What is Foreknowledge?

Daniel Whedon: “Foreknowledge is omniscience comprehending the future.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.225)

​True or False: Eternality necessarily implies “transcendence over time,” and thus God dwells “outside of time.” 

Dave Hunt: “God knows every thought, word, and deed beforehand because He is omniscient. That God foreknows all that will happen doesn’t cause it to happen, because He exists outside of time.” (Debating Calvinism, pp.165-166, emphasis mine)

One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “God created time; therefore, He can stand outside His creation and/or enter it at anytime that He desires (hence the incarnation). For me, a finite man, it is difficult to understand what God knows.” (SEA, emphasis mine)

Another member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “...time is what keeps everything from happening at once. God, as giver of time, is not thought to be limited by time. Ancient Christians considered that the Father inhabits time as the Son inhabits flesh: Just as the Son doesn’t cease to be God while becoming human and being human, neither does the Father cease to be God while entering time. If the issue of Gods way of knowing is approached from a physics perspective, we can easily conceptualize how God can see everything at once in all time and space and the world need not be determinative if all time and space is folded into a mathematical point and that point is labeled Gods omnipresent, omniscient perspective. Simple knowledge of the future neednt be the cause of the future in our thought experiment and there isnt any reason to move away from the classical expression of God’s way of knowing.” (SEA, emphasis mine)

God dwells outside of what we call “the future.” He never needs to look forward (as in a “crystal ball”), in order to know what the future holds. It is often said that we do not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. This speaks of Gods preeminence over time. Since God dwells independent of time, being preeminent over time, all time is as if present to Him. 

​Question: How can God be independent of time, and yet also be present in time, interacting with His creatures within His creation?

Answer: God created it. There are certain things about God that we do not yet know. For instance, we cannot say how God existed from eternity past, no more than we can say what the highest number is. There are merely mathematical representations of infinity. What God knows and how He knows it, is a mystery, but not an unsolvable mystery. As in all true biblical mysteries, we do not have a contradiction, as in logic being violated, but we simply await God’s revelation to reveal facts.

Jerry Vines: “God’s knowledge of the future doesn’t determine the future any more than man’s knowledge of the past determines the past.” (Calvinism – A Baptist and his election, emphasis mine)

​Indeed, I can accurately tell you the past, without determining the past, because from my perspective, it already happened.

Allan Turner of InPlainSite.org: “The fact that God knows I will act a certain way does not mean His knowledge causes me to act this way. If, as a free moral agent, I chose to behave differently, God’s knowledge about this behavior would also be different.” (None Should Perish, emphasis mine)

​Indeed, if we did otherwise, then God’s foreknowledge would reflect it.

As an illustration, my knowledge of what Adam & Eve did, doesn’t remove the opportunity they had to do otherwise. For if they had instead obeyed, then my knowledge would reflect that. In that sense, an eternal God can know what we call “the future,” without having to determine it, and without overturning the opportunities that He had given us to do otherwise, and if we had done otherwise, then from His eternal “after the fact” perspective, would reflect that.

Consider Revelation 20:7-10: “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” 

God can tell you what they will do, and He can tell you what He will do, and He, logically speaking, doesn’t have to predetermine or cause any of it, in order for it to be true. God’s foreknowledge is simply the perspective of a Being who dwells “outside of time.” The best that we can say is that He is looking back from eternity and relaying these events to John. 

​Question: How can anything be called God’s plan if He is merely looking back to see what has happened?

Answer: How do you know that His foreknowledge doesn’t also reflect His plan? For instance, from the perspective of Revelations 20:7-10, we could say that God’s “plan” was to bless, keep and protect His saints and their city. God’s foreknowledge reflects not only what others do, but also what He does.

​Question: Does that mean that God’s foreknowledge is passive? 

Answer: Does it show that He is being passive, or does it show that He is interacting?

​Question: If God’s foreknowledge is perfect, then isn’t the future fixed? In other words, must not what God foreknows, therefore come to pass, or else His foreknowledge is faulty?

