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.