Does Acts 13:48 support Calvinism?


by Shawn Brasseaux

The more you listen to and read denominational preachers and theologians, the more verses you hear and see “beaten black and blue.” God’s Word is treated with so much disrespect, so abused. They grab a verse here, a phrase there, a word here, and—voilà—a new denomination is born and maintained. Some have even taken one Bible word and made whole systems! Acts 13:48 is one such verse quoted time and time again in theology with regards to Calvinism. In this study, we will take time to actually read the verse—and its context—and see God’s intended meaning. “For what saith the Scriptures?”

Acts 13:48 is one of Calvinism’s favorite verses. Of course, the verse is usually not quoted in full, and certainly the surrounding verses are ignored. Just its final little clause is cited. Acts 13:48 in its entirety reads: “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.” You immediately saw what appeals to Calvinists—“and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” The Calvinist will now say, “See, just as Acts 13:48 says, God ordained some people to eternal life and the rest He chose for eternal damnation!” Certainly, the Bible says God has ordained some people to eternal life. Just look at the verse! But, exactly who are these people? Are they the people Calvinists say they are? (And, notice, never once does the Bible say that God ordains some people to eternal damnation. If I were a Calvinist, I would quote that verse instead, but since there is no such verse, Acts 13:48 will just have to do!)

So, you can now see why Acts 13:48 strikes terror in the hearts of Bible believers everywhere. How are they (we) going to handle a verse that clearly says that a group of people was “ordained to eternal life?” Does this not validate Calvinism? Again, just look at the context, and you will be amazed at how simple the verse really is. Unless we have a denominational system or theological speculation to promote, we will just look at the context of the verse under consideration, and rejoice in the simplicity of God’s Word.

Let us start at the beginning of Acts chapter 13. Paul and Barnabas have begun their first apostolic journey. Having left Antioch of Syria (verses 1-3), they reach Antioch of Pisidia (verse 14). Now, in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia, Paul begins a lengthy sermon for the Jews and the other religious people present. Paul documented Israel’s history from verses 17-41. Verses 42-44: “[42] And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. [43] Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. [44] And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.”

The Gentiles wanted to hear God’s Word, so Paul and Barnabas returned the next Sabbath day (Saturday) to speak to these curious people. We pick it up in verse 45 and following, reading slowly and carefully: “[45] 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. [46] 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. [47] 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. [48] 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 previously noted, there are some Bible believers who are simply scared of Acts 13:48. They do not know how to handle it. It has been so terribly abused and it is dangerous ground for them to expound upon it. They try to avoid it every chance they can. Friends, it is not difficult. If we are just going to go by the Bible, the Bible says the people who were ordained to eternal life were the Gentiles. See, it helps to actually read the Bible, friends, instead of just carelessly pulling things out of it! God purposed to form the Church the Body of Christ, that Gentiles could be saved apart from Israel. Salvation is currently coming to the Gentiles without Israel and through Paul’s ministry (Romans 11:11-13). That is exactly what Paul preached in Acts 13:46-47.

Let us turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 2 to see whom God “ordained to eternal life.” Verses 6-8 of 1 Corinthians chapter 2: “[6] Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: [7] But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: [8] Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Again, God planned our mystery program before the world began, but He did not reveal it to mankind until Paul’s ministry (cf. Romans 16:25-26; Titus 1:1-3). That mystery program includes eternal life via membership in the Church the Body of Christ. Gentiles to be saved into the Body of Christ, they are the ones God has ordained to eternal life (return to Acts 13:46-48). It has nothing to do with individuals (as Calvinists claim). Rather, it means corporate salvation in and through the agency called the Church Body of Christ.

Beloved, unless we have an agenda to advance, a theological speculation to promote, we will simply read the verse and believe it in its context rather than just carelessly grabbing it to bolster our theological system. There is nothing here about God ordaining people to go to hell forever. That is something someone is reading into the verse, wresting the Scriptures to their own spiritual destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16). It has nothing to do with God selecting individuals for salvation. It is God ordaining Gentiles (as a whole), that they have an opportunity to receive forgiveness of sins via the Church the Body of Christ and the Gospel of Grace that the Apostle Paul preached. Simple!

Also see:
» “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated?” (COMING SOON!)
» How do our free will and God’s foreknowledge work together?
» Does Acts 2:47 support Calvinism?