A GREEK EXPOSITION OF ACTS 13:48
Predestination or Free Will?
By Jesse Morrell
A Calvinist recently posted Acts 13:48 on my My Facebook to try to refute the idea that believing is man’s choice.
The verse reads:
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained [ἦσαν τεταγμένοι] to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:48.
I responded with an excerpt from my book, “The Natural Ability of Man: A Study on Free Will & Human Nature:”
“If it really is a person’s own free choice to believe the gospel or not, why does the Bible say “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48)? This is a common proof-text of Calvinists who say that it is not man’s choice to believe but that God predetermines who believes and who doesn’t.
“The Greek word used here for “ordained” however “includes no idea of pre-ordination or pre-destination of any kind” according to Adam Clarke. John Wesley said, “St. Luke does not say fore – ordained. He is not speaking of what was done from eternity, but of what was then done, through the preaching of the gospel.”
“The word which is translated as “ordained” in this passage simply means “disposed.” Therefore this verse is saying “as many as were disposed or had such a disposition to eternal life believed.” As Adam Clarke said, it teaches the “disposition or readiness of mind of several persons in the congregation…” Their disposition to receive the gospel is contrasted with the disposition of the Jews just two verses before. We read, “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
“The meaning of the word used in verse 48 and the context of verse 46 helps us to properly exegetically interpret verse 48 consistently with the rules of hermeneutics, namely, interpreting a passage based upon the meaning of the original language and in light of the immediate context.
“In light of this, this passage means that those who “judge” themselves “unworthy of everlasting life” did not believe, but those who “disposed” themselves “to eternal life believed.” Whether they believed or not depended on whether their heart rejected or accepted the gospel which was preached to them. Those who hardened their hearts did not believe, but those who softened their hearts did believe. What made the difference was the disposition which they choose to have in response to the message that was preached. Therefore, this passage should not be used to teach that it is not man’s free choice to believe, as it is implied all throughout the Bible that it is man’s choice to believe or not.”
(The Natural Ability of Man: A Study on Free Will and Human Nature by Jesse Morrell, p. 330-331.) https://biblicaltruthresources.wordpress.com/books/theology-books/
To this the Calvinist responded:
“Also you obviously don’t know greek, and are following arminian comentators and taking their word for things. Ordained in greek is “tasso” which means “to arrange in an orderly manner, that is, assign or dispose( to a certain position or lot):- addict, appoint, determine, ordain, set. -Strongs Dictionary”
This was my response:
I am sorry to say but it is obvious that you do not understand Greek, as the word ordained in this passage means “dispose” and “determine” as you yourself quoted from Strongs. Notice that what you quoted does not say predisposed or predetermined, as it was something that occurred right then and there and not from eternity’s past. And as the context reveals, it is referring to the disposition or determination of the people. The verse says, “as many as were ordained” which means it was the people themselves that were disposed. Thus it was not God who preordained them to eternal life by some ancient decree, but the word who so influenced them to dispose them eternal life. That is the context and that is why good commentators have said such.
If you will, allow me to give you a further lesson in the Greek. The stem word is”τάσσω” but as it appears in the text (in the Majority text, Coptic Manuscripts, Critical Text, Textus Receptus, etc) is “ἦσαν τεταγμένοι.” In other words, there are no variants on this particular section of the passage. All ancient Greek manuscripts are in uniform agreement on this particular part of the text.
A few points to consider about “ἦσαν τεταγμένοι:”
1. Notice that the word used by the author is not “προετοιμάζω” which is translated as “ordained” in other passages, meaning “to prepare before, to make ready beforehand” (Thayer). Nor is the word used by the author “προορίζω” which is also translated as “ordained,” meaning 1) to predetermine, decide beforehand 2) in the NT of God decreeing from eternity 3) to foreordain, appoint beforehand” (Thayer). These were the words New Testament authors used when speaking of that which was predetermined or foreordained, but these are not the words used in the passage under consideration. The word is “τεταγμένοι” which includes no idea of pre-destination or fore-ordaination of any kind whatsoever. If the author wanted to communicate predestination to eternal life, he had Koine Greek words available to him to do so, but these he did not use.
This is why I wrote in my book: “The Greek word used here for ‘ordained’ however ‘includes no idea of pre-ordination or pre-destination of any kind’ according to Adam Clarke. John Wesley said, ‘St. Luke does not say fore – ordained. He is not speaking of what was done from eternity, but of what was then done, through the preaching of the gospel.'”
That is why Thayer’s and Strong’s defines “τάσσω” as determined or disposed and not predetermined or predisposed, as it was something that occurred right then and there and not from eternity past.
