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Reading Acts 13:48, the greek text reads:

ἀκούοντα δὲ τὰ ἔθνη ἔχαιρον καὶ ἐδόξαζον τὸν λόγον τοῦ Κυρίου καὶ ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον

With implicit commas (according to the Interlinear Bible I am referencing) this reads:

ἀκούοντα δὲ, τὰ ἔθνη ἐδόξαζον, καὶ ἐδόξαζον τὸν λόγον τοῦ Κυρίου, καὶ ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον

For the purposes of this question, I am focusing on the last sentence fragment:

καὶ ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον

Various translations translate this verse thusly:

...and all who had been appointed for eternal life believed. - NET

...and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. - NRSV

...and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. - NIV

...and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. - KJV

...and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. - NASB

My understanding is that "τεταγμένοι" (translated in the above as ordained, appointed or destined) is a military term which means to arrange or to set in order.

Assuming this is correct, why do all of the various translations render this in the above manner and not something along the lines of a rough translation of:

and the many believers were put in order and organized for eternal life.

Which could result in:

When the Gentiles heard this, they began to rejoice and praise the word of the Lord, and the many believers were put in order and organized for eternal life.

Or further anglicized:

When the Gentiles heard this, they began to rejoice and praise the word of the Lord, and the new believers were prepared* for eternal life.

*"Readied" or "Readied and Prepared" might also be good translations in lieu of prepared

  • 1
    Keep in mind that Strong's is a concordance, not a lexicon. However, in this case it even explicitly states that it means 'appointed' when in the middle voice. But a concordance will not tell you that the verb occurs in middle voice in this context, and thus the translations cited are correct. A Strong's concordance is no replacement for learning Greek and a consulting a good lexicon. – Dan Sep 9 '15 at 20:42
  • Correct. However, if you scroll down the link, while the topmost section is the concordance, they do have a Lexicon further down. Specifically, Thayer's Greek Lexicon. – James Shewey Sep 9 '15 at 20:49
  • be sure to click on the second link in my comment for some info about Thayer's. Even so, it points out that the meaning is appoint in the middle. – Dan Sep 9 '15 at 21:46
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    Unless they appointed/arranged themselves, it's passive, not middle. – fumanchu Sep 9 '15 at 22:38
  • By the way, is there a typo in the Greek? NA28: Ακούοντα δὲ τὰ ἔθνη **ἔχαιρον** καὶ ἐδόξαζον.... I don’t see a text variant that doubles ἐδόξαζον, but maybe you’re using a different text. – Susan Sep 11 '15 at 1:55
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The differences between

and the new believers were prepared for eternal life (OP)

and

and all who were appointed for eternal life believed (NIV)

are

  • the flip-flopping of the finite verb and the participle and

  • the translation of τεταγμένοι as “prepared” or “were appointed”.

Although I understand how the OP arrived at this translation given the collection of words found here, I don’t think the Greek allows it. The first difference is the more determinative.

  1. Flip-flop:

    A. The main verb in this independent clause is ἐπίστευσαν - they believed. This is a (aorist active indicative) finite verb. It is inflected according to the subject (C) and defines the independent clause. It can not be rendered as a nominal form believers (new or otherwise).

    B. The subject is from ὅσος, a “correlative” pronoun (or, depending on whom you ask, a [relative] adjective, functioning here substantially) without a perfect English equivalent. Somewhat awkward, “as many as” may be closest.

    C. The word τεταγμένοι is a participle having been appointed/prepared. It is an adjectival form of the verb τάσσω here used as a descriptor of the subject. Note that it is inflected as a passive perfect. This indicates that the subject is the object of an action which has already been completed.

    In summary: B is the subject, C describes the subject, and A is a finite verb comprising the predicate.

