NOTICE: This commentary has been updated, expanded and reblogged HERE
Many have reduced the interpretive options of the term ‘foreknew’ in Roman 8:29 to either the classical Arminian concept of “foreseen” or the Calvinistic concept of “foreordained.”
Foreseen = God saw through the corridors of time who would believe and chose those individuals based on their “foreseen faith.” (Classical Arminian)
Foreordain = God set his love on certain unconditionally pre-selected individuals before the world began (“foreloved”) and effectually works to change their hearts so that they want to come to Him for salvation. (Calvinist)
But there is a third and much simpler option that is often overlooked in some modern theological circles :
Formerly Known (known before) = As in Romans 11:2, Paul is simply referring to saints of old in former times who loved God and were known by Him. Paul said, “The man who loves God is known by God” (1 Cor. 8:3). And men like Elijah and those who refused to bow a knee to false gods did love God and thus were known by him in the past. They were foreknown (previously known) by God, as in they had an intimate personal relationship with God in the past. There is no reason to add all the esoteric theological baggage of God looking through corridors of time or making arbitrary “sovereign” choices about who He will and will not love before the world began.
In his work, The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom, Dr. William Lane Craig references the word study of Drs. Rodger T. Forster and V. Paul Marston, God’s Strategy in Human History (with a recommendation by the notable F.F. Bruce). They argue:
“God ‘foreknew them’ or ‘knew them of old‘ thus it does not mean that God entered in some former time into a relationship with the Israelites of today, it, means that he entered a (two-way) relationship with the Israel that existed in early Old Testament times, and he regards the present Israelites as integral with it.”*
Dr. William R. Newell was one of the greatest Bible teachers of his day. A friend and colleague of D.L. Moody and R.A. Torrey, he taught thousands of people as a Bible teacher in Moody’s Bible college. His book, Romans Verse by Verse, discusses that God “had acquaintanceship” with the Israelites of the past. So, it was not “mere Divine pre-knowledge” of certain individuals, but a real intimate “pre-acquaintanceship.”*
Take an objective look at this perspective and give it fair hearing before you dismiss it out of hand. Many exegetes and scholars in the past held to this view, but it has been buried under the all too popularized Arminian/Calvinistic debate over the last 3 to 4 hundred years in our Western culture. (See quotes from other scholars at the bottom of this page.)
Below is a re-blog of my commentary over Romans 8 with a number of updates and revisions.
COMMENTARY ON ROMANS 8:28-39
By Dr. Leighton Flowers
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
The Greek verb οἶδα (oida), translated as “we know,” is a perfect active indicative form of the verb, meaning “to observe and therefore perceive.” The perfect tense indicates past completed action with continuous results. Paul is literally saying, “we have observed and therefore we know.” This is not intuitive knowledge, but that which comes from observation of the past.
Paul is saying that we know from observation of God’s past dealings with those who love Him that He has a mysterious way of working things out for the greatest good. By observing the stories of the saints that have gone before us, those called to accomplish His redemptive purposes, we can rest in knowledge of this truth. God can take whatever evil may come our way and redeem it for good. We can know this because He has been doing it for generations.
So, Paul is not merely saying that his readers should intuitively know how God works things out for those who love him. He is saying we know what is true of God today (reflected in the present tense of verse 28) by observing what He has done in the past for those who loved Him (reflected in the aorist/past tense of verse 29-30). We have a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us (Heb. 12:1), giving evidence of God’s trustworthiness toward all who enter into a covenant with Him.
A simple survey of the verses leading up to this point reveals that Paul is reflecting on the problem of the evil and suffering in our world since the beginning:
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:20-22, emphasis added).
Notable New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, comments on Romans 8:28-30, saying in part:
“[This passage] is a sharp, close-up, compressed telling of the story of Israel, as the chosen people, whose identity and destiny is then brought into sharp focus on Jesus. Jesus, in a sense, is the one ‘chosen one.’ But, then that identity is shared with all of those who are ‘in Christ.’ And he [Paul] isn’t talking primarily there about salvation. He is talking primarily about the way God is healing the whole creation. There is a danger here. What has happened in so many theological circles over the years is that people have come to the text assuming that it is really saying how we are to get to heaven, and what is the mechanism and how does that work. And if you do that, interestingly, many exegetes will more or less skip over Romans 8:18-27, which is about the renewing of creation…”
In verse 28 the focus shifts to providing comfort for those in suffering by reminding them to observe God’s dealings with others who loved God throughout history. Notice that this truth is not applicable to everyone. It is specifically an observation of those who “love God,” or as Wright noted, “those who are in Christ.” The point is not that God causes everything for a good purpose, but that God redeems the evil for a good purpose in the lives of those who love Him. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to use this passage to support the concept of divine meticulous determinism of all things. Again, God does not cause the evil for His purposes, but instead He redeems the evil for a good purpose. As John MacArthur explains:
“But God’s role with regard to evil is never as its author. He simply permits evil agents to work, then overrules evil for His own wise and holy ends. Ultimately He is able to make all things-including all the fruits of all the evil of all time-work together for a greater good.”
The focus of the Apostle’s observation is on the saints of old, those from the elect nation of Israel who were called to fulfill God’s plan to redeem His creation from its groans and sufferings. This does not mean that the truth being revealed is not applicable to those of other nations. Rather, it means that what is proven to be true of God by observing His dealings with those called out from Israel throughout history must also be true of anyone who comes to follow and love the God of Israel.
