by Al Maxey

Issue #529 ------- April 16, 2012
A man who lives by this life alone, who does
not anticipate any other - this is a heavy sleep.

Leo Tolstoy {1828-1910}

Appointed To Eternal Life
A Reflective Study of Acts 13:48

Acts 13, in many respects, is a great transition chapter. The emphasis of Luke shifts from Peter to Paul, and the latter, for the first time in Acts, is presented to us by that name rather than "Saul." We read of the Holy Spirit instructing the disciples at Antioch to "set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (vs. 2), and Luke then begins detailing some of the events of the first missionary journey. We discover that John Mark decided to leave and return to Jerusalem (vs. 13), which event would trouble Paul greatly, and which would lead to a falling out with Barnabas years later (Acts 15:36-40). The bulk of this chapter, however, deals with the events in Pisidian Antioch where Paul and his companions received a rather warm welcome from the Gentiles, but experienced tremendous opposition from the Jews. This would lead to an observation by Paul that his missionary focus would now transition from the Jews to the Gentiles (vs. 46). "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (vs. 48). It is this last phrase that we'll be examining in more depth in this issue of Reflections, as it has been the cause of great debate in the church for centuries.

The cause for rejoicing among the Gentiles that day in Antioch of Pisidia was that Paul had shared with them the good news that they, along with the Jews, were being invited into a special covenant relationship with God in which there would be no national, racial, cultural, gender or social distinctions. In Christ, all would now be One Body. Paul discussed this event in Antioch, in far more theological terms, in Romans 11, saying of the Gentiles, "you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree" (vs. 17). For this extension and manifestation of God's grace, the Gentiles rejoiced. All of this is pretty straightforward and easy to understand. The problem arises in that final phrase of Acts 13:48 where he declares, "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." This seems to suggest an absence of free will among those being saved; that God had preordained some of these Gentiles to everlasting life, and only those individuals believed (or even had the ability to believe -- since faith itself is said to be a gift of God). The rest, who did not believe, couldn't believe, because they had not been "chosen" by God to believe (they were not the "elect"). This doctrine has divided disciples throughout the history of the church, some declaring men are free to choose, others declaring God chooses for them. Acts 13:48 has become one of the key "proof texts" of those embracing the latter theological position. At this point, prior to examining this phrase, and as a review of the key tenets in this debate, notice the following:

As one can quickly perceive, there are some very, very difficult issues and questions raised here, and men are greatly divided in their understandings. In the above discussion of these key terms, I have shared very briefly my own understandings, but there is a significant percentage of my fellow believers who would differ with my views, suggesting men do not have free will, and that the truth is better reflected in the tenets of what is typically known as TULIP Theology. This debate has even carried over into some of the hymns that we sing, as is evidenced in Reflections #517: A Hymn Born of Discord: Augustus Toplady vs. John Wesley -- "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me." The point of contention between these two men was a theological perspective known as Arminianism, a school of soteriological thought that evolved from the teachings of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), who had been personally taught by Theodore Beza (the successor to John Calvin). Arminius, however, soon rejected the Calvinistic teachings of Beza, and began promoting the ideas of free will and "election" of believers on the basis of faith. In a theological statement of belief known as "The Remonstrance" (the followers of Arminius would come to be known in the annuls of history as the Remonstrants), which was signed in 1610 by 45 pastors, five articles of faith were affirmed (which stood in stark contrast to the teachings of Calvin and his followers): (1) Election, and condemnation on the day of judgment, is conditioned by the rational faith or non-faith of man, (2) The Atonement, while qualitatively adequate for all men, was efficacious only for the man of faith, (3) Unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God's will, (4) Grace is not irresistible, and (5) Believers are able to resist sin, but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace. Although there are many variations within Arminianism, these are the basic tenets, with emphasis on the free will of men and the doctrine of salvation by faith. Needless to say, this theology, which had been embraced by John Wesley, as well as many others, was strongly opposed by the Calvinists (among whom Augustus Toplady was one of the more vocal). The Synod of Dort would be held from 1618-19 to address the five points of "The Remonstrance," and from that synod would come the five points characteristic of Calvin's theology (known to most today by the acronym TULIP). As previously noted, one of the chief texts used in support of this latter theology is Acts 13:48.

