Question: What did Paul mean by “predestinate” and “foreknow”?
Answer: Paul used these terms to teach that some of God’s children were predestined, or appointed beforehand to receive special blessings and duties so that they could bless all the nations of the world.
“In the premortal spirit world, God appointed certain spirits to fulfill specific missions during their mortal lives. This is called foreordination. Foreordination does not guarantee that individuals will receive certain callings or responsibilities. Such opportunities come in this life as a result of the righteous exercise of agency, just as foreordination came as a result of righteousness in the premortal existence.” (Gospel Topics, lds.org)
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29 For whom (JST “For him whom) he (God) did foreknow (knew those who were noble in their pre-mortal life), he also did predestinate (foreordain) to be conformed to the image of his Son (to successfully follow the Savior and become “joint heirs” with him), that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (that they might be exalted).
30 Moreover whom he (God) did predestinate (foreordain), them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
(JST “Moreover, him whom he did predestinate, him he also called; and him whom he called, him he also sanctified, [fit to be in the present of God, because of their worthiness to have the Atonement cleanse them]. And him whom he sanctified, him he also glorified.”)
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“Israel is an eternal people. Members of that chosen race first gained their inheritance with the faithful in the pre-mortal life. Israel was a distinct people in pre-existence. Many of the valiant and noble spirits in that first estate were chosen, elected, and foreordained to be born into the family of Jacob, so as to be natural heirs of all of the blessings of the gospel” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:284).
“Those born to the lineage of Jacob, who was later to be called Israel, and his posterity, who were known as the children of Israel, were born into the most illustrious lineage of any of those who came upon the earth as mortal beings.
“All these rewards were seemingly promised, or foreordained, before the world was. Surely these matters must have been determined by the kind of lives we had lived in that premortal spirit world. Some may question these assumptions, but at the same time they will accept without any question the belief that each one of us will be judged when we leave this earth according to his or her deeds during our lives here in mortality. Isn’t it just as reasonable to believe that what we have received here in this earth [life] was given to each of us according to the merits of our conduct before we came here?” (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 7–8; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, 5).
“Abraham’s mortal seed, because of long ages of preparation and devotion, while they yet dwelt as spirits in the presence of their Eternal Father earned the ‘right’ to the gospel and the priesthood and an eventual inheritance of eternal life. (Abr. 2:10–12.) That is, they were foreordained to be the children of the father of the faithful and to work the works of righteousness as did faithful Abraham. Though the gospel is for all men, in due course?—‘For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated’ (D&C 1:2)?—yet some are entitled to receive it before it is presented to others. The Lord sends forth his word on a priority basis. It goes to all men eventually, but some are entitled to hear the voice before others” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, 507).
“Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 365).
“This covenant with Abraham was also a call to leadership. Therefore, it has been interpreted to mean that Abraham and his descendants were chosen to conserve in purity and to advance on earth the eternal plan for human salvation. Consequently, the seed of Abraham are often spoken of as the chosen or covenant people” (John A. Widtsoe, “Why Are We Called a Covenant People?” Improvement Era, June 1945, 349; see also “A Covenant People,” New Era, Feb. 1976, 45).
“Every person who embraces the gospel becomes of the house of Israel. In other words, they become members of the chosen lineage, or Abraham’s children through Isaac and Jacob unto whom the promises were made. The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:245–46).
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Sources: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 127; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 2, Volume 3, by David J. Ridges, 113; Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, Chapter 21: “The Foreordination of Covenant Israel and Their Responsibilities.”