"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" (Acts 13:48).
The above passage is another favorite of Calvinists. They like to see several things when they come to this passage. They like to see that God had previously and unconditionally selected and predestined only certain individuals to have a conversion event, that is, to become Christians. They like to see these individuals only believed because they were predestined to this conversion event which enabled them to perform the act of believing. Although interpretations may vary slightly from person to person, the typical Calvinist essentially sees something like the following:"And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and only as many as those individuals who had been chosen by God before the foundation of the world to receive eternal life at this predetermined time and place, believed, because God enabled them to believe having predestined the previously selected elect to this end."
This type of interpretation is not surprising given the Calvinist's preconceptions and earnest desire to see Reformed doctrine everywhere he travels through the Scriptures. But does Luke actually tell us God predetermined some Gentiles to undergo a salvation conversion event as opposed to other Gentiles? We shall see he does not. Does Luke really tell us certain Gentiles only believed because they were appointed to believe as opposed to others which he did not appoint? Again, we shall see that he does not. This passage teaches us absolutely nothing which remotely resembles Calvinistic doctrines. The language, grammar and especially the context tell us otherwise. We will now begin to clearly see what message Luke really intends to convey in this passage. We will discover that Luke is telling us that God had arranged for the Gentiles to receive the gospel upon Jewish rejection and unlike the Jews they believed and there is nothing more to his message than this.
"Appointed" (tetagmenoi)The word translated as "appointed" in this passage is the Greek verb tetagmenoi. It is a form of the Greek verb tasso. It is difficult to retain the full sense of tasso with any one English word. When we explore how the word tasso and all its cognates are used in Scripture, we find that it means "to categorically organize", "to orderly arrange", "to set/put in position", "set in order", etc., with the idea of categorical classification and establishing the order of people or things. Tetagmenoi is commonly translated as "ordained" or "appointed" in many translations. Although these words are not exact matches for this Greek verb, these English words are acceptable translations because they are among the best English words we have to translate this Greek verb. However, it would be too much to say these words accurately and precisely reflect the total sense conveyed by the Greek word itself. This is not an uncommon problem in translating from one language to another. We can often find English words which are close to the whole field of ideas associated with any given Greek word. But very often, it is impossible to find a perfect English word match which conveys the whole sense of a Greek word. If we look at all the New Testament examples of tasso we can see the word means "set/place/arrange in order/position", "appointed", "ordained", "designated" or "assigned." The word conveys the idea of "order" and "arrangement" in the sense of putting things in order or to orderly arrange something according to classification.
Another good word to use to translate this Greek verb is "designated." Here are some examples from Scripture which show how well the word "designated" suits the Greek word tasso. Notice how each case carries the idea of orderly arrangement.
"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had designated them" (Matthew 28:16).
"For I am a man designated under authority..." (Luke 7:8).
"They designated Paul and Barnabas and certain others to go up..." (Acts 15:2).
"There you shall be told all that is designated for you to do" (Acts 22:10).
"When they had designated a day for him..." (Acts 28:23).
"Those that exist have been designated by God" (Romans 13:1).
"They designated themselves to the service of the saints" (1 Corinthians 16:15).
Now when interpreters debate this particular passage, we find they commonly focus their attention around the form of this particular Greek word. The word tetagmenoi is argued to be either in the middle voice or a passive voice and it is further argued by non-Calvinists that one simply cannot tell for sure what voice is intended from the form of the word itself. In English, we do not really use the middle voice as they do in the New Testament Greek language. The middle voice is a verb form which essentially means that one becomes intentionally involved in an activity which is actively being performed by someone else.
First, we will assume that the one doing the appointing in this verse is God. If we assume tetagmenoi is in the middle voice this would mean the Gentiles had involved themselves in God's action of appointing. The middle voice does not mean the Gentiles did the appointing themselves (that would be the active voice) but cooperatively became involved in the activity of God's appointing action. But if we assume tetagmenoi is a perfect passive participle we have God unilaterally doing the appointing and the Gentiles receiving that appointment passively.
