"All who were appointed for eternal life." If not predestination, what then?

Some use the phrase, “all who were appointed for eternal life believed,” from Acts 13:48 as proof of predestination. I hope to show you, that’s not what Acts 13 is saying. Let’s take a look at the passage in question:

Acts 13:46-50, “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: 'We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” When the Gentiles heard [the gospel] they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.” (NIV)

Contrary to the way the phrase reads in the NIV, this passage is not suggesting that only individuals who had been chosen by God beforehand can believe. We must remember that the biggest and most culturally disruptive revelation of the New Testament is inclusiveness. For the religious elite Jews of that day, the idea that the Gentiles are as much “in” as they was infuriating to say the least. But that is the message of Jesus and the expansive Kingdom that he preached. It is the primary calling of the apostle Paul and the overwhelming truth in this passage: the Gentiles, too, are allowed in. They are also qualified for the Kingdom of God. They, too, can receive the Holy Spirit.

The author of Acts is also setting the stage for Acts 15 (the Jerusalem Council when the believers meet to decide what to do with these Gentiles who are believing) by showing how hugely controversial it was for Gentiles to be brought in. The context of verse 48 should read, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; for they (all the Gentiles present), who were also appointed to eternal life, believed.” (Parenthetical clarification, mine).

It does not make sense for Luke to write in one verse that the Jews forfeited themselves from eternal life, and two verses later suggest that only individuals who God predestines can get saved. No. To the contrary, the whole context of this passage mainly highlights these incredible truths:

1. “We had to speak the word of God to you first…we now turn to the Gentiles.” The preaching of the gospel was now going outside of the circle of those who were first invited in—from just Jews to all Gentiles.

2. “…The Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Paul and Barnabas, representing Jews, honors the high calling and commission on the Jews to be a light to the nations. They are committed to fulfill this role.

3. “When the Gentiles heard it they were glad and honored the word of the Lord…all who were appointed…believed” This is offered as evidence to prove that the Gentiles are also included. Or, in other words, the fact that they believed proves they, too, were appointed.

4. “But the Jews incited…persecution…” We know that the Jews were originally part of the plan. They were included. They were appointed. Yet, they could resist. And not only resist for themselves. They could also cause trouble for others. 

I hope this helps you see the context of Acts 13:48. The thrust of the passage is communicating how provocative and infuriating it was for Jews that the Gentiles could get the total package without going through Moses and all the law, as they had done. Paul’s main theological thesis in the book of Romans deals with this in depth. I will address Romans in my next blog post. Stay tuned!

This post is part of my Catharsis series, where I post excerpts from my book, Catharsis. So, if you don’t want to buy it, no problem! I will be posting most of my books content here. Of course, buying it would be cool, too. You can do that by clicking here.