02 September, 2016

Acts 7:42—“Then God turned, and 'gave them up' to worship the host of heaven”

Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness (Acts 7:42).

This text is often appealed to for proof of a general operation of the Holy Spirit whereby the progress of corruption is checked in the fallen human nature so that he is not totally depraved.  

The argument is that the phrase “to give them up” or “He gave them over” means a “ceasing from restraining them any longer.” This is how the 1924 Synod of Kalamazoo read this and all the other passages, as if they merely signified that, whereas God formerly restrained the mad course of the ungodly, He now let them go and allowed them to run their own way to destruction. In this way, the synod arrived at the conclusion that, although these passages do not directly speak of a restraint of sin, they do presuppose such a restraint on the part of God as preceding the moment of the giving up.


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Common Grace Considered (2019 edition), pp. 213-214]

The meaning of [this text] is … that God punishes sin with sin.  God’s wrath is revealed in His terrible judgments upon the wicked. One of those judgments is that God pushes, as it were, the sinner into greater sin. Romans 1 [also] uses the language, “gives them over.”  Idolaters, who change the glory of God into an image made like unto corruptible man, are punishedby being given over to homosexuality.  History is replete with examples of this. God is, after all, sovereign.  He gives the sinner over to the sin that his wicked heart craves.  Sin multiplies and becomes worse.  And all this takes place until the cup of iniquity is filled. But all this has nothing to do with any kind of “inner restraint of sin in the hearts of the wicked.”



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)


[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (1947), pp. 372-374]

22.   Is this interpretation [i.e. that the phrase “to give them up” or “He gave them over” merely means a “ceasing from restraining them any longer”] tenable?
No, for in the first place it does not allow the full significance to the term “to give up” or “to give over.” The word used in the original in the passages quoted by synod is frequently employed in Scripture and always refers to a positive act of delivering up. Thus the word is used in all the four gospel narratives to denote the act of Pilate whereby the he delivered up Jesus to be crucified, where the word certainly cannot signify the same as “to let go.” And in this sense it is used in many other places, while it never has the meaning which the synod would ascribe to it in the passages quoted. Hence, the interpretation of synod distorts the true meaning of Scripture in these passages.

23.   Is there not another reason why the interpretation of synod is untenable?
Yes, the reason namely, that no such restraint of sin can possibly be presupposed as preceding the moment of the “giving up” in any of the passages quoted. The very opposite is true. In Psalm 81:11, 12 and Acts 7:42 the reference is to wicked Israel, to whom God had sent His word by Moses and the prophets, but who had constantly revealed that they would not hearken to the voice of the Lord. They had not been restrained by an operation of common grace, but, on the contrary, they were hardened in sin. Sin had taken its course and over against the Word of God had hardened their hearts. It was then that the Lord turned to give them up to worship all the host of heaven. The giving up, therefore, is a positive act of God as a punishment for their sin in which they had developed and increased.
Still more clearly evident this is in the passages which synod quoted from the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans. From verses 18-23, the apostle certainly does not describe a restraining influence of the Holy Spirit upon the wicked heathen world, whereby the heathen had lived a morally good life in this world, but, on the contrary, speaks of a manifestation of the wrath of God from heaven all through the ages of history, from the very beginning of the world’s sinful course against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in ungodliness. Instead of common grace, wrath is, therefore, revealed from heaven. And instead of a tolerably good life as a fruit of the operation of the Holy Spirit, there is found in men a holding of the truth in unrighteousness. They knew God, but they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful. And what was God’s attitude over against this ungodliness of wicked men? Did He restrain them? Did He cause a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts, so that they would not corrupt themselves? The very opposite is taught in the passages which synod quotes. He gave them over. He made them foolish, so that they worshipped men and beasts and creeping things. And not only did He deliver them up to religious folly and darkness, but He also gave them up to moral uncleanness and corruption, to vile affections, to a reprobate mind, to do things which are not convenient.
Except for the fact, then, that the synodical committee that composed the three points and the synod after them blindly followed Dr. A. Kuyper, Sr., in the use and application he makes of these passages, it may be considered inexplicable that these passages were at all adduced in support of the second point. They teach the very opposite from that which synod attempted to set forth.


[Source: The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (RFPA, 2015), p. 406]

Further, synod referred to a triplet of texts, Psalm 81:12–13; Acts 7:42; and Romans 1:24–26, 28, which teach that God gives the sinner over to all manner of evil, iniquity, and corruption. No exegesis can possibly deduce from these passages the doctrine of a general operation of the Holy Spirit whereby the progress of corruption is checked in the fallen human nature. Directly the texts teach exactly the opposite, for “to give over” is the very opposite of “to restrain.” Nor do the texts presuppose a restraint by the Holy Spirit prior to the giving over.



More to come! (DV)

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