Acts 13:46, “Ye put (or thrust) it, (i.e., the word of God, not salvation) from you, and judge yourselves not worthy of eternal life.” Quoted to prove that men can thrust salvation from them by unbelief, and so frustrate God’s gracious purpose in offering it to them.
But these words were addressed to the Jews at Antioch, in Pisidia, who were filled with envy at the sight of the multitudes who thronged to hear the apostle’s preaching and contradicted what he said, and blasphemed. On this, “Paul and Barnabas”—did what? Entreat them not to put salvation away from them? No. Without a single exhortation they said—“Seeing you put the word of God from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life”—what then? You will be doubly damned for not receiving our message? No. They simply acted in accordance with their commission (Luke 24:47), and “turned to the Gentiles.”—Charles Drawbridge.
The phrase “judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life” is, however, difficult and demands further attention. A. Barnes’ explanation is indeed instructive. “It does not mean that they expressed the opinion in words, that they were unworthy of eternal life, or that they so regarded themselves—for they thought just the reverse—but that by their conduct they declared this and condemned themselves.”
The difficult connected with the word “worthy,” is however unremoved. Men are guilty sinners. None are worthy of any of God’s favours. It could not, therefore, have been wrong in these men to judge that they were unworthy of eternal life. This were but to admit an undisputed truth. Nor does it mean that they “had rejected the gospel, and so shown that they were unfit to enter into life.” It is playing with the words to extort this sense from them. It remains to ascertain the true interpretation of the term “worthy.”
It here stands for the word axios an adjective derived from the verb ago, “I weigh.” Its meaning is, “of like weight” or “value,” “commensurate with,” or “worth as much as,” “deserving of,” “entitled to on the ground of merit.” In this latter sense it occurs in Matt. 10:10; Luke 7:4; John 1:27; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rev. 4:11. In Matt. 3:8, and 2 Thess. 1:3, it is rendered “meet,” i.e., in the former sense. In Matt. 22:8, it is found in the first sense, though with a slightly different shade of meaning. Those that were invited to the wedding feast, but had made light of it, and would not come (page 243) are said not to have been “worthy.” Here the thought of merit cannot be implied, for the entertainment was as free as the invitation was spontaneous and gracious. The wrong-heartedness of the invited guests, their unwillingness to accept the royal hospitality, their independency, the disloyalty which they manifested—constituted their unworthiness. “Not worthy,” then, there means “unsuited” to be guests at so free an entertainment. Now what this parable predicts in symbolic language, Acts 13:40-48, describes as actual history, and the occurrence of the term axios in both is significant, and supplies the clue to the interpretation we are seeking. Not worthy here means “unsuited” or “not fit,” as a man of wealth would be unfit for a dole of bread. Hence the sense is, “As ye thrust from you and reject the gospel of the risen Saviour, and in your pride and creature sufficiency judge that ye do not require the grace of Regeneration, and imagine that ye are not in a condition to need the gift of eternal life of which that gospel testifies, we turn from you,” etc.
[The above verse has been cited in support of the modern doctrine that an eternity of conscious existence awaits those persons only who are united to Christ, and that those who die unsaved will not live for ever, but be annihilated and cease to be. Such only as are here “worthy of eternal life” (it has been sought to show from these words) will live for ever. Correctly viewed, however, the text has not the remotest relation to this subject.]
Man may close his ears to the outward testimony of the gospel, and proudly dream that he requires not its promised mercy; but the words do not teach that sinners can, by unbelief impede the invincible Spirit when he pleases to impart spiritual life unto them.