Baptizo–The Word Study

I’m going to initiate the series of posts regarding the Church’s baptismal beliefs and application with a word study. As many of you already know, we engage in a word study to discover the meaning ( or range of meanings ) of a specific word in its native language, and then to compare it to our understanding of its equivalent in our modern tongue. Our objective in study is to gain a deeper understanding of the Scriptures in order to assess our application of the Word to life. In the case of baptism, we are blessed by the fact that the meaning of the word is not in dispute and the English cognate verb carries the same meaning as the Greek verb.


Βαπτιζω  [ transliteration = baptízō ]

Baptízō  is a derivation of the word Báptō [βαπτω], both of which start from the stem bap-, meaning ‘dip’. The New Testament use of báptō is in the literal form only, that of dipping an object into another substance:

Luke 16:24 … ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue…’

John 13:26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”

In the same sense, the word is also used to describe the action involved in dying a piece of fabric. This usage is found in Revelation:

Rev 19:13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.


Baptízō is used in its familiar sense in the NT. When the word is encountered it is clear in its meaning as the act of ceremonially washing for the purpose of spiritual purification. The book of Acts provides a summary example:

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

The word carries a further connotation as the cause of a religious experience:

Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Mark 10:38 “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”


No sources dispute the meaning of the term, so why do a word study? The doctrine of baptism raises three main questions, the meaning of the act, the proper method of baptizing and who should be baptized. We will discuss sprinkling versus immersion in later posts, but much of the discussion will surround the root meanings of the word that describes the practice. Examining these topics cause us to dig into the definitions, semantic domain and usage of the words in order to arrive at a God honoring conclusion.

Grace and peace to you.

John 3:16 ~ Hope for All?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (NASB)

Perhaps the best known all Bible verses, John 3:16 is a “twenty-six-word parade of hope: beginning with God, ending with life, and urging us to do the same.” (Lucado) It is a safe bet to say that a majority of Christians have memorized this verse and though not many would correctly place it in the context of a conversation with Nicodemus, most would be able to apply the first rule of hermeneutics to it; the plain reading of a passage is usually the best. Theologically, Arminians will point to the passage containing this verse ( 3:16-18 ) as one of many supporting a universal atonement while Calvinists will draw a finer point to the verse saying that Jesus was simply teaching only that atonement was not racially specific, that it would include both Jews and Gentiles (i.e. the World).

I recently read an exegetical study of this passage that was presented as the authoritative, final word (implied by the author and insisted upon by the blog poster who archived it) in the Calvinist/Arminian appropriation debate over the passage. Logically, a reader’s approach where there seem to be two clear-cut sides to a debate is to assume that if one side is right, the other must be wrong. Perhaps (as Blomberg, Klein, & Hubbard point out), given a specific text, the reader must consider the possibility that the verse has only a single meaning or whether it may accommodate several possible meanings on multiple levels. While going to the Greek is a necessary step in studying a New Testament verse, there is much more to consider when settling on the meaning of a passage. Responsible hermeneutics stands against the tendency to “proof-text” and pull verses out of their context and overall meaning in order to support or refute a specific doctrine.


The verse we are studying comes from the widely beloved Gospel of John, the book in the quartet of canonical gospels that stands apart from the Synoptics. Though there is no explicit claim of authorship within the book itself, it is generally accepted to have been written by the apostle John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Dating for the letter ranges from early second century ( 110-125 ) to mid to late first century (50 – 95), the exact choice of which does not affect the interpretation of our passage. What is important to note in examining the time in which the gospel is written is that an accurate interpretation is reliant upon an understanding of Judaism in the first century as it forms a thread throughout the book.

An outline of the book most often divides it into two larger parts: The Book of Signs (miracles) chapters 1 – 12 and The Book of Glory 13 – 20 with an epilogue in chapter 21. The subsections within the Book of Signs shows Jesus interacting with the institutions of Judaism and showing how His coming replaces a  Jewish symbol with something infinitely greater (water->living water; manna->living bread, etc.).  We find the verse under study in the Book of Signs in the third ‘sign, following the miracle at Cana where the Lord changes water into wine and the cleansing and the replacement of the Temple for worship. In the third sign, the Lord is approached by the Pharisee Nicodemus. Here, Jesus will reveal that his “glorification on the cross will be the turning point in which Judaism discovers its dissolution and renewal.” (Burge)

The Text

The near context of 3:16 is the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. In order to properly understand this verse, it is especially critical to place it in the near context and not to approach it as a discrete sentence. The context passage we will look at is 3:1-21 with the introductory verses of 2:23-25 included.

