Monday, December 10, 2012

Appointed to Eternal Life - Acts 13:48

In Acts 13:14-41, Paul speaks in a synagogue in Psidian Antioch and proclaims Jesus as the promised Messiah. When he finishes the people plead for him to tell them more (Acts 13:42-43). The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembles (Acts 13:44). As Paul preaches, key synagogue leaders reject the gospel (Acts 13:45-47); however, many Gentiles accept it—“as many as were ordained to eternal life” (Acts 13:48).

There are three key questions that have to be addressed in seeking to understand v. 48: 1) what does the word “ordained” mean; 2) by whom were they ordained; and 3) on what basis were they “ordained.”

First, most scholars agree that the word “ordained” means “appointed,” and that is certainly the ordinary sense of the word (see Acts 15:2; 22:10; 28:3). Since nothing in the text or context requires a different sense, we should go with the ordinary sense.

Second, the text does not say who appointed them to eternal life. The grammar requires only that their appointment took place before they believed. The options for who appointed them to eternal life include God, themselves, or both God and themselves.  All three are possible theologically.

God: According to Rom. 8:29, God predestined those whom he foreknew [would believe] to be like Jesus. Eph. 1:4 teaches that God chose those [He foreknew would be] in Christ to be holy and blameless. Since God knows all things, He knew who would believe in Jesus and appointed them to receive eternal life (cf. John 6:40; 1 Pet. 1:1-2).

Themselves: 1 Cor. 16:15 speaks of the house of Stephanas appointing themselves to the service of the saints. Given this NT usage, we could understand that the Gentiles’ appointed themselves to eternal life by their attendance upon and acceptance of the gospel

Both: I’m inclined to think the “both” option makes the best sense since the context highlights both divine grace and human choice. In addition to the fact that God has ordained that all who believe shall be saved, the context highlights God’s grace in the Gentiles’ interest in and attendance at the preaching of the gospel (Acts 13:42, 44). Such interest testifies that God’s grace had been at work to incline their hearts to the gospel (Acts 13:43; cf. Phil. 2:13).

On the other hand the Gentile’s choice to hear and receive the gospel is emphasized in contrast to the Jews’ choice to reject it. Notice what Paul says in v. 46 about the Jews who rejected the gospel: “you are judging yourselves unworthy of everlasting life….” By rejecting the gospel, the Jews were judging or pronouncing themselves unworthy of eternal life. Their unworthiness was a function of their own choice. By choosing to seek, listen to, and accept the gospel invitation, the Gentiles cooperated with God’s prevenient grace and appointed themselves to eternal life. In this way, they vindicate the justice of God’s prior (in eternity) appointment of them to eternal life.

Third, the basis upon which they were appointed to eternal life is implicit in the text. With regard to their self-appointment the basis was their desire to respond to God’s drawing grace. With regard to God’s appointment of them, the basis was His (fore)knowledge of their acceptance of Christ.

In sum, all those God foreknew would believe He has appointed to eternal life. People appoint themselves to eternal life by responding to God’s saving grace as it comes to them.

As an interesting parallel, the word “unworthy” occurs in a similar context in Matthew 22. Jesus tells a story of a king who invited people to the marriage feast of his son. The people, however, refused his invitations and murdered his servants. In response, the king sent out his armies, destroyed the murderers, burned up their city, and said “The wedding is ready; but they which were bidden were not worthy” (Matt. 22:8). The fact that the King sent his invitees multiple invitations indicates that the King genuinely intended for them to come. Their unworthiness, like that of the Jews in Acts 13:46, was a function of their choice. In contrast, those who were gathered from the highways and hedges to the wedding feast were called “chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Their “chosenness” came both from the King’s invitation and their response to it.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

When God Will Not Answer

I was struck by 1 Samuel 8:18 some time ago in my devotional reading

 18 וּזְעַקְתֶּם֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא מִלִּפְנֵ֣י מַלְכְּכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּחַרְתֶּ֖ם לָכֶ֑ם וְלֽא־יַעֲנֶ֧ה יְהוָ֛ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם בַּיּ֥וֹם הַהֽוּא׃

18  "Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day."

It turns out that there are at least three other places where God said he would not answer:

1) 1 Sam. 28:6  When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets.
 6 וַיִּשְׁאַ֤ל שָׁאוּל֙ בַּֽיהוָ֔ה וְל֥א עָנָ֖הוּ יְהוָ֑ה גַּ֧ם בַּחֲלֹמ֛וֹת גַּ֥ם בָּאוּרִ֖ים גַּ֥ם בַּנְּבִיאִֽם׃

2) 2 Sam. 22:38 "I pursued my enemies and destroyed them, And I did not turn back until they were consumed.  39 "And I have devoured them and shattered them, so that they did not rise; And they fell under my feet.  40 "For You have girded me with strength for battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.  41 "You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me, And I destroyed those who hated me.  42 "They looked, but there was none to save; Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them. (= Psa. 18:41)

3) Mic. 3:4  Then they will cry out to the LORD, But He will not answer them. Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time Because they have practiced evil deeds.

