Acts 13:48 – Calvinists claim that this verse “proves” unconditional election.
I have had this verse thrust upon me at times, with calvinists demanding that I acknowledge it as absolute proof that the election of God is unconditional. I have had said to me, “And it is God’s sovereign right to choose who he wants and who are we to question the All Mighty why he chose some and not all, acts 13:48 makes it so clear, second part, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. So what else could it possibly mean than God appointing his chosen, elect to eternal life.”
If this passage is actually about election (which it isn’t), then there is absolutely nothing in it which says the election has to be unconditional. The Bible does teach that the election exists, but also that it is conditional upon mankind calling upon the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:13; 1 Peter 1:2). The calvinist says that’s impossible because that would require foreknowledge and foreknowledge, they say, is not God’s perfect knowledge of the future. Well, where does the Bible say that? The Bible says that God chose His elect through His foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2) but the calvinists then say that normally foreknowledge means a knowledge of the future, but when God uses foreknowledge it becomes a predetermined knowledge of a future loving relationship that God will have with the person He has foreknown. I quote from a source:
“I believe reading the word foreknowledge in context with scripture is clearly referring to God foreknowing his elect, chosen, a pre-determined choice to set his love on us and establish an intimate relationship with his pre-determined chosen, (children). Again there is nothing in scripture telling us that God saw man choosing Him therefore pre-destining that person, scripture is telling us the excact (sic) opposite.”
This is allegedly based upon a reading of Acts 2:23 where a number of calvinists misquote and misapply a little-known Greek rule called the Granville Sharp rule, in order to then teach that “predetermined counsel” and “foreknowledge” have to be interpreted as synonyms. But this is an impossible interpretation, a lie (See MacArthur is Wrong) so how can they then base a truth upon a lie? I have done research (over three pages of typing to document this) demonstrating the fallacy of their claims here, but then get told this by a calvinist:
“I’m thinking perhaps the rule itself can be interpreted in a way to suit one’s belief in whatever point one is trying to get across.” In other words, just make up an interpretation that fits best with your preferred doctrine! This is the sum total of the explanation from that person concerning why “predetermined counsel” equates to “foreknowledge!
This is typical of calvinist debate, avoiding as much detail as possible, yet still denying that they’re wrong. They try to put on an air of scholarship, yet their “facts” (when presented) are generally not backed up by good solid research and study. More often than not they just state their beliefs as law and expect that their law will be obeyed. They make claims to be good exegetes of the word of God, yet do little or nothing to support that in their actual writings. One of their “experts”, Loraine Boettner, bases his defence in one case upon “common sense”! Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined. (“The Reformed Doctrine Of Predestination” by Loraine Boettner Chapter 6)
There are so many twists and turns in the calvinist defence saga that you would need a detailed map to navigate its pathways of “truth”. That’s easy to explain, says the calvinist; just read up on the works of that great exegete and theologian, John Calvin, and you will better understand what the Bible is really saying. (Sounds like esoteric knowledge to me, where the more initiated a person is into the mysteries, the more he will understand those mysteries.) But the truth is that the calvinists will more often use their teaching heroes of the calvinist faith such as Calvin, MacArthur, Piper, etc, to “prove” their beliefs rather than using the Bible itself. It’s clear that what these men teach about biblical doctrine carries more weight than the Bible itself in most cases.
Even if Acts 13:48 did teach the election of God, it still does not (cannot!) disprove the election being based upon the foreknowledge of God as taught in the Bible. All too often calvinists will say that the election is proven by some verses. Well, yes, the election is certainly proven by a number of verses, very consistently, too. Then they’ll say that this definitely proves their “unconditional” election. However, while the election does exist, it is certainly conditional upon God’s perfect knowledge of the future free will decisions of mankind. The election exists as a Biblical doctrine, but, it isn’t unconditional but instead is conditional upon mankind’s free will choice for salvation.
A pet proof verse of calvinists they like to use to demonstrate unconditional election is Acts 13:48 – And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (KJV)
After a careful study of this verse in context with the passage to which it belongs, it becomes clear that it has little to do with election itself, but actually was to do with the argument that the Jews (the chosen nation) were having with the Gentiles (who were not the chosen nation).
