2016 is barely underway, and we already have a front-runner for “The Worst Blog of the Year” award. The author, Darrell Brantingham (aka “Confront Calvin”) has made a name for himself when it comes to blatant inaccuracies, gross misrepresentations, and unapologetic slander of what he thinks is Calvinism. I have addressed one of Darrell’s blogs in the past. Upon doing so, Darrell accused me of “viciously attacking” him. Apparently, criticism is not welcomed by Mr. “Confront Calvin”. This is quite ironic considering Darrell has devoted his social media life to… criticism. What I aim to show here is that the criticism Darrell produces is horrendously misguided and, regardless of his motives, is fully deserving of open rebuke. I hope to make this short and sweet. In order to do so, I will not copy/paste/address every sentence in Darrell’s blog, but rather will address a portion of it, and the main arguments set forth by him. Please click here to read Darrell’s blog.
As you can see, the topic Darrell addresses is [what he thinks to be] the Calvinistic application of Acts 13:48. According to him, this verse “seems to be Calvinism’s best passage as it pertains to proving their position“. He concludes his introductory paragraph by saying, “Romans 9 is not a good argument given the true context of the chapter is about Israel. John 17 is clearly about Jesus and his preparation of those who would carry the gospel to the nations. Verses in John 6 are refuted by the context that surrounds them. Then we have Acts 13:48 and one’s first impressions is that this one verse seems to state that some people were saved because they had been appointed to life which for Calvinists would be a proof of unconditional election.” This type of argumentation would be categorically rejected by anyone in a scholarly setting. Darrell attempts to define the entire theological system of Calvinism with a few passages, and then asserts that no support for it is found in any of the passages. Case closed. “Another one bites the dust”, right? That is not cogent argumentation; rather, it is baseless assertion after baseless assertion. I am very confident that anyone with even a slight amount of honesty can see that this is true. Before addressing Darrell’s attempt at commentary on Acts 13:48, I think it is necessary to address various assertions he makes in his blog.
Immediately after this “brilliant” intro, Darrell says, “However Acts 13:48 deserves a much deeper analysis since it is just one verse and it appears to be the only passage in all of scripture that proves Calvinism.” Is any comment necessary? I think the erroneous and inconsistent logic, followed by a reiteration of the same flawed attempt at framing Calvinism in his own terms, is plain for all to see. Darrell persists with this same “assert and hide” / “jab and run” methodology for much of this blog, and truly it is the same with all of the blogs of his that I have read. This next paragraph is, perhaps, the worst of all.
“Unfortunately context is not valued by most Calvinists. Context is often ignored by Calvinists who seem to be very good at simply lifting a verse here and a verse there these verses pulled willy-nilly out of the Bible are knit together for some doctrinal proof that is not simply not there when read in context.”
Again I say… is any comment necessary? I mean, obviously, Darrell has proven that Calvinists do not value context in the preceding paragraphs, right? He has surely laid the foundation of evidence for such weighty accusations, right?
Anyways… Did you catch his typo? He states, “doctrinal proof that is not simply not there when read in context.” The “doctrinal proof” produced by Calvinists is “not simply not there when read in context”. I agree, Darrell. It is not simply not there.
Further on in the blog, Darrell states, “What we see here is Paul clearly crushing Calvinism before Acts 13:48. Paul preaches a gospel “of everyone who believes” which proves that believing is the key to salvation.” Notice, Darrell attempts to downplay the importance of faith in Calvinistic soteriology. He places Calvinism at enmity with a Gospel that saves “everyone who believes”. He has grown so calloused toward Calvinism that he is wholly incapable of fair criticism. I addressed much of this in my previous blog (click here), but for now, let us quickly refute this false distinction by examining some thoughts of actual Calvinists on faith. John Calvin writes, “The principal hinge on which faith turns is this, that we must not consider the promises of mercy, which the Lord offers, as true only to others and not to ourselves; but rather make them our own, by embracing them in our hearts.” (1) Calvin again states, “Faith brings nothing of our own to God, but receives what God spontaneously offers us. Hence it is that faith, however imperfect, nevertheless possesses a perfect righteousness, because it has respect to nothing but the gratuitous goodness of God.” (2) Calvin, in alignment with the Reformed doctrine of Sola Fide (by faith alone), states, “With respect to justification, faith is a merely passive thing, bringing nothing of our own to win the favor of God, but receiving what we need from Christ.” (3) Augustine of Hippo (a “Calvinist”who preceded Calvin) declares, “There is no love without hope, no hope without love, and neither hope nor love without faith.” (4) Lastly, A.W. Pink highlights the necessity of faith in salvation by saying, “Repentance is the hand releasing those filthy objects it had previously clung to so tenaciously; faith is extending an empty hand to God to receive His gift of grace.” (5) I have already spent too much time on this. If anyone actually believes that Calvinists do not believe and declare Sola Fide, then such an error is truly not worthy of the time it takes to address it.
Now that we have had a few chuckles, let us move on and address Darrell’s primary argument. (Once we find it, that is…) If you read his blog, you will notice that he shares Acts 13:48 alongside the surrounding verses, and then gives his commentary on the passage. I will now attempt to accurately and honestly present Darrell’s argument in a concise manner, in his own words, and then respond.
