Are Only Some Appointed to Eternal Life?

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Acts 13:48 says, “… And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

Does this mean that only some are appointed to eternal life while others are not?

Let me begin with a background of the text.  In Acts 13:42-51, Luke gives us the account of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch during their first missionary journey.  They begin by preaching to the Jews in the synagogue. The Gentiles heard, were intrigued, and invited Paul and Barnabas to return the following week to speak to them.  They returned as invited, and a rather large crowd of people gathered to hear them.

The Jews, upon seeing the large crowd, became envious, and stirred up an argument.  As a result of their rejection of the gospel, Paul announced that he was turning to the Gentiles.  The Gentiles gladly received this word, and then we read that “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

The text is well known among Calvinists, and is a source of great comfort to the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election.  That is, Calvinists believe that God has already chosen what individuals will be saved, and which ones will not be saved.  This text seems supportive of that position in that it suggests that all who had been appointed by God to be saved were saved.  But, the question must be asked; is this the only way the verse can be reasonably read?

A focal point of the verse in question is the Greek word tasso.  This is the word that is translated “appointed” or sometimes “ordained.”  Sometimes non-Calvinists will point out that tasso can also be translated “disposed.”  Obviously, “to be appointed to something” is much stronger language than “to be disposed to something.”  If Luke intended the word to be used as “to be disposed” then it seems to weaken the Calvinist understanding of the verse a bit.

The fact of the matter is that I am not a Greek scholar, and cannot comment on the proper usage of the word tasso. Therefore, I am going to work with the more active of the two definitions.  I will assume that the word means “to be appointed” or “to be ordained” to something.

The question that now must be asked of the text is: who appointed these people in Antioch to believe?  The Calvinist will readily answer that God had appointed them to believe.  But, that is a statement that I believe is driven more by a worldview than the text itself.  To assume that God did the appointing is to import something into the text that the text does not say.  In other words, the text does not say, “And as many as believed, God appointed to eternal life.”  But, the Calvinist might reply, “isn’t it just as presumptuous to assume that someone else appointed them to believe?”  And, my answer would  be “yes – if we didn’t have a clue left by Luke in the passage itself.”

Just a few verses before – in Acts 13:46 – Paul had told the Jews, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold we turn to the Gentiles…”

Paul is dealing with two groups in Antioch; those who believe, and those who reject the Gospel.  Of the second group we have already read that they were appointed to faith – but Luke does not record for us who made the appointment.  Of the first group Paul notes that they rejected the Gospel, and judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.  Luke makes it clear to us who judged this first group; they did it themselves.  Therefore, it would seem that the most natural way to understand verse 48 is to take the cue from verse 46 and assume that Luke means the same thing about that group. If the first group judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life, why not assume that the second group appointed themselves to everlasting life?  If Luke wrote clearly about the first group, why not use that clarity to help us understand the second group?  I believe that this is the most natural way to understand the passage.  Of course, your opinion may differ – and that’s okay too.

Peace,

dane

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmaker, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.

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