26 June, 2018

Responses to an Interpretation of Acts 17:30-31 by Opponents of Duty-Faith

And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)

The following are a collection of responses to an interpretation of Acts 17:30-31 by some who deny “duty-faith”—the Reformed teaching that all men are seriously called by God (and therefore duty-bound) to repent and believe in Jesus Christ—opponents of “duty-faith” assert that only those who are regenerated or who show signs of regeneration are to be called to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, or at least those only are to be addressed in the preaching with regard to the call to repent and believe, etc.
The arguments of those who oppose duty-faith are indented. The responses are below each statement.

[It] is self-evident that God hath not given pistis (“faith”) in Christ’s resurrection [as a token of God’s impending judgement] unto all men, head for head. The “all men” of v.30 must correspond to the “all men” of v. 31. And since the Father and Jesus are one (John 10:30) in willing and doing, God cannot call more men to repentance, than His Son, Who explicitly says that He came NOT to call the [self] righteous, but [self] sinners to repentance. The Reformed principle of “analogy of faith” demands that the less specific, more general passages must be interpreted in light of more detailed statements. This principle is generally observed by the Reformed as regards the scope of the Atonement. The “all men” passages are customarily explained in light of more explicit statements concerning the beneficiaries of Christ’s atoning work. The same method is to be applied in reference to the gospel call—whom Christ calls to Himself. “And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk.5:31,32). (Anon.)

Acts 17:30 must refer to the elect alone; for Paul goes on to say that God “hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him [i.e., Jesus] from the dead” (v. 31). Since the word for assurance in verse 31 is pistis, which is commonly translated “faith,” and since God gives faith as a gift only to His elect, the “all men” in both verses 30-31 must refer only to the elect. (Anon.)

The word pistis does indeed mean faith, but its meaning is not determined merely from a lexicon, but from the context. The meaning of the phrase here is to furnish proof, to demonstrate something, that is, the resurrection of Christ proves to all men that Christ will judge the world on the Last Day. The resurrection of Christ is clear, objective proof—whether men will believe or not—that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). (Rev. Martyn McGeown, “An Answer to Phil Johnson’s ‘Primer on Hyper-Calvinism’”)

The argument against the plain teaching of Acts 17:30 from the context is foolish.  The context has Paul preaching to a crowd of idolaters in Athens, none of whom was a believer before Paul preached.  To these unbelieving heathens, the apostle preached that God now commands all men everywhere to believe:  “all men everywhere,” whereas formerly He winked at unbelief in heathen lands.  No one without the stubborn determination to deny a call to all hearers to believe would ever imagine that Paul in fact meant that most if not all of his Athenian hearers were not called to believe.  “Assurance” in verse 31 is certainty, or proof.  It is the certainty of a coming judgment.  All humans, unbelieving as well as believing, have the certainty of a future judgment conducted by Jesus, because of God’s raising Jesus from the dead to be the judge.  “All” in verse 31 is the same as “all men” in verse 30, and the reference is definitely to unbelievers as well as believers.  It is not only believers who make up the world that will be judged, but all humans without exception. (Prof. David J. Engelsma, 18/06/2018)

Is it not at all clear that Paul is, in fact, spiritually addressing the elect and regenerated among the Athenians?: For, in Acts 17:23, Paul mentions the altar “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” and goes on to say to them, “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” He speaks as though the “unknown God,” whom (some) of them were ignorantly (i.e. without proper knowledge) already worshipping, and the God he was about to speak about, were one and the same God …
In vv. 28-29, Paul says this: “For in him (the unknown God) we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his *offspring*. Forasmuch then as we are the *offspring of God*, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.”
Paul is surely spiritually addressing the elect, who, though being God’s “offspring / generation” by God’s decree and eternal covenant, yet up until now have been in the dark as to the proper worship and access to the unknown God. He is addressing those of them who have been made of the Spirit to seek and to feel after Him (v. 27).

