The "Free Moral Agency" Of Man And The Foreknowledge Of God
Written by Doug Miller
Thursday, 12 February 2009 03:17

The “Free Moral Agency” of Man and

The Foreknowledge of God

Some questions in a recent Sunday A.M. Adult Bible class have provided the impetus for this article. The central questions in that discussion were: Did God know (in advance) that Adam and Eve would sin in the Garden? Does God’s Word provide the answer to this question? As we begin, let us realize that miscon-ceptions concerning the nature of God are the foundation for nearly every religious error in existence today.

The initial thing that we need to consider should be the qualities and/or characteristics given to God’s crea-tion – man – as indicated by the first part of the title of this study: The Free Moral Agency of mankind. In the Genesis account of the Godhead’s activity on Day 6 of that very first 7-day week, Moses records God say-ing: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .” (Gen. 1:26-27). This tells us, as living human beings today, that our earliest ancestors were given, among other things, an immortal nature (what we know as our souls) and the ability to decide, whether or not, to be obedient – created with a “free will” (Ezra 7:13) – even as Jesus learned obedience (Heb. 5:8-9). Please, DO NOT FORGET the very reason that God created man in the first place: “. . . for thou didst create ALL things and FOR THY PLEASURE they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). What pleasure would it have been for God to have created a so-called “robot” – already “programmed” in advance to act and/or respond in a predictable way? Please, ALSO REMEMBER, that NO man knows (or can know) the mind of God (Isa. 55:8-9) – except for what God reveals to us about Himself through His Word.

One of those “things” that He has revealed to us is that He is omniscient – all knowing (has the ability to know ALL things). The words “omniscient” (adj.) and “omniscience” (noun) are derived from combining the Latin prefix “omnis” meaning “ALL” and the Latin verb “scire” which means “TO KNOW.” These refer to the capacity of “KNOWING ALL THINGS.” That leaves nothing outside of His scope! And this characteris-tic MUST BE UNLIMITED or INFINITE. For God to be God, in any real and meaningful sense, He MUST BE UNLIMITED or INFINITE in all His attributes – “omnipotent” (all powerful) and “omnipresent” (everywhere present at the same time). If any of these attributes were NOT POSSESSED by Him to the INFINITE degree, then He would only be a FINITE BEING. To be a finite being means that one is a contingent being (dependent upon someone or something else outside of itself for its own existence). A con- tingent being is thus, of necessity, a created being and a created being CANNOT POSSIBLY BE the Creator!! Let’s look at Psalms 139:1-16; 147:5. Also see what David wrote to his son Solomon (I Chron. 28:9). In the book of Proverbs, Solomon affirms the comprehensive nature of God’s knowledge – 5:21; 15:3. This makes the song that we sing, “The All-Seeing Eye” so much more meaningful and genuine!

Thus, we perceive clearly that God possesses the attribute of KNOWLEDGE to the highest possible degree; to the ultimate perfection. With Him, there can be NOTHING DIFFICULT, NOTHING MYSTER- IOUS; but, ALL THINGS are plain to His understanding and open to His view (Jer. 32:19). This perfect and/or complete knowledge is restricted in NO particular part of His dominions; but, extends alike from Heaven, to Earth and even to the Hadean realm!! It extends to ALL THINGS, great and small, whether animate or inanimate, material or immaterial, throughout the immensity of space and time, past and future; is fully comprehended by the omniscient God as the plainest events of the present.

What creates such difficulty for us as human beings is that we think and reason in the FINITE sense. We have NEVER known the INFINITE; how to think and comprehend in the EVERLASTING time frame – we will, someday, when this earthly, fleshly life has ended – while God is an infinite being and views what we

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know as “past, present and future” in a very different way. There is no “beginning” or “ending” as seen by God; it is the NOW with Him (Rev. 1:8 – this verse, more than likely, refers to Christ; look at the context. It is surely not inappropriate to refer to Christ as “the Lord God.” Did not this same John give us the record of Thomas’ post-resurrection confession of Christ as “My Lord and My God” [Jn. 20:28]. While the phrase, “Who is and Who was and Who is to come” manifestly refers to the Father in ver. 4, it is no less true of the Son [Heb. 13:8]. So, whether the Father or the Son is doing the speaking here, it is still the fullness of the Godhead or Deity [Col. 2:9]).


