Monday, April 10, 2006

Whosoever Is Appointed

Bob Wilkin attempts to refute the Reformed exegesis of Acts 13:48 here. From start to finish, his article is permeated with misrepresentations and unestablished assumptions:

There’s a verse in Acts which is extremely well known to five-point Calvinists. It reads, “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). It seems to say that only those appointed to eternal life are able to believe in Jesus and gain eternal life. Hence all others are doomed to hell no matter what they do.

1. Wilkin is well-gifted with the “art” of misrepresentation. Strawmen are his specialty opponents. He sets them up, beats them down, and then rejoices. “No matter what they do”? What will they do? Unconditional election is not meant to be isolated from the doctrine of total depravity. It certainly isn’t as if there are people out there, interested in the gospel presentation, desiring to please God, practically beating down the door to heaven, and yet God says “Sorry. I didn’t elect you.” No, that isn’t the case at all. We have God-haters who reject God who then get what they want. No one is being condemned unwillingly. Furthermore, Reformed theology affirms that God controls both the ends and the means. He isn’t a God who fulfills his purpose “no matter what they do.” No, he fulfills his purpose in congruence with what they do.

2. Notice how Wilkin takes a text that presents the positive notion of unconditional election and immediately transforms it into a text on the negative notion of reprobation. Yes, reprobation is implicitly taught in this text. But we should note that unconditional election is explicitly taught in this text. Opponents to Reformed exegesis tend to not address the arguments concerning a text for what they actually are. Rather, they distract the reader by appealing to other elements of a theological system and then show that it isn’t taught in the text. For instance, particular redemption isn’t explicitly taught in John 6. Sure, it is connected to the system as a whole. But it is simply a red herring for an opponent to Reformed exegesis to simply dismiss the exegesis as “These are the people who don’t believe God died for every person in the world.” Similarly, Wilkin ignores the actual arguments presented in this text and brings the mind of the reader to the emotional concept of reprobation.

A simple verse like John 5:40 contradicts the idea that any adult with full mental faculties is unable to believe.

Wilkin utilizes the Dave-Huntian method of “exegesis” by immediately fleeing the passage and stating, “Well, that simply can’t be true because of these hundreds of verses over here…”. And this is supposed to pass as exegesis?

Jesus said, “And you are not willing to come to Me in order that you might have life.” That He is speaking of eternal life is clear in light of the preceding verse where Jesus specifically mentioned eternal life. And that the issue is believing in Jesus is clear from v. 38, “Him you do not believe.” Jesus would never say “You are not willing to come to Me” unless that were possible. If that were impossible, then this statement would make no sense.

Wilkin’s arguments are assumed and asserted, but not shown. He obviously believes that being unwilling means that you are free to will otherwise. But it doesn’t. Being unwilling simply means that you are unwilling. Wilkin’s underlying assumption is that moral responsibility presupposes moral ability. He’ll never prove this for us. He simply hopes that his readers share this presupposition and will not question him on it. But moral responsibility does not necessarily presuppose moral ability. If anything, moral responsibility (accountability) necessarily presupposes divine judgment, which presupposes divine sovereignty (the ability to exercise divine judgment). Wilkin’s first principle, therefore, backfires and hits him in the face.

But let’s quickly look at this text. We can only do so quickly because Wilkin has introduced a text foreign to the context of Acts 13:48, which is our main focus. What do the preceding verses say? 37And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. Jesus does not establish the fact that they are unwilling as the ultimate cause. Rather, there is something behind this: “you do not have his word abiding in you.” Jesus establishes inability, if anything! They were unable to believe what was before their very eyes. They had the Scriptures. They had the miracles of Jesus. Yet, despite all this, they were unable to believe.

Well, some might say, you’ve run from the passage at hand to some other verse to try to divert attention from a verse you can’t handle.


No, I’ve shown a clear verse that contradicts an alleged implication.

No, you’ve victimized a particular verse by eisegeting your unestablished assumptions into the words of Jesus, dogmatizing it as truth, and asserting that it contradicts Acts 13:48. This isn’t exegesis. This is opinion asserted as fact.

But in addition, the immediate context of Acts 13:48 has something quite similar to the point Jesus made in John 5:40. The text says that these people “believed.” It doesn’t say they were regenerated so they could believe. It doesn’t say they were given faith. It says they believed.

Once again, Wilkin argues against what isn’t being argued. The argument isn’t that this passage explicitly teaches monergistic regeneration. The argument is that it explicitly teaches monergistic election. Sure, monergistic election naturally leads to monergistic regeneration, but that is only after monergistic election is established from the text. I could counter his statements by saying, “The text says that these people were ‘appointed.’ It doesn’t say they chose God by their own autonomous will. It doesn’t say they initiated faith within themselves. It says they appointed.” But of course, Wilkin isn’t asserting that the text explicitly teaches these things, so for me to make such statements would only be a distraction. Likewise, Wilkin’s statements here are only meant to distract.

If the extreme Calvinist view were correct we would expect to read, “As many as had been elected were regenerated and then given the gift of faith.” But we don’t find that or anything close to that.

