Acts 2:23 is often cited as a central text in understanding the doctrine of foreordination; it is seen as demonstrating in a particularly explicit way the compatibility of foreordination and human responsibility. God predetermined the cross, and yet those who put Jesus to death are “wicked.” A marginal note in my NASB suggests an alternative understanding. The “godless men” at the end of the verse refers not to the Jews’ godlessness but to “men without the law” (the Greek is ANOMON); that is, Gentiles. Thus, the passage says that Jesus was delivered up by the predetermination of God, and the Jews nailed Him to the cross through the hands of Law-less (read “Torah-challenged”) Romans. The predetermination in view would seem to be the same predetermination as is found in Romans 9-11: God’s predetermination that Israel would fall.

This doesn’t eliminate the force of the verse for the doctrine of predestination. We can still say that the Jews sinned when they sent Jesus to the cross, and that this sin was predetermined. But the verse does not explicitly describe the Jews as “godless” or “wicked,” and the only thing that the verse explicitly says about the Gentiles who nailed Jesus to the cross is that they are “lawless” in the sense that they are not Jews.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart