The doctrine of election is a central debate among’st many theologians and scholars today. Those who advocate the doctrine of election generally state that God dictates everything that happens through the sovereignty of his own will. That having foreseen the wickedness of his creation before the beginning of the world, He arbitrarily selected out those who would and wouldn’t obtain salvation. It’s the idea that God has predetermined everything that is going to happen, and nothing happens which He has not sovereignly ordained.
The doctrine of election is commonly used to answer the philosophical question, why do some choose to believe in God while others don’t? Though the doctrine is inconsistent with many scriptures throughout the bible, one of the most common and compelling passages used in support of it is Acts 13: 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.”
I presume that ones initial interpretation of this reading (as mine was) is that salvation is ultimately a God given desire. However, when examining this scripture a little further, particularly in its original Greek text, we begin unraveling what could be Paul’s intended meaning. If we read the end of v.48 in its word-for-word Greek translation, it goes like this:
“and – believed – as many as – were – appointed – to – life – eternal.”
There’s two key words when studying this passage, first is the word believed; interpreted from the Greek word episteusan, which is derived from pisteuo – “to have faith in“. Secondly is the word appointed, which comes from the Greek tasso, it’s a military expression literally translated – “to assign” or even “to commission“. Notice the word for appointed here is not the word we find for predestined or foreordained, which is proorizo. Thus one could reasonably interpret this scripture to read something like:
“and as many as believed (had faith) were assigned to eternal life.”
This translation parallels with the language of scripture throughout the bible:
John 3: 16
“For God so loved the world that whoever believes(has faith) in him, shall not perish but have life eternal”
Mark 16: 16
“Whoever believes(whoever has faith) and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe (have faith) will be condemned.”
The bible makes it quite clear, faith comes by hearing the word of God; and God gives man free-will in choosing whether to obey or disobey the word of the Lord. We further understand this truth in Jeremiah 18: 7-10
“if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.”
This passage clearly illustrates the harmony between Gods sovereignty and mans free will. While its a common assumption that God foreknew every decision that man was ever going to make, this is not what the bible teaches us. God is sovereign over the affairs of man, He has not predetermined them, meaning He can do what He wants when He wants to do it, He could shine his glory down and reveal his power and make all the heathens call out to him in fear and trembling, but this is not what God desires, for he establishes the righteous through faith, as it says “the just shall live by faith”.
Ultimately God is orchestrating a divine work in the world, but this is not to say that He predetermines our choices. Rather He continually yields to will of man just as the prophet Jeremiah describes. In Genesis 6: 5-6 we understand that God neither predetermined nor foresaw the wickedness of his creation.
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he made man on earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”
The Lord mourned and repented that He ever made man on the earth! This hardly depicts the creator who preordained everything that was ever going to happen, but rather reveals Gods unique vulnerability to the choices of his creation.
Those who advocate the doctrine of election will often argue that while Gods predetermination and man’s free-will are impossible to reconcile in the human mind, we simply need to receive it by faith. While I acknowledge there are qualities of God which our earthly minds can’t comprehend, I feel that in this case this argument is conveniently being used to bridge the gap between false doctrine and what the scripture actually teaches.