By Max Tice
Among a seemingly endless list of misunderstood Bible phrases, is the expression “until the times of restitution” found in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:21. In order that the reader may be able to easily consider the context of its usage, the relevant portion of the text is cited below. After preaching the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to the crowd gathered in Solomon’s porch, Peter then exhorted them:
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:19-21).
A few readers may recognize this passage and the phrase of interest as one that is misapplied by the Mormons to the supposed restoration of the gospel in the days of Joseph Smith. Others may have heard it applied to an expected restoration of national Israel during a millennial reign. Still others may have never heard it applied to any-thing in particular, but are puzzled as to its meaning. In any event, a few brief observations are in order.
Reading Theories into the Passage
It is very common and very easy to read preconceived theories into Bible texts. By assuming that an idea is al-ready gospel, people sometimes imagine they have found references to it in vague phrases. Since it may be difficult for someone else to disprove their interpretation, they feel confident that it must be correct.
Nevertheless, those who prefer to read from the Bible, rather than into it, will hardly be satisfied with such practices. Needless to say, one has to read Joseph Smith’s latter-day heresy into Peter’s statement, and the same holds true for any premillennial application. While the phrase `until the times of restitution” could mean many things when taken in isolation, it should be interpreted in the light of what the Bible does say, not what it doesn’t say.
Defining Peter’s Terms
A fundamental principle in analyzing any passage is to make certain that all terms are clearly understood. In the case of the phrase in question, the terms “times” and “restitution” are of interest. The former is translated from the Greek word chronon and refers to an unspecified period of time. The term “restitution” is translated from the Greek word apokatastaseos and is found only here in the New Testament. Verb forms of this term are used in Matthew 17:11 and Acts 1-6 where the idea of “restoring” is in view. Consequently, Peter refers to a period in which something is to be restored. Of course, the big question is what?
Looking More Closely at “All Things”
Just how encompassing are the “all things” which Peter says are to be restored? Good Bible students know that the expression “all things” should be understood in accordance with the context of its use (e.g., Rom. 8:28). A failure to confine its meaning in Acts 3:21can result in some unjustified conclusions. For instance, Origen used this verse to teach that God would restore all created things. Others have seen the doctrine of universalism in it.
Although Alford insists that the “all things” here is not limited to the things which were spoken by the prophets, this does not necessarily follow. This part of the verse must, at least, be given consideration as a possible restricting clause. Nevertheless, even if Alford is correct in saying that “all things” stands alone in the text, this does not prove that the expression has no limits. In Matthew 17:11, the reader is told that Elijah (John the Baptist) was to restore all things. Did he come to restore everything in creation to some pristine state? Of course not! His work as the first century Elijah was to change the hearts of those who would listen (Mal. 4:6).
The phrase “until the times of restitution” must be understood in the light of what is taught in the Scriptures. Otherwise, its meaning cannot be ascertained this side of eternity. As has been shown, John the Baptist lived in and was part of a restoring of all things through his preaching. Likewise, this period of restoring continues as God’s word is preached today. Christ will remain in the heavens until these times have come to a close.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 4 p. 15
February 20, 1997