Romans 8:29 and God’s “Foreknowledge”
First, although the etymology of the word “foreknow” in both Greek and English suggests that it can mean “know beforehand,” the New Testament usage of the word and its cognates does not appear to conform to this general usage. Douglas Moo observes that of the six times “foreknow” is used in the New Testament, only two mean, “know beforehand.” The other four uses, all of which have God as their subject, do not refer to intellectual cognition (“know before”), but refer rather to “choosing, determining, or entering into relationship, before” (Romans, Douglas Moo, 532).
Secondly, the verb ”foreknow” in Romans 8:29 only has a simple personal object. Paul does not say that God knew something about us (namely, that we would exercise personal faith in Christ), but that he knew us. This seems to tie in with the Old Testament sense of “know:” (Moo, 532-533). God set his love upon particular people and predestined them to salvation before they were born (see Ephesians 1:4). Thirdly, the word “faith” is not used in this passage—that “foreknow” is referring to faith must be implied.
Finally, to maintain “foreknow” in this passage refers to God’s knowledge of one’s faith fails to recognize the thrust of Romans 8:1-39 as a whole. This passage is meant to deliver comfort to Christians by declaring to them the glorious truth that their salvation is secure and cannot be lost because it is tied unassailably to God’s eternal purpose to save sinners. Regarding this purpose, Tom Schreiner writes,
God’s unstoppable purpose in calling believers to salvation cannot be frustrated, and thus he employs all this to bring about the plan he had from the beginning in the lives of believers…the good realized is not due to fate, luck, or even the moral superiority of believers; it is ascribed to God’s good and sovereign will (Romans, Schreiner)
Upholding the concept of “foreseen faith” in Romans 8:29 weakens the force of the assurance this passage is designed to deliver since it introduces the idea that salvation is not wholly a divine work, but depends, in some measure, on the person chosen. Salvation is no longer God’s work from beginning to end—a truth it appears Paul is laboring to refute in Romans 8:1-39.
Next: A Biblical and Theological Defense of Unconditional Election, Continued.