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”  (John 2:23 – 3:21  NIV)

The tail of Chapter Two follows the Lord’s clearing of the Temple and it leaves us with the editorial note on His knowledge of the corruption in the hearts of all men ( Gk. anthropos ). John introduces Nicodemus by linking his inner heart to that of all men mentioned previously ( “Now there was a man of the Pharisees” Gk. anthropos ) despite the recognition of his earthly authority that follows. He comes from the darkness to meet and interview Jesus and begins with an assessment of the stature of the Lord. Interestingly, Jesus responds with an answer to a question that was not asked, telling the Pharisee that one must be born again before gaining entry to the kingdom of heaven. A back and forth ensues with Nicodemus asking first how it is possible and then how can it be done until Jesus answers, a bit short perhaps, “you are a very prominent teacher of the very favored people of Israel and you don’t understand this?” [ Both Israel and teacher are preceded by the definite article lending this emphasis.]

The passage shifts to discourse on the part of Jesus starting in verse 10, with Nicodemus as His audience. Jesus says to him that if he, of all people, cannot see that the new birth was built on OT teaching, how would he be able to understand greater things. Verse 11 is often seen by commentators as a comment introduced by the author repeating a statement commonly spoken in the synagogue of the day repeating the Lord’s sentiment of verse 10. The Lord expresses the doctrinal challenges of Judaism through Nicodemus; if he were unable to understand matters that had been illustrated by material experience, he (and his fellow Jews) would be unable to grasp that which had no earthly analogy (Tenney).

Jesus draws an illustration from the Jewish Scriptures to make His meaning explicit . He refers back to a story recorded in Numbers 21 in which Moses is instructed in the way by which men and women could be saved from their venomous snake bites (death being the penalty for the rebellion against God). He is told to hoist a bronze snake upon a standard so that anyone who looks upon it might live. It was no doubt a startling image for Nicodemus, the serpent being the image of sin under judgement. In the same way, Jesus explains, the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may be saved. This is an important statement that the reader must not dismiss too quickly in order to get to 3:16 because the two are intertwined. Note the points of comparison that we must be aware of:

  1. The bronze serpent was prepared by the command of God.
  2. It was a symbol of salvation to men who were under the condemnation of sin and suffering from its effects.
  3. The curative power was available on the basis of faith rather than works – one need only look upon the serpent.
  4. The serpent was lifted on a banner staff ( a cross shaped implement ). John uses an important word (hypsoō) that is translated as “lifted up”, to be used again of the passion of Christ (8:23, 12:32,34)
  5. The destiny of the individual was determined by his or her response to God’s invitation.

A principle of hermeneutics that must not be violated when exegeting a typological passage is that we are not free to use our ingenuity to read into the text comparisons between the type and antitype upon which the text is silent.  James White publishes just such a bit of wishful thinking when his eisigesis of the type-comparison reads in a particularity needed to support his Calvinist theology. Specifically, he attempts to link a limited efficaciousness of the bronze serpent to the people of Israel and the proposed limited atonement offered through Jesus. He says [the serpent was] “only a means of deliverance for a limited population” reading into the text something that is both physically true but not theologically applicable. Does the text indicate that others outside the community are suffering from the snake venom? Are outsiders even present at the moment of redemption (the serprent being raised) to gaze upon it only to die? The answer to both is that we do not know but the text does not indicate in the affirmative.

At verse 16 we encounter an aspect of the original text that requires us to make a decision. Lacking quotation marks, orthographical marks, or an editorial break by the Evangelist, the words in many bibles continue in red leading the reader to assume that they are the words of the Lord. Many commentators disagree with the identification of the speaker indicating that the words in 16-21 are a commentary included by John to amplify the teaching of Jesus in the preceding verses. Carson points to the unique verbiage used in this pericope as being specific to John as one way of identifying authorship with Burge pointing to the tense of the immediate verse (16) as pointing to the already occurred death of Christ as further evidence of this break.

I will separate a closer examination of verse 16 for another section so I close out the textual context by looking at the Evangelist’s words in 17-21. Starting with ‘For’ (gar) in verse 17, he comments on the preceding verse extending the mission of the Christ in saving the world. Those who believe in the Savior will be saved while those who elect not to believe stand condemned in their sin. Their judgement due to their innate depravity is the default end; only by salvation can this terminus be changed. This is  the emphatic conclusion that John concludes the passage with. Interestingly, Nicodemus offers no counter or conclusion of his own.