When interpreters assume tetagemenoi is in the middle voice they often attempt to interpret Acts 13:48 to say, "and as many as put themselves in position for eternal life believed." Now if tetagmenoi is in the middle voice, the Calvinist interpretation of Acts 13:48 is necessarily wrong because it means the Gentiles chose to involve themselves in God's appointing action which violates the Calvinist paradigm of Total Depravity. Calvinists do not want to entertain the idea that tetagmenoi is in the middle voice simply because it is more convenient to their belief system to think otherwise.
However, we shall henceforth discover it really makes no difference. For the sake of argument, we will assume tetagmenoi is a perfect passive participle rather than a middle participle and still easily and entirely refute the Calvinist's error. It matters very little which of the of the two voices we choose. When we translate it this way we understand the passage to say, "as many as God had previously appointed to eternal life believed." The following is a translation assuming a perfect passive participle:"And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God and as many as had been designated to eternal life believed."
"hosoi" (as many as)
Here is another word which some lay Calvinists often misunderstand. Quite often many Calvinist readers who see the translation "as many as" are led to believe this word means "only as many as" so that the passage comes out to read, "and only as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." However, this word by itself does not suggest such a meaning. The Greek word hosoiis quantitative relative pronoun which refers to the plural subject noun whether explicity or implied. It is the quantitative plural form of the word "which" or "who." The word can mean "those which," "these which," "those who," or "these who" to quantitatively refer back to the plural subject noun in question whether explicit or implicit.
Let us review some passages which use this word. Notice how hosoi is used. It relates back to the quantitative subject group in question. Indeed, many translations often translate hosoi as "all those who" in the following verses.
"And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent round to all that region and brought to him all that were sick, and besought him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment; and those who touched it were made well" (Matthew 14:36).
"And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him; for he had healed many, so that they might touch him, those who had diseases. (Mark 3:9-10).
"But to those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12).
"Also all the prophets from Samuel and those after, those who spoke and previously proclaimed these days." (Acts 3:24).
"There was not a needy person among them, those who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts 4:34-35).
"For before these days Theudas arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was slain and those who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and those who followed him were scattered." (Acts 5:36-37).
"And those among the circumcised were astonished, those who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles." (Acts 10:45).
"Those who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and those who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law." (Romans 2:12).
"For those who are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14).
"For those who are out of works of law are under a curse" (Galatians 3:10).
"For those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 2:27).
"And peace and mercy upon those who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).
- "Let those who are mature be so minded" (Philippians 3:15).
"For I want you to know how greatly I strive for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for those who have not seen my face" (Colossians 2:1).
"Let those who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor" (1 Timothy 6:1).
"And deliver them, those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage" (Hebrews 2:15).
- "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and those who had been designated to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).
The word hosoi is not a term which necessarily is used to exclusively quantify a subset of Gentiles from the greater Gentile group. This is why the Greek word hosoi is often translated as "all who" or "all those who." Hosoi is quantitative in the sense that it refers to a quantifiable group, not a quantity within the subject group as many try to claim. Hosoi is quantitative in the sense that it refers to a group since the mentioned group is the quantity in question, that is, the Gentiles. Here, Luke is referring to the group, quantity, or people known as the Gentiles who were present that day. We can see this ever more clearly when we notice Luke tells us the Gentiles as a group, rejoiced and honored the word of the Lord.
It would then be quite ridiculous to try and make the claim that only a segment of those who rejoiced and honored the word of the Lord then believed the word of the Lord and therefore conclude that some of the Gentiles who rejoiced and honored the word of the Lord did not believe the word of the Lord even thought they rejoiced and honored it. Thus we can be completely sure that hosoi is referring to the Gentiles, as a whole, and not a subset of the whole."And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God and those who had been designated to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).
