Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Acts 13:48 Revisited and Dishonesty Exposed
05/03/2008 - James WhiteYou know you are really busy when something that took place only a matter of weeks ago seems like it took place long ago. A month ago now we did five programs during which I debated Steve Gregg on the doctrines of grace. Since then, I have debated Jalal Abualrub on the deity of Christ, and a sociologist in northern California on gay marriage. My mind has completely moved forward to debates upcoming, including the exciting possibility of a debate in November in Durham, NC, and, of course, the debate with Bart Ehrman in January of '09. Likewise, I am starting work on a revision/update of The King James Only Controversy as well!
So it struck me as very odd a few days ago when someone in channel noted that the conversation on the doctrines of grace was still on-going over at Steve Gregg's forums. It was mainly odd because one of the main participants was confessing he still had no idea what I was talking about when I explained the background of the Greek in Acts 13:48. I have not had time to even think about the subject over the past month, but, evidently, others have. And so I was directed to an article posted there relating to Acts 13:48. It is allegedly by Bob Anderson of the University of Maryland. Now I looked around the UMD website, and the most commonly referred to Bob Anderson teaches physics there. An attempt to e-mail this individual bounced back, so without confirmation I cannot trust that the article was produced by any scholar of the Greek language. Because I have no way of contacting the author to verify accuracy, I will simply refer to "the author" and go from there, since the person who posted this provided no citations, no URL to check, etc.
White's argument is always against the use of the direct middle voice of the verb TASSO in Acts 13:48. When used in this way, the middle voice construction often takes the translation of "disposed" instead of "appointed" or "ordained." At least since his publication of The Potter's Freedom, White has consistently argued that such a construction is impossible. His arguments follow the pattern below.
Of course, I have argued no such thing, and the fact that the author is willing to think I have is very telling indeed. Thus begins a long string of simple misrepresentations of my actual words. I have argued that you cannot simply throw out a middle translation and not defend it, which is what is done 95% of the time in synergistic/Arminian writings. Proper exegetical practice requires one to explain why one "prefers" a particular understanding. Given that the middle (sans deponents) is relatively rare in Luke in comparison with the passive, and given the periphrastic construction, there must be some compelling reason to adopt it. What is the reason? I have never said "such a construction is impossible," and I challenge the author to document the allegation, or withdraw it.
1. Periphrastic construction - White always starts his argument for Acts 13:48 with the fact that we are dealing with a periphrastic construction. He never explains how it is significant, but plays on it rhetorically because most do not know what this construction means.This is significantly less than useful because it is significantly less than honest. Any meaningful discussion of the grammar and syntax of the relevant portion will note the periphrastic construction. Sadly, the majority of synergistic discussions do not mention it at all. It is simply dishonest to say I never explain why it is significant. I have always explained why it is significant. Whether our author understands it or not is another issue. It is significant because a periphrastic construction produces a specific tense-translation for the phrase, in this case, a pluperfect. As a result, however you take the meaning of τάσσw, it points us to something done prior to the Gentiles hearing that the gospel was coming to them. The honest reader who is familiar with what I have written on this topic will reject the author's dishonest accusation of "playing" on the periphrastic for "rhetorical" reasons. Such a false accusation is without basis and is to be rejected.
The truth is that the construction has nothing to do with the voice of the verb/participle. It has to do with the tense of participle, making a pluperfect participle from a perfect participle by adding the imperfect verb of "to be" to the perfect participle. Periphrasis is simply a round about way of saying something, using a verb of being (eimi or huparcho) with a participle of another tense. The combination may change the tense of the verb in question or just provide more of an emphasis.The reader will see that obviously the presence of the finite form of a verb of being together with the participle resulting in a pluperfect sense is completely relevant to the proper interpretation of the text, and how it is directly relevant to the question at hand.
2. Pluperfect participle - White argues that the pluperfect participle places the completed action of that participle before the action of the primary verb. Therefore, this action must occur before the events of the story takes place.My argument has been that in describing "as many as" the action of the periphrastic construction is, in fact, "completed" with reference to the time frame of the text itself. That is, the ordination that marks out those who will believe is a reality not dependent upon concurrent or future actions.
