Acts 20:27 NIV

"For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God". [boulen/will] My emphasis.

Is the "will" of God here a statement of who will go to heaven and who to hell?

Acts 4:28 NIV

"They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen". [boule/will]

Here "boule/will" is "decided beforehand".

In Acts 20:27 is "boule/will" still "decided beforehand" which it was in Acts 4:28?

3 Answers 3


Paul was departing from Ephesus and would not, again, see those gathered there, before his first arraignment in Rome, so this is a solemn occasion in which he urges the elders :

For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God . Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God [Acts 20:27 KJV]

He had not shunned to declare all of God's counsel and, therefore, he urges the elders to take heed to themselves and to feed the flock.

The word is elsewhere translated 'purpose' thus there is a spectrum of meaning in the Greek word which is broader than any available English word and we must make allowances for that in our expressing the concept.

I suggest that Paul speaks in a similar vein in his epistle to the Colossians :

Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints. [Colossians 2:25,26.]

The purpose of God is from the beginning, yet is only fully revealed in the Son of God, the coming of God manifest in flesh ; and the revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel, the revelation of the remission of sins in the blood of Christ, the restoration of all things (through the death of Christ and the resurrection and ascension of Christ) and the revelation of the true Church - one Body under one Headship, the Head being Christ himself raised to the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.

These, I would suggest, are the 'counsel' of God from before the foundation of the world and the 'purpose' of God throughout the ages.

  • 1
    Thanks +1. If God issues commands & all authority being His, He gives some people grace to obey but to others he does not give this grace, then here His commands would not necessarily be obeyed but His boule/will [not thelma/will] would always be done. This absolute authority seems to be the sense of boule according to Helps Word-studies. [I have also put a comment after Dottard's answer.]
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Feb 28 at 12:54

The OP asks, “Is the ‘will’ of God here a statement of who will go to heaven and who to hell?” Given the gist and tenor of Paul’s arguments in Acts 20, the answer is no. The OP’s question implies that God wills for some to go to heaven and others to hell. If the fate of each soul were decided beforehand, there would be no reason for Paul to declare himself innocent of the blood of anyone else. It would also be pointless of him to warn the disciples against the threats to themselves and to the flock that will come. It is precisely because the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain that Paul warns them to remain alert.

Acts 20:26-31 NIV

26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

The OP points out that in Acts 4:28, boulé is something that is decided beforehand. The noun boulé (βουλή Strong’s 1012) means counsel or purpose. Per Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, boulé is especially used of God’s purpose with respect to Christ and the salvation of men.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon: boulé

especially of the purpose of God respecting the salvation of men through Christ: Luke 7:30; Acts 2:23; Acts 4:28; [Hebrews 6:17]; πᾶσαν τὴν βουλὴν τοῦ θεοῦ all the contents of the divine plan, Acts 20:27; ἡ βουλὴ τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ the counsel of his will, Ephesians 1:11.

Ephesians 1:8-12 [brackets added]

With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose [boulé] of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

In Acts 4:28, we see that God can arrange all things to realize His purpose [boulé]. The noun boulé originates from the verb boulomai (βούλομαι Strong’s 1014 meaning to will). The verses in which these words are found form a consistent picture of God’s will that no one should perish and His purpose that all may live through Christ.

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting [boulomai] anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Though God can make all things conform to His purpose, to my knowledge, He does not force His will/bouléma (βούλημα Strong’s 1013) when it comes to the fate of each soul. The way boulé is used in Luke 7:30 is evidence that men can and do reject God’s counsel for themselves.

Luke 7:30

But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose [boulé] for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.

Returning to the OP's question, the word boulé as used in Acts 20:27 is understood to be a reference to God’s singular and unchanging purpose for us in Christ. If God has a purpose for some to be saved and a separate purpose that others should perish, the details of the latter are nowhere to be found. Beyond lexical considerations, for God to have such opposing purposes would, I believe, go against His very nature (cf Ps 145:9, Ez 33:11, Jam 1:17).