Consider this example. A new Pastor is called to a church. The staff members are nervous about his leadership style and how they might be treated, but a reference who knows the Pastor might reflect on his past relationships in order to ease their fears. The Pastor’s reference might say something like, “I have observed this Pastor’s dealings with the staff members he knew before, and he has always worked to lovingly support anyone who gets behind the vision and direction of the church.”
By reflecting on this Pastor’s history, the new staff can know what to expect in their future dealings with him. So too, Paul is giving a divine reference of sorts by reflecting on the trustworthiness of God in His dealings with the saints of old so as to ensure his readers of what they may expect of Him.
29 For those whom He foreknew,
Notice the shift from the present to the past tense. Here the Apostle clearly reveals his focus on the saints of old, “those whom He foreknew.” Paul is seeking to provide evidence of a truth in the present (v. 28) by reflecting on God’s faithfulness to those beloved who were “known before” in the past (vs. 29-30). Paul is providing a reference, of sorts, to ease the fears of those who are just now coming to faith. This point continues to be the Apostle’s focus for the next three chapters.
Much debate centers on the meaning of the word προγινώσκω (proginōskō), but many of the most popular authors fail to recognize all the available options for consideration. For example, Dr. John Piper, a notable Calvinistic Pastor, lists only two options for interpreting this verse:
“Option #1: God foresaw our self-determined faith. We remain the decisive cause of our salvation. God responds to our decision to believe.
Option #2: God chose us — not on the basis of foreseen faith, but on the basis of nothing in us. He called us, and the call itself creates the faith for which it calls.”
Piper seems to overlook the most basic meaning of this term, which is “to know before” or to have known in the past. The same Greek word is used in 2 Peter 3:17, which states,
“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men…”
And in Acts 26:4-5 the same word is used:
“So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.”
Clearly, this word can be understood simply as “to know someone or something in the past,” as in those “known previously” (i.e. the saints of old). So, if Paul means to use the word proginōskō in this sense, then he is simply saying, “Because we have seen how God worked all things to the good for those whom He knew before, we know that He will do the same for those who love and are called by Him now.”
Calvinists contend that the word “foreknew” is equivalent to “foreloved.” That use of the word generally fits this application given that the Israelites of the past who loved God would have certainly been loved by God before (i.e. “foreloved”). Of course the Calvinistic application is different in that they insist this passage is about God setting His effectual saving love upon certain individuals before the foundation of the world to the neglect of the rest. Calvinists will go to great lengths to show that God did not merely “foresee” (by “looking down the corridors of time”) the behavior and choices of the elect, but that He knew them intimately and set His effectual love on them before the foundation of the world.
This argument may serve to address the classical Arminian approach (Piper’s first option), but it fails to address the approach being advocated here. “Foreloved” is a viable and even likely meaning of the term proginōskō, yet it does not tell us who may be the intended target of that divine love. Is it a group of people out of the mass of humanity preselected to be effectually saved in the mind of the Apostle? Or, is it simply those of the past who God has known and faithfully cared for throughout the generations?
He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son,
Who was “predestined” and to what ends were they predestined according to this passage? Remember the point of the Apostle leading up to this verse. He began speaking about the futility and suffering that has come into this world due to the fall of humanity into sin (vs. 20-22). And in verse 28 he provides comfort by reminding his readers of the trustworthiness of God for those who have loved him throughout the generations. Paul is reminding his readers that God will redeem the suffering and evil for a good purpose in their lives just as He has done in the lives of those known and loved throughout the previous generations. It is these who God previously knew, Israelites who loved God in the past, who were predestined to be conformed into the image of Christ so as to make the way for His coming. God planned to accomplish salvation for those who were previously known and loved (i.e Abraham, Moses, David), by conforming them into the image of the very One coming to purchase their redemption. This is the ultimate example of God causing “all things to work together for good” to those saints of old who loved and were called by God. Paul is saying that God “worked together” the redemption of their souls and He will do the same for whoever loves Him. As N.T. Wright puts it:
“Here is the note of hope which has been sounded by implication so often since it was introduced in 5:2: hope for the renewal of all creation, in a great act of liberation for which the exodus from Egypt was simply an early type. As a result, all that Israel hoped for, all that it based its hope on, is true of those who are in Christ.”
so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
Consider the fact that he is speaking about what Christ “would be,” which suggests that Paul still has the saints of old in focus here. Why would Paul speak of future generations being conformed to the image of Christ so that He “would be the firstborn of many brethren” if He was already the firstborn prior to this discourse?
In Greek “proto” means “first” and when you add “tikto” it gives us “firstborn” (πρωτότοκος) and that is what we find here and in Colossians 1:15, 18; Luke 2:7; Hebrews 1:6, 11:28, 12:23 and Revelation 1:5. The term can simply be in reference to the one who is first to be born in a family (Luke 2:7), which carries much significance in the Jewish culture. Often the birth right given to the first born son signified a place of pre-eminence, by which he would receive the father’s inheritance and blessing. For instance, in Psalm 89:20, 27 it says, “I have found David My servant; with My holy oil I have anointed him . . . I also shall make him My first-born,” (NASB). As you can see, David, who was the last one born in his family, was called the firstborn by God. He was given a place of pre-eminence.
Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16). He is the firstborn son of Mary (Luke 2:7). But, most significantly, He is also God in flesh (John 1:1, 14) and thus the pre-eminent one in all things. The description “first-born of all creation” speaks of Christ’s preexistence as the eternal Creator (John 1:10). God created the world through Christ and redeemed the world through Christ (Hebrews 1:2-4). The former speaks of his eternal nature and the latter of His temporal role as the redeemer of the world.
