The meaning of Proginosko in the New Testament.

24 04 2010

Q: Does the bible say that God “looked to see what we would do (choose Him) and then reacts by electing us to salvation?

At least one passage that is used to support this idea is Romans 8:29; specifically the use of the word “Proginosko.”

Romans 8:29

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.

I realize that it’s hard to untangle ourselves from our presupposed ideas about this verse’s meaning but let’s try…shall we?

Usually the reason that the word “proginosko” is taken to mean that God “looked ahead to see what we would do” is that it’s broken up into its parts. A person who believes this says it this way:

“….pro means before, and ginosko means to know…therefore it means God knows beforehand what we’d do.”

There are two problems with this:

  1. It doesn’t actually SAY that God knows what we’d DO…at the very least IF it means to “know beforehand” it only means that he knew US…not our actions.
  2. The logic of using the words constituent parts to create the meaning is a really bad way to do word studies…take for example, the word “butterfly.” You could just as easily say the following:

“…butter means a fatty condiment made from milk, and fly…a bug with wings. Therefore butterfly means a bug made out of a fatty condiment that has wings.”

Not good exegesis is it?

A much better way to figure this out is to look at how the word is used and deduce the meaning from that. In the case of our word “proginosko” it’s used 5 times.

In 2 of the times it’s used as a verb with God as the subject, it’s used in this way:

Romans 8:29
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.

Romans 11:2
God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?

One time It’s used of Jesus and God is the implied subject:

1 Peter 1:20
He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

In the other two places that this word is used, it’s used as a present tense verb denoting a previous knowledge of an event in Acts 26:

Acts 26:5
They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.

And a verbal participle in 2nd Peter where it means to “keep this in for the forefront of your mind” or “this is a priority”:

2 Peter 3:17
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

As you can see, when God is the subject of this verb, the word is never used of “actions” that men (or Jesus for that matter) do, it’s always used to denote His prior love or choosing of individuals.

Note BDAG’s definition from the Romans 8:29 passage:

* choose beforehand τινά someone Ro 8:29.

As additional support, we look at our passage from 1st Peter:

1 Peter 1:20
He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

Does this mean that Jesus’ actions were “known by God and God reacted by “making Jesus manifest””?

No, it clearly means to choose beforehand. BDAG bears this out as it also cites this passage under the same heading:

*Pass. of Christ προεγνωσμένος πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου 1 Pt 1:20.

So if you are a Christian who believes that God “looks down the corridors of time to see what we’d do” or that “God knew what we’d do and so He saved us” or something along those lines, and you use this passage as support, then my question becomes:

Will you submit yourself to the word of God and abandon this belief, or will you hang on to your presupposed idea of God being the “great reactor” rather than the Almighty God who saves people based on His will rather than the will of the creature?

Edited to add: Louw-Nida’s Lexicon also bears out the definition from BDAG:

30.100 προβλέπομαιb; προγινώσκωb: to choose or select in advance of some other event—‘to choose beforehand, to select in advance.’

προβλέπομαιb: τοῦ θεοῦ περὶ ἡμῶν κρεῖττόν τι προβλεψαμένου ‘because God had chosen ahead of time an even better plan for us’He 11:40.

It is also possible to understand προβλέπομαι in He 11:40 as meaning ‘to decide in advance’ (compare the meanings in 30.84) or ‘to provide for’ (35.35).
προγινώσκωb: οὓς προέγνω, καὶ προώρισεν συμμόρφους τῆς εἰκόνος τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ ‘those whom he had chosen beforehand, he had already decided should become like his Son’ Ro 8:29.
Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible societies, 1996). 362.




15 responses

27 04 2010

Can God know of past events on Earth that never occurred? If so, can He know some kinds of them or “all” of them?

Depending on your answer, I can make a comment on this one …

27 04 2010

That’s an interesting Q: Can God no something that doesn’t exist.

How can an event be past if it never occurred? Doesn’t an event have to have occurred to be “past”?

