Foreknowledge means knowledge of a thing before it happens or exists; also called prescience. In the Bible it relates primarily, though not exclusively, to Jehovah God the Creator and his purposes. Foreordination means the ordaining, decreeing, or determining of something beforehand; or the quality or state of being foreordained.
Original-Language Words. The words generally translated as “foreknow,” “foreknowledge,” and “foreordain” are found in the Christian Greek Scriptures, although the same basic ideas are expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures.
“Foreknowledge” translates the Greek proʹgno·sis (from pro, before, and gnoʹsis, knowledge). (Ac 2:23; 1Pe 1:2) The related verb pro·gi·noʹsko is used in two cases with regard to humans: in Paul’s statement that certain Jews were “previously acquainted” with him (knew him beforehand), and in Peter’s reference to the “advance knowledge” had by those addressed in his second letter. (Ac 26:4, 5; 2Pe 3:17) In this latter case it is obvious that such foreknowledge was not infinite; that is, it did not mean that those Christians knew all the details of time, place, and circumstance about the future events and conditions Peter had discussed. But they did have a general outline of what to expect, received as a result of God’s inspiration of Peter and of other contributors to the Bible.
“Foreordain” translates the Greek pro·o·riʹzo (from pro, before, and ho·riʹzo, mark out or set the bounds). (The English word “horizon” transliterates the Greek word ho·riʹzon, meaning the “bounding” or “limiting.”) Illustrating the sense of the Greek verb ho·riʹzo is Jesus Christ’s statement that, as “the Son of man,” he was “going his way according to what [was] marked out [ho·ri·smeʹnon].” Paul said that God had “decreed [marked out, ho·riʹsas] the appointed times and the set limits of the dwelling of men.” (Lu 22:22; Ac 17:26) The same verb is used of human determination, as when the disciples “determined [hoʹri·san]” to send relief to their needy brothers. (Ac 11:29) However, specific references to foreordaining in the Christian Greek Scriptures are applied only to God.
Factors to Recognize. To understand the matter of foreknowledge and foreordination as relating to God, certain factors necessarily must be recognized.
First, God’s ability to foreknow and foreordain is clearly stated in the Bible. Jehovah himself sets forth as proof of his Godship this ability to foreknow and foreordain events of salvation and deliverance, as well as acts of judgment and punishment, and then to bring such events to fulfillment. His chosen people are witnesses of these facts. (Isa 44:6-9; 48:3-8) Such divine foreknowledge and foreordination form the basis for all true prophecy. (Isa 42:9; Jer 50:45; Am 3:7, 8) God challenges the nations opposing his people to furnish proof of the godship they claim for their mighty ones and their idol-gods, calling on them to do so by foretelling similar acts of salvation or judgment and then bringing them to pass. Their impotence in this respect demonstrates their idols to be ‘mere wind and unreality.’—Isa 41:1-10, 21-29; 43:9-15; 45:20, 21.
A second factor to be considered is the free moral agency of God’s intelligent creatures. The Scriptures show that God extends to such creatures the privilege and responsibility of free choice, of exercising free moral agency (De 30:19, 20; Jos 24:15), thereby making them accountable for their acts. (Ge 2:16, 17; 3:11-19; Ro 14:10-12; Heb 4:13) They are thus not mere automatons, or robots. Man could not truly have been created in “God’s image” if he were not a free moral agent. (Ge 1:26, 27; see FREEDOM.) Logically, there should be no conflict between God’s foreknowledge (as well as his foreordaining) and the free moral agency of his intelligent creatures.
A third factor that must be considered, one sometimes overlooked, is that of God’s moral standards and qualities, including his justice, honesty, impartiality, love, mercy, and kindness. Any understanding of God’s use of the powers of foreknowledge and foreordination must therefore harmonize with not only some of these factors but with all of them. Clearly, whatever God foreknows must inevitably come to pass, so that God is able to call “things that are not as though they were.”—Ro 4:17.
Does God know in advance everything that people will do?
The question then arises: Is his exercise of foreknowledge infinite, without limit? Does he foresee and foreknow all future actions of all his creatures, spirit and human? And does he foreordain such actions or even predestinate what shall be the final destiny of all his creatures, even doing so before they have come into existence?
Or, is God’s exercise of foreknowledge selective and discretionary, so that whatever he chooses to foresee and foreknow, he does, but what he does not choose to foresee or foreknow, he does not? And, instead of preceding their existence, does God’s determination of his creatures’ eternal destiny await his judgment of their course of life and of their proved attitude under test? The answers to these questions must necessarily come from the Scriptures themselves and the information they provide concerning God’s actions and dealings with his creatures, including what has been revealed through his Son, Christ Jesus.—1Co 2:16.
