In the Bible, to know often means an intimate knowledge and regard for someone. This doesn't just mean sexually (though that is where the phrase "known in the Biblical sense" came from, as in Genesis 4:1.) Here's a summary of this meaning of "know" in the Bible:

When the Bible speaks of God knowing particular individuals, it often means that He has special regard for them, that they are the objects of His affection and concern. For example in Amos 3:2, God, speaking to Israel says,“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” The Lord knows about all the families of the earth, but He knew Israel in a special way.* They were His chosen people whom He had set His heart upon. See Deuteronomy 7:7,8; 10:15. Because Israel was His in a special sense He chastised them, cf. Hebrews 12:5,6.*God, speaking to Jeremiah, said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” (Jeremiah 1:5). The meaning here is not that God knew about Jeremiah but that He had a special regard for the prophet before He formed him in his mother’s womb. Jesus also used the word “knew” in the sense of personal, intimate awareness. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers’ “ (Matt. 7:22,23). Our Lord cannot be understood here as saying, I knew nothing about you, for it is quite evident that He knew all too much about them – their evil character and evil works; hence, His meaning must be, I never knew you intimately nor personally, I never regarded you as the objects of my favor or love. Paul uses the word in the same way in I Corinthians 8:3, “But if one loves God, one is known by him,” and also II Timothy 2:19, “the Lord knows those who are His.” The Lord knows about all men but He only knows those “who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28) – those who are His!

The same page goes on to extend that type of "knowledge" to "foreknowledge":

Although the term ‘foreknew’ is used seldom in the New Testament, it is altogether indefensible to ignore the meaning so frequently given to the word ‘know’ in the usage of Scripture; ‘foreknow’ merely adds the thought of ‘beforehand’ to the word ‘know’. Many times in Scripture ‘know’ has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond that of mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with ‘love’, to set regard upon, to know with peculiar interest, delight, affection, and action (cf. Gen 18:19; Exod. 2:25; Psalm 1:6; 144:3; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; Matt 7:23; I Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9; II Tim. 2:19; I John 3:1).* There is no reason why this import of the word ‘know’ should not be applied to ‘foreknow’ in this passage, as also in 11:2 where it also occurs in the same kind of construction and where the thought of election is patently present (cf. 11:5,6). When this import is appreciated, then there is no reason for adding any qualifying notion and ‘whom He foreknew’ is seen to contain within itself the differentiating element required. It means ‘whom he set regard upon’ or ‘whom he knew from eternity with distinguishing affection and delight’ and is virtually equivalent to ‘whom he foreloved’. This interpretation, furthermore, is in agreement with the efficient and determining action which is so conspicuous in every other link of the chain – it is God who predestinates, it is God who calls, it is God who justifies, and it is He who glorifies. Foresight of faith would be out of accord with the determinative action which is predicated of God in these other instances and would constitute a weakening of the total emphasis at the point where we should least expect it….It is not the foresight of difference but the foreknowledge that makes difference to exist, not a foresight that recognizes existence but the foreknowledge that determines existence. It is a sovereign distinguishing love.”

This is a common understanding for Calvinists and Lutherans, who believe "foreknew" in Romans 8:29 (and elsewhere) to mean "foreloved," in contrast to Arminians who believe it means "foresaw."

My question is, is there support for the idea of "foreknowledge" being "forelove" anywhere in the writings of the church fathers? If so, where? If not, when is it first introduced and in which writings?

  • 4
    This and this may be helpful to you. It is the same tired dilemma: God's causative knowledge vs. man's freedom. Certainly the Fathers are not willing to understand foreknowledge in a way that undermines human freedom (i.e. understanding it as being causative and within the same order of causality as human action).
    – zippy2006
    Feb 25, 2015 at 3:43
  • 2
    @zippy2006 - turn it into an answer, and you can get the bounty :)
    – warren
    Feb 25, 2015 at 19:01

1 Answer 1


Origen (d. 254) appears to be the earliest church father to explicitly understand foreknowledge in this way. In his Commentary on Romans, VII.8, he connects the language of Genesis 4:1 ("Adam knew Eve") with the concept of God's foreknowledge, and writes with respect to Romans 8:29 ("those whom he foreknew he also predestined"):

In the present passage as well the Apostle had set down this word "knowing" in accordance with the custom of Holy Scripture. His aim is to show that those who are foreknown by God are those upon whom God had placed his own love and affection because he knew what sort of persons they were.

The last phrase makes it clear that Origen did not understand predestination the same way that the Reformers did. But nonetheless, to him, the foreknowledge of God implied love for the predestined:

He is said to have known his own [2 Timothy 2:19], that is, he held them in love and united them with himself. It is in this way, then, that "those whom God foreknew, these he also predestined, and those whom he predestined, these he also called, and those whom he called these he also justified."

Augustine's formulation of predestination is often seen to be closer to that of the Reformers, and his discussion on John 17 seems to reflect this. Unlike Origen, he doesn't limit forelove to being merely a result of God's foreknowledge:

[I]n the Son the Father loves us, because in Him He has chosen us before the foundation of the world.

He continues:

The love, therefore, wherewith God loves, is incomprehensible and immutable. For it was not from the time that we were reconciled unto Him by the blood of His Son that He began to love us; but He did so before the foundation of the world, that we also might be His sons along with His Only-begotten, before as yet we had any existence of our own. (Tractate 110.6)

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