THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, ACTS 2:38: #10
STEPHEN AND POWER
“But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ASV).
This passage on receiving power: (1) Jesus promises power to the apostles; (2) the Holy Spirit was to come "upon" them; (3) the apostles were to be witnesses of Jesus unto the whole world. Note: the apostles were qualified as witnesses of Jesus. However, their witness was dependent upon the overseeing of the Holy Spirit. This makes their writings, the Bible (their witness of Jesus), inspired by God's Spirit and inerrant.(2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
There are those that claim that Acts 2:38 promised miraculous power to the audience in Jerusalem if they were baptized in water. If this was so then (1) the “shall receive” should be subordinate to their obedience, (2) there should be a record “in the faith” (Jude 3) of someone besides the apostles demonstrating power, and (3) such power should be promised to the audience's children and to all that God calls throughout history (Acts 2:39).
First, the receiving is not subordinate but is equal in rank to the baptism command. Second, there is no report of anyone in the audience having prophetic power except the apostles.
THE APOSTLES AND POWER
No one questions whether the apostles demonstrated miraculous power in Acts 2; i.e., (1) they spoke in languages that they had not learned and (2) they prophesied God's message. After the sermon, 3000 responded and were added. Then this record: “And many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43). The question becomes whether any one else had power in Acts 2. But there is no record of anyone else but the apostles having power and doing miracles at this time.
Later, Peter and John, apostles, miraculously heal the lame man at the temple (Acts 3:7; 4:16). Peter is filled with the Spirit and prophesies before a council that includes Annas the high priest. Released, Peter and John go to their own company (idios). Who is in this sitting? We know they were close to Peter and John and they were in limited quarters. They prayed for boldness to speak God's “the word” and to do miraculous healings and miracles and signs (4:30). The result is the topos (limited space of occupancy) was shaken and they were “all filled with the Holy Spirit” and spake boldly. The writer indicates to us who the assembled “close friends” of Peter were. The apostles are identified in verse 33. “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). No one else is identified as giving witness as a result of the prayer. Remember the job of witnessing the resurrection was given directly to the apostles (Acts 1:8; 5:32).
When Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter, they were told they had lied to the Holy Spirit and they fell dead (5:5, 10). How had they lied to the Holy Spirit? The apostles had to have been representing the Holy Spirit. Ananias and Sapphira then did not have the Holy Spirit in the same sense. “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people” (5:12). Acts 5:15, 16 the sick and those vexed by unclean spirits are brought “that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.” All were healed. The apostles were then arrested. The angel releases them; the apostles resume their teaching. Again they are arrested, beaten and released, “They ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (5:42).
STEPHEN AND POWER AFTER APPOINTMENT TO SERVE TABLES?
Finally, in Acts 6:8, someone else is reported as having power and is doing miracles. Stephen, one of the seven. “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” “Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:9,10). Then we read that they “caught him, and brought him to the council, And set up false witnesses” (Acts 6:13).
“Full of Spirit” and “Did Wonders.”
The question is, when were Stephen and the six endowed with miraculous powers? Was Stephen doing wonders and miracles before or just after the appointment of the seven to work with the apostles? It says Stephen did them. When did he do them? The seven, including Stephen, were chosen based on their observed “well testified of, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (6:3). Taken together, some have concluded that Stephen was performing miracles before the appointment in Acts 6 and that this would have been what qualified him to be selected as a candidate and appointment as “deacon”.
My study indicates that his qualification would not be due to the apostles laying on their hands accompanied with their prayers; the choosing was to be by the congregation and by reputation and not by the apostles' knowledge. There is no record of the laying on of hands prior to Acts 6.
The Greek Verb for KJV's “Did”i in 6:8.
The main argument for Stephen's prior reception of powers is in the verse, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). Although the English KJV has the past tense, it does not prove that the powers were in the past. The original Greek is not in the past tense. The English past tense was used by the translators to represent an imperfect tense.
The Greek verb is in the imperfect tense and is not in the past tense as “did” may suggest. An imperfect verb does not mean that the action has been going on forever. This tense indicates that something is occurring and you have just seen it. ii The LITV and ESV2011 translates 6:3 correctly in the imperfect tense as “And Stephen, full of faith and power, was doing wonders and great signs among the people.” Young's Literal translates it also as “Was doing great wonders and signs.” Apostles → lay hands on Stephen and Philip → Miracles occur.