This understanding of Acts 17 is mistaken.
I doubt that any expositor of the Bible has ever explained the passage in that way.  This is another criticism I have of the hyper-Calvinists:  They wrest Scripture to suit their erroneous teaching without any regard to the interpretation of passages by Reformed commentators before them.  Calvin wrote about the worship of the unknown God by the Athenians that they did “not know what they are worshipping, and do not have any definite deity.”  When Paul said that he preached the God whom they ignorantly worshipped, he was not “praising what the Athenians had done, but takes free material for teaching from their attitude, corrupt though it was.”  Read the entire commentary on the Acts 17 passage.
The Athenians were not believers when Paul preached the sermon of Acts 18.  They were idolatrous unbelievers who added to their pantheon of idols an unknown god in case they had missed one.  They were ignorant of the true God, which means that they lacked the knowledge that is faith.  Only a few believed after the apostle had preached the sermon of Acts 17 (v. 34). 
To this heathen, unbelieving audience, Paul gave the command in the name of God to repent (v. 30), which hyper-Calvinists would never do.  Contrary to their doctrine, God commands all men, not only believers, everywhere, including idolatrous Athens, to repent.  Thus is refuted the error of hyper-Calvinism. 
That humans are the offspring of God refers to the fact that originally God made man in His image and the evidence of this remains in all humans.  The opposite of image in the passage is gold, silver, etc., that is, whatever the idols of Athens are made of. (Prof. David J. Engelsma, 26/06/2018)

Regarding Acts 17:31, which says that the “pistis” (“faith”/“assurance”/“proof”) of this coming judgment by Jesus Christ has actually been given to all men by the fact that Christ has been raised … Seeing that not all men, head for head, “believe” in Christ’s resurrection, how could His resurrection be properly deemed a “certainty/proof” to them personally of Christ’s coming judgment? Wouldn’t the resurrection be proof of the coming judgment only to those who actually *believe* in the resurrection of Christ and acknowledge it as fact?

The assurance of verse 31 is exactly that:  assurance.  Regardless that men are and remain unbelieving, God has given them assurance, or proof, that God will judge the world by Christ in that He raised Christ from the dead.  That they reject the proof in unbelief does not negate the fact that the proof confronts them. 
Do not overlook that all the strained, false explanation of the passage is deliberate distortion of the passage, against the right interpretation of Calvin and of all Reformed exegetes after him, in order to escape the plain meaning of the text, namely, that the apostle of God commanded the idolaters of Athens to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ.  God now commandeth all men, not only believers, every where, not only at church, to repent. 
One implication of hyper-Calvinism’s false doctrine is that unbelievers are not responsible for, and guilty before God of, refusing to repent and believe—for God never commanded them to repent and believe.  What this means positively is that every passage in the Bible that condemns humans for their unbelief implies that God does indeed command unregenerated humans to repent and believe. (Prof. David J. Engelsma, 26/06/2018)


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  2. When Peter preaches in Acts 3 before an indiscriminate crowd whom he commands to "Repent and be converted" v.19 , he subsequently , as Paul in Acts 17:30,31 , associates the basis and purpose of the command to repent with the resurrection of Christ and teaches that the command reflects God's desire to bless each one of his hearers in so far as He wills to turn each one from his/her iniquities - that is , the resurrection demonstrates that God desires the salvation of each one in Peter's audience of Jews in the first place , but , by necessary implication , all the Gentiles next - which is to say that if Peter indiscriminately commands repentance and faith , then , according to the necessary implication of Peter's closing proposition , God sends this command with the purpose of blessing each one so commanded - and thus God desires to save "all men" indiscriminately on condition of repentance and faith - which is the necessary implication of the teaching of this blog that preachers indiscriminately address the command to repent and believe, when applied to Peter's sermon , which implication fully accords with this blog's "Common Grace" title.

  3. When Peter states in Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; - does not the apostle promise each one he commanded to repent and believe unto the forgiveness of their sins - so that Peter does not follow the formula of indiscriminate evangelical commands with a subsequent general promise to "He who obeys the command" but rather he promises all those whom he has commanded - that "your: sins may be blotted out. If Peter addresses all men indiscriminately does he not provide the example and justification to command and promise any man to repent and believe so that his sins may be forgiven? That is, would not an indiscriminate address by Peter of the promise of salvation to all those commanded to repent necessarily imply hypothetical universalism ?