The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. 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. For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’” 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.
Similarly, Acts 11:19-21 states: “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” John 1:12 also states: “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.”
Calvinist, John Piper: “Notice, it does not say that as many believed were chosen to be ordained to eternal life. The prior election of God is the reason some believed while others did not.” (What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism, emphasis mine)
Actually, these many Gentiles did believe, fearing God as worshipers of God, and may very well have been “ordained to eternal life” on that account. In the context of Acts chapter 13, during this unique period in Church history when the Old Covenant remnant was transitioning into the New Covenant Church, Paul encountered receptive Gentiles who, like Lydia, were already worshippers of God. Acts 13:16 states: “Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, ‘Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen.’” The “and you who fear God” was in reference to such Gentile worshipers of God who just don’t know the gospel yet, but were about to hear about the Messiah, Jesus Christ, preached to them through Paul. They most certainly were not the totally depraved, totally disabled God-haters that Calvinists ascribe to the normal, fallen nature of man. They were legitimate worshipers of God. So were they saved? It appears that they were faithful to the level of revelation that they were given up to that time, and therefore perhaps it could be said that they were saved to the extent that someone still under the Old Covenant could be saved. Is this what was meant by Luke, in terms of having been “appointed to eternal life”? Perhaps that is so. Nonetheless, it is evident that the text neither mentions an eternal appointment, nor does it indicate that they were appointed to believe, but rather, that they were appointed to eternal life, or salvation, and what followed was that these receptive Gentile worshipers “believed,” in contrast to Paul’s Jewish detractors who had heard the same message.
John Wesley: “As many as were ordained to eternal life. Luke does not say ‘foreordained.’ He is not speaking of what was done from eternity, but of what was then done, through the preaching of the gospel. He is describing that ordination, and that only, which was at the very time of hearing it. During this sermon those believed, says the apostle, to whom God then gave power to believe. It is as if he had said, They believed, ‘whose hearts the Lord opened’; as he expresses it in a clearly parallel place, speaking of the same kind of ordination (Acts 16:14ff.). It is observable, the original word is not once used in Scripture to express eternal predestination of any kind. The sum is, All those and those only who were now ordained, now believed. Not that God rejected the rest; it was his will that they also should have been saved; but they thrust salvation from them. Nor were they who then believed constrained to believe. But grace was first copiously offered them. And they did not thrust it away, so that a great multitude even of Gentiles were converted. In a word, the expression properly implies a present operation of Divine grace working faith in the hearers.” (John Wesley’s Commentary on the Bible, p.483, emphasis mine)
Indeed, there’s nothing in the context to indicate anything other than a present ordination, and which highlights the fact that the Calvinist interpretation of this text suffers from several problems.
To summarize, there are several problems with the Calvinistic interpretation of Acts 13:48:
1. Even Calvinists admit that the context isn’t teaching Calvinism, as James White explains: “Acts 13:48 shows us how much of a ‘given’ God’s sovereign work of election was to the apostles. Luke did not have to expand the thought or explain the meaning: The person who understands the power of sin that binds the unregenerate heart knows well the necessity of God’s work to ‘open the heart’ and ‘draw’ one to Christ.” (Debating Calvinism, p.381, emphasis mine) Such phrases as “a given” and “does not need to expand” unwittingly concede the fact that the context offers no direct support for the Calvinist interpretation.
2. Moreover, if Calvinism was already naturally understood by the early Church, then why was there no one in the early Church who was teaching it until 300 years later when Augustine arrived on the scene? If it was already so well understood by the early Church, then why is Augustine noted for his revolutionary teaching on the subject? Calvinists cannot say that it took the Pelagian controversy to bring out the Free Will debate, since Free Will was vigorously defended by the early Church in opposition to the deterministic Gnostics.
3. The text never mentions an eternal foreordination. There are, however, present tense ordinations: “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” (Acts 14:23) The ordination of the elders seems to be described as something that occurred right then and there. Do Calvinists infer that they had fore-ordained the elders? Certainly not. So why, then, would Calvinists read-in a fore-ordination at Acts 13:48?
4. The Calvinist interpretation is that not one, not two, but all of Calvinism’s foreordained elect had believed, which then would mean that no one who left the sermon on the day as an unbeliever would have any future opportunity to be saved, as they would be non-elect by default, in the Calvinist interpretation, which would not be indicative of any known event in the history of the Church. Even those who crucified Jesus had a second chance to be saved. (Acts 2:37-39)
5. The text doesn’t say that these Gentiles worshipers were appointed to believe, but rather, appointed to eternal life. Like Lydia, they were already receptive believers to the level of revelation that they had been given.
