“And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” Acts 13.48

Those who recommend the use of the modern versions of the Bible often assert that the numerous changes in these versions do not affect any Christian doctrine, but this claim is not in accordance with the facts. The translation known as the “Living Bible” renders this verse- “As many as wanted eternal life believed”, accompanied by footnotes- “or were disposed to; or ordained to”. There is a very important difference between wanting eternal life and being ordained to eternal life. One emphasises the will of man, while the other emphasises the will of God.

There is no disagreement among the manuscripts regarding the Greek word, and the matter under discussion is how it should be translated. Some critics of the Authorised Version have attributed the A.V. rendering to the extreme Calvinism of the translators, but they were by no means all extreme Calvinists, and those who were had too much reverence for the Word of God to distort it in any way. Some have suggested that the A.V. translators adopted the word “ordained” because it was in the Latin Vulgate, but they were in fact following the Greek text and earlier versions based upon the Greek.

The Latin and Roman Catholic Versions

The Latin Vulgate actually has PRAEORDINATI, while the Latin of Erasmus, based directly on the Greek has ORDINATI. Tyndale and his successors down to the A.V. and after have all followed the Greek rather than the Latin. The Roman Catholic Rheims Testament of 1582 has “were preordinate to life everlasting”, and the 1951 Spencer version “preordained”. Ronald Knox, the Confraternity Version, the Jerusalem Bible, and the New American Bible of 1971, all have “destined for” or “destined to” everlasting or eternal life. The Douay, Arendzen and the R.C. R.S.V. all have “ordained” as in the Authorised Version.

English Versions from Wyclif to the A.V.

Wyclif translated from the Latin and was evidently influenced by the prefix of PRAEORDINATI-“bifor ordeyned to euerlastynge liif”. Tyndale, following the Greek and aided perhaps by Erasmus’ Latin, reads “as many as were ordeyned unto eternal life”. The Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, and the Authorised Version render the text in the same way, influenced neither by the Vulgate, nor by Calvinism, but desiring to give a faithful and accurate translation.

Revisions in the 19th and 20th Centuries

It cannot be argued that such progress has been made in the understanding of Greek to make this rendering no longer admissible, for the experts who laboured on many more recent versions have translated the text in the same way- “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed”. The Revisers of 1881 saw no need to change it. The American Standard Version of 1901 and the Revised Standard Version of 1952, J.N. Darby, Moffatt, Sir Edward Clarke (“The Authorised Version Corrected”), and S. Sharpe, all have “ordained”. No one with any knowledge of these translators will suggest that they were dominated by the Authorised Version, or by the Vulgate, or by Calvinism. They use the word “ordained” because they consider it the most accurate rendering of the Greek word. The same can be said for Lamsa’s rendering from the Syriac.

Versions with “appointed”

Another group of versions use the word “appointed” and render the text “appointed to” or “appointed for” eternal life. This gives the same sense as “ordained” and is equally remote from the “Living Bible” translation, “as many as wanted eternal life”. Young’s Literal Version has “appointed”, and the same rendering is found in Lloyd’s “Corrected English New Testament”, C.K. Williams’ “Plain English N.T.”, Cunnington’s N.T., The Book of Books, The Berkeley Version, Wuest’s Expanded Translation, and the New American Standard Version. Of these also it may be said that they were not influenced by the Latin, by Calvin, or by the Authorised Version, but all considered that the Greek word means “appointed” and not “wanted”.

Versions with “destined”

A fifth group of translations uses “destined” or “pre-destined”, both of which convey a meaning very similar to “ordained” or “appointed”, and certainly not akin to “wanted”. C.B. Williams (1937), Edgar Goodspeed, the Amplified N.T. and J.B. Phillips have “destined”, while Weymouth has “pre-destined”. Again, it can hardly be asserted that these were bigoted Calvinists or enslaved to the Latin or to the Authorised Version, but they confirm the reliability of the A.V.

Other similar renderings

The Twentieth Century N.T. reads “those who had been enrolled for Immortal Life”; the Basic English N.T.- “marked out by God for eternal life”; “Today’s English Version”-“chosen for eternal life”; “Good News for the World”-“chosen to live for ever”; Schonfield’s Authentic N.T.- “meant for eternal life”; Ferrar Fenton-“disciplined for eternal life”; and G.W. Wade-“all who had been pre-disposed by God for the gaining of eternal life became believers”. It will be seen that all of these place the emphasis upon the exercise of God’s power, and do not support the rendering “as many as wanted… ”

The European Versions

It is interesting to trace this verse through some of the versions in the European languages. Valera’s Spanish N.T. has “ordenados”, and the recent “Dios llega al hombre”, based on TEV, has “destinados”. The Portuguese of Almeida reads “ordenados”, and the R.C. version of Pereira-“predestinados”. In French the Osterwald, Segond, Synodale, and Crampon (R.C.) versions have “destinés”; the French Geneva version and the R.C. version of Martin have “ordonnés”; and De Saci (R.C.)- “prédestinés”. The Italian of Diodati reads “ordinati”; Luzzi “destinati”; and the R.C. version of Martini-“preordinati”. The Bohemian Version of 1613 has “predzrizeno” (predestinated). Martin Luther’s German is similar to the Authorised Version “ordained”, the German being “Verordnet”. This rendering was left undisturbed by the 1961 revision. The same word was used by von Allioli, and a slightly different form of it by Kistemaker (vergeordnet).