Predestinarian view. The view that God’s exercise of his foreknowledge is infinite and that he does foreordain the course and destiny of all individuals is known as predestinarianism. Its advocates reason that God’s divinity and perfection require that he be omniscient (all-knowing), not only respecting the past and present but also regarding the future. According to this concept, for him not to foreknow all matters in their minutest detail would evidence imperfection. Examples such as the case of Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob, are presented as evidence of God’s foreordaining creatures before their birth (Ro 9:10-13); and texts such as Ephesians 1:4, 5 are cited as evidence that God foreknew and foreordained the future of all his creatures even before the start of creation.
To be correct, this view would, of course, have to harmonize with all the factors previously mentioned, including the Scriptural presentation of God’s qualities, standards, and purposes, as well as his righteous ways in dealing with his creatures. (Re 15:3, 4) We may properly consider, then, the implications of such a predestinarian view.
This concept would mean that, prior to creating angels or earthling man, God exercised his powers of foreknowledge and foresaw and foreknew all that would result from such creation, including the rebellion of one of his spirit sons, the subsequent rebellion of the first human pair in Eden (Ge 3:1-6; Joh 8:44), and all the bad consequences of such rebellion down to and beyond this present day. This would necessarily mean that all the wickedness that history has recorded (the crime and immorality, oppression and resultant suffering, lying and hypocrisy, false worship and idolatry) once existed, before creation’s beginning, only in the mind of God, in the form of his foreknowledge of the future in all of its minutest details.
If the Creator of mankind had indeed exercised his power to foreknow all that history has seen since man’s creation, then the full weight of all the wickedness thereafter resulting was deliberately set in motion by God when he spoke the words: “Let us make man.” (Ge 1:26) These facts bring into question the reasonableness and consistency of the predestinarian concept; particularly so, since the disciple James shows that disorder and other vile things do not originate from God’s heavenly presence but are “earthly, animal, demonic” in source.—Jas 3:14-18.
Infinite exercise of foreknowledge? The argument that God’s not foreknowing all future events and circumstances in full detail would evidence imperfection on his part is, in reality, an arbitrary view of perfection. Perfection, correctly defined, does not demand such an absolute, all-embracing extension, inasmuch as the perfection of anything actually depends upon its measuring up completely to the standards of excellence set by one qualified to judge its merits. (See PERFECTION.) Ultimately, God’s own will and good pleasure, not human opinions or concepts, are the deciding factors as to whether anything is perfect.—De 32:4; 2Sa 22:31; Isa 46:10.
To illustrate this, God’s almightiness is undeniably perfect and is infinite in capacity. (1Ch 29:11, 12; Job 36:22; 37:23) Yet his perfection in strength does not require him to use his power to the full extent of his omnipotence in any or in all cases. Clearly he has not done so; if he had, not merely certain ancient cities and some nations would have been destroyed, but the earth and all in it would have been obliterated long ago by God’s executions of judgment, accompanied by mighty expressions of disapproval and wrath, as at the Flood and on other occasions. (Ge 6:5-8; 19:23-25, 29; compare Ex 9:13-16; Jer 30:23, 24.) God’s exercise of his might is therefore not simply an unleashing of limitless power but is constantly governed by his purpose and, where merited, tempered by his mercy.—Ne 9:31; Ps 78:38, 39; Jer 30:11; La 3:22; Eze 20:17.
Similarly, if, in certain respects, God chooses to exercise his infinite ability of foreknowledge in a selective way and to the degree that pleases him, then assuredly no human or angel can rightly say: “What are you doing?” (Job 9:12; Isa 45:9; Da 4:35) It is therefore not a question of ability, what God can foresee, foreknow, and foreordain, for “with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26) The question is what God sees fit to foresee, foreknow, and foreordain, for “everything that he delighted to do he has done.”—Ps 115:3.
Selective exercise of foreknowledge. The alternative to predestinarianism, the selective or discretionary exercise of God’s powers of foreknowledge, would have to harmonize with God’s own righteous standards and be consistent with what he reveals of himself in his Word. In contrast with the theory of predestinarianism, a number of texts point to an examination by God of a situation then current and a decision made on the basis of such examination.
Thus, at Genesis 11:5-8 God is described as directing his attention earthward, surveying the situation at Babel, and, at that time, determining the action to be taken to break up the unrighteous project there. After wickedness developed at Sodom and Gomorrah, Jehovah advised Abraham of his decision to investigate (by means of his angels) to “see whether they act altogether according to the outcry over it that has come to me, and, if not, I can get to know it.” (Ge 18:20-22; 19:1) God spoke of ‘becoming acquainted with Abraham,’ and after Abraham went to the point of attempting to sacrifice Isaac, Jehovah said, “For now I do know that you are God-fearing in that you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.”—Ge 18:19; 22:11, 12; compare Ne 9:7, 8; Ga 4:9.
