How do Predestination and Foreknowledge Differ?
First, we will offer how the secular sources would define the words, which is really what the populace believes. Second, we will see what the Scriptures say about the original language words and how they are to be understood as to groups (e.g., the Israelites) and individuals (e.g., Samson, Jeremiah, Cyrus, Esau and Jacob, John the Baptist, and Judas Iscariot). When it comes to individuals, we need not look at every case, but rather just Judas Iscariot, who will be representative of them all. Below are how the world views predestination and foreknowledge and like most things, it has some aspects correct and others not so much.
The 16th-century Reformer John Calvin wrote: “We define predestination as the eternal design of God, whereby he determined what he wanted to do with each man. For he did not create them all in the same condition, but foreordains some to everlasting life and others to eternal damnation.”
Does God really ordain each of us individually ahead of time as to what our actions and our final destiny are going to be? What does the Bible really teach?
The Secular Definition of Predestination and Foreknowledge
PREDESTINATION: (1) The advance decision by God about events: in some religious beliefs, the doctrine that God, a deity, or fate has established in advance everything that is going to happen and that nothing can change this. (2) God’s decision of who goes to Heaven: in some religious beliefs, the doctrine that God decided at the beginning of time who would go to heaven after death and who would not. (3) Act of foreordaining: the human or supposedly divine act of deciding the fate of people or things beforehand.
FOREKNOWLEDGE: knowledge of something before it happens: knowledge or awareness that something is going to happen, either from information that has been acquired or by paranormal means.
The Biblical Definition of Predestination and Foreknowledge
The words generally translated as “foreknow,” “foreknowledge,” and “foreordain” (i.e., predestine) are found in the Greek New Testament, the same basic views are conveyed in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is true that God has the power of predestination and the faculty of foreknowledge. However, we need to understand foreknowledge and foreordination as they relate to God, grasping certain aspects. There are certain situations and events that take place because God has foreordained that they will (no creature in the universe can hinder these things), but it is not the case that every event must take place as it does because God has predetermined it, removing all free will. What God foreknows is because of the infallibility of his power of perception into the future, as though it were a timeline (more on this later). However, as we will see, this in no way violates our free will. In most cases, predestination has to do with groups like the Israelites and events, like the Exodus from Egypt, without foreordaining the specific individuals who will be involved in these groups or events. On the other hand, God’s foreknowledge is not limited to groups and events, as he can see the future of every living creature.
- krino (κρίνω, 2919), primarily “to separate,” hence, “to be of opinion, approve, esteem,” Rom. 14:5, also “to determine, resolve, decree,” is used in this sense in Acts 3:13; 20:16; 25:25; 27:1; 1 Cor. 2:2; 2 Cor. 2:1; Titus 3:12.
- horizo (ὁρίζω, 3724) denotes “to bound, to set a boundary” (Eng., “horizon”); hence, “to mark out definitely, determine”; it is translated “to determine” in Luke 22:22, of the foreordained pathway of Christ; Acts 11:29, of a “determination” to send relief; 17:26, where it is used of fixing the bounds of seasons. In Acts 2:23 the verb is translated “determinate,” with reference to counsel. Here the verbal form might have been adhered to by the translation “determined”; that is to say, in the sense of “settled.”
In Romans 1:4 it is translated “declared,” where the meaning is that Christ was marked out as the Son of God by His resurrection and that of others (see under declare). In Acts 10:42 and 17:31 it has its other meaning of “ordain,” that is, “to appoint by determined counsel.” In Heb. 4.7, it is translated “limiteth,” but preferably in the RV, “defineth,” with reference to a certain period; here again it approaches its primary meaning of marking out the bounds of.
- proorizo (προορίζω, 4309), pro, “beforehand,” and No. 2, denotes “to mark out beforehand, to determine before, foreordain”; in Acts 4:28, KJV, “determined before,” RV, “foreordained”; so the RV in 1 Cor. 2:7, KJV, “ordained”, in Rom. 8:29-30 and Eph. 1:5, 11, KJV, “predestinate,” RV, “foreordain.”
- epiluo (ἐπιλύω, 1956), lit., “to loosen upon,” denotes “to solve, expound,” Mark 4:34; “to settle,” as of a controversy, Acts 19:39, KJV, “it shall be determined,” RV, “it shall be settled.”
