ACTS 13:46-48  


And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they {began} rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (NASB).


Verse 46: The rejection of the Jews (or rather the Jewish nation) as God's present evangelistic agent, was based on their volitional rejection of God. Jesus taught this at Matthew 21:33-46 and Matthew 23:37-38; "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and YOU WERE UNWILLING. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!"

They had previously been appointed (as a group) to this function and privilege (Exodus 19:5-6), but through their continued failure to represent the Messianic promise to the world, which was ultimately demonstrated by their rejection of the personal presence of the Messiah, God temporarily (for He will again return to them; Romans 11:25-29) replaced them with a new body (a spiritual nation rather than physical) which is taken out from both Jew and Gentile, and is called the church (1 Peter 2:9-11).

Part of Paul's ministry was to communicate this message to them as he went from town to town, and to announce a formal rejection of the Jewish race as God's priestly house. Many of these occasions are recorded in Acts, and clarify, as does this one, that the Jews made a volitional choice of rejecting the gospel message and clinging to their man-made traditions of works and human heritage as the basis for acceptance before God. Paul says, "you have evaluated yourselves," which communicates the individual and collective rejection of Paul's message. Paul's message is the eternal life which is offered through the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. It is this that the Jews rejected and in so doing, essentially deemed themselves unworthy of that eternal life.

Paul's words that he is now "turning to the Gentiles," is the formal statement of rejecting Israel in preparation for their physical rejection through the destruction of the temple in about 25 years.

Although the quote in verse 47 has the Messiah in view (Isaiah 49:6), Paul applies it to those who are the brethren and the ambassadors of the Messiah, as ones who carry out His purpose.

The Gentiles who are present, have heard the gospel message (Verses 38-39) as Paul has been proclaiming it to the Jews on both sabbaths, as well as during the week (verse 43). This group of Gentiles included both proselytes and non-proselytes (verses 43-44), who are interested in the good news of Paul's teaching; not only that God is offering salvation (eternal life) to all peoples, but also that the Gentiles, as an independent group from the Jews, are being offered the function and privilege of being part of God's evangelistic agent to the world. The second factor would have significance only to the proselytes who understood the Old Testament teachings on this, but the first factor (forgiveness of sins) would be a welcome message to the entire group.

Thus, out from this group there are those who express their interest and joy in the message, and in response to it, believe in Jesus.

The progress of thought expressed here is common and necessary for embracing God's plan of salvation. There must first come an "interest" in the promise of forgiveness and eternal life, and then a response to the detailed "mechanics" of acquiring that forgiveness. This can be seen, for example, with the Philippian jailer, whose interest was stirred first by the Christian message represented in the songs and praises of the prisoners, and then by their act of trust, when they did not run away. After the impact was made, he asked, "what must I do to be saved?" Upon which, Paul gave him the simple mechanics (Acts 16:31) and then the more detailed mechanics after they had been taken to his home (Acts 16:32), after which, he trusted in Christ as the Messiah/Savior. Likewise with the Jews on the day of Pentecost, after Peter's message, they were convicted (pierced in the heart) and inquired, "what must we do?" Upon which, Peter told them that they needed to change their mind (repent), which in turn, resulted in believing the gospel (Mark 1:15). And then we see Nicodemus, who when Jesus told him that he must be born again, inquired, "how can these things come about," (John 3:9). And Jesus told him that it was by believing in the Son of Man (John 3:14-15).


At Acts 13:48, Luke's summary of the decision that was made is seen in two parts. First, the interest is expressed when they hear the gospel message, and then they believe.

The apparent difficulty and controversy in this passage, revolves around the phrase, "as many as had been appointed to eternal life."

The Calvinists, of course, want to make this a pre-determined assignment of God that then virtually "makes" these who have been pre-determined believe in Christ. However, this is neither the intent of Luke nor a grammatical or Biblical necessity. A. T. Robertson writes, "This verse does not solve the vexed problem of divine sovereignty and human free agency. There is no evidence that Luke had in mind an 'absolutum decretum' of personal salvation" (Word Pictures, Acts). R. J. Knowling, in the Expositor's Greek Testament, writes, "There is no countenance here for the 'absolutum decretum' of the Calvinists, since verse 46 had already shown that the Jews had acted through their own choice."

The morphology of the word can go either of two directions.

On the one hand, the more popular, it is seen as a perfect passive participle of the verb, tasso, which is rendered, "as many as WERE appointed (set) unto eternal life." On the other hand, as a perfect middle participle, it would be rendered, "as many as had set themselves unto eternal life." As Knowling observes, "Some take the word as if middle, not passive . . . and in support of this Rendall refers to 1 Corinthians 16:15." There we find the aorist active indicative with the reflexive pronoun, heautos, so that it translates, "and they have set (or appointed) themselves to the ministry of the saints." But it seems that the basic meaning of the verb is altered when one tries to fit this at Acts 13. For it is certain that these unbelievers have not "appointed" themselves unto eternal life, but perhaps have "dedicated themselves" to the pursuit of and acquisition of eternal life, so that upon hearing what was required for the possession of life, they would follow through and believe. But as observed, it seems that this changes the basic meaning of the word.

The verb itself occurs only 7 other times in the New Testament; two of which are in the active voice (Acts 15:2; 1 Corinthians 16:15), three are in the passive voice (Luke 7:8; Acts 22:10; Romans 13:1), and two are in the middle voice with an active function (Matthew 28:16; Acts 28:23;) and all but one clearly indicate the idea of appointment, and even there (Acts 15:2), "they appointed" is easily conceded so that we have, "they appointed that Paul and Barnabas . . . should go up to Jerusalem."

The LXX does not differ significantly from this usage and does not lend support for the middle voice usage at Acts 13.

The better translation thus, seems to be "as many as were appointed unto eternal life." However, the idea of "appointment" to salvation by a sovereign act of God cannot be found in Scripture, while the teaching that God places someone into the state of salvation based on His foreknowledge is clearly stated in several passages. This then, is an acceptable understanding of this passage from the standpoint of Volitional Theology; that God foreknows the decision that each individual will make and assigns that person to a destiny of either heaven or hell based on whether he rejects or believes in Christ.

What makes this an obstacle for Calvinists is that generally speaking, they fail to acknowledge the place that foreknowledge has in the whole redemption process or the fact that faith precedes the impartation of spiritual life.

In summary, the alternative for Acts 13:38, that these are ones "who have set themselves (or appointed themselves) to (the pursuit of) eternal life, while being grammatically feasible, seems not to be the best choice. The idea that God appoints some to eternal life does not violate the principle of volition, when we recognize that such an appointment unto eternal life; such a placement into the status of salvation, is based on God's foreknowledge of what decision a person would make, and that it is the actual volitional choice of each individual that determines whether a person is saved or not.

See Studies: Predestination; Election; Foreknowledge; Regeneration.


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