 4 אָ֚ז יִזְעֲק֣וּ אֶל־יְהוָ֔ה וְלֹ֥א יַעֲנֶ֖ה אוֹתָ֑ם וְיַסְתֵּ֙ר פָּנָ֤יו מֵהֶם֙ בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֔יא כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הֵרֵ֖עוּ מַעַלְלֵיהֶֽם׃  

  1. God will not answer when his people cry out for deliverance from their own irrevocable choices. E.g., Israel choosing a human king instead of God as King. 1 Sam. 8:18. Modern application: Choose to marry a person you know isn’t God’s will, and there’s no reason to believe God will answer the cry for deliverance from a wretched marriage.
  2. God may (will?) not answer the cry for guidance when people have refused to obey Him and refused to repent. E.g., Saul  1 Sam. 28:6.
  3. God will not answer the cry for physical deliverance of those who are His enemies or the enemies of His anointed.  2 Sam. 22
  4. God will not answer the cry for physical deliverance of those who love evil and hate good, and persist in practicing evil deeds. Micah 3:4; Cf. Isa. 1:12; 59:2

On the other hand, the grace-enabled and grace-inspired prayer of confession and repentance is on that God will always hear (1 John 1:9).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Grounds of Human Culpability in Divine Justice

On what bases does God hold humans morally responsible, i.e., culpable, for their actions? This question is at the heart of salvation. God, who is just, must be just in His justification of those who trust in Christ (Rom. 3:26) and in His condemnation of those who do not believe (John 3:18).

I see in Scripture three grounds upon which God holds men responsible: 1) capacity, 2) knowledge, and 3) intent. Of these three, intent is the most frequently mentioned and most obvious. 

Determination of culpability on the basis of intention is evident from Num. 35:16-34 and Deut. 19:4-6. A man who "without knowledge" (bivli da'at) or unintentionally (bishgagah) slays his neighbor “does not deserve to die” (cf. Josh. 20:3). If the one who commits unintentional manslaughter is killed by the "avenger of blood," God regards it as the shedding of innocent blood (Deut. 19:10). While intentional manslaughter receives the death penalty, involuntary manslaughter receives no direct punishment for the perpetrator is not held guilty. 

It is noteworthy that no sacrifice is prescribed for the man who commits unintentional manslaughter, implying that God does not regard it as sin. Interestingly, a lack of intent is also paired with a lack of motivation: “he did not hate him previously” (Deut. 4:42; 19:4, 6; Josh. 20:5). On the other hand, a desire to harm or malice toward another is grounds for culpability when an act leads to harm (Num. 35:20-21).

Intent is also a key basis for the distinction between the sin offering (Lev. 4) and the guilt offering (Lev. 5). The sin offering was offered when sin committed unintentionally became known. 

In Num. 9:6-8 certain men were not able to keep the Passover at the appointed time because they were ceremonially unclean. They approach Moses to ask for a ruling, a statement of divine justice, regarding their case. Yahweh reveals to Moses that such persons are not guilty of sin and need not be cut off from Israel (Num. 9:10-12). Rather, an alternative time for celebrating the Passover is provided. In contrast, those who are able to celebrate Passover and choose not to do so were to be cut off from Israel (Num. 9:13; cf. 2 Chron. 30).

It is noteworthy that the issue in Num. 9 is not inherent capacity, but a lack of ability due to being disqualified for ceremonial reasons. If incapacity that is not inherent removes culpability, how much more would  incapacity that is inherent remove culpability?

The conclusion from Numbers 9 that capacity is necessary for culpability is supported by our innate sense that real capacity is a necessary condition for personal responsibility. Requiring blind persons to pass a sight test in order to qualify for assistance with their blindness is necessarily unjust and thus immoral because they have no capacity to meet the requirement.

Knowledge as a factor in determining culpability runs two ways. First, one may commit an act that is sinful without being aware that one is doing the act (Num. 35:23). This kind of action is described as being done "without knowledge" (Deut. 4:42; 19:2; Josh. 20:3, 5) and is covered above under intent. 

Second one may commit an act that is sinful without knowledge that it is sinful. In such a case the lack of knowledge regarding the requirement renders one not culpable for the wrong done.  The clearest texts that address this factor in culpability are Rom. 2:12 and Rom. 5:13.

In Rom. 2:12 Paul asserts that those who do not have the law are not judged by the law, despite the fact that they have broken the law. They are not morally responsible for their sin, because they were not aware of the law.

In Rom. 5:13, Paul notes that although sin was present in the world prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law, that sin against the law was not imputed to their account. 

Given two assumptions--the immutability of the divine nature and that Scripture's revelation of the nature of justice reflects accurately divine justice, I conclude that God will not hold persons culpable for a) what they are not capable of doing, b) what they do not know to do, or c) what they do not intend to do.

On the ground of divine justice alone, any conclusion that God holds fallen humanity morally responsible for what it is incapable of doing implicitly renders God unjust. Since Scripture is clear that God does hold all of fallen humanity responsible (Rom. 1:18-22; 2:10-12; Acts 17:30) and that no fallen man is capable on his own to do any good thing or to seek after God (Rom. 3:10-18), one must conclude that God acts to grant capacity to all humanity to respond to the knowledge He provides them.