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.
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). The corresponding 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. (Acts 26:4, 5; 2 Pet. 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, to 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 seasons and the set limits of the dwelling of men.” (Luke 22:22; Acts 17:26) The same verb is used of human determination, as when the disciples “determined [hoʹri·san]” to send relief to their needy brothers. (Acts 11:29) However, specific references to foreordaining in the Christian Greek Scriptures are applied only to God.
UNDERSTANDING DEPENDENT ON CERTAIN FACTORS
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; Amos 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 impotency in this respect disproves any such claim and 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 (Deut. 30:19, 20; Josh. 24:15), thereby making them accountable for their acts. (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:11-19; Rom. 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. (Gen. 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.
Another factor that must be considered, one sometimes overlooked, is that of God’s moral standards and qualities, including his justice, honesty and impartiality, his love, mercy and kindness, as revealed in the Bible. Any understanding of God’s use of the powers of foreknowledge and foreordination must therefore harmonize with not only some, but all these factors.
THE BASIC QUESTION
Clearly, whatever God foreknows must inevitably come to pass, so that God is able to call “things that are not as though they were.” (Rom. 4:17) 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, rather than 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.—1 Cor. 2:16.
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. For him not to foreknow all matters in their minutest detail would evidence imperfection, according to this concept. 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 (Rom. 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, and his righteous ways in dealing with his creatures. (Rev. 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 (Gen. 3:1-6; John 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 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.” (Gen. 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 not required by perfection
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 are the deciding factors as to whether anything is perfect, not human opinions or concepts.—Deut. 32:4; 2 Sam. 22:31; Isa. 46:10.
To illustrate this, God’s almightiness is undeniably perfect and is infinite in capacity. (1 Chron. 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, or, not merely would certain ancient cities and some nations 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. (Gen. 6:5-8; 19:23-25, 29; compare Exodus 9:13-16; Jeremiah 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.—Neh. 9:31; Ps. 78:38, 39; Jer. 30:11; Lam. 3:22; Ezek. 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; Dan. 4:35) It is therefore not a question of ability, what God can foresee, foreknow and foreordain, for “with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 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.” (Gen. 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.”—Gen. 18:19; 22:11, 12; compare Nehemiah 9:7, 8; Galatians 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 of 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 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.”—Gen. 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 asking 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?”—Matt. 7:7-11.
Thus, the invitations and opportunities to receive benefits and everlasting blessings set before all men by God are bona fide. (Matt. 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. (Ezek. 18:23, 30-32; compare Jeremiah 29:11, 12.) Logically, he could not do this if he foreknew that they were individually destined to die in wickedness. (Compare Acts 17:30, 31; 1 Timothy 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 a new heavens and a new earth], as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to atttain to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9, 13) If God already foreknew and foreordained millenniums before 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.” (1 John 4:8; 1 Cor. 13:4, 7) It is in harmony with this outstanding divine quality that God should exercise a genuinely open, kindly attitude toward all persons, desirous of their gaining salvation, until they prove themselves unworthy, beyond hope. (Compare 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 6:4-12.) Thus, the apostle Paul speaks of the “kindly quality of God [that] is trying to lead you to repentance.”—Rom. 2:4-6.
Finally, it could not truly be said that Christ Jesus’ ransom sacrifice was made available to all men, if the opportunity to receive its benefits were already irrevocably sealed off from some—perhaps for millions of individuals—by God’s foreknowledge, even before their birth, that such ones could never prove worthy thereof. (2 Cor. 5:14, 15; 1 Tim. 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.” (Acts 10:34, 35; Deut. 10:17; Rom. 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.” (Acts 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.”—Rev. 22:17.
THINGS FOREKNOWN AND FOREORDAINED BY GOD
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, “something placed or set forth beforehand.”) 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, also translated “potter” [Jer. 18:4]) his purpose concerning future events or actions. (2 Ki. 19:25; Isa. 46:11; compare Isaiah 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 co-operate together” for the good of those loving him. (Rom. 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.” (Gen. 1:26, 31; Deut. 32:4) Rather than distrustfully concerning himself with what the human pair’s future actions would be, the record says that he “proceeded to rest.” (Gen. 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. (2 Chron. 20:6; Isa. 14:27; Dan. 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, 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.—Matt. 6:34; Isa. 40:15.
The apostle Paul states that the “wisdom and good sense” that God gives his servants leads them to understand how God effectively coped with the rebellious situation initiated in Eden. He did this by purposing “an administration at the full limit of the appointed times, namely, to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.”—Eph. 1:8-10.
Foreknowledge 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.” (2 Chron. 6:30; Gen. 6:5) Yet individuals, Noah and his family, gained God’s favor and escaped destruction.—Gen. 6:7, 8; 7:1.
Similarly with the nation of Israel; although God gave them the opportunity to become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” by keeping his covenant, yet some forty 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.” (Deut. 31:21; 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 making him responsible for it due to his foreknowledge, 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.’ (Gal. 6:7-9; compare Hosea 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; Prov. 11:19; Jer. 11:20) Here again, however, individuals could and did respond to God’s counsel, reproof and warnings and merited his favor.—Jer. 21:8, 9; Ezek. 33:1-20.
God’s Son, who also could read human hearts (Matt. 9:4; Mark 2:8; John 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 (Matt. 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. (Acts 26:4, 5) Jesus predicted woes for the unrepentant populaces of Jerusalem and other cities, but did not indicate that his Father had foreordained that each individual of those cities should so suffer. (Matt. 11:20-23; Luke 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. (Matt. 24:3, 7-14, 21, 22) Jesus’ apostles likewise declared prophecies manifesting God’s foreknowledge of certain classes, such as the “antichrist” (1 John 2:18, 19; 2 John 7), and also the end to which such classes are foreordained.—2 Thess. 2:3-12; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; Jude 4.