This brings us to the subject of the foreknowledge of God; i.e., His knowledge “before-hand” of events yet “future” from the human perspective. “Foreknowledge” is from a compound Greek word composed of “pro” (before) and “gnosis” (knowledge); thus, literally, “before knowledge.” When anglicized, this word becomes our “prognosis.” The phrase itself is accommodative of the finitude (limits in the finite) of man. The essence of “foreknowledge” IS God’s knowledge, PERIOD!!! As pertains to human thinking and actions, it simply means that God is able to “foresee” (KNOW) what/how man will FREELY – in a real and meaningful sense – choose to do or not do!

Some individuals object to the idea of “omniscience” because of the errors of Calvinism (particularly, the false doctrine of “predestination”) and on the basis of “free will.” They reason (incorrectly) that to be able to “foreknow” an event is going to occur is the same as to actively cause it to happen. Hence, when God “foresees” (KNOWS) that a man is going to commit a murder and when that individual, then, actually commits that murder, then God is culpably responsible as the “active cause” for that murder!! However, to “know beforehand” what will most certainly happen does not necessarily mean the same thing as to compel it to happen against or in spite of the free will of the perpetrator – not any more so than “after-knowledge” (memory) of a “past” event REQUIRES of the possessor some moral responsibility in having caused it to happen!!

Once again, as human beings, we think and reason what we know as the “past, present and future” but God thinks and “knows” in the NOW (what we understand as the present) and is NOT LIMITED by time and space!! It does not follow that God compels one to sin and would, therefore, cause Him to be the author of that sin!!! REMEMBER, GOD HATES SIN (Isa 59:1-2; Deut. 32:4; Job 11:11; Heb. 1:9) – if He hates iniquity, how could He be the author of it??


Let’s look at an example: Judas Iscariot. As we read of this man, who was chosen by Jesus to be one of His disciples (Mt. 10:1), we realize that there were some interesting things taking place in his life. At some point, he made a decision to “shut up his compassion” (1 Jn. 3:17, ASV, 1901) for those who were more impoverished than he. When Mary (Lazarus’s sister) anointed Jesus’ feet with a “very precious” ointment a few days before the Savior’s death, Judas complained (Jn. 12:1-6). More than a year before His death, Jesus explicitly indicated that He KNEW FROM THE BEGINNING “who it was that should betray him (Jn. 6:64). Notice that Jesus DID NOT SAY that Judas was “a devil from the beginning”; rather, the Savior “knew from the beginning” who the traitor would be. Even though Jesus “knew” (had foreknowledge), did Judas still have the “free will” to decide what course of action he would pursue? Did Jesus treat him any different just prior to their reclining around that table in the upper room for the Passover meal (Jn. 13:1) because He “knew?” Those followers of Calvinistic doctrine (“once-saved, always saved”) have a dilemma here. To be consistent, they MUST acknowledge that Judas, with his “destiny” clearly identified, was NEVER going to be saved.

How had the Pharisees tried to charge Jesus with the ability to cast out demons (Mt. 12:22-26)? If the Lord had enlisted a child of Satan, working for Him as a disciple, would He have empowered the man with the ability to cast out demons?? Would such not have been wholly inconsistent with the argument He used against the Pharisees? Such a position makes no sense at all.

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God’s ability to know the “future absolutely includes knowing “future” events as they relate to men and the individuals who will cause and/or be affected by those events. God foreknew the succession of empires that would follow Nebuchadnezzar’s over the next five centuries and that, during the last one in that series (the Roman Empire), His everlasting kingdom would be established (Dan. 2:31-44). Likewise, God called Cyrus by name and stated, about one hundred and fifty years beforehand, that he (King Cyrus) would serve God’s purpose in allowing the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple (Isa. 44:28-45:1).

God foreknew and revealed numerous details about the Lord’s life and death; some of them a millennium before they occurred. In fact, that He would pour out His redeeming blood for sinners was “foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world” (I Pet. 1:20, ASV, 1901). Since it was “according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” that “the manifold wisdom of God . . . might be made known through the church” (Eph. 3:11), it MUST FOLLOW that God foresaw the need for the church (His king-dom, Mt. 16:15-19; Mk. 9:1; Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:7-8; 2:1-4, 32-33, 36-41, 46-47) in His plan for the salvation of man!! How else could the church (kingdom) have been “according to” God’s “eternal purpose”?? We may simply summarize by saying that all of the prophetic material in the Bible is, at the same time, the result and the proof of God’s ability to foresee events “future” to the time of those to whom the prophesies were spoken and/or revealed.