27 04 2010

“How can an event be past if it never occurred?”

I’m not sure … However, most Christians believe that God can know things that have never happened yet … and that doesn’t seem to pose an intellectual problem at all.

From the perspective of time, however … action A (past action which never happened) and action B (which hasn’t happened yet) are equally as “unreal”. They don’t exist.

Perhaps an easier question is if God can know the “would have happened if …”? Isn’t that an infinite number, though, as well, and equally as unreal?

I doubt there’s an answer, but it’s fun to think about.

The point is that the Bible doesn’t really seem to speak much about God’s omniscience, and I’m just wondering to what extent His “foreknowledge” goes and what we MUST assume about it.

Some believe in limited election: that is, foreknowing doesn’t mean “knowing ahead of time” but fore-planning or fore-“realizing” in terms of the election of some for some Holy, express purpose while allowing the remainder of humanity a certain freedom, if you will. The future for many remains in constant flux. You’d probably consider this too loose a definition and in conflict with God’s sovereignty, but I don’t think it conflicts with Scripture, necessarily.

27 04 2010

Ok….I think I more understand what you are saying…
Yes…I think that since “reality” is what God is upholding every second of every day….then yes…He knows possibilities…

But remember, the thrust of my study is that the word “foreknew” does NOT denote “knew ahead of time what would happen” as in a fortune teller….but only “chose beforehand” or “decided beforehand.”

I know that some change what election means, and they do that not based on the text of scripture, but because they want to cling to “mans free will” as a catagory and cannot let it go…so they invent another definition of Sovereignty, Election…etc.

14 06 2010

Hi Rob!!

A couple of points. What you’re proposing seems to be Mollinism, which proposes that God simply picked the best of all possible universes based upon which would facilitate the most salvations after considering all the possibilities.

While I would differ on many points with that position because of how it contrasts with the doctrine of Sovereignty as revealed in Scripture, I would especially like to take exception with your assertion that the future is “unreal” and “in flux”.

How does predictive prophecy work in a universe whose final destiny (as well as those of any its inhabitants) is in flux??

How does God prophesy a future which even He cannot until after it’s happened because it’s “in flux”??

There are literally billions of choices that would be outside of God’s control which would render predictive prophecy at best a guessing game along the lines of Jeanne Dixon or The Amazing Kreskin.

Scripture never demonstrates that God “fore-realizes” situations. He fore-ordains the future, and reveals to us elements of the future as evidence of His Sovereignty..

14 06 2010

thank you…you said it better than I could have done.

much appreciated brother.

25 05 2012
Lionel Rattenbury

I have been wrestling over predestination and I just want to share a few points and I would be interested in your feedback.

1. In Romans 8:29 Paul writes “For those God foreknew” he predestined.
2. God knows the existence of all men and women.
3. Paul must not be referring to all men and women because he says” for those”.
4. Could “foreknew” mean those whom God knew would have a relationship with Him.
5. Is not point 4 supported by Matthew 7:23 “I never knew you”.

26 05 2012

I thought that the idea that Proginosko was not to “know about” or to “know of” or “know beforehand” was a large part of my original post.
Did you read it all?

I’ll address your points:


I have been wrestling over predestination and I just want to share a few points and I would be interested in your feedback.

Glad to hear that you’re giving this some thought.

1. In Romans 8:29 Paul writes “For those God foreknew” he predestined.
2. God knows the existence of all men and women.

I’ll stop you right there. Proginosko doesn’t mean to “know beforehand” when God is the subject. it never does.

With that said, it invalidates your conclusion…but we’ll keep going.

3. Paul must not be referring to all men and women because he says” for those”.

Of course not, Paul is speaking of the elect.

4. Could “foreknew” mean those whom God knew would have a relationship with Him.

Well..there are a few things going on here. One; everyone has a relationship to God…some have a saving relationship, those are His elect sheep.

Second, if you mean that this whole thing just means that God “knew about” them or “knew something about” them…then no. The meaning of proginosko when God is the subject is never that he “knows about you” or “knows what you’ll do.”