"eis" (into, unto, for)
The Greek word eis implies directional motion toward something. When the word is used in a geographical context, it means that someone or something is going "into," "unto," or "to" something such as a building. The word can also be used in the context of directional motion toward a condition or an abstract. For example, if I said, "I lay my hands on you unto your healing", I would normally say in English, "I lay my hands on you for your healing." When we are dealing with the context of "condition," this Greek word is commonly translated as "for" with the intended meaning "for the purpose of", that is, in the direction of a certain condition. It is technically correct to translate eis as "unto" when we are discussing a condition, but sometimes it sounds odd or stilted in English. In this case, Luke is referring to eternal life as a "condition." The Gentiles were designated "to" or "for" the condition of eternal life."And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God and those who had been designated for eternal life believed."
The Context - Identifying "those who"?
We must discover who "those who" were designated for eternal life if we are to be faithful to God's word. It is always wise to review the preceding context of any Bible passage if we are to capture the intent of the author. It simply is unethical and unfaithful to read passages in isolation for the sake of one's traditions. It is here we will find our solution. So we must back up a little and discover the framework for our passage in question.
We need to begin at Acts 13:40-41 where Paul says to the hearers, "Beware, therefore, lest there come upon you what is said in the prophets: 'Behold, you scoffers, and wonder, and perish; for I do a deed in your days, a deed you will never believe, if one declares it to you.'" Perhaps one might conclude that Paul is telling Jews they are unable to believe because God did not appoint them to believe. But is this what the passage tells us? Paul warns the Jews to beware the mistake foretold by the prophets. What was the mistake? They should not make the mistake of not believing the good news. The prophets foretold some would make the mistake and Paul is warning them not to make the mistake. It would make absolutely no sense whatsoever for Paul to make this statement if indeed the Jews were unable to believe in the first place. The mentioned "deed" God did was the resurrection of his Son. And the prophets foretold some who would not believe even if the resurrection was declared to them (see also Luke 16:31). Paul is warning both Jew and Gentile hearers not to make this mistake and to instead heed the word of the Lord.
Now let us continue with our context:"The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and spoke against and blasphemed what was spoken by Paul. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.'"(13:44-48).In the preceding context, we find Paul preaching the word of God to the Jews. However, we also find the Jews were jealous and rejected Paul's message. The passage literally says that the Jews "spoke against" and "blasphemed" the gospel message. Paul and Barnabas then indicated to these Jews it was necessary for them to first preach to the Jews and when these Jews had rejected the message, Paul and Barnabas then indicated the next order of business commanded by the Lord was to turn to the Gentiles. It had been orderly arranged (tetagemenoi) for the Gentiles to receive eternal life upon Jewish rejection of the gospel. This perfectly fits the intended field of ideas associated with the Greek word tetagmenoi as we previously discussed above. There was an orderly arrangement - first the Jew, then the Gentile. The Jewish people were designated to receive the word of God first and the Gentiles to receive it second. God had sent Jesus to the Jews first. This is what he had orderly arranged. The Jews were "designated" to be first and the Gentiles second upon Jewish rejection of Christ. The same message is found throughout the New Testament - Jewish rejection unfolds to Gentile acceptance. Unlike the Jews, the Gentiles rejoiced and honored the word of God and believed Paul's message. The Jews did not believe; the Gentiles did believe. Luke's only point at Acts 13:48 is to tell us the Gentiles who had been designated to receive the good news after the Jews rejected it, believed the good news of eternal life, unlike the Jews who had been designated to receive the gospel first and had rejected the good news of eternal life.
Jews Gentiles/Nations The Jews were designated The Gentiles were designated to hear the gospel first to hear the gospel upon Jewish rejection heard the word heard the word spoke against the word rejoiced at the word blasphemed the word honored the word rejected the word accepted the word did not consider themselves worthy of eternal life believed for eternal life did not believe the word believed the word
Do you see the contrast? Luke is contrasting the Jewish rejection of the gospel with the Gentile acceptance of the gospel. Since the Jews did not believe Paul, he tells them they have not judged themselves worthy of eternal life. However, the Gentiles, unlike these Jews, honored God's word and accepted the gift of eternal life that is in Christ Jesus. The contrast here is not between some people God chose to believe as opposed to those he did not. The contrast here is that the Gentiles believed and the Jews did not. The Jews were indeed designated to receive eternal life but they rejected it. There was an orderly arrangement for the Jewish people to be first to receive the good news.
