By Spencer D Gear
If you want to see a Calvinist duck and weave in discussions, raise the issue of God’s foreknowledge in relation to Jesus’ death. They can get especially uncomfortable if you engage them on God’s foreknowledge in relation to a person’s salvation. They see that as aligned with one of their chief enemies – Arminians.
I met such a person on a leading Christian forum. He wrote:
Crucifixion. Planned and predestined.
“For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27, 28 HCSB)
Someone responded with a perceptive point:
Yet Acts 2:23 states; this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
God’s plans are always based on His foreknowledge, Just as Paul teaches in Romans 8:28-30, and 11:2, and as Peter teaches in 1 Peter 1:2 and 20. [BTW, they are all from the NASB.]
The Calvinist’s response was predicted: ‘”the predetermined plan”. Exactly. And it doesn’t say “foreknowledge of the crucifixion”’. This is typical of his one-liner kind of response. He does this ever so regularly. He is not known for his lengthy expositions to explain his positions.
A Calvinist commentator on God’s foreknowledge
My response was as follows:
Simon Kistemaker (courtesy Reformed Theological Seminary)
Calvinist commentator on the Book of Acts, Simon Kistemaker, refutes your understanding of Acts 2:23 with your wanting to exclude foreknowledge of the crucifixion. He wrote:
23. “This man was given up to you according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you by using lawless men nailed him to the cross and killed him.”
We note these two points:
a. God’s purpose. Peter intimates that the audience is fully acquainted with the trial and death of Jesus Christ. He employs the personal pronoun you in this verse to involve his listeners in assuming responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion. However, he views their accountability from a divine point of view. God is in complete control even though the Jews brought Jesus to trial and the Roman soldiers killed him.
Peter says that Jesus’ death occurred according to “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” The expression set purpose denotes a plan that has been determined and is clearly defined. The author of this set purpose is God himself (see 4:28). Peter removes any doubt whether God acted rashly in formulating his purpose to hand over Jesus to the Jewish people. He adds the term foreknowledge. With this word, Peter points to God’s omniscience by which every part of his plan is fully known to God in advance (I Peter 1:2). In his first epistle, Peter writes that “[Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world” (I Peter 1:20, NIV). And last, through all the Old Testament prophets, God foretold that Christ would suffer (3:18).
b. Man’s responsibility. Peter holds his audience responsible for Jesus’ death. In their view, “Jesus’ messianic claim and his death on the cross were irreconcilable, self-contradictory opposites” [Dulon 1975:473]. They know that “anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed [by God]” (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13). Peter opposes this view by pointing to God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge.
Here is an unresolved tension between God determining the death of his Son and man being held responsible for perpetrating the deed (see 3:17–18; 4:27–28; 13:27). God himself handed Jesus over to the Jews, who put him to death by nailing him to the cross. The Jews could not exonerate themselves by blaming Jesus’ death on the Romans, whom the Jews called “wicked men,” for they themselves had engaged the help of the Romans. Peter teaches that the Jews must be held accountable for killing Jesus (3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39). The Jews must see all the aspects of God’s plan. Thus Peter says,
24. “God raised him up, having freed him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for him to be kept in its power” (Kistemaker 1990:93-94).
Günter Dulon in his examination of the etymology of the Greek word horizw used in Acts 2:23 explained that
‘Jesus’ messianic claim and his death on the cross were irreconcilable, self-contradictory opposites for the Jews. Peter wished to counter this offence by showing that it was God’s “deliberate (hwrismene) will and plan’ (Acts 2:23 NEB) by which Jesus was crucified by blinded Jewry. Similarly in Lk. 22:22 the Son goes the way “determined” by God for him, “but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed”. It is this Jesus who is the one “ordained” by God to be the judge of the last judgment (Acts 10:42).
Paul made a similar statement to the Areopagus. After God had “determined” allotted periods and boundaries for the men that he had created so that they should seek him, he “appointed” a man to judge the world on the day appointed for it (Acts 17:26, 31)’ (Dulon 1975:473).
In this Calvinist poster’s response here, in my understanding of NT Greek, he has violated some fundamentals of the Greek grammar of Acts 2:23 and Kistemaker, a Calvinist from his own camp, and Dulon have exposed some of his exegesis of this passage. The facts are that Acts 2:23 teaches God’s set purpose in the trial and death of Jesus involved God’s foreknowledge.
