Tuesday, July 3, 2012

James White on Romans 8:28-30

In James White’s book, The Potter’s Freedom1, he argues for unconditional election based on Romans 8:28-30.  Here's the passage: 

Romans 8:28-30: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

One of the key questions is the meaning of the word foreknow (proginosko).  James White says that foreknowledge means “chooses to enter into a relationship with”.  He supports this view by arguing that to determine the meaning of the Greek term proginosko, we should primarily use passages where God is the subject and the object is personal (such as Romans 11:2, 1 Peter 1:20).  He argues “Obviously, passages that have humans as the subject would differ, substantially, in their meaning, for God’s knowledge is vastly different than man’s” and “God foreknows people, not things”.  Further, he argues that in Jeremiah 1:5, Exodus 33:17, Amos 3:2 (in which God is the subject and the object is personal), yada means “consecrated”, “appointed” or “choose”. (PF 197-201)

Fundamentally, James White is telling us to exclude from our analysis the information which does not support his view.  Yes, the two cases of prognosko where God is the subject probably mean choose (Romans 11:2, 1 Peter 1:20).  However, the word gnosko (without the prefix pro) is often used of God’s knowing things rather than His choosing things (Matthew 12:15, 16:3, Mark 8:17, 15:10, Luke 8:46, John 4:1, John 5:6, John 6:15, 16:19, 1 John 3:20).  So while we can agree with Dr. White that God’s knowledge is different than ours; gnosko is still a fine word to express God’s knowledge and God being the Knower does not require us to think of gnosko as choice rather than knowledge.   Also, when gnosko has God as its subject and people as its object, gnosko may mean know rather than choose, as it does in Luke 16:15 and John 1:48, 2:24-25, 5:42.  So having God as the subject and us as the object does not support Dr. White’s claim that gnosko means choose rather than know.

In case anyone should say the “fore” is essential, so we should not look at usage of know, please recall that Dr. White himself argues based on know without the “fore” in in the OT cases of Jeremiah 1:5, Exodus 33:17 and Amos 3:2.  Further, prognosko can mean foreknow rather than choose as it does in Acts 26:5, 2 Peter 3:17, and Wisdom 6:13, 8:8, 18:6, so we have evidence that the prefix pro does not restrict the gnosko from pro-gnosko from its standard meaning: know. 

Perhaps Dr. White sees the combination of 1) God as the subject, 2) people as the object, and 3) the prefix pro, when mixed together, as providing the magic formula needed to show proginosko means fore-choose - given none of the individual elements establish his point.  But the more standard process is to lay out all the different usages of a word to determine the semantic range, and then use the context to select the best alternative.  The text itself presents an obstacle to understanding prognosko as fore-choose or fore-ordain: the word “also”.   A reading of “for whom He predestined, He also predestined” contains an unnecessary duplication, whereas the apostle presents successive steps or links in a chain in our salvation: foreknew -> predestined -> called -> justified -> glorified.  Each builds on the last to make progress to the goal. 

So the better translation into English is foreknowledge and that’s what most translations go with.  Please note the English word foreknowledge does not mean “chooses to enter into a relationship with”, rather it means to know beforehand.  (link)  

We come to the heart of James White’s mistake on this passage.  “It is the burden of the Arminian to break this “golden chain of redemption,” prove to us that God’s foreknowing is a mere passive gathering of infallible knowledge of the future actions of free creatures, and establish that this passage is not telling us that all of salvation, from initiation to accomplishment, is the work of God for His own glory.” (PF  200)

We have observed some serious problems with Dr. White’s analysis, but let’s assume for the sake of argument James White is right that prognosko means “choose to enter into a relationship with”.  Why assume such a choice is unconditional? Most choices that we make are conditional and the ones that are unconditional are random.    Calvinists deny God’s choice was random but they also deny His choice was conditional.  What’s left?  Even if there is such a thing as a non-random, unconditional choice, how do we know Paul has that in mind and not something more like our everyday choices?  And even if the passage does mean an unconditional choice, what if the rising number of scholars who think the passage speaks of corporate election rather than individual election are correct?  Dr. White has a considerable way further to go in proving Calvinism from this text so he shifts the burden of proof.