The last point I’d like to make is that yes…God does know who will be saved…but the big question is….


Does God just “look ahead” and see “who will choose him?”

No…that would mean that God would take in new knowledge and we know He cannot.

The reason that God knows who will be saved is that he chose them from the foundation of the world, they are his elect sheep and he created everything according to HIS plan.

5. Is not point 4 supported by Matthew 7:23 “I never knew you”.

It would seem that you are mixing subjects. Romans 8 is about God’s elect and how they can have assurance.

Matthew 7 is about false prophets and how to recognize them.

I hope this cleared up the confusion.

15 01 2013

there are 2 reasons why God can foresee both past,present and future..
1.He is not bounded by time..he looks into the past present and future the same way..
2. because everything that happens under the sun has been foreordained/determined by God..Every human conception of decisions or willing does not come about without God’s permission..

15 01 2013
Lionel Rattenbury

Here are some honest questions I have about predestination.

What is the purpose for the word foreknew?

If it has no significance why is the word used?

How can a person be held responsible for their actions when they do not have the power or ability to receive Christ?

15 01 2013

The purpose of the word is like the purpose of any word…to convey a thought. It has as much significance as any word does.

it’s just that people “inject” an ASSUMED MEANING into it..that’s all.

As to how can a person be held responsible if God isn’t in full control of all events in time?

I’d say what Paul said to his imaginary objector in Romans 9 when he brought up that exact question:

(Paul begins by showing that God raised Pharaoh up for a purpose)

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

So God raised Pharaoh up to glorify Himself…

Paul goes on:

18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

There it is…plain as day…and here comes your question:

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

So what does Paul answer?

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—

So there you go. Basically, Paul says that God can do whatever He wants with his creation and it’s all for His glory and we have nothing to say about it.

I know that you’d like a better answer, but that’s what God’s word says about it.

2 03 2013
Dave S.

The debate on the word “Proginosko” goes on and on but what Rob won’t go into is the fact that they are seperate words because “fore-knowledge” is an attribute of God and “pre-destination” or “for-ordainment” is an act of God…that is why they are sperate words, and the red herring that Calvinists throw into the converstation is that we NON Calvinists,(for a host of 10 thousand biblical reasons by the way), don’t usually–I don’t–believe that the emphasis in for-knowledge is about “my choosing”…really!!! Christ is THE Chosen one before the foundation of the world…He’s the 1st elect ONE…the Corner Stone rejected by men…THE original ONE whom the Father was well pleased with…it’s not ultimately about ME being elect…it’s about me being found IN the ELECT ONE and Calvinism is man/ego centered on so many levels..the term”elect is used often in scripture, as you know, but the over-arching emphasis ALWAYS has to do with THE ELECT ONE, Phil 1:21 and Gal 2:20…if I had 500 pages to go into it, and the time, I would….for a small snipet of written material that exposes a “few” of the reasons why and how John Calvin ignores the hundreds of paradoxes in Scripture, to support the house of cards that is later to be formed by “theologians” called “TULIP,” read, “The Calvinism Debate” on line by David Cloud… Be a Berean and prayerfully allow the Spirit to reform and form your discernment…Don’t ever allow the imediate context of a passge to overide what th panoply of Scripture has to say on a matter…Brother Rob, I’m happy to see that your post has “Sola de Gloria.” The Solas are the best thing to come out of the Reformed Movement…
No I’m not a Molinist, Calvinist, nor an Arminiest…I would pray that I’m a “gospelist” rightly dividing the Word….and yes God does indeed elect…

Dave S.