Foreknowledge 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 Baptist, Judas Iscariot, and God’s own Son, Jesus.
In the cases of Samson, Jeremiah and John the Baptist, 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 Baptist should do a preparatory work as a forerunner of the Messiah. (Judg. 13:3-5; Jer. 1:5; Luke 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. (2 Sam. 7:12, 13; 1 Ki. 6:12; 1 Chron. 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.—1 Ki. 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. (Gen. 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 of the line of descent through which the Abrahamic “seed” would come. (Gen. 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, so that one may feel he has ‘earned the right’ to such privileges and that they are ‘owed to him.’ This point the apostle Paul stressed in showing why God, by undeserved kindness, could grant to the Gentile nations privileges once seemingly reserved for Israel.—Rom. 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 are determined at the time of conception, due to 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 Ecclesiastes 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. (Gen. 9:25-27; Josh. 9:27; see CANAAN, CANAANITE.) 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.—Gen. 27:32-34; Heb. 12:16, 17.
Jehovah’s prophecy concerning Josiah called for some descendant of David to be so named, and foretold his acting against false worship in the city of Bethel. (1 Ki. 13:1, 2) Over three centuries later a king so named fulfilled this prophecy. (2 Ki. 22:1; 23:15, 16) On the other hand, he failed to heed a warning from God spoken through Pharaoh Necho, and this led to his being killed. (2 Chron. 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 divine guidance.
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 pagan 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. (Prov. 15:11; 1 Pet. 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. (1 Chron. 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 such one’s steps. (Prov. 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; Rom. 2:4-11; Heb. 3:7-10, 12-15) Having reached such 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 to 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 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. (Rom. 9:14-18) Likewise, according to many translations, God advised Moses that he would “harden [Pharaoh’s] heart.” (Ex. 4:21; compare Exodus 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 became 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, by J. B. Rotherham, Appendix, p. 919; compare Isaiah 10:5-7.
Corroborating this understanding is the fact that the record definitely shows that Pharaoh himself “hardened his heart.” (Ex. 8:15, 32, AV; “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 Ecclesiastes 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.—Rom. 9:17, 18.
The traitorous course of Judas Iscariot fulfilled divine prophecy and demonstrated Jehovah’s foreknowledge, and also that of his Son. (Ps. 41:9; 55:12, 13; 109:8; Acts 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 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.” (1 Tim. 5:22; compare 3:6.) Evidencing his concern that the selection of his twelve apostles be wisely and properly made, Jesus spent the night in prayer to his Father before making known his decision. (Luke 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; John 13:2; Acts 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.—John 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” (Greek, ar·kheʹ) is used at 2 Peter 3:4 to refer to the start of creation, it can also refer to other times. (Luke 1:2; John 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. (Acts 11:15; 2:1-4) It is therefore interesting to note this comment on John 6:64 in the Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical Commentary by Schaff-Lange: “[‘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.”—Compare 1 John 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. (Acts 2:22, 23, 30, 31; 3:18; 1 Pet. 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. (Acts 4:27, 28) Such men, however, willingly allowed themselves to be overreached by God’s adversary, Satan the Devil. (John 8:42-44; Acts 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 his adversary would devise against his Anointed One. (2 Cor. 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 Matthew 16:21; Luke 4:28-30; 9:51; John 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. (1 Pet. 1:19, 20) The Greek word ka·ta·bo·leʹ, translated “founding,” literally means “a casting or laying 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. (Gen. 3:22-24; Rom. 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 as having gained God’s favor and placed himself in position for redemption and salvation, namely, Abel. (Gen. 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. (Gal. 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. (Gen. 3:15) This was over four thousand years before the revelation was made of the “sacred secret” of the administration to come through the Messiah; hence, it was, indeed, “kept in silence for long-lasting times.”—Rom. 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 Romans 15:5; Philippians 2:5-8; Matthew 11:27; John 10:14, 15; see JESUS CHRIST (Tested and Perfected).
Foreordination of the ‘called and chosen ones’
There remain those texts that deal with the Christian “called ones” or “chosen ones.” (Jude 1; Matt. 24:24) They are described as “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Pet. 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.’ (2 Thess. 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” (1 Cor. 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. (2 Pet. 2:1, 2, 20-22; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-29) The apostles unitedly urged those to whom they wrote to “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 to “keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (2 Pet. 1:10, 11; Phil. 2:12-16) Paul, who was “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 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” (Phil. 3:8-15), and his concern lest he himself should “become disapproved somehow.”—1 Cor. 9:27.
Similarly, the “crown” of life offered such ones is granted subject to their faithfulness under trial until death. (Jas. 1:12; Rev. 2:10, 23) Their crown of kingship with God’s Son can be lost to another. (Rev. 3:11) The apostle Paul expressed confidence that the “crown of righteousness” was “reserved” for him, but only did so when he was certain that he was nearing the end of his course, having “run [it] to the finish.”—2 Tim. 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 (1 Pet. 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 this according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:3-12; 2 Tim. 1:9, 10) He also foreordained the works such ones would be expected to carry out and their being tested due to the sufferings the world would bring upon them.—Eph. 2:10; 1 Thess. 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, fate was often considered to be determined beforehand for all individuals by the gods, particularly the length of the individual’s life. 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. (Wars of the Jews, Book II, chap. VIII, par. 14; Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, chap. I, par. 3) The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Vol. IX, p. 192) 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.” 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 men 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.”—Hasting’s Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. X, p. 231; The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. IX, p. 193.