The Greek

Verse 3:16 in the original text reads as follows:

Outwj gar hgaphsen o` qeoj ton kosmon( wste ton uion ton monogenh/ edwken( ina paj o`pisteuwn eij auton mh. apolhtai allV ech| zwhn aiwnionÅ

Translated directly, it reads as:


The first phrase ‘For God so loved the world’ leads to the first interpretive question; why is the verse not translated “God thus loved the world?” This might be expected given that the conjunction ‘for’ references the preceding verses and an example of God’s love that foreshadowed the Savior’s sacrificial act and the succeeding phrase which describes the uniqueness of the gift that fulfills it. In his exegetical paper, White dismisses any emphasis to God’s love opting for the straight translation of ‘in this way’ so we must ask if there is support for reading the adverb with emphasis or simply causation. Houtos in this context takes the form of an emphatic adverb (Lowe-Nida – 78.4) denoting a high degree. With God the author of the love and the resulting action being that He sacrifices His Son on the behalf of those He loves, contextually the English ‘so’ is the appropriate translation. Carson (The Gospel According to John) provides this grammatical structure in support of this reading, “houtos plus hoste plus the indicative instead of the infinitive emphasizes the intensity of the love.”

The second word of interest is ‘world’ or kosmos in the Greek. Some will attempt to apply a particularity to this word (e.g. world means only ‘the elect’) that is not justified by the context. An example of this attempted textual sleight of hand is written in The Five Points of Calvinism by Palmer where he says:

The answer to this objection [i.e. Christ is the propitiation  for the sins of the whole world] is that often, the Bible uses the words world and all in a restricted, limited sense.

Palmer attempts to support this assertion by comparing verses such as John 4:42 (Jesus is the savior of the world) and John 1:29 (He takes away the sin of the world) with Luke 2:1,2. In this verse Caesar Augustus calls  for a census of all of the Roman world to which Palmer (who, we should note conveniently does not quote the verse and leaves out the qualifier Roman) points out that all is not all. “For the Japanese, Chinese, and Anglo-Saxons did not enroll themselves.” Remember, context is important in interpretation and when we jump from the Johannine to the Lukan corpus we must make one shift but secondly, it is absolutely clear that the Doctor used world in a geographic sense in this verse, far different than the Johannine verses he compares it to. Despite any inferred megalomania on the part of the Caesar, it is clear that context clearly defines the usage and removes it from the theological discussion.

White’s paper attempts to maneuver the reader into the same territory staked out by Palmer. He states, “The wide range of uses of kosmos (world) in the Johannine corpus is well known.” The noun kosmos appears in the NT 186 times, with 78 occurrences in John’s gospel, 24 in his epistles, and 3 in Revelation. Verbrugge (The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words) and Kittel (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) agree that there are nuances to the word but in each case, they are all encompassing. It can mean (a) the universe or the world as the sum of all created things, (b) the sphere or place of human life, or (c) the whole of humanity. Each of these is linked by the thread of being a way of stating the totality of a created thing without a hint of particularism.

In John, the author’s use of kosmos is consistent in meaning the entire realm of humanity that stands in opposition to God while the context defines the different aspects of this totality to which it speaks. In 3:16 we must examine the kosmos in light of it being the object of God’s love. It is the very reason that God’s emphatic love is so astounding; even though the entirety of world is so utterly depraved, God loves it as His created order.  Continuing, we must examine the word in terms of the immediate context which includes verse 3:17. If there were a particularity to kosmos in 3:16 how would the same word be interpreted in verse 17?  Does the Lord come into a world (Jn 1:9) in which some are not condemned prior to His work upon the cross? No, the Son of Man came into a world already lost and condemned so that He might offer salvation to those who would believe. That is why Jesus is called the ‘Savior of the World’ (Jn 4:42). That some will not be saved is made clear in verses 18-21 but this does not modify God’s mission in sending the Son.

Though the world is thoroughly corrupted and stands under His judgment, the Creator loves His creation with such intensity that He gives it the most gracious gift possible, His only Son ( hoste ton huion monogene edoken.) There is little disagreement regarding the greatness of the Son in whom we are to place our faith but we do see an emphasis in this clause on the greatness of the gift. John places the object before the verb ( ton huion  before edoken ) emphasizing the unique, love-driven aspects of this gift. This gift, the one and only/only begotten Son ( monogenes ) is the ultimate act of grace, giving something of such uniqueness and value to a creation so utterly undeserving.

