The participle translated "had been appointed to" (tetagmenoi) is the middle-passive voice form of “tasso”. In Greek, the same form is used to designate both the middle voice and the passive voice. Almost all English Bibles translate it in the passive voice (the subject receives the action). However, if it is translated in the middle voice (the subject initiates the action), the passage would read something like, “ . . .as many as agreed with eternal life believed."
The issue is:
1) Is there anything in the Greek grammar itself that demands a passive or a middle voice rendering?
2) Is there anything in the immediate context that would indicate which voice Luke intended?
Concerning the Greek grammar: What is middle voice? Unlike English, Greek has a middle voice that represents actions or conditions that are self-imposed. An example of English renderings of middle and passive voice phrases would be,
a) I am helping myself - middle voice
b) I am being helped (by another) - passive voice.
There is nothing in the Greek word itself that can tell us which voice is intended. However, there are convincing historical arguments that ancient Greeks saw the default rendering of "tetagmenoi" as middle voice, even as modern Greeks do. For example, the most current and largest publication on Verbs in Greece, the Lexicon of Ancient Greek Verbs by B. D. Anagnostopoulos (a book without theological interests), shows "tetagmenos" on page 1099, in the middle voice. Even in ancient Greek manuscripts, we can find “tetagmenoi” used the way I am suggesting it was used in Acts 13:48. It is quite evident that ancient Greeks generally understood "tetagmenoi" to be in the middle voice. Calvinists (as well as translators) need to give compelling grammatical or contextual reasons for a passive rendering.
The word literally means, “being set in position”. The “position” can be either physical or intellectual. Undeniably then, "tassomai" can describe volition and resolve (an intellectual disposition), whether this is divine or human. This meaning agrees with most Greek lexicons, many of which include middle voice definitions such as: I agree, I am devoted to, I consent with, I promise, I undertake, I take position, I take side. Indeed, this is exactly how the word is interpreted in 1Co16:15: “You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. –NIV
If we use this definition, the verse in question would read, “…those that were sided (or aligned, or agreed) with eternal life…” Or more plainly: “…those that had sided with eternal life…”
Following is a quote from “The Potter’s Freedom” by James White. Dr. White gives the following grammatical argument for a passive voice rendering.
(Quote) “But there is a grammatical reason why the normal translation and understanding of this passage should be accepted (along with the resultant meaning). The term “appointed” here is found in what is called a periphrastic construction. A periphrastic construction involves the use of a participle with a form of the Greek verb of being, eijmiv. By combining different tenses of both elements, a particular result is achieved. In this case, Luke uses the imperfect form of eimi together with the perfect passive participle. The result is that the phrase must be translated as a “pluperfect.” A pluperfect sense speaks of a completed action in the past, but unlike the perfect tense, the pluperfect does not contain the idea of a continuation of the past action into the present time. Therefore, the meaning of “appointed” refers to a past action. How can this be if, in fact, we are to understand this as an attitude in the Gentiles who have just heard that the gospel is coming to them? Obviously, to take it in the sense suggested by Buswell or Alford is to understand this action as something that takes place at the very point where the Apostles quote from Isaiah and proclaim that the Gentiles can receive the blessings of the gospel. Luke writes, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord.” How can we think that prior to this they had somehow judged themselves worthy of eternal life? Instead, the most natural way to take the text is to see this as Luke’s explanation of why some who heard believed while others did not: the difference was not that some were better or more “disposed” toward the gospel than others (the very idea of someone being disposed toward the gospel is utterly contrary to Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:7-8): the difference is that some were appointed to eternal life as part of the eternal decree of God, and others were not.” (Close quote)
This is not REALLY a grammatical argument, but is a contextual argument. It could be paraphrased thusly, “The appointment occurred before the faith, therefore God does the appointing, and therefore it necessarily should be passive voice.”
I am in agreement with Dr. White that the appointment occurred in the past; however, there is nothing in the pluperfect tense itself that indicates WHEN that past appointment occurred or WHO does the appointing. His conclusion involves several contextual misunderstandings.
Concerning the context: What Dr. White doesn’t see is that the message in which Paul quoted Isaiah is not intended to proclaim that the Gentiles can receive the blessings of the gospel. The Gentiles had NOT “just heard” that the gospel was coming to them. They had ALREADY heard the gospel the previous Sabbath, and they had believed it. The belief in verse 48 is NOT the belief in the death and resurrection of Christ. The point of Paul’s message in verses 46 and 47, where he quoted Isaiah, was that God was REJECTING the Jews because (“…since you repudiate it…”) they had not believed in Christ the week before and so He (God) was turning to the Gentiles. And the Gentiles who HAD believed in Christ the previous Sabbath believed THAT message also.