God’s foreknowledge of men and what they will decide to do is just as full for all other persons who have ever lived (as already mentioned – Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus – and others like Abraham, Sarah, Josiah and even Jesus) and whoever WILL live!! This is an implied statement in Heb. 4:13. The apostle Paul wrote of himself, by inspiration: “But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles; straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:15-16; cf., Acts 9:15). How can this be understood to mean anything other than that God, in His INFINITE FOREKNOWLEDGE, both KNEW Saul (Paul) personally (i.e., by name) and KNEW the issue of his life (as both a persecutor of the early church and a preacher of the Gospel – Acts 9:1-2; 18-22) BEFORE THE APOSTLE WAS BORN!!

In His omniscience, God’s knowledge is so complete that He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground; and, He even knows the number of hairs on a person’s head (Mt. 10:29-30). The doctrine of the foreknow-ledge of God; therefore implies, that He knows of the fall of EVERY sparrow YET TO OCCUR!! Jesus’ statement, here, has the force of declaring that God’s knowledge (foreknowledge) is so all-encompassing (absolute) that He knows the number of hairs on the head of every person whoever lived or EVER WILL LIVE!! Isaiah wrote in relationship to God’s ability concerning this (Isa. 46:9-10). Although the capability is incomprehensible to us (due to our finite limitations), we must conclude that God’s infinite foreknowledge implies that He has always known the number of hairs on every person’s head even before He created Adam and that very first head of hair!!

Ephesians 1:4 is certainly relevant to our subject. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul states that God “chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame (“blemish,” ASV, 1901) before Him in love.” Those who hold to Calvinistic doctrine cite this verse (and the next one, verse 5) as proof that God arbitrarily and unconditionally chose in eternity THE VERY INDIVID-UALS who would be saved and that THIS NUMBER CAN NEITHER BE AUGMENTED OR DIMINSHED. However, neither this nor any other passage teaches such a dark, dismal and damnable doctrine. Rather, the demands of these passages are quite well satisfied by understanding Paul to be declaring that God determined “before time began” (as we know it, being the finite creatures that we are) – this is a reference to His fore-knowledge – that those whom He would save would be THOSE ALONE WHO WOULD ENTER INTO

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CHRIST and live holy and dedicated lives (Acts 13:38-46; Eph. 1:22-23; 5:25-27).

Paul also wrote to the Roman saints concerning the foreknowledge of God (Rom. 8:28-30). These passages declare that God possessed the foreknowledge (still does, by the way) of those whom He (1. “predestined” [“foreordained,” ASV, 1901] to follow His Son, (2. called [by the Gospel – II Thess. 2:13-14], (3. justified, and (4. glorified [by those who would obey it]. This “whom He foreknew” then means that He was knowledgeable of all those who would obey the Gospel would be the saved; the church – “ecclesia” (Gr., the “called out,” I Pet. 2:9-10).

For God to “foreknow” what is to (“will,” “shall”) take place and for Him to “pre-program” or “predes-tinate”/”fore-ordain” what actually takes place are two very different and distinct things. .

Without any reasonable probability of misrepresenting them, let us examine a few quotations from where this “predestination” or “fore-ordination” doctrine of today originated. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Presbyterian Confession of Faith, chap. iii, sec. 1). With the same emphasis, we find the answer to Question #12 of the Larger Catechism (a Roman Catholic church publication), as follows: “God’s decrees are the wise, free and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchan-geably fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass, especially concerning angels and men.”

