While that word is not found in the English versions of the Old Testament, it doesn’t mean that the idea does not appear there. The God of the Bible is an all-knowing and all-powerful God! He knows all things. He knows “the end from the beginning” and reveals many examples of such via His true prophets. Isaiah 46:8-10 says: “Remember this, and show yourselves men; Recall to mind, O you transgressors. Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’ (NJKV)
In the New Testament, there is a Greek word "proginosko" which simply means to know (ginosko) before (pro). That Greek word is translated in the KJV twice as “foreknow”, once as “foreordain”, once as “know” and once as “know before”. There are those who teach that this word has the “force” of foreordaining, i.e. pre-determining, pre-destinating, etc. We believe they “force” that meaning on a word that was not intended to mean those things, and we believe the Scriptures themselves confirm that:
1. In Acts 26:5 the clear meaning from the context is that there was simply previous knowledge. Paul says, regarding the Jews, that they knew him all his life – “from the beginning” of his life (i.e. from his childhood). If you are an older person, you may look at another older person whom you know and be able to say “I knew him before he became a successful ___” (writer, politician, businessperson, or whatever). This is definitely not a case where someone knew something before it even happened and thus it does not imply that the person caused the thing to happen in another person’s life.
2. Consistent with the opening comments above regarding the Old Testament, Peter, in 2 Peter 3:17-18 tells his audience that the knowledge of true Biblical prophecy regarding the “Day of the Lord” should impact the decisions we make and the course in life we pursue. Peter says: “You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” Let’s suppose that you live in a house located beneath a dam and someone comes to warn you that the dam is going to break. If you choose to stay in your home and the dam does in fact break and you perish, it cannot be said that it was a predetermining foreknowledge that caused you to die in the ensuing flood. It can only be said that, armed with the foreknowledge that the dam would break, you CHOSE to remain and accept the consequences. You could have heeded the warning and chosen to escape!
3. In 1 Peter 1:17-20 we read the following: “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (please note that the subject is Christ, not men!) and truly the message of this verse is attesting to the pre-incarnate existence of the Son – He was known before the foundation of the world – but was manifest (made visible thru the incarnation). Translations other than the KJV do not use the English word “foreordain” but rather “foreknew” – we believe because the word does not mean “foreordain”.
4. In Romans 11:2, it is clear that Paul is talking about the nation of Israel and says: “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” God “foreknew” the nation of Israel in the same sense we mentioned above in regards to Acts 26:5. He “knew” the nation of Israel even from the time when Jacob (Israel) was a man with twelve sons and not yet a “nation”. He knew the nation when in their infancy – a tribe of about 70 persons entering the land of Goshen (Gen. 46); He knew them through their bondage in Egypt, through their wilderness wanderings, through their occupation of the promised land, and so on. So, as Paul writes to the Romans, sometime around 57 A.D., God certainly knew, had known, foreknew Israel before then!
5. Lastly, in Romans 8:29 we read: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” God “foreknew” as in Acts 26 above and Romans 11:2 above – He knows believers from their earliest relationship with God; He has known His children ever since they became His children (John 1:12). There is no indication within the context, or in comparison with the other Scriptures above, that “foreknew” in this verse means or even implies a picking/choosing/predetermining on God’s part. It simply says “He knew!” To make it mean more than that is to impose one’s theology on the Scriptures rather than allowing the Scriptures to form our theology. This verse leads directly into our next word study – Predestination. In this context, the simple meaning is that God’s plan for those who become God’s children is to conform us to the image of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Please go to our link on Predestination.