(This is the second post in a series of posts on Acts 13:48. To read the first post please click here.)
The Greek word “tasso” translated “appointed” or “ordained” in most Bible translations is the cause of many non-Calvinist headaches, though it needn’t be. Many, in an attempt to relieve their aching head, have tried very hard to find various ways to translate this word into something more appealing. But I believe there is plenty of scriptural evidence to show that “appointed/ordained” are valid English translations for Luke’s use of the word. Given that I am almost totally unschooled in biblical Greek many might be tempted to ignore my opinion on this point, I can accept that. And if what I present is at odds with the majority of Greek scholars, I would suggest that would be wise. But thankfully, there is a biblical way to determine what Luke had in mind without knowing the ins and outs of biblical Greek.
Luke uses the same Greek word (tasso) in four places besides Acts 13:48. By looking at how Luke uses the word elsewhere we can get a fairly accurate idea of how he intends to use it in the verse we are considering. Luke uses this particular word more than any other New Testament writer. Paul uses it twice in Romans 13:1 and 1 Corinthians 16:15. Matthew uses it once in Matthew 28:16. But Luke uses it a total of five times (Luke 7:8, Acts 13:48, 15:2, 22:10, and 28:23). So before jumping into the context of Acts 13:48, let’s take a look at these other passages and see how Luke uses the word.
For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, “God,” and he goes; and to another, “Come,” and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.
In this verse the Greek word we are considering is translated as “set” in the ESV and as “placed” in the NKJV. The picture we get is someone with authority determining the position of another. The General tells the subordinate what his rank will be and who he will be answerable to. What we learn here is that the word is used of one person determining the position, rank and place of another. One cannot appoint himself to a military position; it takes someone with authority over the military to make that decision. Once one has been placed in that position by the top ranking officer, no one can question their right to give orders to those below them.
And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
The word here is translated “appointed” in the ESV and “determined” in the NKJV. We see that Paul and Barnabas were chosen by others to go up to Jerusalem for a particular task. Though the decision was most likely a group decision decided by consensus, it is clear that Paul, Barnabas and the others who were chosen did not appoint themselves for the task journey ahead of them. They went willingly, but they had the authority of others behind them. Being appointed for something does not mean one is forced to do it, instead it implies that they have the clout of another supporting their appointment. Jesus came into the world having been sent by the Father, nevertheless, he came willingly.
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.”
The word here is translated “appointed” in the ESV and “arranged” in the GWT. This passage shows that God had prepared certain things for Paul to do. Here we see that God didn’t “appoint” Paul, but he “appointed” certain things to be done by Paul. From Paul’s letters we know that though God had “arranged” certain things for him to do, nevertheless he was responsible to “walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). He was not passive, nor was he “disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).
When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers.
The word here is translated “appointed” in the ESV and “designated” in the GWT. Here the sense is that Paul and the Jewish leaders made an appointment. They arranged a time to meet. It is not that they told Paul, “We will come this day and there is nothing you can do to change it!” Instead, there was a consensus between Paul and the Jewish leaders on which day they would meet together at his house. The Jewish leaders were the ones that “set” the day, but it was not done without taking Paul’s desires into account. They said, “Paul, we will come next Tuesday, agreed?” Paul didn’t choose the day, but he did agree to it.
Hopefully these verses and my comments about them have made a few things clear:
1. Though this word is used of one person deciding something for someone else, it is far from fatalistic. Even in the first example (Luke 7:8), it is impossible to imagine a military that never has any disciplinary problems. Though a superior might give an order that does not ensure that it will be followed. Every military has some form of court martial because wherever you find human beings, you always find the possibility of rebellion. Actually, this point doesn’t really affect how the word is used in Acts 13:48, but I say it in order not to alienate my non-Calvinist brethren before I get to my final point;)
2. Luke never uses the word to mean “disposed” or “inclined.” Many would like Acts 13:48 to say “As many as were inclined to eternal life believed.” Though it is true that technically this is one of the possible definitions for the word tasso, nevertheless, it is not the way Luke used the word. If we were to look at Matthew and Paul’s use of the words, we would find that they also did not use the word that way. As I said in my last post, this might be a correct way to translate the word in Acts 13:48, but it would be a unique way for Luke to use the word. I am not bold enough to follow such a distinctive interpretation.
3. Luke always uses the word tasso in the context of one person “appointing” a different person. He never talks about one person “appointing” themselves. And as we will see in the upcoming posts, it would defeat Luke’s purpose to use it in that way in Acts 13:48 where he desires to clarify that the believing Gentiles did not invite themselves into a kingdom that was the rightful possession of another. Instead they had been invited by God to a kingdom that had been prepared for them.
It is true that Paul uses the word to say that particular individuals had “devoted themselves to the service of the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15). But we should note that the word “themselves” is absent in Acts 13:48. We should also recognize that Paul is not Luke. And Paul’s usage of a word cannot definitively determine the usage of another biblical author.
Luke’s Meaning for “Tasso”
Luke uses tasso in two ways:
1. One person appoints a different person for something (Luke 7:8, Acts 15:2).
2. One person prepares/arranges something for a different person (Acts 22:10, 28:23).
Luke uses the word in a consistent way. From these examples we can see how Luke understands and uses the word in his writing. Though the contexts vary, the meaning and use of the word remains constant. Sometimes one person decides, sometimes it is a group of people, and sometimes it is God that makes the decision. Sometimes it is a person that is appointed for a task, and sometimes it is something that is arranged for a person.
Acts 13:48’s Proper Translation
From the above points I think the ESV translation is in line with Luke’s common usage of the word, “…as many as were appointed for eternal life believed.” This would be comparable to Luke’s usage of tasso in Acts 15:2, “…Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.”
I believe Luke is saying, “Those Gentiles who believed [that day] had [already] been appointed by God for eternal life.”
I can hear my non-Calvinist brethren groaning, “We have lost another Arminian to the errors of Calvinism.” Not so fast! In the upcoming posts we will breakdown what this means in the immediate context of Acts 13 and the overall theological context of biblical Christianity. We will also show that this fits classical Arminian theology very well, and with much less reading into the text than the Reformed perspective.
Until then, let me discourage those of my Calvinist brethren who imagine the angels in heaven are rejoicing over another “Arminian/Pelagian” seeing the “light” of Reformed theology;) These particular individuals in Acts 13:48 were ordained for eternal life; that is a much different thing than saying that they were appointed to believe in the gospel.
To be continued….