Foreknown before the world was founded.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December 2021

1 Peter 1.17-21.

God doesn’t have two wills, but he’s always had two plans, and they’re no secret. Plan A is that we follow him, do what’s right, love God and our neighbor, and live with him in his kingdom. Plan B, the one which has to get implemented far too often, is that we totally botch the job of following him, so he has to forgive us and give us yet another chance to follow plan A.

1 John 2.1-2 KJV
1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

When God created us humans, our sin didn’t blindside him. None of our sins make him throw up his hands and say, “Well I can’t fix that.” He already had plan B in mind; he already knew how he was gonna fix everything. He knew how to crush the serpent’s head. He’d become human and atone for our sins himself. That’s why our sins don’t drive him away, and never have. Jesus took ’em out. For all time, all of human history; from Adam and Eve’s sins, to Moses and the ancient Hebrews, to the apostles and the people of Jesus’s day, to ours, to our descendants’. There is no dispensation where Jesus’s atonement doesn’t yet apply. Because God always foreknew it.

The apostles knew this, which is why they regularly wrote of Christ Jesus being foreknown—that long before he did anything, the LORD knew Jesus would accomplish it, and acted as if it’s already done. God fills all of time, and from his eternal perspective, it is already done. He’s not just speculating about what might happen someday; he’s there, at that point in history, observing it in real time. It’s not guesswork. It’s certainty. He knows it—and because he knows it millennia before we do, we say he foreknows it, but that’s just a fancier way of saying he knows it.

Hence all the Old Testament’s prophecies of a coming Messiah, and what he’d do. Because the LORD already knew it, and was just telling the rest of us about his wonderful plans to save us.

1 Peter 1.17-21 KWL
17 If you call upon the Father,
who impartially judges us by each person’s work,
one who sojourns for a time among you must live in godly fear,
18 knowing no perishable thing, no silver nor gold,
frees you from your empty lifestyle nor heritage.
19 Instead, like that of a spotless lamb,
it’s the valuable blood of a blameless Christ.
20 Foreknown—really, from the foundation of the world—
and revealed to you all at the last times.
21 Faithful to God, by whom he was raised from death,
who gave glory to him,
so that your faith and hope are to be in God.

And here Simon Peter reminds the churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia about how our good works, though important, don’t save us and don’t establish our individual relationships with God. Christ Jesus does. Don’t put the cart before the horse; our relationships are entirely because Jesus died for us, and therefore we can call upon the Father, and he can empower us to do good works. The cart’s the works. The driving force is Christ.

It’s a lesson we Christians regularly need to be reminded of, ’cause it’s so easy to take pride in our good deeds, and think they’re what make us righteous. They don’t. Faith and hope in God do.

Is this a proof text of Jesus’s preexistence?

Short answer: No.

Way longer answer: Still no, but plenty of Christians totally quote this passage as proof that Jesus is the eternal God the Son, who existed with the Father long before he became human, and was born and died and rose again. Whenever people write about Jesus’s pre-existence, 1 Peter 1.20 is typically found in the big pile of proof texts which theologians use to back up the idea. But in context, as you can see by reading this passage, that’s not at all what Simon Peter was writing about. He wasn’t writing about Jesus existing before he was born; he was writing about Jesus’s atonement being foreknown, because it was God’s plan all along.

Do the scriptures say Jesus existed before he was born? Of course they do. John 1, obviously. We get that idea from plenty of other scriptures. But we don’t get that idea from this verse in 1 Peter; we bring that idea with us to this passage, and try to jam it into this verse. “Jesus was foreknown. And that means the Father knew him before he was born, because he existed before he was born.” And no, that’s not what it means. Yes the Father did know him before he was born; yes he did exist before he was born; yes the theology is sound. But this verse doesn’t say any of those things. It’s not about that.

The technical theological term for reading an idea into a bible passage, instead of getting an idea from a bible passage, is called eisegesis. People aren’t always aware they’re doing it—especially if they’re dead sure this is one of the bible verses which absolutely does say what we want it to. But we need to remember the basics of reading comprehension. What’s the verse literally say? From there we can go on to what it means—and the meaning might not be as literal as what it says. But first we gotta look at what it literally says.

This verse says, simply, προεγνωσμένου/pro-egnosménu, “foreknown.” (Not “foreordained” as the KJV has it; contrary to what determinists claim, known is not the same as decided.) Jesus was foreknown. And since verse 19 was talking about a specific action of Jesus’s—namely, shedding his blood—it’s really that which was foreknown. Not Jesus as a person, not Jesus’s life on earth, not Jesus as the eternal God the Son, but Jesus’s self-sacrifice. His atonement was foreknown.

God acts on his foreknowledge.

God knows the end from the beginning. Is 46.10 Knows who’s gonna become his kids, and who isn’t. Knows who’s gonna become his ministers and prophets, and who won’t. Likewise knows who’s gonna become atheist, antichrist, criminal, or apathetic pagans who don’t care at all about his kingdom… till they’re facing death, get worried, and hedge their bets by calling out to God. (And he’ll graciously accept these people too.)

So when he tells us we’re gonna do something, and he’s always known we’re gonna do something, it shouldn’t surprise us. Nor make us assume we have no choice in the matter; just because God already knows what we’re gonna choose, doesn’t mean we’re no longer responsible for making our choices. Heck, just because God makes choices on our behalf, doesn’t mean we no longer have any free will in the matter, and bear no responsibility for accepting or rejecting his choices. When God told Jeremiah ben Hilkiah he made him a prophet—

Jeremiah 1.4-5 KJV
4 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

—it wasn’t like Jeremiah had no say in the matter. In fact Jeremiah did say something.

Jeremiah 1.6 KJV
Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.

I mean, it’s a pathetic excuse, same as Moses’s complaint he was a poor speaker. Ex 4.10 One which God dismissed just as easily; if he wants us to prophesy, he’ll make us able to prophesy. But even though our many objections to God’s plans are lame and stupid, it doesn’t mean we lack the free will to make them. Sinners’ reasons for defying God’s commands are just as lame and stupid, but it hardly keeps people from sinning.

But I digress. God had plans for Jeremiah. Plans before he even created Jeremiah. Before Jeremiah’s parents even got together, the LORD knew what kind of person Jeremiah would be, that he’d make a great prophet, and God intended to give him stuff to prophesy.

Now. Mormons and certain other heretic Christians will interpret this Jeremiah passage to claim Jeremiah existed before God even created him. After all, God “knew” him before he made him. But this isn’t a proof text of pre-existence. It’s a proof text of foreknowledge. The LORD knew Jeremiah before he made him, because the LORD knows the future, knows future-Jeremiah, and had a hand in making sure future-Jeremiah turned out the way he wanted.

Likewise the LORD knew how plan B would be implemented, ’cause he implemented it. He chose Mary to be his mom. Chose Joseph as his dad. Chose when and where… and spilled the beans on some of this to his prophets. He knew how his sacrifice would happen, and Jesus warned his students more than once how it was coming. None of this took him by surprise, because foreknown is forearmed.

So no, we can’t proclaim Christ Jesus’s incarnation based on this particular passage in 1 Peter. That’s okay; we can base it on other passages. The bible hardly leaves us high and dry!

What we can preach from this passage is how Christ Jesus’s coming and sacrifice was foreknown. God knew about it well in advance. His servants the prophets, when he revealed the future to them, likewise knew about it in advance, and let us know it was coming. His first coming was hardly a spur-of-the-moment decision. Might feel that way to us sometimes—which is why Peter said the knowledge was “revealed to you all at the last times”—but God’s timing was perfect, as always.