“Verse 46 is the key verse for understanding Acts 13:48 because it is direct context. Paul and Barnabas announce to the Jews who are rejecting the gospel that they will now preach that gospel to the Gentiles.”
“Therefore it is very clear that God has chosen to now offer salvation to the Gentiles so that they might believe and that is what Acts 13:48 is really about.”
“The context here is ALL about the GENTILES believing after the Jews rejected the gospel.”
Pause… So, for now, Darrell is saying that verse 46 is the key to understanding verse 48; that verse 48 is really about God choosing to now offer salvation to the Gentiles (I suppose Cornelius does not count); and that special emphasis should be placed on the fact that the believing Gentiles of verse 48 only believed after the Jews rejected the Gospel. Let us now continue…
“The word that Calvinists seize for this verse is the word “ordained” which some versions translate as “appointed. If you remove this word, the Calvinist notion that God has chosen predestined these people in verse 48 goes away completely making it worthless to Calvinism. But since the word does occur Calvinism attempts to make the verse work to support the doctrine of unconditional election.”
I contend to you that no verse in the Bible is “worthless to Calvinism”, as Darrell says. Accuracy and honesty have once again evaded his critique. This next excerpt flows directly from the one above. I will post the remaining portion of his argument concerning the term “ordained” (in Greek: τάσσω), and will then respond to it in its entirety.
“The problem for Calvinism is that the word “ordained” is specifically pointing back to verses 46 and 47 and is referring to the Gentiles. “Ordained” then makes the associative point that God has now ordained the Gentiles to receive salvation and eternal life. The word “ordained” therefore is speaking not of predetermination that some specific Gentiles were being saved but that the Gentiles were now ordained or approved or set in place to receive salvation through Jesus. Therefore the “ordained” is not a reference to these specific individuals but is referring to Gentiles in the greater sense.
The Greek word for “ordained” means to be set in place. That is the way this Greek word is always used in scripture. It is never used to mean “chosen” but simply means to “set in place”, It is a word commonly used in a military sense. Therefore Acts 13:48 is only saying that Gentiles were now ordained or set in place to receive salvation. For thousands of years the Gentiles had not been allowed to participate in the salvation that had been offered only to the Jews and now there time has come.”
From what I can gather, it seems that Darrell is arguing that verse 48 is merely teaching that Gentiles, in general, have been ordained to receive salvation. This argument seeks to turn what is clearly specific into something general. In theological terms, it seeks to turn what is clearly individual into something that is corporate. I do not think any Calvinist would disagree with the notion of verse 48 referring back to the Gentiles of verses 46 and 47. Take a look at verse 48. For this illustration, I have divided the verse into Part A and Part B.
“(A) When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; (B) and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
First, we need not even look back to verse 46-47 to conclude that verse 48 is referring to the Gentiles. It clearly states, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord…” The Gentiles are clearly the focus of the first portion (Part A) of verse 48. Now take a closer look at the rest of the verse (Part B): “and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” As you can see, the second clause clearly identifies a subgroup consisting of Gentiles identified in Part A. The “as many” are a group of Gentiles who were “appointed to eternal life” and thus “believed”. That is what the text says. Part B of this verse does not make a general statement about salvation now being available to Gentiles. It unquestionably identifies a group (“as many”) of Gentiles who believed “this” (from Part A), which was the message preached by Paul.
Furthermore, Darrell makes much of his definition of “ordained” (or, τάσσω). He claims that the only possible meaning of this word is “to set in place”. I am certainly not an expert when it comes to Greek, and I know Darrell is not either. Therefore, I will now do what Darrell failed to do, and that is to share some thoughts of Greek scholars. The resource I will now cite actually argues against this verse being predestinarian in nature, but nonetheless it refutes Darrell’s parameters placed around the meaning of this word.
“In the NT as in non-biblical Greek τάσσω means “to determine,” Ac. 15:2, “to appoint,” Ac. 28:23; 12:21; → line 9 f., “to order,” Mt. 28:16 mid.; on 1 C. 16:15 → 27, 11 ff.; lines 3 ff. The officer who commands others is himself under orders (Lk. 7:8) and thus knows from two-sided experience what it means concretely to be subject to authority with no possibility of resistance, → 41, 9 ff.