"This passage has been used as a proof text for the extreme Calvinism that makes God arbitrarily select some for salvation and reject others" [B. W. Johnson, The People's New Testament with Explanatory Notes, p. 476]. Albert Barnes observes, "There has been much difference of opinion in regard to this expression" used by Luke [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. Adam Clarke states, "This text has been most pitifully misunderstood," and then cautions, "We should be careful to examine what a word means before we attempt to fix its meaning" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 790]. The Greek word Clarke had in view here, and the word upon which the debate primarily centers, is: "tasso" (which appears in the text as a perfect passive participle, although some argue for the middle voice here rather than the passive -- more about this later). This was generally regarded as a military term, meaning "to place in a certain rank or order" (as an officer might place or arrange his men in an orderly formation), and is only used eight times in the pages of the NT writings. In the various English translations of Acts 13:48 this word is rendered several different ways:

Here we perceive the wide range of scholarly understanding, with God's sovereign ordination on one side and man's human disposition on the other. The more popular middle course seems to be found in the rendering "appointed," which could perhaps be taken either way, or as some attempt at accommodating aspects of both views. The two sides in this debate are quite vehement and vocal in their defense of their position and in their distaste for the opposing view (and there are great minds and reputable scholars on each side). One side states that the saved are preordained to salvation by God, and that even their faith is a gift, and not of their own choosing. According to the Canons of the Synod of Dordt (1st Head of Doctrine, Article 7), "Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace." In Article 15 it is further stated: "It is the express testimony of Scripture that not all, but only some, are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God, out of His sovereign, most just, irreprehensible, and unchangeable good pleasure, has decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion." John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, writes, "All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or the other of these ends, we say that we have been predestinated to life or to death" (3:21:5).

Acts 13:48, therefore, according to this theology, is said to declare that only those persons specifically "ordained" by God for salvation believed (and by this they mean God gave these pre-selected persons their faith, and thus withheld faith from the hearts of those He had previously chosen not to save). The Pulpit Commentary, for example, states that this passage "can only refer to the predestination or election of God, viewed as the moving cause of their faith" [vol. 18, p. 409]. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown concur, declaring that Luke's statement "cannot, without force, be interpreted of anything lower than this, that a divine ordination to eternal life is the cause, not the effect, of any man's believing" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1103]. Matthew Henry wrote, "God by His Spirit wrought true faith in those for whom He had in His councils from everlasting designed a happiness to everlasting. Those believed to whom God gave grace to believe" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. In other words, believing the good news and having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is an utter impossibility for any man unless God GIVES that faith to them, and He only gives that faith to those few individuals He chose from the foundation of the world to be saved. The rest were preordained to "burn in hell," and thus He withheld saving faith from their hearts! Brethren, I won't mince words here -- I reject this doctrine as both abominable and blasphemous, as it attacks the very character of my Father! Further, if this heresy "be true," that God only gave faith to a select few He had previously ordained to life, "then all the rest were doomed to eternal destruction, and there was no use for Paul to preach the gospel to them" [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, p. 218]. Think about it -- if the saved are already saved, and the lost are already lost (and neither group has any choice in the matter), what possible purpose is served by preaching the gospel to them? Their fate is fixed either way, so it seems rather odd that thousands would suffer and even die (becoming martyrs) to share this message with others when the eternal destiny of those with whom they shared this message was already predetermined.

Many Greek and biblical scholars, however, take strong exception to the above doctrine. "There is no countenance here for the absolutum decretum of the Calvinists, since verse 46 had already shown that the Jews had acted through their own choice" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 300]. In Acts 13:46 Luke tells us that Paul preached the good news to the Jews first, but they were "rejecting" it. This is the Greek word "apotheo," and it appears as a present middle indicative (which signifies that this was something they themselves were continually doing). It was a willful act on their part; a choice. This word means "to reject, refuse, cast off; thrust away from one's self" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 49]. As Dr. Nicoll points out, this poses a huge problem for the Calvinists.

