And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48)
This verse alone doesn’t mention the criteria for God’s choice to ordain individuals, unlike many other verses which clarify that it’s our FAITH that is the criteria – which is something that is requested from us. Neither does this verse suggest that God’s appointing is the CAUSE for people’s faith. IF God is the one who chooses who will believe, then he is also the one we should blame each time a person does NOT believe – because lack of faith wouldn’t be anyone’s fault but God’s. If people are not able to believe unless God makes them believe, then God is guilty of preventing people from believing, and also for being in the same team as the devil – who is overjoyed when people don’t believe in God.
The word “ordain” is a translation from the Greek verb tasso (Strong’s 5021) – and the middle voice of this word is tetagmenoi (it’s not necessary to view this word as a perfect passive participle) – and “includes no idea of preordination or predestination of any kind” according to Adam Clark (Commentary on Acts 13:48). The word simply means “disposed” (to set in position), and therefore the verse could be translated “as many as were disposed (or who set themselves in such a disposition)to eternal life believed”. Their disposition to receive the gospel is contrasted with the disposition of the Jews just two verse before, and the Jews had chosen another path.
Acts 13:46Then 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.
So those who judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life did not believe, but those who disposed themselves to eternal life believed, and 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, and what made the difference was the disposition which they choose to have to the good tidings. If we won’t accept the offer of salvation, we are sending ourselves to hell and that is of course a very bad choice. God himself doesn’t want anyone to perish and he would like that we ALL should repent. This is the same story that we can read in Romans 1 and in the rest of the Bible.
Below we can read about a sorcerer who WITHSTOOD Paul and Barnabas and who apparently perverted the right ways of the Lord. With other words; God’s will doesn’t always happen.
Acts 13:8But Elyma the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. 9Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him. 10And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?— 12Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.
What would have happened if Paul and Barnabas would not be present to prevent the sorcerer from perverting God’s ways? Paul’s statements make is sound like this wasn’t the first time this sorcerer had perverted the right ways of the Lord. We can also read that the deputy started to believe due to what he saw. If men are elected to believe before the creation of the world, why did the deputy’s faith coincide with what he heard and saw? The Bible says faith comes from hearing the Word of God and we are expected to believe – particularly if we can see God’s works in actions.
Joh. 14:11Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.
We can read that the Word is sent to men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham., and we can read that the Word is sent to “WHOSOEVER among you feareth God”. To fear is something we do and if God would have chosen a lucky few to believe in him, wouldn’t we rather be reading something like “And God will make sure he places godly fear in you so that you can believe”?
Acts 13:26Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.
GLAD TIDINGS are declared “unto you” and why would not “you” be those mentioned in the verse above and in the rest of verses in the same chapter?
Acts 13:32And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers33God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.
Paul continues to address “men and brethren” and that the forgiveness of sins is preached unto them. We can also read that “ALL THAT BELIEVE are justified from all things”. This is an offer to all who believe. We are also warned “BEWARE THEREFORE, lest that come UPON YOU, which is spoken of in the prophets”. So even if Paul is making a wonderful promise to his listeners, there is also a condition for this promise because the risk is always that we can fall away if we don’t walk in the light:
Acts 13:38Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:39And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets;
Paul is telling us about despisers, who are those that perish. Does God want people to despise Him and to NOT believe in Him? No of course God wouldn’t want anyone to reject him or rebel against Him. Moreover, we can read about further warnings from Paul and Barnabas who persuaded people to CONTINUE in the grace of God, which is not so certain they will:
Acts 13:41Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.—43Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
Here again we can read that salvation is offered also to the gentiles and unto the ends of the earth. Not just a limited amount of people:
Acts 13:47For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
Comments from various Bible scholars/teachers
The phrase “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed “can be compared with a statement such as “As many as were set for the test passed it”. Friberg’s lexicon suggests it could mean “as many as had become disposed toward eternal life” , and Max Zerwick “who had been set (in the way)” in Zerwick and Grosvenor’s A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. The NT lexicon BDAG suggests it means “to put in place”, and Henry Alford suggests it means “as many as were disposed” in The Greek Testament. Thayer’s and Strong’s defines “τάσσω” as determined or disposed and not predetermined or predisposed. Also John Wesley agrees with this idea.
“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.”