Elsewhere God is the One who orders or appoints, though only in the passive in the NT and with no mention of God in Ac. God has arranged the commission which results for Paul from his experience on the Damascus Road → VI, 863, 5 ff. (Ac. 22:10, cf. 14f.). According to Ac. 13:48 the man who is a Christian is ordained to eternal life.8 The idea that God’s will to save is accomplished in Christians with their conversion is obviously not connected with the thought of predestination (→ IV, 192, 1 ff.) but rather with that of conferring status (→ 31, 20 ff.); cf. οὐκ ἀξίους, Ac. 13:46.” (6)
There is obviously many, many Greek scholars who dispute the theological conclusions made in the previous excerpt. However, my only intention here is to show that the term is not bound to the limitations set by Darrell. This next resource I will cite likewise shows the same. (please note the bold/underlining emphasis is my own; it highlights the rendering of the term in this exact verse)
“τάσσω (tassō): vb.; ≡ DBLHebr 8492; Str 5021; TDNT 8.27—1. LN 37.96 assign one to a particular task (Ac 13:48; 15:2; 22:10+; Ac 15:7 v.r.); 2. LN 13.13 cause to be, to be under an authority (Lk 7:8; Ro 13:1+; Mt 8:9 v.r. NA26; Ac 18:2 v.r. NA26); 3. LN 33.325 command, order, instruct (Mt 28:16+); 4. LN 33.346 suggest, propose to someone (Ac 28:23+); 5. LN 68.69 give oneself to, do with devotion (1Co 16:15+).” (7)
As you can see, this term clearly has other meanings, and is used with various meanings throughout the Bible. Darrell is flat out wrong on this point. He insists that this term can only mean “to set in place”, and even suggests that “Therefore Acts 13:48 is only saying that Gentiles were now ordained or set in place to receive salvation.”(emphasis is his own). Even if we apply Darrell’s definition, we get: “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been set in place to receive eternal life believed.” This would still leave us with the blatant identification of a subgroup (“as many”). The “as many” are clearly separated from the larger group of Gentiles in Part A of verse 48. Darrell never addresses this point. The verse does not say, “…and the Gentiles were now, in general, set in place to possibly receive salvation if they end up believing”. If his argument for this verse speaking only of Gentiles in general is true, we must inevitably conclude that all Gentiles are “appointed to eternal life”. And we must conclude that all Gentiles “believed”, as Part B of the verse states. Following through with the “logic” of Darrell’s assertions makes it quite clear to me that he has committed severe eisegesis. His conclusion(s) are forced into the text, and are certainly not exegeted (drawn from) the text.
Before moving forward, I would like to point out another glaring contradiction in Darrell’s theology (and in the theology of many like him). Notice where he states, “For thousands of years the Gentiles had not been allowed to participate in the salvation that had been offered only to the Jews and now there [sic] time has come.” Now this would make me assume that Darrell is acknowledging the fact that for thousands of years God refused to allow the Gentiles to partake in salvation, and thus He justly left them to perish eternally in their own sin. Right? If he honestly applies his own argument, Darrell must concede that God, who is omniscient, created these Gentiles knowing that He would never even offer salvation to them, correct? Drawing from his own words, I think it’d be fair to say that Darrell is suggesting that God chose to save some of Israel, while choosing not to save the Gentiles “for thousands of years”. This choice would inevitably come from “before the foundation of the world”, considering God is omniscient, right? Then why did Darrell tweet the following on January 21st at 6:43 PM: “When one teaches that God chose some while damning others B4 the creation of the world you preach a gospel foreign to the Bible #Calvinism” Is this not precisely what Darrell is teaching with the quote cited above? I find this obvious inconsistency to be present in the views of many critics of Reformed theology, due to having a high-view of man, and a low-view of God. With this in mind, Darrell has labeled himself (by implication) as being anathema, or, accursed. He fits the very criteria that he defines as being “another gospel”, and thus implicitly condemns himself.
Before I share some commentary by… actual Calvinists… I would like to share the commentary on this verse by Darrell Bock, a Wesleyan-Arminian. In the “Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament” set, he states:
“Those who have been ordained to eternal life believe. The word τάσσω (tassō, ordain) appears four times in Acts (13:48; 15:2; 22:10; 28:23; in the rest of the NT: Matt. 28:16–17; Luke 7:8; Rom. 13:1; 1 Cor. 16:15–16). In the other contexts of Acts, it means “appoint” or “assign” to something. Here it refers to God’s sovereign work over salvation, where God has assigned those who come to eternal life (BAGD 806 §1b; BDAG 991 §1b). The passive voice indicates that God does the assigning. It is as strong a passage on God’s sovereignty as anywhere in Luke-Acts and has OT and Jewish roots (Witherington 1998: 416n242; on the “book of life,” see Exod. 32:32–33; Ps. 69:28; Dan. 12:1; 1 En. 47.3; 104.1; 108.3; Jub. 30.20, 22; b. Ber. 61b; CD 3.20; 1QS 3.18–4.1; Str-B 2:726–27). Just as God was the major active agent in the events of Israel’s history earlier in the speech, so he is the active agent in bringing Gentiles to himself. Repentance leads to eternal life not only because sins are forgiven but also because the Spirit is given (Acts 11:15–18). Barrett (1994: 658) argues that the Spirit is not present in a text such as Acts 10:35, but 11:15–18 shows the connection between life and the Spirit.” (8)
One thing that I always find to be “interesting” about Darrell’s blogs is the fact that he rarely, if ever, cites ANY Calvinist while critiquing Calvinism. He basically defines Calvinism as he wishes, and then attacks his own portrayal of it. This is not uncommon among the outspoken critics of Calvinism on social media. They often say, “When I was a 5-point Calvinist….”, as some type of security blanket for authenticity regarding whatever it is they might say. This might work in convincing people on social media, but in the realm of honest, scholastic debate, not so much. I will now post commentary on this verse from some of the most widely respected commentaries available today, along with some classical/historical commentary from Calvinists of the past. Please note that I am not advocating for the views of each individual. There are several of whom I wholly disagree with on many points (see, Barrett). My aim here is to share a broad range of views from some of the most highly acclaimed theologians/scholars of the present and the past.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary
verses 48-49 – “Many of the Gentiles responded with thanks for the apostles’ ministry and with openness to their message (ton logon tou kyriou, “the word of the Lord”). “All who were appointed for eternal life believed” suggests that belief in Christ is not just a matter of one’s faith but primarily involves divine appointment (cf. SBK, 2:726, on Jewish concepts of predestination). And through the conversion of many of the Gentiles, who brought the message of salvation to others, “the word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” This spreading of the word, along with the apostles’ own outreach to the cities named in chapters 13 and 14, probably led to the agitation of the so-called Judaizers that resulted in the problem Paul dealt with in Galatians.” (9)
The New International Commentary on the New Testament
verses 48–49 – “Distasteful as this announcement was to the synagogue leaders, it was joyful news to the Gentiles who heard it, and many of them believed the gospel—all, in fact, who had been enrolled for eternal life in the records of heaven (for this appears to be the sense of the words here used). And not only in the city itself, but throughout the surrounding countryside as well, those who believed the good news carried it to others.” (10)
The Pillar New Testament Commentary
“We might expect Luke to write that they praised God for the gospel, but he makes it quite clear that they were actually praising or honouring the message (cf. 2 Thes. 3:1). A way of salvation had been opened to them though the gospel, and, as a consequence, all who were appointed for (tetagmenoi eis) eternal life believed. ‘The Jews “rejected the word of God” and judged themselves “unfit for eternal life”; in contrast, the Gentiles show that they are destined for eternal life by “glorifying” this same “word of the Lord” ’. Luke draws attention to the way in which God uses the gospel to call out his elect and to save them. ‘The present verse is as unqualified a statement of absolute pre-destination—“the eternal purpose of God” (Calvin)—as is found anywhere in the NT.’104 Not everyone is affected in the same way by the preaching of the gospel. God must open hearts, to enable people to listen and respond with faith (cf. 16:14; 18:10). Those who seek the Lord from among the nations are those whom he has already claimed as his own (15:17 note). Yet this happens as God enables some to believe through the proclamation of the gospel.” (11)
UBS Handbook on the Acts of the Apostles
“Only here in the New Testament does the verb praised (literally “glorified”) have as its object the Lord’s message; the usual object is God. It is relatively easy to speak of “praising a person,” but in many languages one does not “praise a message.” On the other hand, one may always translate the Greek term “glorified” by direct discourse, for example, “they said, The Lord’s message is wonderful.”
Those who had been chosen for eternal life is a phrase which occurs frequently in rabbinic literature. The meaning is clearly that those whom God had chosen became believers, and the translator must not attempt to weaken this meaning.
Chosen for eternal life may thus be rendered as “whom God had selected in order that they would have eternal life.”
In certain languages the phrase became believers is difficult to render succinctly. The same concept, however, may be expressed by phrases such as “arrived at being believers” or “came to believing.”” (12)
The Wewlyn Bible Commentary
“People respond as they will, but the sovereign will of God is served none the less. Here is a key to the boldness of Christ’s servants. Whatever the decisions of men, however uncertain our prospects of success, God is sovereign. He does his will among the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. And it is the privilege of the Christian church to minister that gospel by which the elect (‘all who were appointed for eternal life’) are found and come to believe in Jesus Christ.” (13)
The New American Commentary: Acts
“The Gentiles of Pisidian Antioch were those who accepted Paul’s message, honoring (glorifying) the word of the Lord (v. 48). Perhaps it was the specific “word” of Isa 49:6 they praised, with its good news that the light of Christ and his salvation extended to Gentiles such as they. Many of them believed, accepting Christ as Savior. They were those who were “appointed for eternal life.” In this phrase we encounter the same balance between human volition and divine providence that is found throughout Acts. On their part these Gentiles took an active role in believing, in committing themselves to Christ; but it was in response to God’s Spirit moving in them, convicting them, appointing them for life. All salvation is ultimately only by the grace of God.” (14)
Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament
“Behind the concept of being appointed for eternal life may lie the OT idea of being recorded in a book of God’s people (Exod. 32:32–33; Ps. 69:28; Dan. 12:1), an idea developed later in Judaism (Jub. 30:18–23; 1 En. 47:3; 104:1; 108:3). Cf. Rev. 13:8; 17:8.” (15)
International Critical Commentary
“Some had been appointed (periphrastic pluperfect) thus to believe and thereby to receive eternal life. τάσσειν is a fairly common word in Acts (five) four times; five (four) times in the rest of the NT), but only at 22:10 does it have, as here, theological significance. The present verse is as unqualified a statement of absolute predestination—‘the eternal purpose of God’ (Calvin 393)—as is found anywhere in the NT. Those believed who were appointed (the passive implies, by God) to do so. The rest, one infers, did not believe, did not receive eternal life, and were thus appointed to death. The positive statement implies the negative. This can hardly be avoided by saying, with Schmithals (127), that what we have here is not Prädestinationslehre but Erbauungssprache; for Schmiths goes on to say that faith is not human but divine work, which leads to the question whether, when faith is absent, God has omitted to work. Pesch 2:48f. argues that v. 46 shows that only positive predestination, not negative, is in mind; if men are not saved it is because they thrust aside the word of God. Earlier Bengel had made the same point: ‘sic enim solet a Scriptura homini adscribi pernicies ipsius; sed salus ejus, DEO’. We may compare 10:35 where the matter of salvation is looked at from another angle but is expressed in equally unqualified terms: Anyone who fears God and practises righteousness is acceptable to him. In neither place does Luke say anything about the work of the Holy Spirit. It must be recognized that Luke, who was a narrator rather than a theologian, was apt to put down on its own the aspect of any question that concerned him at the time of writing, and did not, as Paul did, insist upon a rounded view obtained by viewing theological issues from all sides. Luke’s language is Jewish. For the notion of enrolment in God’s book of the saved cf. Exod. 33:32f.; Ps. 69:28; Dan. 12:1; 1 Enoch 47:3; 104:1; 108:3; Jubilees 30:20, 22; Rosh ha-Shanah 57a. For appointment to life cf. Berakoth 6lb, Blessed art thou, Akiba, for thou hast been appointed to the life of the age to come (לחיי העולם הבא שאתה מזמן); similarly Moed Qatan 9a, and other passages.” (16)
Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Acts
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they received the Gospel with still greater joy and reverence; as many of them became believers, as were appointed by God unto the possession of salvation (τεταγμένοι; Chrysostom: ἀφωρισμένοι τῷ θεῷ). Luke does not here mean to say that the entire mass of the pagan inhabitants who presented themselves, (ver. 44 ff.), had now been converted, but only a part of them, and, indeed, that part which had been chosen and ordered by God for that purpose; —The brief remark in ver. 49, shows that this Pisidian Antioch became the central point of a system of evangelization, the influence of which was widely extended in the surrounding region.” (17)
Reformed Expository Commentary: Acts
“The response of the Gentiles was both immediate and wholehearted: “They began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). They came to faith through the witness of Paul and Barnabas to the gospel. They exercised faith and repented of their sins. The ultimate reason why they came to believe was that God had planned it from all eternity. “This verse teaches that faith depends on God’s choice,” John Calvin comments. He continues, “Since the whole human race is blind and stubborn, those faults remain fixed in our nature until they are corrected by the grace of the Spirit, and that comes only from election.”
The need for God to change our hearts does not mean that we must remain passive, waiting for God to do his work. Recognizing that this is a work of God, sinners must call upon him, with urgency and sincere conviction, knowing, as Peter declared at Pentecost, that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).” (18)
St. Andrews Expositional Commentary – Acts – (R.C. Sproul)
“People have told me, “When I first became a Christian, I believed it was my choice; it was my decision that led to my conversion. I was grateful to God, who had made it possible, but I really believed that the reason why I became a Christian while my neighbor didn’t is that I exercised free will. But I’ve been listening to you, R.C., and I have finally come to the conclusion that it was, in fact, God who chose me. It was God, the Hound of Heaven, who renewed me by the Holy Spirit and created faith in my heart, and then I responded. Now I see that the Bible is very clear about that.” They are right about that. It is so plainly there that there is no excuse for ever missing it. Verse 48 is one of those places: “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” All who came to faith that day did so by divine appointment. God had decreed from all eternity that they would come and hear the Apostle Paul and be quickened to faith by the Holy Spirit, and everyone that had been so appointed from eternity believed.
Many come to this text and try to skip over it or try to change it to read, “As many as believed, God appointed to eternal life,” but the appointment here is the appointment to believe. A classic work on the book of Acts was written in the nineteenth century by H. B. Hackett, a classmate of Oliver Wendell Holmes. About this verse Hackett said that there is just no other way to read it. Yet commentators create a variety of slants on this text and do funny things with the context and syntax of the Greek to change the clear meaning. You cannot get away from it. That is what Luke wrote, and that is what Luke meant. The only reason anybody was saved out of that ungodly mass of people who were blaspheming and criticizing the preaching of the Word of God was that God intervened in the hearts of His elect and translated them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.” (19)
The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Lenski)
“The two imperfects reach a climax in the aorist “they believed.” What angered the Jews delighted the Gentiles, namely to hear that the gospel was intended also for them, for them directly without the necessity of first becoming Jews and submitting to all the Jewish regulations. Happy to hear it, they glorified “the Word of God,” meaning the Word in the sense in which Luke has continually been using it, the gospel of Jesus, the Savior. It is always so: whereas some spurn that Word, others receive it joyfully. So these Gentiles “believed,” the aorist stating the fact.
Yet not all of those who had come to the synagogue on that Sabbath but only those “who were such as had been ranged in order for life eternal” believed. Τάσσω is a military term that means to draw up in rank and file and is then used generally for placing in an orderly arrangement and then to appoint and even to agree. The English “ordain” (our versions), verordnen (Luther) serve well enough, even better than “appoint” (R., W. P.) as long as the sense of the original is not rejected. For in τάσσω there lies a τάξις, a certain order, here the ordo salutis. Verb and noun go together. The periphrastic past perfect may be either passive or middle: “had been ranged in this ordo” by God; or “had ranged themselves in this ordo.” Since no man is able to put himself into the ordo salutis by his own powers, it makes little difference which we choose. It is like bekehrt iverden and sich bekehren. The point is to exclude all synergism. The context helps us. Here we have a contrast: the Jews thrust away the Word; these Gentiles glorify the Word. By their own fault the Jews are out of the τάξις; by God’s grace these Gentiles are in it. Again the contrast: the Jews regard themselves unworthy of eternal life; these Gentiles are in line for eternal life. Who put them in line? God did so by sending Paul and Barnabas and his Word and his grace and by making both come in contact with their hearts. He did the same for the Jews and would have preferred to have them in the same blessed ordo but for the criminal wickedness with which they removed themselves from this ordo by blaspheming instead of glorifying the Word.
