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The Greek dictionaries I've seen so far consistently give "proginosko" as having the basic meaning "know in advance" or "get to know in advance"; here, the prefix "pro-" has the sense "beforehand", i.e. before the actualisation of whatever or whoever is being "known in advance".

However, I have recently heard it claimed (by Prof. Leighton Flowers https://youtu.be/5aqR23SrHy0, who also cites other commentaries that I haven't checked) that in Romans 8:29 and Romans 11:2, a plausible sense of "proginosko" is "know in former times" or "know of old". As support for this claim, Acts 26:5 is cited, where "proginosko" appears to have a sense along these lines.

But I would guess that in Acts 26:5, the presence of the adverb "anothen" ("from the outset") provides the temporal setting for "pro-" to be understood as something like "even before the later-on times" or anything else to amplify the intended sense of "anothen". No similar adverb is present in Romans 8:29 and 11:2.

In Koine Greek (or earlier Greek), in the absence of a temporal adverb or a temporal prepositional phrase, can "proginosko" have the sense of "know in former times"?


[ The particular passages of interest: In Romans 8:28ff,

"And we know that to those who love God, all things work together unto good, to those who according to [His] purpose are called (kletos); because them whom He fore-beknew (proginosko) He also fore-ordained (proorizo) to be of like form with the image of His Son, so that He [God's Son] would be firstborn among many brethren; and them whom He [God] fore-ordained, these He also called; and ..."

In Romans 11:1ff,

"I say then, did God cast away His people? May it not be! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, the tribe of Benjamin. God did not cast away His people whom He fore-beknew (proginosko). Or do you not know regarding Elijah what the Scripture says..."

I suppose that in Romans 8:29, if we take "proginosko" as "know in former times" then we should also take "proorizo" as "designate in former times"? ]

I must admit (as someone who has studied Classical Greek but am not an expert) that the "know of old" interpretation does seem strange to me; and after the useful post of ScottS and subsequent discussion, I think I can pinpoint why: It seems strange to me that a temporal prepositional prefix can be what is used to specify the time-frame of the verb to which it is attached. A temporal prepositional prefix can certainly "amplify" the time-frame expressed elsewhere in the clause (just like any prepositional phrase is reinforced by reiterating the preposition as a prefix on the verb). But I do not recall seeing the role of defining/specifying a time-frame being played by a prepositional prefix in isolation. Furthermore, the time-frame of a verb can obviously affect its tense, and it seems strange that a prepositional prefix on a verb can in any way "constrain the tense" of the verb. To explain what I mean: If "pro-" can be taken in the sense of "in former times", then I can see how proginosko can appear as an aorist-tense indicative verb,

"We understand that those whom God beknew in former times..."

or as a pluperfect-tense indicative verb,

"The Corinthians understood that those whom God had beknown in previous times..."

but what could it mean as a present-tense indicative verb?

What would be helpful to answer my question is if either

(a) someone could give a quote from ancient Greek where "pro-" is attached to a verb with the sense "in former times", in the absense of another temporal phrase governing the verb,

or

(b) someone who is an expert in (some form of) ancient Greek, understanding subtleties and nuances well, could confirm that "proginosko" cannot have the sense "know in former times" when it appears in a syntactically similar manner to how it appears in Romans 8:29 or 11:2.


Other NT occurrences of "proginosko":

For reference, the set of instances of the verb "proginosko" in the New Testament is listed at https://biblehub.com/greek/4267.htm, and of the noun "prognosis" at https://biblehub.com/greek/4268.htm.

  • 2
    It appears that someone downvoted my question. Does anyone know why this might be? – Julian Newman Dec 30 '19 at 0:47
  • @Nigel J: Thank you, I recognise that of course no-one is under compulsion to explain their own vote. I think that usually, when a post gets a downvote that is not in error, it is because the post fails to fulfil some or other standard expected of questions on the site, and this can be very unobvious to the one posting. So I'm wondering whether my post failed some expected standard (and also whether, if the downvote is somehow in error or seems unreasonable, moderators can undo it). – Julian Newman Dec 31 '19 at 0:13
  • @Nigel J: On the Stack Exchange network, the reputation is lost at the moment of creating the bounty. I had more than 100 reputation, and then lost 100 of this reputation the moment I attached the bounty to this question. – Julian Newman Jan 1 at 15:42
  • That makes perfect sense. Thank you. – Nigel J Jan 1 at 16:52
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I believe there are a few points to be noted here against Leighton Flowers view.

First, one could argue there is no difference in meaning between "know in former times" or "know of old" and "know in advance" or "get to know in advance." That is, if something about today is known in "former times" then it was also known "in advance." So one can argue that a semantic word game is being played, and all those translations say the same thing. It seems at some level Flowers understands this, as at 4:22-35 of the video he emphasizes that the meaning of proginosko is "simply to formerly know, to know before" (which is merely the timing of the knowledge, not anything about the content of the knowledge itself, which gets into the next point...).

