Foreknowledge is knowing things or events before they exist or happen. In Greek, the term for “foreknowledge” is prognosis, which expresses the idea of knowing reality before it is real and events before they occur. In Christian theology, foreknowledge refers to the all-knowing, omniscient nature of God whereby He knows reality before it is real, all things and events before they happen, and all people before they exist.
Both Old and New Testaments speak of God’s foreknowledge. Nothing in the future is hidden from God’s eyes (Isaiah 41:23; 42:9; 44:6–8; 46:10). God sees our lives, our bodies, and our days even before we are conceived: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:15–16).
God promised to bless future peoples through Abraham (Genesis 12:3). God told Moses what would happen with Pharaoh (Exodus 3:19). Through God’s foreknowledge, the prophets spoke of a coming Messiah (Isaiah 9:1–7; Jeremiah 23:5–6). Through Daniel, God made known the future rise and fall of kingdoms (Daniel 2:31–45; 7). And in many New Testament passages, Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s ministry and in the formation of the church (Matthew 1:22; 4:14; 8:17; John 12:38–41; Acts 2:17–21; 3:22–25; Galatians 3:8; Hebrews 5:6; 1 Peter 1:10–12).
The apostle Peter teaches that God had foreknowledge of His Son’s sacrificial death long before Jesus died (1 Peter 1:20; see also Revelation 13:8). Jesus’ death on the cross was part of God’s eternal plan of salvation before the creation of the world. On the day of Pentecost, Peter condemns those who put Christ to death but at the same time points to the sovereignty of God: they had been given free rein to do as they wished with Christ because of “God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). Although evil rulers had conspired to kill the Lord Jesus, His death had been decided by God beforehand (Acts 4:28).
The Bible teaches that God’s children were chosen beforehand, and God’s foreknowledge was involved. The elect are those “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2). “For 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” (Romans 8:29).
But God’s choice of the elect was not simply based on His foreknowledge of events; it was based on His good pleasure: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4–5). In Romans 11:2, divine foreknowledge suggests an eternal connection between God and His chosen or “foreknown” people because of His loving faithfulness: “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (ESV).
The foreknowledge of God is far more than His ability to “see the future”; His foreknowledge is a true “knowing” of what will come to pass, based on His free choice. He decrees what will come to pass. In other words, foreknowledge is not just intellectual; it is personal and relational. Foreknowledge is equivalent to foreordination in that God ordains, or orders, all that will be.