I was reminiscing about one of my seminary exegesis professors this past week with someone and then again today was reminded of an assignment he always had his exegesis classes do. I went to Asbury, and so there was of course a primacy among most professors on coming up with Wesleyan-Arminian interpretations. I doubt anyone who has looked at this blog for very long will doubt that I am an advocate for Wesleyan-Arminian theology, but the Bible simply says what it says, and we just have to deal with it.
This professor always had his beginning exegesis classes do an interpretation of Acts 13:48, which says something like, "As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." Well of course this sounds Calvinist. There was an underground rumor that if you suggested the verb in the sentence was in what is called the "middle" voice, you would get an A on the assignment. The translation would then become, "As many as had appointed themselves to eternal life, believed."
Don't get me wrong. I loved this professor. But in more than one respect, this story illustrates much that is wrong with biblical interpetation. First of all, any professor who basically requires you to parrot back what they want to hear in order to get a good grade is a bad teacher. We all know there are both liberal and conservative teachers who are the same way on this score. Tell them what they want to hear and you'll get an A. Disagree with them and watch out. That's bad teaching.
But this professor's infamous "middle shuffle" illustrates a more important point. Exegesis is not about the possible but about the probable. The goal of interpretation is not to find a possible way to support convenient conclusions for my tribe. The goal is to let the text say what it says.
There is no evidence whatsoever for the middle voice in this verse. The rule I teach in Greek is that you should always assume forms like this one are passive if they make sense. If they don't make sense, then you might explore a middle. Acts 13:48 makes perfect sense grammatically and contextually as a passive, "had been appointed." It is a "naughty verse" for my theology. But I'll just have to deal with it (and I can) and accept the most likely meaning of the text.
P.S. Here I am of course talking about original meaning interpretation, exegesis. I have gone on record as supporting the coherency of theological interpretation as a legitimate form of Christian reader-response which is perhaps even more important than original meaning interpretation.