Doesn’t the Bible teach election based on God’s foreknowledge?

Q. Doesn’t 1 Peter 1:2 teach that election is based on foreknowledge? Then why do people preach otherwise? Isn’t it very wrong to do so?

I believe that God’s sovereign choice in election and our morally accountable response to God are two sides of a mystery or paradox, and that we need to hold to both sides at once in order to be faithful to the full counsel of God in the Scriptures.

It’s true that there are statements in the Bible that seem to say that people are saved essentially because God has chosen them in election.  For example, Luke describes in the book of Acts how Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the gospel in Pisidian Antioch, and he describes the response to their proclamation this way:  “All who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

But other statements in the Bible make it appear that salvation depends on our response to God.  When Jesus is speaking of the resurrection in the gospel of John, for example, he says, “Those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”

Some statements even seem to have no problem proclaiming divine sovereignty and human moral responsibility in the same breath.  Peter says in his message on the day of Pentecost, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

So I don’t think it’s wrong to preach and teach that the principle of human moral responsibility complements the principle of divine sovereignty in a well-rounded understanding of the Bible.

As for the particular passage you asked about, it’s interesting to me that what Peter says we have been chosen for is not salvation, but sanctification.  He writes to those “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.”  In the same way Paul says that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”  And I understand the foreknowledge here as relational knowledge (in a sense, God has been in a relationship with us since eternity past), not an advance knowledge of what choice a person will make.  I don’t think that is predetermined.  (See this post for a longer discussion of God’s foreknowledge in connection with a different question.)

So election based on foreknowledge is only part of the story, and it’s not wrong to bring out the other parts of the story.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

1 thought on “Doesn’t the Bible teach election based on God’s foreknowledge?”

  1. What you said in the first paragraph is true. Yes we all have our parts to do and need to respond to God’s calling but I do believe that election is based on foreknowledge. He chooses you first because he knows that you are going to choose him. Now God is beyond time because he eternally exists in the present. Actually everything about him lies in the present. Before Moses was born I am; I am who I am. Even the gift of eternal life is rooted in the present. And I also believe that God sees everything in the ‘unbounded now’ as C.S Lewis put it. He sees yesterday, today and tomorrow all at once and not as a series of events. Hence, if you were to say that God does not know what moral action a person makes you bind God to time. Only a person bound to time doesn’t know what the future is going to be like. As to why God created Satan I don’t know and I don’t think it is possible for human understanding that changes with time to perceive an everlasting God. If we lived centuries earlier we would have adhered to philosophy of nature (and its paradigms) and not modern science. So what we think is logic is not absolute, it is ever changing. For that matter, nothing about man is absolute. His thoughts, perceptions, promises, schemas, judgments are all here today and gone tomorrow just like him. So man can never comprehend the infinite, no matter how hard he tries. God has made himself known to the extent he wants to.

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