IGNORING PLAIN OLD GRAMMAR
AND DELUDING MANY
The “Shall Receive” Of Acts 2:38 Is Mistaught
“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11)
Most Americans are blessed with an education in English grammar. They might not consider it a blessing because, according to U.S. manufacturers, 60% of all 17-year-olds do not have the reading skills to hold down a production job at a manufacturing company.i This includes not knowing the rules of capitalization, and sentence construction.ii Unfortunately, only a little more than half of the students in today’s U.S. elementary schools learn to read and write well enough to be functionally literate.iii What does this mean when it comes to studying the English Bible? It means that most of us depend on the preacher/teacher to tell us what an English passage means. Regrettably many of the ones we are putting our trust in, either do not know or do not apply basic grammar rules themselves.
In Christendom, Acts 2:38 has generated many interpretations of what “the gift” is. Many of the “beliefs” are based on interpreting this passage as God bestowing something upon responders (perhaps even after death). Generally, it is taught that God “owes” the gift to ones that repent and/or are baptized. The chief problem with these “teachings” is that Peter does not say that God or the Spirit is bestowing anything at all. Secondly, neither does Peter say that the gift is related to the repentance and baptism! This is totally a misunderstanding if not an abuse of Peter’s answer to the Pentecost audience. In order for Peter to have said this, he would have to have used his words for the gift in a “subordinate” and “passive” way. iv This, he does not do in the English nor in the Greek.
Let’s look at the passage.
Act 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Act 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
1. What is the audience’s question to Peter and the apostles?
Is it not, “What shall we do?”
Greek NT INT+
2. What is the answer?
Peter’s answer is actually for them to do three things. Not two.
G3340 metanoesate. “repent”
l Then “and” … (coordinating conjunction—something that is equal to the command “repent” is following).
Second, be baptized.
l Again we read an “and” … (a coordinating conjunction—something that is equal to both repent and be baptized is following).
Third, “You shall receive...”
This is not passively receiving something. This is actively doing something. Mothers tell their offspring, “You shall do such and such.” It’s the same in Greek. Thayer defines this verb as meaning mainly “to take...” Strong’s Dictionary is clearer by restricting this verb as actively “to take” something. The Greeks used a different word for passively receiving something.
The best translation of this passage perhaps is the KJV’s ERRB:vi
“Then Peter Petros said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one each of you in the name of Jesus Christ Yah Shua Messiah for unto the remission forgiveness of sins, and ye shall receive take the gift gratuity of the Holy Ghost Spirit.”
The error that is perpetuated by most translators and preachers and teachers is making this verb passive in interpreting the English.vii This is not passive but is a middle (deponent) verb in the original Greek. In English we normally use a prepositional phrase to translate a middle voice verb, especially if reflexive. For example, “He bought lasagna and he sat down to eat it.” In middle voice, it would be “He bought lasagna for himself and he sat down to eat it.”
Perhaps the easiest way to think of the middle voice is as a reflexive:
Judas "hanged himself" (ἀπήγξατο, aor. middle indicative of ἀπάγχω; Mt. 27:5).viii
The Greek authority Robertson said, "The only difference between the active and middle voices is that the middle calls especial attention to the subject. In the active voice the subject is merely acting; in the middle the subject is acting in relation to himself somehow. What this precise relation is, the middle voice does not say. That must come out of the context or from the significance of the verb itself."ix Note: Robertson in his commentary on Acts 2:38 changes Greek rules in order to say that Peter did not command baptism for the forgiveness of sins and he likewise ignores the passive voice of lambanoG2983.
‘In some verbs, the middle voice seems to mean get something done to/for oneself or get oneself in some condition. For example, in Luke 2:3 (also vs. 1 and vs. 5), "and everyone was going to get himself enrolled (ἀπογράφεσθαι, pres. Middle infinitive of ἀπογράφω) each one unto his own city." The idea is not merely active – they were not simply enrolling someone (else). Nor is the idea merely passive. They were not being enrolled without some effort on their part.’x
Middle voice statements, when in directives, tell you to do something for yourself. Especially, it would be true with “future middle deponent verbs” such as in Acts 2:38.xi Peter tells the audience to do three things: (1) repent, (2) be baptized, and (3) take something that the Holy Spirit is offering (through Peter and the prophets).
Matthew 10:38 “And he that takethG2983 not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” It is the same word, lambanoG2983, and although it is in present active indicative here, it readily can be seen that “take” would be a correct translation of 2:38. The identification of it as middle deponent by some authorities should make the translation active for English.xii See endnote IV.
