Natural or Supernatural?

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (Acts 6:3, ESV2011).

In order to understand what the “gift of the Holy Spirit” of Acts 2:38 is, we have examined the context along with the passage. The context concludes with the question by the audience as to what they are to do. The apostle's response is for them to “receive” the promise given through the prophets. The passage in 2:41 says that the audience actively received (for themselves) the Word preached by Peter.   However, theologians teach that the audience rather received the gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit supernaturally just as the apostles had.

However, any judge of the text should ask, “Where does the Biblical texti say this?” To be definitive, in the following chapters who except the apostles are mentioned as performing miracles before we read about Stephen doing it in Acts 6:8?

But to be fair, one answer given is that the text in Acts 6:3 (see above) proves that some disciples were surely doing miracles since they were “full of the Spirit.”   Hence, to some of them, the gift of the Holy Spirit must have at least included miraculous powers.

Whereas some passages may have a reference to one's filling of the Spirit and supernatural induced power, I wish to emphasize that a direct miracle is not indicated as required for a Christian to be Spirit-led or filled. This is not to preclude the source of the message being inspiration by the Spirit.

Bible Terms For Miracles

Three main words that refer to the powers of Jesus and the Holy Spirit (Act 2:22). “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know
          1.   miracles:dunamisG1411: "force (literally or figuratively); specifically miraculous power."
          2.   wonders: te´ρaG5059: "a extraordinary event or omen."
          3.   signs: σημειονG4592: "an indication, especially ceremonially or supernaturally."

The philosopher David Hume is quoted, "A true miracle would, by definition, be a non-natural phenomenon, leading many rational and scientific thinkers to dismiss them as physically impossible to validate or impossible to confirm by their nature." ix

A Biblical miracle based on illustrations from the Scriptures has been defined to me as an extraordinary event that is not against nature but is accomplished immediately with suspension of natural laws in time and space. The miracle of the floating axe (2 Kings 6:5) was a suspension of the law of gravity. The signs of Mark 16:17-20: Speaking in “new tongues” (e.g., Acts 2:1-5) are dialects that can naturally be learned over time. The sick may be healed naturally with prayers and certain herbs and time. Serpent bites and poisonous drinks can have antidotes. However, the miracles in the Bible are sudden and wondrous and unexplainable by common experience.

The point can be made then that the things of the Spirit that are considered to be miraculously endowed (e.i., wisdom and faith) can be learned over time. Surely faithful men such as Stephen and Philip would have been filled with things of the Spirit over a period of time when they were being instructed on a daily basis (Acts 2:42). Hence, they would have been full of the Holy Spirit (by metonomy; Acts 6:3).

Natural Way To Be Filled With the Spirit

First, another translation of this passage clarifies what the brethren's reputation was: Therefore, Brothers, look for seven men of reputation among yourselves, wise and spiritually-minded men, and we will appoint them to attend to this matter” (Acts 6:3, 20th Century New Testamentii). This translation says that the “full of the Spirit” is a matter of spiritual maturation. We aren't told how many weeks or years pass between Acts 2 and Acts 6. One timeline claims this to be 4-5 years.iii Surely, during this length of time some members that “continued stedfast in the apostles' teaching” (2:42) would have had time to mature naturally by the Spirit's teaching.   Among the thousands some would have been known "by their fruits". Hence, the qualification, "Look among you for those whose reputation is wise according to the Word..."

There are two types of wisdom. First, wisdom of the "earthly" type. "This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish" (James 3:15).   Second, there is the type from Heaven (the wisdom from the Spirit). "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17).  Neither are miraculous but learned and practiced by choice.

        Timeline for the Spirit's prophetic teaching early in the First Century in Jerusalem.

Second, a special word form is used for miraculous filling of the Spirit”. A form of pimplēmi is used for a special miraculous “filling” (πλησθησεταιG4130), and according to Strong's Dictionary, “appears only as an alternate in certain tenses and in the reduplicated form of πίμπλημι ... accomplish, full (. . . come), furnish.”iv “The verb always occurs in the aorist tense (emphasizing an event, not a state) and is in the passive voice (the subject or person is acted upon).”v This is especially what makes the word unique: it's in an aorist tense and is passive. This tense is also often referred to as the 'punctiliar' The only persons effected in the New Testament are (1) John the Baptist in Luke 1:15 (see footnote v), (2) Elizabeth, Luke 1:41; (3) Zacharias, Luke 1:67; (4) apostles, Acts 2:4; (5) Peter in Acts 4:8; (6) Peter again with apostles Acts 4:31; (7) Paul in Acts 9:17; (8) Paul in Acts 13:9.vii

3 Events of Miraculous Intervention of “Filling.G4130 Notice that Peter is “filled” at least three different times for the Spirit's specific miraculous help (Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:31). The aorist tense for each time emphasizes a separate and unrelated event which is not related to the “full” of Spirit. The "filling" event is apparently temporary and is not accumulative.

