Romans 8:29 "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers". ESV

There is a question on this site which asks if "proginosko" can plausibly mean "know in former times"? Here I ask, what sort of knowledge is involved in "foreknew" as it occurs in Romans 8:29?

  1. Knowing future events which e.g. we see in Exodus 3:20 "So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go".

  2. Or, Knowledge in terms of relationship e.g. Genesis 4:1 "Now Adam knew his wife..". And John 17:3 "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent".

  • 1
    The foreknowledge is not of events, it is the Divine foreknowledge of persons whom God will bring into existence.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 24, 2021 at 17:33

5 Answers 5


The operative word here is προγινώσκω (G4267 proginóskó). It is also used in 2 Peter 3:

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand [G4267], take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

In 2 Peter, G4267 refers to the event that lawless people twisting Paul's words. By itself, the word προγινώσκω refers to events in general and not necessarily only to persons or relationships.

In Romans 8:29, however, the emphasis is on people:

For those whom he foreknew [G4267] he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers

Barnes' Notes on the Bible

For whom he did foreknow - The word used here προέγνω proegnō has been the subject of almost endless disputes in regard to its meaning in this place. The literal meaning of the word cannot be a matter of dispute. It denotes properly to "know beforehand;" to be acquainted with future events. But whether it means here simply to know that certain persons would become Christians; or to ordain, and constitute them to be Christians, and to be saved, has been a subject of almost endless discussion.

What sort of knowledge is involved in "foreknew" as it occurs in Romans 8:29?

By dictionary, the Greek word "foreknew" means knowing future events beforehand. Romans 8:29 specifically points to "those whom he foreknew", i.e., people/relationships whom he foreknew what they would do before they do them.


The original post asks:

Here I ask, what sort of knowledge is involved in "foreknew" as it occurs in Romans 8:29?

According to Mccall and Stranglin γινώσκω commonly was used by the Greeks "for cognition, acknowledgement, perception, or related intellectual states, and rarely with a person as the object of knowledge." [Trinity Journal 2005 TRINJ26NS (2005) 19-31 S.M.Baugh & The Meaning of Divine Foreknowledge - Another Look]

So Rom 8:29 would be a priori necessary truth. Which is uncommon when applied to the person, perhaps more likely meaning a class.

Its paucity of use in NT might suggest that, where γινώσκω is used, writers did so purposefully in a context.


I would argue it is neither option 1 nor option 2. It is a generic form of foreknowledge. This leaning on the ους which is impersonal, non specific and thus imprecise. Therefore it is open to anyone and everyone if they so choose to be part of the foreknown or not.

It is not that God foreknew person A would accept His Son, and person B would reject Him. Rather that people who love the truth would accept His Son, of which person A happens to be a truth lover and those who reject the truth, reject His Son, of which person B happens to be such a person.

This word does not mean God pre-selected specific individuals. God foreknew those who would accept His Son (collectively, in general), those who by their free-will (limited though it may be) if (that’s another prerequisite they must hear the gospel) presented with the gospel will chose His Son.

How did God know?

Simply put, because they would gravitate toward truth. Thus when they are presented with the truth found in the Scriptures, they will believe the Scriptures.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭10:14‬ ‭

And believing the Scriptures the Father draws them to His Son.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” ‭‭John‬ ‭6:44‬ ‭

How does God draw a person, Jesus explains

“It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has HEARD and learned from the Father comes to me—” ‭‭John‬ ‭6:45‬ ‭

So in what sense does God foreknow who to predestine? In the sense that everyone who believes the Scriptures, and is willing to be taught from the Scriptures they will gravitate to Jesus. This in no way pre-selects any one specific person, for all people are outside of Christ prior to being in Christ.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:1‬ ‭

Taking a step back, God had foreknowledge that those who upon hearing the gospel and believe the gospel will naturally gravitate toward the fulfillment of the gospel, namely His Son. Those people who would do that, He predestined (IN HIM)...

An example, I foreknow that putting candy out by the receptionist will lead to people taking a candy if they want one. Who will take one, I don’t know in advance but I do know that only those who see the candy and want the candy will reach and take some. I foreknow that much.

In conclusion

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:29-30‬ ‭

Those God foreknew, meaning those who gravitate toward the Scriptures and thus to Jesus, to this group He has prepared certain things.

  • predestined to be confirmed to the image of His Son
  • He called them (John 6:44) (aorist tense)
  • He justified them (aorist tense)
  • He glorified them (aorist tense)

Ephesians explains who is predestined and how.

