Thrust Statement: God is not a respecter of persons; He accepts all those who put their faith in Jesus as His Son.

Scripture Reading: John 1:1-13

            The subject of predestination and election still plagues God’s people. Predestination and election are concepts that are presented in both Old and New Testament books. The question is not whether these are biblical concepts, but rather, are the interpretations commonly placed upon these two words by certain Christians biblical? These concepts, at least to some believers, convey the belief that certain individuals are consigned to heaven or hell at the moment of birth. In other words, there is nothing that one can do to alter his/her eternal destiny. In contrast to Calvinistic theology, there are those who advance the notion that these two concepts (predestination and election) do not have anything to do with whether or not an individual is consigned to heaven or hell at the time of his/her birth. In other words, the predestination and election have to do, not with individuals as such, but rather, to a collective body of individuals, namely the body of Christ. Those in Christ are a part of the elect of God; those outside the body of Christ are not a part of the elect of God. Those predestined to eternal life are those who have accepted Christ. Those predestined to eternal damnation are those who have rejected Christ.

JOHN 1:1-13: POWER TO BELIEVE

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:1-13).

The assigned Scripture reading for this study is John 1:1-13. In this section of Scripture John labors the point that the deciding fact in eternal life or eternal damnation hinges upon belief or unbelief.  Even a casual reading does not convey the idea that God has foreordained that certain individuals are destined to heaven and that other individuals are destined to hell. Some believers advance the notion that regardless as to belief or to unbelief one’s eternal destiny is foreordained. This belief system of the foreordination of certain individuals to heaven or hell is not biblical. With God, salvation hinges upon one’s acceptance or one’s rejection of His Son Jesus. God did not foreordain that certain Jews would be lost and other Jews would be saved in spite of their belief or unbelief. Listen to John as he expresses the means whereby individuals in Israel became sons and daughters of God:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (1:10-13). [1]

            God had not foreordained that His own would reject or receive Jesus. There was then and now a human initiative. God gave the power (ejxousiva, exousia, right) for one to become a child of God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. In the interpretation of any text, nothing is more important than the context of any pericope (unit or section). The words cannot be separated or divorced from their historical setting, otherwise the message in the passage cannot be fully understood.

JOHN 6:27-29: THE WORK OF GOD

27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:27-29).

On one occasion, Jesus responds to a question following His statement about the food that spoils (John 6:27). In an ensuing conversation, the crowds ask: “What must we do to do the works God requires” (6:28). To which Jesus responds by saying, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (6:29).  According to Jesus, one could initiate action toward belief or reject initiative toward belief.  How does faith come? Paul says, “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’  17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:16-17).

No, God has not ordained that some have faith through predestination and others unbelief through predestination. To teach that God deliberately withholds faith from some and bestows faith on others is to accuse God of being a respecter of persons. He has not ordained that faith be withheld from some so that they will be damned. This teaching is totally foreign to the Word of God. God instructs Ezekiel, a watchman for the house of Israel, to say to the children of Israel:

 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.  9 But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself. 10 “Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”’  11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ 12 “Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, ‘The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.’ 13 If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done.  14 And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right— 15 if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die.  16 None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live (Ezekiel 33:8-16).

This exhortation to the children of Israel does not make sense if God had foreordained that one’s eternal destiny was fixed before God created the universe. With God, man/woman can accept or reject good or evil. If one chooses evil, God holds that person responsible for his/her actions.  As noted above, God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (32:11). As one seeks to build his/her theology concerning the elect, one must remember that one cannot make the Word of God contradict itself.

The belief that it is the will of God that certain ones will not believe is totally unknown to the whole of Scripture. John, as he explains the mission of John the Baptist, says, “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe” (John 1:7). Many Jews accepted the testimony of John the Baptist, but, on the other hand, many Jews rejected the testimony of John. Was it God’s will that they reject this testimony? No, the purpose God had in mind was that all men might believe through this testimony. It was not God’s intent that the Pharisees and lawyers reject Jesus. Their rejection of John’s testimony was not God’s will. 

Luke writes: “But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John” (Luke 7:30).  These individuals rejected God’s purpose for themselves. Did any of the individuals later accept the testimony of John concerning Jesus? After the resurrection of Jesus, Luke reports: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Again, he writes: “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses’” (15:5). 

According to Luke, many priests and Pharisees became obedient to the faith. Were some of these persons the same individuals who had earlier cast off the council of God for themselves?  How did this change come about? Listen to Jesus as He says, If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17). Once more, listen to Jesus as He explains: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (5:46-47). Men, according to Jesus, are free to choose to comply, or not to comply, with the will of God.

JOHN 12:32 AND JOHN 6:44: I WILL DRAW ALL MEN

Jesus declares, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). This drawing is not coercive. This response is from one’s own volition. Earlier, Jesus, in His discourse on the Bread of Life, says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (6:44). How does God draw individuals unto Jesus? Is it through coercion or is it through the proclamation of the Good News about God’s way of salvation?  In the very next verse, Jesus explains: “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me” (6:45).  Only those who choose to listen and to learn does the Father draw to Him.

Again, this drawing by the Father is through listening and learning. Can one snub the Father’s drawing? Listen to Jesus as he speaks to those who were persecuting Him: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (5:21). To whom does the Son give life? Does He give life without the consent of the one to whom life is offered? How does Jesus deal with this question? In this same chapter, Jesus speaks, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (5:39).

God had not foreordained that they could not believe. Jesus laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the ones who refused to believe—“you refuse to come to me to have life.”  How could Jesus make this statement if the Jews had no choice in the matter? Should He not have said: “God refused to let you come so that you might have eternal life?” Why scold the Jews if they had no choice in the matter. These individuals were at liberty to choose or reject God’s offer of salvation. Jesus in addressing the unbelief of the Jews declares: “you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” (10:26).