The result clause of the verse demonstrates the gift of grace that affords the salvation to all who will believe in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. The Greek phrase hina pas ho pisteuon is translated that whoever believes, a smoothing of the more wooden direct translation [in order] that all the one’s believing. The participle pisteuon form of the verb to believe (pisteuo) tells us something about the all/everyone who (pas) which precedes it, they are the ones who are believing. Many times, in order to read a specific theological system into this verse, the emphasis is placed on what it does not say (e.g. White’s exclamation that this phrase does not in any way introduce some kind of denial of particularity to the action.) This eisigesis is unnecessary since the full dimension of the Savior’s work is restated again in verses 18-21. Jesus’ ultimate purpose is the salvation of those in the world who believe in him (eis auton). Who is encompassed in this circle of possibility? All those men and women who exist in this world but who, by their depraved nature, habitually turn toward darkness by default. 

The final clause provides the promise given to those who believe in the Savior, they shall not perish but have eternal life ( me apoletai all eche zoen aiwnion.) The Greek word appolymai provides a starkly contrasting word to the idea of life eternal ( zoen aionion ) in that it describes something that is lost, destroyed, or has disappeared through violent ends. The believer will experience the opposite; they will posses or hold on to (eche) the new, eternal life to replace the old finite one.


The Calvinist will read this passage through the lens of humankind’s inability to believe. The theological construct posits that due to their thoroughly depraved nature, man cannot take advantage of this offer as he will not, of his own volition or will, believe in the redemptive work of the savior. The Calvinist may occasionally agree that the offer of eternal life is to all is implicit in this verse but turn right around and say that it is impossible to redeem outside of the abilities provided to the elect. In other words, man has no way on his own to take advantage of this promise. This verse ( and others of similar dimension: 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned; 6:37 whoever comes to me I will never drive away; Rev 22:17 whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.) causes the Calvinist to apply unwarranted definitions to the terms all, whoever, everyone, world, et al. in which they find that each means only a specific group, an interpretation unsupported by the context.

There is further a disturbing practice amongst Calvinist interpreters to reach for the negative space in a passage in their search for theological support. White’s paper on this verse (which prompted this study) is wrought with highlights of what is not written in the text rather than what is. For example, he examines the clause ‘whoever believes’ and tells us that these words [do] “not in any way introduce some kind of denial of particularity to the action.” Granted, this may be true but is the conclusion warranted by either the author or the context? Does John go on to define whoever as those elected prior to the creation to receive eternal life? I do not believe the answer to either of these questions is in the affirmative. Attempts to limit the scope of this passage and others of similar dimension to a select few require eisigesis driven by theology rather than careful exegesis driven by the text alone, which should then in turn, be reflect in our theology. A sober example of reading one’s theology into this passage is given by John Owen as he restates the passage in his own words:

God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved. (Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ)

Besides the fact that this interpretation is in no way supported by the Greek text, it runs directly counter to God’s repeated command not to add or subtract from His word (Dt 4:2).

Another attempt at constraint is found in the oft-repeated Calvinist response that non-Calvinists are mis-characterizing or misunderstanding God’s love. Again we reach to the negative;  by leaning on the Lord’s words in Isaiah 55:9 ” As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” for support, the Calvinist is prompted to say that we cannot understand God’s love in human terms. This of course is the foundation for their definition of love in supralapsarian terms; God shows His love in His way by creating some for redemption and others for destruction and we are not to attempt to understand how this demonstrates His love, simply accept it. To the contrary though, the Genesis account shows us that the image of the creator was sullied by original sin, our innate sense of love was not removed. I believe that it is from the creator that we reserve the ability to love others contrary to our self-serving nature which would naturally see others as competition. 

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.

2 Co 5:14-19

That God desires all (meaning all and not some nor a few select) men to be saved is clearly stated throughout the Bible. If John is unsatisfactory, we can turn to Paul who says “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3-4) or Peter who turns the phrase “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Had the Lord intended to convey the meaning of some men or a very narrow spectrum of humankind, was it not possible for the Spirit to clearly convey this to the authors? Spurgeon himself comments on those manhandle the text in an attempt to extract a theological truth that is absent. He says “‘All men,’ they say–that is, some men; as if the Holy Ghost could not have said some men if had meant some. All men, say they; that is some of all sorts of men; as if the Lord could not have said ‘All sorts of men’ if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written ‘all men,’ and unquestionably he means all men.” (Spurgeon, his sermon “A Critical Text – C.H. Spurgeon on 1 Timothy 2:2-4)

Where Do We Find "Baptism in the Spirit"?

