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Study of Acts 13:48

(Part One)

By Gary F. Zeolla

A reader recently e-mailed me a quote from The Full Life Study Bible. I have not seen this study Bible before so I have no specifics on it. However, the quote was the study Bible's comments on Acts 13:48. Since this was the verse that began my "journey" from an Arminian to Calvinist viewpoint, I found the note very interesting. So this two-part article will look at this study note and then study in detail the translation and interpretation of this important verse to determine the accuracy of the note.

Full Life Study Bible Note

Below is the study note from The Full Life Study Bible as it was quoted to me:

(Acts 13:48) -- "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (King James Version).

13:48 ORDAINED TO ETERNAL LIFE. Some have understood this verse as teaching arbitrary predestination. However, neither the context nor the word translated "ordained" (Gk. tetagmenoi, from tasso) warrant this interpretation. (1) Verse 46 explicitly emphasizes human responsibility in accepting or rejecting eternal life. The best rendering of tetagmenoi, therefore, is "were disposed": "and as many as were disposed to eternal life believed." This rendering agrees completely with the affirmations of 1 Tim. 2:4; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9. (2) Furthermore, according to Paul no person is unconditionally appointed to eternal life (see Romans 11:20-22)."

General Comments

The study note begins by referring to "arbitrary predestination." Using the term "arbitrary" is common in Arminian writings when referring to predestination. The term implies God is flipping a coin to decide who is saved and who is not.

However, the Calvinist teaching is that God chooses whom He will save "according to the good pleasure of His will" (see Eph 1:5). So it is "God's will" not "chance" which is the basis of predestination. What the Calvinist is denying is that human "free will" is the basis of salvation. In other words, it is God's will, not ours that is the ultimate determiner of who is saved and who is not. Using terms like "arbitrary" does not adequately describe the will of God. We cannot fully understand God's ways but they are not arbitrary (Isaiah 55:8,9).

Secondly, the note claims "neither the context nor the word translated ‘ordained’ (Gk. tetagmenoi, from tasso) warrant this interpretation." First, since "arbitrary predestination" does not accurately explain the Calvinist interpretation then it is misleading to say the text does not warrant such an interpretation. As for the context, it will be look at next and meaning of the word will be studied in-depth.

Human Responsibility

The study note states, "Verse 46 explicitly emphasizes human responsibility in accepting or rejecting eternal life."

First it needs to be noted, Calvinism does not deny "human responsibility." What it does deny is that human "free will" is the ultimate basis of who is saved and who is not.

That said, Verse 46 reads:
Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles" (NKJV).

There is human action here. The Jews Paul and Barnabas preached to "rejected" the Gospel. But the question is WHY did they reject it? This verses does not say. But, as will be seen, verses 48 does.

So there is nothing in this "context" that will ague against the Calvinist interpretation of Acts 13:48 that will be presented later.

Translation of tasso

Now for the most important question, how should tetagmenoi be translated? The note claims, "The best rendering of tetagmenoi, therefore, is ‘were disposed’: ‘and as many as were disposed to eternal life believed.’"

Several avenues will be pursed to determine if "were disposed" is in deed "the best rendering" of this word. First the meaning of the root word "tasso" will be investigated, then the grammar involved in the form of the word used in this verse will be studied.

Bible Versions:

First, how is tasso translated in different versions of the Bible? Following is Acts 13:48 from a variety of versions. The translation of tetagmenoi is capitalized:

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as WERE ORDAINED to eternal life believed (King James Version; 1611/ 1769).

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as WERE ORDAINED to eternal life, believed (The Webster Bible; 1833).

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as WERE ORDAINED to eternal life believed (Revised Webster Bible; 1995).

And {those of} the nations, hearing it, rejoiced, and glorified the word of the Lord, and believed, as many as WERE ORDAINED to eternal life (The Darby Bible; 1890).

And the Gentiles hearing it were glad and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as WERE ORDAINED to life everlasting believed (Douay-Rheims; American edition; 1899).

And as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God: and as many as WERE ORDAINED to eternal life believed (American Standard Version; 1901).

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as WERE ORDAINED to eternal life believed (Revised Standard Version; 1952).

And hearing, the nations rejoiced and glorified the Word of the Lord. And as many as WERE ORDAINED to eternal life believed (Modern King James Version; 1976-1998).

And the nations hearing were glad, and were glorifying the word of the Lord, and did believe -- as many as WERE APPOINTED to life age-during (Young's Literal Translation; 1898).

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who WERE APPOINTED for eternal life believed (New International Version; 1984).

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who WERE APPOINTED for eternal life believed (New International Version; British edition; 1984).