The phrase [firstborn] expresses Christ’s sovereignty over creation. After resurrecting Jesus from the dead, God gave Him authority over the Earth (Matthew 28:18). Jesus created the world, saved the world, and rules the world. He is the self-existent, acknowledged Head of creation. 
Yet, even when speaking of our pre-existent Lord, the biblical authors addressed him as “becoming” or “fulfilling” his role as our Messiah within the temporal world. For example the Psalmist writes, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27). For the Old Testament saints the firstborn Savior is a reality that is yet to come. The long awaited Messiah is a future hope not a past completed reality.
A modern day preacher would not teach, “He [God] will make him the firstborn” as the Psalmist did in the 89th chapter, because we understand him to have already fulfilled that role in his coming as the firstborn of the virgin Mary. Likewise, a modern day preacher would not say that we are being conformed to Christ’s image “so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren,” because we know Him to already be the firstborn of many brethren, the Messiah Incarnate!
Our being conformed or sanctified today has nothing to do with the future coming of Christ’s birth, whereas the saints of old were part of His very lineage. It is through the life of men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and many other saints of old that Christ is brought into this world “so that He would be the firstborn of many brethren.”
It seems very likely that Paul is reflecting on God’s redemptive purpose being accomplished through those who loved God in former generations. That redemptive purpose included the bringing of the Messiah into this world through Israel (Rom 9:4-5), or more specifically those Israelites set apart for that noble purpose (Rom. 9:21). This was God’s “predestined” plan of redemption, which was brought to pass through those “who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (vs. 28). As Pastor and author Tim Warner describes:
“Paul was not referring to some prior knowledge in the mind of God before creation. Nor was He speaking about predetermining their fate. He was referring to those whom God knew personally and intimately, men like Abraham and David. The term “foreknew” does not mean to have knowledge of someone before they were conceived. The verb “proegnw” is the word for “know” (in an intimate sense) with the preposition “pro” (before) prefixed to it. It refers to having an intimate relationship with someone in the past…Literally, we could render Rom. 8:29 as follows: “For those God formerly knew intimately, He previously determined them to be conformed to the image of His Son.” The individual saints of old, with whom God had a personal relationship, were predestined by Him to be conformed to the image of Christ. That is, God predetermined to bring their salvation to completion by the sacrifice of Christ on their behalf.” 
(See the notes at the bottom of this article for quotes of other scholars who held to this perspective: Newell refers to “pre-acquaintenceship” and Forster/Marston used the phrase, “knew them of old.” )
30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Notice the Apostle’s use of the past tense in this verse. If Paul is intending to speak about the future salvation of every elect individual why would he use all these past tense verbs? Paul, when writing these words, had not yet been glorified, and his readers certainly had not been glorified yet, so why use the past tense of the word “glorified?” There is no reason to assume he has in mind the future glorification of all believers.
Once again, Paul is clearly referencing former generations of those who have loved God, those called to fulfill His redemptive purpose, those He knew and loved in the past generations, those predestined by God to be made in the very image of the One to come, “the firstborn of many brethren” (something already completed in the past through the working of God in former generations). These are the individuals who He called, justified, and who now, even as Paul is writing these words, are already “glorified” in the presence of God.
This truth is more clearly stated in Hebrews 9:15:
“And for this reason He [Jesus] is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, so that those having been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
The Greek word “κεκλημενοι,” is a perfect passive participle which literally translated means “having been called.” This clearly refers to those in the past with whom God had a personal loving relationship. So too, Paul in Romans 8 is using the past tense verbs to indicate his intentions. Nothing in these passages is meant to introduce a “golden chain” of irresistible salvation for certain preselected individuals throughout all of human history. That meaning has to be eisegetically read into the text.
Due to the use of the past tense verbs, Calvinists are forced to do some textual gymnastics in order to maintain their interpretation of Paul’s intent. For instance, one notable Calvinistic commentary states:
“And all this is viewed as past; because, starting from the past decree of ‘predestination to be conformed to the image of God’s Son’ of which the other steps are but the successive unfoldings—all is beheld as one entire, eternally completed salvation.”
Calvinists are forced to interpret Paul’s use of the past tense as meaning “it is as good as done because it is predestined.” But the text never says this is Paul’s intention. The Calvinistic commentator should take into account Paul’s usage of the same term earlier in the chapter as a future tense hope for believers. For example, notice Paul’s reference to the future glorification in Romans 8:17:
“…and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
He does not speak of glorification as a past-completed action in reference to the believers in his day. In fact, he seems to qualify their being glorified upon the condition that they persevere through the suffering that is to come. If it is “as good as done” due to God’s predetermination, then why would Paul make such a qualification and use the future tense of the same verb? Further, Paul goes on to speak of the eager expectation of the glorification that is to come in verses 22-25:
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”
Are we to believe that Paul shifts from speaking of glorification as a future hope for those who persevere, to speaking of it as a past and already completed action even for those who have not yet been glorified? Or could it simply be that Paul has the saints of old still in full view as he makes his case for the trustworthiness of God throughout all generations? This certainly seems to be the simplest and most basic understanding of the Apostle’s words in this context.
Paul clearly intended to communicate that those who loved God, those who God previously knew in times past, were predestined by God to be conformed into the image of the One to come through them, the “firstborn of many brethren.” Paul is giving a brief history lesson of what God had done in former generations as a reference for God’s trustworthiness for all who come to Him in faith. N.T. Wright explains it this way:
“The creation is not god, but it is designed to be flooded with God: the Spirit will liberate the whole creation. Underneath all this, of course, remains christology: the purpose was that the Messiah “might be the firstborn among many siblings” (8:29). Paul is careful not to say, or imply, that the privileges of Israel are simply “transferred to the church,” even though, for him, the church means Jews-and-Gentiles-together-in-Christ. Rather, the destiny of Israel has devolved, entirely appropriately within the Jewish scheme, upon the Messiah. All that the new family inherit, they inherit in him.”
