What Do You Think Is the Best Arminian Explanation of Acts 13:48?

, posted by SEA

On his website, Arminian Perspectives, Ben Henshaw has a questions page at which he answers questions about Arminianism and Calvinism that visitors to his site pose in the comment section of the page. The following is a question and answer interaction between Ben and a commenter named Rex (Ben’s opinion on the best explanation of Acts 13:48 does not necessarily represent SEA’s view of the question; SEA does not take a position on the question):

Question: What do you think is the best Arminian explanation of Acts 13:48?

Answer: Some of the debate concerning Acts 13:48 centers on the Greek word Tetagmenoi (tasso- “ordained”, “appointed”) and how it is being used in the passage. There are questions concerning the meaning of the word as well as the Greek voice (middle or passive). For instance, can Tetagmenoi (tasso) mean something like “being disposed” towards eternal life, or “set in line” for eternal life? If so, who or what set them in line, disposed them to life, etc? Did God do it? Did the Gentiles do it? Did the preaching of the gospel or the hearing of the gospel do it? For now, I will leave those questions to the scholars (and I have heard that there will be some scholarly publications forthcoming from the Arminian side on this passage, the meaning of Tetagmenoi, the voice, etc.).

For now, I am happy to take the word as ordained or appointed. I understand this passage in the same way I understand passages in John 6 and 10 with regards to those who are given to Christ (John 6:37), and those who are considered Christ’s “sheep” (John 10:14-16, 25-39). I will paste in below some comments I have made in other posts concerning the John 6 and 10,

[Concerning John 10] “The Calvinist might object that verse 25 is not in harmony with the above interpretation due to the fact that Jesus tells the Jews that they do not believe because they are not His sheep. It could be argued that verse 25 refers to a predetermined and unconditional election: The sheep are those who were elected by God prior to creation and then given faith to believe in Christ. The problem with this suggestion is that there is nothing in the text to indicate that Jesus is describing a pre-temporal election of certain individuals for salvation. Such an eternal decree must be first assumed and then read into the text.

A more plausible interpretation is to understand Jesus’ words in John 10:27-29 in the context of the unique historical situation taking place at the time of His ministry with regards to the transition from the old dispensation to the new. The passage has a secondary application to believers of all ages (as described above) but the primary application concerned only the Jews who were alive during Christ’s ministry and were specifically being addressed in this and other similar chapters in John (John 5:24-27; 6:37, 40-44, 65; 8:12-59).

The “sheep” in this context are the Jews who are currently living in right covenant relationship with the Father during the time of Jesus’ ministry. The Jews that Jesus is addressing in this discourse and others like it throughout John’s gospel are not in right relationship with the Father during the time of Christ’s ministry. Since they do not know the Father (are not “of God”) they cannot recognize the perfect revelation of the Father in the Son (Jn. 7:16, 17; 8:19, 42-47). They reject the Son and refuse to trust in Him because they have rejected the Father. Therefore, they are not Christ’s sheep and cannot be given to the Son (John 6:37). If they had known the Father they would have recognized the Son as their Messiah and would have been given to Him.”

[Concerning John 6] “We dealt briefly with the context of this passage [John 6:37, 44, 65] above when discussing John 10:27-29. Jesus is speaking to Jews whose hearts are not right with God. They are not faithful Jews and do not know the Father. Because they are not in right covenant relationship with the Father, they cannot recognize the perfect expression of the Father in the Son. Since they are not willing to do the Father’s will they cannot properly discern the truth of Christ’s words (John 7:17). Those who know the Father will recognize the truth of Christ’s words and be “drawn” to Him (6:44, 45). They will be given to the Son and come to faith in Him as a result (6:37). To them alone has the Father granted access to the Son (6:65).

The passage has to do with the Father giving the faithful Jews to their long awaited Messiah. It has nothing to do with a pre-temporal unconditional election of certain sinners to come to faith in Christ. This is a conclusion that many have read into this passage according to a prior commitment to a theological system without any contextual warrant.

Jesus assures anyone who would come to Christ in faith that they will not be rejected. They will be accepted in the Beloved One of God (6:37). The Father will not fail to give all the faithful Jews to Christ and Christ will not fail to receive them to Himself. Christ will “raise them up at the last day.” These Jews can be sure that their destiny is secure in Christ. However, the promise is only for those who are presently and continually “eating”, “drinking”, “believing”, “coming”, “listening”, “following”, and “beholding.” Only those who persevere in saving faith will be raised up at the last day (6:40). There is no promise here for those who stop believing and no guarantee that those who begin to believe will inevitably endure in that faith. The “all that” in verse 39 is the sum total of believers. It is the corporate body of Christ and that body will certainly be “raised up at the last day” because that body is comprised of those who are presently and continually “believing” in the Son (vs. 40).” Both quotes from: https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/09/22/perseverance-of-the-saints-part-12-examining-passages-commonly-appealed-to-by-the-advocates-of-unconditional-eternal-security/

This view of the John passages gives us insight into the historically unique salvation setting that Luke was describing in Acts 13:48. The Gentiles in Acts 13 were among the “other sheep” that Christ spoke of in John 10:16. In that context these would be Gentile’s who were in right relationship with the Father but had not yet been given to the Son because they had not yet been given the opportunity to believe in the Son (and the Acts passage tells us that these Gentiles were “God fearing Gentiles”, vs. 16). Since they knew the Father they were “ordained to life” and only needed to here the gospel to recognize its truth in Christ. So the order makes sense in that context. “Ordained/appointed to life” because they were already in right relationship with the Father and were His “sheep” and then “believed” upon hearing the gospel and recognizing their shepherd, the perfect revelation of the Father.

F. Leroy Forlines takes this approach to Acts 13 without any regard to a similar interpretation of John 6, 10, etc. (I am not sure how he would handle those passages) in The Quest For Truth (pp. 388, 389). He writes,

“The ‘had been appointed to eternal life’ or the ‘appointment to eternal life’ had occurred before they heard and believed the gospel that was presented by Paul and Barnabas. However, the wording does not require [nor suggest] that this appointment to eternal life must be a reference to eternity past. I think what the verse is telling us is that all of those who had been saved prior to their hearing the New Testament gospel [through faith in the Father] subsequently believed when they heard the gospel being presented by Paul and Barnabas. At the moment of their salvation in the past, they were appointed unto eternal life. When they heard about the redemptive work of Jesus the Messiah, they believed and became a New Testament believer. (390)

I.H. Marshall also suggests this interpretation of Acts 13 in his commentary:

“It could be taken in the sense that God had predestined certain of them to believe (cf. 16:14; 18:10). But it could also refer to those who had already put their trust in God in accordance with the OT revelation of his grace, and were enrolled as his people…” (pg. 231)

Forlines goes on to make an important point concerning the Calvinist view of this passage, which serves to underscore the unreasonableness of that interpretation,

“The verse says, ‘As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.’ If it is a reference to an unconditional appointment in eternity past, it would then mean that of the group present that day ‘as many as’ or ‘all among them’ that would ever be saved were saved on that occasion. I would doubt that those who believe in unconditional election believe that. It is hard to believe that, of that group, from among those who did not get saved on that occasion no one ever got saved later.” (390)