A similar series on this site:   (Abusing) The Little Big Words of the Spirit


revised 06/22/2016 for additions 1a-1d


And we are His witnesses of these sayings, and the Holy Spirit also, whom God gave to those obeying him(Acts 5:32, YLT).
Acts 5:32. This text is often used as a proof text for the teaching that God gives the Holy Spirit to all obedient Christians. In addition, it is used sometimes to explain what the gift of the Holy Spirit is (Acts 2:38). I proffer that the grammar and context of this passage does not permit such an interpretation.
PROFFER: The passage Acts 5:32 speaks exclusively of the Spirit being given to witness with the qualified obeying Twelve apostles who were eye-witnesses of Jesus, His ministry, His crucifixion, and His resurrection.

A rules article on studying the Bible lists Rule #6: Examine the Context. Context simply means “with text.” Checking the context involves reading the text before and after the issue in question. We should ask, "Who is speaking?" "To whom is he/she speaking?" "Understanding the context is vital to understanding the meaning of scriptures. Context points to the intent of the scripture in question. It answers what, who*, when, where, why and how."i


The apostle John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us*;)” (1 John 1:1, 2).

The *apostles had seen the raised Lord Jesus and had touched His resurrected body; hence, they were witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. This was one of the qualifications to be an apostles. To replace the fallen apostle Judas “must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection(Acts 1:22). An apostle had to be a witness of His resurrection.

Apostles With The Holy Spirit Bear Witness

  *I would especially ask the reader to ask who is speaking and to whom is he speaking in Acts 5:32.

The apostles were arrested and brought before the council. When the apostles are given a choice at their judgment before the council, Peter speaks unequivocally that he and the other apostles must obey God rather than the civil authority (Acts 5:29). He affirms that the Holy Spirit is witness with them in their obedience. The Holy Spirit was given to them while they were obeying.

Acts 5:29: “But Peter and the apostles answered and said, We [in defense of himself with the other apostles] must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:32: “And we are His witnesses of these things; [also the Spirit but Holy], which God gave to the ones yielding obedience to him” (ABP+). The “we are witnesses” were the apostles and did not include the persecuting council nor the Temple visitors to whom Peter had been preaching. The ones obeying are the apostolic witnesses. The Spirit, he says, was given to the apostles to witness along with them. The verb is Aorist Indicative Active which means that the action “occurred in the past time, often translated like the English simple past tense.” ii

It is impossible for the Spirit to witness with anyone living today since no one exists that was a witness to the resurrection and coronation of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, this passage has nothing to do with any promise of the Spirit to any others. Nor is it applicable to the repentant believer who is baptized in the authority of Jesus Christ.


First, we look at the construction of the verse.

In grammar, a “clause” is a group of words that contain a subject and predicate and forms a part or whole of a sentence.iii Our text is what is called a "compound" sentence which means that there are at least two independent clauses (or sentences) joined by a coordinating conjunction, such as “and.”iv An English illustration is, “The man is married and he has two children.” If we separate the clauses, we have two sentences. “The man is married.” “He has two children.”

The first clause in our text is, “And we are witnesses of these things.” The “second” clause is so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” [Please refer to diagrams.] This clause happens to be what is called a complex sentence because it contains a dependent clause. Its independent clause, “so is also the Holy Ghost,” is accompanied by a dependent clause that also happens to contain a dependent clause.

The Dependent Clause.

The dependent clause “whom God hath given to them that obey Him” cannot stand alone as a sentence but must depend on the independent clause “so is also the Holy Ghost” to make complete sense. The words which we are interested in, i.e., “that obey Him”, is a subject-predicate dependent clausev that is in apposition “to them.” They are grammatically parallel, both are in the dative case, and they have the same referent (hath given). Some illustrations of expressions in apposition: “my friend Sue”; “the first US president, George Washington.”
diagram diagram


We are concerned about whom the “them” are for the verb “obey”vi of the clause “that obey him.” According to the English-Greek/Hebrew Interlinear, the verb “obey” is present participle - Active – and Dative.


The Rule for Greek “Present Participle Active.”

The Greek authority A. T. Robertson comments, “It is not strictly true that here ['obey' in Acts 5:32] the present participle means future or subsequent time.”vii The present participle simply means continuous action that is repeated continuously. For example, in the verse And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him (1 John 3:24), “keepeth” is present participle. The subject identified has to keep on doing what he's doing. In the case with Acts 5:32, the subject has to continue “obeying.”   Who/what is the subject?  That is, “Who is the one that is to “continue obeying?”  The dative case helps us to determine the answer.

The Rule for the Dative Case.

Dative case indicates that this clause shows “to or for whom” the action of the preceding “God hath given” takes place.viii The dative in English is anindirect object, and usually expresses the object of the preposition “to” or “for.” Therefore, this makes the words "hath given" the main verb for the clause "that obey Him."

The present participle is normally contemporaneous in time to the action of the main verb.ix This simply means for Acts 5:32 that the verb "obey" must agree (in time) with the main verb "hath given."

Acts 5:32. The main verb in the passage for the participle obey (πειθαρχοῦσιν) is “hath given” ( εδωκενG1325).


For Peter to say that God gives the Spirit repeatedly, as some teach, would require him to have used the imperfect tense. This he did not do. Peter is not teaching here that God repeats “giving the Spirit.” Rather, Peter says that God “has given” or “gave the Spirit” in a specific incident at a specific time.