Those who object to the suggestion that Paul’s use of this passage is limited to the beloved of Israel should consider the following:
“But as for Israel He says, ‘All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’ I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” (Rom. 10:21-11:2)
Once again Paul uses the term proginōskō in reference to God’s intimate relationship with the faithful Israelites of old. Paul goes on to make his case:
“Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (Rom. 11:2-4)
Elijah and those who refused to bow a knee were among the ones who were previously known by God. To “foreknow” (or even “forelove”) refers to God’s intimate relationship with people who loved Him in the past (like Abraham referenced in Rom. 4:22-5:5). There is nothing in this or any other text that supports the concept of a mystical pre-selection of certain individuals out of the mass of humanity in eternity past. No other passage in scripture supports that meaning of the term “foreknow” in reference to the Israelites who were in covenant with God. It always can simply be interpreted as in reference to those known by God in former times.
So, to return to our analogy above, the Pastor had former staff members whom he intimately knew and loved. The new staff would be comforted to know of the Pastor’s prior dealings with those formerly known and loved. Likewise, those being “grafted into” covenant with the God of Israel for the first time (i.e. the Gentiles) would be thrilled to learn of God’s faithfulness to those He formerly knew and loved (i.e. men like Abraham and David, etc.). The rest of this passage falls right in line with this interpretation:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If God was so trustworthy and faithful to those who loved Him in the past then who can stand against those of us who love Him today? If God did this for the Israelites of old, those who He formerly knew, then we can rest assured this is a God we can trust. He will stand with us. He will work all things together for our good too. And nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate those who love God from “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Suddenly, the objector in Paul’s mind asks a question: “Paul, you have made a good case regarding God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in the past, but what about the Israelites today? Have God’s promises for Israel failed? Why are the Israelites today refusing to accept their own Messiah?”
The Apostle sets out to answer these very questions in chapters 9-11.
For commentary on Romans 9 CLICK HERE.
 Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, #1492
 N.T Wright in a question and answer session at Oklahoma Christian University on April 1, 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKwIijhZW-M
 John Piper, Sermon: “Foreknown by God” Quoted from: http://www.desiringgod.org/labs/foreknown-by-god
 Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary http://biblehub.com/commentaries/jfb/romans/8.htm
 http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Romans_Theology_Paul.pdf (pg. 20)
Other scholars who give credibility to this perspective:
The notable apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig, writes, “In certain cases, proginosko and prooraomean simply that one has known or seen (someone or something) previously. For example, in Acts 26:5 Paul states that the Jews had previously known for a long time the strictness of his life a Pharisee, and in Acts 21:29 Luke mentions that the Jews had previously seen (proorao) Trophimus in Paul’s company. This sense is probably operative in Romans 11:2 as well, where Paul states of apostate Israel that “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew [proginosko],” that is, who he had previously known in an intimate way. Similarly, when Peter warns his readers of the danger posed by heretics’ twisting the Scriptures he commands them “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand [proginosko], beware….” (2 Pet. 3:17). What they know is not the future, but some present danger which might possibly confront them in the future as well.” From: The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom.
Dr. Craig references the word study of Drs. Rodger T. Forster and V. Paul Marston. Dr. Paul Marston is a senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire. In his book co-authored with Forster, God’s Strategy in Human History (with a recommendation by the notable F.F. Bruce), they argue “God ‘foreknew them’ or ‘knew them of old‘ thus “it does not mean that God entered in some former time into a relationship with the Israelites of today, it, means that he entered a (two-way) relationship with the Israel that existed in early Old Testament times, and he regards the present Israelites as integral with it.”
In a footnote on page 255, the authors combat the typical Calvinistic presumption that “to know” must mean “to choose.” They write, “Wenham [a Calvinist] (1987) again substitutes ‘chosen’ for ‘know’ in Genesis 18:19, and in support of ‘know’ in the sense of to ‘choose, elect’ puts ‘cf Amos 3:2; Exod. 33:12, 17; Deut. 34:10; 2 Sam. 7:20.’ This is even more bizarre than the usual proof text–since the reference is God’s knowledge of Moses ‘face to face’ and David’s close relationship with God. How any of them are supposed to mean ‘chose’ is a mystery to us… Bluesman in Kittel (a standard theological word dictionary)…rightly asserts (contra Wenham) that Deuteronomy 34:10 means “to have a confidential relationship with another person. [Calvinistic exegetes] do not tell us how to make sense of having a relationship with someone (not with an idea about someone) before they exist.”
More can be read HERE.
Dr. William R. Newell was one of the greatest Bible teachers of his day. A friend and colleague of D.L. Moody and R.A. Torrey, he taught thousands of people as a Bible teacher in Moody’s Bible college. His book, Romans Verse by Verse, discusses that God “had acquaintanceship” with the Israelites of the past. So, it was not “mere Divine pre-knowledge” of certain individuals, but a real intimate “pre-acquaintanceship.” Read more HERE.
John Chrysostom’s commentary (AD 400) is the earliest surviving exposition of this passage of which we are aware. His view agrees with ours regarding the use of Old Testament examples to demonstrate Paul’s point. Chrysostom viewed the “glorification” as being something already accomplished in the past.
