In one of my recent post about mans ability to freely reject or receive salvation, titled Predestination & the Doctrine of Election – Part 2 (Salvation), I was asked the following by one, Nicholas Provan:
“Interesting, so how would you reconcile that view with the Golden Chain of redemption (as explained by most Calvinists)?”
For those who are unfamiliar with this term, it is referring to the Calvinist assertion of Romans 8:29-30 as the basis for God exclusively foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying and glorifying someone before the beginning of time.
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. 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.
I must admit, when I first read this scripture I got quite the headache trying to reconcile it with my existing beliefs; being someone that firmly believes everyone has been created with the free-will to receive the knowledge of God on the grounds that He has first revealed himself to us through his creation and his son Jesus. For days I chewed and chewed, reading over and over hoping something would click and I would finally be able to make some sense of it all. Fearing that perhaps I had been wrong all along; that maybe the only reason why I believed in God and others didn’t, was simply because He chose me over them.
So I suppose I owe an explanation of how I got here today – without reforming my faith that is. Over the years I have learned some valuable lessons when it comes to reading scripture. While many of us would like to treat the Bible as a piece of 21st century American literature, I have come to the reality that we can not approach the Bible as a superficial reading. Because the scripture is both foreign and ancient in relation to the English dialect, we must apply ourselves in a scholarly manner.
The quickest way to misinterpret a scripture is by isolating it. When seeking to understand the meaning of a passage it is necessary that we understand the context of the scripture; the surrounding body of text is often just as important to understanding a passage as the actual passage itself. That being said, I will begin my approach to Vv. 29-30 by first appealing to the preceding v.28; which I believe will ultimately offer immense insight into to understanding the rest of the chapter.
v.28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good to them that love him, to those who are called according to his purpose”
I would like to start off by addressing the second sentence in this passage, in the original Greek text it is translated word-for-word as such:
What initially stood out to me was the word – existing (eimi), which simply translates – “I am” or “to be” often used in the present tense to describes someones mood. This word eimi seems to be missing from most of the translations. When adding it into the mix of things we see the interpretation is slightly tweeked to read something like:
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good to them that love him, to those who are existing in the call which he has purposed.”
While the the language in Vv. 29-30 are often interpreted as very exclusive. we notice that the language in V. 28 is rather inclusive – implying more of a free-will. This should be a red flag, indicating something has been misinterpreted in the translation.
Now that we have some context for Vv. 29-30, I would like to introduce another valuable lesson that I have learned over the years: That is the need to define a word in its original language, because English is not the original text of the NT, we must be careful not to assume that the interpretations in our Bibles are always going to retain the original meanings of a specific word. Often times there will be several distinctly different English word used interchangeably for just one Greek word.
If your going to be doing a study, one of the best ways for defining a words true meaning is by seeing the the context that a word is used in throughout multiple scriptures. Once we begin to apply this technique we begin to manifest the original definition.
Thus let us examine the word foreknow, which in Greek is proginisko – “to know before”. Proginosko is used a total of four other times throughout the NT; no where in the scripture is this word ever used to describe a relation between someone or something that doesn’t yet exist; rather it is used to describe a literal relation to something that is already in existence. In a sentence it would go something like this; “Did you ever meet Bob? Yeah I foreknew Bob since college” no where in the Bible is it ever used to say something like “Did you ever meet Bob? Yeah I foreknew him 10 years before he was even born.”
“They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a pharisee.” we see here prognisko is being used to describe the Jews knowing Paul as a Pharisees who persecuted Christians, implying familiarity through a literal relation.
“..A lamb without blemish or defect. God foreknew him long before the creation of the world, but was revealed in the last time for your sakes” God knew Jesus long before the creation of the world, we see again the application of familiarity through actual relationship; the scripture is not saying God knew Jesus before He created him, its saying He had a relationship with Jesus before the world was created, yet He didn’t reveal him unto us until later when he appeared as the Messiah.
“And remember our Lords patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him – speaking these things in all of his letters. Some of his commandments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different. Just as they do with other scripture and this will rest unto their destruction. Therefore beloved, foreknowing this, be aware; that you will not be carried away by the error of the lawless, that you should fall from your steadfastness .” Paul is saying, now that I have told you these things you are aware of them; thus he has manifest the truth to them that they might become aware of it and guard themselves when the time comes. We see foreknown happens after you are acquainted with something or someone, not before.
“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew“ Just as the word was used in Acts to describe the Jews having foreknew Paul as a Pharisee. Its a literal relation to someone.
In light of all this I interpret proginosko in V. 29 as referring to those whom God is acquainted with through relationship, with the emphasis on being known by God. Galatians 4:9 “but now, after that you have known God, or rather are known of God” both concepts are ultimately one in the same, but the emphasis is on God being acquainted with us, in this way we are foreknown by him.
One will thus ask the question – how then do we enter into this relationship with God?
1 Corinthians 8:13 “But if any man love God, the same in known of of him”
Thus we see “to love God” is interchangeable with “to be known by God” ergo we become foreknown through loving God. We are now beginning to see a seamless harmony between V. 28 and V. 29. Ultimately God knows and enters a relationship with those who choose to love him (obey his commands). Yet how could V.29 be referring to people entering a relationship with God when it is spoke in the past tense? – you might ask.
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.. “
Isn’t God simply referring to a an act which has taken place in the past? If we turn to V.30 we notice something rather interesting “and whom he justified, them he also glorified” We see that this can’t be referring to something that has already taken place because the scripture tells us that we won’t actually be glorified until the resurrection! Then why is Paul speaking as though it has already happened?
To understand this conundrum we briefly turn our focus to the grammar of Ancient Greek: The tense of the word foreknow is aorist as opposed to the perfect or past tense (this is true of all the verbs used in Vv. 29-30), thus the verbs aren’t used to describe a past event that has already been concluded, rather it’s describing an ‘action without indicating it’s completion,’ meaning it’s dependent upon those who choose to enter into the relationship with Him. Paul is simply elaborating on V.28 by explaining the process in which all things will work to the good of those who love Him. We also know this because in the Greek text the two verses are joined by the conjunction “because”, indicating that V.29 is elaborating on V.28. Essentially, to paraphrase what Paul is saying is:
For all things work to the good of those who love God, to those who are existing in the call which He has purposed. This is true because, those who love God (aka those known by God aka proginosko) are predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son that he might be the first born among many brethren.” Paul further explains the process of how God has a plan for those who love him “for whom i did predestinate, them have I called through the Gospel: and whom I called, them I also justified through the Cross: and whom I justified, them I will also glorify on the day of my coming.”
In the proceeding V.33 we come across another interesting indication that Paul is not referring to individuals that have been saved according to the sovereign choice of God, but rather that he is speaking of all who willingly choose to follow and love him.
“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?”
In my aforementioned post I described how the word elect is used interchangeably for two different Greek words; there is eklektos and ekloge. Ekloge is used to describe those that are specifically selected out by the grace of God for a divine purpose (such as is described of Paul and Abraham). Eklektos is used to describe those who become God’s choice by freely receiving his general call which is extended to all (Matthew 22:14). The elect which Paul is mentioning in V.33 is eklektos, as opposed to the ekloge that is being used in the proceeding chapter which describes Israel’s election (Romans 9:11).
The scriptures are infallible even when it comes down to the slightest details. Thus If we apply ourselves with a open heart and honest desire to know the word of God, and in all sincerity seek the truth above all else, the revelation and knowledge of God will sing forth in harmony.