Although this passage deals with the doctrine of conversion, it has often been regarded as a pronouncement regarding predestination. This view began with Jerome who revised the old Latin rendering destinati or ordinati to praeordinati in order to make the coming to faith and salvation the product of a predestinatory eternal decree. Calvin is the great exponent of the decretum absolutum; those included in this decree are irresistibly brought to faith and held in it, and all others, even if they do believe for a time, are doomed by this same decree. Others conceive the decree as merely including the former and omitting the latter. Calov pointed out that Luke did not write προτεταγμένοι, and that neither τάσσειν nor τάσσεσθαι nor the context refer to eternity.
“Life eternal,” so often found in the discourses of Jesus in John’s Gospel (see John 3:15, 16), is the spiritual ζωή implanted in regeneration, fed by the Word and the Sacrament, passing unharmed through temporal death, then entering the heavenly state of glory. It dwells in the soul by faith but extends also to the body. Jesus will raise up those who have this life at the last day, John 6:54. “Life eternal” does not refer only to the heavenly life to come.” (20)
Baker New Testament Commentary (Hendriksen)
“And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Luke adds a sentence in which he uses the passive voice were ordained. The implication is that God is the agent, for only he grants eternal life (Matt. 25:46; John 10:28; 17:2). In the Greek, the form were ordained is a passive participle in the perfect tense. The perfect denotes action that took place in the past but is relevant for the present. In the past, God predestined the salvation of the Gentiles. In many places in the Old Testament Scriptures God reveals that the blessing of salvation is for the Gentiles also (e.g., Gen. 12:1–3; Isa. 42:6; 49:6). When they in faith accept Christ, he grants them the gift of eternal life.
When the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch put their faith in Jesus Christ, they appropriate eternal life for themselves. The text reveals the proverbial two sides of the same coin: God’s electing love and man’s believing response (compare Phil. 2:12–13). Even though this text features the main verb to believe, it also teaches the doctrine of divine election (refer to Rom. 8:29–30). Note that Luke says “[The Gentiles] were ordained to eternal life.” He does not say that they were ordained to believe. “What concerns him is that eternal life is not only received by faith, but is essentially the plan of God.” (21)
“The matter of the Gentiles’ joy was this, [viz.] when they heard that they were not called to salvation at a sudden, as if this had not been decreed before by God, but that that is now at length fulfilled which was foretold many years before. For doubtless it was no small confirmation of their faith, because salvation was promised to them by the coming of Christ, whereby it did also come to pass that they did with more earnest desire and reverence embrace the gospel. To glorify the word of God may be expounded two manner of ways, either that they did confess that it was true which was prophesied by Isaiah, or that they embraced the doctrine which was set before them with faith. Assuredly there is a full subscription noted out, because they dispute or doubt no longer, so soon as they saw that Paul had gotten the victory. And surely we do then honour the word of God as we ought, when we submit ourselves obediently to it by faith; as it cannot be more grievously blasphemed than when men refuse to believe it. And here we see how the Gentiles were not hindered, by that stubbornness which they saw in the Jews, from giving their name to Christ. With like courage1 must we despise and tread under foot the pride of the wicked, when, by their obstinacy, they study to stop the way before us.
And they believed. This is an exposition of the member next going before, at least in my judgment. For Luke showeth what manner [of] glory they gave to the word of God. And here we must note the restraint, [reservation,] when he saith that they believed, (but) not all in general, but those who were ordained unto life. And we need not doubt but that Luke calleth those τεταγμενους, who were chosen by the free adoption of God. For it is a ridiculous cavil to refer this unto the affection of those which believed, as if those received the gospel whose minds were well-disposed. For this ordaining must be understood of the eternal counsel of God alone. Neither doth Luke say that they were ordained unto faith, but unto life; because the Lord doth predestinate his unto the inheritance of eternal life. And this place teacheth that faith dependeth upon God’s election. And assuredly, seeing that the whole race of mankind is blind and stubborn, those diseases stick fast in our nature until they be redressed by the grace of the Spirit, and that redressing floweth from the fountain of election alone. For in that of two which hear the same doctrine together,1 the one showeth himself apt to be taught, the other continueth in his obstinacy. It is not, therefore, because they differ by nature, but because God doth lighten [illumine] the former, and doth not vouchsafe the other the like grace. We are, indeed, made the children of God by faith; as faith, as touching us, is the gate and the first beginning of salvation; but there is a higher respect of God. For he doth not begin to choose us after that we believe; but he sealeth his adoption, which was hidden in our hearts, by the gift of faith, that it may be manifest and sure. For if this be proper to the children of God alone to be his disciples, it followeth that it doth not appertain unto all the children of Adam in general. No marvel, therefore, if all do not receive the gospel;2 because, though our heavenly Father inviteth all men unto the faith by the external voice of man, yet doth he not call effectually by his Spirit any save those whom he hath determined to save. Now, if God’s election, whereby he ordaineth us unto life, be the cause of faith and salvation, there remaineth nothing for worthiness or merits.