“Doubt not then about the future. For he showeth even upon other grounds His concern for us by saying, that things were foreordered in this way from the beginning. For men have to derive from things their conceptions about them, but to God these things have been long determined upon, and from of old He bare goodwill toward us, he says. “Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified.” Now He justified them [past tense third person] by the regeneration of the laver. “And whom He justified, them He also glorified” by the gift, by the adoption [something already bestowed upon Israel, cf. Rom. 9:4] … See how really no one is against us! For it was this which gave new luster to Job, the fact that the devil was in arms against him. … For since God was for him, even things seemingly against him all became for him. And this happened with the Apostles also, inasmuch as both the Jews, and they of the Gentiles, and false brethren, and rulers, and peoples, and famines, and poverty, and ten thousand things were against them; and yet nothing was against them.”12
John Chrysostom believed Paul was referring to past examples when He wrote that God has predestined, called, justified, and glorified those whom He knew previously, giving Job as one example.<link>
Back in the late 1800s, W.T. Moore, Ph.D. was the Dean (and later became the President) of The Bible College of Missouri. He was a scholar and well versed in Greek grammar. He translated Romans 8:28-29 in the same manner I have presented above. He writes, in part:
It is well known that the passage has frequently been a sort of battle ground for Calvinistic and Arminian pugilists the former contending that the doctrine of foreordination and election as generally understood is practically set at rest by this great proof text. Now I have no hesitation in saying that the passage, when properly understood, makes no reference at all to anything involved in the controversy between Calvinists and Arminians. On the other hand it teaches one of the most precious loving tender and practical lessons to be found anywhere in the word of God…
It should be noticed that all this foreknowing, foreordaining, calling, justifying and glorifying is in the past tense Greek aorist and has no reference whatever to the future. The apostle speaks of every act as something already accomplished and makes no reference whatever to the fact that what was done was in the counsels of God before the world was. Every Greek scholar knows that the aorist tense expresses an action as completed in past time but leaves it in other respects wholly indeterminate. Hence the exact particular time referred to in the present case must be determined by other considerations than the force of the aorist tense. The only thing that the aorist fixes with absolute certainty is that there is not even a hint in the passage that refers to the future except so far as the lesson of the past is an assurance with respect to the future. What then is the true meaning of foreknow (or proegnoo) as it is in the Greek. The Greek is from proginosko and this word is found only five times in the New Testament while the noun prognosis is found only twice… .
There are only two references to proginosko in Romans. One in the passage we have under consideration and one in chapter 11 verse 2. In the latter passage the meaning is perfectly clear if we substitute foreacknowledge or foreapproved and this harmonizes exactly with the meaning we have given to the word in Romans 8:29. Our conclusion therefore is that in the latter passage as well as in the former the apostle is referring to a long line of worthy saints whom God, under former dispensations, had acknowledged or approved, and having approved them, He marked them out, called them, justified them and made them glorious.
Some of these old heroes are mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews who through faith were able to triumph over all opposing influences because God was with them and sustained them in all their trials. To sum up the whole case, this foreknowledge of God is simply his acknowledgment of real historic characters whose faithfulness in the past is referred to as proof that even now all who love God will secure his help and final victory provided they continue in the grace which God has so abundantly provided. This view at once lifts the passage entirely out of the region of theological controversy and makes it one of the most practical and comforting Scriptures to be found in the Bible. In the ascending scale of the apostle’s great argument this reference to God’s faithfulness toward his ancient saints is placed next to the climax and is therefore evidently regarded by the apostle as a strong reason why the saints should in all succeeding generations have confidence in God’s providential care however great the trials may be to which they are exposed. For if God did not forsake the saints of the patriarchal and Jewish dispensations or those whom He acknowledged under those dispensations neither will he forsake those whom He acknowledges or approves under the Christian dispensation and if He is for us who can be against us. Surely we shall come off more than conquerors through Him who has loved us and given Himself for us. <link>
Tertullian (155 – c. 240 AD) was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy, including contemporary Christian Gnosticism. Tertullian has been called “the father of Latin Christianity“and “the founder of Western theology.”<link>
Though Tertullian did not provide a commentary about Romans 8 specifically, he did address the doctrine of foreknowledge (or what he refers to in this passage as “prescience”). I have emboldened some of the most pertainant information:
Now then, ye dogs, whom the apostle puts outside, and who yelp at the God of truth, let us come to your various questions. These are the bones of contention, which you are perpetually gnawing! If God is good, and prescient of the future, and able to avert evil, why did He permit man, the very image and likeness of Himself, and, by the origin of his soul, His own substance too, to be deceived by the devil, and fall from obedience of the law into death? For if He had been good, and so unwilling that such a catastrophe should happen, and prescient, so as not to be ignorant of what was to come to pass, and powerful enough to hinder its occurrence, that issue would never have come about, which should be impossible under these three conditions of the divine greatness. Since, however, it has occurred, the contrary proposition is most certainly true, that God must be deemed neither good, nor prescient, nor powerful. For as no such issue could have happened had God been such as He is reputed-good, and prescient, and mighty-so has this issue actually happened, because He is not such a God. In reply, we must first vindicate those attributes in the Creator which are called in question-namely, His goodness and foreknowledge, and power. But I shall not linger long over this point for Christ’s own definition comes to our aid at once. From works must proofs be obtained. The Creator’s works testify at once to His goodness, since they are good, as we have shown, and to His power, since they are mighty, and spring indeed out of nothing. And even if they were made out of some (previous) matter, as some will have it, they are even thus out of nothing, because they were not what they are. In short, both they are great because they are good; and God is likewise mighty, because all things are His own, whence He is almighty. But what shall I say of His prescience, which has for its witnesses as many prophets as it inspired? After all, what title to prescience do we look for in the Author of the universe, since it was by this very attribute that He foreknew all things when He appointed them their places, and appointed them their places when He fore knew them? There is sin itself. If He had not foreknown this, He would not have proclaimed a caution against it under the penalty of death. Now if there were in God such attributes as must have rendered it both impossible and improper for any evil to have happened to man, and yet evil did occur, let us consider man’s condition also-whether it were not, in fact, rather the cause why that came to pass which could not have happened through God. I find, then, that man was by God constituted free, master of his own will and power; indicating the presence of God’s image and likeness in him by nothing so well as by this constitution of his nature. For it was not by his face, and by the lineaments of his body, though they were so varied in his human nature, that he expressed his likeness to the form of God; but he showed his stamp in that essence which he derived from God Himself (that is, the spiritual, which answered to the form of God), and in the freedom and power of his will. This his state was confirmed even by the very law which God then imposed upon him. For a law would not be imposed upon one who had it not in his power to render that obedience which is due to law; nor again, would the penalty of death be threatened against sin, if a contempt of the law were impossible to man in the liberty of his will. So in the Creator’s subsequent laws also you will find, when He sets before man good and evil, life and death, that the entire course of discipline is arranged in precepts by God’s calling men from sin, and threatening and exhorting them; and this on no other ground than that man is free, with a will either for obedience or resistance.
