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.

"Before they spring forth," not something that has already happen and being seen in the future as having sprung forth, but before it happened, before it springs forth. Foreknowledge is prophecy, revealing what God is going to do. Seeing something in the future is divination, soothsaying, God condemns such, he does not see history, he makes it.

In accordance with the definitions, both historical and biblical, foreknowledge is knowledge of something in advance of it happening. Closed Theology does not represent foreknowledge but knowledge, knowledge of what has happened. Viewing all history at once is knowing what took place, not foreknowledge of something that has not but will take place. In this sense, Closed Theology's assertion that God is looking at what has happened eliminates God as having foreknowledge, so on this point, it seems that Closed Theology has to modify its teaching to be able to include biblical foreknowledge. It has to allow for knowledge of something to come that was not seen from eternity as having happened already in the future, but where God directed it to happen.

To do this might be insurmountable. It all would have had to have happened historically the first time around for God to see it all and go back a second time to know and insert in prophesy the results as what was going to happen. It is hard to see how history could have been completed and remain unchanging without the needed historical events already being there. If Closed Theology wants God to put the events in that had not happened on their own but are those things God has determined in advance need to happen, it has him steering history the first time around. Which would move Closed a lot closer to Open Theology; there would be no need for a second time around if God puts in place everything that is needed the first time.

To return to Romans 8:29-30 we see that foreknowledge is not the word used in the passage, but “foreknow.” Knowledge of something that had not existed or happened as yet, foreknowledge, is not the meaning of the passage. Although, very close in meaning the connotation is having previous knowledge of. "whom he did foreknow," is the knowledge of someone that did exist prior to the point of the passage and that person or those persons have been predestinated by God to something that he will make happen, not just being seen from eternity as something that's known to have just come about in history.

1 Peter 1:11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

The OED defines “Beforehand” as:

  • In advance
  • before this or that

Both Closed and Reformed Theology maintain that all men were foreknown to God, either by predestinating them or seeing completed history before inserting himself into it. Open Theology does not. The question is, are the Scriptures revealing that God predestinated all or simply looked ahead and then came back and inserted himself into history?

What of prayer; when God claims to answer prayer, is he actually just looking ahead to see what happen and then expecting credit for answering? Or is there in actuality no answer to prayer, but a whatever happened, happened? What of the plagues of Egypt? Did God just look ahead to see that they happened? or did he bring them about in the moment as part of his plan? How many examples are there in the Scriptures where God changes the course of history in his judgments on a man or men?

Possibly the evolutionist and science fiction writers are correct and there are multiple universes where each works things out differently and in every possible way. Are we in the one that just worked out this way?

Three possibilities have been discussed; Reformed, Closed, and Open in relation to God's foreknowledge. There is another possibility to interpreting the passages in Romans under the Open system which will be covered in the next chapter.

Print   Email