Second, however, the way Flowers is attempting to view the word in that video, he does have a purpose for his making a distinction in phrasing (even if that phrasing does not really add any true distinction); he is arguing that the content of the knowledge is about past things at the time those things occurred (not content of things of today or the future at the time of the past knowledge). In other words, he is trying to make the "pro-" of proginosko be merely an additional emphasis on what a past tense ginosko by itself would have sufficed to say (or a past tense orizo). To illustrate, he is making an argument that effectively says the "pro-" prefixes could have been dropped from the verses in question.

Instead of what we have, by his argument, Rom 8:28ff could have simply read (using your translation given in the question, bold at the points of change):

"And we know that to those who love God, all things work together unto good, to those who according to [His] purpose are called (kletos); because them whom He knew (ginosko) He also ordained (orizo) to be of like form with the image of His Son, so that He [God's Son] would be firstborn among many brethren; and them whom He [God] ordained, these He also called; and ..."

The "pro-" prefix in his view becomes superfluous, as a mere past tense verb without prefix would have sufficed to state the same thing.

Could this be the case? Yes—I see no purely grammatical reason to argue against the use of "pro-" in such away. But to me it seems highly unlikely in Romans 8 (especially, Romans 11, maybe) for three reasons:

  1. I fail to see any purpose in why God/Paul (DISCLAIMER: I believe in divine inspiration of the Scriptures, such that it is God's word as much as Paul's) would have a superfluous emphasis on past knowledge of past events being known and determined. In other words, there is no real "need" to have the "pro-" prefixed form of the verb used if that was the case.
  2. Broader usage of these prefixed terms shows they are used as has been the standard interpretation, to know (ginosko) (or determine [orizo], but I won't give examples of that here) things prior to those things happening. Consider the examples given from a standard Greek lexicon: William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. προγινώσκω. They cite passages like (bold added for translation of προγινώσκω; brackets are my comments):

    [Philo of Alexandria]

    Now the second species is that in which our mind, being moved simultaneously with the mind of the universe, has appeared to be hurried away by itself and to be under the influence of divine impulses, so as to be rendered capable of comprehending beforehand [προγινώσκειν], and knowing by anticipation [προλαμβάνειν] some of the events of the future [μελλόντων]. Now the first dream which is akin to the species which I have been describing, is that which appeared on the ladder which reached up to heaven, and which was of this kind. (Charles Duke Yonge, trans., with Philo of Alexandria, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995], "On Dreams" 1.2)

    [Greek of passage]

    δεύτερον δʼ εἶδος, ἐν ᾧ ὁ ἡμέτερος νοῦς τῷ τῶν ὅλων συγκινούμενος ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ κατέχεσθαί τε καὶ θεοφορεῖσθαι δοκεῖ, ὡς ἱκανὸς εἶναι προλαμβάνειν καὶ προγινώσκειν τι τῶν μελλόντων. ὄναρ δʼ ἐστὶ πρῶτον οἰκεῖον εἴδει τῷ σημαινομένῳ τὸ φανὲν ἐπὶ τῆς οὐρανοῦ κλίμακος τόδε· (Philo of Alexandria, “Philo, Volumes I-X: Greek Text,” The Loeb Classical Library [1934; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001], Vol. 5, "On Dreams" 1.2)

    Notice Philo is explicit about stating knowledge content is of future things in the use of this word.

    [Josephus]

    Accordingly he complied with what they desired, upon the promises they had made him, and was desirous to fall upon us when we were unprepared for him, and knew nothing of his coming beforehand [προγινώσκουσιν]: so he sent to me, and desired that I would give him leave to come and salute me. When I had given him that leave, which I did without the least knowledge of his treacherous intentions beforehand [προηπιστάμην (near synonym to προγινώσκουσιν, as the root ἐπίσταμαι means "understand," "know, be acquainted with")], he took his band of robbers, and made haste to come to me. (Flavius Josephus and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987], "The Life of Flavius Josephus," 106)

    [Greek of passage]

    ὁ δ ̓ ὑπακούσας αὐτῶν ταῖς ὑποσχέσεσιν ἠθέλησεν ἐπιπεσεῖν ἡμῖν ἀνετοίμοις καὶ μηδὲν προγινώσκουσιν. πέμψας γοῦν πρός με παρεκάλει λαβεῖν ἐξουσίαν ἀσπασόμενον ἀφικέσθαι. συγχωρήσαντος δέ μου, τῆς γὰρ ἐπιβουλῆς οὐδὲν προηπιστάμην, ἀναλαβὼν τὸ σύνταγμα τῶν λῃστῶν ἔσπευδεν ἐπ ̓ ἐμέ. (Flavius Josephus and Benedictus Niese, “Flavii Iosephi Opera Recognovit Benedictvs Niese ...” [Berolini: apvd Weidmannos, 1888–], Iosephi Vita, §106)

    Notice Josephus is also referencing a "preknowledge" of someone's coming (in the negative, that is, it was not preknown), but the point is the content of the knowledge was about a future event.

    So other contemporary usages of the term (i.e. historical context of the use of the term) seem to favor the fact that proginosko is used to refer to knowledge beforehand of content regarding a yet to be reality. This does not favor Flowers argument.