John Wesley rightly observes that the word "tasso" in Acts 13:48 "is not once used in Scripture to express eternal predestination of any kind" [Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Indeed, "the word 'ordain' is not the best translation here. 'Appointed' is better. The Jews here had voluntarily rejected the word of God. On the other side were those Gentiles who gladly accepted what the Jews had rejected. ... This verse does not solve the vexed problem of divine sovereignty and human free agency. There is no evidence that Luke had in mind an absolutum decretum of personal salvation. Certainly the Spirit of God does move upon the human heart to which some respond, as here, while others push Him away" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. Dr. Gerhard Kittel agrees, stating that this Greek term in Acts 13:48 "is obviously not connected with the thought of predestination, but rather with that of conferring status" [Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 8, p. 29]. Further, as with the use of the middle voice in vs. 46 with regard to the rejection by the Jews, "some take the word 'tasso' as if middle, not passive: 'as many as had set themselves unto eternal life'" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 300]. Dr. Charles Ellicott refers to this as "the quasi-middle force of the passive form of the verb" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 87]. "Hence," says Adam Clark, this term "has been considered here as implying the disposition or readiness of mind" of some among the Gentiles to receive by faith the good news of God's gracious gift of His Son [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 790]. Those thus believing were placed within the ranks of the saved; appointed a permanent place among the redeemed.

I have to agree with the observation of Adam Clarke with regard to the Greek term "tasso" in this passage: "Though the word in this place has been variously translated, yet, of all the meanings ever put on it, none agrees worse with its nature and known signification than that which represents it as intending those who were predestinated to eternal life; this is no meaning of the term, and should never be applied to it. ... It includes no idea of pre-ordination or pre-destination of any kind" [ibid]. The Lord does not wish "for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). This statement is a lie if it is God's "good pleasure" to save only a few and to damn all the rest. In Matt. 23:37 Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, saying, "How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." Is that not willful rejection? Is that not personal choice? Is that not free will? If it is true that men have no freedom to choose life over death, then Rev. 22:17 is a meaningless invitation -- "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost."

Calvinism also teaches a Limited Atonement --- i.e.: the blood of Christ was shed for a limited number of people (the "elect"). The blood of Christ was not shed for those whom God had preordained would suffer the fate of hell. According to the Canons of the Synod of Dordt (2nd Head of Doctrine, Article 8), "For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death." "The Biblical or Calvinistic position is that Christ intended that His death should atone only for the elect and not for others. According to this position, man is totally depraved, and God, loving some with a great love, elected them, or in other words, determined that they should be saved. He sent Christ to die for them and them alone, thereby saving them. Thus, the atonement of Christ is limited to some and is not intended for all" [Dr. Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 35].

I realize that this theology is a popular one within certain segments of Christendom that have embraced the tenets of Calvinism. I also realize that some of you who are reading this are proponents of this teaching. Please be assured that I have only the utmost love for you, but I have to say here that I believe you are terribly mistaken about this matter, and that your teaching gravely misrepresents the nature of our God and His eternal plan for mankind. It is my prayer that God will lead you to a greater appreciation of His grace and a nobler perception of His nature.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE and NOOK

Readers' Reflections

From a Missionary in Peru:

It is always a good study to go through your Reflections; they are always so well researched and presented. Wow! That guy from Nigeria was unbelievable! He takes "salvation by works" to the very heights!! But, if one has any knowledge of Nigeria, it would come as no surprise. Some of the names of churches there are sadly hilarious. And you can find a horde of them in one street. He's probably from the Church of the Holy Perfect Saints. I really enjoyed your article, though. The Lord bless you, brother.

From a Reader in South Africa:

Thank you for your Reflections. I have become an "addict" to them! They have opened my spiritual eyes and have caused me to be far more accommodative toward my fellow Christians with whom I may not share the same views. I cannot begin to say how much my loving Father God blesses me through you, brother. May you continue to be blessed so that you in turn can continue to bless us. You have articulated my feelings about the teachings (or mis-teachings) of "the one true church" in so accurate a manner that I personally could not do. Thank you for making me see Christ as He really is: full of grace and mercy to save, not a monster who is ready to destroy over every slight deviation from the "pattern." Stay blessed, beloved brother!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I thought your article on John 1:12-13 titled "The Right To Become God's Children" (Reflections #528) was very well done, both in reasoning and presentation. I can just imagine, though, the heat you will receive. Hang in there, and may God bless you.

From a Reader in California:

I pray that you will be with us for a long time, for God has much work for you to do! Your writings are inspiring and very helpful in dealing with others, both from the Churches of Christ and from different beliefs.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Thank you so much for the rich Easter gift of Reflections #528 -- "The Right To Become God's Children." I will need to reread it to appreciate it more. It appears that questions about "a point in time" are small if we remember that the Lord knows the end of all things from the very beginning. Just as Mary was submissive to receive the Son into her womb, so we must surrender to receive the Spirit of the Son into our hearts, where our cleansing and growth begin.

