What Does Ordained Mean in Acts 13:48 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
In Acts 13:48, Luke writes, “… and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Some interpret ordained here to mean predestined. However, by studying the context and the use of the word ordained in other passages, we’ll see that ordained here does not mean predestined, at all. Rather, it has the combined meaning of ordered and appointed. That’s why simply translating this as appointed, as in some of the modern translations, is not correct.
Here are the reasons that the word ordained doesn’t mean predestined:
Luke’s other uses of the word ordained – Luke uses the word ordained five other times in the Acts of the Apostles and never does it mean predestined. All of the definitions of ordained below are English dictionary definitions.
- Acts 1:22 – ordained = Matthias was “introduced into the office of the ministry.” Notice that the choice of Judas Iscariot’s replacement was determined by lot among the apostles, themselves. Matthias was not predestined.
- Acts 10:42 – ordained = Jesus was “invested with (judicial functions)” – see Jn 5:22.
- Acts 14:23 – ordained = the elders were “invested with ministerial functions.”
- Acts 16:4 – ordained = the decrees were “constituted” by the apostles.
- Acts 17:31 – ordained = Jesus was “invested with (judicial functions).”
Other translations of the word tetagmenoi – people who don’t understand what the Bible says in English often go to the Greek word from which the English word was translated. They hope they can understand the meaning by defining the Greek word. Imagine that; if they can’t get it in plain English they think they can get it in a foreign language. Incredible! The Greek word translated ordained in Acts 13:48 is the word tetagmenoi. This word is found in:
- Rom 13:1 – tetagmenoi = ordained – God “invested the higher powers with their power and authority” to rule. In no way would this word be properly translated predestined.
- Lk 7:8 – tassomenos = set – The centurion was “ordered” by his superior commander to command 100 soldiers. In no way would this word be translated predestined.
- Acts 28:23 – taxamenoi = appointed – The chief of the Jews “arranged an appointment” for Paul to tell them what he thought about Christianity. The appointment was not predestined; it was “set.”
- Matt 28:16 – etaxato = appointed – Jesus had “arranged” for the eleven disciples to meet him at this mountain in Galilee. The time and place were “arranged” before his death.
The context of the passage – God had already prophesied and commanded that Gentiles would hear the gospel [Acts 13:47]. These Gentiles that heard the gospel feared God [Acts 13:16] and besought Paul to preach to them again on the next Sabbath [Acts 13:42]. In other words, they came prepared to hear the gospel again. The Jews, on the other hand, who turned down the gospel were “contradicting and blaspheming,” [Acts 13:45]. They “put” the gospel from them and judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life.”
You find these Jews and Gentiles clearly described in Rom 2:5-11. The Jews that turned down the gospel are in Rom 2:8. They are the ones who were “contentious” and who would “not obey the truth.” Therefore, God gave them “indignation and wrath.” They did not believe.
The Gentiles, on the other hand, who came to hear the gospel, were “glad” when they heard it and “glorified the word of the Lord.” You find them in Rom 2:7. They were seeking for “glory and honour and immortality” and so God showed them “eternal life” in Jesus Christ. They were “ordained to eternal life” by God’s promise that he would extend eternal life to them because they were obeying Rom 2:7. God sent Paul and Barnabas to these Gentiles for the express purpose of preaching the gospel to them so that they could believe and be saved. And thus, when they heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, they “believed.”
The perfect example of these Gentiles is Cornelius and his “kinsmen and near friends “in Acts 10. Cornelius was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always,” [Acts 10:2-4]. And so God sent him Peter [Rom 10:15] to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ [Acts 10:32-36]. He and his household were ordained to eternal life by following Rom 2:7.
That is God ordered and appointed that Cornelius and his household should hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and eternal life. It was God who gave Cornelius the vision to call for Peter. It was God who gave Peter the vision of the sheet filled with all manner of beasts, creeping things and fowls. God ordered and arranged [ordained] the whole thing, just as he did in Acts 13. And so when Peter preached “whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins,” [Acts 10:43] Cornelius and his kinsmen and near friends believed and God gave them eternal life.
Conclusion: In personal work and preaching we have seen many of these “divine appointments.” These are opportunities to witness or preach that are ordained of God. God sets them up [Rom 10:15]. He orders and arranges them just like he did for the Gentiles in Acts 13, just like he did for Cornelius in Acts 10 and just like he did for the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. And often, those who are ordained to eternal life believe because, according to Rom 2:7, they have been ‘by patient continuance in well doing” seeking for “glory and honour and immortality.” They hear about Jesus and, when they hear, they believe [Eph 1:13]. May you be encouraged to be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit when he is trying to “send” you to divine appointments like these.