Does God appoint some for salvation and not others? An examination of Acts 13:48

Saturday, April 18, 2009


R. here. My wife and I are studying the Bible with a young couple, and J. has been heavily influenced by Calvinism. Predestination, Total Depravity, Irresistible Grace -- the whole nine yards. His weak points are his children. It bothers him that one of them might be predestined to be lost. You get the idea. If you have any words of wisdom or insight I am your eager student (again). I love your website. It looks good and keep up the good work.

Take care, R.

R., thanks for the update. I just have a minute, but I think I may be able to help you. On, on my systematic theology page, and some study material on Calvinism (which I label "Reformed Theology").

Many of my other links on the Systematic Theology page are from reformed writers, probably because of their tremendous respect for the authority of the Word of God. But on the T-U-L-I-P- part, I just can't reconcile it with Scripture. Look especially at the "Weighed & Found Wanting" article.

I think you should be asking yourself, what is the common ground I can find with what they are saying? Each of the points has an important truth that it would have contributed if it hadn't taken it too far. Focus on that truth and show how the Calvinist teaching went beyond what the Bible really says on the subject. Example: Irresistible Grace, see John 6:44--God draws us through the winsome message of the gospel, though not irresistibly.

I would be happy to dialogue with you as you work your way through this material.

Look also at the available books, especially the two views book. The first one listed, by Hanko, et al., is pro-Calvinist.


Thank you for the input. I have just done considerable reading this evening since getting home from our study. He actually wants to put off further discussions on this till a little bit later. However, I have a question about Acts 13:48. This was the passage brought up last week. I studied the Greek a little bit from a few commentaries but could you give me some of your input on this passage?

Thanks, R.

(Actually Tyndale commentary was pretty good on this, as was Alexander Campbell.)

Stange. I read Acts 13 this week and was already thinking about "As many as were in the state of having been appointed unto eternal life believed." (That is a literal rendering of the periphrastic construction of "was" combined with a perfect participle.)

How can we reconcile these passage, which certainly seems to imply predestination and irresistible grace, with the "whosoever" passages like Mark 16:16, John 3:16, and others, as well as passages that clearly say Jesus died for all, not just some, and that God's desire is for all to experience salvation (e.g., 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:4-5, and 2 Peter 3:9)? One way to harmonize them is to use the analogy of invitations to a class party. All the members of the class are invited, but only a few attend.

Yet we can say that only the invited are at the party without saying those to didn't come weren't invited. Am I talking in circles or guilty of sophistry? I hope not.

Those who responded to Paul's preaching "believed" (in the comprehensive sense of responded to the gospel, for everything involved in responding is prompted by faith in Christ and inspired by His most excellent sacrifice and power to redeem). By "believing," they were demonstrating that God included even them in the invitation.

Keep in mind that this is before the Jerusalem conference in which Paul's "way-out-there," radical teaching of accepting Gentiles as legitimate Christians without demanding that they be circumcised was confirmed by the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem mother-church. Why did the conference make this decision? Because they had substantial proof that it was God's will. What was the proof?

1) Peter's testimony about the conversion of Cornelius and his household, which involved a number of guiding and confirming miracles, as well as the willingness of Cornelius and the others to respond to the gospel.

2) The testimony of Paul and Barnabas about the success of their missionary journey, in which they consistently pursued this policy with regard to the Gentiles. Not only did God empower them to work miracles, something He would not have done if they had been misleading their converts, but He also blessed them with many responsive hearts. In other words, if at the conference they had been forced to admit that their preaching of salvation based on grace through faith met with an icy reception, the brothers in Jerusalem might have relegated the entire discussion to a matter of hypotheticals. But the Gentiles gladly accepted the message of salvation, which demonstrates that God wanted them to be saved, and we can even say "appointed them for eternal life."

The use of the perfect participle suggests that this was a long-standing appointment, as far as God was concerned. That takes us back into the Old Testament to such passages as Isaiah 49:6 (which Paul quotes to the disaffected Jews just before our target verse, see Acts 13:47), and many others, leading all the way back to the "fountainhead," Gen. 12:3. It had been God's intention for Israel to lead the Gentiles to salvation, and when they failed (see Isa. 26:18 and 52:5), God was determined to bring salvation to the Gentiles anyway, through the Messiah (see Isa. 59:1-20). No one else would do it, so He had to do it Himself.