In order to develop an understanding of the doctrine of spirit baptism, we must explore the different contexts in which the event occurs or is alluded to within the context of the biblical record. There are seven passages in the New Testament where we see someone baptized in the Holy Spirit. Depending on the translation, we may read the dative preposition en (as in en pneumati) translated as ‘with’ or ‘in’ giving us the phrases ‘in the Spirit’ or ‘with the Spirit’. Both are grammatically acceptable and are used interchangeably in the discussions of this topic. The first quartet of verses finds John the Baptist speaking of the Lord and pointing forward to a time in which He will baptize people with the Holy Spirit:

    Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

    Mark 1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

    Luke 3:16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

    John 1:33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

The next pair of verses refer directly to Pentecost.

    Acts 1:5 [Jesus says] For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

    Acts 11:16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

The final passage comes from Paul in his writings to the the Corinthians. There is an exegetical question about whether or not this refers to the same action as in the other verses.

    1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

A cognate activity also found in Scripture is found in those verses which refer to being ‘filled with the Spirit.’ In the biblical context, those filled with the Holy Spirit exhibit the experiential elements of the filling as demonstrated in a supernatural enablement to witness for the Lord. In the Gospel of Luke, there are three verbal phrases and one of the noun cognate ‘full of the spirit’, the result of the action:

    Luke 1:15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.

    Luke 1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

    Luke 1:67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

    Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,

In the Acts of the Apostles:

    Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

    Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!

    Acts 4:31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

    Acts 9:17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord– Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here– has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

    Acts 13:9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said,

    Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Finally, there is a part of a well known passage in Ephesians:

    Ephesians 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

As we explore this topic further, other passages will be introduced in which various groups find similar meaning. We will stop here for the time being as the next step is to explore the variety of views that are held on this topic, starting with the dominant evangelical position. Until then, be at peace.

Acts 13:48 An Exegetical Study

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (NIV)

Acts 13:48 is a verse that has drawn much attention both as a proof text in support of a theology (e.g. Steele, Thomas The Five Points of Calvinism pp 33, 35, 60; Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book III Ch. 24) and more specifically, the doctrine of unconditional election. This verse is often pointed to as “the divine side of evangelism” (Bible Exposition Commentary), saying that one of the key words, variously translated as Ordained or Appointed, connotes those who are written in the Book of Life (Phil 4:3, etc.) and destined to everlasting life, saved from perdition.

This same verse which is said to emphasize God’s sovereignty in election and salvation is also many times is seen as a mandate to evangelization so as to draw people to our Savior. Greg Laurie (Growing Your Church Through Evangelism and Outreach pp. 139), for example, says that by evangelism people must be persuaded to come to the work of the Spirit. Sometimes, he points out, two invitations are necessary in order to give people an opportunity to make a choice for Christ.

In the debate of continuous interest–Calvin versus Arminius–this same verse is said support both the monergistic and synergistic points of view. The Calvinist reads it as a declaration of the election of certain of humankind to salvation and the Arminian agrees. Those who interpret scripture through the Arminian-Wesleyian framework say yes, individuals are appointed for life eternal and that this appointment is made by God but, contrary to the Calvinist position, this gift must be received by a man or woman in order to be effectual.

Can this Word of God be rightly divided in such a way that it means everything that is attributed to it? Or, when placed back into its larger context and read in its original Greek form, does it lean heavily to one side or the other. The purpose of this study will be to help you decide the meaning of this verse and how it affects our reading of other verses and passages in God’s revelation to us. Though you may be tempted to read this simply to find affirmation of your particular theological framework, I urge you to approach this (and the study of all Scripture) prayerfully and with a heart open to movement and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The Lukan Corpus

Proof-texting can be a disingenuous practice if the verse or passage that one chooses to utilize as support for a specific doctrine or practice has a different meaning when it is extracted from the larger context in which it was written. In order to properly evaluate a section of Scripture, it is critical that we locate that section within its surrounding material. Examining Acts 13:48 then requires us to look at the verse in the context of its immediate pericope, Luke’s description of Paul and Barnabas’ ministry in Pisidian Antioch, then the entire book of Acts and finally, the corpus of Luke’s writing, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

If we read Luke/Acts with the common focus of its historicity it is easy to miss the emphasis that the author places on the way of salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit. The progress (cf. Liefeld, Interpreting the Book of Acts, pp 41-42) of the gospel is recorded in a series of summary verses:

Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Acts 2:47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 4:4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

Acts 5:14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.

Acts 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

Acts 9:42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.

Acts 11:21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

Acts 12:24 But the word of God continued to increase and spread.

Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

Acts 19:20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

Acts 28:31 Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Salvation is a major theme in both Luke and Acts (Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian). In Luke, the verb “save” appears some seventeen times and thirteen times in Acts. “Savior” appears twice in each book and “salvation” shows up seven times in Acts (cf. soteria in 13:47-48) and two Greek words for “salvation” appear six times in Luke. In Luke the emphasis is appropriately placed on Jesus as the one who brought (was) God’s salvation. The focus in Acts is the extent of this salvation, open to all classes  of people — Gentiles, sinners, and the disenfranchised across all supposed geographic boundaries. Many Jews believed but the gospel did not end there; it went afar into the Gentile world where it was gladly received. Intertwined with these themes we find the related word “grace” in its theological sense of God’s work in an individual.

Liefeld (ibid. pp 93) suggests a further theme that runs through the twin volumes that is easily overlooked, the sovereignty of God and divine necessity. Necessity is defined as “what must be done to complete God’s sovereign plan.” Luke’s use of the word dei (“it is necessary”, “it must”) is frequent enough to warrant notice of a thread of divine intention running through the books. God is at the foundation of the kerygmatic impulse that propels Acts that finds two matching ideas that should not be separated: divine providence and the summons to obedience. As Fernando says (Fernando, NIVAC:Acts, pp 343) “Those who do seek after God , then, do not do so entirely by their own efforts but by the enlightening of their minds and the energizing of their wills by the Holy Spirit.” An example of these ideas is seen in the conversion of Lydia where the gospel message  is first presented to this successful woman and God then “opened here heart to respond to Paul’s message. (Acts 16:14).” An evangelistic principle is extracted from the Lukan examples. There is an interplay between human initiative and divine quickening which leads us to understand our responsibility and emphasizes that it is God who ultimately gives the results (ibid. pp 451) [cf. vv 26:18, 29].

Context Within Acts

It is generally recognized that Acts divides into two parts; the first (Chs 1 to 12) half having to do with Peter and the beginnings of the Church within the Holy Land and the second (Chs 13 to 28), with Paul and the movement of the gospel from Antioch to Rome. Recording Paul’s missionary journeys, the verse of interest occurs within the context of his first missionary adventure. To outline the immediate context of chapter 13 we can utilize clear breaks in the movement of narrative as our guide.

  1. Vv 1 to 3 – Paul and Barnabas are commissioned and sent
  2. Vv 4 to 12 – Ministry on Cyprus
  3. Vv 13 to 52 – Ministry in Pisidian Antioch
    1. vv 13 – 41 : Preaching Ministry
    2. vv 42 – 52 : The Effect of Paul’s Sermon

The nearest context of interest in this narrative locates Paul and his companions ministering in Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they enter the synagogue and await the movement of the Spirit. They don’t wait long as the synagogue leadership asks them to share a “message of encouragement.” (v 15) Paul delivers much more than they bargained for. He rehearses the history of God’s dealings with Israel and now His movement to the Gentiles leading up the death and resurrection of the Savior Christ. Paul proclaims the good news that forgiveness of sins through Jesus is available to “everyone who believes.” (v 39) The power of the gospel message and dire warning that Paul issues at the close garners him a second invitation to preach on the next Sabbath.

Paul returns to the synagogue to find nearly the entire population of the city gathered to “hear hear the word of the Lord.” (v 44) This surge in attendance did not sit well with the Jews who abused Paul and the gospel message that he delivers. Paul, never one to cower in the face of a challenge, speaks “boldly” (v 46) pointing out that the Jews were the first to receive the revelation of the justification available through Jesus but, he continues “since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life” (v46) Paul is guided to take the message to a new people. When the Gentiles hear their place in God’s plan “they were glad and honored the word of the Lord;” resulting in their belief. This movement of the Spirit caused a stir in the whole region resulting in further abuse by the Jews driving Paul’s band on to Iconium. “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (v52)

A careful reading of the verse being examined finds that it is a necessary counterbalance to the emphasis on human will and choice that precedes it in the passage. It does not abrogate the previous references but reinforces the the divine imperative that regenerates the human soul and makes repentance and belief possible. “All those who believed “were appointed for eternal life” It is never merely a person’s own choice that saves them, it is always God’s love and mercy.” (Fernando, NIVAC) Williams has a similar view of the verse (NIBC) “The idea of appointment in this verse is not meant in a restrictive sense. The thought is not of God limiting salvation to the few, but of extending it to the many, in contrast to the exclusiveness of the Jews. And of course this divine choice did not obviate the need for personal faith.”