Selective foreknowledge means that God could choose not to foreknow indiscriminately all the future acts of his creatures. This would mean that, rather than all history from creation onward being a mere rerun of what had already been foreseen and foreordained, God could with all sincerity set before the first human pair the prospect of everlasting life in an earth free from wickedness. His instructions to his first human son and daughter to act as his perfect and sinless agents in filling the earth with their offspring and making it a paradise, as well as exercising control over the animal creation, could thus be expressed as the grant of a truly loving privilege and as his genuine desire toward them—not merely as the giving of a commission that, on their part, was foredoomed to failure. God’s arranging for a test by means of “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad” and his creation of “the tree of life” in the garden of Eden also would not be meaningless or cynical acts, made so by his foreknowing that the human pair would sin and never be able to eat of “the tree of life.”—Ge 1:28; 2:7-9, 15-17; 3:22-24.
To offer something very desirable to another person on conditions known beforehand to be unreachable is recognized as both hypocritical and cruel. The prospect of everlasting life is presented in God’s Word as a goal for all persons, one possible to attain. After urging his listeners to ‘keep on asking and seeking’ good things from God, Jesus pointed out that a father does not give a stone or a serpent to his child that asks for bread or a fish. Showing his Father’s view of disappointing the legitimate hopes of a person, Jesus then said: “Therefore, if you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will your Father who is in the heavens give good things to those asking him?”—Mt 7:7-11.
Thus, the invitations and opportunities to receive benefits and everlasting blessings set before all men by God are bona fide. (Mt 21:22; Jas 1:5, 6) He can in all sincerity urge men to ‘turn back from transgression and keep living,’ as he did with the people of Israel. (Eze 18:23, 30-32; compare Jer 29:11, 12.) Logically, he could not do this if he foreknew that they were individually destined to die in wickedness. (Compare Ac 17:30, 31; 1Ti 2:3, 4.) As Jehovah told Israel: “Nor said I to the seed of Jacob, ‘Seek me simply for nothing, you people.’ I am Jehovah, speaking what is righteous, telling what is upright. . . . Turn to me and be saved, all you at the ends of the earth.”—Isa 45:19-22.
In a similar vein, the apostle Peter writes: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise [of the coming day of reckoning], as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2Pe 3:9) If God already foreknew and foreordained millenniums in advance precisely which individuals would receive eternal salvation and which individuals would receive eternal destruction, it may well be asked how meaningful such ‘patience’ of God could be and how genuine his desire could be that ‘all attain to repentance.’ The inspired apostle John wrote that “God is love,” and the apostle Paul states that love “hopes all things.” (1Jo 4:8; 1Co 13:4, 7) It is in harmony with this outstanding, divine quality that God should exercise a genuinely open, kindly attitude toward all persons, he being desirous of their gaining salvation, until they prove themselves unworthy, beyond hope. (Compare 2Pe 3:9; Heb 6:4-12.) Thus, the apostle Paul speaks of “the kindly quality of God [that] is trying to lead you to repentance.”—Ro 2:4-6.
Finally if, by God’s foreknowledge, the opportunity to receive the benefits of Christ Jesus’ ransom sacrifice were already irrevocably sealed off from some, perhaps for millions of individuals, even before their birth, so that such ones could never prove worthy, it could not truly be said that the ransom was made available to all men. (2Co 5:14, 15; 1Ti 2:5, 6; Heb 2:9) The impartiality of God is clearly no mere figure of speech. “In every nation the man that fears [God] and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Ac 10:34, 35; De 10:17; Ro 2:11) The option is actually and genuinely open to all men “to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us.” (Ac 17:26, 27) There is no empty hope or hollow promise set forth, therefore, in the divine exhortation at the end of the book of Revelation inviting: “Let anyone hearing say: ‘Come!’ And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.”—Re 22:17.
The Things Foreknown and Foreordained. Throughout the Bible record, God’s exercise of foreknowledge and foreordination is consistently tied in with his own purposes and will. “To purpose” means to set something before oneself as an aim or an object to be attained. (The Greek word proʹthe·sis, translated “purpose,” means, literally, “a placing or a setting forth or before [of something].”) Since God’s purposes are certain of accomplishment, he can foreknow the results, the ultimate realization of his purposes, and can foreordain them as well as the steps he may see fit to take to accomplish them. (Isa 14:24-27) Thus, Jehovah is spoken of as ‘forming’ or ‘fashioning’ (from the Hebrew ya·tsarʹ, related to the word for “potter” [Jer 18:4]) his purpose concerning future events or actions. (2Ki 19:25; Isa 46:11; compare Isa 45:9-13, 18.) As the Great Potter, God “operates all things according to the way his will counsels,” in harmony with his purpose (Eph 1:11), and “makes all his works cooperate together” for the good of those loving him. (Ro 8:28) It is, therefore, specifically in connection with his own foreordained purposes that God tells “from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done.”—Isa 46:9-13.
