The Golden Chain of Redemption and Proginóskó

chainI was prompted to write this blog at the suggestion of a friend on Facebook.  Let me begin, however, with a strong word of caution with which the reader should be aware.  I have never studied Greek.  I have never had an Introduction to Greek class.  Actually, I’ve never been to seminary. Heck, I’ve never even been to college. When it comes to Greek, about the only thing that I can claim is a fondness for Greek yogurt.  I like the vanilla kind with granola.  Or, sometimes I prefer Greek yogurt with fruit.  In any event, my affinity for a type of food doesn’t exactly place me in a position of authority when it comes to Biblical Greek.

I can’t imagine many readers sticking with me after the above paragraph.  In fact, you may be wondering why you are continuing to read at all.  As a matter of fact, you should probably be asking, how could this guy have anything of substance to contribute to the study of a Greek word?  Well, the reason why I am continuing with my response is because I have access to Greek dictionaries.  People who know Greek really well have written dictionaries to help uninformed people like me know what words mean.  Therefore, like anyone with an Internet connection, I can look up words in the Greek language.

What also gives me a slight advantage is that I used to be Calvinistic and therefore I know the arguments that lie in wait with this word.  In short, a Calvinist is someone who patterns their theology to some degree after John Calvin.  Probably their most distinctive belief is man’s inability to choose God.   Calvinists believe that man is so depraved in sin that he doesn’t even want to choose God. Therefore, God predetermines who will choose Him so that in time He can justify them and make them believers in Him.  Those whom God does not predestinate to be saved will never be saved.  Those whom God predestinates to be saved can never be lost.  That, in a nutshell, is Calvinism.

Romans 8:29-30 says, “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. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Calvinists call this the “Golden Chain of Redemption.”  This is because it suggests an unbroken series of events that are eternally linked together.  To work it backwards, the ones whom God had glorified He had justified. Those whom He had justified had been called.  Those whom He had called He had already predestined.  And, those whom God had predestined He had already foreknown.

The word “foreknew” in this passage is rather significant.  It begins the chain by which everything else is linked together.  It comes from the Greek word, “proginóskó,” which is actually made up of two words “pro” and “ginosko.” Ginosko is the root word and means to “know.”  The prefix pro means “before.”  Therefore, the word means to “know before” or simply, “foreknowledge.”

Calvinist teachers generally suggest that “foreknowledge” does not simply mean that God had information on people.  Or, that God knew what they would someday do.  Rather, they teach that God’s foreknowledge means that He knew them in a relational way.  He didn’t know about them – He knew them.  Calvinists will point out in Matt 7 that Jesus will one day dismiss a group of non-elect persons by saying that He “never knew them.”  Of course, this does not mean that Jesus didn’t have any information on them.  Rather, it means that He didn’t have a relationship with them.  When Mary told the angel Gabriel, “I do not know a man,” she was suggesting that she had never been intimate with a man. Therefore, the Calvinist will point out that God’s foreknowledge means that this same group of people, who would later be glorified, had originally been known by God as His friends.  In a sense, God had approved of them based solely on His choice of them.

The problem that I see with the Calvinistic understanding, however, is that their rendering of “foreknowledge” doesn’t seem as ironclad as they like to suggest.  For example, in Acts 26:5, the word “foreknowledge” in the Greek is translated by the NASB as “have known about me.”  In context, Paul is talking about his Jewish counterparts.  As it is rendered by the NASB, Paul is not suggesting that the Jews had friendly, intimate knowledge of him, but rather had known “about him.”  This means that some translators see that the word has the potential of meaning something slightly different depending upon the context.

Furthermore, in John 5 Jesus was in a disagreement with the Pharisees and told them, “I know you that you do not have the love of God in you” (vs.42).  Here, Jesus is suggesting that He knew them quite well – well enough to know that they were not His friends!  Clearly, the word “know” here does not suggest a sort of intimate friendship that Calvinists insist upon.  Although Jesus “knew” them, He didn’t use the word to denote an intimate friendship.  In fact, the exact opposite was true.

These two examples are enough to show us that to “know” or to have “foreknowledge” does not always demand what Calvinist teachers require of these two words.  Perhaps it sometimes does – but not always.  As in most cases, context and intent would be the final determining factor.  If the Apostle Paul was a Calvinist, then he probably meant what Calvinists believe the word means.  However, if Paul was a non-Calvinist, then he may have intended that God simply foreknew those who would later respond in faith and remain part of the unbroken chain until their glorification.

I was reading a Calvinist on this passage who wrote, “Clearly this passage tells us that God’s election is not based upon any foreseen decision or action that we make. [because]… salvation does not depend upon our will but upon God’s will.”

Do you see what the author did? He dismissed the non-Calvinist teaching because his starting point is a Calvinistic world view.  He has already accepted that we cannot want to be saved, therefore, God’s foreknowledge must be based on something else.  He’s reading a lot into the word – a lot that may not be there.

To be fair, however, non-Calvinists do the same thing.  Not long ago I was listening to a non-Calvinist teacher.  I thought he was doing a pretty good job with the Romans text until he began to explain what “foreknowledge” means.  He quickly discounted what the Calvinists teach and instead focused on other possible meanings of the word.  I became disappointed in him at that moment. In a sense, he was doing exactly what his Calvinist counterparts do: he dismissed the alternate view and read his own assumptions into the passage.

As I see it, the Calvinist has a leg to stand on with their understanding of the word “foreknowledge.”  In other words, even though I do not agree with Calvinism, I recognize that their is a possibility that the word could mean what they say that it means in this passage.  However, I also see that the non-Calvinist has a point.  There is enough wiggle room in the lexicons to suggest that the word doesn’t have to mean what Calvinists say it means.  Perhaps the non-Calvinist is right? In any event, it is also very clear in the passage in question that Paul does not tell us what God’s foreknowledge is based upon. In other words, God foreknew the people Paul was referring to, but on what basis God foreknew them was not clearly stated. It’s never a good idea, in my opinion, to base an argument on what was not stated in a passage.

I think it is important to be honest when working with the Scriptures. It is easy to dismiss something if it doesn’t suit your preferences.  In my opinion, that’s not a good approach.  Rather, we must remain open-minded to all possibilities until they can be reasonably ruled out.

Peace,

dane

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmaker, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.

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