- diaginosko (διαγινώσκω, 1231), besides its meaning “to ascertain exactly,” Acts 23:15, was an Athenian law term signifying “to determine,” so used in 24:22, RV, “determine”; KJV, “know the uttermost of.”
proginosko (προγινώσκω, 4267), “to know before” (pro, “before,” ginosko, “to know”), is used (a) of divine knowledge, concerning (1) Christ, 1 Pet. 1:20, RV, “foreknown” (KJV, “foreordained”); (2) Israel as God’s earthly people, Rom. 11:2; (3) believers, Rom. 8:29; “the foreknowledge” of God is the basis of His foreordaining counsels; (b) of human knowledge, (1) of persons, Acts 26:5; (2) of facts, 2 Pet. 3:17.¶
prognosis (πρόγνωσις, 4268), “a foreknowledge” (akin to A.), is used only of divine “foreknowledge,” Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2. “Foreknowledge” is one aspect of omniscience; it is implied in God’s warnings, promises, and predictions. See Acts 15:18. God’s “foreknowledge” involves His electing grace, but this does not preclude human will. He “foreknows” the exercise of faith, which brings salvation. The apostle Paul stresses especially the actual purposes of God rather than the ground of the purposes, see, e.g., Gal. 1:16; Eph. 1:5, 11. The divine counsels will ever be unthwartable.
“Foreknowledge” translates the Greek prognōsis (from pro, before, and gnosis, knowledge). (Ac 2:23; 1 Pet 1:2) It means that God knows something before it happens, or that he has given the knowledge of this to a prophet, who now knows as well. The related Greek verb proginōskō is used two times with regard to humans. (Ac 26:4-5; 2 Pet. 3:17) It also means that someone has knowledge of something before it occurs. In Paul’s statement that all the Jews had “known for a long time” (Gr. knowing before) with him (i.e., knew him before he became a Christian), and in Peter’s reference to the “knowing this beforehand” (about false teachers who are twisting the Scriptures) had by those addressed in his second letter.
Judas, though imperfect, had lived in intimate association with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, while he was initially faithful, he turned traitor; Jesus referring to him as “the son of destruction.” (Joh. 17:12) The apostate “man of lawlessness” is also called “the son of destruction.” (2Thess. 2:3) When Jesus’ referred to Judas as “the son of destruction,” he indicated that when Judas died, there was no hope of his returning in some future resurrection. Judas would not live on in God’s memory. Here we have the Greek verb apōleto for “perish” and the Greek noun apōleias for “destruction,” “waste” “annihilation,” and “ruin.” Clinton E. Arnold writes, “The expression [“son of destruction”] can refer either to Judas’s character or his destiny. The NIV rendering “doomed to destruction” suggests the latter, though, of course, both are true. The noun ‘destruction’ (apōleia) commonly refers in the New Testament to final condemnation. … This suggests that “son of destruction” labels Judas Iscariot as part of a typology of evil personages across the sweep of salvation history seeking to thwart God’s sovereign purposes.”
John 17:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of destruction,[*] so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.
[*] Or son of perdition
Let it be made clear that God did not predestine Judas Iscariot or coerce him to act against his own free will. How do we correctly understand Judas’ freedom as it relates to God’s foreknowledge? Because God has the power to exercise his foreknowledge of everything in advance, some have suggested that it was fated prior to Judas’ birth that he would betray Jesus. In short, yes, God foresaw that Judas would betray him; however, Judas had the free will choice to change his mind at any point of such an idea entering it. If Judas had changed his mind, God would have foreseen something else. However, we must keep in mind that God is able to also foresee heart condition, heart attitude, not just events. Therefore, God would have not only foreseen the decision Judas made but also his unreceptive heart.
Let us deal with this very important issue of God’s foreknowledge, as it is, a Bible difficulty, which Christians have struggled to answer. What lies below is largely based on the work of the apologist world-renowned Dr. William Lane Craig.
Many Bible critics say, by knowing that Judas will betray Jesus hundreds of years in advance, that makes it foreordained to happen. As a result, human freedom is removed. Based on this reasoning, God foreordained even the sin of Adam and Eve, and thus they never had the free will to do otherwise. The Bible says that God is not the author of sin, but this would argue otherwise, contradicting Scripture. However, with this equation, sin is the result, not the result of Adam’s choice, but of God’s choosing, which should make us feel uncomfortable.
The best solution to this problem is to deny this equivalence, saying that foreknowledge does not equal foreordination.
Does Not =
It is better to understand it that God knows in advance what choice people will freely make. It is the free decisions of human beings that determine what foreknowledge God has of them, as opposed to the reverse.
The foreknowledge does not determine the free decision; it is the free decisions that determine the foreknowledge. In this, we can distinguish what we might call Chronological Priority and Logical Priority.
Chronological priority would mean that Event “A” [God’s knowledge], as it relates to time, would come before Event “B” [the event God foreknows]. Thus, God’s knowledge is chronologically prior to the event that he foreknows.
However, logically speaking, the event is prior to God’s foreknowledge.
In other words, the event does not happen because God foreknows it, but God foreknows the event because it will happen. The event is logically prior to the foreknowledge, so he foreknows it because it will happen, even though the foreknowledge is chronologically prior to the event.
We can see foreknowledge on this, as the foreshadowing of something. When you see the shadow of someone coming around the corner of the building, you see his or her shadow on the ground before you see the person. You know that person is about to come around the corner because of their shadow but the shadow does not determine the person, the person determines the shadow.
