Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Who Is "Appointed to Eternal Life"?

Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)

The two obvious questions are these:
(1) What does it mean to be appointed to eternal life?
(2) Why were these individuals appointed to eternal life? 
Some answer as follows:
(1) To be appointed to eternal life means to be individually selected from before the foundation of the world to believe in Christ.
(2) These individuals were appointed to eternal life because of God’s sovereign grace acting regardless of anything these individuals did. 
I believe both answers are incorrect.

In context, it is clear that Luke is setting up a contrast between two groups of people:
So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles [God fearers who attended the synagogue meetings (Acts 13:26)] begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.…On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:42-48) 
Vision of Cornelius the Centurion
Gerbrand van den Eeckhout
If we have on one side those who had been selected to believe before the foundation of the world, without respect to anything they did, then on the other side we would expect to find those who had not been selected, again without respect to anything they did. But this is not what we find. Instead we have those who are “appointed to eternal life” set against those who are “unworthy of everlasting life.”

Now of course, in a very important sense, every single person is "unworthy of everlasting life." Eternal life is a gift we do not deserve and could never earn. Here, however, Paul is clearly not speaking in this sense. Paul is not saying, "You are unworthy of everlasting life - and so are we!" He is claiming that these particular Jews are unworthy of everlasting life in a unique sense that distinguishes them from their Gentile counterparts.

So why are these particular Jews “unworthy of everlasting life”? Clearly, it is because they “rejected” the revelation that God gave them. Then why are these particular Gentiles “appointed to eternal life”? Could it be because they accepted the revelation God gave them, and “begged that these words might be preached to them”? Luke does not say that these Gentiles “had been appointed to eternal life from before the foundation of the world.” He simply says that they “had been appointed to eternal life.”

Now the word translated “appointed” has a semantic range in Greek similar to the semantic range the word "appointed" has in English. For example, I might "appoint" one of my students to take charge of the classroom while I step outside. This language does not imply that the student has been predestined from eternity past to perform this role, nor does it mean that the student will actually obey me and perform this role. The language simply means that the student has been set in a particular position.

So what exactly does Luke mean when he says that these Gentiles were "appointed" or "assigned" or "set in place" for eternal life? Luke does not give us much explanation here, but when this passage is read in the context of the overarching narrative of Acts, which records the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles, I believe Luke's theology becomes quite clear.

A few chapters earlier, Luke told us about another God fearer who was set in place for eternal life. Cornelius was “a devout man…who feared God, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). But he did not know about Jesus. So God sent him an angel who told him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God…Send for Simon…He will tell you what you must do” (Acts 10:4-6). Cornelius obediently sent for Simon Peter, and when he arrived, Cornelius told him about the angel. After hearing this, Peter said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

Note that Cornelius had not yet believed in Jesus for eternal life, and yet Peter said that the divine arrangements which brought him to Cornelius’ house were evidence that Cornelius had already been "accepted" by God for fearing Him and working righteousness. To be "accepted" by God, then, is not to receive eternal life; it is to be judged worthy of eternal life and therefore set in place for it. Peter went on to tell Cornelius that "whoever believes in [Jesus] will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43). Before Peter finished preaching, Cornelius believed and received the Holy Spirit. This is a critical episode in Luke's narrative, and it gives the church cause for serious theological reflection (Acts 11:1-18).

In conclusion, therefore, to be "appointed to eternal life" is to be set in place for eternal life because you have been judged, in a sense, worthy of eternal life. In other words, to be "appointed to eternal life" is to be “accepted by God,” just as Cornelius was.


Anonymous said...

So you can be judged worthy of eternal life based on your own efforts of righteousness? And then once you are "appointed" or put in place for eternal life you can then believe and earn what you have already been judged worthy of based on your own acts of righteousness? I'm confused. This seems like you are reading into the text things that are not there. Notice that it doesn't say that all of the gentiles in that passage had been "appointed to eternal life." It says that "as many had been appointed to eternal life..." If they were being judged worthy of eternal life based on their acceptance of, and desire to hear more of God's revelation then wouldn't all of them have been appointed to eternal life? In addition to that if you keep this statement in context with the rest of Scripture (John 6:37-44; John 15; Romans 9; 1 Cor. 1; Gal. 1:6; Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 2:13,14; 2 Tim. 1:8,9; 2 Tim. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:1,2; 2 Pet. 1:3,10; Jude 1; Rev. 13:8...just to name a few) it is simplistically clear that those who had been appointed to eternal life were those whom God, in His sovereign grace, had chosen before the foundation of the world for salvation. On top of that, they believed as a result of being appointed to eternal life. I am sure you have heard all this before, but just keep in mind all of Scripture echoes the cry of Jonah that "salvation is of the Lord."
God bless

T. Kurt Jaros said...

Anonymous, you're obviously not reading Mr. Vasser clearly.

Where did he say that one is judged worthy of one's own righteousness? He did not. He said that we are judged worthy. That is God's ruling upon all of us unrighteous, repentant sinners. God judges us as being worthy, despite us being unworthy.

How about giving Vasser a fair read even though he disagrees from your Reformed perspective?