When Luke uses the phrase, "and those who had been designated/appointed," he is implicitly referring back to Paul's phrase, "we turn to the Gentiles." Having remarked that he had to preach to the Jews first, he then indictates that he now turns to the Gentiles. And now the Gentiles are designated for eternal life.
Let us now amplify the passage interpretively so we can gather up the full intent of the context:"And when the Gentiles heard [Paul say, "we now turn to the Gentiles"], they were glad and glorified the word of God; and [these Gentiles] who had been designated for eternal life [upon Jewish rejection of the gospel], believed, [unlike the Jews who did not believe]." (Acts 13:48).
Luke is simply telling us that the Jews did not believe the message of eternal life and when Paul turned to the Gentiles who were designated to receive the message next, they did believe. The fact that the Jews should have believed is clear in Paul's words, "since you do not consider yourselves worthy." Luke is not telling us God had appointed certain Gentile individuals to be saved as opposed to others. He is telling us the Gentile peoples were designated to receive the gospel upon Jewish rejection. It was a fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham to bless all nations and we find all through the New Testament this necessarily occurred through Jewish rejection of Christ. It had been designated by God to deliver the gospel message to the Gentiles upon Jewish rejection:"And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.'" (13:45-47).
Here we see Paul telling us plainly that it was necessary to preach to the Jews first and the Lord had commanded them to turn to the Gentiles after they had preached the message to the Jews. We find this same message throughout the New Testament. It is quite plain God had a plan for the Gentiles to receive the word of the Lord upon Jewish rejection of Christ. Indeed, the Gentiles, the nations, as a group, were designated to receive the word of life in the proper order God had designated. They were designated, orderly arranged, to receive eternal life in this order. It was necessary to preach to the Jews first. The Gentiles, as a group, were indeed appointed to hear and receive the word of the Lord unto eternal life next.
Our passage has nothing to do with God appointing certain individuals to a new birth conversion event as opposed to not selecting other individuals to a new birth event. Nor is the passage giving us an idea why the Gentiles believed. Luke simply does not discuss why these Gentiles believed and these Jews did not. He only tells us what happened. The context itself plainly and clearly tells us God had designated the Gentiles, as a group, to receive the word of the Lord upon Jewish rejection of Christ. The Jews heard, spoke against, blasphemed and rejected the word of the Lord concerning eternal life. The Gentiles, on the other hand, heard, rejoiced, honored and believed the word of the Lord concerning eternal life. And this is the sum total of Luke's point!
Let us look at Paul's commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and we will find further evidence that our interpretation is correct:"And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' And I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.' Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.'" (Acts 22:10).
The very same Greek verb, tasso, is used in this passage. Jesus tells Paul he has appointed some things for him to do. Jesus had "orderly arranged" some things for Paul. There were things "designated" for him. If we investigate further, we will find Christ had orderly arranged for Paul to take the message first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. This is precisely the same arrangement which John the Baptist, Jesus, and his twelve apostles followed. When we return to our passage in question we find Paul reminding us of Christ's command to him:"And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.'" (Acts 13:45-47).
Paul obeyed Christ's command perfectly. He was appointed to take the message first to the Jews (Acts 9:15-16; cf. 3:26) and then to the Gentiles and this is precisely what he did. We find the same message throughout the Scriptures. The Jews reject Christ and the nations come in.
Now that we have sufficiently demonstrated what Luke is really telling us, let us look at the passage in question along with it context:"The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.'" And when the Gentiles heard [the word of life had turned to them], they were glad and glorified the word of God; and these [Gentiles] who had been designated for eternal life [upon Jewish rejection], believed, [unlike the Jews who did not believe]." (13:44-48).
Luke's message is plain and simple. There is nothing in this passage which should lead us to believe God had previously selected who would become a Christian as opposed to who would not. Luke is simply telling us that God had predetermined a plan for the Gentile peoples to receive eternal life upon Jewish rejection of Christ. This was God's orderly arrangement ("tetagmenoi").