When God created the first human pair they were perfect, and God could look upon the result of all his creative work and find it “very good.” (Ge 1:26, 31; De 32:4) Instead of distrustfully concerning himself with what the human pair’s future actions would be, the record says that he “proceeded to rest.” (Ge 2:2) He could do so since, by virtue of his almightiness and his supreme wisdom, no future action, circumstance, or contingency could possibly present an insurmountable obstacle or an irremediable problem to block the realization of his sovereign purpose. (2Ch 20:6; Isa 14:27; Da 4:35) There is, therefore, no Scriptural basis for the argument of predestinarianism that for God to refrain from exercising his powers of foreknowledge in this way would jeopardize God’s purposes, making them “always liable to be broken through want of foresight, and [that] he must be continually putting his system to rights, as it gets out of order, through the contingence of the actions of moral agents.” Nor would this selective exercise of foresight give his creatures the power to “break [God’s] measures, make him continually to change his mind, subject him to vexation, and bring him into confusion,” as predestinarians claim. (M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, 1894, Vol. VIII, p. 556) If even God’s earthly servants have no real need to be “anxious about the next day,” it follows that their Creator, to whom mighty nations are as “a drop from a bucket,” neither had nor has such anxiety.—Mt 6:34; Isa 40:15.
Concerning classes of persons. Cases are also presented in which God did foreknow the course that certain groups, nations, or the majority of mankind would take, and thus he foretold the basic course of their future actions and foreordained what corresponding action he would take regarding them. However, such foreknowledge or foreordination does not deprive the individuals within such collective groups or divisions of mankind of exercising free choice as to the particular course they will follow. This can be seen from the following examples:
Prior to the Flood of Noah’s day, Jehovah announced his purpose to bring about this act of destruction, resulting in loss of human as well as animal life. The Biblical account shows, however, that such divine determination was made after the conditions developed that called for such action, including violence and other badness. Additionally, God, who is able to “know the heart of the sons of mankind,” made examination and found that “every inclination of the thoughts of [mankind’s] heart was only bad all the time.” (2Ch 6:30; Ge 6:5) Yet individuals, Noah and his family, gained God’s favor and escaped destruction.—Ge 6:7, 8; 7:1.
Similarly, although God gave the nation of Israel the opportunity to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” by keeping his covenant, yet some 40 years later, when the nation was at the borders of the Promised Land, Jehovah foretold that they would break his covenant and, as a nation, would be forsaken by him. This foreknowledge was not without prior basis, however, as national insubordination and rebellion already had been revealed. Hence, God said: “For I well know their inclination that they are developing today before I bring them into the land about which I have sworn.” (Ex 19:6; De 31:16-18, 21; Ps 81:10-13) The results to which such manifest inclination would now lead in the way of increased wickedness could be foreknown by God without its making him responsible for such conditions, even as one’s foreknowing that a certain structure built of inferior materials and with shoddy workmanship will deteriorate does not make that one responsible for such deterioration. The divine rule governs that ‘what is sown is what will be reaped.’ (Ga 6:7-9; compare Ho 10:12, 13.) Certain prophets delivered prophetic warnings of God’s foreordained expressions of judgment, all of which had basis in already existing conditions and heart attitudes. (Ps 7:8, 9; Pr 11:19; Jer 11:20) Here again, however, individuals could and did respond to God’s counsel, reproof, and warnings and so merited his favor.—Jer 21:8, 9; Eze 33:1-20.
God’s Son, who also could read the hearts of men (Mt 9:4; Mr 2:8; Joh 2:24, 25), was divinely endowed with powers of foreknowledge and foretold future conditions, events, and expressions of divine judgment. He foretold the judgment of Gehenna for the scribes and Pharisees as a class (Mt 23:15, 33) but did not say thereby that each individual Pharisee or scribe was foredoomed to destruction, as the case of the apostle Paul shows. (Ac 26:4, 5) Jesus predicted woes for unrepentant Jerusalem and other cities, but he did not indicate that his Father had foreordained that each individual of those cities should so suffer. (Mt 11:20-23; Lu 19:41-44; 21:20, 21) He also foreknew what mankind’s inclination and heart attitude would lead to and foretold the conditions that would have developed among mankind by the time of “the conclusion of the system of things,” as well as the outworkings of God’s own purposes. (Mt 24:3, 7-14, 21, 22) Jesus’ apostles likewise declared prophecies manifesting God’s foreknowledge of certain classes, such as the “antichrist” (1Jo 2:18, 19; 2Jo 7), and also the end to which such classes are foreordained.—2Th 2:3-12; 2Pe 2:1-3; Jude 4.
