(Acts 13:48) Does this passage teach that only some are appointed for eternal life?

CLAIM: Luke records, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Does this passage imply that some are appointed to eternal life and others are appointed to hell?

RESPONSE: There are two ways of understanding this passage from an Arminian perspective:

OPTION #1. This passage should be translated in the middle voice—not the passive voice

Jack Cottrell argues that this passage should be translated in the middle voice (“set themselves to eternal life”), not the passive voice (“had been appointed to eternal life”).[1] The original Greek is unclear. It is difficult to tell (apart from the context) whether this is passive or middle voice. Let’s compare these for clarity:

(1) Active: I combed his hair.

(2) Passive: I let my hair be combed.

(3) Middle: I combed my own hair.

The context indicates that Luke intended the middle voice in verse 48. Earlier, Luke writes, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles” (v.46). Here, Luke is purposefully contrasting the Jewish people’s response to that of the Gentiles. In both cases, these clauses should be translated in the middle voice. These Jewish people rejected the message in the same way that the Gentiles accepted it.[2]

OPTION #2. This refers to Gentiles who were “enrolled” by being people who feared the Lord

Remember, the book of Acts is a transition period from the Old to the New Covenant. Many Gentiles believed in the God of the OT. These are sometimes called “God-fearers” or “God-fearing proselytes” (Acts 13:43). Since they hadn’t heard about Christ yet, they were “appointed” or “enrolled”[3] to come to faith because they already were followers of Yahweh. Howard Marshall writes, “It could also refer to those who had already put their trust in God in accordance with the Old Testament revelation of his grace and were enrolled in his people, or perhaps it means that the Gentiles believed in virtue of the fact that God’s plan of salvation included them.”[4]

[1] Jack Cottrell, Perspectives on Election: Five Views (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 60.

[2] For other uses of the middle voice, see Mt. 28:16; Lk. 7:8; Acts 15:2; Acts 22:10; Acts 28:23; Rom. 13:1; 1 Cor. 16:15.

[3] Bruce renders this verb (tasso) as “enrolled.” See footnote. Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 267). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 245). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.