    Subject: as many as

    Attributive: having been appointed/prepared for eternal life

    Verb: they believed

  2. Lexical choice

    You can now see that the decision betweenappointed vs prepared has little effect on the meaning at this point, although I think the range of τάσσω is more consistent with appointed in this context. It’s important to note that the perfect inflection indicates that this action (having been appointed/prepared) was completed prior to the main action in this sentence (they believed).

    καὶ ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

    and as many as were having-been-appointed to eternal life believed. (my overly literal rendering)

  • Isn't the subject of the sentence the Gentiles, not the quantity of the Gentiles? – James Shewey Sep 9 '15 at 20:45
  • Subject here refers to the subject of the independent clause (edited to clarify, thanks), which is a pronoun, which refers to a subset of the Gentiles, yes. – Susan Sep 9 '15 at 20:46
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Susan's answer addresses most of the grammar details perfectly, so I'll leave all that aside and focus on what seems to be the central question: does "τεταγμένοι" mean "having been appointed" or "having been organized"?

First, let's consider the conundrum you're in: you have a lexicon or two that say the meaning may be "arrange" or it may be "appoint" (and a dozen other options). How do you decide? Some will say "ah, well, in this instance the word is in such and such a voice, or case, or mood". Those features of the word itself do affect the meaning. But typically, they affect a translation by altering the word form of the selected gloss, not the selection of the gloss itself. For example, if "τεταγμένοι" were active instead of passive, we might choose "who have appointed" rather than "who have been appointed", but the choice of some form of the word "appoint" would be the same (in English*, at least).

So why are there multiple glosses in the lexicons? Nine times out of ten** it is due to the other words around it. And in Greek, the first thing you should look for is prepositions. In this case, the thing-to-be-translated is not the single word "τεταγμένοι" but the construction "τεταγμένοι εἰς ...". You can easily see why this is true in English, as well. "I arranged them" and "I arranged them into a group" have pretty different meanings. The former by itself implies an order amongst them, but the latter implies an order between the group and the whole set. The latter could be restated as "I assigned them to the group", couldn't it?

Now that we include the preposition we can zero in on the correct bit of the LSJ entry (and mostly ignore the rest***):

  1. assign to a duty or class of dutiful persons, “ἐν πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἔταττον” D.18.221; εἰς ὑπηρετικὴν αὑτοὺς τ. Pl.Plt.289e; “πρός τινας τάξαι αὑτόν” Din.3.18; “σὺν ἐμοὶ τ. σεαυτήν” D.H.8.47; “τ. ἐμαυτὸν εἰς τάξιν τινά” X.Mem.2.8; τινὰς εἰς τοὺς ἀρχικούς ib.7; εἰς τὴν δουλείαν ἐμαυτόν ib.11; τ. ἑαυτόν τινων εἶναι range oneself with . . , D. 19.302:—Pass., πρὸς τὴν ξυμμαχίαν ταχθῆναι to join it, Th.3.86.

See all those occurrences of "εἰς"? And indeed the first recommended gloss is "assign to", just as we posited. All that remains is to pick the appropriate word form, and a perfect participle works fine here: "having been assigned to".

This is why BDAG says, among other options, "belong to, be classed among those possessing". The authors of the better lexicons studied these patterns and tried to write them down for you. It's a pity that the best ones were created before the Internet and suffer abbreviation-itis due to the high cost of publishing. But even modern ones can't explain how a preposition modifies the meaning of a verb in every entry.

.* there are exceptions to this, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred**** they are due to quirks of English, not Greek

.** not a heavily-researched statistic

.*** see how most of the "appoint" examples at the head of section II use "ἐπί" instead

.**** also not a heavily-researched statistic

.***** Now if you really want your mind blown, put the preposition in front of the verb as a prefix and look up εἰστάσσω.

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BDAG (the most trusted lexicon for Koine Greek) has this:

...belong to, be classed among those possessing ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον Ac 13:48...

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 991). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The main verb is HSAN (active pluperfect of "to be") which would read "had been" (in the sense of "had been playing volley ball") so I would read it:

"... all who had been coming into possession of everlasting life"

Or something like that.