Concerning individuals. In addition to foreknowledge concerning classes, certain individuals are specifically involved in divine forecasts. These include Esau and Jacob (mentioned earlier), the Pharaoh of the Exodus, Samson, Solomon, Josiah, Jeremiah, Cyrus, John the Baptizer, Judas Iscariot, and God’s own Son Jesus.
In the cases of Samson, Jeremiah, and John the Baptizer, Jehovah exercised foreknowledge prior to their birth. This foreknowledge, however, did not specify what their final destiny would be. Rather, on the basis of such foreknowledge, Jehovah foreordained that Samson should live according to the Nazirite vow and should initiate the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines, that Jeremiah should serve as a prophet, and that John the Baptizer should do a preparatory work as a forerunner of the Messiah. (Jg 13:3-5; Jer 1:5; Lu 1:13-17) While highly favored by such privileges, this did not guarantee their gaining eternal salvation or even that they would remain faithful until death (although all three did). Thus, Jehovah foretold that one of David’s many sons would be named Solomon and he foreordained that Solomon would be used to build the temple. (2Sa 7:12, 13; 1Ki 6:12; 1Ch 22:6-19) However, though favored in this way and even privileged to write certain books of the Holy Scriptures, Solomon nevertheless fell into apostasy in his later years.—1Ki 11:4, 9-11.
Likewise with Esau and Jacob, God’s foreknowledge did not fix their eternal destinies but, rather, determined, or foreordained, which of the national groups descending from the two sons would gain a dominant position over the other. (Ge 25:23-26) This foreseen dominance also pointed to the gaining of the right of the firstborn by Jacob, a right that brought along with it the privilege of being in the line of descent through which the Abrahamic “seed” would come. (Ge 27:29; 28:13, 14) By this means Jehovah God made clear that his choice of individuals for certain uses is not bound by the usual customs or procedures conforming to men’s expectations. Nor are divinely assigned privileges to be dispensed solely on the basis of works, which might allow a person to feel he has ‘earned the right’ to such privileges and that they are ‘owed to him.’ The apostle Paul stressed this point in showing why God, by undeserved kindness, could grant to the Gentile nations privileges once seemingly reserved for Israel.—Ro 9:1-6, 10-13, 30-32.
Paul’s quotations concerning Jehovah’s ‘love for Jacob [Israel] and his hatred for Esau [Edom]’ comes from Malachi 1:2, 3, written long after Jacob and Esau’s time. So the Bible does not necessarily say that Jehovah held such opinion of the twins before their birth. It is a scientifically established fact that much of a child’s general disposition and temperament is determined at the time of conception because of the genetic factors contributed by each parent. That God can see such factors is self-evident; David speaks of Jehovah as seeing “even the embryo of me.” (Ps 139:14-16; see also Ec 11:5.) To what extent such divine insight affected Jehovah’s foreordination concerning the two boys cannot be said, but at any rate, his choice of Jacob over Esau did not of itself doom Esau or his descendants, the Edomites, to destruction. Even individuals from among the accursed Canaanites gained the privilege of association with God’s covenant people and received blessings. (Ge 9:25-27; Jos 9:27; see CANAAN, CANAANITE No. 2.) The “change of mind” that Esau earnestly sought with tears, however, was only an unsuccessful attempt to change his father Isaac’s decision that the firstborn’s special blessing should remain entirely with Jacob. Hence, this indicated no repentance before God on Esau’s part as to his materialistic attitude.—Ge 27:32-34; Heb 12:16, 17.
Jehovah’s prophecy concerning Josiah called for some descendant of David to be so named, and it foretold his acting against false worship in the city of Bethel. (1Ki 13:1, 2) Over three centuries later a king so named fulfilled this prophecy. (2Ki 22:1; 23:15, 16) On the other hand, he failed to heed “the words of Necho from the mouth of God,” and this led to his being killed. (2Ch 35:20-24) Hence, while foreknown by God and foreordained to do a particular work, Josiah was still a free moral agent able to choose to heed or disregard advice.
Similarly, Jehovah foretold nearly two centuries beforehand that he would use a conqueror named Cyrus to effect the release of the Jews from Babylon. (Isa 44:26-28; 45:1-6) But the Persian to whom that name eventually was given in fulfillment of divine prophecy is not stated in the Bible to have become a genuine worshiper of Jehovah, and secular history shows him continuing his worship of false gods.
These cases of foreknowledge prior to the individual’s birth thus do not conflict with God’s revealed qualities and announced standards. Nor is there any indication that God coerced the individuals to act against their own will. In the cases of Pharaoh, Judas Iscariot, and God’s own Son, there is no evidence that Jehovah’s foreknowledge was exercised prior to the person’s coming into existence. Within these individual cases certain principles are illustrated, bearing on God’s foreknowledge and foreordination.