God’s foreknowledge is like the foreshadowing of a future event. By seeing this foreshadowing, you know the events will happen, But the shadow does not determine the reality, the reality determines the shadow. Therefore, we should think of God’s foreknowledge as the foreshadowing of things to come. Therefore, just because God will know something will happen, this does not prejudice or remove the freedom of that happening.
In fact, if the events were to happen differently, God’s foreknowledge would be different as well. An illustration of this is, like an infallible barometer of the weather. Whatever the barometer says, because it is infallible, you know what the weather will be like. However, the barometer does not determine the weather; the weather determines the barometer’s findings. Thus, God’s foreknowledge is like an infallible barometer of the future. It lets him know what the future is going to be, but it does not constrain the future in any way. The future is going to happen anyway the free moral agent wants it to happen. However, the barometer is going to track whatever direction the future will take.
Thus, those who believe that God’s foreknowledge removes the freedom of the person are mistaken. They posit a constraint upon human choices, which is really quite unintelligible. Let us use another illustration.
Suppose this is the timeline . . .
Let us place an event “E” on the timeline, i.e., Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
Let us suppose God is back here in time and by his foreknowledge (the dotted line); he knows that “E” will happen (Judas will betray Jesus). How does God’s knowledge about “E” constrain “E” from happening? How can God’s knowing “E” will occur, make “E” occur?
If you were to erase the line and say God does not have foreknowledge of the future, how has anything changed? How would “E” (Judas’ betrayal) be affected if you erased God’s foreknowledge of it? “E” (Judas’ betrayal) would occur just the same, it would not affect anything at all.
Therefore, the presence of God’s foreknowledge really does not prejudice anything about whether “E” will occur or not. Therefore, those who think that foreknowledge is incompatible with freedom are simply quite mistaken.
What we need to understand is this, if Judas (“E”) were not to betray Jesus; then, God would not have foreknown Judas’ betrayal (“E”) of Jesus because it would not have been on the timeline. In addition, as long as that statement is true, “E” being able to occur and not occur, God’s foreknowledge does not prejudice anything with respect to “E’s” occurrence.
Let us review without the “E” getting in our way of thinking it through. God can see the timeline, similar to the way that a man in a helicopter looking down on a parade. Just as the man in the helicopter can see things before they get to the spectators, so too, God can see down the timeline to things that have not taken place yet. God knew way back in Genesis 3:15 when it was prophesied that the serpent (Satan) was to bruise Jesus and that Satan’s agent for doing so was going to be Judas Iscariot.
Just because God has the ability to see down the timeline, this does not affect Judas’ free will choice that he would come to make. On this, Andreas J. Köstenberger writes, “This does not alter the fact that Judas made his decision as a responsible agent and that he will be held accountable and judged for his evil act (see Mark 14:21 = Matt. 26:24)” If we look at the diagram below, it gives us a visual aid of what God can see. Let us take persons such as myself, one who struggles with understanding deep scientific information. Just because I cannot fully understand the scientific areas of astronomy (the scientific study of the universe), this does not mean that an astronomer’s in-depth explanation of the motions, positions, sizes, composition, and behavior of astronomical objects is any less true because I am baffled. When he or she goes into an in-depth discussion of how these objects are studied and interpreted from the radiation they emit and from data gathered by interplanetary probes, I cannot just blurt out, “you are wrong” because I do not understand the how of things. However, some in science would do just that to a far more intelligent person than all of them combined, namely, God.
God has the ability to step into the timeline and tweak anything, to create a different outcome if he chooses to do so, which will then alter many future events because it will create a ripple effect in the timeline. If God were to alter anything that was already going to happen, making different choices outside of what was already going to occur in the present, it would have a ripple effect on future events. Let us use Willian Tyndale, which I believe God did step into the timeline to protect Tyndale from the Catholic Church that was hunting him down for translating the Bible from the original languages of Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) into English. Let us say that God did step in to alter things, allowing Tyndale to survive to the point of bringing us the first printed translation in 1526, it would have had an impact on all English translations that lied ahead in the future: the Coverdale translation of 1535, the Matthew’s Bible of 1537, The Great Bible of 1539, Cranmer’s Bible of 1540, the Geneva Bible of 1560, and, of course, the King James Version of 1611, and all other down to the Revised Version of 1881, the 1801 American Standard Version, the 1952 Revised Standard Version, the 1960-1995 New American Standard Bible, and the 2001 English Standard Version. Think of the impact of the English translations had the Catholic Church executed Tyndale in 1523.
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 W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 165–166.
 W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 249.
 E.g., Heb. “children of unrighteousness” becomes “children of perdition” in Isa. 57:4 LXX; the same phrase is found in Jub. 10:3.
 Heb. “the people I have totally destroyed” becomes “the people of perdition” in Isa. 34:5 LXX.
 Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: John, Acts., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 154.
 Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 494.