Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Appointed to Eternal Life?

“Arminians have employed at least four strategies in attempting to harmonize Acts 13:48 with their view of predestination. First, some have simply declared dogmatically, ‘Surely in this context Luke does not intend to restrict the application of salvation only to those appointed’...second, William G. MacDonald, aware that the word translated ‘appointed’ could be rendered as a passive (‘were appointed’) or as a middle (‘appointed themselves’), opts for the latter possibility and translates: ‘and as many as were PUTTING THEMSELVES IN A POSITION FOR ETERNAL LIFE believed.’ Notice the switch from ‘appointed themselves’ to ‘were putting themselves in a position for eternal life.’ MacDonald claims that the Gentile believers in Pisidian Antioch ORDAINED THEMSELVES FOR ETERNAL LIFE! It is not surprising, then, that other Arminian biblical scholars do not follow his lead. Third, Marshall reads into this passage the assumption that the Gentiles spoken of ‘were already proselytes and worshippers of God.’ There is no evidence in the text for this; Marshall merely assumes mitigating circumstances to rescue his view” (Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, page 70).

In the debate on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, I’ve yet to see an author that doesn’t attack the other side. I’ve read over forty books on the subject, both Calvinist and Arminian literature, and each author (and every author) always attacks the other side. That is nothing new.

But I have a question that is pending on my heart: when will believers and theologians alike come to a place where they examine the views of others before attacking them? This seems to be the problem I have with some of Peterson’s claims. The claims themselves seem to be based on the idea that Arminians argue for free will----and are not even based on whether the argument is sound or not. One thing I’d love to see between the two camps is that each view can applaud a sound argument from the other side when they see it. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every side is right...but what it does mean, however, is that we can always place ourselves in a position to see a new side of things. I recently did that in my post on “Unconditional/Conditional Election.” I tried to examine the idea in Ephesians 1 that God’s saving humanity was based on His good will----He decided to save us because He wanted to. However, I did split with Calvinists when I wrote that while God’s good will is at stake, this does not EXCLUDE certain people----but instead, offers the gift of eternal life to all who believe. I engaged Calvinists in Ephesians 1 while still ending up with an Arminian conclusion. And, while I’m certainly no expert on this subject, I think this type of thing should be done in the literature that many believers are going to read. Surely, there’s something good to be seen in both views (although I won’t go any further...I’m too biased...).

Let’s assess the Arminian views Peterson puts up and see whether or not his assessment of them is correct. First, he uses Klein’s argument in his book, “The New Chosen People”; in this argument, Klein simply labels the Calvinist view as absurd. I have not read Klein’s work, but I have seen this claim in much Arminian literature. What will not be surprising to my viewers is that I think there are good reasons for having this thought (of absurdity)...but what I don’t think is good is to just simply state that the thought is absurd WITHOUT giving sound biblical evidence for why I think the thought is absurd. The key to winning any argument is evidence.

Next is MacDonald’s remarks in the above quote. Now, I don’t think that anyone can “ordain” themselves to eternal life. I do believe, however, that a person can accept the plan of salvation that God has ordained (which is faith in His Son, Jesus) and that, by confession and belief (Rom. 10:9), a person can be saved. In looking at the context of Acts 13:48, we find that the Jews were opposing Paul and Barnabas:

“But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 13:45, NKJV).

It was an all-out attack on the men of God and the Word of God itself.
How does the pair respond?

“It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but SINCE YOU REJECT IT, and JUDGE YOURSELVES UNWORTHY OF EVERLASTING LIFE, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).

The Jews “judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life.” This statement by Paul clearly shows us that God Himself did not reject the Jews, but wanted them to be saved. After all, if God didn’t desire all of His people Israel to be saved, why then would it be “necessary that the word of God should be spoken” to them first (v.46)? The very fact that the Lord chose twelve apostles and first sent them “to the lost house of Israel” reveals the Lord’s desire to save His own people. After all, was He not called Jesus because “He will save His people [the Jews] from their sins” (Matt. 1:21)?

To make matters worse, read verses 38 and 39 of the same chapter of Acts:

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and BY HIM EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES IS JUSTIFIED from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).

Before the Jews rejected the message, the opportunity had been given to them to receive the gift of eternal life.

I would say that, while MacDonald’s translation of the participle is somewhat incorrect, the concept evident in MacDonald’s translation of the participle is not: that the Gentiles themselves of their own choice are responsible for belief. And this is what fits the context of Acts 13:48----that the Jews “judge themselves unworthy of eternal life.” By so doing, they deny themselves in the election that leads to eternal life (through faith).

In my analysis, I think one can translate the participle “tetagmenoi” as “were appointed,” while still keeping the phrase “and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Why? because this verse must still reconcile with all the other numerous verses in the Bible. Even if the Calvinist were to win the debate on Acts 13:48 (and I’m not saying he is), he still must see whether or not this “foreordination” exists in other passages. A good case in point would be John 3:16—

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM should not perish but HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.”

This verse is literally translated as “the one believing in Him should not perish,” which lets us know that faith in the Son of God is a necessary condition for salvation. If then, faith is a necessary condition for eternal life, then there can be no appointment to eternal life without faith.

Last but not least is the view of Marshall: the Gentiles spoken of ‘were already proselytes and worshippers of God.’
Within the context itself, we see that “the Gentiles begged that these words [of the Old Testament, see Acts 13:16-41] might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42). Not only did they want the words to be preached to them, there were some Gentiles (called “devout proselytes,” NKJV) who “followed Paul and Barnabas” (v.43). Therefore, I don’t see the point in bringing this up. I. Howard Marshall’s comments conform to the context. If anyone is overlooking context, then it would have to be Peterson.

Peterson (and other Calvinists) have one reason and one reason only for using this verse in the debate: “Luke presents a divine classification or appointment to eternal life. And that appointment to eternal life PRECEDES FAITH ON THE PART OF THE BELIEVERS” (69, 70). While Peterson’s claim may sound consistent, it isn’t. The word “tetagmenoi” here does mean “ordained,” but it does not mean “foreordained.” If the appointment PRECEDES (or goes before) faith, then the word used here should have been “foreordained.” We don’t see this, however, nor do we see any markers of “before the creation of the world,” etc., to make us believe otherwise. A sound hermeneutic requires that Acts 13:48 be matched up against John 3:16, Romans 5:17, and a host of other passages. Once that happens, we see that there is no foreordination at all...only the wishful thinking of theologians of a particular persuasion...

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