Therefore, let us hold and mark that which Luke saith, that those were ordained before unto life, who, being ingrafted into the body of Christ by faith, do receive the earnest and pledge of their adoption in Christ. Whence we do also gather what force the preaching of the gospel hath of itself. For it doth not find faith in men, save only because God doth call those inwardly whom he hath chosen, and because he draweth those who were his own before unto Christ, (John 6:37.) Also Luke teacheth in the same words, that it cannot be that any of the elect should perish. For he saith not that one or a few of the elect did believe, but so many as were elect. For though God’s election3 be unknown to us until we perceive it by faith, yet is it not doubtful or in suspense in his secret counsel; because he commendeth all those whom he counteth his to the safeguard and tuition of his Son, who will continue a faithful keeper even unto the end. Both members are necessary to be known. When election is placed above faith, there is no cause why men should challenge to themselves any thing in any part of their salvation. For if faith, wherein consisteth salvation, which is unto us a witness of the free adoption of God, which coupleth us to Christ, and maketh his life ours, whereby we possess God with his righteousness, and, finally, whereby we receive the grace of sanctification, be grounded without us in the eternal counsel of God; what good things so ever we have, we must needs acknowledge that we have received it of the grace of God, which doth prevent us of its own accord. Again, because many entangle themselves in doubtful and thorny imaginations, whilst that they seek for their salvation in the hidden counsel of God, let us learn that the election of God is therefore approved by faith, that our minds may be turned unto Christ, as unto the pledge of election, and that they may seek no other certainty save that which is revealed to us in the gospel; I say, let this seal suffice us, that “whosoever believeth in the only-begotten Son of God hath eternal life,” (John 3:36.)” (22)
“That it was the will of God, and the command of Christ, that the Gospel should be preached to them; by whom are to be understood the Pisidians, the inhabitants of Antioch, who had never been proselytes to the Jewish religion: they were glad; not that the Jews were likely to have the Gospel taken away from them, and be utterly deprived of it, but that it was to be preached to them: and glorified the word of the Lord; not the Lord Jesus Christ, the essential word of the Lord, whom they might not as yet have such a distinct knowledge of; but rather God himself, for his word, particularly his word of command, ver. 47 as the Syriac and Ethiopic versions read; or the sense is, they spake well of the Gospel, and gave glory to God, or the Lord, who had sent it among them: Beza’s most ancient copy reads, they received the word of the Lord, which seems to be a more agreeable reading; to glorify the word of the Lord, is an unusual phrase: and as many as were ordained unto eternal life believed; faith is not the cause, or condition of the decree of eternal life, but a means fixed in it, and is a fruit and effect of it, and what certainly follows upon it, as in these persons: some would have the words rendered, as many as were disposed unto eternal life believed; which is not countenanced by the ancient versions. The Arabic renders it as we do, and the Syriac thus, as many as were put, or appointed unto eternal life; and the Vulgate Latin version, as many as were pre-ordained. Moreover, the phrase of being disposed unto, or for eternal life, is a very unusual, if not a very improper, and an inaccurate one; men are said to be disposed to an habit, or to an act, as to vice or virtue, but not to reward or punishment, as to heaven or hell; nor does it appear that these Gentiles had any good dispositions to eternal life, antecedent to their believing; for though they are said, ver. 42 to entreat the apostles to preach the same things to them the next sabbath, yet the words as there observed, according to their natural order, may be rendered they, i. e. the apostles, besought the Gentiles; and in some copies and versions, the Gentiles are not mentioned at all: and as for their being glad, and glorifying the word of the Lord, it is not evident that this was before their believing; and if it was, such things have been found in persons, who have had no true, real, and inward dispositions to spiritual things, as in many of our Lord’s hearers; besides, admitting that there are, in some, good dispositions to eternal life, previous to faith, and that desiring eternal life, and seeking after it, be accounted such, yet these may be where faith does not follow; as in the young rich ruler, that came to Christ with such an inquiry, and went away sorrowful: as many therefore as are so disposed, do not always believe, faith does not always follow such dispositions; and after all, one would have thought that the Jews themselves, who were externally religious, and were looking for the Messiah, and especially the devout and honourable women, were more disposed unto eternal life, than the ignorant and idolatrous Gentiles; and yet the latter believed, and the former did not: it follows then, that their faith did not arise from previous dispositions to eternal life, but was the fruit and effect of divine ordination unto it; and the word here used, in various places in this book, signifies determination and appointment, and not disposition of mind; see ch. 15:2 and 22:10 and 28:23. The phrase is the same with that used by the Jews, דאתקנו לחיי עולﬦ, who are ordained to eternal life; and כל דכתיב לחיי עלמא, every one that is written to eternal life; i. e. in the book of life; and designs no other than predestination or election, which is God’s act, and is an eternal one; is sovereign, irrespective, and unconditional; relates to particular persons, and is sure and certain in its effect: it is an ordination, not to an office, nor to the means of grace, but to grace and glory itself; to a life of grace which is eternal, and to a life of glory which is for ever; and which is a pure gift of God, is in the hands of Christ, and to which his righteousness gives a title: and ordination to it shews it to be a blessing of an early date; and the great love of God to the persons ordained to it; and the certainty of enjoying it.” (23)
“Many of them became, not only professors of the Christian faith, but sincerely obedient to the faith: As many as were ordained to eternal life believed. God by his Spirit wrought true faith in those for whom he had in his councils from everlasting designed a happiness to everlasting. (1.) Those believed to whom God gave grace to believe, whom by a secret and mighty operation he brought into subjection to the gospel of Christ, and made willing in the day of his power. Those came to Christ whom the Father drew, and to whom the Spirit made the gospel call effectual. It is called the faith of the operation of God (Col. 2:12), and is said to be wrought by the same power that raised up Christ, Eph. 1:19, 20. (2.) God gave this grace to believe to all those among them who were ordained to eternal life (for whom he had predestinated, them he also called, Rom. 8:30); or, as many as were disposed to eternal life, as many as had a concern about their eternal state, and aimed to make sure of eternal life, believed in Christ, in whom God hath treasured up that life (1 Jn. 5:11), and who is the only way to it; and it was the grace of God that wrought it in them. Thus all those captives, and those only, took the benefit of Cyrus’s proclamation, whose spirit God had raised up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem, Ezra 1:5. Those will be brought to believe in Christ that by his grace are well disposed to eternal life, and make this their aim.” (24)
This ought to suffice in providing a foundation of scholars/theologians with diverse theological leanings. As you can see, the opinions vary slightly, but despite the variances, none of these scholars affirm what Darrell has spouted off as being common knowledge. I could not add anything of significance to what has been shared in the resources above. The text itself is very clear. Its harmony with other verses/passages that teach the sovereignty of God, and the origin of salvation, is very clear. Honest exegesis only allows for a degree of variance. However, the eisegesis of a hateful critic of Calvinism, with an obvious agenda, knows no boundaries.
