As Many As Were Ordained to Eternal Life

After Mark’s departure from Paul and Barnabas at Perga, the two men continued their journey to Antioch of Pisidia. It is at this point that Luke recounted one of Paul’s longest recorded sermons, which was preached in the synagogue in Antioch. Wherever these men went, they always preached first to the Jews, then to the Greeks. This practice of Paul and Barnabas was followed by Paul whenever he went into new areas where the gospel had not been preached. This was God’s directions: they were to preach the gospel, making no distinction between Jew and Greek, but their preaching was to begin with the Jew (Romans 1:16).

After Paul’s first sermon in the synagogue in Antioch, the next Sabbath almost the whole city came to hear him. When the Jews saw the multitude, they were filled with jealousy and contradicted and blasphemed the things which Paul spoke (Acts 13:46). At this point Luke records, “And Paul and Barnabas spoke and boldly said, it was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken unto you. Seeing ye thrust it from you and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us saying, I have set thee for a light of the Gentiles. That thou shall be for salvation unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 13:46-47).

Luke then recorded the reaction of the Gentiles who had come to hear these preachers: “And as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God: and as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed” (Acts 13:48). It is this latter verse which Calvinists seize upon to use as proof text to Calvin’s theory that God had determined the eternal destiny of all men before the world began. And then at some point in lives of those whom He has ordained to be saved, He will create faith in their heart that they might be saved and then they will believe and be saved. Those in whose heart God does not create faith will be lost. Does this passage teach Calvin’s theory?

We have seen Peter’s words at the house of Cornelius when he said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation, he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted of him” (Acts 10:35). When one takes the words of Peter and compares them with the application Calvinists make of Acts 13:48, it is evident that we have a contradiction. If we have a contradiction, then the Bible is nothing more than the work of man. It is our purpose to show that there is no contradiction in the Bible, but to do that we must show that the application which Calvinists make of Acts 13:48 is a misapplication of what the passage teaches.

The issue is found in two items: 1) what does the word “ordain” mean in the passage; and, 2) is the action I the action of God or the action of these Gentiles who were in Antioch? If “ordain” refers to an act of God, there is no way to reconcile Acts 13:48 with Acts 10:35. If “ordain” refers to an act on the part of the Gentiles in Antioch, then it is possible to reconcile the two verses.

The Greek word tasso which is translated “ordained” in Acts 13:48 is found in other places, and it is translated “determine”, “ordain”, or “set”. The idea of “disposed” or “inclined” is the thought of the word.

The context in Acts 13 contrasts the Jews with the Gentiles: the attitude of the Jews to the words of Paul and Barnabas with the attitude of Gentiles toward those same words. The Jews “thrust it (the word of God) from you”, action of the Jews, not God’s; and the Gentiles “glorified the word” and “as many as were ordained to eternal life”, something Gentiles did — not God. The consequence of the action of the Gentiles “as many as were ordained to eternal life” was that they “believed”, just as the consequence of the action of the Jews who “thrust it (the word of God) from you” was “ye judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life”. The Gentiles, some of them, were “determined”, (disposed, inclined) toward “eternal life” and because they were, they believed. The Jews, most of them, were set against the words of God, thus they judged themselves “unworthy of eternal life”. In either case, whether Jew or Gentile, the action was man’s, not action on the part of God.

We must have the proper attitude toward God’s word, for our attitude will determine whether we receive it and are blessed or reject it and are cursed. “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That is true of all men, whether Jew or Gentile, now — and it was true in Antioch of Pisidia when Paul preached the gospel there.

Jim McDonald

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