He had appointed the Gentiles for eternal life. So when they heard the gospel, it was possible for them to respond to it, even though they weren't Jews. The forgiveness and salvation Paul offered them was a bonafide offer from God. Their openness to the message was a demonstration that God had a hand in their conversion. But His work was not an election (of some and not others), followed by an irresistible calling of that "chosen few." His work was the gospel "God's power unto salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

Response? How does this compare with the other things you read? Also, is it OK, if I put this on my blog?


Steve, Amen! Put it on the blog! I'm loving it! At first I wasn't sure where you were going (actually in the middle) but you developed the concept extremely well and then brought in the OT passages about God having this in mind from the beginning. With everything put in context it is the best argument I have read.

Actually Tyndale went into the Greek word for appointed and brought up an alternate understanding. That the term can be used (and has, I guess) as a military term meaning "To be set in place," i.e., as a military general would set his troups in place for a certain position in the battle line for instance. The meaning would then take on the idea that the Gentiles by receiving and glorifying the Word of the Lord with joy, they were 'set in place' (a.k.a. ‘appointed’) to receive eternal life. Tyndale makes their action of joyfully receiving the Word a deciding factor that sets them in place for salvation. I may be drawing too much out of his argument but that seems to be the gist of it. I did not do a Greek study to confirm this rather unexpected tack. Anyway, I am going to print off and study your full argument and study it.

Thank you, Steve.


Want to Go Deeper?

Consider the following passages regarding whether individuals are predestined for salvation or for destruction. Our goal is not to pick passages that teach what we want to truth to be and ignore passages that seem to conflict with them, but to go deeper and seek a way to reconcile and harmonize them all without doing violence to the context of each passage.

  • John 3:16 – The "whoever" or "whosoever" of this famous verse leads us to believe that salvation in Christ is available to everyone who responds to it, not just a select group.
  • Mark 16:16 – "Whosoever" in this text is as wide as the "all creation" of the previous verse. The risen Lord places no limitation of who could respond to the gospel proclamation. Other "whosoever" texts to consider include: Mark 3:35 (parallel: Matthew 12:50); Mark 8:34-35 (par. Matthew 16:25; Luke 17:33); Mark 9:37 (par. Matthew 18:4); Mark 9:41; Matthew 13:12; Luke 6:47; 7:23; 8:35; John 11:26; 12:46; Acts 2:21 (quoting Joel 2:32); Romans 9:33 and 10:11 (both quoting Isa. 28:16); 1 John 4:15; and Revelation 22:17.
  • Mark 13:20, 22, 27 (parallels: Matthew 24:22, 24, 31); Luke 18:7 – Jesus calls his followers "the elect," which means the Chosen Ones. This theme of election recurs in the epistles: study Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:2, 6; 2 Peter 1:10. Does this mean that those who don't respond aren't "the chosen"? Who does the choosing, God or we? He has chosen HOW, not WHO.
  • An important cluster of elections verses occurs in Romans 9 - 11, dealing with God's choice of Israel: Rom. 9:11 and Romans 11:5, 7, 28.
For online reading:

F. Furman Kearley. "The Biblical Doctrine of Predestination, Foreordination, and Election". – Kearley was one of my mentors and an excellent biblical scholar. His take on Acts 13:48 is similar to the Tyndale commentary.

Recommended for purchase:
Robert Shank. Elect in the Son: The Biblical Doctrine of Election. Westcott, 1970; Reprint: Baker, 1989. – This is a thorough study of election throughout the Bible, treating every passage in its context. Shank studied his way out of Calvinism and shares with us what he discovered.

In the last few years, more and more books have appeared discussing crucial biblical doctrines from different points of view. Here are some helpful books if you want to consider the arguments on both sides regarding election:

Dave Hunt & James White. Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Multnomah, 2004).

Robert A. Peterson & Michael D. Williams. Why I am Not an Arminian (InterVarsity, 2004).

Jerry L. Walls & Joseph R. Dongell. Why I am Not a Calvinist (InterVarsity, 2004).

Steve Singleton,
Subscribe to feed

Labels: , ,