Responding to argument in kind: If the extreme Arminian view were correct we would expect to read, “As many as had autonomously chosen God initiated faith within themselves.” But we don’t find that or anything close to that.

Again, the point isn’t whether or not a single text explicitly teaches an entire theological system. Rather, the focus is what the text does teach. And this text, plainly and simply, tells us that those who were appointed to eternal life believed. So far, Wilkin has not told us that the text states otherwise. He has only told us what we already knew, what the text doesn’t teach.

Additionally, as we shall now see, the larger context itself shows that those who didn’t believe were capable of doing so. Acts 13–14 chronicles the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. Pisidian Antioch is one of the places they evangelized and made disciples (13:14-51). They preached in the Jewish synagogue there and Paul’s sermon is recorded in vv. 15-41. Then, in v. 42, Luke says that “when the Jews went out of the synagogue the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.” There is an implied contrast between the negative response of the Jews and the positive response of the Gentiles to Paul’s message. What is implied at this point is explicit one week later.

The Gentiles were hungry for the Word. So, “on the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God” (v. 44). However, when the Jews saw the crowd “they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul” (v. 45). Paul’s words to them are startling: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (v. 46, italics added). Notice that the Jews were culpable for rejecting the gospel. Indeed they judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.

Bob Wilkin teaches us that, when in need, just use an overly dispensational hermeneutic. The interpretation posited argues as if this passage is conveying that God appointed these Jews to eternal life, but since they rejected it, only the Gentiles which responded to the gospel have been appointed to eternal life. In other words, we have two groups, equally ordained to eternal life. One group believes. The other group doesn’t. And it is the group that is appointed that believes. Yes, the Jews rejected the gospel. Again, Reformed theology affirms that God controls both the ends and the means. Yet Wilkin fails to tell us why one group was appointed and the other not. He fails to tell us why it was only those who were appointed who believed.

Those who hear the good news and reject it are condemned not because they were unable to believe, but because they rejected the saving message and hence in effect judged themselves unworthy of eternal life!

1. Wilkin divorces the unwillingness to believe from the inability to believe. But being unwilling does not mean being able to will otherwise. Wilkin notes the Jews’ rejection as if it argues for ability rather than inability. This is based upon his unestablished assumption that being unwilling means being free to will otherwise. But it doesn’t. Being unwilling simply means being unwilling.

2. Wilkin has yet to tell us anthying concerning the appointment to eternal life. He, again, focuses on what the text supposedly doesn’t teach and fails to address the actual arguments.

There are two main options in understanding v. 48. We begin with the more common. Most translations read, “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Many commentators thus see this as an allusion to unconditional election. If that is true, and I don’t think it is, then as we have just seen it still in no way indicates that the non-elect are unable to believe. It would simply be a statement that the elect believed.

He fails to ask some simply questions. Why was it only the ones who were appointed who believed? Why did the ones who were not appointed reject the gospel and not believe? Why were they unwilling? Was it something in them? Or, was it something in those who believed that caused them to believe? What, then, does this have to do with their appointment? He also fails to note the subject/object causal distinction. They were appointed (passive tense) by someone else. They didn’t appoint themselves. And the obvious causal relation established in this text is that being appointed causes one to believe. Yes, the elect believed, but they believed because they were the elect.

The Greek verb used here is not the one which means to choose or to elect. If Luke were making a point about election, why didn’t he use that verb? Nowhere else in the entire Bible is this word used of election!

1. Scripture uses similar words elsewhere to describe the doctrine of election. For instance, as surely as Christ was appointed as chief cornerstone in 1 Peter 2:6, the reprobate are appointed to stumble over the stone in 1 Peter 2:8. In contrast, the elect are chosen to be a holy nation in 1 Peter 2:9.

2. The word here is tassō and it means “to appoint, to ordain, to assign”.

3. The question isn’t how this word is used elsewhere. The question is how this word is used in this context. Context is king in Greek exegesis.

In fact, not only does the word not refer to election, it is even possible if not probable that it doesn’t mean appointed here either. This verse uses the verb tassõ in the passive voice. According to the leading lexicon of NT Greek in Acts 13:48 it means “to belong to, to be classed among those possessing” (BAGD, p. 806). Additionally it points out that the passive can also mean “to devote oneself to a service.”

Wilkin quotes selectively to narrow the range of usage of this word. But it is simply an undeniable fact that the normative usage of this word, and most importantly the usage in this context, is “to appoint, to assign, to ordain.”

Tassõ is used in Acts 13:48 in a type of Greek construction (perfect periphrastic) which suggests that the verbal action occurred prior to the believing. The question is, what meaning should we assign to tassõ here? It could mean, “As many as had belonged to eternal life believed,” or “as many as had been classed among those possessing eternal life believed” or “as many as had been devoted to eternal life believed.” The context is helpful here.

Even using such ambiguous language, unconditional election is unavoidable here, for the text establishes a certain group that believed because they were in that certain group.

Skipping down for space’s sake:

…This verse doesn’t teach Christian fatalism

Bob-Wilkin-the-strawman-killing-champion tells us that this passage doesn’t teach “Christian fatalism.” Of course, that wasn’t the argument. Fatalism teaches that God will accomplish the ends regardless of the means. Reformed theology, however, affirms that God controls both the ends and the means.

