God’s foreknowledge in Romans 8:29

At the Desiring God blog, Jarvis Williams of Campbellsville University considers the issue of how to interpret 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” (ESV):

Some argue that Paul means that God foresaw who would believe, and he therefore chose this group to believe based on his foresight of their faith. According to this reading, God’s choice to save some is based on his foresight that some would choose him first. But, in my view, this reading of Romans 8:29 does not take seriously the force with which Paul discusses God’s sovereignty in both the immediate and the remote context of Romans. It also doesn’t take seriously the Old Testament roots underneath Paul’s view of God’s foreknowledge.

In my view, God’s foreknowledge refers precisely to his predetermined decision to set his covenantal love upon a people for his glory. Foreknowledge in Romans 8:29 does not refer to God’s foresight for the following three reasons. First, the immediate and remote context of Romans 8:28–30 is strongly God-centered. That is, God’s action for God’s purposes is emphasized.

  • In Romans 8:3 Paul states that God condemns sin.
  • In Romans 8:11 God raised Jesus from the dead and God resurrects those who believe in Jesus.
  • In Romans 8:29 God predestines.
  • In Romans 8:30 God calls.
  • In Romans 8:3033 God justifies.
  • In Romans 8:30 God glorifies.
  • In Romans 8:31 God is for “us.”
  • In Romans 8:32 God did not spare his son but offered him for “us.”
  • In Romans 9:11–13 God loved Jacob and hated Esau so that God’s electing purpose would stand apart from their works.
  • In Romans 9:17 God raised up Pharaoh to destroy him.
  • In Romans 9:22–24 God created vessels of wrath and vessels of destruction.
  • In Romans 9:24–25 God calls Jews and Gentiles to be vessels of mercy.
  • In Romans 11:1–24 God hardens some Jews so that they would not be saved and includes some Gentiles within his saving purposes.
  • In Romans 11:33–36 Paul praises God for his incomprehensible ways.

A while back, Joel posted some excerpts from N.T. Wright’s commentary on Romans that made some similar points and also looked at how predestination relates to God’s character and to human actions.

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One comment

  1. That almost sounds like a promising step away from determinism, if I’m understanding correctly, which I am not at all confident I do.

    My take on the verse is along the lines of “God knew this would happen, and He has a plan”. God doesn’t constrain free will so much as eventuality. Is that what they are saying? I somehow doubt it, but I get easily disoriented from the way words are used on this topic.

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