Now, if the doctrine set forth here is true, it certainly must be impossible for man to err! No matter what he does, it is in keeping with and brought about by God’s divine decree or “fore-ordination,” and therefore, CAN NOT BE WRONG!!! If he does anything – whatever that might be – WHETHER GOOD OR BAD – if God has “ordained” everything, He has “ordained” that very thing!!! If it comes to pass that a man lies, God has not only “ordained” that he should lie, but He has unchangeably ordained it!!! If it comes to pass that a man steals, God has unchangeably ordained that, too!!! If it comes to pass that a man kills his neighbor, God has unchangeably ordained that, as well!!! Here’s where the subscribers of this false doctrine, once again, have a dilemma. IT DID COME TO PASS that Cain killed his brother Abel: WHY, then, did God put a curse upon him for it (Gen. 4:9-12)??? It was not only in accordance with “the most wise and holy counsel of His will;” but, God had also “freely and unchangeably ordained that Cain should do the very thing for which He then cursed him!!! How can any sane man believe this??? As God has plainly forbidden certain things which, eventually, DO come to pass, it CAN NOT BE TRUE that He has unchangeably ordained them to occur!!! That God would unchangeably ordain a certain thing should come to pass and, AT THE SAME TIME, POSITIVELY FORBID IT, is an inconsistency entirely incompatible with His divine char-acter; especially, when we add to it, the thought that HE PROMISES THE GUILTY WILL SUFFER END-LESS PUNISHMENT (Jn. 5:28-29; Rev. 14:10-11). Surely, He, whose laws ever bear the stamp of that infinite justice, goodness, love and mercy, which characterize its Author, WOULD NOT PUNISH His depen-dent creation (man) in the flames of an angry Hell forever for doing that which He had “unchangeably or-dained that he should do!!! How is this false doctrine compatible with Psalms 145:9, 17?? And the makers of this creed disclaim the consequences of such a false doctrine by saying: “Yet, so as thereby, neither is God the author of sin;” but, they have failed to show how His character may be vindicated from such a charge in harmony with such a doctrine!! If God has unchangeably ordainedeverything that “comes to pass;” then, how can man change His unchangeable ordinance?? And if he (man) can not change it; surely, no blame can be attached to him for ANYTHING HE DOES!!! What ability is there left for man NOT TO DO (avoid) the very things that have already been unchangeably ordained for him to do? For, were he able to avoid doing those things, he would be able to change God’s unchangeable decree, and; thereby, have more power to “change” than God has to “enforce”!!! Is anyone prepared to assume such a position as this???

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Please note the far-reaching extent of the doctrine in controversy. It is not that God has “from all eternity” ordained; but, that He has unchangeably ordained;” not some things, but whatsoever comes to pass --- EVERYTHING!! Surely, though, the ordinances and decrees of God (the things He has spoken in His Word) are broken or violated every day.

I know you have heard people say: “It was destined to happen!” or “It was meant to be!” This comes from the very Calvinistic doctrine that we are examining here and many don’t even realize it when they use these phrases!! This false doctrine could be (and is) known also as “predestination.” In contrast, the truth is: God compels NO MAN to keep His ordinances or commandments; but, will place upon him merited punishment if he does not keep them. For what God has approved and/or authorized man to do, He rewards/ will reward him eventually for that positive action, in eternity. However, for man to do that which God has NOT approved and /or authorized, God has stated the consequences. He established this principle, initially, with Adam and Eve and was certainly evident, later, with Cain and Abel. This extended to the pre-flood era of Noah’s generation and is STILL the basic guideline for man’s relationship to God, even today.


This leads us now to, briefly examine, the subjects of “unconditional election” and “reprobation.” And, that we may see these doctrines in their purity (?), we beg permission, again, to quote from this creed: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions or causes moving him thereunto (Presbyterian Confession of Faith, chap. iii, secs. 4, 5, 6).

This is, as we know, in direct contradiction with God’s holy and divine Word!! Look at Rom. 13:1-2. How can anyone successfully resist that which God has “unchangeably ordained” and “predestinated”? Let’s look again: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Here is a positive decree or ordinance of God that DID NOT come to pass,” for “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God REPENTED of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and HE DID IT NOT” (ver. 10). Was not this decree unchangeable?? And another: (II Kgs. 20:1-2) Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed, after which, God said to him what (vers. 5-6)?? And what did the Lord God say, by the mouth of His prophet, concerning the nation of Judah [the Southern Kingdom] in Jer. 18:7-10?? Even the very first time (that we are aware of) that God had this ‘change of heart’ (Gen. 6:5-6)?? Now, if the Lord God has “foreor-dained”/”predestinated” everything that comes to pass;” why, then, did He grieve over the wickedness (even the imaginations) of the antediluvians – the inhabitants of the Earth prior to the Flood – when their every act and thought was but a consummation of His own immutable and eternal decree???


Now, we should be able to answer the original question that prompted this study: Did God know (in ad- vance) that Adam and Eve would sin in the Garden? ______. God made them and placed them under His law. It came to pass;” they violated that law! If God “foreordained”/”predestinated” whatsoever came to pass;” then, of course, He “foreordained”/”predestinated” that they should eat. Hence, they were in a strait between the law and the unchangeable ordination or decree of God. One or the other MUST be broken!!! This was impossible: to eat and violate the law was UNAVOIDABLE; and yet, God WOULD PUNISH THEM for it!!! With all the scriptural evidence, reason and common sense; such a theory is AT WAR WITH THE BIBLE as well as a reproach upon the character and nature of our Heavenly Father!!!

--- written and submitted Doug Miller