There is, in fact, no such thing as biblical fatalism.

I agree.

God so loved the entire world that He gave His only begotten Son to die on the cross in our place and rise from the dead so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Yes, God sent his Son that he might save the believing ones. God desires to save those who will to believe. But what does that tell us about who wills to believe, or who is able to believe? What does that tell us about what causes one to believe?

As the old Baptist hymn puts it, “Whosoever surely meaneth me!”

But of course, “whosoever” surely does not mean everybody, for if everybody had a will to believe, then everybody would be saved. But obviously not everyone has a will to believe. The question is “Why?” Wilkin’s answer will lie in man. Mine will lie in God. On one side, we have a salvation that is initiated by man. On the other, we have a salvation that is the complete working of God. Christ truly is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Evan May.


  1. Thanks, Evan.

    Others may find the following list of occurrences of TASSW (B-Greek nomenclature) in the New Testament helpful:

    Matthew 28.16: "So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated (ETAXATO)." (NET)

    Luke 7.8: "For I too am a man set (TASSOMENOS) under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." (NET)

    Acts 15.2: "When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them, the church appointed (ETAXAN) Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this point of disagreement." (NET)

    Acts 22.10: "So I asked, 'What should I do, Lord?' The Lord said to me, 'Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told about everything that you have been designated (TETAKTAI) to do.'" (NET)

    Acts 28.23: "They set (TAXAMENOI) a day to meet with him, and they came to him where he was staying in even greater numbers. From morning until evening he explained things to them, testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the law of Moses and the prophets." (NET)

    Romans 13.1: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God's appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted (TETAGMENAI) by God." (NET)

    1 Corinthians 16.15: "Now, brothers and sisters, you know about the household of Stephanus, that as the first converts of Achaia, they devoted (ETAXAN) themselves to ministry for the saints. I urge you" (NET).

    God bless,


  2. Just a couple other comments:

    1. Wilkin says, "It could mean, 'As many as had belonged to eternal life believed,' or 'as many as had been classed among those possessing eternal life believed' or 'as many as had been devoted to eternal life believed.' The context is helpful here."

    A. Notice how the third option "...had been devoted..." creeps in. Does BAGD suggest this meaning at Acts 13.48?

    2. Wilkin says, "The Jews in Pisidian Antioch rejected the teachings of Paul and Barnabas and judged themselves unworthy of eternal life. The Gentiles, oppositely, accepted the teachings of the apostles. However, instead of saying 'they judged themselves worthy of eternal life,' Luke chose to say instead that the Gentiles believed, as many as had been devoted to eternal life."

    A. Notice again how the unsupported "devoted" rendering creeps in.

    B. We know that the Gentiles were somehow opposite that of the Jews in Acts 13. But was the contrast driven by an action carried out or received by the subject? Wilkin assumes the former and, in doing so, question-begs.

    C. Not only does Wilkin question-beg, he contradicts his original statement of TASSW being passive. Says Wilkin: "They first **devoted themselves** to searching out the way to eternal life and then having discovered the message (Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who simply believe in Him) they believed it." (My emphasis)

    God bless,


  3. Joel:

    Thanks for noting these things.

  4. I tend to look at the verse another way. To me, it's like saying, "And those chosen for the job applied." It's not proof that the appointing came before the believing. All Luke is doing is contrasting those that rejected and, thus, didn't receive eternal life with those that believed and were given it.

  5. Daniel:

    1. You said, "It's not proof that the appointing came before the believing."

    A. In _The Potter's Freedom_ (Calvary Press Publishing, 2000, pp. 188-89), Dr. James White remarks:

    "The term 'appointed' here is found in what is called a periphrastic construction. A periphrastic construction involves the use of a participle with a form of the Greek verb of being, EIMI. By combining different tenses of both elements, a particular result is achieved. In this case, Luke uses the imperfect form of eimi together with the perfect passive participle. The result is that the phrase must be translated as a 'pluperfect.'

    "A pluperfect sense speaks of a completed action in the past, but unlike the perfect tense, the pluperfect does not contain the idea of a continuation of the past action into the present time. Therefore, the meaning of 'appointed' refers to a past time. How can this be if, in fact, we are to understand this as an attitude in the Gentiles who have just heard that the gospel is coming to them? Obviously, to take it in the sense suggested by Buswell or Alford is to understand this action as something that takes place at the very point where the Apostles quote from Isaiah and proclaim that the Gentiles can receive the blessings of the gospel."

    2. "All Luke is doing is contrasting those that rejected and, thus, didn't receive eternal life with those that believed and were given it."

    A. No one doubts that a contrast is being made. The controversy centers around the nature of the contrast. You assume, as Wilkin does, that the contrast is purely symmetrical: The Jews carried out an action; the Gentiles carried out an action. I would argue, from the grammar of the text, that the contrast is asymmetrical first, symmetrical second: The Jews carried out an action; the Gentiles *received an action* prior to carrying out an action.

    God bless,