Friday, June 10, 2011

Rob Bell, Predestination, and Eternal Life

In Acts 13:48, Luke makes a very fascinating observation: καὶ ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον. This sentence begins with the coordinating conjunction “and.” A literal translation based on the Greek construction goes like this: “and they believed, all those who had been appointed (designated, determined) for eternal life.” In this blog, we will discuss the consequences of rejecting the biblical teaching on predestination in terms of the Rob Bell controversy. If Rob Bell understood this doctrine better, or simply allow Scripture to inform him on this subject as opposed to forcing his humanistic view of God onto the rest of his theological scheme, perhaps he would be in a better position.

The first observation is that this text appears in the historical setting of Paul turning away from the Jews to preach to the Gentiles. What is interesting is that in verse 46, Paul rebukes the Jews, telling them they have judged themselves unworthy of eternal life. What rationale does Paul provide for his supposition? They repudiated the word of God, says Paul. In other words, they refused to believe the gospel that Paul and Barnabas delivered to them. Conversely, the Gentiles believed. What was the dissimilarity between those who believed and those who repudiated the word of God? The contrast is located in verse 48. Hence, Paul introduces the controversial doctrine of predestination. The difference is in the Greek word tetagmenoi. Those who believe do so because God designated, from eternity past, that they will do so.

The Greek word episteusan is in the aorist tense which indicates this act took place at some point in the past. So who believed? The answer to that question is in the phrase osoi hsan tetagmenoi. Literally, he says “all the ones who had been designated.” This word appears eight times in the NT. In Matt. 28:16 it refers to a “mountain which Jesus had designated.” In Luke 7:8 It refers to a man of authority, having soldiers placed under him. It Acts 15:2 it is used to explain that the disciples determined who would accompany Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 22:10 is describes Paul’s ministry which he had been appointed to do. In Acts 28:23 it is used to describe the day that was set when the leaders would come to Paul and engage in dialogue with him concerning the Christian sect. It is clear that this word clearly indicates that this word clearly marks its object. In Acts 13:48 certain Gentiles had been appointed to eternal life and these are the ones who actually believed the gospel. The tense of this participle is also worth noting. This is a Greek perfect tense, which means that the action of determining and selecting these Gentiles to eternal life was completed at some point in the past. Moultmon points out that the perfect tense is “the most important, exegetically, of all the Greek Tenses. When a writer used the perfect tense, he usually had a very deliberate reason for doing so. The perfect tense indicates that the action was brought to completion in the past with the emphasis being on the present state of affairs. The perfect participle, which is what we have in this case, represents antecedent time. This means that God appointed these Gentiles to eternal life prior to an outward expression of faith. This emphasizes the work of God in salvation. This is the very foundation of salvation. God ordains, decrees, determines, chooses, selects whom He will to faith in Christ. If Rob Bell understood and accepted this teaching, he would have extreme difficulty with his view on hell. Who believed? Those whom God had already appointed to eternal life are the ones who believed.

In case you are wondering if this view appears anywhere in Christ’s discourses, the answer is yes it appears in John 6.

John chapter 6 is one of the most interesting chapters in the Bible. First of all, Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (v.44) Now the Greek translated into the English word, “can” means “ability.” In other words, what Jesus literally said is “No one has the ability to come to me…” I completely grant this contradicts the concept of “freewill” which, as a doctrine is so predominant in our society that people take for granted it is valid. After making this statement, a few verses later, Jesus emphasizes his point. In this periscope, John is explaining why some people don’t believe in Jesus and why, in the end, they will crucify him. Moreover, the key to that behavior emerges in the verse we just discussed. Jesus says in v. 64, “But there are some of you who do not believe in me. (For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him). And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” There you have it. Unless God grants a person the ability, they will NOT come to Christ. First, this means that men do not possess an inherent ability to come to Christ and this explains why they don’t. They love their sin! There are no good people in the world that deserve a chance to come to Christ. Such a radically specious understanding dismantles grace. The world hates God and despises His Christ. However, the converse of this is true. Everyone that hears and learns from the Father comes to me. The reason men believe is because they have been chosen. The reason we believe is directly attributable to the fact that we are His sheep. Back in v. 44 Jesus said the ones the Father draws to Christ, He will raise them up. He does not say he might. This means that everyone who has given the ability to come, in the end, comes to Christ. Jesus said in John 10:28, “The reason you do not believe Me is because you are not my sheep.” The Father gives the sheep to the Son. In additional, he does not lose any of them, not even one.

Rob Bell clearly dismisses the idea that God chooses people to salvation. In Rob Bell’s view of salvation, everything depends on man. Man must cooperate with God from the beginning to the end. In Rob Bell’s understanding of the cross, there were no guarantees that anyone would come to God in this life. In that view, the atonement accomplished nothing actually, but only made salvation possible. Everything else would be up to fallen humanity and who knows how that will go. I am glad that Christ, when He died at Calvary, did more than just make my salvation possible. I am glad He took my place and secured my home in heaven for eternity. I am glad that the Father chose me, and place me in the Son’s hand, and that no one take me out of His hand now. I was a God hater and while I was still a God hater, Christ saved me. That is grace!


  1. Vaniity , Vanitiy to think God chose you to be saved and didnt offer salvation to" ALL who would come" Jesus died for ALL but didnt make them accept it!! tsk and tsk

    1. You must be one of those fellows that think that God actually, really wants to the whole world without exception to be saved, but He just can't figure out how to get them the gospel. Or worse, you may be one of those that thinks that man can be saved apart from the gospel, that is that salvation exists outside of Christ. If that is the case, I have two words for you that might help. The good thing is that these words are very easy to remember: STOP IT!


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