Book II, Chapter V.
Dr. Joseph Benson was one of the most eminent and influential Methodist scholars in England after the death of John Wesley. In his 8 volume commentary series, Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, he makes a similar observation on this passage, but instead of focusing on saints of the past, he points to the apostles themselves who were instrumental in bringing “the firstborn among many brethren” to the world:
The word προοριζω, is literally, prius definio, to define, or describe beforehand; and may be understood of God’s foretelling, by the Old Testament prophets, that the disciples of the Messiah, when he came, should resemble him, and of their describing them as persons conformed to him. Thus interpreted, the meaning of the verse will be, Whom he foreknew he also described beforehand, as being conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren — That is, the head and captain of all the adopted children of God, among whom he will for ever shine, distinguished from them all in rays of peculiar glory. <link>
I do not agree with Greg Boyd on various issues but in regard to his view of foreknowledge in these passages, I believe he makes a valid point:
First, as many exegetes have noted, the sort of “knowing” Paul intends in this passage is not merely intellectual knowledge, but rather an intimate affection. Two chapters later when Paul refers to God’s people (Israel) “whom he foreknew” (Rom. 11:2), he does not mean to say that God knew about these people (as opposed to all other people) ahead of time. Paul is rather saying that God loved these people ahead of time.
Now, although God fore-loved the nation of Israel, there were still individuals within this corporate whole who clearly rejected God’s love for them (e.g. Saul, Judas), as well as individuals outside this corporate whole who chose to receive God’s love for them (e.g. Rahab, Ruth). So the fore-love spoken of in this passage is toward the class of people who keep covenant with him. Individuals can choose to either align themselves with this class of fore-loved people or not. See more HERE.
Dr. Johnathan Pritchett, of Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary, correctly observes:
“One can’t import language from Ephesians or 1 Peter (“before the foundation of the world”) or language of foreseen faith into the passage that isn’t there just because buzzwords like foreknowledge and predestination have the phrase nearby those words in other epistles written for different occasions in different contexts later than Romans.
What Romans 8:29-30 is saying is that those God foreknew prior to the time of Paul’s writing were also predestined to be shaped into the Christ icon, and also named, declared right, and highly honored.
What it certainly is not is some chain of individualist redemption…golden or otherwise. It is a redemptive legacy that goes back prior to the unveiling of God’s righteousness in Christ according to the purpose of election (and testified in the Law and Prophets). Hence, Christ is the first born, so the purpose of election (the promised Christ) came through second-born patriarchs. (Rom. 9:7-13).
All of this has to do with God establishing a Christ-shaped people and has very little to do with systematic schemes of soteriology regarding mechanics of how an individual becomes a convert to Christianity, be it Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, whatever.”
19 thoughts on “Commentary on Romans 8:28-39”
There is no reason to assume he has in mind the future glorification of all believers.
This article seems a bit confusing to me. You sometimes apply Romans 8 to the past saints, sometimes to the current saints, sometimes to the future saints. I suppose like many passages it has a timeless application to saints—but then you try to make the argument that past saints in Israel somehow led up to Jesus being the “firstborn.” If Jesus is “firstborn” it means that he is born… first. Before David, before Abraham, before Moses… he can say “I am.” None of our births precede Christ, spiritually speaking.
Are we to believe that Paul shifts from speaking of glorification as a future hope for those who persevere, to speaking of it as a past and already completed action even for those who have not yet been glorified? Or could it simply be that Paul has the saints of old still in full view as he makes his case for the trustworthiness of God throughout all generations? This certainly seems to be the simplest and most basic understanding of the Apostle’s words in this context.
I don’t think that’s the only option nor the “simplest and most basic understanding.” Paul speaks of the *completed* work of Christ that we can *conditionally* partake of. This theme fits Hebrews, fits the Gospels, fits Romans, and is the classical Arminian view. The work of Christ is *completed* past tense. We can partake of it through certain conditions, present tense. This will result in a consummation of it, future tense. Those whom he called (past tense) he justified (past tense), but they don’t necessarily answer that call. Christ invited Israel to the wedding feast God had prepared, and there was plentiful provision for all God invited—but many Israelites were too busy with the world to answer that invitation, even though they were called—and potentially justified. In the parable, Christ then sent out servants to gather any that could be found—because provision was there enough for all—so that his house could be filled (while Israel, by rejection, was left desolate).