Answer: From God’s eternal perspective, being beyond time, He has the capacity to know a choice that hasn’t been made yet, that is, from our temporal perspective.

​Question: If the future is fixed, isn’t it therefore Determined?

Answer: Determined by whom?

​Question: Wouldn’t it logically require that it is determined by God?

Answer: Not if God’s knowledge is of the self-determined choices of others. 

​Question: What do Calvinists really believe about God’s foreknowledge?

Answer: Calvinists believe that God cannot know anything unless He has decreed it, which is erroneous given the fact of God’s Middle Knowledge, that is, knowing both what actually does happen and what could happen, such as evidenced at Matthew 11:21-24. Second, Calvinists believe that God’s foreknowledge is merely the end result, or “transcript” of His eternal decree to determine whatsoever comes to pass.

Since God is eternal, He must therefore stand independent of time. God is also omni-present, as David stated in the Psalms: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.” (Psalm 139:7-8) These two facts must mean that God is omniscient, meaning, all-knowing.

Based upon God’s eternality, omnipresence and omniscience, it is logical to say that He has the capacity to know the future free choices of free moral creatures. Again, since God is eternal, that which we call future is relative only to our perspective, which is confined by the limits of time and space. God knows the future as if it was the past, because He, given His attributes, is not subject to the same limitations of finite man.

There is no such thing as foreknowledging the future, as if God’s foreknowledge somehow determined the future. Moreover, not only does God know the actual future (Revelation 20:7-9), but God also knows the potential future. (Matthew 11:21-24Open Theists are those who believe that God does not know the actual future. Their error stems from having been duped into thinking that if God knows the future, that God (rather than man’s own free choice), must have determined it. Open Theists believe that the only way to avoid making God the Determiner of all things, is to make Him ignorant of the future free choices of others. However, such a proposal would put a giant question mark after the book of Revelation, and especially Revelation 20:7-10. Who knows, perhaps then Gog and Magog will not rise up against God’s holy city after all. Maybe they will be signing hymns of praise instead of carrying clubs and spears. Open Theism represents a small segment of Arminians, and by no means is the only logical alternative to Determinism, as many Calvinists infer.

Laurence Vance: “What the Calvinists have done is to turn an attribute of God, foreknowledge, into an act of God, foreordination.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.393, emphasis mine)

Daniel Whedon: “If God’s omniscient foresight of all that is or is not in the future is the effect of God’s determination, then an attribute of God is created by an act of God.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.225, emphasis mine)

Dave Hunt: “In order to escape foreknowledge as the basis of predestination, the Calvinist must establish another meaning for foreknow/foreknowledge that fits his theory.” (What Love is This?, p.279)

That’s exactly what Calvinists do, when they turn Foreknowledge into Foreordination. They infer that God’s foreknowledge is simply the transcript of His decrees, such that what God knows, proceeds from what He decreed, thus indeed taking an act of God and rendering it the cause of an attribute of God.

Calvinist, James White: “How God can know future events, for example, and yet not determine them, is an important point….” (Debating Calvinism, p.163, emphasis mine) 

And there you have it. According to Calvinism, God cannot know the future unless He has predetermined it, since what He predetermined, determines what He foreknows. The glaring problem of teaching that God must predetermine everything in order to know anything, is that the Calvinist will then have to admit that their understanding of God is that He lacks the capacity to know an uncaused event. Since Free Will is uncaused, then according to Calvinism, God couldn’t know the future Free Will choice of anyone. 

