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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The pro-Calvinist slant of the NIV

I have not written on the NIV for some time, but recent posts by Brian Abasciano brought out the fact that a pro-Calvinist interpretation of Acts 13:48 is firmly ensconced in the NIV, despite his promotion of a translation that preserves the ambiguity of the Greek. Here is a link, with some relevant parts quoted (with the spelling standardised):
Back in December of 2009, I wrote [this] letter to the NIV Translation Committee recommending a change in their translation of Acts 13:48[:]

The present NIV has this for Acts 13:48 — “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

Of course, the main translation issue has to do with the translation of tetagmenoi, which the NIV translates (together with esan) as “were appointed”. This is such an important text theologically because it gives the impression that the people referred to believed because God first appointed them to eternal life. Some consider this a slam dunk proof for Calvinism/unconditional election. Indeed, some consider this to be the most powerful text in favor of Calvinism. So I would argue that it is especially important to take care to be fair-handed in the translation and indicate if there is any serious alternative. Now I don’t think this is the best translation, and a number of scholars have objected to it. But even if one disagrees with the alternative, I think it would be most fitting at least to indicate that there is a legitimate alternative.

An alternative has made it into a legitimate lexicon. Friberg’s has: (2) passive, with an abstract noun ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον as many as had become disposed toward eternal life (possibly AC 13.48) or all those who were appointed to eternal life (probably AC 13.48)

Now I note that Friberg does think “disposed” less likely, but that is essentially an interpretive decision. That then means context etc., not grammar or pure lexicography, must decide. And the context favors taking the Gentiles as being set on eternal life in contrast to the Jews of the same episode who judged themselves unworthy of eternal life. It is imperative to note that this alternative rendering is a rendering of the passive; it does not construe tetagmenoi as a middle. . . .

Turning to BDAG, it is significant that this most authoritative lexicon for NT studies does not take tasso as “appoint” in Acts 13:48. It gives two major meanings for tasso: (1) to bring about an order of things by arranging — arrange, put in place; (2) to give instructions as to what must be done — order, fix, determine, appoint. BDAG places tetagmenoi in Acts 13:48 in the first meaning. Now BDAG happens to assign a specific sense within that meaning that would practically arrive at a similar theological place as “appoint”, but with a decidedly different lexical meaning for the word: “belong to, to be classed among”. Nevertheless, it is significant that they conclude that the meaning of tetagmenoi in Acts 13:48 lies in the domain of placement/position, and specifically under the meaning of people being put into a specific position. It is also worth noting that BDAG places the use of tasso in 1 Cor 16:15 under this specific heading (people being put into a specific position), an instance that specifically means “to devote to” (speaking of the household of Stephanus: “they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints”, which obviously refers to an inward positioning of will or intent, a disposition/commitment or something along these lines). The use of tasso for disposition can be seen in non-biblical texts as well such as Philo Quod. Det., 166. . . .

In Conclusion:
I believe that the current translation of Acts 13:48 in the NIV is inaccurate, and that the best understanding of tasso in Acts 13:48 is that it refers to Gentiles who were in position for eternal life / ready for eternal life / even intent on obtaining eternal life (particularly in contrast to the Jews of the same episode who opposed Paul and rejected the gospel, and so who judged themselves unworthy of eternal life [Acts 13:46]), and that the most accurate translation of the phrase in question would be something like: “as many as were disposed to eternal life believed” or “as many as were aligned for eternal life believed” or “as many as were positioned for eternal life believed”. However, I recognize that this would be to take a very specific view of the passage, and might not be appropriate for the NIV. So, remembering that BDAG places the instance of tasso in Acts 13:48 not under the meaning of appointment but under the meaning of being placed in position, and that Friberg’s lexicon notes “disposed” as a possible meaning, I would suggest a more neutral translation: “as many as were set for eternal life believed”. This can readily be understood either of these Gentiles having gotten set in position for eternal life (by whatever means or agent[s] one infers from the context) or having been set (by absolute and effectual appointment) for eternal life by God. Thus this translation preserves the ambiguity of the Greek. I would then suggest adding a footnote along these lines: “or appointed or disposed”. This would probably be ideal for the reader to feel the sense of the Greek and know the two main ways it could be taken. If the committee is reluctant to change the present NIV translation, then I would urge that at least a footnote be added to the verse mentioning that it could be translated “as many as were disposed to eternal life”.
It does not appear that his letter had any effect on the CBT, as the NNIV reads the same.

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