6. If faith was only possible by foreordination, then why would it be significant for Paul to declare that the gospel should be preached to the Jews first? In Calvinism, would it amount to mocking their alleged non-election so that their damnation would be greater? Conversely, going to the Jews first matches the parable of the Wedding Feast: “‘Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.’” (Matthew 22:8-10)
7. The fact that “as many as been ordained to eternal life believed” is given without any clarification from the author as to what that meant, and given how otherwise controversial it would be, lends support to the notion that the author had a simple intention for understanding these words.
George Bryson: “...if you show me someone ordained to eternal life, I will show you a believer.” (The Darkside of Calvinism, p.133)
Joseph Benson: “For if the reason why these person believed was only, or chiefly this, that they were ordained to believe, and obtain eternal life, then the reason why the rest believed not must be only, or chiefly this, that they were not so ordained by God. And, if so, what necessity could there be, that the word of God should first be preached to them, verse 46. Was it only that their damnation might be greater? This seems to charge that lover of souls, whose tender mercies are over all his works, with the greatest cruelty, as it makes him determine from all eternity, not only that so many souls, as capable of salvation as any others, shall perish everlastingly, but also that the dispensations of his providence shall be such toward them, as shall necessarily tend to the aggravation of their condemnation. And what could even their most malicious enemy do more?” (The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Vol. 1, p.772, emphasis mine) Benson adds: “Further, the apostle gives this reason, why he turned from the Jews to the Gentiles, that the Jews had thrust the word of God from them, and judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, verse 46; whereas, according to this doctrine, this could be no sufficient reason of his turning from them to the Gentiles; for it was only they among the Jews whom God had not ordained to eternal life, who thus refused to believe, and obey the word of God. And as many among the Gentiles as were not thus ordained must necessarily do the same; and so there could be no sufficient reason why he should turn to the Gentiles on that account. Once more, ‘If as many as [in that assembly] were ordained to eternal life, believed under that sermon of Paul, [when almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God,] it follows, that all who believed not then were eternally shut up in unbelief: and that all the elect believed at once; that they who do not believe at one time, shall not believe at another; and that when Paul returned to Antioch, few souls, if any, could be converted by his ministry; God having at once taken as many as were ordained to eternal life, and left all the rest to Satan.” (The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Vol. 1, p.772, emphasis mine) Benson concludes: “The sum is: All those, and only those, now believed, who yield to, instead of resisting the convictions produced in their minds by the preaching of the truth, and the influence of the grace of God, which truth was preached with equal clearness to others, and which grace, in a similar way, visited and strove with others: for God had not reprobated the rest. It was his will that they also should have been saved, but by yielding to inclinations, affections, and passions, which they themselves knew to be sinful, and to which they were under no necessity of yielding, they rejected the counsel of God against themselves, and thrust salvation from them. For they who then repented and believed were not constrained so to do, but grace and mercy were then freely and copiously offered to them, and pressed upon them, and they did not put it away, but yielded to its influence. So that a great multitude, even of such as, it seems, had been idolatrous Gentiles, were converted.” (The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Vol. 1, p.773, emphasis mine) James Leonard: “Is it really valid to think that Luke is delving into some deep theological issue here, as if he were assuming some great element in the Calvinist-Arminian debate? Why not assume the more mundane statement that these Gentiles were really eager in their hearts to have a share in eternal life, in contrast to the Jews who chafed at the good news?” (Treasures Old & New, emphasis mine)
Agreed. Nothing in the passage suggests that Luke was touching upon a free-will controversy. It appears instead to be more of a general reference to the fact that it was a fruitful conversion of the Gentiles, in contrast to the unbelieving Jews, who showed that evangelistic efforts toward them had proven far less fruitful.
Calvinists admit no contextual support for Calvinism.
Calvinist, James White: “Acts 13:48 shows us how much of a ‘given’ God’s sovereign work of election was to the apostles. Luke did not have to expand the thought or explain the meaning: The person who understands the power of sin that binds the unregenerate heart knows well the necessity of God’s work to ‘open the heart’ and ‘draw’ one to Christ.” (Debating Calvinism, p.381, emphasis mine)
“A given”? Does not need to “expand”? Not only does White unwittingly admit that the context offers no support for the Calvinist interpretation, but he also adds the conundrum that if Calvinistic-thought was the natural understanding of the early Church, then how come no one in the early Church was teaching it until 300 years later, when Augustine arrived on the scene? If it was already so well understood by the early Church, then why is Augustine noted for his revolutionary teaching on the subject? Calvinists cannot say that it took the Pelagian controversy to bring out the Free Will debate, since Free Will was already hotly debated and supported by the early Church vs. the Gnostic opposition.
Calvinist interpretation conspicuously requires no second chances.