“Imperfect Tense” means that the action is continuous or reoccuring from the writer's viewpoint. It is as if the writer is observing Stephen doing great wonders but he didn't see or say when he started and he doesn't know yet when he'll stop. The writer just knows that the action was in progress when mentioned.iii For anyone to argue that the powers existed before Acts 6:8 is to go beyond what is written which we are forbidden to do (1 Corinthians 4:6).
Imperfect Tense and Acts 4:31ff
An example of the use of the imperfect tense is in chapter 4. This tense verb is used to describe an immediate result of prayer. “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). The apostles had been speaking the Word but now they prayed for boldness in the face of persecution. As a result of their prayer, they now “were speaking” with boldness. The context tells us when the start time was and it had just begun. The "were speaking" (imperfect tense) is used to indicate an immediate response to the prayer. God answers the prayer immediately. They weren't speaking boldly and then prayed for boldness. The speaking with boldness came in the order given.
Other examples are (1) “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1: “Was led” is imperfect; (2) “Then Jesus went with them” (Luke 7:6); (3) “And it came to pass, that, when Jesus was returned, the people gladly received him: for they were all waiting for him” (Luke 8:40).
The starting time for Stephen is not given by the writer, and the imperfect tense will not convey the start time. Rather, the context describes what is observed as a cause and effect to Stephen being stoned. The writer chooses the imperfect tense not to predate the laying on of hands, but to preface the consequential event of Stephen's martyrdom followed by a general persecution and scattering of the church. A new chapter could have been indicated here.
The Acts' Chronological Narrative
Chronology means "the arrangement of events or dates in the order of their occurrence." Sequence is "a particular order in which related events, movements, or things follow each other." The writer of Acts begins his narrative by stating in Luke 1:1 and verse 3, "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us ...It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus" The writer continues in Acts 1:1, "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach." Did the writer continue to write "in order"? If so, then, the events listed in chapter 6 are chronological and sequential. That means that the writer records "the arrangement of events in the order of their occurrence." If so, then the laying on of hands preceded the manifestation of Stephen's miracles.
May I emphasize this point. The writer of Acts is known for his emphasis on the “in order” in the chronology of the ministry of Jesus (Luke 1:1). He resumes the narrative of his previous account with the ascension of Jesus and the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the twelve (Acts 1). In the sequence in the book of Acts, did the writer overlook Stephen's preaching and signs until after his appointment to the particular work of serving tables? That is, did Peter and the apostles interrupt Stephen's good work of preaching to serve tables or did the preaching come later in the order in which the writer records it?
I see nothing in the text of Acts 6 to suggest that the writer needs to backtrack in order to report anything that happened prior to the laying on of hands. Rather, the narrative appears clearly (to me) to continue from the seven's appointment, “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem.” And then, “ ...And Stephen...”
The Conjunction “And” (deG1161)
The conjunction “and” (KJV) preceding the power is translated from the Greek word δεG1161 which according to Thayer means, e.g., “by way of opposition and distinction; added to statements opp. To a preceding statement; it opposes persons to persons or things previously mentioned or thought of—either with strong emphasis” and “it serves to mark a transition to something new.”
Conflicts Only for Apostles
Consider the conflict with the Jews in Acts 6 that take place because of Stephen's preaching. There is no mention of any such conflicts of Stephen earlier or anyone else while there are conflicts because of the preaching of the apostles. The apostles are the only ones up to now “causing any trouble” by their “annoying” preaching.
Power and Spirit Can Refer to Either Natural or Extraordinary...
Stephen is appointed with the six by the apostles' praying with the laying on of their hands. It seems to me that it is not a jump in reason to accept that God's Spirit was given to the seven and that provided them with grace to do their job efficiently (1 Corinthians 12:1, “gifts of grace”). This would be consistent with the apostles laying their hands on those later and imparting the Holy Spirit as explained in Acts 8:18 and Acts 19:6. The work or assignment was incidental (e.g., Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1-4). Why did the Spirit expand God's grace to include preaching and miracles for both Stephen and Philip (Acts 8)? That is explained in the list of miraculous gifts of grace; e.g. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
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Other articles in this series, The Gift of the Holy Spirit:
ii“The imperfect tense shows continuous or linear type of action just like the present tense. It always indicates an action continually or repeatedly happening in past time. It portrays the action as going on for some extended period of time” http://www.ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/verbs1.htm.