NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson IV)
For Robert Haldane, when Paul used the term “people” in verse one, he was referring to Israel. But here in verse two, the term “people” is restricted to the elect among all the Jews. They were His true people because they were the ones He foreknew to be chosen. Even though God had rejected Israel as a nation, yet He had been able to retain a group of faithful believers. The words foreknow and foreknew signify having knowledge of something before it comes into being. As an example, if you plant a seed into the ground and later it grows into a tall plant, you can tell your surprised neighbor that you knew about the plant even before it appeared above ground. In other words, you had foreknowledge of its existence. In relationship to this faithful remnant of true believers among all of Israel, they were accompanied by a decree from God concerning a certain seed of Abraham.
Also, for Haldane, God’s foreknowledge, in the first of these senses, is God’s foresight of future events and their existence, and His certainty of what will take place in the future. We must also note that this foreknowledge itself is not an order for it to come to pass. That will not happen until God decrees it. But it is a necessary part of the natural consequences that bring it into being and is dependent upon the purpose God has for its existence. As far as Haldane is concerned, the future of all things depend on God’s order by which every supernatural event, with all its circumstances, are decreed, the date fixed, and then ordered into reality.
The second of these senses, for Haldane, is that once God commands that they come into being it proves that they were already contained in His foreknowledge. To put this another way: they could not be part of the future events in God’s plans unless they were already part of the God’s plans, and will, in the past. So when we say that God foreknew such things would come to pass, it means that they were already part of His purpose and plans from long ago. We often find that His foreknowledge is sometimes displayed in Scripture accompanied by the mention of His commands.
For instance, in Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he tells the listening crowd that this Jesus whom they just crucified, “Was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross.”1 Also, later on in his Epistle, Peter writes to his readers about the precious blood of Christ as the Lamb of God without blemish or defect, and how it redeemed them from their empty way of life. Then he says: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”2
But there is a third sense that Haldane sees in this foreknowledge of God as it is explained here in verse two. In this case, it involved God’s love and approval. It signifies that God chose and recognize who already belonged to Him before they were revealed. This proved that when God rejected all of Israel, it was predetermined that it would not include His remnant whom He loved and chose from the beginning. This is the point the Apostle Paul was trying to explain to these Jews who complained that he was suggesting that all of Abraham’s descendants were thrown away in favor of the Gentiles. Paul makes it plain God has already chosen those whom He will keep.3 So with this truth in mind, when we read where John said that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that decision was not made at the last moment but was ready-made in heaven before the earth was formed.
Bible scholar Albert Barnes continues the examination of the Greek word proginōskō in verse 1 and now it helps us understand what Paul is saying in verses 2-4. The word proginōskō, basically means, “to know ahead of time” or “to foreknow.” But this is more than simply foreseeing or forecasting something. As used here, it implies that a previous purpose or plan already existed and was just now coming to fruition. So it isn’t that God decided to reject the unbelieving Jews after they rejected His Son Jesus, but that they were already on the list to be rejected since time began. But in the same way, all those who became His true disciples were already on the list of “the chosen.” This is why predestination is not possible without proginōskō. So never think that you were chosen by chance.
This foreknowledge also provides proof that God is unchangeable. After all, if it is already decided then it cannot be changed. That’s why those in the group of 7,000 that God told Elijah about were already listed as the faithful remnant. Therefore, when God rejected Israel as a whole, He could not throw away the remnant along with them. But Barnes takes this even further. As he sees it, God will make no covenant of salvation with those who are not already on the list to be saved. Likewise, those who are designated as the unbelieving and the wicked to be rejected cannot be saved.4
This is the hardest part of the Doctrine of Predestination as taught and preached by some. That is until another provision is revealed and considered. It was discovered in God’s foreknowledge He arranged for a Savior to come and give hope to those predetermined to be lost. So if they were willing to accept His Son as their Savior, His death, blood, and resurrection would be enough to take them off the list. Does this mean that God changed His mind about who was on the list? No! It has always been part of His plan from eternity past. It means that those who chose to go against the tide were given the opportunity to be rescued because of their faith that Christ came to save them.