This is only a partial truth, and may even be questionable. Under normal circumstances, a pluperfect participle would precede the main verb ("believed") in this clause. However, that in no way means that the event is not given in the story itself. In the case of Acts 13, we have two key events that occur immediately before the belief. The first is the declaration of Paul that he is now turning to the Gentiles to preach the gospel (13:47). This would make the "appointment" or "setting" to eternal life complementary to that event. (It is the rhetorical flip-side of Paul's calling.) The second event is found in the first clause of 13:48 where there is a clear change of disposition among the Gentiles where they rejoice as the word of God - Paul's words that gospel now is coming to them. This seems to be the most direct tie to the events of the second clause of 13:48, but requires us to translate the participle phrase as "had been disposed to eternal life."Here we have true rhetoric that is plainly designed to avoid giving a straight answer to the question at hand, and is itself not even mainly true. We are given assertions without substantiation. Why is this not a "normal circumstance"? ἐπίστευσαν is directly before ὅσοι; there is no reason whatsoever to look for any syntactical context outside of that provided by the phrase itself. The author simply throws out a number of claims, evidently hoping to do what he has falsely accused me of earlier. Are we to seriously believe that the idea is, "and as many as had disposed themselves to eternal life right then and there believed"? What competent scholar has ever translated the text this way? What translation? Not even the Jehovah's Witnesses were that bold! No, those who had been ordained to eternal life believed. The idea of "disposing oneself to eternal life" is an outlandish concept anyway---how do those who have not believed "dispose" themselves to something they have not yet heard of or had explained to them? Or, how does one "dispose" oneself toward eternal life instantly upon hearing of it? This kind of "it can mean almost anything as long as it doesn't mean THAT" kind of "translation" is utterly without merit.
Now, you will note that at this point, the author has not provided us with anything even resembling a sound basis for translating the text as "disposed themselves to eternal life." It has been asserted, but no evidence has been given.
The Calvinists are also caught on the horns of dilemma here. For this to be an "ordination" to eternal life in the sense that they mean it, we must say that this is a state that always exists for those individuals who are so ordained. That means that the there is no real action involved. We simply have an existing state of being for these people. However, in verbs of state, or stative situations (per Carl Conrad), the pluperfect operates as an imperfect verb, which makes the action continuous and not complete. Some modern translations have recognized this and translated this as an imperfect participle ("were appointed"), instead of as a pluperfect ("had been appointed"). But unfortunately for the Calvinists this places the "state of being elected" in time and makes it incomplete! Therefore, the verb cannot be a state, but an action that is taking place in the narrative itself. They are simply caught in a formal linguistic paradox.It would be nice if our author would provide basic citations, you know, so you can check his work? That is evidently a bit much to ask. Is our author suggesting that God's decree cannot enter into time? Let's accept Conrad's statement (he is a classical scholar more than koine, but Luke is more classical than most of the rest of the NT). Is the divine action of "ordination" a "state"? Does Conrad include divine ordination as a "state"? Are there extra-biblical parallels to such a usage? And even if one translates this as an imperfect, how does this make the action "continuous and not complete"? How so? The imperfect at John 1:1 tells us the Word pre-existed creation: the imperfect simply refers to continuous action in the past: in the same way, those who were appointed believed. How does this change the essential fact that the periphrastic is delimiting the number of those who believed, and that on the basis of a pre-existing reality? It doesn't. The divine choice indicated in ἦσαν τεταγμένοι really does not fit into a description of "state," and without a reference to examine, we can only point out that "appointedness" as a "state" is a pretty far stretch once again.
I contacted Dr. Conrad about the use of his name by our author. He wrote in response, "I really don't like having my views cited one way or another in a doctrinal dispute and would object every bit as much to your citing me as I object to the writer to whom you've referred citing my views." I confess I do not understand Dr. Conrad's hesitancy to have grammatical assertions cited, especially when they have to do with a doctrinally-oriented text. In any case, as per his wishes, I will not cite his conclusions, but I will only say that aside from his obvious distaste for theological discussions of the text, he asserted that the text does not answer the question of who "lined up" the Gentiles, leaving the issue at hand, at least from his perspective, unanswered by the text.
In fact, imperfects are the normal verb used in narratives for the story line itself, as can be seen in the prior clause. Therefore, we may simply have an equivalency clause here - those who were appointed are the same as those who believed. This makes the clause consistent with the statements everywhere else in the New Testament that eternal life is for those who believe.This completely ignores the fact that the periphrastic clause is clearly delimiting the number of those who believed as all translations--even those promoted by Steve Gregg!--clearly indicate. This is nothing but wishful thinking. This kind of, "Well, maybe this, maybe that" kind of "translation" would never produce an English translation at all!
3. The Middle Voice -False. I have argued that if you are going to give a middle translation you cannot simply say, "Well, the form is a middle/passive, so I'll go with the middle." Any serious translator of the NT knows the passive predominates in such situations, and that one must defend any translation where one insists upon taking a non-normative reading over a normative one. So again, I would challenge our author to produce any statement where I have said "the middle voice is impossible in this verse." I have rejected the reading of the middle on a simple basis: no one has yet to provide any compelling reason to adopt it.
White has consistently tried to argue that the middle voice is impossible in this verse.
