American KJV 1 Peter 1:20 says of Christ,

Who truly was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.

It seems contradictory to say someone is "foreknown" before the foundation of the world if that one is alive, existing, and there with you. How could he preexist if he is said to be foreknown? I would never say "I foreknow my son" if he is sitting next to me. This seems absurd. This would seem to go along with the more literal and consistent meaning of the Greek interpretation of Heb 3:2 that says that God the father "made" Christ, which fits with him being begotten in the clear ordinary sense of someone having a beginning. How does this fit with a pre-existent Christ?

  • Hello and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Could you please edit to add a notation about what translation you're using? Thanks. – Susan Jun 17 '15 at 3:38

No contradiction

There is not really anything contradictory about stating it this way just because Christ is understood to be pre-existent.1 This can be understood looking at it from two perspectives.

Human Perspective

You make the statement:

I would never say "I foreknow my son" if he is sitting next to me.

Yet I believe you can imagine a scenario for yourself (or generally for a person), where you are sitting with your son and his child, discussing the past, and you might make a statement to your grandchild that parallels the same concept here:

You:   "I knew my son before you were born, so let me tell you..."
          [parallel, only from Peter's third person perspective]
Peter: "He was foreknown before the foundation of the world"
        |               |                   |
        [Christ, v.19  [by the Father     [i.e. before any of us 
        the Son, v.3]  (implied, v.17)]   came into being]

You would phrase it "knew ... before," whereas Greek has a word (προγινώσκω) that includes that idea. Additionally, because a time reference is being given, you could even state a similar idea to your son...

You: "I knew you before you were born."

...depending upon what you meant by "knew" (i.e. perhaps you had viewed him in an ultrasound, observed that he was always kicking mommy at a certain time of the day, or whatever).

Divine Perspective

However, the context in 1 Peter 1 also adds another dimension of foreknowledge that we humans do not have, for what specifically is being referenced as being foreknown of Christ is the work He would do long after the foundation of the world:

17 If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (NASB)

Who Christ was yet to become (as human) and what He was yet to do (offer Himself as a spotless sacrifice) on our behalf were foreknown before creation.

I venture that no human father knows for sure what their son will become (as a person) and what works he will do in history beforehand, so in this way, Christ was foreknown by His Father differently than any normal son can be foreknown of his father.

Conclusion

Making a statement of foreknowledge about a person who is already in existence, and even a person one may perhaps be "sitting next to," when done in relation to a specific mark in time, and especially to a third party, does not contradict that person's existence. Nor is an odd way of using language when speaking about the fact that one did "know ... before" something about that person in relation to the fixed-point time reference.


NOTES

1 The idea of the pre-existence of Christ is of course a presupposition brought to this exact text, since 1 Pet 1:20 does not explicitly state that Christ is pre-existent. Without other Scripture indicating otherwise (e.g. John 1:1 with John 1:14), the verse could as well be saying Christ was "pre-planned" before the foundation of the world. However, foundations for the assumption of pre-existence are still near to the context of the verse, for the "Spirit of Christ" was in the prophets before Christ ever being born—

1 Pet 1:10-11 (NKJV)

10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.

So the context already alludes to His Spirit existence prior to His own birth.

Additionally, an inference can be made (whether right or wrong may not be possible to prove) that since Abel fits Jesus' definition of a prophet, and the first prophecy containing any idea of "salvation" and "the sufferings of Christ" was the the protoevangelium in Gen 3:15, Abel might conceivably be included in those prophets who "Of this salvation ... have inquired and searched carefully." If so, the statement of v.11 would at least locate "the Spirit of Christ" existing in a time period just after the "foundation of the world," in which case the 1 Pet 1:20 reference is simply pushing the existence back a bit further and tying the foreknowledge to an existent person, not just a pre-planned person (which also of course matches passages such as Col 1:16, John 1:3, etc. that indicate Christ's role in creation).

In short, while the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ is being brought to the question under consideration and therefore its assumed relation to the 1 Pet 1:20 statement, the assumption appears to be a valid one, even within the context of 1 Peter 1.

  • Are you equating God's "foreknowledge" of Christ with his having a destiny? As with the believer as well, yes?: Rom_11:2 God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Rom 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Theologians call this "notional preexistence": 21stcr.org/multimedia-2015/1_pdf/… – Ruminator Jul 20 at 11:58
  • @Ruminator I would not say foreknowledge equates to destiny, but it does include it in God's perspective. The 1 Pet 1:20 passage links to destiny based on vv.18-19. While the linked article makes some good points, his analysis of some of the preexistent passages is flawed because of his decision to "deliberately choose to read them through the lens of Jewish notional preexistence theology" (p.18). Putting a hermeneutical lens on creates blindness to other possibilities, and so while foreknowledge of destiny may be only notional, that does not discount literal preexistence of the subject. – ScottS Jul 20 at 16:16
  • It is a difficult passage to view without some bias. – Ruminator Jul 20 at 16:20

The question implies that that law of non-contradiction is not well-understood. The Un-begotten Only Son and the Only Begotten Son are one and the same.