2. Notice the third person plural imperfect form of “εἰμί” in this passage – “ἦσαν,” translated as “were” in this passage. The tense for this verb is “imperfect” and the mood is “indicative.” The imperfect, as students of the Greek know, refers to a continual or repeated action. In other words, they were not pre-ordained by one eternal decree, but they were continually being disposed to eternal life through the preparatory work of the word. As the analogy goes, one plants, one waters, and God gives the increase. This preparatory work, whereby they were being disposed to eternal life, may have taken place the previous sabbath when they had heard the word (Acts 13:42).
3. Also notice the passive/middle ending “μένοι.” That means that ordained/disposed can be taken as something which was done to them (passive), in this case by the word, or something which they did to themselves (middle), in this case by allowing themselves to be properly influenced by the word. Given the context of this passage, especially in contrast with vs. 46 that uses the reflexive pronoun “ἑαυτοῦ” to say that they judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, this verb “τεταγμένοι” should be understood to be in the middle voice. Context is the only key in determining whether a verb is in the passive or in the middle, as the ending is identical.
4. The tense in this verb “τεταγμένοι” we know to be perfect because of the reduplication of the original consonant of the stem “τάσσω” and the intersection of an epsilon vowel between them. In the perfect tense it refers to an action completed in the past.
So with the imperfect indicative verb “ἦσαν” and the perfect middle verb “τεταγμένοι”, this passage is saying that those who believed were those who had continually disposed themselves to eternal life in the past, when the word was presented to them by Paul and Barnabas.
5. Back to the original point in dispute, about believing being man’s free will choice or a gift that man receives, notice that the word translated as believed is “επιστευσαν” which is the aorist active indicative form of the stem word “πιστεύω.” It means to “have faith,” “entrust” or “commit trust” (Strongs). In the active form it means that the subject is the doer or performer of the action, as opposed to the passive which would mean that someone else did it to them. In other words, it was the men themselves who did the believing and not God believing for them or them passively receiving faith as a gift. Hence, faith is man’s choice as it is something that man does.
For further commentary on this passage, here is Adam Clarke:
“Acts 13:48: As many as were ordained to eternal life believed – This text has been most pitifully misunderstood. Many suppose that it simply means that those in that assembly who were fore-ordained; or predestinated by God’s decree, to eternal life, believed under the influence of that decree. Now, we should be careful to examine what a word means, before we attempt to fix its meaning. Whatever τεταγμενοι may mean, which is the word we translate ordained, it is neither προτεταγμενοι nor προορισμενοι which the apostle uses, but simply τεταγμενοι, which includes no idea of pre-ordination or pre-destination of any kind. And if it even did, it would be rather hazardous to say that all those who believed at this time were such as actually persevered unto the end, and were saved unto eternal life. But, leaving all these precarious matters, what does the word τεταγμενος mean? The verb ταττω or τασσω signifies to place, set, order, appoint, dispose; hence it has been considered here as implying the disposition or readiness of mind of several persons in the congregation, such as the religious proselytes mentioned Acts 13:43, who possessed the reverse of the disposition of those Jews who spake against those things, contradicting and blaspheming, Acts 13:45. Though the word in this place has been variously translated, yet, of all the meanings ever put on it, none agrees worse with its nature and known signification than that which represents it as intending those who were predestinated to eternal life: this is no meaning of the term, and should never be applied to it. Let us, without prejudice, consider the scope of the place: the Jews contradicted and blasphemed; the religious proselytes heard attentively, and received the word of life: the one party were utterly indisposed, through their own stubbornness, to receive the Gospel; the others, destitute of prejudice and prepossession, were glad to hear that, in the order of God, the Gentiles were included in the covenant of salvation through Christ Jesus; they, therefore, in this good state and order of mind, believed. Those who seek for the plain meaning of the word will find it here: those who wish to make out a sense, not from the Greek word, its use among the best Greek writers, and the obvious sense of the evangelist, but from their own creed, may continue to puzzle themselves and others; kindle their own fire, compass themselves with sparks, and walk in the light of their own fire, and of the sparks which they have kindled; and, in consequence, lie down in sorrow, having bidden adieu to the true meaning of a passage so very simple, taken in its connection, that one must wonder how it ever came to be misunderstood and misapplied. Those who wish to see more on this verse may consult Hammond, Whitby, Schoettgen, Rosenmuller, Pearce, Sir Norton Knatchbull, and Dodd.”
The Natural Ability of Man: A Study On Free Will & Human Nature by Jesse Morrell is an exhaustive theological volume that defends the Christian doctrine of man’s free will against the false Gnostic/Calvinist doctrine of man’s natural inability.
This volume explains the truth of man’s freedom of choice in light of Church history and other doctrines like total depravity, regeneration, atonement, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, predestination, repentance, faith, the believers security, original sin, etc. One Bible teacher called this book “the most comprehensive exposition on man’s natural ability in print.”
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