“Paul and Barnabas’s ministry in Pisidian Antioch on the first missionary journey is met alternatively by faith in their message (Acts 13:42-44, 47-49) and persecution (Acts 13:45-46, 50-51). As a result the apostles are up (Acts 13:42-44), down (Acts 13:45-46), up (Acts 13:47-49) and down (Acts 13:50-51). In the midst of the vacillating responses, the Gentiles turn to the Lord. ‘When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and ALL WHO WERE APPOINTED FOR ETERNAL LIFE BELIEVED’ (Acts 13:48). Luke presents A DIVINE CLASSIFICATION OR APPOINTMENT TO ETERNAL LIFE. AND THAT APPOINTMENT TO ETERNAL LIFE PRECEDES FAITH ON THE PART OF THE BELIEVERS- ‘all who were appointed for eternal life believed’” (Robert A. Peterson & Michael D. Williams, “Why I Am Not An Arminian,” page 52).
Peterson and Williams use their clever tricks here again with Acts 13:48. But, as the evidence will show, they are wrong on this text in Acts as well.
I looked up this verse in my Apologetics Study Bible, produced by the Holman Christian Standard publishing company. They interpreted the verse as thus: “And all who HAD BEEN APPOINTED TO ETERNAL LIFE BELIEVED.” However, there is a problem with the HCSB: the issue of the verbs.
To figure out what to do with this verse, I decided to look the verse up in my “Reader’s Greek New Testament,” produced by Zondervan. I’ll produce the verse here so that you can get an idea of the problem caused by the Holman Christian Standard rendering:
Akouonta de ta ethne exairon kai edoksazon ton logon tou kuriou kai episteusan hosoi esan tetagmenoi eis zoen aionion;
The words “hosoi esan tetagmenoi eis zoen aionion” are translated (reading from left to right), “as many were appointed into (or to) life eternal.” I want us to go back, though, and look at the beginning of the verse.
The words “akounta de ta ethne exairon kai edoksazon ton logon tou kuriou kai episteusan” are translated as “hearing but the Gentiles rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord and believed.” When we arrange words in a proper English order, we get the following: “but the Gentiles hearing [the Word] rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord and believed.”
What you have in the early part of verse 48 is the proper order in which salvation is appropriated to the believer: first, the Gentiles “heard” the word; then, they rejoiced and glorified the Word of the Lord; last but not least, they believed. Their hearing the Word caused them to rejoice and glorify the Word of the Lord (for they understood the Word after hearing it); then, as a result of understanding how wonderful the Word is, they then believed the Gospel—and were appointed to eternal life.
Peterson and Williams would like to have us believe that people are given eternal life BEFORE they believe—but this simply isn’t true! Understand these words from the apostle Paul:
“So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (Romans 10:17, HCSB).
In the context of Romans 10, Paul is discussing the issue of the Jews who have not achieved righteousness through the law, and the Gentiles who have achieved righteousness by faith (Rom. 9:30). Israel’s problem, though, doesn’t seem to be that they haven’t heard the message, but rather that they did not respond properly to it:
“But I ask, ‘Did they not hear?’ Yes, they did:
Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the inhabited world.
But I ask, ‘Did Israel not understand?’ First, Moses said:
I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that lacks understanding.
And Isaiah says boldly:
‘I was found by those who were not looking for Me; I revealed Myself to those who were not asking for Me.’
But to Israel he says: ‘All day long I have spread out My hands to a DISOBEDIENT AND DEFIANT PEOPLE’” (Romans 10:18-21, HCSB).
Israel’s problem had nothing to do with whether or not she was ELECTED to be saved or given eternal life; rather, Israel’s problem was that she was “disobedient and defiant” (as Romans 10 illustrates). So, while Israel did indeed hear the message, she did not respond to the message by professing faith. Instead, she revolted against it, still trying to do things her own way—by works of the law.
Listen to what Paul has to say to the Ephesians in the midst of a chapter discussing
their election IN CHRIST:
“In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation—in Him WHEN YOU BELIEVED—were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13,
First, the Ephesians heard the word of truth, the gospel; then they believed in what they heard from the Word—and, as a result, they believed and were saved. And what was the evidence of their salvation? “when you believed—were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” They were not sealed IN HIM until AFTER THEY BELIEVED, not before!
The problem with Peterson and Williams’ assessments of Acts is that it disagrees with the rest of Scripture. And in the event that one’s individual interpretation disagrees with the rest of Scripture, then he or she must go back and change their own interpretation to match the voice of Scripture. This is indeed the key to UNDERSTANDING (or standing under) the Word of God.
Now, back to the Greek text itself. The first part of Acts 13:48 tells us that the Gentiles heard the Word, rejoiced, glorified the Word, and believed. But the Greek text then says, “hosoi esan tetagmenoi zoen aionion.” The words “esan tetagmenoi” translate to “were had been appointed.” The word “tetagmenoi” is a perfect passive participle. The passive participle translates to a past tense verb—for example, “believed.” This is the basic passive participle. If the verb is a perfect passive, this means that the passive tense is attached to a perfect tense. The perfect tense translates in English to “has” or “have”. The perfect passive translates to “had been.” In this case, the word “tetagmenoi” translates to “having been appointed.”
But the problem comes in when you have to consider the verb before “tetagmenoi”—the word “esan.” The word “esan” is an imperfect verb, meaning “were.” The verb is a passive tense of the verb “to be” (usually written as “is”). So the text reads “were having been appointed.” In cases like this, when you have a passive verb meeting another passive verb, one of the passives must yield to the other. Because “were” is vital to this verse, then “having been appointed” must be changed accordingly. The best way to combine these two verbs is to translate the phrase as “were appointed.”
To say then, that these people “were appointed” before they believed is to do the text a terrible disgrace. Take the following example:
“All those who caught the swine flu were admitted to the hospital.”
Would I interpret this verse to mean “all those who were admitted to the hospital caught the flu” and state that only after the patients were admitted to the hospital that they caught the swine flu? Of course not! Yet, this what Peterson and Williams do to the text: they claim that those who believe were appointed to believe BEFORE they did, which is not what Scripture teaches. Even with Ephesians 1, we see that it is only AFTER THEY BELIEVED that they were sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit. If the effects happen AFTER the belief instead of before, then we are not inclined to believe that God has handpicked those who would believe in Him.
Acts 13:48 shows us a “cause and effect” plot: first, the Gentiles accept the Word, hear it, and rejoice in its truth—then they believe and are appointed to eternal life. It is usually a good rule of thumb to match interpretations with the known factors in Scripture. Peterson and Williams, though, stick to a presupposition. We can all stand to benefit from their mistake…