One such principle is God’s testing of individuals by causing or allowing certain circumstances or events, or by causing such individuals to hear his inspired messages, the result being that they are obliged to exercise their free choice to make a decision and thus reveal a definite heart attitude, read by Jehovah. (Pr 15:11; 1Pe 1:6, 7; Heb 4:12, 13) According to the way the individuals respond, God can also mold them in the course they have selected of their own volition. (1Ch 28:9; Ps 33:13-15; 139:1-4, 23, 24) Thus, “the heart of earthling man” first inclines toward a certain way before Jehovah does the directing of the steps of such a one. (Pr 16:9; Ps 51:10) Under testing, one’s heart condition can become fixed, either hardened in unrighteousness and rebellion or made firm in unbreakable devotion to Jehovah God and the doing of his will. (Job 2:3-10; Jer 18:11, 12; Ro 2:4-11; Heb 3:7-10, 12-15) Having reached such a point of his own choice, the end result of the individual’s course can now be foreknown and foretold with no injustice and no violation of man’s free moral agency.—Compare Job 34:10-12.
The case of faithful Abraham, already discussed, illustrates these principles. A contrasting case is that of the unresponsive Pharaoh of the Exodus. Jehovah foreknew that Pharaoh would refuse permission for the Israelites to leave “except by a strong hand” (Ex 3:19, 20), and he foreordained the plague resulting in the death of the firstborn. (Ex 4:22, 23) The apostle Paul’s discussion of God’s dealings with Pharaoh is often incorrectly understood to mean that God arbitrarily hardens the heart of individuals according to his foreordained purpose, without regard for the individual’s prior inclination, or heart attitude. (Ro 9:14-18) Likewise, according to many translations, God advised Moses that he would “harden [Pharaoh’s] heart.” (Ex 4:21; compare Ex 9:12; 10:1, 27.) However, some translations render the Hebrew account to read that Jehovah “let [Pharaoh’s] heart wax bold” (Ro); “let [Pharaoh’s] heart become obstinate.” (NW) In support of such rendering, the appendix to Rotherham’s translation shows that in Hebrew the occasion or permission of an event is often presented as if it were the cause of the event, and that “even positive commands are occasionally to be accepted as meaning no more than permission.” Thus at Exodus 1:17 the original Hebrew text literally says that the midwives “caused the male children to live,” whereas in reality they permitted them to live by refraining from putting them to death. After quoting Hebrew scholars M. M. Kalisch, H. F. W. Gesenius, and B. Davies in support, Rotherham states that the Hebrew sense of the texts involving Pharaoh is that “God permitted Pharaoh to harden his own heart—spared him—gave him the opportunity, the occasion, of working out the wickedness that was in him. That is all.”—The Emphasised Bible, appendix, p. 919; compare Isa 10:5-7.
Corroborating this understanding is the fact that the record definitely shows that Pharaoh himself “hardened his heart.” (Ex 8:15, 32, KJ; “made his heart unresponsive,” NW) He thus exercised his own will and followed his own stubborn inclination, the results of which inclination Jehovah accurately foresaw and predicted. The repeated opportunities given him by Jehovah obliged Pharaoh to make decisions, and in doing so he became hardened in his attitude. (Compare Ec 8:11, 12.) As the apostle Paul shows by quoting Exodus 9:16, Jehovah allowed the matter to develop in this way to the full length of ten plagues in order to make manifest his own power and cause his name to be made known earth wide.—Ro 9:17, 18.
Did God predestine Judas to betray Jesus in order to fulfill prophecy?
The traitorous course of Judas Iscariot fulfilled divine prophecy and demonstrated Jehovah’s foreknowledge as well as that of his Son. (Ps 41:9; 55:12, 13; 109:8; Ac 1:16-20) Yet it cannot be said that God foreordained or predestinated Judas himself to such a course. The prophecies foretold that some intimate acquaintance of Jesus would be his betrayer, but they did not specify which of those sharing such acquaintance it would be. Again, Bible principles rule against God’s having foreordained Judas’ actions. The divine standard stated by the apostle is: “Never lay your hands hastily upon any man; neither be a sharer in the sins of others; preserve yourself chaste.” (1Ti 5:22; compare 3:6.) Evidencing his concern that the selection of his 12 apostles be wisely and properly made, Jesus spent the night in prayer to his Father before making known his decision. (Lu 6:12-16) If Judas were already divinely foreordained to be a traitor, this would result in inconsistency in God’s direction and guidance and, according to the rule, would make him a sharer in the sins that one committed.
