Acts 5:32 and Getting The Spirit

One of my favorite things is bringing up verses no one likes to deal with, verses you haven’t heard in church for quite some time, verses that commentaries skip over, verses that mess with our pat doctrine. Part of me does this for kicks, the other part likes to see what people think they mean, which helps me determine what to do with them as well, since I don’t always know either.

Here’s a great one I had to mention in my sermon this week on Acts 5:

“we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost,
whom God hath given to them that obey him.”

Peter is speaking and says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. Now, we all know that it is absolutely impossible for people to obey God unless they have the Spirit, so how can God give the Spirit to those who obey God, which they can’t do unless they have the Spirit?

There are several approaches:

1) Bash Peter. Seriously, what does he know? Paul is the only apostle who knows anything, so we’re safe in ignoring Peter here as speaking nonsense.

2) Define Words. “Obey” might not mean obey, if we try hard enough, we might get there and turn obey into “be in the general vicinity of God” or something.

3) Muddy the subject. Maybe the giving of the Spirit does not refer to salvation but rather to the giving of the Spirit with power as evidenced by tongues in the early church.

4) Pretend this verse doesn’t exist. Hey, how about them Packers?

5) Go with it. Only those who obey God get the Spirit, which seems to be the plain meaning.

For me, I guess number three seems plausible. Number one seems cheap since all Scripture is inspired and I can’t imagine Peter snuck one through. Number two is out because obey here is the strongest Greek word for obey that could be used (means to submit without question). Number four, although easiest, isn’t really an answer.

Then there’s option 5, anyone got the guts to go with the plain words?

6 thoughts on “Acts 5:32 and Getting The Spirit”

  1. One of the phrases I’ve heard is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. So if we use that here Romans 8 says that unless the Spirit dwells in us then we do not belong to Christ. We also know that we can not earn our salvation and that it is a gift from God (Eph 2). So perhaps the meaning of the “obey” in this verse is those who have submitted themselves to God and received Him (i.e. obeying Him) have received the Spirit?

    I’m not sure I have phrased that too well but I know what I mean! I could be wrong though!!

  2. I looked it this verse in a number of translations and they all seem to use the phrase “obey him” but interestingly the Youngs Literal Translation says “and we are His witnesses of these sayings, and the Holy Spirit also, whom God gave to those obeying him.”

  3. According to the Greek, the tense is a present active verb, so “obeying” is their attempt to convey the presentness of it, I’m guessing. There is no doubt the word is obey, there’s not too many other options for it, it’s the strongest word for obey in the Greek. As you said, the Bible has many verses and I think Galatians 3:2 and 14 have to factor in. But this verse is so contrary to our views, it’s as if it doesn’t exist! I wonder how this verse would effect our understanding if we allowed it to?

  4. Number 3 is possible. I’d also go with Number 5 in this sense: God works with man’s consent. The power is of God, but cannot be exercised in and through the man except the man makes a willing surrender.

    I see many Biblical examples:

    – Abraham had to “cast out the bondwoman and her son”, God didn’t do it for him.

    – The priests that bore the Ark marched down to the Jordan and their feet touched its waters before the waters parted.

    – The Israelites had to march around Jericho…their marching didn’t bring the walls down, but God used it to build their faith and obedience.

    – We must confess Christ with our mouths, and choose to go down to the water and be baptized.

    – In Revelation 3, the Laodiceans are told, “if any man open the door, I will come in.”

    In these, and many other cases, the power must obviously come from God. In salvation there is a part for the human to surrender, submit, or be willing to change (and act on that willingness), which precedes the actual new birth.

    Even this breaking from the delusion of sin is part of the work of the Spirit, for He brings conviction, but it requires the cooperation of the human agent. Exactly how this is done has caused much theological discussion, but it is a waste of time. If God commands, we must set our wills to obey.

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