Preacher Octavius Winslow sees another aspect of this foreknowledge of God that must be taken into consideration. The term foreknowledge, as Paul uses it here, is limited to a particular class of people who are said to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son.”5 By accepting this, it is not possible to apply this same foreknowledge to all of God’s creation. So when this term is used properly, it anticipates a particular and specific meaning. As such, it includes the everlasting love of God and His choice of who are His people. That’s why they are thought of as His special and unusual treasure. We see Paul address this here in verse two: “God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew.” When used this way, it implies two ideas – love and choice. That’s why we are justified using the phrase “foreknowledge” in relationship to those God has called and chosen as being special. They were not only on the list to be chosen but were put there by His love. So it is no wonder then why His church is referred to as a “peculiar people.”6 But none of it would be possible were it not for His eternal love, grace, and faithfulness.7
Theologian Charles Hodge observes that in verse 2 the words His people may be interpreted two ways. In the context of verse 1, it refers to the Jewish nation and when connected to the clause in verse 2 whom He foreknew it provides the reason why God did not reject all of them. The second interpretation takes this same formula in reverse. In other words, placing emphasis on the words whom He foreknew qualifies and distinguishes the phrase, His people. This allows for the understanding that while God did indeed reject the Jewish nation as a whole, He did not reject those He foreknew. While this may sound complicated as theological jargon, it does make a great point. Perhaps what Hodge is trying to say is better understood when put this way: Those God rejected in Israel had always been known as His people. But among those were some He did not reject, and those are the one He foreknew would be faithful and true. They are the ones who were truly His people.8
Charles Spurgeon draws an analogy from this to make it clearer by way of illustration. For instance, even when things were so bad in Israel that the man representing the situation best was the weeping prophet, Jeremiah. But even he could not express their sorrows properly since they were more than even he could bear. However, it was in the midst of this calamity that God revealed His love and promised that blessed days should dawn for the seed of Abraham.9 These days are yet to come, but they shall surely arrive, for God has not rejected those He did foreknow.10 In other words, it would be hard for God to go back on His promise because that would show His judgment to be imperfect. However, all of God’s promises come with conditions, and if mankind does not abide by those conditions, then, even though the promise still remains in effect, mankind’s arrogance and disobedience have disqualified them from receiving its benefits.
Frédéric Godet sees Paul saying here is that out of all the nations on earth, God chose only one to be called His people. This was done as a divine act based on God’s foreknowledge. That foreknowledge allowed them to also be predestined as the nation through whom the Messiah would come to offer everyone who believes in Him for salvation. So we can see in the process that the emphasis was shifted from the group to the individual. No longer would God save a nation as a whole. All those saved would be saved as individuals.
So while Israel as a nation rejected Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah, Jesus did not reject those among the Israelites who believed He was the Son of God. However, God’s promise was based on His foreknowledge that He would appeal once again to Israel as a nation. As Godet sees it, God is under no pressure to act on anyone else’s timeline; time can stretch out as long as He pleases. He will add, if need be, ages to ages, until there comes a day when the generation representing Israel will have their eyes opened and freely welcome their Messiah. God foreknew this nation as believing and saved, and sooner or later they cannot fail to be both.11
Why is this so hard to explain? The main reason is that mankind does not have the mind and wisdom of God. Even that which we do understand has only been made possible by the help of the Holy Spirit. Then we might ask, what reason would there be to comprehend it all, right down to each letter and syllable? There is none except a person’s pride of wanting to know what God knows. Furthermore, would God keep anything from us that we should know? Absolutely not! This much we know for sure: this is God’s plan, we have been chosen as part of that plan, so all we need to do is accept by faith what we do know and let God do the rest.
1 Acts of the Apostles 2:23
2 1 Peter 1:20
3 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 523-524
4 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Romans 8:29
6 1 Peter 2:9
7 Octavius Winslow: op. cit., Divine Predestination
8 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 549-550
9 Jeremiah 33:26
10 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.