The participle is considered adjectival because it is describing those gentiles who believed (not because of its form).

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    The participle is considered adjectival because participles are adjectival (or adverbial). Granted, with a finite copula they can form a periphrastic verbal idea, but here with ὅσοι you apparently agree that it creates what is in English most smoothly a relative clause (“all who were...”). (You’re saying ἦσαν is the “main verb” but translating it within the relative.) Given that τεταγμένοι is unambiguously perfect in form, conceptualizing this as an ongoing/continuous action “were coming into possession” doesn’t work. – Susan Sep 9 '15 at 21:54
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    Now you’re forgetting the conjunction and the verb in the final clause, thereby making "all who came into possession of everlasting life” an appositive phrase that restates the subject of rejoice/praise. That is not the syntax as written! “....καὶ ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι...” Regardless of “come into possession” or “appoint”, it was completed before ἐπίστευσαν (“they believed”). That sounds very doctrinal (and I’m sure I can’t escape that, blah blah), but the observation is purely grammatical, based on the perfective aspect. – Susan Sep 9 '15 at 22:17
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    If you go to this link bible.org/article/participle and search for "verb-participle combinations" you'll see that combining the imperfect of EIMI with a perfect participle results effectively as an imperfect. – user10231 Sep 9 '15 at 23:13
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    Nice resource! Unfortunately you’ve misquoted it: imperfect ειμι + perfect participle = pluperfect. They even give Acts 13:48 as an example (translating, “all who had been appointed...”). – Susan Sep 9 '15 at 23:35
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    τεταγμένοι is not active. You even quote the BDAG entry which labels it passive. A passive pluperfect is an appropriate translation - ...had been appointed (or ...having been appointed, or, as fumanchu suggests, having been assigned to or, more awkwardly, with BDAG, having been classed among those possessing). Your proposal ...had been coming into possession is not a faithful translation. The main point available in the Greek inflection (aspect + voice) is that those who believed were the objects of an appointment/"classing" that was completed prior to their believing. – Susan Sep 11 '15 at 0:06
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As I have meditated on this verse a bit, I have come to the following realization: The correct way to translate this largely depends on the the goal of your translation. If your goal is to translate based on the rules of established Koine Greek involving the middle voice and the passive voice or whether it is adjectival and such, then the above cited translations are certainly the best translation based on those rules.

On the other hand, if your goal is to best convey the meaning to the reader, this may not be the optimal translation. In other words, there is not always a one-to-one translation from English to Greek. We lose a lot of gray area and because of the way this verse is formatted, it can seem to imply that the gentiles were destined to salvation or eternal life. They always were, have been and will be. But the word Appoint or Ordained here has the equivalent of groceries being ordained to the correct shelf and area of your refrigerator. There is no rule other than the one you make that vegetables go in this crisper drawer and fruits go in that crisper drawer other than the convention you might make. But this doesn't come through in English.

It isn't ordained in the sense that it was fated or predestined at creation the way a Calvinist would interpret it and this isn't obvious when the word is translated to English. This is especially backed by the fact that the texts states that "When the Gentiles heard this" then they rejoiced, and as many as were ordained (to the correct eternal crisper drawer) believed. Were they predestined, ordained or appointed at creation for their salvation the way a Calvinist would understand it, it could not have been in response to or subsequent to hearing the message of Paul, but the context of the verse makes it appear as a response.

In this way, if the goal of translation is to provide the best understanding of the meaning of the text, then another rendering of this phrase would be appropriate. The English translation remains un-anglicized and results in some pretty questionable grammar. If I turned in a sentence like this on a paper to my English professor, it would come back with Red all over it. In that regard, this is not the best translation. It seems that they translators prefer to leave this text in this awkward state to avoid those kinds of judgement calls and allow this kind of ambiguity to remain instead.

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