John Calvin: “By these same words Luke also teaches that none of the elect can perish, for he says that not just one or two of the elect believed, but all who were elect. Although God’s adoption is unknown to us until we perceive it by faith, there is no uncertainty about it in his secret plan. All those he regards as his own are committed to the Son for safety and for teaching, and he will keep them faithfully to the end.” (Acts: Calvin, Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.229, emphasis mine)
If all of Calvinism’s elect had believed, then no one from then setting could later be saved, as they would be among Calvinism’s non-elect, and moreover, assuming the Calvinistic interpretation, how would Luke know who Calvinism’s elect are, since Calvinists go out of their way to point that they do not possess such knowledge, and therefore preach to everyone indiscriminately?
Arminian, Robert Shank: “All who assume that tetagmenoi in Acts 13:48 implies that those who believed the Gospel at that particular time and place did so as the consequence of an eternal decree of unconditional particular election unwittingly embrace a second assumption, completely absurd: all present in the synagogue who ever were to believe the Gospel did so at once; there could be no further opportunity to consider the Gospel, and no man who failed to believe that moment could ever subsequently believe. A preposterous assumption! Such a pattern fits neither the case of Paul himself nor the universal experience of the Church through all generations.” (Elect in the Son, p.187, emphasis mine)
The alternative, Arminian conclusion, is that there very well may have been people who heard the message and rejected it, though later repented and became saved. Ultimately, then, those who became saved on this day, believed, testifying to the kind of Christians that resulted from this outreach.
Calvinists rely heavily on the assumption of foreordination
Calvinist, John MacArthur: “The only people who believe are those who’d been appointed to eternal life. God only grants the gift of faith to those who are predestined to salvation. He chose us. And to those He has chosen, He gives the power to believe.” (Understanding Election, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, James White: “Acts 13:48 uses a construction that indicates that the action had been taken in the past and was completed in the past.” (Debating Calvinism, p.96, emphasis mine)
John Calvin: “...all those who are preordained to life believe.” (Acts: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.279, emphasis mine)
Calvin writes: “...only those are illumed to faith who were predestined to life according to the eternal good pleasure of God.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.158, emphasis mine)
John Calvin: “...before the beginning of the world we were both ordained to faith and also elected to the inheritance of heavenly life. Hence arises impregnable security. The Father who gave us to the Son as His peculiar possession is stronger than all, and will not suffer us to be plucked out of His hand.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.57, emphasis mine)
If the ordination of Acts 13:48 really meant foreordination, then why doesn’t it say so, especially since when the Bible intends to convey such a meaning, we see such things as an “of old” ordination (Jude 4), or a “foreordination”? (1st Peter 1:20)
Calvinists rely on a Red Herring argument.
John Calvin: “Why was the same doctrine not received by the minds of all? Luke draws the line of definition: Because not all were ordained to life. Whence comes this disposition, but of God alone? Those who suggest that they were ordained by the motion of their own hearts deserve no more refutation than those who say the world was created by itself.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.104, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, James White: “Sinful men do not ‘ordain’ themselves to eternal life. God alone chooses His sheep.” (Debating Calvinism, p.380, emphasis mine)
No one is saying that men ordain themselves, no more than anyone is saying that the Prodigal Son restored himself as a son, simply because he returned home. Rather, the Prodigal Son came home to be a servant (Luke 15:19), and it was purely the father’s grace to restore him as a son. The same applies to Christians. We come to Christ as penitent sinners and it’s purely His grace to adopt us as sons.
Calvinists assume a foreordination to believe.
Calvinistic, James White: “This divine appointment obviously precedes and brings about the act of faith. God has appointed them to eternal life, and they believe. Obviously, this statement touches upon not only unconditional election, but upon irresistible grace as well.” (Debating Calvinism, p.96, emphasis mine)
John Calvin: “Note the limitation. It is not the people who were well-disposed to the Gospel who believed, but those God had appointed in his eternal plan. And Luke does not say that they were appointed for faith but for eternal life. This verse teaches that faith depends on God’s choice. 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. Two people may hear the same teaching together; yet one is willing to learn, and the other persists in his obstinacy. They do not differ in nature, but God illumines one and not the other. We are, indeed, made God’s children by faith--faith is for us the door and beginning of salvation; but there is something deeper with God. He does not begin to choose us after we believe, but by the gift of faith he seals the adoption that was hidden in our hearts and makes it manifest and sure.” (Acts: Calvin, Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.229, emphasis mine)
That’s why the Calvinist interpretation doesn’t fit the context. These Gentiles were not blind and stubborn according to the Calvinist doctrine of Total Inability, but where receptive, God-fearing worshipers of God. That’s what disrupts the entire Calvinist interlocking chain.