How can all who call on the Lord be saved when Jesus said that not all who call his name will be saved?
Recently someone said they found a contradiction in the New Testament. They said Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13 say that all who call in the name of the Lord will be saved. Then Matthew 7:21 says that not all who call upon him will be saved. Then in Acts 2:39, it says that only those the Lord chooses will be saved. I was wondering what your response would be.
As most linguists will tell you, one of the difficulties in translating from one language to another is caused by idioms in a language. Idioms are phrases that really don't say what they mean, but native speakers understand them without much thought. A popular example from English is "It's raining cats and dogs" to mean there is a torrential downpour going on outside.
In the Bible times, "in the name of" was a way to say "by the authority of" or "with the authorization of". We still use the phrase when you hear on a show, "Stop in the name of the law!" The phrase means the person is being ordered to stop, not because someone feels like stopping them, but because the law authorizes the person to demand another person stop. You can see this when Peter is asked, "By what power or by what name have you done this?" (Acts 4:7). Peter's response was that it was "by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth" (Acts 4:10). Peter was saying he had the authority given to him by Jesus to perform the miracle.
To "call on the name" is to claim a right issued by the authority of another person. When Paul was about to be sent to Jerusalem, he made an appeal: "For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar" (Acts 25:11). In Greek, the word Paul used that is translated "appeal to" literally means "call upon the name of".
Therefore, "And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved" (Acts 2:21) means that whoever appeals to the authority of the Lord will be saved. You can't claim a right to something the Lord authorized while simultaneously going against what the Lord commands. We can see this when Paul was baptized. "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). By being baptized, Paul appealed to the authority of the Lord to be saved.
Not just because a person says he is making an appeal, it doesn't follow that he really is doing so. People are known to lie. Jesus asked this thought-provoking question: "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). The problem for some is that their words don't match their deeds. This is what Jesus addressed in Matthew, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23). Notice the last word, "lawlessness," it means going against the law. People were appealing to the Lord, but their deeds were contrary to what the Lord authorized.
By the way, you probably learned this as a child. If you ever tried to tell an adult, "But mom said I could have a cookie!" (and she didn't), when she found out about it, you likely got into big trouble.
"Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:38-39). Peter stated that people who repented and were baptized would be forgiven of sins and receive the gift of salvation from the Holy Spirit (see also Ephesians 1:13-14). This promise was offered to everyone: this generation and all succeeding ones, this immediate audience, and all across the world -- as many as God calls to Himself. In fact, the Greek word that is translated as "church" literally means "the called out." "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (I Peter 2:9-10).
The method God chose to accomplish this calling is through the Gospel. "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thessalonians 2:13-14). That gospel is for all people. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16).
Therefore, when Peter said, "as many as the Lord our God will call" it is really a roundabout way to say "everyone" but it emphasizes that this is God's choice and not man's. It became a critical issue early on in the church when some wanted to claim that people had to become Jews to be saved. Peter pointed to the example of Cornelius' conversion to point out that God offered Gentiles salvation as Gentiles and not as Jews. The Jews could not limit whom God calls.
Hence, what you have is someone who did not understand the meaning of the terms in the Bible to draw a conclusion that the Bible contradicted itself. Since we are able to show a way of understanding the verses, without stretching anything out of context, that doesn't lead to a contradiction, the claim of self-contradiction is false.