The passage either proves Calvinism, proves Traditionalism or proves neither.  Even if we cannot prove the passage teaches Traditionalism, that does not mean Calvinism has been established.  So Dr. White’s laying the burden of proof on Traditionalists is unjustified. 

What if Paul has a different topic in mind and does not bring this up to address if election is conditional or unconditional? I think he does and would argue that Paul does not decide the issue of Calvinism/Traditionalism in this passage.  Paul is explaining why those who loved God and were called according to His purpose can know all things work together for their good.   Paul lays out stages in the process of salvation, so we can know how we got here and where we are headed and thus gain confidence that God will work all things for our good.  God loves us and has loved us since before we were born.  He has a plan for us and will take care of us and bring us into His kingdom.  That is an encouraging thought, for the Calvinist as well as the Traditionalist.

1James White.  The Potter's Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and the Rebuttal of Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free.  (2nd edition) Calvary Chapel Press.  2007.


Kevin Jackson said...

Well laid out.

credulo said...

In fact, the exegesis of PFRS assumes that proginosko is just a loving relationship. And even in that view Arminianism is far better than Calvinism - because Paul is evoking the memory of the Jewish patriarchs, from Abel and Noah to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph from Egypt, Moses, David... In fact, this is the same thing Paul says in your missive to Timothy (2Tim 2:10):The Lord knoweth them that are his.

Paul is just saying: Do not fear, if God was faithful for our fathers, so He will be faithful to us too.

So, even the exegesis of White says nothing to your vision.

David D said...

Really enjoyed this post. I especially appreciated your comments about the standard way of determining word usage vs Dr White's, and how his usage ends up effectively duplicating predestination in that passage.

I wanted to ask if you've blogged before about the use of the word 'called' in that same passage?


Godismyjudge said...

Thanks KJ. I am not usually able to get my thoughts out in a clear way, so that's good to hear.

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks credulo,

White pushes for not just a loving relationship, but the idea of "selection". That's his key mistake. But if we ask the question of "who do you love" the answer is God in Christ has a special loving relationship with believers.

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...


I don't recall blogging on that specific topic, but one interesting possibility would be called in the sense of called God's children or "named". I recommend Dr. Klein's article:


On the other hand, it may be called in the sense of the call of the Gospel and while all justified were called, that does not mean every individual ever called ends up justified.

God be with you,

Holdon said...

Choosing is always based on differences. Otherwise it is not possible to choose. If "election were unconditional", there is no election. Unconditional election is nonsense.

You cannot choose out of a 100 perfectly equal balls. They are all identical: choice is not possible. You can randomly pick, but that is not choice.

To think that Christ (the Elect) was only "randomly picked" is just foolish.

In Scripture the words for choose "bachar" in the OT and "eklegomai" in the NT always indicate choosing based on certain qualities. So much so, that "choice-men", "choice-silver" etc. means the best of the best. That is fundamentally the meaning.

Now, that God foreknows such qualities is entirely possible....

Godismyjudge said...


Thanks, I agree. How a choice could be both non-random and unconditional is beyond me (and probably beyond human experience). So to say this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he speaks of election is reading into scripture.

You wouldn't happen to be the same "Holdon" that used to post at Christianity.com or crosswalk.com?

God be with you,

Holdon said...

Yes, same old. Still "holding on". Rev 3:11. I remember you from there as well.

Godismyjudge said...

Good to know you are still trucking!!

God be with you,

A.M. Mallett said...

White's argument is fatally flawed. If foreknowledge in this matter means “chooses to enter into a relationship with”, then the conditions of a restored relationship must also be observed.The relationship we have with the Father is only through the Son, Jesus being the only mediator we have with the Father. That relationship is established by faith in the person and work of Jesus. White would have us believe that God re-established an "intimate relationship" with men independent of our relationship with the Son. Even with that aside, White cannot escape the reality of an omniscient God who "foreknows" the faith or lack of in every man form the beginning to the end of all things.

Great post!

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks Trav,

Yep, the business of foreknowledge just seems to distract from the important question of if election is conditional or not.

God be with you,

Anonymous said...

James White's perversion of Scripture is so absurd, its obscence. In all his writings, he demonstrates his utter dishonesty and no fear of God whatsoever. The man is a practical atheist, for no REAL CHISTIAN could so willfully pervert God's Word and use such blatantly dishonest modes of argument. He is in for a shock one Day.