From an Elder/Physician in Texas:

I enjoyed your most recent Reflections, and I completely agree with you that our relationship with God is all about what God has done in Jesus, and not about anything that we have done to merit or achieve that relationship. Thank you for continuing to champion this critical truth. I was concerned and a bit confused about a detail in the Greek grammatical presentation late in the article. I pondered several days about whether to write you, and decided to send this anyway. Specifically, it seemed to me as if you were saying that the aorist tense in the indicative mood can be assumed to represent a punctiliar, or at least a completed, aspect. My understanding is that this is not correct. Thus, I would hesitate to draw a conclusion based on the fact that any verb is an aorist indicative. Both Carson and Mounce counsel that this is one of the most common fallacies in reasoning from the Greek. Now, having got that off my chest, let me add that my Greek understanding is pretty basic, so I may be off base here. And, I may have misunderstood your point. Even so, I thought it would be helpful to add this comment to the discussion. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and thanks for all that you do for the Kingdom.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

I thank God for you every day, Al. The Holy Spirit has filled you with the real truth. People should listen to you and think about what you say. I was close friends with both Ira North and Batsell Baxter. The latter married my wife and me. Both believed very strongly in works, though, and used to preach to me about all that we had to DO in order to be saved. So many preachers believe this (or used to). One said to me, when he found out he had cancer, "I can't die now. I must do more good to receive salvation. It is about our works. I have not done enough." So many of us are hung up on works, and see grace as having nothing to do with it. Al, you are doing such a good job of reaching people with the truth. Thank you.

From a Ph.D. in Texas:

"The Right To Become God's Children" was a good article, brother; one I will treasure and study over and over!! I heard on TV this morning Jack Graham, the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church here in Dallas (the largest Baptist group in the metroplex, with three campuses), say essentially the same thing you did in your article. It is sad that more people don't see the truth of what God did to make us His children!

From a Reader in California:

Wow!! Your article ("The Right To Become God's Children") was extremely difficult to digest, and had I not taken several big bites of these truths many years ago, I might have been totally overwhelmed by the truths proclaimed therein. The knowledge of these truths, however, freed me from so many conclusions, criticisms and judgments where my fellow believers were concerned (as well as their judgments and criticisms about me). All I know is: these truths are Holy Spirit taught, as I am too ignorant to decipher them without His help. Anyway, the great truths contained in today's Reflections, which I perceived and embraced years ago, promptly resulted in our being disfellowshipped by those who claim that baptism is what saves a person, and faith only leads one down that long road to the water's edge where man finishes up what God only began!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I just now got a chance to read your latest Reflections on John 1:12-13. Awesome!! I hope people will send a copy of this around to all their friends. Knowing that we are His children by grace through faith is so comforting, as opposed to the idea that one has to merit this gift. Such would be like one's child trying to jump back into the mother's womb in order to rebirth themselves. That dog won't hunt!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

We are "born from above" when we are baptized in water, and not one second before! The Scriptures are very clear on that. In Eph. 2:8, when Paul says we are "saved by grace through faith," what he means is that we are saved by obedience to God's commands. You may not believe it, but that is the truth.

From a Reader in Utah:

I purchased your book on baptism -- Immersed By One Spirit -- on Kindle. It was a fascinating read, and, as a result, I finished it rather quickly. I am so very thankful for your service to our Lord, and for your willingness to encourage everyone, especially those within our own faith-heritage, to reevaluate our positions. Because, let's face it, we have unfortunately been wrong about quite a few things!

From a Reader in California:

Thank you for sending the articles by the Nigerian guy. At first, I could not fathom why this guy would show such animosity toward the beloved apostle Paul, but as I continued to read his rantings I think I got an "Aha!" revelation, and it was further reinforced as I read more and more of his misrepresentations of Paul's (supposed) support of slavery. As he is not only a black man (as am I), but also an African, he, no doubt, is very much opposed to slavery -- as any civilized person should be. Yet, his tone and tenor in opposing Paul and the epistles of Paul focuses on his misinterpretations of Paul's statements regarding servants, thus driving his disdain for Paul to the point of accusing Paul of being a self-serving sectarian, attempting to draw disciples unto himself. Because this man has "ultra-raw nerves" concerning slavery, it affects even his reading and understanding of the Word of God to the point that when he reads "servant" or "slave" in the Bible, he equates that rendering with the slavery that strongly impacted Africa, Africans and, later, the Americas. Anyway, this is my view of what may be motivating this man's hatred.

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