Peter says that the Holy Spirit is a witness just as the apostles were. He identifies how he can make this assertion: “[the Holy Spirit] whom God hath given to them that obeyx him.” This verb is “hath given”, “εδωκενG1325, and is in Greek aorist [tense] indicative.

The aorist tense, unique tense to Greek, is repeatedly referred to in grammar texts as merely a simple occurrence, with no emphasis on the action's progress. "The aorist is said to be 'simple occurrence' or 'summary occurrence', without regard for the amount of time taken to accomplish the action. This tense is referred to as the 'punctiliar' tense. 'Punctiliar' means 'viewed as a single, collective whole,' a "one-point-in-time" action. Aorist tense in the indicative mood tells us that that the action mentioned occurred and stopped!

The verb “hath given” in the indicative mood and the aorist tense denotes action that occurred in the past time, and is translated like the English simple past tense."xi This would make the verb a “one time deal” and not a repeating one. From Peter’s viewpoint then it was a “one time done deal.” The subject was specified. Peter and the apostles.

In this passage Peter is speaking of a single occurrence of God giving His Spirit to be witness. One occurrence. God did it one time to a certain people (in this case, the apostles).

The Apostolic Bible Polygotword-for-word” Greek-English translation accurately has “God gave to the ones yielding obedience to him.”

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Peter is surely speaking of the day of Pentecost; the baptism of the Holy Spirit covering the apostles is referenced. The apostles were obeying Jesus by waiting for the promise of the Father that is given through Jesus. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to be sent to guide them into all truth (John 16:13; Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit witnessed through the apostles. Period.

To this agrees the Pulpit Commentary. “The direct reference is to the command recorded in Acts 1:8, which they felt imperatively bound to obey. So is the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost bare witness to the gospel preached by the apostles by the powers which he gave them to heal and work miracles, and by the conversion of many who heard the word: 'the gospel preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven' (1 Peter 1:12). Mark the solemnity and authority which Peter claimed for the gospel by thus asserting that the Holy Ghost was the witness with the apostles to the truth of their testimony concerning Jesus Christ.” To prove that God gives the Spirit to anyone else, one must find the passage that says so.xii This passage cannot be so used.

Peter and the apostles are brought before the council. Peter says that the apostles must obey God's command rather than the negative command of the council (Acts 5:29). God's rule was that the apostles were to publish their eyewitness account of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus in forgiving sins.

(1) The Holy Spirit witnessed by guiding their words: “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say” (Luke 12:11,12). Peter says, “And we are His witnesses of these sayings, and the Holy Spirit also”; the Holy Spirit was witness of the words that were being preached.

(2) The Spirit gave witness with signs of healing and miraculous tongues. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people(Acts 5:12). Such works are an acceptable witness. For Jesus said of the signs and wonders that He did, “I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me” (John 10:25).

(3) The Spirit is said to Witness But only with Witnesses. People today can report what the apostles witnessed to us about Jesus, from the Scriptures, but people today have not witnessed any of it (neither in a legal or a historical or a moral sense). Neither had the strangers visiting Jerusalem on Pentecost who heard and received the apostles' words. They could only accept the witness of the resurrection by faith. The same applies to us.
On the other hand, the qualifications of an apostle listed in Act 1:22 included being an eye-witness: “Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.” When Peter said "we are witnesses" in Acts 5:32, he was not talking about “we” being the Pentecost audience nor the threatening council before whom they stood nor was he speaking of people today. Peter spoke of the apostles being witnesses when he declared to the council in Acts 2:32, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all* are witnesses.” * We = the accused prophets (the apostles) not the alien accusers.
The apostles are the authorized witnesses of Jesus. First of all, they had been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry. “And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27). Second, they were also “ordained witnesses” of His resurrection (Acts 1:22; 2:32).
The qualifications for apostleship included being a witness of the ministry and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:21, 22). As John pointed out, "We have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (1 John 1:2, ASV). The Pentecost audience as well as we can report about what the apostles said, but neither of us can witness for Jesus. If we cannot witness for Jesus then the Holy Spirit does not witness “with us.”
The event in our passage (Acts 5:32) confirms the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to the apostles in John 15:26: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you [apostles with the exception of Judas who was at the moment absent] from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall bear witness of me.” After Jesus was raised, He appeared to the apostles and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, "because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen" (Mark 16:14). Then Jesus gave the great commission to the apostles and promised signs to “follow” them that were faithful (believing or obeying, Mark 16:17; compare this to their "obeying" in Acts 5:32). The apostles were witnesses of words and so is the Holy Spirit.

Acts 5:32 obviously has nothing to do with the giving of the Holy Spirit to every Christian. Integrity demands that we treat it as such.

- Gaylon West

Throw Out the Lifeline

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

i“The Rules For Bible Study.” Although a sectarian site, the rules appear to be common to the study of any literature.

ii An example: “God...made us alive together with Christ." Ephesians 2:5. Aorist tense: One event. God "made us alive." The verse does not say nor does it prove that God is continuing making us alive with Christ.


ivGreek kaiG2532.


vi(πειθαρχοῦσιν, peitharchousin: obeying)

viiExample from:

viiiAnother example is "He will give the Holy Spiritto thosewho ask" (Luke 11:13).




xiiE.g., Acts 15:8. Both cases of "giving the Spirit" was via the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave witness to Peter and the Jews of God's acceptance of the Gentiles in this occurrence. These are the only illustrations of such a baptism.