Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wesley on Acts 13:48

At first, I wasn't a big fan of Wesley's interpretation of Acts 13:48, but lately I have come to admire it's simplicity. Wesley doesn't get into technical debates about passive vs. middle voice, disputes about translating tasso as ordain vs. dispose or discussions about reflexive meanings with and without the reflexive pronoun. He is just straight and to the point. Here's the passage and Wesley's comments:

Act 13:44-48 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

As many as were ordained to eternal life - St. Luke does not say fore - ordained. 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 16:14, &c. 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 then 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. (link)

Calvinists understand the passage as God's predestination from eternity, Arminians understand it as God's prevenient grace in time. Wesley quickly and clearly brings out the three best reasons to favor the Arminian view.

  1. the original word [tasso] is not once used in Scripture to express eternal predestination of any kind - Tasso would be an unusual word to convey predestination. Προορίζω (proorizo) would be more common. In fact, this would be the only such use of tasso in that sense out of the eight New Testament uses and 65 Old Testament (using the Septuagint) uses. Further, tasso is in the pluperfect, which would be a strange tense for predestination; one would expect something more definitive, like an aorist or perfect tense for predestination.
  2. He is not speaking of what was done from eternity, but of what was then done, through the preaching of the Gospel. - In Greek, when you join a perfect participle with an imperfect “to be” verb you get a periphrastic pluperfect. In this verse ησαν is an imperfect to be verb and τεταγμενοι is a perfect participle, so we have a pluperfect. The timing for pluperfects are derived from their contexts. The Gentiles were ordained to eternal life when they heared the gospel and received it with gladness. 'Eternity past' isn't in the context and appears as more of an aside, outside the historical narrative, which is a problem for Calvinists since pluperfects derive their timings from narratives.
  3. Not that God rejected the rest: it was his will that they also should have been saved: but they thrust salvation from them. - Verse 48 and 46 parallel each other. “they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were devoted to eternal life” from verse 48 corresponds to verses 46 “but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life”. The Calvinist interpretation is asymmetrical and the Arminian interpretation is symmetrical.

Finally, Wesley anticipates and preempts an objection. What if Calvinists retreated from the position that the passage teaches predestination, but instead said the passage teaches irresistible grace? Does the passage teach God does something before believe that necessitates belief? Wesley replies: Nor were they who then believed constrained to believe. But grace was then 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. The idea is that although enablement is a core element of prevenient grace, prevenient grace doesn't stop there. Prevenient grace will carry us through conversion, so long as we don't resist. Just before faith, they could still choose to resist, but if they did so they would fall out of the number of those ordained to eternal life. However, if they don't resist, God's grace will see them through (John 6:45, 7:17).

4 comments:

natamllc said...

I certainly do not want to get into a row with brothers Wesley!

I do want to focus on one portion of what I just read:

"....But grace was then first copiously offered them....".

I am not well educated. I am a bit less a dimwit now than before and quite frankly I still do not grasp the intent of the debate between Calvinists and Arminians. I don't understand the relevance in light of the very passage from Acts 13? Either you are or you are not appointed to eternal life.

I am not in favor of a "works" plus relationship with God to "secure" my place in the next life placed on God's good side, the right side with the sheep, being "placed" there by God Himself.

I guess we would all agree the devils fail to overcome God at anytime past, present or in the future? Since these great beasts, wicked all, fallen from God's Persons in a good sort are greater in might and power than we little human beings, we should readily agree if God is placing your soul on His left, you aint doing any power fetes to move to His right side!

But what I do find interesting is what seems to me to be an apparent contradiction with that one sentence noted above. And especially the word "first" in the sentence. That to me is the crux of this whole debate, is it not?

Something "first" happens before something second. In the context of the sentence with the broadest portion of Wesley's citation, one has to agree that something first occurred before those who "heard" "heard".


For me, in my view, knowing a bit of history of the two, Luke and Paul, I find no contradiction between the point being put over by Wesley here with Paul's purpose for establishing in the mind of the Ephesian Church and for all "appointed" to Eternal Life, what he did at Ephesians 1:3-6.

I see no contradiction with Luke and Paul, however, I do with that sentence because of the obvious conflict that arises that separates Arminians and Calvinists on the question!

I would note that on day one thru five of the Creation days of Genesis one, it was fully five and a half days before the human form came to be, Adam.

What Scripture does teach us is on day one, there clearly are two "personalities" in that verse, one created and One Eternal.

Having noted that, for me, I am able to reconcile the apparent contradiction between Luke and Paul but I am not able to reconcile the contradiction between what Wesley is teaching that seems to separate Luke from Paul.

The key for me lies in the definition of "eternal Life".

Here's the best one I can cite, in my view:

Joh 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,
Joh 17:2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
Joh 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

I would note verse two and the use of the first word "all". For me, that word's use is "all" in the sense of all flesh. But for those on the other side of this debate, the use of the second word "all" is the other hotly debated debate, "Who" God "loves" at John 3:16, it is also a limited and inclusive use. All means all flesh in the first word in verse 2, of John 17, but the second word "all" in verse 2 of John 17 and verse 16 of John 3 does not.

Anyway, you are hard at work putting over your view and it is clear to me what that is as I read it understanding further just which side you are on.

Thanks and may God become this kind of "pleasant" to you appointed:

Psa 135:3 Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant!
Psa 135:4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.
Psa 135:5 For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.
Psa 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

Onesimus said...

natamllc said..
�I would note that on day one thru five of the Creation days of Genesis one, it was fully five and a half days before the human form came to be, Adam.

What Scripture does teach us is on day one, there clearly are two "personalities" in that verse, one created and One Eternal.�

---------

Could you explain that for me please?

natamllc said...

Onesimus

I did, over on Steven's blog if you care to go back there are read the explanation there?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this clear statement... it brought this entire passage, as well as many other battleground passages into focus for me.
"Calvinists understand the passage as God's predestination from eternity, Arminians understand it as God's prevenient grace in time."