The week before the events described by Acts 13:48, Paul gave a “word of exhortation” in synagogue (v 15). Paul here preached the same message that he preached everywhere, that which he explicitly defined as “the gospel” in 1Cor 15:3-6. Jesus died, God raised Him from the dead, and He appeared to many. Whoever believes this and repents from their sin will be saved (v 29-37).
In verses 38-40 Paul, concluding his sermon, says, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sin is proclaimed to you, and through Him EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses. THEREFORE TAKE HEED, so that the thing spoken of in the prophets may not come upon you…” (Emphases mine. All phrases emphasized are in ACTIVE VOICE, indicating the subject INITIATES the action, in this case, believing and taking heed.) What were they to take heed to? What was it that was spoken of in the prophets that Paul was warning them against? Habakkuk 1:5: “A work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you.” Paul was describing a work (Christ’s resurrection) and warning them against unbelief. The Revised Berkeley Version translates verse 40 as, “So be careful that the prophetic utterance [referring to Habakkuk 1:5] does not become your experience.”
Notice that in verse 43 it says, “Now when the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.”
Who were the “God-fearing proselytes”? They were Gentiles - Gentiles who had converted to the Jewish faith. Notice that AFTER SYNAGOGUE, they “followed” Paul and Barnabas, who urged them “to CONTINUE in the grace of God.” The word “followed” means more than merely physically following them out of the synagogue. It means they believed. “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” THAT is the kind of “following” that is meant here.
The Jews and Gentiles who “followed” Paul and Barnabas after synagogue were demonstrating that they believed what Paul had just told them. They became disciples of Paul and Barnabas. They believed Paul’s message that Jesus died, He was raised, He appeared to many, and EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES that message is saved. THEY BELIEVED. The fact that they believed is illustrated by the fact that they “followed” Paul and Barnabas and that they were exhorted to CONTINUE in the grace of God – they had ALREADY received the grace of God. I suspect, from the tenses used in verse 43, that the “speaking” and the “were urging them to continue in the grace of God” are ongoing, continuous actions. In other words, all through the following week, because they “followed” Paul and Barnabas, the believing Jews and the Gentile proselytes were being spoken to and were being urged to continue in grace.
In short, the appointment to eternal life spoken of in Acts 13:48 had happened the previous Sabbath.
What then is the nature of the belief in verse 48? That verse says, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord…” What Gentiles? ALL the Gentiles? No, the Gentiles who had believed the previous Sabbath. The Gentiles in verse 48 are the SAME Gentiles as the God-fearing proselytes in verse 43. How do I know that? Well, one would have to ALREADY believe that Jesus died, was raised, and appeared to many, if you were going to rejoice and glorify a word that said God was rejecting the Jews and making Christ into a light to the Gentiles to bring salvation to the end of the earth (v 47). If you didn’t already believe in Christ, the message given in verses 46 and 47 would have no relevance to you. Why would you rejoice and glorify when you didn’t know who Christ was or didn’t believe that He had risen from the dead? What is “this”? What had the believing Gentiles heard that caused them to rejoice and glorify? The word from Paul that God was rejecting the Jews and turning to the Gentiles in support of which Paul quoted Isaiah. What was the “word of the Lord” that those Gentiles glorified? It was the word from Paul that God was rejecting the Jews and turning to the Gentiles in support of which Paul quoted Isaiah. What was it that those who had been appointed (or who had appointed themselves) sometime in the past (pluperfect tense) – what was it that they believed AFTER they had been appointed, and AFTER they had ALREADY believed the gospel message the previous week? The message that Paul had just given, which indicated that they didn’t have to be Jews anymore to be accepted by God. And may I say that that would be a great relief and a cause for rejoicing to any non-Jew – but only if that non-Jew was God-fearing and so had become a proselyte to Judaism.
Those who had been appointed [passive voice] the week before, or, “those who sided [middle voice] with eternal life”, that is, those who had accepted Paul’s teaching of the week before, believed the message Paul spoke in which he referenced the passage in Isaiah. Whether “tetagmenoi” is in the middle or passive voice is irrelevant to the point I’m making here. In verse 48, the belief being spoken of concerns Paul’s message that God was rejecting the Jews and turning to the Gentiles in support of which Paul quoted Isaiah, not the belief of the gospel message that they had ALREADY believed the week before. I would suggest that the phrase “appointed to eternal life” in verse 48 refers to “everyone who believes” in verse 39, which happened the previous Sabbath. That’s why it’s in the pluperfect tense. “Those appointed to eternal life” is simply a SYNONYM for “believers.” Contrary to what James White says, verse 48 is NOT a theological statement of “…Luke’s explanation of why some who heard believed while others did not…” Rather, it’s a narrative statement that says that those Gentiles (the proselytes of verse 43) who had believed Paul’s message the first Sabbath in synagogue ALSO believed Paul’s message preached the following Sabbath. Again, the OBJECT of the belief in verse 48 is Paul’s message: that God was rejecting the Jews because of their unbelief and turning to the Gentiles, which he (Paul) supported by quoting the verse from Isaiah. The belief in verse 48 is NOT the belief in the message of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the risen Christ. The Gentiles being spoken of in verse 48 had believed THAT message the week before.
Both Calvinists and Arminians take the “Gentiles” in verse 48 and connect it to verse 44 - “the whole city.” The common understanding is that the Gentiles who believed in verse 48 were part of “the whole city” in verse 44 and had not heard the gospel the previous Sabbath. Calvinists and Arminians both ASSUME there was a message preached “the next Sabbath” of which there is no account in the text itself. There is no record in the text of Paul and Barnabas preaching the resurrection of Jesus and through Him the forgiveness of sins in the assembly of the following week (verse 44ff). There is no record of Paul and Barnabas saying ANYTHING before the Jews saw the crowds and began contradicting and blaspheming. The Jews saw the crowds and “began contradicting the things spoken by Paul.” Spoken when? The previous Sabbath. So, again, the Gentiles in verse 48 are the same Gentiles who believed the previous Sabbath, per my argument 2 paragraphs above.
I will acknowledge here that there IS a possible slim support from the text that Paul was interrupted WHILE SPEAKING at the meeting on the 2nd Sabbath. Verse 44 says the Jews of the synagogue "spake against THOSE THINGS WHICH WERE SPOKEN by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming." In the Greek text, it is quite clear that "contradicting" relates to the things "spoken" (legomenois). Morphologically, legomenois is most often (but not always) seen as a Present participle, implying Paul was saying something at the time he was contradicted, permitting Acts 13:44 to imply: "[the Jews] spake against those things WHICH WERE BEING SPOKEN by Paul." So there is an insinuation that a second Sabbath sermon was in progress.
My response to this is: Whether or not a second Sabbath sermon was underway really doesn’t make much difference. If Paul were able to begin his planned message, which I acknowledge as a possibility, he would have only barely begun before being interrupted. The point is, the Jews contradicted and reviled Paul because of what they SAW, not what they heard. And so, the contradicting would concern what had been spoken the previous Sabbath, either way.
The fact that the Greek grammar demands that the appointment be a past action has nothing to do with whether it should be translated in middle or passive voice. The Calvinist argument that says otherwise is based on 2 things:
1) A prior theological position, i.e. theological bias – the monergistic predetermination of God in eternity past of those who will believe in Christ, and
2) The mistaken notion that the belief spoken of in verse 48 has to do with the appointment to eternal life, and not the “word of the Lord” that Paul had just given, in which he quoted from Isaiah, which was NOT a message on the resurrection of Christ and the necessity of believing it in order to be saved, but was to the effect that God had rejected the Jews and was turning to the Gentiles.
So, one cannot use Acts 13:48 to say that the appointment to eternal life preceded the saving faith. The appointment preceded the belief, that is to say, the acceptance of Paul’s message that God was rejecting the Jews BECAUSE of their unbelief, and turning to the Gentiles, who had ALREADY believed Paul’s presentation of the gospel the previous Sabbath.