When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who WERE APPOINTED to eternal life became believers (New Living Translation; 1996).

As the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God. As many as WERE APPOINTED to eternal life believed (World English Bible; 1999).

Now the Gentiles hearing this were rejoicing and glorifying the Word of the Lord. And as many as HAD BEEN APPOINTED to life eternal believed (Kenneth Wuest. The New Testament: An Expanded Translation; 1961).

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as HAD BEEN APPOINTED to eternal life believed (New American Standard Bible; 1977).

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as HAD BEEN APPOINTED to eternal life believed (New American Standard Bible; 1995).

Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as HAD BEEN APPOINTED to eternal life believed (New King James Version; 1982).

And hearing, the nations rejoiced and glorified the Word of the Lord. And as many as HAD BEEN APPOINTED to eternal life believed (Literal Translation of the Bible; 1976-1998).

When the Gentiles heard this, they began to rejoice and praise the word of the Lord, and all who HAD BEEN APPOINTED for eternal life believed (New English Translation; 1998).

The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who WERE DESTINED for eternal life came to believe (New American Bible; 1970-1991).

It made the gentiles very happy to hear this and they gave thanks to the Lord for his message; all who WERE DESTINED for eternal life became believers (New Jerusalem Bible; 1985).

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as HAD BEEN DESTINED for eternal life became believers (Revised Standard Version; 1989).

The Gentiles listened with delight and extolled the Lord's Message; and all who WERE PRE-DESTINED to the Life of the Ages believed (Weymouth's Translation; n.a.).

And the Gentiles, hearing this, were glad and gave glory to the word of God: and those MARKED OUT BY GOD for eternal life had faith (Bible in Basic English; 1949/ 1964).1

The 25 Bible versions cited above were produced over a period of almost 400 years, from the KJV of 1611 to versions still in progress (like the World English Bible). They also include formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence, expanded, and paraphrase type of versions, and were produced by Protestants, Catholics, conservatives, and liberals. So every possible type of English translation is represented.

In these 25 versions, the word tasso is translated "ordained" eight times, "appointed" eleven times, "destined" three times, "pre-destined" once, and "marked out" once. So the meaning of "appointed" is the most popular, with "ordained" a close second. These words, and even the less popular terms like "destined" or "marked out" would be consistent with an interpretation of this verse that includes the idea of predestination. But note, NONE of these versions use "disposed."

However, I did find one version that used "disposed" - The New World Translation, the "Bible" of Jehovah's Witnesses.

The verse reads in this version:
When those of the nations heard this, they began to rejoice and to glorify the word of Jehovah, and all those who were rightly disposed for everlasting life became believers.2

Now I am not trying to use a "guilt by association" argument here. But it must be asked, if "were disposed" is in fact "the best rendering" then why is it the only Bible version I could find which used such a rendering is a version produced by Jehovah's Witnesses, whose version is known for deliberately mistranslating passages to fit their pre-conceived theology?

English Definitions:

Before proceeding, it might be helpful to look at the English definitions of possible translations.

The word "appoint" means:
1. to name or assign officially: to appoint a new treasurer. 2. to fix; set: to appoint a time for the meeting. 3. to designate (a person) to take the benefit of an estate created by a deed or will. 4. to equip; furnish:

In this context, meanings number 1 or 3 are most likely. Luke is saying those who were "assigned" or "designated" to eternal life believed. The implications of such an idea will be discussed more fully later.

Moreover, an "archaic" meaning of "ordain" is "to select for or appoint to an office." So the versions using "ordain" (being mostly older versions or updates of older versions) are probably using "ordain" in the sense of "appoint."

Meanwhile, the word "disposed" means, "having a certain inclination or disposition; inclined."3 So the reason Arminians want to use "disposed" in Acts 13:48 is so they can say the verse means those who had the "inclination" believed. Or, in other words, they are trying to make the verse sound like it is a person’s own "disposition" that leads them to believe.

But the question then would be, which of these possible translations, and resulting interpretations, is indicated by the Greek text? This question leads to the next area of study.

Lexicon study:

Next, the word tasso will be looked up in several different Greek lexicons, both older and more recent ones:


1) to put in order, to station 1a) to place in a certain order, to arrange, to assign a place, to appoint 1a1) to assign (appoint) a thing to one 1b) to appoint, ordain, order 1b1) to appoint on one's own responsibility or authority 1b2) to appoint mutually, i.e. agree upon (Joseph H. Thayer. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).4


I. 1. To arrange, put in order, ... especially to draw up in order of battle, to form, array, marshal, both of troops and ships, ... Passive. to be drawn up, ... in four lines, .... in single column, ....in rank and file, ... to fall in, form in order of battle,
2. to post, station, ... to serve among the infantry,...