There is nothing in this or any other text that supports the concept of a mystical pre-selection of certain individuals out of the mass of humanity in eternity past.
Do you mean in the entire Bible? I find that difficult to swallow.
If God was so trustworthy and faithful to those who loved Him in the past then who can stand against those of us who love Him today?
I don’t like this re-purposing of the passage, however clever it is trying to be. The reason we trust in God is looking to the work of Christ (God being “for us” by not “sparing his Son” who currently “intercedes for us”), not by trying to determine exactly how faithful God has been to past saints. It isn’t until Romans 9 that the past saints even come into view.
Paul, you have made a good case regarding God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in the past, but what about the Israelites today?
I don’t think that was the line of thought at all. It was more like “If God is so faithful to us currently now who believe in Christ, why wasn’t he faithful to Israel as well? What separated Israel from the love of Christ?” And that’s when Paul gets into two themes, grace and election, and also warns that current saints can fall just like Israel did.
However, my objections aren’t mean to be taken negatively, rather I hope to stimulate thought, as I thank you also for your efforts here, which have stimulated and broadened my thoughts on this passage, which I am never afraid but only too glad, to rethink through all over again.
Isaac is called the “first-born of Abraham,” even though Ishmael was obviously the first birthed son of Abraham. First-born is more of a status than a literal title. So yes, Jesus can be the first-born without being literally born first. And also Colossians 1:18 says that he is the firstborn among the dead. So Romans 8:29 could be referring to Jesus being the first-born among the new humanity, which would be a literal first-born.
Glad you dealt with this passage Leighton! You show clearly that there is no place for dogmatism for the pre-creation determinism that Calvinists try to pin on this passage. I do think focusing on the Aorist Indicative (past tense, simple action defined by context) is significant. And though I am not yet sold on seeing Israel as the focus in these verses, it is natural to see Paul as focusing on those who have gone before. Here is my expanded translation with interspersed thoughts to consider –
Romans 8:29-30 NKJV
For whom [as individuals] He foreknew [loved in a new and an everlasting way at the moment of their salvation, that is, their regeneration, when they received everlasting life and were born into God’s family] , He also [had] predestined [anachronistically, not as individuals, but in Christ according to His divine plan for salvation, for whosoever will, predetermined before creation] to be conformed [ultimately after the resurrection of their bodies] to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called [which also happened at the moment of their salvation, not their pre-salvation call, but their divine identification in Christ]; whom He called, these He also justified [also at the moment of their salvation, declaring them to be in a state of everlasting divine righteousness that is positional and will be displayed in this life, though imperfectly, but then perfected after the resurrection]; and whom He justified, these He also glorified [also at the moment of salvation, and also positional with some temporal display, but with ultimate completion after the resurrection].
Taking all these salvific events as contemporaneous with the moment of an individual’s salvation (save perhaps using a perfect sense of the Aorist tense for “predestined”) seems like a reasonable, contextual understanding of this passage.
I posted this on Youtube but felt I should paste it here too: I really think you should give up the past saints interpretation of Romans 8:30, it makes Arminians look like sloppy exegetes in my opinion and is completely unnecessary nor helpful in disproving Calvinism. If we insist that the past tense verbs are truly in the past, and glorified is past tense ,there is absolutely no way the past saints were glorified before Jesus was glorified—it really just puts a nail in the coffin of that view for me. The point of the passage is that the work of Christ is now seen as completed from God’s end, and we can potentially take part in the process of the “golden chain,” that is, it is open to us. So for the past tense verbs in verse 30 the Arminian explanation is simple: all is done in Christ, and Christ’s work is completed. All those promises—foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying and glorfying—are true due only to our union in Christ, and because they are already true of Christ himself. There is no problem for Arminians for those verbs to be past tense, because Scripture clearly indicates only a continued and steadfast faith qualifies one to partake of a share of Christ. I don’t equate foreknowing with predestination, because all the verbs in 30 are causally linked in time before each one. Foreknowing coming logically before predestining speaks more against determinism than for it—it shows that there is a verb that is before predestining—what could possibly happen before predestining? One would think, under determinism, predestining was causally the first thing God would do. But foreknowledge can’t be to relate to intimately here, because we didn’t exist yet contextually. Even Calvinists will admit foreknowledge *can* mean just fore + knowledge, knowing beforehand. This idea is both more straightforward, more logically connected to being before predestination and more linked with a passive kind of election based on foresight rather than direct decree or intervention. Thus just as glorification was possible because of justification, and justification was possible because of calling, and calling was possible because of predestining, so predestination was only possible through foreknowledge. Under the Calvinistic determinism, predestination would logically always have to come first.
You wrote, “there is absolutely no way the past saints were glorified before Jesus was glorified”… I didn’t say they were. They were glorified in the past with Christ. Romans 8 was written after Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
Even if we grant that, is there really any justification in the text to see Rom. 8:29-30 as the saints of the past who are no longer living in Paul’s time? Has Paul left us any markers for such an abrupt change in focus that we would be justified in exegeting the meaning this way? Are we justified in bringing a meaning in, that is not in the context? We should at the least pause before doing such a thing and look hard at the text:
Look at this context of Romans 8:1-28:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. … has set you free … be fulfilled in us … However, you are not in the flesh … dwells in you. … If Christ is in you … dwells in you … give life to your mortal … dwells in you. … we are under obligation … if you are living … you are putting to death … For you have not received … testifies with our spirit that we are … if indeed we suffer … that we may be glorified … this present time … the glory that is to be revealed to us … but also we ourselves … in hope we have been saved … if we hope for … we wait eagerly for it. … helps our weakness … intercedes for us … we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He…
So… let’s follow the actual subject being talked about. You can follow along with the brief outline above:
you, us, you, you, you, your, we, you, you, our, we, us, we, we, we, we, our, us, we…
But come verse 29 it’s no longer you, us and we anymore, it’s dead saints like David and Moses? Ah but! Perhaps Paul just made a drastic change in subject without letting us know and will clear it up in the rest of chapter 8. Let’s look at verses 31-39 that will really clear up the context of whom Paul is referring to!