Daniel Whedon: “If God’s foreknowledge depends on his determination, and must wait until after its existence, then he can have no foreknowledge of his own acts, and must wait for present or post-knowledge of them.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, pp.225-226)

Whedon adds: “If by the absolute perfection of God’s omniscience that one train of free events, put forth with the full power otherwise, is embraced in his foreknowledge, it follows that God foreknows the free act, and that the foreknowledge and the freedom are compatible.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.229)

Calvinist, James White: “So often is the ‘God looked into the future and saw who would choose Him’ statement made, that most accept it without any inquiry into its truthfulness. But the fact is that the text knows nothing of this ‘crystal ball’ approach to God’s decree of salvation.”  (Debating Calvinism, p.145, emphasis mine)

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul uses an analogy of a tunnel of time” to depict the Arminianism perspective: 

Strangely, however, Sproul also states: God’s omniscience refers to God’s total knowledge of all things actual and potential. God knows not only all that is, but everything that possibly could be.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.171, emphasis mine)

So what might be included in the everything that possibly could be,” and how does Sproul envision that God would know this? (In other words, if it’s merely potential,” then it would not be written in God’s alleged “script” or decree.) Furthermore, what potential things does he refer to? Is it man’s free will? How else can you explain 1st Samuel 23:12, Jeremiah 38:17-24 and Matthew 11:20-24? ?

R.C. Sproul: The expert chess player exemplifies a kind of omniscience, though it is limited to the options of chess play. He knows that his opponent can make move A, B, C, or D, and so forth. Each possible move opens up certain counter-moves. The more moves ahead the expert can consider, the more he can control his chess-game destiny. The more options and counter-options one considers, the more complex and difficult the reasoning. In reality no chess player is omniscient. God knows not only all available options, but also which option will be exercised. He knows the end before the beginning.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p171, emphasis mine)

God’s knowledge of the actual, that is, knowing the end before the beginning, speaks of God’s Foreknowledge, having the perspective of dwelling independent of time, while God’s knowledge of the potential, speaks of God’s knowledge of all contingencies, that is, Middle Knowledge. The irony is that Sproul’s explanation is a perfect answer to James White.

In this way, God’s foreknowledge does not determine the image of the future, but captures the image of the future, and it captures it just as perfectly as this mirror captures the image of this room. Restated, the Arminian understanding of foreknowledge is that God stands independent of time, being outside of time, as the Creator of time, and therefore on that account, all knowledge throughout all time, stands open before Him, even the underdetermined and uncompleted events of the future, which from our perspective, haven’t occurred yet, but from His perspective, have already occurred, because He has a different frame of reference with respect to time. As such, in order to know something, God wouldn’t need to “look ahead” in time. Rather, God is already there. That’s why God can accurately predict the future. At the same time, this doesn’t mean that God causes the future. Using the aforementioned analogy of a mirror, God knows the future without necessarily determining it. 

Daniel Whedon: “That is, God knows in every case that the agent who wills a certain way possessed the elemental power of choosing another way, or several elemental powers of choosing several other ways.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.227, emphasis mine)

This is called the “power of contrary choice.”

Daniel Whedon: “Our very definition of a free Will is, a power of choosing in a given direction, with a full power of choosing otherwise. Now the rejection of a counter for which there is full power, in given forth the actual, is included in the very idea of a free will.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.75, emphasis mine)

Essentially, it is a one way or the other decision. Putting it all together, those in the future have the power of contrary choice, and which way they decide is captured by the mirror of foreknowledge:

Daniel Whedon: “The event foreknown is the resultant or ultimate act put forth by an agent possessing power for a different act.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.240, emphasis mine)

What about the Open Theists?

Daniel Whedon: “There is a class of thinkers who avoid the difficulty of reconciling foreknowledge with free agency by denying the existence or the possibility of the foreknowledge of a free or contingent event. They affirm that a free act is, previous to its existence, a nothing, and so not an object of knowledge. The knowing it, therefore, supposes a contradiction.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.229, emphasis mine)

That is called “Open Theism,” but is overthrown by the fact that God knows what Open Theism declares to be impossible, which are the foreknown, future free acts of individuals, as outlined at Revelation 20:7-10. What Open Theists reject, that Arminians accept, is that God dwells in all space and time, as one eternal now, and therefore dwelling in the future, just as dwelling in the past, every event, even ones which are yet future to us, constitute a something, rather than a nothing.

