How do you respond to Acts 2:23 and 4:28?

Question: Acts 2:23 and 4:28 tell us that wicked people crucified Jesus just as God predestined them to do. If this wicked act could be predestined, why couldn’t every other wicked act be predestined? Doesn’t this refute your theory that human acts can’t be free if they are either predestined or foreknown?

Answer: In Acts 2 Luke records Peter saying that Jesus was handed over “by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge” and that he was put to death by “wicked men” (Acts 2:23). In Acts 4 it is said that Herod and Pilate did what God’s “power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:27-28). Does this mean that these people were predestined to carry out the wicked actions they engaged in? I don’t believe it does.

Both texts speak of the event of the crucifixion being preordained and foreknown. But neither speak of Herod or Pilate being preordained or foreknown to carry out this event. It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that the crucifixion was presettled in God’s plan (whether it was from before the creation of the world or at some point in history can be debated). But it does not seem reasonable to accept the very paradoxical view that God predestines people to do wicked things, and yet holds them responsible for doing them.

Some might object that you cannot have a preordained event without preordaining who will carry out this event. The end cannot be certain while the means to the end remain uncertain, they argue.

The argument doesn’t follow, however. There is no logical problem created by conceiving of an omni-competent God deciding ahead of time that such and such an event will transpire, but leaving undecided the exact means (and also perhaps the exact time) by which the event will transpire. When “the fullness of time” had come (Gal. 4:4, cf. Mk 1:15)—when God saw that the conditions were just right—God decided to fulfill previous promises about a coming Messiah by sending his Son into the world. The time was “ripe,” as it were, for all the variables to be brought together by the wisdom of God to accomplish all that needed to be accomplished. Without pre-settling who exactly would do it, God knew that if Jesus came into the world under these conditions, he would get crucified.

Remember also that Satan’s regime was behind the crucifixion (1 Cor. 2:8). So all God would need to know is that Satan would stupidly see the Incarnation as an opportunity to kill the Son of God and that there were a sufficient number of people who, by their own choices, had made themselves susceptible to Satan’s influence.

In any event, affirming that the Romans and the Jews wickedly crucified Jesus according to “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23) does not require that we accept that God predestines wicked acts.

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