  3. Contextually (and Flowers emphasized context in that video as important), in Romans 8:28-30, the "calling" is a pivot point. The focus is on "those who love God," which are also equated with "the called" (v.28). The point being made in this context is that the calling of any individual (v.30a) is stated to be based upon that individual being "preordained" to conformity to Christ's image (v.29b), which preordaining is based on a "preknowing" of the individual in some way (v.28b-29a).* And then the other items (justification and glorification, v.30b-c) are based upon that calling. This makes the "pro-" prefixes significant, because they come before the pivot point of the calling of those that love God, whereas the justification and glorification come after. So God knows and determines something about an individual before the calling, and in fact these things appear to be the basis for the calling. That everything is given in past tense (as Flowers emphasizes) means that, in God's mind, the whole is a package deal leading to and end result of glorification. But each step happens at different places in historical time.*

The above argument fits the more traditional views of Romans 8 better than Flowers's view (IMO).

The Romans 11:2, as well, implies in context that the present subject (Paul himself) and additional people who "at this present time" (v.5) are "a remnant," were preknown by God. That is, I do not think the "pro-" there is merely a reference to knowledge of people in the past, but also those of the present context that Paul is referring to. (However, in the context of Romans 11, I do think there is more contextual argument that at least makes Flowers's view equally plausible as to the content of the knowledge being referred to).

Even Acts 26:5, I believe, can be argued as a "pre-knowledge" idea. Not in the sense of the Jews prophetically knowing Paul, but rather that they knew Paul from the first of his youth (v.4), and they knew prior to his actually living out his life "according to the strictest sect of our religion ... a Pharisee" (NKJV) that the Pharisaical path was the course his life was going to take. An analogous idea might be a child who shows at a young age an evidence of what future career they might pick.

Conclusion

I do not find much support that the content of what is known when proginosko is used refers to something previous (i.e. as merely an emphasized synonym for a past tense ginosko), but rather to some content about reality that is yet to come at the timing of the knowledge. (FYI, I like some of the information Flowers puts out, but on this point, I don't think he has a correct grasp of what this word is intending in these contexts.)


* The two points above I have asterisked relate to getting theological: My personal view on the Romans 8 passage is that God preknows who will come to "love Him" (v.28, which love is evoked because of His first loving them, 1 Jn 4:19, which love in part entails His love for the whole world, Jn 3:16). Those that will love Him, he has predestined to make new (conformed to Christ's image), and will call them (to belief in God's saving work in the Savior, Jesus Christ) for the purpose of His being righteous to justify them (despite their sinfulness) and then glorify them. This, of course, is only tangentially related to your question.

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  • Thank you. Your point 1 seems strange: In intelligible communication, you can't introduce out of nowhere a past-event-tense (i.e. aorist) verb with nothing to indicate the time frame of the event, unless the time-frame somehow already implicit; in Flowers' reading, the word that fulfils this function is precisely the prefix "pro-". (So it is not a superfluous emphasis, but rather a necessity in order for Paul's logic ["Consider God's actions of old to trust His providence today"] to be understood.) But maybe your very point is that a prefix of a verb cannot fulfil this function? – Julian Newman Dec 31 '19 at 23:56
  • As for Romans 11:2 - You say that Flowers' reading is equally plausible with yours. Do you know of any quotations in ancient Greek (any period) where the prefix pro- is attached to a verb to carry the sense of "before present times" / "of old", in the absense of another temporal qualifier? – Julian Newman Jan 1 at 0:07
  • Regarding your first point, sure you can! Assume I knew you as a child. If I simply say "I knew Julian," that past tense "knew" is enough to indicate a past knowledge. In English, I might emphasize this and say "I previously knew Julian," but that would then imply that I don't have much present knowledge. If I say "I know Julian" that indicates some present knowledge. Regarding the second point, my intent about Flowers having a plausible reading there is based purely on the "content" of what might be known. I am not aware of ancient Greek example otherwise (but have not looked at them all). – ScottS Jan 1 at 5:33
  • ??? If, during a conversation about Julian that has been entirely focusing on the present and/or future with no mention of the past, you then say the sentence, "Well, I knew Julian.", everyone will be confused as to what you're trying to say and how you intend its relevance to the conversation, and will probably wonder whether there has been some miscommunication. But if instead you say, "Well, I once knew Julian.", the word "once" functions as the time-frame indicator [even though all it says is "there exists a time in the past when I knew Julian"], and everyone will understand. – Julian Newman Jan 1 at 16:19
  • I guess for me, in this context, the "time frame" is implicit in the group just referenced; that is "those who love God" spans from the present back into the past, and so a past tense verb would be perfectly fine (without the pro-) to refer to this group as a whole, if the intention was merely to make a statement about God's knowledge of any one of those individuals in the past/present (as even the present people that love God were at that time one's who God came to know in the past, based on that type of reading). That is why I see no need for the pro- if that were the intention. – ScottS Jan 2 at 18:09

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