Here is a Blog discussion on this very topic. See also: Acts 2:23Romans 8:291st Peter 1:2.

Here is an additional article.

One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “With reference to the broad discussion of God and time and the theological issues the subject broaches upon such as how God foreknows, a common Calvinist objection claims that stating God foreknows because he stands over and above time doesn’t resolve their criticisms of how God foreknows. However, in point of fact, the claim that God is over and above time or that God’s perspective is timeless is a great way to conceptualize how God’s foreknowledge works if we take our time and unpack a thought experiment for our Calvinist friends so they can understand what we mean.

Stating that God is outside of time is useful since the statement appreciates that apart from time, all logical ordering, laws of physics as well as cause and effect break down because such orders are all stated with references to time, space and order. Orders break down in the absence of time because it is time itself that keeps all things from happening at once. For example: God declares of himself that he is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. What do we suppose this means? From the discipline of physics, we can readily conceptualize a thought experiment where the entire curtain of time and space and dimensions are folded into a mathematic point and that point is labeled as God’s omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent-omnicreative perspective (‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last’ Rev. 22:13 cf. Rev. 1:8; 1:11; 21:6). From this thought experiment, we can conceptualize how God can know everything, merely as a function of his unique perspective, and not because he must first do something like predestiningly decree events.

From our thought experiment of folding time, space and dimensions into a mathematical point, we can readily understand how God sees every gamma ray streak across the heavens and how he hears the din of X-rays left over from the beginnings of his creation, reverberating throughout creation and the spaces in between. We can grasp how God can know the sweet aroma of dark matter. From our thought experiment, we can appreciate how it is that God knows what it feels like to stand in the solar winds from an exploding supernova. From our thought experiment, we can also conceptualize how God can know the future without first predestinating the future because we can readily grasp that when all time and space are folded into a mathematical point, how it is that God can see everything at once and know everything at once and be everywhere at once without decreeing time, space, events and acts. We can conceptualize all of this even before we logically understand that God went on to share the fullness of his blessedness and created. As such, we may consider the beginning of the cosmos: A moment of infinite compression. When space is infinitely compressed, it must literally not
exist. At infinite compression, space and time do not exist and physics and quantum mechanics do not apply because all those laws are formulated in terms of space and time. Physicists call this a singularity, and all laws of physics break down, as does cause and effect, because there is no ‘before’ time and space are created. Yet, God pre-existed creation even if time itself does not pre-exist creation. Consider the absence of creation again: all things are compressed into nothing in a mathematical moment of infinite compression. In our thought experiment, this is a place where time does not exist because all laws of physics and quantum mechanics break down, as does cause and effect. Such a place can be difficult for temporal, spatial beings like ourselves to consider because such a place cannot be thought of in terms of time and spatial relationships. In that place, there is no time and there is no ‘before’ or ‘after’ and yet God is there. Apart from the recognition that time and space don’t come into being until God creates, thereby providing a richer understanding of our Lord’s claim, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last’ (Rev. 22:13 cf. Rev. 1:8; 1:11; 21:6), when God creates, from his perspective, he does so in one act. Everything at every point of time is created at once.

We know from measurement that time and space dilates and we know from the prophet Isaiah that God ‘stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in’ (Isa. 40:22). Remembering the illustration that all time and space folding into a mathematical point, let us consider the reverse: time and space unfolding with different data points along the way. The different data points are parts of creation. We look up into the heavens and in time we can see stars being born and other stars burning out and collapsing under their own gravity. Yet God has already created these things from the perspective of that mathematical point of origin where all time and space are folded onto itself. We look around us and we see life and death but God has already created us if we remember, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.’ (SEA)
Question:  What is Foreknowledge?

Answer:  Foreknowledge is knowing ahead of time. However, the human perspective is unlike the divine perspective, since God is timeless. Whereas our perspective of time is linear, that may not necessarily be the case for an eternal Being such as God.