Thus, it seems evident that at the time of his being selected as an apostle, Judas’ heart presented no definite evidence of a treasonous attitude. He allowed a ‘poisonous root to spring up’ and defile him, resulting in his deviation and in his accepting, not God’s direction, but the Devil’s leading in a course of thievery and treachery. (Heb 12:14, 15; Joh 13:2; Ac 1:24, 25; Jas 1:14, 15; see JUDAS No. 4.) By the time such deviation reached a certain point, Jesus himself could read Judas’ heart and foretell his betrayal.—Joh 13:10, 11.
True, in the account at John 6:64, on the occasion of some disciples stumbling over certain teachings of Jesus, we read that “from the beginning [“from the outset,” JB] Jesus knew who were the ones not believing and who was the one that would betray him.” While the word “beginning” (Gr., ar·kheʹ) is used at 2 Peter 3:4 to refer to the start of creation, it can also refer to other times. (Lu 1:2; Joh 15:27) For example, when the apostle Peter spoke of the holy spirit falling on Gentiles “just as it did also upon us in the beginning,” he obviously was not referring to the beginning of his discipleship or apostleship but to an important point in his ministry, the day of Pentecost, 33 C.E., “the beginning” of the outpouring of the holy spirit for a certain purpose. (Ac 11:15; 2:1-4) It is therefore interesting to note this comment on John 6:64 in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (p. 227): “Beginning . . . means not, metaphysically from the beginning of all things, . . . nor from the beginning of His [Jesus’] acquaintance with each one, . . . nor from the beginning of His collecting of the disciples around Him, or the beginning of His Messianic ministry, . . . but from the first secret germs of unbelief [that produced the stumbling of some disciples]. So also He knew His betrayer from the beginning.”—Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976; compare 1Jo 3:8, 11, 12.
Foreordination of the Messiah. Jehovah God foreknew and foretold the Messiah’s sufferings, the death he would undergo, and his subsequent resurrection. (Ac 2:22, 23, 30, 31; 3:18; 1Pe 1:10, 11) The realization of things determined by God’s exercise of such foreknowledge depended in part upon God’s own exercise of power and in part upon the actions of men. (Ac 4:27, 28) Such men, however, willingly allowed themselves to be overreached by God’s Adversary, Satan the Devil. (Joh 8:42-44; Ac 7:51-54) Hence, even as Christians in Paul’s day were “not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs,” God foresaw the wicked desires and methods the Devil would devise against Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed One. (2Co 2:11) Obviously, God’s power could also thwart or even block any attacks or attempts upon the Messiah that did not conform to the manner or time prophesied.—Compare Mt 16:21; Lu 4:28-30; 9:51; Joh 7:1, 6-8; 8:59.
The apostle Peter’s statement that Christ, as the sacrificial Lamb of God, was “foreknown before the founding [form of Greek ka·ta·bo·leʹ] of the world [koʹsmou]” is construed by advocates of predestinarianism to mean that God exercised such foreknowledge before mankind’s creation. (1Pe 1:19, 20) The Greek word ka·ta·bo·leʹ, translated “founding,” literally means “a throwing down” and can refer to the ‘conceiving of seed,’ as at Hebrews 11:11. While there was “the founding” of a world of mankind when God created the first human pair, as is shown at Hebrews 4:3, 4, that pair thereafter forfeited their position as children of God. (Ge 3:22-24; Ro 5:12) Yet, by God’s undeserved kindness, they were allowed to conceive seed and produce offspring, one of whom is specifically shown in the Bible to have gained God’s favor and placed himself in position for redemption and salvation, namely, Abel. (Ge 4:1, 2; Heb 11:4) It is noteworthy that at Luke 11:49-51 Jesus refers to “the blood of all the prophets spilled from the founding of the world” and parallels this with the words “from the blood of Abel down to the blood of Zechariah.” Thus, Abel is connected by Jesus with “the founding of the world.”
The Messiah, or Christ, was to be the promised Seed through whom all righteous persons of all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Ga 3:8, 14) The first mention of such “seed” came after the rebellion in Eden had already been initiated, but prior to the birth of Abel. (Ge 3:15) This was some 4,000 years before the revelation of “the sacred secret” was made by the clear identification of that Messianic “seed.” Hence, it was, indeed, “kept in silence for long-lasting times.”—Ro 16:25-27; Eph 1:8-10; 3:4-11.
In his due time Jehovah God assigned his own firstborn Son to fulfill the prophesied role of the “seed” and become the Messiah. There is nothing to show that that Son was “predestined” to such a role even before his creation or before rebellion broke out in Eden. God’s eventual selection of him as the one charged with fulfilling the prophecies likewise was not made without prior basis. The period of intimate association between God and his Son previous to the Son’s being sent to earth undoubtedly resulted in Jehovah’s ‘knowing’ his Son to an extent that He could be certain of his Son’s faithful fulfillment of the prophetic promises and pictures.—Compare Ro 15:5; Php 2:5-8; Mt 11:27; Joh 10:14, 15; see JESUS CHRIST (Tested and Perfected).
