“In the Calvinist understanding of foreknowledge and predetermination, the future is the product of the will of God. The Calvinist view clearly presents God as sovereign, but He also appears to be the cause of sin. In the Arminian formulation GOD LOOKS FORWARD INTO A FUTURE MADE BY THE DECISIONS OF FREE CREATURES AND THEN MAKES HIS PLANS ACCORDINGLY. The Arminian model emphasizes that God is a loving Father, but unfortunately HIS WILL HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MUCH THAT HAPPENS. By contrast, Molinism contends that God actively uses His foreknowledge. Among the many possibilities populated by the choices of free creatures, God freely and sovereignly decided which world to bring into existence. This view fits well with the biblical simultaneous affirmation of both foreknowledge and predetermination (Acts 2:23)” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 155-156).
In all the reading I’ve done on the subject of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the case of Jesus from Acts 2:23 (Peter’s sermon) is one of the most (if not the most) provided example of all the various proof texts offered. In this post, however, I want us to examine this proof text and see what it tells us about how foreknowledge and predetermination work.
Let’s look at Acts 2:22-24---
“‘Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—--Him, being delivered by the DETERMINED PURPOSE AND FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD, YOU HAVE TAKEN BY LAWLESS HANDS, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24, NKJV).
Regarding this text, Keathley writes:
“By contrast, Molinism contends that God actively uses His foreknowledge. Among the many possibilities populated by the choices of free creatures, God freely and sovereignly decided which world to bring into existence. This view fits well with the biblical simultaneous affirmation of both foreknowledge and predetermination (Acts 2:23)” (155-156).
In the above quote, Keathley shows the contrast between Molinism and Arminianism. Arminianism argues that God’s foreknowledge is not causative; but Molinism argues that God’s foreknowledge is causative: that God knows what will happen because God CAUSES the events He foreknows.
However, the passage of Acts 2:22-24 (specifically v. 23) has been misinterpreted and misapplied with regards to the issue of sovereignty/responsibility. My question is, who was “predetermined” to do what they did? Was it Jesus or the Jews?
Scripture reveals that Jesus was predetermined to die:
“All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb SLAIN FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD” (Revelation 13:8, NKJV).
Who was slain from before time? “The Lamb,” that being Jesus Christ, whom John calls “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29; Isaiah 53:7).
Since Christ is the one slain from before the foundation of the world, then Christ was the one delivered up according to the “determined purpose” of God. Christ was ordained to die. The Father foreknew that Jesus would die because He foreknew that man would sin in the Garden (Genesis 3).
But what about the men who crucified Jesus? Were they “predetermined” to put Jesus to death? No---for, if their actions were predetermined, then they bear no responsibility for what they did. However, God did foreknow that these men would crucify Jesus...and He used their actions to fulfill His plan, which was to have His Son crucified for the sins of the world.
There is another proof text used by Calvinists and Molinists alike regarding predetermination and foreknowledge:
“And truly the Son of Man goes AS IT HAS BEEN DETERMINED, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22)
“The Son of Man indeed goes JUST AS IT IS WRITTEN OF HIM, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).
In Luke 22 above, we find that “the Son of Man,” Jesus Christ Himself, is the one that “has been determined” to be crucified; however, there is no mention of Judas being “predetermined” to betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus declares doom: “woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” What makes this pronouncement by Jesus severe is that, while Jesus is going a way that is predetermined for Him, something that has been declared before time began, Judas’s betrayal is one that Judas bears responsibility for! There is no predetermination of Judas to betray Jesus. There is, however, a predetermined decree that Jesus would be crucified.
Go back to Acts 2:23. As I stated earlier, Jesus was “predetermined” to die because of the foreknowledge of the sins of man, as well as the actions of all persons involved in Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.
The context of Acts 2:23, once again, gives away that the “supposed” interpretation of this passage is incorrect. In Acts 2:23, Peter tells the men “You have taken [Jesus] by LAWLESS HANDS, have crucified, and put to death” (v.24). Notice that Peter called the men “lawless,” which is “anomon” in the Greek. The Greek word “anomon” comes from the Greek word “anomos,” which literally translated means “WITHOUT(Greek prefix “a-“)LAW (Greek word “nomos”). The New King James translates the word as “lawless,” which means that there was no justification by law for what the Jews did to Jesus. He was an innocent man who had done no wrong (Luke 23:41).
In Acts 2:25, Peter references Psalm 16:8-11, which has to do with the resurrection of Christ (v.31). The crucifixion and resurrection were predetermined, NOT those who betrayed, tried, and condemned Jesus. The actions of those involved were not predetermined by God---which is why these men can be labeled “lawless” and Judas can be condemned by Jesus for his betrayal (Luke 22:22). Last but not least, after Peter preaches, we read this:
“Now then they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, WHAT SHALL WE DO?’” (Acts 2:37)
Peter tells them that they handed over someone they thought was a common criminal; but He turned out to be “both Lord and Christ.” They feel so bad about betraying the Lord of heaven and earth that they ask, “What shall we do?”, dying to correct their grievous sin of condemning Jesus to die.
You do remember Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, don’t you? In Matthew’s account, the crowds press Pilate to crucify him. When Pilate realizes the crowd wants Jesus crucified, he washes his hands before them:
“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.’
And all the people answered and said, ‘HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN’” (Matthew 27:24-25, NKJV).
Did you see the words of the crowd? “His blood be on us and on our children.” By their own mouths they claimed responsibility for their actions. There is no “God made me do it” talk; rather, they are more than willing to accept responsibility for what they did. And in Acts 2, Peter throws the blame on them for their actions. They feel so guilty that they wanted to know how to make things right. And all Peter told them was to believe on the Lord and be baptized for the removal of their sins.
That’s all they could do in response to this knowledge of their guilt. While they couldn’t remove the guilt of the crucifixion, they could believe on the Lord---and He would take away their guilt and all of their sins through confession and belief.
I’ve made a case here that the words “determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” do not refer to any but Christ and His Crucifixion. After all, this is the only reason why Christ was “delivered” to the Jews anyway (Acts 2:23). Had God not had a purpose for Jesus being crucified, He would never have been given over in the first place. And although the act of crucifixion was predetermined, the actions of those involved were not.
When we examine Acts 2:23, we don’t find God predetermining the actions of the Jews...instead, we find that God used their actions to work His marvelous plan. The same thing can be said for Joseph’s brothers: although they were guilty for selling him into slavery, God still used Joseph’s circumstances to “save many lives” (Genesis 50). When we look at what happened with our Lord, we begin to see that God is not sovereign when He must “predetermine” everything...rather, He is sovereign when He can take the choices of free creatures and marvelously incorporate them into His plan. Hallelujah to the Lamb of God!