This unbelief did not exist within these Jews because of some irrevocable decree of God, but rather this unbelief prevailed because of their refusal to believe the testimony made available by God: “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does.  38 But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (10:38).

JOHN 15:16—I CHOSE YOU

John 15:16 is another text that is often cited to demonstrate that Christ chose the disciples, not the other way around. This Scripture reads: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” This choosing had reference to the Apostolate—choosing of the twelve. A fuller description of what Jesus is talking about is found in the Gospel of Mark:

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.  14 He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons.  16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Mark 3:13-19).

 

Luke also refers to this selection of certain men in the beginning of Christ’s ministry:  “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen” (Acts 1:1-2).  Prior to the death of Jesus, He prayed for these particular men to whom He had delivered His word: I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9). But, in this prayer, Jesus also prayed for others: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (17:20-21).

Faith is not the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, but rather, faith comes through hearing the message about Jesus. Paul expresses it this way: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Verse 17 is the climax of what Paul developed earlier in his dialogue about saving faith. Paul writes:

But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)  7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:  9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (10:6-15).

This pericope sets forth the concept that belief comes about through the hearing of the message about Jesus. God has not willed that some believe and others not believe. God wants all men/women to be saved. Salvation is by grace through faith, but man/woman must respond: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Peter, too, confirms the message about salvation to Cornelius and his household:

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:39-43). 

Peter says, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” God has made belief possible through the testimony of the prophets concerning His Son Jesus. As John concludes his book on Revelation, he gives the following comments about man’s part in this great salvation: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).[2]

ACTS 13:46-48: APPOINTED TO ETERNAL LIFE

46 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.  47 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.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:46-48).

            Acts 13:48 appears to uphold the concept that God has appointed some to eternal life and some to eternal damnation: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed (from taVssw, tassw) for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).  For one to assert that no human agency is involved in eternal life is to refuse to look at the context. One only has to read verse 46 to observe the fallacy in this line of thinking: “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” (13:46). Paul and Barnabas assert that the Jews had rejected salvation and did not consider themselves worthy of eternal life. Is there a contradiction between verses 46 and 48? One must answer no! God does not exclude individual freedom.

            How did they consider themselves unworthy of eternal life? They deemed themselves unworthy of eternal life through their rejection of Jesus as God’s way of salvation. No doubt, in their own eyes, they judged themselves worthy of eternal life, even as Paul believed himself, not intentionally, worthy of eternal life before his conversion. Paul had earlier rejected the preaching of the Gospel and persecuted those who had accepted the preaching. Yet, one cannot consistently hold to the view that this rejection forever dismissed Paul or the Jews as unworthy of God’s grace. Many, on the day of Pentecost, who had previously considered themselves unworthy of eternal life, repented and received eternal life (Acts 2:38-40). Later, Paul, too, accepted Jesus as God’s Messiah, the savior of the world.

            The best rendering of the Greek word—tetagmevnoi (tetagmenoi) is “disposed,” rather than “appointed” in Acts 13:48. Rotherham’s rending appears to represent the concept behind Paul’s thoughts: “And they of the nations hearing [this] began to rejoice, and to glorifying God, and they believed—as many as had become disposed for life age-abiding.”[3] Eternal life involves both human faith and divine appointment. This wording of Acts 13:48 is similar in nature to the words of Jesus in His parable of the wedding feast: Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come’” (Matthew 22:8).

The word deserve is from the Greek word a[xio" (axios, “worthy”) and carries the idea of making light of the invitation. It is in this sense that the Jews made light of God’s salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. This is the same attitude that Luke speaks of in his telling Theophilus how the Pharisees rejected the counsel of God: “But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John” (Luke 7:30). There was no divine decree ordering belief or unbelief.

            The English word appointed in Acts 13:48 is from the Greek word taVssw (tassw), which has a variety of meanings in Classical Greek: “to appoint or order someone to a task, to put into proper order, and to command.”[4] The context is the determinative factor in rendering an accurate translation of this Greek word. Again, the LXX (Septuagint) usage also has a variety of meanings: “to appoint, draw up, ordain, prohibit, set, and in the middle voice, to command, fix, make disposition, to set one’s heart and similar meaning. All these imply that God or humans are the agents of the action.”[5] To illustrate the variety of meanings, Paul’s letter to Corinth is called forth to set the stage for how the Greek word taVssw is translated:

You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted (e[taxan, etaxan, from taVssw) themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, 16 to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it (1 Corinthians 16:15-16).

CONCLUSION

The concern of the interpreter is the meaning of the author's mind, not the theology of the church or the church fathers. Every interpreter must bear in mind that words operate in a context and receive meaning from that context. In order to arrive at a correct understanding of a word, one must establish the meaning of a word and recognize its wide range of meanings. Darrell L. Bock has correctly stated: “One needs to recognize that words do not automatically have meaning. They receive their meaning from the author who produced the words.”[6] To interpret the word appointed, in verse 48, to teach that God indiscriminately consigned some to hell and some to heaven contradicts the context, especially verse 46 of Acts 13: “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.”  If one wishes salvation, then one must believe and confess that Jesus is Lord:

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13).

 



[1] All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984. 

[2] See chapter 4 for a more detailed study on the word everyone.

[3] Joseph Bryant Rotherham, Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1994),  134.

[4] Thoralf Gilbrant, International Editor, The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary, Sigma—Omega, Word Numbers 4375—5457, The Complete Biblical Library, vol., 16 (Springfield, Missouri: The Complete Biblical Library, 1991),  #4872, p. 255.

[5] 256.

[6] Darrell L. Bock, “New Testament Word Analysis,” in Scott McKnight, editor, Introducing New Testament Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 99.