Darrell’s conclusion to his blog is perhaps the most irritating part of the whole thing. I will not address each part at this time (though I would like to), but will only address the most bizarre aspects. For instance, Darrell claims: “Interestingly this interpretation doesn’t even meet the true Calvinist standard for unconditional election because if God chose just Gentiles to be saved here he is actually using conditional election with the condition being that these men were Gentiles. Acts 13:48 then is a violation of their own doctrine if understood the way Calvinists want it to be.” This illustrates Darrell’s gross misunderstanding of unconditional election. Calvinists teach that election is unconditional in the sense that there is absolutely nothing within man that somehow draws/compels God to election. There is no foreseen faith, no foreseen merit, nothing at all that man does (nor can do) to compel God to choose to elect. Election actually is conditional upon the good pleasure of God. If it did not please God to elect, then He didn’t. Despite this, the passage in question is not teaching that these Gentiles were appointed to eternal life because they were Gentiles. I think I speak for every orthodox Calvinist when I say that God appointed these Gentiles to eternal life because it pleased Him to do so. It seems Darrell is presupposing his own erroneous view of this passage, and then applying it to his own distorted understanding of unconditional election. Perhaps if he actually cited Calvinists when attempting to make points about Calvinism, issues like this could be avoided.
Darrell goes on to make several more errors in describing Calvinistic thought before closing with, “Another one bites the dust…”. It is precisely this ostentatious, misguided confidence that compelled me to respond (again) to Darrell. Sadly, the encouragement and praise Darrell receives from blatant apostates on Twitter has apparently puffed him up. The errors he consistently spews while “critiquing” Calvinism deserve nothing but rebuke, from Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike. In the past I have been encouraged by the many non-Calvinists who have taken issue with the misrepresentations produced by Darrell. When a professing believer makes it his mission in life to “Confront Calvinism” (and yet block every Calvinist who seeks dialogue), then he should at least strive to critique honestly, fairly, and accurately. I see none of this from Darrell.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. It is my prayer that God might be glorified by the proclamation of truth concerning His eternal attributes and character, and that if it pleases Him to do so, He might pull His own from error, and reveal the glorious truth to them, that they might worship Him in spirit and in truth.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
(1) – Ritzema, E. (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
(2) – Ritzema, E. (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
(3) – Ritzema, E. (2013). 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Reformation. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
(4) – Water, M. (2000). The new encyclopedia of Christian quotations (p. 330). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.
(5) – Ritzema, E., & Vince, E. (Eds.). (2013). 300 quotations for preachers from the Modern church. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
(6) – Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 8, pp. 28–29). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
(7) – Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
(8) – Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (pp. 464–465). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
(9) – Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Acts of the Apostles. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 430). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
(10) – Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 267–268). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(11) – Peterson, D. G. (2009). The Acts of the Apostles (pp. 399–400). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
(12) – Newman, B. M., & Nida, E. A. (1972). A handbook on the Acts of the Apostles (pp. 269–270). New York: United Bible Societies.
(13) – Keddie, G. J. (2000). You Are My Witnesses: The Message of the Acts of the Apostles (pp. 159–160). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.
(14) – Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 308). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
(15) – Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (p. 588). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.
(16) – Barrett, C. K. (2004). A critical and exegetical commentary on the acts of the Apostles (pp. 658–659). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
(17) – Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Gotthard, V. L., Gerok, C., & Schaeffer, C. F. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Acts (p. 257). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
(18) – Thomas, D. W. H. (2011). Acts. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (p. 375). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
(19) – Sproul, R. C. (2010). Acts (pp. 246–247). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
(20) – Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (pp. 552–553). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
(21) – Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, p. 496). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
(22) – Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (2010). Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 1, pp. 554–557). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
(23) – Gill, J. (1809). An Exposition of the New Testament (Vol. 2, p. 273). London: Mathews and Leigh.
(24) – Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2124). Peabody: Hendrickson.