This is another half truth that is meant to deceive innocent readers. This argument has taken many forms. In his book he tries to say that the middle voice is passing away in Koine Greek. The direct middle voice was passing away, but the use of the indirect middle voice of the verb and deponent middle voice verbs are very present in Koine (Biblical) Greek. A direct middle voice would say "those who were disposing themselves to eternal life believed." But an indirect use of the middle voice would also work. In that case, the text would be understood as "those who were disposed towards eternal life (for themselves) believed."It is hard to take such rhetoric seriously. I will allow the reader to decide who is attempting to deceive innocent readers. When our author produces the necessary citations to back up his (false) claims, we can move forward from there. Yes, deponents are common in Koine. τάσσw is not a deponent, hence, the observation is irrelevant, and I would have to note that this falls into the "make mention of things about the grammar that are irrelevant to impress folks who don't know better" category. It seems our author is one of those who likes to make accusations---so as to cover his own use of the very things he falsely accuses others of! I likewise note, just in passing, the repeated use of "disposed" rather than the far more substantiatable "ordained."
So the middle voice is clearly possible. But it is not necessary.Note that the continuous insistence upon the translation "disposed" helps our author to avoid his main problem: how do you express the passive action of "disposing"? The passive would require some action to take place. Ordained makes perfect sense: disposed does not. Who ordains to eternal life? Rebel sinners? Or God Himself? And even if you take "disposed" as an actual action rather than an inclination, who "disposed" Lydia by opening her heart to the word of God (Acts 16:14)? Lydia? Or God? Can anyone seriously argue that it is merely "open" as to who would "dispose" rebel sinners to repentance and faith, leading to eternal life? Only a rank Pelagian could possibly say that such is left "open" in the text of the inspired Word of God.
The passive voice, which can also be translated as "disposed", also accomplishes the same thing. The difference is that the passive simply leaves the actor of the verbs action open. In that case, the text would read "those who were disposed to eternal life believed." White and others have implied that leaving this open means that the verb's actor is God. But that is not in the text and the only place where God is tied to TASSO (Romans 13:1) has a prepositional phrase, HUPO THEOU - to define that the actor is God.
Rhetorically, this can be very strong in an argument. White stated that unless qualified to force a middle, we must assume a passive voice, and then leaps to the conclusion that God is the actor. Yet in the only place where the verb clearly is speaking of God's appointment, it is fully qualified to define that God is the one doing the appointment. And only by qualifying it, do we know it is a passive. So, why is this not the case in Acts 13:48?Strong in argument? That there is seriously some kind of question as to who would ordain, order, place, or dispose, sinners to eternal life? Well, I suppose if one hasn't the first concept of sin, wrath, rebellion, depravity, mercy, grace, or the role of the Spirit in salvation, then this could be a strong argument. For those who know what the Word teaches about such things, there isn't even an argument being made. Sinners do not dispose themselves to eternal life. The Lord Jesus Himself said: "Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin" (John 8:34).
4. TASSO - There is some debate over the meaning of TASSO. Fundamentally, the meaning is derived from the idea of "setting" - a time, a position, etc. From this meaning a range of meanings and inferences are derived, which can be accounted for in various lexicons. These include "ordain," "appoint," and "dispose." As with all words, context will dictate the proper use of the term. Daniel Wallace in his grammar shows how the meaning of some words will change with the nuance of the middle voice. This word certainly would change from "set oneself" to disposed."And if our author would provide some kind of compelling argument for the middle, we could then address it. So far, none has been offered. One would think that a review of its uses in the NT would have been presented by now; Lukan usage, not only of τάσσw but of relevant periphrastics would have been presented, followed by a wider examination of both---just as I have presented in writing and on The Dividing Line repeatedly over the years. So far---nothing.
5. The Reflexive Pronoun -It is false to say I have ever stated "all reflexive actions must be made with an active and reflexive pronoun." This is a lie, and again, I demand our author document the assertion. He cannot do so, of course.
Perhaps the most glaring error in White's latest analysis is the fact that when analyzing the chiastic structure of Acts 13:45-48, White highlights the use of the reflexive pronoun with the active voice verb KRINO ("to judge") used in verse 46 to show a reflexive action. He then draws the conclusion that in the New Testament all reflexive actions must be made with an active and reflexive pronoun, or that the middle must be qualified to prove it is a middle. But Daniel Wallace's grammar and the BDF grammar identify reflexive middles in both direct middles and redundant middles (direct middles that also have a reflexive pronoun).
Instead, this is an obvious attempt to cover over the error I was pointing out here. Gregg, and others, have made reference to other texts in support of reading Acts 13:48 in a particular way. However, in each of these texts, the reflexive is found. They never make reference to this, leading to the false idea that you can turn verbs into middles willy-nilly, and that there is grounds for doing this to τάσσw to be found elsewhere. But the fact is that in such places the reflexive concept is being provided by the pronoun, not by the verb to which they are attempting to make parallels. This was my point, and it is simply dishonest to attempt to misrepresent me.
