Thursday, February 02, 2006

Acts 13:48- Eavesdropping at CARM

Acts 13:48

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.”

This is one of those verses that should make you stop and think, for a long time. The verse plainly says that God appoints particular individuals for salvation. Case closed. If you believe in free will, libertarianism, Dispensationalism, or some form of semi-Pelagianism, it must be tough trying to find a place for this verse in your theology!

Some of you may remember a few years back when Dave Hunt attempted to re-translate the word TASSW (“appointed”) in Acts 13:48 to say “disposed themselves to believe.” James White responded with full force (found here). James pointed out that only one translation (…err, cough, cough), the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses uses such a rendering:

NWT: and all those who were rightly disposed for everlasting life became believers

Over on the CARM boards, a couple guys are discussing this verse (discussion found here). One particular non-Reformed guy named Swordsman53 loves to discuss this verse. I recall a few years back dialoging with him on whether or not the rendering “disposed themselves to believe” was accurate. He said it was, and argued that the middle voice meaning of TASSW was a good translation:

I would suggest that a middle voice translation of the participle provides us with a statement that is consistent with Paul's overall theme within his letters - that salvation is open to all persons of faith, to the Jews first, and also to the Greeks.”

If I recall, he had talked with a Greek professor who gave it two thumbs up. Of course none of the major Bible translations use such a rendering:

KJV:and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
NASB:and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed
NIV: and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
ASV: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
ESV: and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
ISV: Meanwhile, all who had been destined to eternal life believed.
NET:and all who had been appointed for eternal life believed.
NAB:All who were destined for eternal life came to believe.
NKJV:And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
NLT:and all who were appointed to eternal life became believers.
NRSV:and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.
GNB:and those who had been chosen for eternal life became believers
Jerus.: all who were destined for eternal life became believers.

I was interested to see in this CARM discussion that Swordsman53 now denies the middle voice translation, This was the same guy who a year two back spent a whole lot of time arguing that word “appointed” was an inaccurate translation. Now though, he accepts it and argues as follows:

I still favor a passive voice view from a narrative perspective. (It is a close call but I think this has the edge.) But that does not mean that the passage says what the Reformers want it to mean. TASSW is the not the word used for predestination or election or a pre-appointment. Luke is very careful in his writing and his writings are more in line with classical Greek and he uses other words for that idea (he does have extensive use of the middle voice in his texts). Narratively, the appointment is related to those to whom Paul is specifically set aside to preach to - the Gentiles. Read the entire context of the first missionary journey and you will see this distinctive pattern of turning towards the Gentiles. That is, through the appointment of Paul at the beginning of the journey, the Gentiles are the target audience for the gospel (see 13:47 - which is the climax of the narrative of the first journey).”

Many of you are probably saying, “What in the world is he saying here?” Helpfully, a very well informed pastor John Stevenson, took the time to work through Swordsman53’s position:

I agree with the passive use of the term -- that is the most natural reading of the text as there is nothing in the context to suggest the middle voice. As to Luke use of TASSO, he regularly uses the term to describe an appointment or determination or choosing that was made. For example, in Acts 22:10, Paul is told that God has APPOINTED certain things for Paul to accomplish (the same perfect tense is used as is found in Acts 13:48).Just as God had pre-appointed a ministry for Paul in Acts 22:10 using this same term TASSO, so also here in Acts 13:48 we see that certain Gentiles had been APPOINTED to eternal life. Who did this appointing? The suggestion that this appointment was made either by Paul or Barnabas or by the people themselves seems to be a deliberate stretch to avoid what is obviously implied by the text -- that it is God who had appointed them.Furthermore, note that it is only those who had been appointed to eternal life who believed. Paul and Barnabas preached to everyone there and there were some who did not believe among both the Jews and the Gentiles. But those who had been appointed to eternal life DID believe.This in itself shows that it had to have been God who did the appointing.”