My contextual argument for middle voice is based on Luke’s comparison. The Gentile proselytes had believed the gospel the previous week. Their attitudes and actions are compared/contrasted with the Jews, who generally, did not believe the gospel the previous week. In speaking of the comparison here Arminians are wont to illustrate it by saying, “The Jews repudiated and blasphemed as opposed to the Gentiles who rejoiced and glorified.” This position also indicates a misunderstanding of the context. The Jews contradicting and blaspheming is not really DIRECTLY comparable to the Gentiles rejoicing and glorifying. The Gentile’s rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord concerns the message that Paul had just given. The Jews contradicting and blaspheming occurred BEFORE Paul gave that message. Their actions confirmed the word from Habakkuk that Paul had quoted the week before. The Jews’ actions are related to the message of Christ’s death and resurrection, which was preached in synagogue the week before. Those who did NOT believe that message were filled with jealousy because of the crowds that came to hear Paul the following week (v 45). The comparison is NOT that the Jews contradicted and blasphemed as opposed to the Gentiles who rejoiced and glorified. The comparison concerns what happened the week before in synagogue. Some (generally Jews) did NOT believe, and some (generally Gentiles) DID believe. When Paul says to the Jews, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first…” he is referring directly to what he had said the week before in synagogue, NOT to anything he had allegedly said to “the whole city” the following Sabbath. When he says, “…since you repudiate it [that is, the word that they had heard the previous week] and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life…” he is talking about the fact that they did NOT believe the message he had given in synagogue the week before, as evidenced by their jealousy, which resulted in them contradicting and blaspheming, as opposed to the Gentile proselytes, who had received the grace of God the week before, and were exhorted to continue in it. The comparison concerns those who believed as opposed to those who did not, which happened the first Sabbath that Paul preached in synagogue. THAT is why “tetagmenoi” should be middle voice. The Jews “judged themselves” by siding (disbelieving) against Paul’s teaching and the Gentiles “appointed themselves” by siding (believing) with Paul’s teaching. And THAT happened the week BEFORE the events described in 13:48.
In trying to fill in the details concerning what actually happened in Antioch, allow me to do some speculating here.
1) The meeting on the 2nd Sabbath wherein “almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God” took place in the same synagogue as the first meeting because at the conclusion of the first meeting “the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath” (verse 42).
2) Paul never preached to the common citizens of Antioch throughout that week, since: a) such is nowhere indicated, and b) Paul says the last day: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it… we NOW turn to the Gentiles." Until that moment, Paul had not made any significant contact with any Gentiles other than the Jewish proselytes of verse 43.
3) The Gentiles from “almost the whole city” probably had a vague idea of who Paul was and what he was propagating. Some of the more interested ones probably knew exactly what he was propagating because they had been talking to their friends who were the proselytes at the synagogue the first Sabbath. Some of those were most likely already believers or seriously considering it. The believing Jews and proselytes from the week before had been spreading the news by word of mouth, otherwise why the large crowd?
4) The planned sermon was to be the same message Paul had preached the week before since the people present the first Sabbath had “begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath.”
5) The unbelieving Jews saw the crowd (v. 45) and, knowing what Paul was going to say, did not allow him to even begin to speak before contradicting what he had spoken the week before and reviling him (v. 45). If Paul were able to begin his planned message, which is possible, he would have only barely begun before being interrupted. The point is, the Jews contradicted and reviled Paul because of what they SAW, not what they heard. And so, the contradicting would concern what had been spoken the previous Sabbath, not what may or may not have been spoken the 2nd Sabbath.
6) The Gentiles from “almost the whole city” who had not been present the week before probably never came into the synagogue area, as that would be defiling to the Jews. Since Paul was contending with the unbelieving Jews from the week before, the whole incident would have taken place INSIDE the synagogue with the Gentiles crowding around the outside. The only Gentiles inside the building would have been the proselytes from the week before who had been circumcised and ritually cleansed.
7) Since these proselytes had already believed Paul (who had told them “to continue in the grace of God” - v.43), we have no difficulty seeing why they had already sided with the idea of eternal life; they, and perhaps some of their uncircumcised friends outside, who had already sided with Paul’s preaching on eternal life based on the word of mouth that they had heard throughout the week, and there were perhaps others who were fence-sitting until they heard Paul’s declaration concerning God’s rejection of the Jews and His turning to the Gentiles, which was enough to cause them to believe what their proselyte friends had been telling them.
Admittedly, this is somewhat conjectural, but these conjectures are based ON THE TEXT, and on what we know of 1st century Judaism in a heathen city. It is clear that the middle voice rendering for tetagmenoi in verse 48 is entirely plausible, even probable, all the while conforming to the pluperfect tense.