What is offered by the Holy Spirit through Peter? Peter speaks from the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) as promised by Jesus. (He and the other apostles had been made prophets). Peter says nothing about everyone being made prophets like them. Nor does he make application from Joel like that. He told the audience that “this (their prophesying) is that prophesied by Joel.” The Holy Spirit therefore makes no such promise. Moses said he wished God would make everyone prophets (Numbers 11:29) and perhaps we might wish that today, but God has never done that. Even in Corinth only some were prophets (1 Corinthians 12-14). He didn’t do it for Moses and He didn’t do it in the New Testament.
I believe that this verb “receive” corresponds to Jesus’ “soil parable”: "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives itG2983 with joy” (Matthew 13:20; also Mark 4:16). Plus, "He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayingsG2983, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48). Also, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not acceptG2983 our testimony” (John 3:11). Vine’s Dictionary explains that lambano “denotes either ‘to take"’ or ‘to receive,’ (II) metaphorically, of the word of God, Matthew 13:20; Mark 4:16; the sayings of Christ, John 12:48; the witness of Christ, John 3:11.”
3. What does the Holy Spirit’s say the audience received for themselves (also in middle voice) in response to Peter’s Spirit message (2:41)?
According to Vine’s then, Peter told the audience “to receive as a self-prompted taking” and the audience gladly “welcomed the reception.”
“When they heard this...” What did they receive? Their reaction is relative to “What did they hear?” Was it not the Holy Spirit’s elaborating upon “Whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (2:21)? The message was from the Holy Spirit as God had promised from ancient times to Israel (Peter quotes Joel 2:28f)* which according to Jesus was to be finally realized through His apostles (Luke 22:49; Acts 1:4). * “’The promise of the Father’ refers especially to the promises given through the Old Testament prophets to Israel, such as Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28-29” (Popular Commentary on the New Testament). Peter quotes Joel 2 and declares that their prophesying to the people is “this is that” as promised. Peter did not say now the promise is going to be realized when someone in this audience obeys. He did not say everyone will speak in tongues like us. (In fact, Joel doesn’t say anything about speaking in tongues). Rather, Peter’s “this is that” refers exclusively to what had happened to the apostles and was then being in progress declared by the apostles to the people.
Some interesting facts from Acts 2:
1. The promise of the Father
(Acts 2:39) is what the audience was “given” in Peter’s
“Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Contrary to some teachings today, the fact is the audience had heard only the promise from the OT prophets (and not what Jesus may have promised the apostles).
2. The prophets of old did not prophesy that any people in Acts 2 would speak in tongues.
3. There is a record of no one speaking in tongues between Acts 2 and Acts 10 (Cornelius’ home). Peter does not say about Cornelius’ gathering that they are speaking in tongues “like all of us Christians do.” Rather, Peter compares that action of tongues in the context to the apostles speaking in tongues years earlier on Pentecost in Acts 2 (“at the beginning”, Acts 11:15).
4. Peter does not claim that speaking in tongues is included in any promise. By the way, Joel said nothing about it. Neither does Peter claim it to be give to them, or “your children and to (us) as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
So the controversy over Acts 2:38 actually does not recognize nor even deal with the grammar that Peter uses in Acts 2:38. It does not respect the coordinating conjunction “and.” It does not respect the third action instruction. Nor does it accept what the record tells us that consequently the audience received in their response to the lesson (2:41). Rather, the disputation is over something that is not in the text but rather is only in the agenda of the antagonists.
Other articles on The Gift of the Holy Spirit:
I recommend my book: In Search For The Gift Of The Holy Spirit.
- Gaylon West
THROW OUT THE LIFELINE
ii https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-americans-cant-write/2015/09/24/6e7f420a-6088-11e5-9757- e49273f05f65_story.html?utm_term=.4a01811acba8
iv An illustration is in Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, [so] that your sins may be blotted out.” “May be blotted out” (εξαλειφθηναιG1813) is passive and the clause is dependent upon the first of the sentence being done.
v https://carm.org/baptism-and-acts-238#footnoteref1_zyfhgo3. Note: the writer follows with an erroneous conclusion from this by asserting that this doesn’t carry as much weight as a command as “repent” does. ‘The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is salvation.’ - Elmer Moore http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume40/GOT040033.html
vi ERRB: exeGeses ready_research Bible is a literal translation and transliteration of Scripture. The Authorized KJV transformed into a literal translation and transliteration, with myriads of exegeses at the point of occurrence.
vii These “translations” ignore the passive construction: BBE, CEV, GW, ISV
ix Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 804
xi “For many of these so-called deponent verbs, it may well be that the Greek speaker really had a perspective on the action that made a middle voice appropriate, even though in modern English we would tend to describe the action using an active voice.”