Word Study

Irving Jensen has said, “Just as a great door swings on small hinges, so the important theological statements of the Bible often depend upon even the smallest words, such as preposition and articles.” (Jensen, Enjoy Your Bible) A single word is often at the center of the life giving doctrines of the Bible and, in order to understand them, we must study the specific words in their original context. We begin then by examining Acts 13:48 in its Greek form:

Acts 13:48 akouonta de ta.eqnh ecairon kai. edoxazon ton logon tou/ kuriou kai.episteusan osoi hsan tetagmenoi eij zwhn aiwnion\


akouonta de ta.eqnh ecairon

And hearing            the nations      rejoiced

kai. edoxazon    ton logon tou/ kuriou

and  glorified [honored]       the word           of the     Lord

kai.episteusan osoi    hsan

and        believed           as many as       were

tetagmenoi      eij  zwhn  aiwnion\

having been disposed        to  life                   eternal

The word of most interest to this discussion is tetagmenoi (tetagmenoi), a form of the verb tassw (tasso). Before parsing the verb, let’s establish the root definition. [Highlighted phrases and sentences added to point to references of the verse being examined.]

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament – Gerhard Kittel

The basic definition of this word means to appoint, to order, with such nuances as to arrange, to determine, to set in place, to establish, and (in the middle form) to fix for oneself.

LXX: senses are to appoint, to prohibit, to ordain, to set, to draw up, and middle to command, to make disposition, to fix, to turn one’s gaze, to set one’s heart, and to make.

NT: in Acts 15:2 – to determine / Acts 28:23 to appoint / Mt 28:16 to order. Christians are ordained to eternal life in Acts 13:48; conferring of status rather than foreordination is the point.

The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words – Verlyn D. Verbrugge

tasso – Arrange, appoint / protasso – command, appoint / diatasso – command, order / diatage – ordinance, direction / epitasso – command, order / epitage – order, injunction

This word is common in classical Greek. Its first meaning is military: draw up troops (or ships) in battle array. From this verb it came to mean direct or a appoint someone to a task, arrange, setup , put things or plans in order. All these verbs and nouns imply an acknowledged authority and power residing in the person from whom decisions or directives issue.

In the LXX the words in this word group are used with both God and humans as the arranging or directing agents.

NT: tasso is used 8 times and means some order or arrangement that has been made. It denotes God’s appointment of the “authorities that exist” (Rom 13:1), of Paul’s career assignment (Acts 22:10) and of individual persons’ “appointed” for eternal life through believing the gospel (Acts 13:48). In the middle Voice it means to make a mutual arrangement [Taxamenoi] (Acts 28:23)

Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains – J.P. Louw & E.Nida

37.96 τάσσωa; ὁρίζωb; ἀναδείκνυμιb; τίθημιb: to assign someone to a particular task, function, or role—‘to appoint, to designate, to assign, to give a task to.’

τάσσωa : ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον ‘those who had been designated for eternal life became believers’ Ac 13.48. Though τάσσω in Ac 13.48 has sometimes been interpreted as meaning ‘to choose,’ there seems to be far more involved than merely a matter of selection, since a relationship is specifically assigned.

ὁρίζωb : ὁ ὡρισμένος ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ κριτής ‘the one designated by God as judge’ Ac 10.42.

ἀναδείκνυμιb : ἀνέδειξεν ὁ κύριος ἑτέρους ἑβδομήκοντα δύο ‘the Lord appointed another seventy-two men’ Lk 10.1.

τίθημιb: ἔθηκα ὑμᾶς ἵνα ὑμεῖς ὑπάγητε καὶ καρπὸν φέρητε ‘I appointed you to go and bear much fruit’ Jn 15.16.

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature – Frederick Danker / Walter Bauer

  1. To bring about an order of things by arranging, arrange, put in place
    1. Of an authority structure passive
    2. Of a person: Put into a specific position, used with a preposition. (in the passive, belong to, be classed among those possessing) (Acts 13:48) Mt 8:9 Lk 7:8 1 Cor 16:15

When we parse the verb, we discover that it can be read in two forms. This is because “in the present tense, the middle and passive forms of the verb are identical” (Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek). Accordingly, many lexicons and other language tools will show two parsings side by side:

1. participle perfect passive nominative masculine plural

2. participle perfect middle nominative masculine plural

A little grammar to begin that you can skip if Greek is second nature to you. A participle (in English and Greek, a verbal adjective) has the characteristics of both a verb and an adjective. It has a tense (present, aorist, perfect) and a voice (active, middle, passive) like a verb and as an adjective it agrees with the word that it modifies in case, number, and gender. The tense describes the type of action denoted:

  • present – describes a continuous action
  • aorist – presents an undefined action – the participle describes the action without commenting on the nature of the action
  • perfect – describes a completed action with present effects

The voice refers to the relationship between the subject and the verb.