Regarding the rest of the passages you brought up, Vasser or myself would be pleased to show you how you've failed to understand the true meaning in each one of those. I'll start with Ephesians 1:
I have four arguments why that passage is not referring to universal individual election for salvation. 1) Paul places a conditional statement in v12 "we, who were the first to hope in Christ." That means v3-12 only refers to "the first to hope in Christ" and not you. 2) v13 Paul switches to the second person plural pronoun, indicating a second group at Ephesus that Paul excludes himself from (yet these people are believers) 3) What is the "mystery" that was revealed to universal body of predestined, elected believers? It certainly wouldn't make sense to think that the Gentiles being included in salvation is the revealed mystery from the Reformed perspective. The answer to this riddle of who Paul is talking about is quite simple: 4) Tertullian (who was a lot closer to that cultural context that John Calvin) wrote that Paul is talking about the Jews and Gentiles here. Go figure!

Using the Jewish/Gentile hypothesis, these strong tensions that exist in the Reformed interpretation disappear, and the text stays true to its actual meaning. God choose the Jews (as the story of the OT tells us, but then the Gentiles were included).

I'm not sure if I can speak for Vasser on this one, but I get annoyed by the poor Systematic Theology that is done by the Reformed camp. Just because the Scripture contains certain words, that does not give you the right to lift those words out of context and use them as you will.

Murray Vasser said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

There is certainly a sense in which everyone is "unworthy of everlasting life." Eternal life is a gift that we cannot earn. Paul is explicit about this in numerous passages, and I would never deny it.

However, when Paul and Barnabas identified these Jews as being "unworthy of everlasting life," he did not mean it in this universal sense. They were not saying, "You are unworthy of everlasting life - but so are we and everyone else!" Paul and Barnabas were claiming that these particular Jews were "unworthy of everlasting life" in a unique sense. Again, Luke is setting up a contrast between those who are "unworthy of everlasting life" and those who are "appointed to eternal life." Those who were "appointed to eternal life" were not "unworthy of everlasting life," at least not in the sense Paul and Barnabas spoke of.

You note that not every Gentile in the crowd was appointed to eternal life. Of course! The crowd was composed of much more than the God fearers from the synagogue who “begged that these words might be preached to them.” "Almost the whole city" came out! Clearly, many pagan Gentiles had come just to see what all the fuss was about.

So how do you interpret Acts 13:46? What did Paul and Barnabas mean when they said that these particular Jews were "unworthy of everlasting life"?

Concerning the passages you listed, I have responded to the Reformed understanding of John 6:37-44 in my post entitled, "Predestination in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of John." I have given the first half of my response to the Reformed interpretation of Romans 9 in the post entitled “Does God Really Love Everyone?” (The second half is on its way.) I would love to hear your thoughts on these posts. I would be happy to respond to your exegesis of any of the other passages as well.


Nick said...

The bible does not say that... interesting enough... Jesus says he will die for his sheep. Have you actually read the entire TULIP and the versus along with it?

We are humans who have fallen. which our natural selves turn away from God. If God gave us the option to chose him or not, we will never choose him.

Please explain to me Acts 13.48... "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."

TiagoNikkiJesus 2 days ago

I explain Acts 13.48 in depth on my blog in the post entitled, "Who is Appointed for eternal life?" I look forward to continuing the conversation with you there.

murrayv08 1 day ago
@murrayv08 I read it... but I really think you need to study Greek before telling people it means something, because in certain context of sentences they have specific meanings and implications...

Who is appointed to eternal life?... it said as many as had been appointed (past tense... meaning already assigned or ordained to)... and no more than the people appointed believed... they were first ordained then believed... Ephesians even explains that people are ordained from the beginning of time.

TiagoNikkiJesus 1 day ago

They were "appointed to eternal life" in the past, but how do you know that was "before the foundation of the world"? When were the others judged "unworthy of everlasting life"? Anyway, let's continue this discussion on the blog in question. The 500 character limit on YouTube is rather annoying.

You agree that God appointed those people to eternal life, and only those appointed actually believed.....You agree because the Biblesaid do and you cannot overturn the Bible's words.

Now the matter is, when did he appoint the people to believe. You do not believe God appointed because it does not say there in that text....
But it is not too hard to figure it out. God is Sovereign, all powerfull, all knowing. He has complete control over everything (Sovereign)...God knows the past, present and future, they are all like one time to him.
God knows what will happen and has planned it so... otherwise half the Bible will be a lie. Apocolipse will also be a lie, for it tells us what will happen at the second comming of Christ. God cannot lie and is justice. The things he does is according to his plan and pleasure. If God has decided something in the future, he knows what he has decided even in the past, and therefore it is not a future decision but also a past decision. Ephesians speaks about God making a decision before the foundation of the World. God has a plan, and therefore created the world knowing the fall of man and knowing what will happen. The present future and past are all the same to him. He made a plan at the beginning, knowing what will happen, and from that, you can conclude he chose people to be saved according to his plan.

If he didn't know from the beginning, how could he know what will happen in the future?

I agree with what Anonymous said...
You speak in your text that Reformed people take text out of the Bible to support their views, but you fail to realize that they connect the text throughout the Bible keeping the Bible conformity. I was part of an Arminaism group, and for the most part was good with their view... but when you consider the Sovereignty and who God actually is, it doesn't make sense...

nick said...

Another issue I have is ... no one was judged unworthy of everlasting life...

Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

The people themselves were considering themselves as being unworthy, that was not God's judgement....
God doesn't make judgement based of our works.

Paul and Barnabas didn't know who would be saved, and when they preached to the Isrealites, the Isrealites didn't believe, and Paul and Barnabas knew. They were not the people who were chosen. They were telling the people that they themselves refuse to believe (for who can believe but the chosen), The people don't know that, why should Paul and Barnabas explain that to them. then down the text a little further you see that the Gentiles were also chosen, so God's Grace is not left to the Isrealites alone, but to all equally for even some Isrealites were never chosen.