II. 1. to appoint to any service, military or civil, ... one over a thing, to a service or task, ... Pass.... to be appointed to a service,...
2. ... to appoint one to do a thing, ... Passive to be appointed to do ...
3. ... also, to order one to do a thing, ...
4. to assign to a class, ... to act as one of a set, ... Passive.... to join it, ...

III. 1. .... to place in a certain order,
2. to appoint, ordain, order, prescribe, ...
3. of taxes or payments, to appoint or fix a certain payment, ... to fix the price, Passive, ... to take a payment on oneself, i.e. agree to pay it,
4. also, generally, to agree upon, settle ...
5. to impose punishments, ...
6. ... fixed, prescribed, ... (Liddell-Scott Greek English Lexicon).5


1. place or station a person or thing in a fixed spot a. appoint to or establish in an office. Passive ... who are now in power are instituted by God Rom 13:1 ...

b. used with a preposition ... Luke 7:8 put someone over or in charge of someone or something ... be put under someone's command; ... assign someone to a (certain) classification, used also with an abstract noun.... passive, belong to, be classed among those possessing ... Acts 13:48; ... devote oneself to a service .... 1Cor 16:15

2. order, fix, appoint ... a. active and passive, ... Acts 15:2; 18:2 concerning everything you have been ordered to do ... at appointed times

b. middle = active, Matt 28:16 ... they set a day for him a came Acts 28:23 .... (Walter Baur. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).6

to appoint, perhaps here in the sense of "enrolled," "inscribed" (Fritz Rienecker. A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament).7


appoint, designate, set aside; command, order, direct (... under the authority of superior officers Lk 7.8); institute (of governmental authority); devote (to service); middle equivalent to active, fix, set (Ac 28.23); tell, direct (Mt 28.16) (Barclay M. Newman, Jr. A Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).8


Note: The next lexicon first gives simple one word or phrase meaning(s) for a word, then more expanded definitions for each possible meaning. The simple meanings for tasso are:

(a) assign
(b) cause to be
(c) command
(d) suggest
(e) give oneself to

Then in the more expanded definitions, the only one which specifically mentions Acts 13:48 is the first:

(a) assign
to assign someone to a particular task, function, or role - 'to appoint, to designate, to assign, to give a task to.'... 'those who had been designated for eternal life became believers' Ac 13.48. Though tasso in Ac 13.48 has sometimes been interpreted as meaning 'to choose,' there seems to be far more involved than merely a matter of selection, since a relationship is specifically assigned (Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon).9


(1) assign to a place or task, appoint, decide (AC 15.2); passive in relation to properly constituted authority be instituted, appointed, established (RO 13.1);

(2) passive with an abstract noun ... as many as had become disposed toward eternal life (possible AC 13.48) or all those who were appointed to eternal life (probable AC 13.48);

(3) as determining a fixed time or course of events, middle for active. arrange, order, appoint (MT 28.16; AC 28.23);

(4) as doing something regularly and devotedly give oneself to (1C 16.15) (Timothy and Barbara Friberg. Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament).10


to arrange; to set, to appoint, in a certain situation, Luke 7:8; Rom 13:1; to set, devote, to a pursuit 1Cor 16:15; to dispose, frame, for an object, Acts 13:48; to arrange, appoint, place or time, Matt 28:16; Acts 28:23; to allot, assign, Acts 22:10; to settle, decide, Acts 15:2 (Wesley J. Perschbacher. The New Analytical Lexicon).11,12


 

So it can be seen the word tasso can have a variety of meanings. However, "appoint" is mentioned is every lexicon, sometimes more than once. But "dispose" is only mentioned in the last two lexicons. In Friberg it is given as a "possible" meaning for the word in Acts 13:48; but then "appointed" is given as the more "probable" meaning.

Perschbacher gives "dispose" as a possible meaning for the word in Acts 13:48. But none of the others mention "dispose." Louw and Nida do indicate "give oneself to" is a possible meaning, which might be similar to "disposed." But in the expanded definition, the only verse indicated for this usage is 1Cor 16:15.

So overall, the lexical evidence is definitely in favor of "appoint" as being the basic meaning of the word, with "dispose" as only a rare or "possible" meaning.

Moreover, note that in the only two lexicons to mention "dispose" the only verse in which they give it as a possible definition is for Acts 13:48. It is not indicated as being a possible meaning for anywhere else the word occurs. And this leads to the next area to be investigated.

This article is continued at: Study of Acts 13:48 - Part Two.

Footnotes:
See end of Part Two.

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Study of Acts 13:48. Copyright 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).

The above article was posted on this Web site May 2, 1999.

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