  • active – the subject does the action of the verb – Bob threw the ball. Threw is active because Bill did it.
  • passive – the subject receives the action of the verb – Bob was hit by the ball. Was hit is passive because Bill was hit.
  • middle – the action of the verb in some way affects the subject – The closest we can come with Bob and the ball is Bob hits himself with the ball.

It is an important footnote to this discussion to note that Luke is aware of and uses a variety of Greek words having the same meaning as the verb in question (appointed, ordained). See his usage in Luke 2:23, 10:1 and Acts 3:20, 6:3, 10:42, 12:21, 14:23, 15:12, 17:31, 22:10, 22:14, 26:16 & 28:23.

[Note that the discussion of middle versus passive voice is also a component of the Cessationist debate over the spiritual gift of tongues. The verb that Paul selects is pausontai which can also be parsed in the middle or passive voice. In 1 Cor 13:8, the verse can be read to indicate that the gift of tongues will cease or the gift of tongues will cease in and of itself.]


As I stated at the outset, the purpose of this study is not to present to you a conclusive reading of this important verse. What I have done is survey the scholarship and presented my findings to you in an orderly manner so that you can prayerfully decide what the appropriate reading and application of this verse is. Do not allow your theology to be determined solely on the word of others and a proof-text list. God has provided his revelation so that each of us can determine, given the entire scope of Scripture, the appropriate rendering of his Word and the aspects of His character and action that each reveals. Proof-texting that inappropriately “helicopters” in (as my beloved Dr. Carroll used to say) and pulls a verse out of its surrounding context is an incorrect way of dividing the Holy Word.

God bless you all in your study.


A fine analysis of this passage by William Birch can be found here.

A Quick Word Study from John 6:44

This brother over at The Everyday Christian is working his way through the TULIP tenets and, in his discussion of Unconditional Election, he mentions that he is wrestling with John 6:44. This verse is often discussed in this context, specifically because of the (English) word draws. To draw someone or something in English implies either an attraction or a compulsion in the form of forcibly pulling the object toward a target location. To derive meaning from our Bible, especially where there can be multiple meanings, we must turn to the original Greek.

Here is the verse in English:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. (NIV)

And now in Greek:

οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.

And here is the Greek with the English translation beneath it:

οὐδεὶς    δύναται      ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ     πατὴρ ὁ    πέμψας με                ἑλκύσῃ            αὐτόν, κἀγὼ

No one  can [to]      come    to me unless         Father       having sent me      should draw        him     and I

ἀναστήσω       αὐτὸν    ἐν τῇ     ἐσχάτῃ    ἡμέρᾳ.

Will raise up   him       in the     last         day

The word we are most interested in is helkō.  [Kittel – Theological Dictionary of the New Testament] The basic meaning is to draw, tug, or in the case of persons, compel. The Semitic world has the concept of an irresistible drawing to God ( ie: Hos 9:7)  Here it expresses the force of love. This is the point in the two important passages in John 6:44 and 12:32. There is no thought here of force. The term figuratively expresses the supernatural power of the love of God or Christ which goes out to all but without which no one can come. The apparent contradiction shows that both the election and the universality of grace must be taken seriously; the compulsion is not automatic.

[Bauer: Danker – A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature] Bauer lists three meanings:

  1. To move an object from one area to another in a pulling motion – draw with implication that the object being moved is incapable of propelling itself or in the case of persons is unwilling to do so voluntarily, in either case with implication of exertion on the part of the mover (cf: James 2:6, Acts 21:30)
  2. To draw a person in the direction of values for inner life. This is the usage in John 6:44 and 12:32 – Well testified outside of NT
  3. To appear to be pulled in a certain direction

[Louw-Nida – Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains] LN leans toward the use of force, but there is little testimony about alternative usage.

My purpose here is not to reinforce my chosen interpretation of this key word in the verse. Theologically, we must place this word into its immediate context, the context of the book of John, and then the New Testament as a whole in order to decide which of the possible translations is most appropriate. In this verse, the theologian is faced with this question: does God draw persons to himself by force or does He move them toward himself by His love?

Updated 08/21/07:

See this brother’s discussion of this important verse in the post “Does John 6:44 Teach Irresistible Grace?