John calls him the Word (Joh 1.1, 1Jo 5:7 ) and it is by the Word that God created all things. (Eph 3:9, Col 1:16)

In his incarnation, he was formed in the womb;he was begotten. (Joh 1:14 ) Everything the incarnate man was to be and do is recorded beforehand in the scriptures in the mystery which was hidden from the beginning. (Eph 3:9 )

These are not contradictions since a change in time and manner are indicated.

  • Sorry, had I been less lazy and read your post, I would not have written mine, for yours explains all very clearly. – Levan Gigineishvili Jul 24 at 8:12

The question is based on the (incorrect) assumption that "Foreknow" is the only valid meaning of the Greek word, "proeginosko". A quick survey of versions easily shows that another equally valid translation is "chosen beforehand", or, "chosen in advance", or similar. The difference must be decided on a case by case basis (as usual).

The explanation seems too strained. Most probably, the foreknowing of Jesus meant that he wasn't literally preexisting, just as the foreknowing of the saints means that we believers weren't preexisting before the foundation of the world. Why give the foreknowing of Jesus before the foundation of the world a meaning different from the one usually attached to that of saints?

  • 1
    Welcome the Biblical Hermeneutics! For future reference, there are a few guidelines for the site. First, this is not a discussion board. This is an academic site concerned with giving well researched and well reasoned answers to the queries posted by the members. The site expects longer answers citing both biblical and extra biblical sources to give evidence the answer you provide. Please be sure to answer the exact question asked by the member and do not provide other questions as part of your response. Thanks. – alb Aug 3 at 22:46

There is no contradiction. The world, the universe was made by the Logos, as said plainly in John 1:1-3, or Hebrews 1:2. Thus, since "world" entails everything made, that is to say the entirety of the created order, therefore the Logos is uncreated and co-eternal with Father. But, then what was foreknown by the Father? Of course that feature of the Logos, that was not co-eternal with the Father, that is to say, the human nature of Logos that He adopted in time which did not exist before world, for time is an aspect of the world and is absent in divine eternity prior to the creation. Thus, both Father and Logos foreknew the Incarnation of Logos, that happened through the Virgin Mary. Henceforth, the Logos remained always with His human nature, having deified it. Thus, there happened a change in the changeless Logos in that He adopted humanity in time and remained so forever, and exactly this changeless change was foreknown by both Father and the Son, and surely by the Holy Spirit also.

In fact, 1 Peter 1:20 has a parallel in Colossians 1:26: "the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints", that is to say, the mystery of the Father's co-eternal Son through whom the world was created "becoming flesh", i.e. adopting human nature in order to redeem the falledness of this nature and heal its wounds through His wounds (Isaiah 53:5).

Acts 26: 5 states “since they have proginosko (foreknown) about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.” We see that foreknown does not necessarily mean to know someone before they’re alive, rather it can simply refer to a literal familiarity or acquaintance with something or someone within the past.

The word προεγνωσμένου (genitive 'having been known beforehand'/'which was known beforehand') in Greek is the genitive form of the word προγινώσκω ('[to] know beforehand'). The word is composed of two consitituent words, πρό ('before;' related to our word 'pre' in English through Latin) and γινώσκω ('[to] know'). It denotes a knowledge or awareness of something which occurs or is otherwise manifest in the future, at any given time prior to said thing or said thing's manifestation; or, in God's case, of something not knowable to creatures not outside of time.

There is simply no indication the word 'foreknow' is meant to make Christ either created or increate, simply that God was not ignorant of what we were until God's designs unfolded in time: "Foreknown indeed [i.e. by God] before the foundation of the world, but manifested in the last times for you." Clearly a passive knowing of all events without respect to time is in view, not an active creation of events; and it's not even an event but a person whose actions and plans for salvation are known before time by God, not an 'event.'

And there is yet another sense to be taken into consideration: if this is in reference to Christ as a man, since His human nature is a creature of God, even "the firstborn of all creation" (Col 1:15), in both the eternally generated and temporal human nature creation sense. Since this can be taken to be the meaning in either the human Christ or the divine Christ view of Jesus, there is no way to read into this verse a preclusion of the eternality of the Son of God.

EDIT:

See also 2 Peter 3:17 (DRB):

You therefore, brethren, knowing these things before [προγινωσκοντες], take heed, lest being led aside by the error of the unwise, you fall from your own steadfastness. 18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and unto the day of eternity. Amen.

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