“even as he chose us IN HIM before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love” ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:4‬ ‭

The choice was open to anyone who would be IN HIM, and as mentioned earlier no one was in Christ, if anything we were all in Adam. But in Christ we were predestined from before Creation. We only benefit from the predestination the moment we enter INTO Christ.

As such God foreknew to predestine those who would accept Christ. He did not predestine anyone to accept Christ. Nor did He put His finger on the scale to sway someone to accept Christ.

  • Why do you limit the extent of His foreknowledge so that He can foreknow a class of people but not the individuals in the class? Oct 29, 2023 at 11:29
  • @Mike because it has to align with the entirety of Scripture. If God says we have free will, and we choose then we choose. If he foreknows and predetermines to proceed then we are preprogrammed and do not have a genuine choice between choosing good and evil. Plus the text says He only foreknew those in Christ and given it’s our choice to choose He makes no mention of knowing who will choose to be in Christ. Therefore he only knows there will be those in Christ (a group) and those outside of Christ (another group). An extra biblical definition of sovereignty counts for nothing Oct 30, 2023 at 14:01
  • Also God can limit himself, He chooses to remember our sins no more. So it’s not beyond God to be limited. If God if inifinite in age, he immediately is limited to no longer being finite. If he says he cannot lie, he limits himself to telling only the truth. Let’s not play a silly philosophical game, instead let’s just stick to the verses that He revealed about himself and not add to the realm of possibilities in the hypothetical but that He ruled out as being null and void in reality Oct 30, 2023 at 14:05
  • Foreknowledge does not rule out genuine choice and predestination is not of our choices but to conformity to Christ for those who believe. Election (choosing) is according to foreknowledge. Oct 31, 2023 at 12:05
  • New question: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/87542/32868 Oct 31, 2023 at 12:35

What does “foreknew” mean in Romans 8:29?

Answer as in "Knowing future events."

God foreknew a class of Christians

Romans 8:29 "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers". ESV

God foreknew a class of Christians, the partakers of the heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1. Rom. 8:15-17, Gal.4:6-7, 1 Peter 1:3-4) and conformed/patterned them after the image of is Son. He did so as a class but not as individuals, they will follow Jesus in his footsteps at their own free will, imitate his course and ways, and also in their death and resurrection. (1 Peter 2:21-24, 1 Cor.11:1, Romans 6:5)

Having borne the earthly “image of the one made of dust [Adam],” as spirit creatures they thereafter bear “the image of the heavenly one [the last Adam, Christ Jesus].” (1Co 15:45, 49) During their earthly life, they are privileged to “reflect like mirrors the glory of God” that shines to them from God’s Son, being progressively transformed into the image conveyed by that glory-reflecting Son. (2Cor. 3:18; 4:6) God thereby creates in them a new personality, one that is a reflection, or image, of his own divine qualities.​—Eph 4:24; Col 3:10.


The immediate context is first:

Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν. (8:28, NA28)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28, ESV)

And immediately ends with:

… καὶ προώρισεν συμμόρφους τῆς εἰκόνος τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ, … (within Rom. 8:29, NA28)

… he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, … (within Rom. 8:29, ESV)

“The image of his Son” is a term that fits Christians in general. However, the circumstances of all things working “together for good” are very different for different people. It is God working out the individual circumstances toward good that makes “knowing beforehand” fit the idea of “acquainted beforehand.”

Paul’s experience was the dramatic life changing road to Damascus. To Paul, God clearly instigated these circumstances. What had Paul learned in his education as a rabbi? There is the personal words in the entirety of Psalm 139.

       1       O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 
       2       You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
 you discern my thoughts from afar. 
       3       You search out my path and my lying down 
 and are acquainted with all my ways. 
       4       Even before a word is on my tongue, 
 behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:1–4, ESV)

Joseph’s words:

And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Gen. 45:4–8, ESV)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen. 50:20–21, ESV)

With Pharaoh:

When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21, ESV)

Yet, when you look at the details of hardening Pharaoh’s heart, each time a plague makes Pharaoh willing to let Israel go, God stops the plague first, allowing Pharaoh to change his mind.

Modern physics tells us that time is not independent of matter. Thus, when God created the universe, he created time from beginning to end. This allows the interpretation that God knows us from the beginning, but doesn’t specifically tell us what Paul meant. God’s sovereignty is more than we can understand. We falter trying to explain it. But, the Bible is clear that we are responsible for our decisions.

  • I only let the Bible explain itself. I'm not going to erase it because you don't like it.
    – Perry Webb
    Mar 25, 2021 at 0:34

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