Act 13.48 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Act 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 verse is often used to defend the idea that God has elected people eternally for salvation. One Calvinist reports that Acts 13:48 is the Bible verse that made him a Calvinist.

But this Bible verse seems to be mistranslated. There exists a better and more natural translation that better fits the context. The verse very easily could have been rendered:

Act 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as appointed themselves to eternal life believed.

In the Greek language, the Middle and Passive take the same verb form. So unless the context is clear, there is uncertainty in if others are acting upon someone or if those people are acting upon themselves. A Greek Grammar website explains:

Middle and Passive Transitive Verbs Transitive verbs can be either middle or passive, and only the context can help you decide which meaning is intended. (Transitive) Middle Voice Usage For transitive verbs, the implication of the of the middle voice is that the action expressed by the verb directly affects the subject. The verbs in the following sentences are all transitive, and they all have a middle/passive form in Greek. οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε You do not know what you are requesting (Matthew 20:22) ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν• πάτερ, εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου. Jesus said: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46) τί διαλογίζεσθε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς …ὅτι ἄρτους οὐκ ἔχετε; Why are you discussing among yourselves …that you have no bread? In each of these examples, the subject is presented as acting for its own benefit. Compare the following example. The verb used there (δέχομαι) is a lexical middle. ἐμὲ δέχεται [He/she] receives me (Matthew 10:40) The form of this verb that appears in the lexicon (δέχομαι) is middle voice. Since the verb always has a middle voice implication—the action it expresses (receiving) directly impacts its subject—it never appears with active voice forms. Its meaning is best expressed in the middle voice. Passive Voice Usage (always transitive) Observe the following sentences in which the subject is acted upon by someone not explicitly named. οὐχὶ δύο στρουθία ἀσσαρίου πωλεῖται Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? (Matthew 10:19) ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι Your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5) ἕκαστον γὰρ δένδρον ἐκ τοῦ καρποῦ γινώσκεται For every tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:44) Notice that the subject of these verbs would be the object if the verb were active voice. This is the basic meaning of the passive voice. When translating Greek middle/passive forms of transitive verbs you may need to try both middle and passive translations to see which makes best sense in the context.

This cannot be stated enough: When translating Greek middle/passive forms of transitive verbs you may need to try both middle and passive translations to see which makes best sense in the context. Jesse Morrel makes an excellent case as to why this passage would be better rendered as middle:

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.

Leave a Reply