However, it is too easy for us to think of God’s foreknowledge from our human perspective. That is not the case when we are dealing with the attributes of God. Richard Lenski’s commentary (he was a Lutheran) helped me gain a better handle on how God’s ‘deliberate will and plan’ involved ‘foreknowledge’ in Christ’s death:
‘In what way God delivered Jesus up to die on the cross [Acts 2:23] is indicated by the weighty datives [cases] of means. The success of the betrayal by Judas, which placed Jesus into the power of the Sanhedrin, was due to no cunning or power of men (Matt. 26:53, 54; Luke 22:53b). The death of Jesus was due to “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”; the perfect participle horismene, “having been fixed or determined on,” places the counsel of God back into eternity. God formed his plan of salvation, which involved the sacrificial death of his Son, in eternity and therefore alone gave him over to the murderous Jews. The divine counsel comes first, and on it rests the divine, infallible foreknowledge. The relation of the two is not one of time – in God no before and after exists – but of inward connection. When we consider the actions of men, this relation is reversed; what God determines in eternity regarding them rests on his infallible foreknowledge. “Counsel” and “foreknowledge” are not identical; to make them one and the same is to misunderstand both. The “foreknowledge” is misunderstood when it is regarded as an action of the will, a determination to do something and thus knowing it in advance’ (Lenski 1934:83).
So Acts 2:23 involves God’s ‘set purpose and foreknowledge’ but understood from the perspective of God’s attributes and actions. I find the Calvinistic poster was dodging the issue when he wanted to exclude God’s foreknowledge in relation to Jesus’ passion.
A Calvinist’s piffling response
How do you think the Calvinist who doesn’t believe in God’s foreknowledge in Acts 2:23 would respond to the exegesis I provided above? His unreasonable and irrational response was to ask a question: ‘Why do you think that refuted my understanding?’
So my response was very pointed: I go to all of the effort of showing you the exegesis of Acts 2:23 to demonstrate that you are WRONG in your denial of God’s ‘foreknowledge’ regarding the death of Jesus, and you have the audacity to give me this one liner:
This again demonstrates that you are not serious about giving answers of substance. You have proven to me that I waste my time giving extended responses to you. I wrote 1,054 words to refute your perspective and you come back to me with 8 words. That’s a disgrace.
How much clearer can it be?
Please take a read of all of these translations of Acts 2:23:
New International Version: This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
English Standard Version: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
New American Standard Bible : this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
King James Bible: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
New King James Bible: Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;
Holman Christian Standard Bible: Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him.
International Standard Version: After he was arrested according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified this very man and killed him using the hands of lawless men.
NET Bible: this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.
Aramaic Bible in Plain English: “This one, who was separated to him for this, in the foreknowledge and will of God, you have betrayed into the hands of the wicked, and you have crucified and murdered.”
Jubilee Bible 2000: him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,
King James 2000 Bible: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
American King James Version: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
American Standard Version: him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay:
Douay-Rheims Bible: This same being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain.
Darby Bible Translation: — him, given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye, by [the] hand of lawless [men], have crucified and slain.
English Revised Version: him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay:
Revised Standard Version: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
New Revised Standard Version: this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.
The New Living Translation says the same thing but in simpler language:
New Living Translation: But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.
What do these translations teach in regard to God’s foreknowledge? All of them make it clear that Jesus was delivered over to the Jews and lawless men according to the determined plan AND foreknowledge of God. It cannot be stated more clearly, but this Calvinist has great difficulty in accepting the teaching of Scripture that affirms the foreknowledge of God in understanding the trial and death of Jesus.
Acts 2:23 is crystal clear. The Trinitarian Lord God Almighty exercised his attributes of a set purpose and foreknowledge in the trial and death of Jesus. But it is foreknowledge from God and not a human being’s perspective.
Dulon, G 1975. Horizw, in C Brown (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 1, 472-474. Exeter, Devon, U.K. / Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Paternoster Press / Zondervan Corporation.
Kistemaker, S 1990. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic. Also available HERE (accessed 17 May 2014).
Lenski, R C H 1934. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (edition assigned from the 1961 edition by Augsburg Publishing House).
 Ibid., stan1953#199.
 Ibid., Hammster#205.
 Ibid., OzSpen#208.
 At ibid., OzSpen#208.
 Ibid., Hammster#211.
 Ibid., OzSpen#218.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.