Should Acts 19:2 read "since" or "when you believed?"
William Arnold III
I have a question for you guys. I was trying to point out that someone is not always filled with the Holy Ghost at the very instant they believe. I used Acts 19:2 "Have you recieved the Holy Ghost since you believed?" It was pointed out that the KJV differs from others as they read "Did you recieve the Holy Ghost when you believed?" It was asserted that this meant someone recieves the Spirit when they believe. Someone pointed to the Greek to say this. This is from A T Robertsons "Word Pictures of the New Testement" (I know that he is well respected, but that he also inserts his own theological interpretations such as John 1:1):
"The first aorist active participle pisteusantes is simultaneous with the second aorist active indicative elabete and refers to the same event. "
And the person I was speaking to included this "Analytical Greek New Testament by Barbara and Timothy Friberg, page 433 - 'An aorist is a common past tense in the Greek.' And so it says plainly that we receive the Holy Spirit when we believe at conversion."
First I would like to say that quoting Greek experts does not explain away the plain implications of this verse. Whether we adopt the reading "since" or "when," the fact still remains that Paul says they had already believed but that they had not received the Spirit (vss. 2 & 6). Either way, this is true. Whether Paul expected the Ephesian disciples to have received the Spirit at the moment they believed or some time later, they still had already become believers but had not yet received the Spirit.1
Second, it is true that all major translations except KJV read "when" (NIV, NASB, NRSV, NLT, NAB, NJB, TEV, NET, even the NKJV). However, notice what Wallace says on aorist participles:
"The aorist participle, for example, usually denotes antecedent time to that of the controlling verb. But if the main verb is also aorist, this participle may indicate contemporaneous time. . . . The present participle is used for contemporaneous time." – Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 614 (emphasis in the original).
So the aorist participle (believing) and the aorist verb (received) may refer to the same time, but not necessarily so. If Paul (or Luke) had used the present participle then this definitely would have referred to contemporaneous time. Now if these translations would have adopted the reading "since" (antecedent time) then this would clearly spell the doom for those who teach that you receive it when you believe, which is a very popular teaching. My point is that there could be theological motives in the translation. Both are possible and it depends on what your prior commitments are when you come to this passage. We have a very similar situation to this in Ephesians 1:13. (See my commentary on Ephesians 1:3-14, verse 13 and Jason Dulle’s article on Ephesians 1:13)
Finally, even if both of these are debatable, Acts 8:12 & 16 clearly shows that it is possible to believe but not receive the Spirit. If this was all that we had, it is very clear and it is not debatable.
I would also like to mention that although A. T. Robertson was a highly respected Greek scholar, and his New Testament Word Pictures is a very useful tool, it is also simply a commentary. And so, like all commentaries, it is only his opinion about the text; it is not the final word.
1. Although some would differ, I believe we can be pretty confident that these were believers in Christ, not simply disciples of John the Baptist, for the following reasons: 1. Luke the narrator says that Paul "found some disciples." In the context of the book of Acts I could only assume he meant disciples of Christ, especially since he did not specify anything differently, 2. if they had not even believed in Jesus then I would really expect Paul to have "preached Christ" to them before preaching baptism and 3. whether he is saying "since you believed" or "when you believed," either way Paul is still saying that they had already believed. <back>
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