Notice that in chapter 14 verse 1 it says THE SAME THING happened at Iconium. And then it describes what happened. “They [Paul and Barnabas] went into the Jewish synagogue and so spoke that a large group of Jews and of Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up and embittered the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers” (Acts 14:1-2). See the emphasis on what happened IN SYNAGOGUE? The Gentiles who believed at Iconium believed because of the initial message IN SYNAGOGUE. And it says that the SAME THING had happened at Antioch. The emphasis is on the response to the gospel that occurred in the synagogue as a result of the INITIAL message. You have believing Jews and unbelieving Jews and you have believing Gentiles and unbelieving Gentiles. The comparison is between those who DO believe (Jews AND Gentiles) and those who DON’T believe (Jews AND Gentiles). At Iconium, there is no statement concerning an appointment to eternal life. But there IS a statement that a large group of Jews and Greeks BELIEVED. That’s because “believed” is the same thing as “appointed.” Synonymous. “Whoever believes in Him…has eternal life.” Whoever believes in Him has an appointment to eternal life. (See verse 38, “…everyone who believes…” The NT, in dozens of texts, equates “believing in Him” with “eternal life.”)
I think the contextual indicators are strong enough to justify a middle voice rendering. Furthermore, the Reformed understanding is predicated on the idea that the appointment in verse 48 is connected to the verse in Isaiah and that THAT is WHEN the Gentiles in verse 48 savingly believed. I’m saying that the quote from Isaiah was given to support Paul’s statement that, because the Jews did not believe what Paul had described to them the previous Sabbath (Paul had quoted Habakkuk the previous Sabbath and had said to take heed lest, “…you will never believe though someone should describe it to you…”), and because the Gentiles in verse 48 HAD believed what Paul had described the previous Sabbath, God was rejecting the Jews and turning to the Gentiles. The Gentiles, after believing in Christ the previous Sabbath, ALSO believed what Paul was saying in verses 46 and 47. “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you [Jews] first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have placed you as a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’ WHEN THE GENTILES HEARD THIS…” they rejoiced and glorified and believed it.
The appointment to eternal life is not tied to the belief that God has rejected the Jews and turned to the Gentiles. The appointment to eternal life is tied to faith in the message that Jesus died, He was raised, and He appeared to many. If you believe that, you have forgiveness of sins, and you are “…freed from all things, which you could not be freed from through the Law of Moses…” “Appointed to eternal life” is a synonym for “believer”. I think WAAAY too much has been made of the phrase “appointed to eternal life” – it has been over-exegeted by theologians. Especially Reformed theologians. I think Luke meant it simply as a synonym for a believer. Likewise, “judged themselves unworthy of eternal life” is simply a synonym for “unbeliever.” Nevertheless, saying that these phrases are “simply” synonyms for believers and unbelievers, does not diminish the importance of the voices used, because the voices indicate HOW and/or WHY the actions happen. There is no controversy over “judged themselves.” The subject initiates the action. “Appointed” is debatable, otherwise there would be no debate! There are NO immediate contextual arguments in support of a passive voice rendering. Any argument for passive voice must use external arguments, i.e. how Luke uses it elsewhere, the translator’s understanding of what scripture says elsewhere (which is theological bias) etc. The “contextual” argument that the appointment preceded the faith indicates a misunderstanding of the context.
My middle voice understanding would be something along the lines of, “as many as had aligned themselves with eternal life [by believing Paul’s message the previous week, also] believed [Paul’s message that the Jews were rejected by God for unbelief and that God was turning to the Gentiles].
The Calvinist passive voice understanding would be something along the lines of, “as many as had been appointed [immutably by God before the foundation of the world] believed [the message assumed to be given but not explicit in the text, that Jesus died, was raised, and appeared to many, and they believed BECAUSE they had been appointed].
Which position takes the immediate context into more account?
James White thinks the “believed” in verse 48 is “saving faith.” That misunderstanding, in tandem with his Reformed theological bias, causes him to conclude, “The appointment occurred before the faith, therefore God does the appointing, and therefore it necessarily should be passive voice.” (My paraphrase.) The root of the error of both Calvinists and Arminians is the misunderstanding of the nature of the belief spoken of in verse 48. It is NOT saving faith. That had already happened the week before. It is merely the belief of Paul’s message; that God was rejecting the Jews, because of their unbelief, and turning to the Gentiles. THAT is the “belief” that was PRECEEDED by the appointment to eternal life. The appointment to eternal life is tied to saving faith, which is faith in Christ’s death and resurrection, and THAT had happened the week before.
And furthermore, “he who believes in Him will not be DIS-APPOINTED.”
On Predestination - Acts 16:13 - Lydia