Calvin’s Faulty Translation:
Calvin, as might be expected, makes the word “foreknow” (“proegno”) in Romans 8:29 mean “adopt” - implying “pre-election.” In short, for Calvin foreknowledge and predestination are essentially synonymous. A few lexicologists (e.g., Arndt and Gingrich) have agreed with his translation, but just a few. The overwhelming majority refute it. Meyer, for example, points out that the early church fathers (e.g., Origin, Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome) translated it to mean “prescience,” not “pre-election.” He then goes on to say - with an obvious touch of irritation - that the meaning of “foreknow” in Romans 8:29 “is not to be decided by dogmatic presuppositions, but simply by usage of the language, in accordance with which “proegno” never in the New Testament [not even in Romans 11:2 or 1 Peter 1:20 (parenthesis his)] means anything else than to know beforehand... That in classical language it ever means anything else cannot be at all proved.”
Vincent is equally as emphatic: “‘proegno’ does not mean ‘foreordain.’ It signifies ‘prescience,’ not ‘pre-election.’” He goes on to add in a footnote that, like Myer’s comment, is tinged with exasperation: “This is the simple common-sense meaning. The attempt to attach to it the sense of ‘pre-election,’ to make it include the divine decree, has grown out of dogmatic considerations in the interest of a rigid predestinarianism. The scope of this work does not admit a discussion of the infinitesimal hair splitting which has been applied to this passage, and which is as profitless as it is unsatisfactory.”
Calvin’s Faulty Reasoning:
Paul has carefully arranged his “golden chain” (Romans 8:29-30) such that each of its “events” - foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification - is prompted by the “event” it follows; necessarily, then, each “event” is different from the others - because a “cause” and the “effect” it prompts are, perforce, always different. The conclusion is obvious: Paul never meant justification to be synonymous with glorification; nor calling with justification; nor predestination with calling; nor, finally, foreknowledge with predestination. Furthermore, it’s not just that predestination is necessarily different from foreknowledge, it’s that predestination is actually grounded in foreknowledge.
Clearly, then, Calvin’s reasoning is faulty on two accounts: (1) he fails to come to terms with the logic that makes each of the “events” in Paul’s “golden chain” necessarily different from the others; and (2) he fails to come to terms with the logic that necessarily denies to predestination the seminal role he casts for it, but, instead, makes it merely a function of another “event,” specifically, foreknowledge - meaning predestination is not, as Calvin would have it, the all-important hub around which Romans 8:29-30 revolves.
Some Calvinists argue that the word “foreknow” means “love,” or “marked out for a special purpose.” Murray, for example, contends that... “(the) word ‘know’ has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond ... mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with ‘love,’ ‘to set regard upon,’ ‘to know with peculiar interest, delight, affection’...” Likewise, Haldane comments, “All the called of God, are foreknown by him...that is, they are the objects of his eternal love...” So too Millard Erickson: “...the (Hebrew) word “yada” which seems to lie behind Paul’s use of “proginosko” signifies more than advance knowledge or precognition. It carries the connotation of a very positive and intimate relationship. It suggests looking with favor upon or loving someone...” In short, God, from eternity, loves some sinners – tendering them an offer of forgiveness they’re predestined to avail themselves of, while, at the same time, passing over others – thereby consigning them to hell. It’s the doctrine of limited atonement.
But that argument, as we shall soon discover, runs afoul of the truth Paul delineates in Romans 3:29. There Paul asks pointedly, “Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles as well?” To which he responds, “Yes, of the Gentiles also...” The meaning here is simple and straightforward: the Jews never doubted that God is the God of the gentiles – in the sense that he’s their Creator and Judge. But, by and large, they limited his mercy to themselves – that though he is indeed the God of the gentiles, his mercy is restricted to the Jews only. Clearly, what we have here is a Jewish version of limited atonement.
Paul, however, discloses in Romans 3:29 just how erroneous that notion is. The Cross reveals that God is as merciful as he is righteous and holy – that he’s ontologically merciful – meaning mercy, no less than righteousness and holiness, arises from God’s very nature. Therefore, if the consequences arising from God’s righteousness, that is, moral accountability and justice, extend to all mankind – because righteousness and holiness originate in God’s nature – so also does his mercy – because mercy likewise originates in his nature. Or, put a little differently: because mercy lies at the very core of God’s being, he can’t be merciful to the Jews without at the same time being merciful to the gentiles as well. The implication is obvious: God can’t tender an offer of mercy to some sinners without tendering that very same offer to all sinners? It’s an imperative grounded in the oneness of God – a truth Paul makes explicit in the next verse, Romans 3:30: “...since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith is one.”
There’s nothing novel about the doctrine of limited atonement. It caused the Jews to stumble in the First Century, and it’s causing Calvinists to stumble today, notwithstanding their well deserved reputation for outstanding scholarship – and, indeed, it is well deserved.