The Greek Lexicons

Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon assigns the following meanings to the Greek word TASSŌ: to arrange, put in order, draw up, array, marshal, to post, station, appoint, order, assign, agree, fix, settle. Thayer’s Lexicon explains the N.T. uses of the word as- to put in place, to station, to place in a certain order, to arrange, to assign a place, to appoint, to consecrate one’s self to minister unto one (1 Corinthians 16.15), to ordain, to order, etc. Thayer gives a complete rendering of the passage in Acts 13.48 “As many as were appointed (A.V. ordained) by God to obtain eternal life, or to whom God had decreed eternal life”. According to Souter, TASSŌ in Acts 13.48 means “to put in its place, assign, fix”. T.S. Green gives the meanings- to arrange, to set, to appoint (in a certain station), to devote (to a pursuit), and in Acts 13.48- to dispose, to frame (for an object).

Arndt and Gingrich’s Lexicon admits these meanings, but adds “to belong to, be classed among those possessing” and assigns this meaning to Acts 13.48, which would suggest the highly improbable rendering- “as many as were classed among those possessing eternal life believed”. Even this would not lend support to the Living Bible- “as many as wanted… ”

Sources of the incorrect rendering

Against this massive testimony to the accuracy of the Authorised Version rendering, what can be advanced in support of the “Living Bible” translation- “as many as wanted eternal life believed”? In 1864 Benjamin Wilson’s “Emphatic Diaglott” was published in the U.S.A. It presented the reader with the Greek text of Griesbach and an interlinear literal translation side by side with a new translation. The interlinear rendering is similar to Marshall’s interlinear translation of the Nestle text “as many as were-having been-disposed for life age-lasting”, and in the accompanying translation the passive is not shown so clearly- “as many as were disposed for aionian life, believed”. This “diaglott” was republished by Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1942.

Dean Alford gives a similar rendering in his English New Testament published in 1869, “disposed to eternal life”, leaving it undetermined whether this disposition proceeded from man or from God. A year later John Bowes translated it “as many as were disposed to eternal life believed”, with a foot-note- “So the Syriac; or determined; the same word as in 1 Corinthians 16.15-they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints”. His note suggests that they were “disposed to eternal life” because they “disposed or addicted themselves to it”. Rotherham’s “New Testament Critically Emphasised” (1878) reads, “And they believed-as many as had become disposed for age-abiding life”.

The Commentaries

Calvin (1560) says, “It is a ridiculous cavil to refer this unto the affection of those which believed, as if those received the gospel whose minds were well-disposed. For this ordaining must be understood of the eternal counsel of God alone”.

Geneva Bible, marginal note: “None can believe, but they whom God doth appoint before all beginnings to be saved”.

The Dutch Annotations on the Whole Bible (1637) explain the words, “That is, chosen by God, and were by Him disposed and fitted unto eternal life, as this word signifieth everywhere in the Holy Scripture”.

Diodati’s Annotations (1646): “were ordained by God’s everlasting and most free election, Rom. 11.7”.

Matthew Poole’s Annotations (1685) contain a concise exposition of these words- “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed”. “God, who ordereth the end, ordereth the means, and gives them opportunities to hear the Word, and by it graciously worketh faith in them whom He hath appointed unto eternal life; without which faith, purging the heart, there is no hope of life eternal. ”

Matthew Henry wrote (1706), “God gave this grace to believe to all those among them who were ordained to eternal life (for whom He had predestinated, them He also called, Romans 8.30)”. He also gives an alternative, “as many as were disposed to eternal life, as many as had a concern about their eternal state, and aimed to make sure of eternal life, believed in Christ…and it was the grace of God that wrought it in them. Those will be brought to believe in Christ that by His grace are well disposed to eternal life, and make this their aim. ”

Bengel comments at length on this verse in his “Gnomon of the New Testament” (1742). “The ordination is the act of God; however, Luke is not speaking of eternal predestination… Luke describes such an ordaining as took place at the very time of hearing, and as Aretius observes-in this assembly they believed…on whom the gift of God was bestowed at that hour, enabling them to believe. It is as if Luke said,-they believed, whomsoever the Father drew at that time and gave to the Son: John 6. 44,37.” Bengel also observes that the Greek verb TASSŌ is nowhere used of eternal predestination, which is otherwise expressed by a variety of phrases.