I am constantly amazed at the number of times calvinists take a single verse and build a doctrine on it with little or no regard for the passage in which it is found. They tell us what the verse means (according to them, of course), yet often give little explanation as to why it should mean such. They rarely look at other similar verses, especially those that actually teach an opposing belief. For example, I have been told regarding John 3:3 – “In this super clear verse our Lord and saviour himself tells Nicodemus that he cannot even see the kingdom of God unless he is born again first, surely that puts to rest that regeneration must take place first and foremost.” There was no other explanation or teaching given to back this up, just an apparent expectation that the verse itself plus the words added were sufficient to demonstrate super clarity! There was also nothing to explain why the calvinist view here opposes the truth taught in Acts 16:31 or Romans 10:9 where both of these verses clearly say that one must believe before being saved! (Plus many other verses which also teach belief before salvation.)
So I did some research on why the calvinists claim John 3:3 as a proof verse. I found out (from calvinist Robert Morey) that the word “see” (as in “cannot see the kingdom of God” – John 3:3) has to be interpreted as “believe in” or “have faith in”, which, frankly, is very poor Scriptural analysis, considering that faith is defined in the Bible as the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1) and that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith is actually based upon what we don’t or cannot see! But Robert Morey has to say the following concerning John 3:3, without any explanation at all! His unsupported statement apparently is now the fact upon which he establishes his false “truth” that we must be born again before we believe!
Further, Christ places regeneration by the Spirit as a requirement before one can “see,” i.e., believe or have faith in the Kingdom of God.
(P 8, Studies in the Atonement, Robert A. Morey)
Another case in mind is the claim that “the whole world” in 1 John 2:2 actually means only those who will ever believe, and not really the world itself. Yet, by such calvinist teaching here, the rest of 1 John becomes irrelevant to the Christian of today, for the calvinist has already taught in 1 John 2:2 that the writer is addressing only the Jewish Christians of his day and that “the whole world” therefore means all the rest of the Christians of all time, which includes us! But this means that the Advocate (Jesus Christ the Righteous) in 1 John 2:1 can only be there for the Jewish Christians of that day, not for us! In other words, when the context is taken into account, if 1 John 2:1 applies to all Christians (not just Jewish Christians), then 1 John 2:2 cannot teach anything other than full atonement for all the sins of the whole world without exception!
So, we’ll return to looking at Acts 13:48. The KJV Bible says “and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” That word “ordained” is most certainly an incorrect translation, probably being influenced by the corrupt Latin Vulgate Bible which actually translates it as “preordained” or “foreordained”. No reputable Bible scholar can assure me that “ordained” is correct; the Greek word means “to be appointed” (as an officer would appoint soldiers in or to their ranks).
If we study the context of Acts 13:48, the real meaning becomes clear. Acts 13:16-41 is a gospel presentation by Paul to the Jews at Antioch (on the invitation of the rulers of the synagogue there). Paul refers to Israel 4 times from Acts 13:16 to Acts 13:24. It is clear that Paul saw himself as appointed to preach the gospel of eternal life to the Jews, and up until Acts 13:41 Paul continues to preach a gospel relevant to the Jews. The Gentiles present asked Paul if he might preach this to them the next sabbath (Vs 42), with Paul trying to persuade many of the Jews to continue in the grace of God (Vs 43). Up until now Paul has been preaching to the Jews, with the Gentiles on the sidelines, hearers but unable to participate; they were not yet appointed to partake of the gospel so far preached to the Jews.
The next Sabbath almost everyone of Antioch (or perhaps a very large crowd?) came to hear Paul (Acts 13:44). Whether this was in the synagogue (which may not have been big enough) or elsewhere, we are not told. Even now the Jews were still the appointed recipients of the gospel. However, when they saw the crowds (probably of Gentiles) they were stirred up into angry opposition.
Acts 13:45-48 – 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so hath the Lord commanded us, [saying], I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained (appointed) to eternal life believed.
Note that “everlasting life” (Vs 46) and “eternal life” Vs 48) are the same Greek words! They should have both been translated the same each time in this passage (either as “eternal life” or “everlasting life”)!
When the Jews saw how many Gentiles had gathered to hear Paul, they were jealous (or strongly indignant, as the word suggests), and did their best, it appears, to disrupt the meeting. They argued with Paul (probably while Paul was speaking or trying to speak); they contradicted Paul’s words and even blasphemed what he said. That is, they probably vilified Jesus of whom Paul was speaking; this sounds like the time the Pharisees declared that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub (a blasphemy in declaring the Holy Spirit evil). The Jews here had committed the same unforgivable sin, turning the gospel of Jesus Christ into a curse; a rejection of the Godhood of Christ and His salvation, a blasphemy against His authority as the Ruler of the Universe.
Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and spoke directly against the disrupting (disruptive) Jews. It appears that either most or possibly all Jews present were involved in this indignant opposition and consequent blasphemy, because Paul and Barnabas address the Jews as a group: “It was necessary (it was the right thing to do) to preach God’s word to you (Jews) first” (clearly because they were the covenant-holders, the elect nation of God). “But now you have put it from you (rejected God’s word to you); you have judged yourselves unworthy of everlasting life (you have brought this judgment of unworthiness for eternal life upon yourselves by your own actions). So now we’ll turn to the Gentiles and preach the gospel that was yours (the Jews) to them (the Gentiles) instead.”
One can just see Paul and Barnabas indignantly angry at those Jews who, being God’s covenanted people, should have accepted Paul’s preaching of the gospel with rejoicing. But, if they don’t want this, if they reject this good news, then Paul and Barnabas can see only one way forward out of this: “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” That is, “Behold, we’ll now apply this gospel of everlasting life (eternal life) to the Gentiles instead!” This is a watershed event in the history of Israel: this is a picture of the Jews losing that which was theirs by covenant, and it being given instead to those whom the Jews saw as beneath their dignity: the hateful Gentiles! The Gentiles have gained the appointment that the Jews rejected!
So Paul quotes from the following passage in Isaiah.
Isaiah 49:6 – And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
“My servant” here is Christ who was to raise up the tribes of Jacob, to restore the preserved of Israel. In this scenario this applies to the Jews to whom Paul and Barnabas have been preaching. But now Paul is activating the second part of the quote from Isaiah: that His Servant (Christ) would be given as a light to the Gentiles, allowing them to be a part of the salvation of God to the ends of the earth. Paul is simply saying that the Jews have rejected their “Servant”, so He (Christ) will now be a “Servant” of God for salvation to the Gentiles instead. In essence, the Jews have rejected their option of eternal life (“everlasting life”); but the Gentiles have desired to receive that option of eternal life. And so, the Jews were effectively removed from hearing the gospel here, while the Gentiles have now taken their place! The appointment of the Jews was cancelled so that the Gentiles could take their place in that appointment.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and gave all glory to God that the word of the gospel might be preached to them by the apostles. Apparently, they had thought they might not be eligible for something that they understood to be primarily meant for the Jews. (The Jews would have thought themselves a few classes above the Gentiles and probably would have refused them salvation if they could have.) And as many of them (the Gentiles) who were appointed to hear the gospel of eternal life believed. The Jews had been removed from their appointed positions in the ranks of God’s people. The Gentiles had been placed in those same appointed ranks in place of the Jews. The Gentiles were being given access to the message of eternal life; it wasn’t just for the Jews now. And, apparently, all those Gentiles who had come to hear Paul and Barnabas and had desired to know more, were being told that the gospel applied to them now. And those Gentiles who had desired to know more were appointed to the ranks of those who could hear and be saved, and all those who were appointed to those ranks believed (and clearly were saved).
What this does tell us is that in Vs 46 the Jews have been declared unworthy of eternal life; no longer does Paul consider himself appointed to preach to them. Instead, Paul says that he will now turn his attention to the Gentiles (Vss 46-47). Paul was originally appointed to preach to the Jews, but now he considers himself appointed to preach the gospel to the Gentiles instead. Then in Vs 48, after turning to them, the Gentiles have now been appointed to eternal life. The context here certainly demonstrates that the two events (regarding “eternal life”) are connected, and that the proper interpretation of Acts 13:48 must take Vs 46 into account, along with the rest of the whole passage. The Gentiles had gained what the Jews had rejected (by their free will).
I would appreciate any calvinist who disagrees with this study to set out a proper and logical analysis of this passage of Scripture demonstrating clearly from the Bible alone evidence of my errors if any. Otherwise they cannot tell me I’m wrong. Don’t just say that the verse proves unconditional election and therefore I’m wrong, because that’s a fool’s defence. In a properly constituted debate, such argument would not gain any points; rather it is likely to lose points for such a debating team! Unsupported argument in a debate loses points.
Instead of trying to defend the indefensible, why can’t calvinists just look at the Bible in a logical and rational way, admitting truth where truth is taught, and when disagreeing, showing due and proper exegetical support for their alleged doctrines. That the election is proven is beyond doubt; however, nothing in Acts 13:48 can possibly assist their claim that it is unconditional. But Acts 13:48 in context tells us a completely different story, that of the gospel being removed from God’s covenanted people, Israel, and placing it instead upon the Gentile nations. Thus, it is totally consistent with the rest of the New Testament in teaching the rejection of the Christ by the Jews and their subsequent blinding as noted in Romans 11. My case rests!
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