Third, every Christian is commanded to be naturally filled with the Spirit.

It is imperative that Christians be filled by the Spirit. We are to receive the Spirit's Word delivered through the apostles (Acts 2:38-41; oral or written, 2 Thessalonians 2:15). The text Acts 6:3's “full of the Spirit” is in its adjective (descriptive word) form (πληρειςG4134). In the text of Ephesians 5:18, its verb (action word) form (πληρόωG4137) is used.   It is in the Greek middle voice which means the subject is responsible for the filling. viii

The apostle Paul in this passage, Ephesians 5:18, commands us to “be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” Every Christian is to do this. The contrast in the verse is feeding the flesh with intoxication versus feeding one's spirit. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The apostle uses the expression “in the Spirit” in this epistle, to refer to the Holy Spirit of God (it is a Pauline expression; e.g., Ephesians 2:18, 22; 3:5; and 6:18).

The figure of speech Paul uses in Ephesians 5:18 is that of “metonymy” in which “the cause is put for the effect”; the cause is the agent Spirit who produces the effects of verses 19-20; i.e., we “sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord” because the Spirit tells us to; the Spirit directs us to give God thanks; the Spirit commands us to submit to one another; etc. The same kind of figure is found in a parallel passage, "let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Colossians 3:16), resulting in the same effects produced by the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18-20. In this parallel passage, the agency is the "Word of Christ"; i.e., Christ's Word. In other words, Spirit of God, i.e., or Christ, is the one who causes the believer to produce spiritually mature actions (5:19-21) and it is the believer of the Spirit's “words” who demonstrates the effect!

Why the Verb “FillingG4137Is Used As An AdjectiveG4134.

The verb “filling” is used as an adjective when it describes a state of fullness of Spirit being reached or realized” as completed, as in our text (Acts 6:3).   Jesus uses the Holy Spirit from the Father and the good things from the Father interchangeably (Luke 11:13; Matthew 7:11).   If one is naturally filled with the Holy Spirit, he would be naturally filled with the Spirit's Word, the apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:38,41). The apostles require that the candidates selected were to be spiritually mature. This is a good example for us to obey today in assigning workers. In Acts 6:5 Stephen is said to be “full of power.” The word Spirit is not used in this verse. This does not mean that Stephen no longer was full of the Spirit but it underscores the fact that something else is under consideration. This is the first record of a person besides the apostles prophesying and doing miracles. Initially the preaching without the written New Testament had to be by prophesying in order to be inerrant.

When Stephen is being stoned, Stephen is not “filled” with the supernatural aorist tense (like Peter) but is described as “being full (Thayer: “lacking nothing; perfect”) of the Spirit.” Vincent's Word Pictures says that “[being] has a backward look to an antecedent condition which has been protracted into the present.” Stephen definitely had not lost his fulness of the Holy Spirit (spiritual maturity) of 6:3.

Naturally FilledG4137 with the Spirit

Being filled and full of the Holy Spirit do not demand a miracle. The “born of the Spirit” believer (John 3:3, 5) never is incapacitated so that he has to be full or perfected by outside force (i.e., “miraculously”). All believers were taught to “As newborn babes, [to] desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). To confirm this conclusion, look at Paul's companion, the evangelist Timothy. Timothy who definitely had miraculous powers by the laying on of Paul's hands (1 Timothy 1:18; 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6) was instructed to “continue thou in the things which thou hast learned(2 Timothy 3:14-16), to “handling aright the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ASV) and thereby “fill up the full measure of thy ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5, Darby). Inspiration never removed responsibility for growth and “filling” (this included the apostles).  These early disciples were human just as we.   They did not have the written NT.   We do.   The Spirit of God's miraculous confirmation (Mark 16:20) leveled the “playing field” for both of us.

Assignment for us all: Write a list of how we can fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit of the Scriptures.

-Gaylon West

Throw Out the Lifeline

Other articles in this series, The Gift of the Holy Spirit:

iAll Scripture is breathed out (“spirited” -θεόπ-νευστος) by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

ii First translation of the NT into modern English (1904). By team of approximately 20 people, fluent in Koine Greek of the New Testament,worked 15 years; under scholar advisers J. Rendel Harris and Richard Weymouth. Westcott and Hort text used.


iv Strong's.

v; An exception in Luke 1:15 where John's filling is not aorist but is future indicative passive. His was filled at birth (passive) and continued throughout his life.


vii Luke 1:15 is not aorist. In the LXX, the following events are examples: Exodus 31:3-5 (35:31-35); Numbers 11:17, 25-26; Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9; Samuel 16:13.