Ben Henshaw, “An Arminian Response to the Calvinist Claim That Acts 4:27-28 Proves Compatibilism”

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Another passage Piper makes use of to demonstrate that God decrees sin is Acts 4:27, 28.  He quotes Edwards to make his point.

The death of Jesus offers another example of how God’s sovereign will ordains that a sinful act come to pass. Edwards says, ‘The crucifying of Christ was a great sin; and as man committed it, it was exceedingly hateful and highly provoking to God. Yet upon many great considerations it was the will of God that it should be done.’ Then he refers to Acts 4:27-28, ‘Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur’ (see also Isaiah 53:10). In other words, all the sinful acts of Herod, Pilate, of Gentiles and Jews were predestined to occur.

But this is not what the passage says at all.  The passage seems to be specifically referring to Christ’s death.  That is what was foreordained by God.  Just as with Joseph, God used the sinful actions of evil men to accomplish Christ’s sacrificial death, but this does not mean that God caused or necessitated their sinful actions (or evil intentions).  To say that the foreordination spoken of here has specific reference to every sinful choice leading to Christ’s death in the sense of God causing every one of those choices is to read far more into the text than the text is actually claiming.  Really, all God had to do was give Christ over to their power, knowing that, given the opportunity, they would, of their own free will, put Him to death (or hand Him over to be put to death, see footnote #2 below).  But God handing Christ over to them and giving them power over Him to the point of putting Him to death is not the same as God causing them to hate Christ and kill Him.  Piper seems to anticipate this basic response and relies on Edwards again to provide the answer,

Edwards ponders that someone might say that only the sufferings of Christ were planned by God, not the sins against him, to which he responds, ‘I answer, [the sufferings] could not come to pass but by sin. For contempt and disgrace was one thing he was to suffer. [Therefore] even the free actions of men are subject to God’s disposal.’

But this is also easily answered by simply understanding this passage as God handing Christ over to the power of those who already hated Him.  This would obviously accomplish Christ’s suffering of contempt and disgrace without in anyway forcing us to assume that God caused those who killed Christ to treat Him with contempt.  The verses preceding those quoted by Edwards support the contention that God’s foreordination encompassed no more than God handing His Son over to those who were already bent on killing Him,

You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

‘Why do the nations rage

and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth take their


and the rulers gather together

against the Lord

And against his anointed One’

This fits perfectly with the interpretation I am suggesting.  The “rulers” and “kings” were already “gathered together against” the Lord and His Messiah.  All God had to do was hand Christ over to them so they could deal with Him as they wished.  Piper’s interpretation would have us answer the question, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” with “because God caused them to, irresistibly controlling their intentions and actions in accordance with His eternal decree.”  This would hardly seem to be the intended answer to this rhetorical question.

We find further support for our interpretation, against Piper’s, in the parallel account found in Acts 2:23,

“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Emphasis mine) [2]

[2] It should be noted that “to you” is not in the original, but seems to be plainly implied and is for that reason supplied by the NIV.  This is especially so given the context and the last part of the verse, “…and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  For this reason it does seem to plainly imply that God handed over Christ by allowing those who wanted to kill Him opportunity to do so.  However, it could be argued that the “handing over” does not refer specifically to God handing Christ over, but to the human action of the Jews handing Jesus over to the Romans or even Judas handing over Jesus to the Jewish authorities. But regardless of who did the handing over, the point would still stand that the sinful intentions of those who handed Christ over did not need to be formed by God in order for God to have planned and ensured that the handing over and the subsequent results (the crucifixion) took place.  Instead, God would only need to provide for them the opportunity to carry out their sinful intentions.

[Excerpt from John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin And Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First “Question”]