2 03 2013

No idea what you just said and I read it twice. 😦

3 08 2014

What about Romans 1:21? I think foreknowledge does mean to know beforehand, but that doesn’t mean God chooses us based on us choosing Him beforehand. It just means He may have just randomly chose whom He wanted to love and therefore He also had a knowledge of who that person would become after that person was reborn through the power of the Holy Spirit. I think we might agree there. One thing I’ve noticed though is that many Calvinists will say that ginosko means to know intimately or love, but when I read Romans 1:21 (“For although the knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave Him thanks…) ginosko here clearly means to have a knowledge of instead of loved. When God says, “…depart from me. I never knew you…” (Matthew 7:23) the same word for know is again ginosko. So, it’s the same word in Romans 1:21 as Matthew 7:23 but the contexts are different.

But, if proginosko in Romans 8:29 means God had a knowledge beforehand of those whom He predestined then we would have to assume He has a foreknowledge of everybody else as they would have been ruled out by process of elimination based on them not choosing to love God. Everybody would have to be predestined to be conformed to the image of His son if it means foreknowledge based on man’s choosing and that’s clearly not the case.

As for the butterfly analogy, I am not a fan. If a butterfly doesn’t mean fatty condiment insect then the word preview doesn’t mean to view beforehand either based on this logic. I just think this is a bad comparison, but I agree with everything else. I’m a Calvinist myself! My only problem is that I don’t think we know enough to 100% sure that Arminians and Molinists are absolutely wrong.

Ginosko means to know and proginosko means to know beforehand. The contexts of the passages are what gives the Calvinist the more reasonable evidence to believe that proginosko means loved beforehand in these examples, but proginosko doesn’t necessarily always mean loved beforehand.

Ephesians 2:8 gives the Calvinist additional evidence to support the context of the 5 NT proginosko verses meaning foreloved in that we receive a faith that is implanted in us which allows us saving grace as the word faith here is pistis which means faith that is divinely implanted. John 6:44 and Matthew 11:27 give the Calvinist more support as well. Lastly, I too am a gospelist. I’m just more of a Calvinistic gospelist instead of an Arminian gospelist.

2 05 2016

I am a Calvinist. However, Romans is a letter and it has to be read within the context of a letter. This was written around 56AD, a couple of years after the Jews were allowed back into Rome after being kicked out in 40AD. When they came back they were basically blown away about how many Gentiles were a part of the Church and conflict arose from there. That is why Paul throughout his letter is addressing the Jews and the Greeks, the Jews and Gentiles, the cultivated olive tree and the wild olive tree that is being grafted into the cultivated one. This letter is about how all are under sin and under The Law (Jews have the Law, Gentiles Law in their hearts). That now God has fulfilled his promise that the Gentiles are a part of Israel, God’s covenant people. That why Paul says that not everyone who is born of Israel according to the flesh is of Israel but only those of the promise. However, some of Israel is cut off for their unbelief only for a time, to make them jealous, because ALL of Israel will be saved (second coming). I hold the Calvinist view of Romans 8:28-30. However, as I continue to read Romans as a letter I begin to wonder if “those whom He foreknew” is pertaining to the Nation of Israel because he mentions in Chapter 11 that it was Israel.

Think about it, in the OT both the southern and northern kingdoms were guilty of idolatry when taken into captivity. However, the southern kingdom repented and return to Jerusalem. The northern kingdom did not, therefore God cut them off, divorced them, they lost their identity as Jews and as Israel. They became GENTILES. This was done according to God’s sovereignty, will, and good pleasure to fulfill his promise that the pagan Gentiles would be His people. Romans is the explanation of this! Now the wild olive tree is being grafted into the cultivated olive tree. Jesus even said to his disciples that he came for the “lost sheep of Israel.” The lost sheep is in reference to the northern kingdom. He even said this when a Samaritan woman was running to approach him and the disciples. The parable of the prodigal son makes even more sense when read within this context.

So what he those whom he foreknew was Israel (lost sheep/Gentiles) to become conformed to the image of Christ because we already know that Israel (southern Kingdom) had The Law and that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law. Therefore, through the lost sheep being grafted back into the olive tree, Gentiles now can be part of the covenant community of Israel through Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son (by grace), that whosoever would believe in him would not perish, but have eternal life (through faith).

– Sean

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