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? … delivered Him over for us all, … freely give us all things? … who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation … we are being put to death all day long, we were considered as sheep … but in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that … any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So… let’s follow the actual subject being talked about. You can follow along with the brief outline above:
we, us, us, us, us, us, us, we, we, we, us, us.
But verse 29-30, sandwiched in between, is no longer you, us and we anymore, it’s dead saints like David and Moses?
Who was foreknown? Us.
Who was predestined? Us.
Who was called? Us.
Who was justified? Us.
Who was glorified? Us.
But how can that already be true of us? So we reject it because we can’t wrap our mind around it? No, we can harmonize it with the simple words “IN CHRIST.” And where is the text telling us to look and measure God’s faithfulness to past saints? Rather the text points our confidence to one thing and one thing alone: the Work of Christ on our behalf, which is the only thing that has kept all saints for all time
Hi David, so would you agree that the saints, v. 27, the called, v. 28, would mean only those who are already in Christ are those who are being discussed in v. 29, and thus would not include anyone who is not yet in Christ? And could not all the blessings listed in v. 29 have happened for each one the very moment that each one was placed into Christ, and not to some undefined list of individuals before creation?
If you’re asking if it’s compatible with openness, I’d say so using the concept of corporate election. You’d have to apply “foreknew” abstractly as in “God foreknew there would be people accepting Christ.”
David, Is it possible to see Paul taking “foreknew” as “came to know intimately in the past at the moment of their salvation when they were added to the saints”? Paul uses this word foreknew also in Acts 26:4 to denote a beginning point of such personal acquaintance knowledge. And coupled with the fact the Jesus uses the concept of “never knew” when describing those who never were incorporated into His group of saints, the idea of such “relationship knowledge” beginning at the moment of salvation is reasonable. It need not look back into God’s pre-creation omniscience for explanation for then one has the difficulty of how are the lost not also foreknown.
Jesus “never knew” was not “know beforehand” and the case in Acts we discussed was informational not relational. I suppose it could be that God knows the people who will choose him eventually, not by foreknowledge, but by predicting the current heart disposition. I wouldn’t exegete it that way but it seems logically possible. The question would be when the predestining took place.
David, I think you are missing the point that there are different types of knowledge in Scripture… factual, relational, skill, understanding, experiential, recognition, and perhaps more. When Jesus said – He “never knew” someone, it certainly can not mean that He had no factual knowledge about them, or that they were not a part of His infinite understanding. It can only mean He had no relational knowledge, in a saving way, or intimate indwelling way, with them.
I am just proposing that relational knowledge is what is in view in the term “foreknew” as used by Paul, meaning basically, come into a relationship sometime in the past. Such a relationship does bring with it factual knowledge, but is not pointing just to factual knowledge. That is what Paul is saying to Agrippa, that those in Jerusalem “knew” him relationally so well from the beginning of his time there, that they could testify he was a strict Pharisee. Paul says that they “foreknew me”, not just they “foreknew something about me.”
That kind of knowledge needs a real person to exist before it can begin. God can not have that kind of knowledge with you or me in His mind, before we even exist, can He, and not have it with a bunch of other people? Once the relationship begins, that kind of knowledge begins, and the reality of all the benefits of that kind of relationship also kicks in, like what is predestined for someone now “known” by Him in that way.
When is a person predestined, then.
David, Good morning! Each is ordained to be like Christ fully, eventually, at the moment of their salvation. But it would not be wrong to speak anachronistically and say “in Christ” the final destination had been set for “them” before creation.
However, that way of speaking does not make necessary the ordination also of that individual’s existence before creation. It would be like me saying that I was ordained by my Dad to receive my Dad’s inheritance the moment he made out his will, even though he had made it out before I was born. I would not be wrong to speak that way, even though I did not exist as an individual when the will was made, nor was I even planned to exist as an individual, though the possibility of my existence was fully understood.
I find your interpretation to be the most credible, but it seems that it would still support a calvinist interpretation. If he is speaking if the saints of old, then he is saying that he predistened them, and because he predistined them he called them. Therefore it still seems to say that God only calls those that He predestines. What do you think?
Daniel, Welcome! You make some good observations and have asked a good question. I agree with Leighton that the past tense includes all saved in the past… but not just those who had died already and were now glorified, but who were still also still alive like Paul and the Roman believers he is writing to. Here are some in-depth grammatical and contextual reasons.
Could it be that Paul was describing for His listeners (whom God predestined by HIS choice to hear Paul’s gospel) how according to God’s purpose (plan) would use “all things” in their lives to accomplish Their justification, and glorification resulting in conformation to the image of Jesus, . And that nothing would be able to thwart Gods plan. And was using examples of Gods faithfulness to “Saints of old” with whom he had a relationship just as God now had a relationship with the new believers of Paul’s gospel of grace, as an example of what to expect?
Wiley… I am not sure if you followed the link in my last response, but I do believe the exegesis I provided is similar to what you have suggested.