Foreordination of the ‘called and chosen.’ There remain those texts that deal with the Christian “called ones,” or “chosen ones.” (Jude 1; Mt 24:24) They are described as “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God” (1Pe 1:1, 2), ‘chosen before the founding of the world,’ ‘foreordained to the adoption as sons of God’ (Eph 1:3-5, 11), ‘selected from the beginning for salvation and called to this very destiny’ (2Th 2:13, 14). The understanding of these texts depends upon whether they refer to the foreordination of certain individual persons or whether they describe the foreordination of a class of persons, namely, the Christian congregation, the “one body” (1Co 10:17) of those who will be joint heirs with Christ Jesus in his heavenly Kingdom.—Eph 1:22, 23; 2:19-22; Heb 3:1, 5, 6.
If these words apply to specific individuals as foreordained to eternal salvation, then it follows that those individuals could never prove unfaithful or fail in their calling, for God’s foreknowledge of them could not prove inaccurate and his foreordination of them to a certain destiny could never miscarry or be thwarted. Yet the same apostles who were inspired to write the foregoing words showed that some who were “bought” and “sanctified” by the blood of Christ’s ransom sacrifice and who had “tasted the heavenly free gift” and “become partakers of holy spirit . . . and powers of the coming system of things” would fall away beyond repentance and bring destruction upon themselves. (2Pe 2:1, 2, 20-22; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-29) The apostles unitedly urged those to whom they wrote: “Do your utmost to make the calling and choosing of you sure for yourselves; for if you keep on doing these things you will by no means ever fail”; also, “Keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (2Pe 1:10, 11; Php 2:12-16) Paul, who was “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1Co 1:1), obviously did not consider himself individually predestinated to eternal salvation, since he speaks of his strenuous efforts in striving to attain “the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” (Php 3:8-15) and his concern lest he himself should “become disapproved somehow.”—1Co 9:27.
Similarly, “the crown of life” offered such ones is granted subject to their faithfulness under trial until death. (Re 2:10, 23; Jas 1:12) Their crowns of kingship with God’s Son can be lost. (Re 3:11) The apostle Paul expressed confidence that “the crown of righteousness” was “reserved” for him, but he only did so when he was certain that he was nearing the end of his course, having “run [it] to the finish.”—2Ti 4:6-8.
On the other hand, viewed as applying to a class, to the Christian congregation, or “holy nation” of called ones as a whole (1Pe 2:9), the texts previously cited would mean that God foreknew and foreordained that such a class (but not the specific individuals forming it) would be produced. Also, these scriptures would mean that he prescribed, or foreordained, the ‘pattern’ to which all those in due time called to be members thereof would have to conform, all of this according to his purpose. (Ro 8:28-30; Eph 1:3-12; 2Ti 1:9, 10) He also foreordained the works such ones would be expected to carry out and their being tested because of the sufferings the world would bring upon them.—Eph 2:10; 1Th 3:3, 4.
As to those texts referring to ‘names being written in the book of life,’ see NAME.
Fatalism and Predestinarianism. Among the pagan peoples of ancient times, including the Greeks and Romans, one’s fate, particularly the length of the individual’s life, was often considered to be determined beforehand for all individuals by the gods. Grecian mythology represented the control of men’s destiny by three goddesses: Clotho (spinner), who spun the thread of life; Lachesis (disposer of lots), who determined the length of life; and Atropos (inflexible), who cut life off when the time expired. A similar triad was found among the Roman deities.
According to Jewish historian Josephus (first century C.E.), the Pharisees endeavored to harmonize the idea of fate with their belief in God and with the free moral agency granted to man. (The Jewish War, II, 162, 163 [viii, 14]; Jewish Antiquities, XVIII, 13, 14 [i, 3]) The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge says: “Previous to Augustine [of the fourth and fifth centuries C.E.] there was no serious development in Christianity of a theory of predestination.” Before Augustine, earlier so-called “Church Fathers” such as Justin, Origen, and Irenaeus “know nothing of unconditional predestination; they teach free will.” (Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, 1919, Vol. X, p. 231) In their refutation of Gnosticism, they are described as regularly expressing their belief in the free moral agency of man as “the distinguishing characteristic of human personality, the basis of moral responsibility, a divine gift whereby man might choose that which was well-pleasing to God,” and as speaking of “the autonomy of man and the counsel of God who constraineth not.”—The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by S. Jackson, 1957, Vol. IX, pp. 192, 193.