At Acts 13:48, Luke tells us God had arranged for the Gentiles to receive eternal life. But the arrangement had to be an orderly arrangement. Luke is not trying to tell anyone why the Gentiles believed as Calvinists would have everyone think. He is simply telling us what happened. Luke is not trying to tell us God had only ordained certain Gentiles to be saved. He is telling us Paul had to preach the gospel to the Jews first to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs. And when the Jews had heard the message, Paul turned to the Gentiles as he had been commanded by Christ, the light of the nations. The simple message Luke is giving us is plainly clear. God designated the Jews to receive the gospel first and designated the Gentiles, as a group, to receive it next. This was his orderly arrangement (tetagmenoi). The Jews blasphemed the gospel, the Gentiles honored the gospel. The Jews who were designated to receive eternal life first did not believe; the Gentiles who were designated to receive eternal life upon Jewish rejection of Christ, did indeed believe. And this is Luke's point - the Gentiles who were now designated to receive the word of eternal life believed. We need not look for anything more difficult in this passage. Luke is not contrasting some Gentiles who had previously selected to be saved with those Gentiles he did not select. He is contrasting the Jewish peoples and the Gentile peoples. The Jews at this event rejected, the Gentiles at this event accepted. This is what happened in this place when Paul preached the word here.
Once we make these things clear to the Calvinist, he will move from the context of the Bible to his favorite context - Calvinism. He will try to color all passages with his own doctrines. He will say something like, "But the real question is, ‘WHY did they believe?'" But is this the real question? Is not such a question designed for the sake of promoting Calvinist doctrines and distracting our attention from the context and Luke's real intentions? If we suggest the real question is "why," are we not plotting to eisegetically read something into the passage which suits our traditions at the expense of Luke's real message? Is not the real question to first discover WHAT Luke intends to tell us in this passage? Perhaps, we might want to discover why some people believe and not others. Perhaps this is a very good question to ponder in an appropriate time and place. But should we let this question color what Luke is illustrating for us? No. To be faithful to God's word, we need only to discover Luke's intent apart from promoting our favorite ideas. Here Luke simply does not tell us "why" since he is not interested in supplying us with such a theology in this particular section of his writings. He does nothing more than contrast Jews and Gentiles. The overwhelming force of the context demands it.
Where do we here find God predetermining which Gentiles would receive eternal life as opposed to those God did not choose? We find it nowhere. All we find is a simple and plain message. God had a plan and the plan was for the Jews as a group of people to receive the word of life first and the non-Jews, as a group of people, were ordained to receive the word of life upon Jewish rejection. Unlikes the Jews, these Gentiles who were designated for eternal life upon Jewish rejected of the gospel, believed.And when the Gentiles heard [the word of life had turned toward them], they were glad and glorified the word of God and [these Gentiles] who had been designated for eternal life [upon Jewish rejection of the gospel], believed, [unlike the Jews who did not believe]." (13:44-48).
Key Point Summary
- The Greek word tetagmenoi is a perfect passive participle.
- The Greek word tetagmenoi means "had been orderly arranged" or "had been designated."
- The Greek word hosoi means "those who" or "these who" quantitatively referring to the group in question, the Gentiles.
- The Greek word eis means "for the purpose of" with respect to a condition.
- The context vividly demonstrates that Luke is contrasting the Jews and Gentiles of this particular gathering.
- The Jews were designated to receive the gospel first and the Gentiles upon Jewish rejection of the gospel according to the command the Lord gave to Paul.
- The Gentiles, as a group, were designated, appointed, for eternal life upon Jewish rejection of the gospel. This was the orderly arrangement God had previously made.
- When Luke uses the word "designated/appointed" (tetagmenoi) he is referring back to the idea that Paul had to preach to the Jews first but now he turns to the Gentiles who were designated to receive the word next.
- Unlike the Jews, the Gentiles who had been designated to hear the word did believe, unlike the Jews, and this is the point Luke is trying to make.
- There is no trace at all of a Calvinistic concept of election in this passage.
Thus, the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election is again shown to be a false doctrine.
"We had to speak the word of God to you first and since you reject it, not considering yourselves worthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).