Dr. Gill said, “some would have the words rendered-as many as were disposed to eternal life believed-which is not countenanced by the ancient versions. The Arabic renders it as we do, and the Syriac thus-as many as were put, or appointed, unto eternal life.” Gill understood the passage to relate to “pre-destination or election, God’s act, eternal, sovereign, irrespective, and unconditional…an ordination, not to an office…but to a life of grace which is eternal, and to a life of glory which is for ever, and which is a pure gift of God. ”

Burton’s Greek N.T. with English notes (1831) contends that the Greek word here means “to enrol oneself in, to put oneself in the number of”. In this respect Burton would not disagree with the sense conveyed by the “Living Bible”.

Bloomfield’s Notes on the Greek N.T. (1835, 5th edn. 1843) contain a summary of the views expressed by many other commentators and his own preference was for the meaning “disposed for”, and he acknowledged that “while the Divine decrees can by no means be found here, yet it is proper to bear in mind that the dispostions of the persons themselves…must be ascribed to the preventing grace of God, to which alone it is owing that men are ever thoroughly disposed to embrace or obey the Gospel of Christ. ”

Barnes (1849) affirms that the Greek word “is never used to denote an internal disposition or inclination arising from one’s own self. It does not mean that they disposed themselves to embrace eternal life. It has uniformly the notion of an ordering, disposing or arranging from without, i.e., from some other source than the individual himself; as of a soldier, who is arranged or classified according to the will of the proper officer. It does not refer to an eternal decree, or directly to the doctrine of election, though that may be inferred from it, but it refers to their being then in fact disposed to embrace eternal life…by the operation of the grace of God on their hearts. ”

Wordsworth’s Commentary on the Greek, “They had been set in order to life eternal by God, working by the preaching of Paul, and disposing them to receive the Word preached, and they readily complied with the Divine will, word and work…and like good soldiers of God, being mustered by Him, set themselves also to march onward… ”

Wordsworth asserts that Calvinism can receive no support from this text as it stands in the original. Here he parts company with Augustine and other Western “Fathers”. Bishop Lightfoot held that this verse did not refer to final salvation, while Meyer asserted that God’s appointment was in accordance with His fore-knowledge of those who would believe.

Alford’s Commentary on the Greek, “By whom so disposed is not here declared…we know that it is God who worketh in us the will to believe…but to find in this text pre-ordination to life asserted, is to force both the word and the context to a meaning which they do not contain. ”

Brown and Faussett very concisely state the opposite view- “a very remarkable statement, which cannot, without force, be interpreted of anything lower than this, that a Divine foreordination to eternal life is the cause, not the effect, of any man’s believing”. The I.V.F. New Bible Commentary notes that “the verb rendered ordained may here have the sense of inscribed or enrolled”. The Larger Catechism accompanying the Westminster Confession of Faith quotes Acts 13.48 in proof of the effectual calling of the elect (Question 68).

Bishop Jacobson, writing in the Speaker’s Commentary, suggests that the passive of this verb is here used as the equivalent of the middle voice, and means that “as many as had marshalled themselves, placed themselves in the ranks of those who welcomed the offer of eternal life”. Against this view, Cunnington remarks- “Some scholars render this as many as had set themselves unto eternal life believed, giving the first verb the meaning it has in 1 Cor. 16.15 (addicted themselves). Had Luke meant this, it was easy for him to have expressed himself as Paul does. It is against this rendering that Paul would scarcely have thought men capable of turning to the light before believing.” It should also be noticed that in Acts 13.48 the verb is passive and not “reflexive” as in 1 Cor. 16.15.

Robert Young’s “Concise Critical Comments” offer the rendering “set themselves in array with a view to eternal life”, and suggests that the whole phrase has its exact counterpart in verse 46, “ye judge yourselves unworthy of the age-enduring life”- “they set themselves in array with a view to life age-enduring”. The same writer’s “Literal Translation” has “as many as were appointed to life age-enduring”, so he evidently changed his mind about the meaning.

Although the Commentators do not all agree upon the precise meaning of the words in Acts 13.48, most of them are at variance with the rendering given in the “Living Bible”, and support a rendering equivalent to that given in the Authorised Version.

Simplicity without accuracy

In defence of the incorrect rendering some may argue that it is easier to read, but surely the reader loses if he is reading easily a translation that is incorrect. The account given in the Acts of the Apostles was delivered “in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth”. If the translator encounters a doctrinal difficulty in these words, he is not entitled to change their meaning in order to make the passage easier. The correct meaning must be preserved, even if simpler words are used, but in this instance the correct meaning is lost and an entirely alien concept is introduced. The Holy Scriptures are given to us with the express command, “Diminish not a word” (Jeremiah 26.2), but the word is seriously diminished if “as many as were ordained (appointed, destined) to eternal life” is replaced by “as many as wanted eternal life”.

Our rejection of this rendering is not occasioned by prejudice, obscurantism, or Calvinism, but by the strong conviction, supported by an abundance of reliable evidence, that the Authorised Version rendering is correct and that the “Living Bible” is inaccurate, misleading and doctrinally unsound.

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