Keil and Delitzsch commentary on Psalm 145:9

The real will of God tends towards favour, which gladly giving stoops to give (חנּוּן), and towards compassion, which interests itself on behalf of the sinner for his help and comfort (רחוּם). Wrath is only the background of His nature, which He reluctantly and only after long waiting (ארך אפּים) lets loose against those who spurn His great mercy. For His goodness embraces, as Psalm 145:9 says, all; His tender mercies are over all His works, they hover over and encompass all His creatures. Therefore, too, all His works praise Him: they are all together loud-speaking witnesses of that sympathetic all-embracing love of His, which excludes no one who does not exclude himself

  • +1 Paul's argument in Acts 20 inc' that the Holy Spirit testifies to Paul things awaiting him, means HS knows the future, either as outcome of man's choices or His sovreignity. You say "It would be pointless..". If God determines apples from apple trees, the end and the means, would not God determine the ends and means of salvation. [All truth is parallel?] And Paul's preaching under duress to stress the victory and precious nature of faith in Jesus?
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 15 at 16:52
  • Of God’s foreknowledge, there is no doubt. Per Rom 11:17-24, however, we are not the fruit but wild branches that have been grafted onto the tree but can be easily broken off again unless we continue in God’s kindness (G5544 meaning goodness, kindness). God has determined the means and the ends, and while He has the power to enforce His plan, God has given each the freedom to accept or reject His purpose for us. Beneath it all there is, I believe, an underlying principle at stake that can be summed up in this question: Can true faith and love exist in the absence of free will?
    – Nhi
    Commented Mar 15 at 22:56
  • You quote 2 Peter 3:9. "anyone"? Any of the world or any of "you", you the church? "everyone", everyone of "you", you to whom this letter is addressed. 2 Peter 3:1 "I am writing to you, beloved". "that all should repent" - all the church is made of sinners who need to remember "forgive us".
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 28 at 15:55
  • Sorry for the delay in responding. I see the combination of both "any" (tis) and "all" (pas) as inclusive of everyone and exclusive of none (cf 1 Timothy 2:4; Ezekiel 18:23).
    – Nhi
    Commented Apr 2 at 23:06
  • re: For better or worse in 1 Tim 2:4 I see "all" as being "all types" as per v1 all types even kings and those in authority. Also v6 "all" is subject to conditions, ie faith needed to receive benefit of ransom. And faith a gift.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Apr 3 at 11:40

Let us be very clear about what is the will of God:

  • 1 Tim 2:3, 4, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • 1 Tim 2:6, “[Jesus Christ] gave Himself as a ransom for all people.”
  • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
  • Acts 17:30, “God … commands all people everywhere to repent.”

Thus, it is God's will that all be saved. However, in this and many other cases, God's will is disobeyed by many people. Note the following:

  • Matt 6:10 – “God’s will be done on earth”; [we know this often not the case. See also Luke 11:2.]
  • Matt 18:14 – “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” [However, we know that some will perish because all grow up to be sinners.]
  • Mark 3:35 – “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.”” [This means that many do not do the will of God.]
  • John 7:17 – “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” [This specifically allows for our wills to be different from God’s will.]
  • Eph 5:17 – “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” [That is, many do not do the will of God.]
  • 1 Thess 4:3 – “For it is God’s will that you should be holy: You must abstain from sexual immorality”. [However, we know that many do not.]
  • 1 Peter 2:15 – “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorance of foolish men.” [Again, this is not always the case.]
  • 1 Peter 4:2 – “Consequently, he does not live out his remaining time on earth for human passions, but for the will of God.” [That is, we have a choice as to whether we follow human will/passions or God’s will.]
  • 1 John 2:17 – “The world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever.” [That is, we choose whether to do God’s will or not and those that choose to do God's will, live forever.]

It is God's will that everyone be saved and everyone be holy. This is obviously not the case and so it is possible to resist the will of God at least on a personal moral choice.

Acts 20:27

For I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole will of God.

As shown above, the will of God is that all people be saved and are holy. Whether one accepts this or not is another matter.

Acts 4:27, 28

In fact, this is the very city where Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired with the Gentiles and the people of Israel against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed. They carried out what Your hand and will had decided beforehand would happen.

Peter is simply saying that Jesus' life fulfilled the prophecies of the OT to be crucified for our sins as written by the prophet Isaiah:

Isa 53:10 - Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and to cause Him to suffer; and when His soul is made a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

Unlike most humans, Messiah was obedient to the LORD's will, always. He even said as much when He prayed:

Luke 22:42 - saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

  • 1
    Thanks. My question is about boule/1012. Of which Helps word-studies says "This level of God's plan demonstrates He is the Lord of history ie: always in charge". It is defined differently from thelema/will. Your answer contains quotes where the word for "will" is thelema eg 1 Thess 4:3. The question is not about thelema/will.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Feb 28 at 12:11

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