White's argument is actually counter to his case. Daniel Wallace notes the following concerning the Reflexive Active form: "The subject acts upon himself or herself. In such cases naturally the reflexive pronoun is employed as the direct object (e.g., e`auto,n), while the corresponding reflexive middle omits the pronoun. This usage is relatively common".True, but, irrelevant to my actual argument, and irrelevant to Acts 13:48, which does not have the reflexive pronoun.
While the reflexive active does increase in occurrence over the direct middle from classical to Koine Greek, that does not mean the direct middle has disappeared (Luke 12:37; Acts 12:21). The reflexive middle (direct middle) form is translated the same way, but does not require the pronoun.
It is not the middle that must be qualified, but active which must be qualified to be reflexive.
So why does Luke change from a reflexive active to a middle (if indeed it is a middle)? It may simply be for rhetorical effect. In verse 46, Paul is speaking a rebuke and the reflexive active hardens the rebuke by making is more personal. In verse 48, Luke is writing the narrative events and may want a more subtle way of expressing the contrast.Or, Luke may just be following his far more normal practice of using a perfect passive participle in a periphrastic construction to say "those who were ordained to eternal life believed."
Luke certainly is not shy about using the middle voice in his writings and scholars are not shy about being able to distinguish between them.
It was interesting to note that in the discussion, one participant actually took White's idea and tried to extend it to an even more extreme grammatical rule of composition. This individual had no formal Greek training and clearly did not know what he was talking about. But in spite of unaccepted challenges to show his case, he just keep repeating it. This is the type of rhetoric that White had taught him.I have no idea to what our author is referring, and hence cannot comment, outside of repudiating, once again, the false statements he has already made, and rejecting his claim that "I" have taught anyone this "type of rhetoric."
6. On the publication of Bibles -The careful reader will realize that in essence our author just said the reason no committee-produced translation reads as he would have us to read the text is...money. They all, as a group, recognize that an examination of Lukan usage, relating both to meanings and syntax, the wider NT witness, etc., all point to the same conclusion: the text says "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." Our author has had to engage in gross falsehoods---falsehoods any person who has followed the debate would recognize immediately---so as to distract anyone from realizing that it is he, not I, who is seeking to mislead. He is the one making unfounded assertions, but he hides this by misrepresenting me and hoping no one notices because of all the dust he throws into the air in the process.
White will raise the issue that no committee based translation uses the term "disposed" for Acts 13:48, with the exception of the New World Translation (NWT) of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
To my knowledge, this is a true statement. It is also a powerful argument, since translators are generally the best scholars in the world. It raises the question of why they would not use "disposed" if "disposed" were a valid translation.
However, this is an argument based on a misunderstanding of the difference between translators and commentators. In general, translators tend to be very conservative because their task is to produce translations that will sell. When it comes to the Bible, novelty is not generally accepted and the committees will resist any radical change. It was not until about 150 years ago that the translation of PISTEIS IHSOU CHRISTOU as "faith of Jesus Christ" was even footnoted for Romans 3:22. (Most committee-based Bible translate this as "faith in Jesus Christ.") Even now with a growing number of scholars affirming this is the most reasonable translation of the clause, translators still relegate it to a footnote.
Commentators and other biblical scholars, on the other hand, are committed to researching all possibilities of how a text could be translated contextually because their job is not translation, but interpretation. The best commentaries will evaluate multiple possible forms of a text, documenting scholarly analysis. Friberg's lexicon notes "disposed" as a valid option for this verse and I have encountered at least one commentary (cannot recall which) that translated the verb this way.
White does not want to even entertain the possibility of "disposed" as a translation of TASSO, because it would jeopardize support for a doctrine that is near and dear to him - particular divine election.
So what have we seen? We see that there are those who are so desperate to avoid the freedom of God in salvation, so intent upon never allowing God to be the one who saves perfectly, that they will go to any length--even dishonesty and clear misrepresentation--to accomplish their goals. They will misuse and abuse the biblical languages in the process. It is not overly difficult to expose their ploys, though it is time consuming, and at times, very frustrating. But for the sake of God's people, we must invest the effort, as best we can, to vindicate His truth from those who would obscure it. The argument I have presented stands firm, and we have yet to hear a meaningful response from "the other side." That, despite the fact that immediately after the posting of this error-filled example of "how to give a non-answer and hope no one notices," we see how successful such things can be on those who want a reason to disbelieve, we read the following:
Homer, thanks so much for sharing with us Bob Anderson's scholarly explanation of the Greek of Acts 13:48. With Anderson's explanations of the Greek grammar and construction, I think White has met more than his match.Yes indeed, I've met my match. I proclaim our author my superior---I cannot even begin to dissimulate, obfuscate, and in general seek to cause confusion, as he did. On that account, I concede. On the matter of the truth---our author has yet to enter the battle!