(5) “Being Filled With the Spirit” (The Case of the Twelve Apostles)

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Acts 2 tells us about many firsts. It was the first time the Holy Spirit was outpoured from heaven and filled a group of 12 men (Acts 2:4, 14) in fulfillment of the divine promises (cf. Joel 2:28-29; Matthew 3:11; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5). These men were disciples of the Man from Nazareth, a strange Man from a strange place. Strange not so much because of the absence of rabbinic references about Him as a God-sent figure beginning a grass roots ministry in such a place called “Ha Galil,” literally “The Circle,” or Galilee, in the northernmost tier of Jewish land, which was geographically, politically and spiritually far from the scene of action which was Jerusalem. Strange because the small band who followed the Man of peace too were adept in the ways of the revolution, Galilee being the nest of revolutionary movements in all Palestine. Strange because the band of twelve, in obedience to their Leader, was to proclaim a revolution that was to change the face of the soul and consequently the face of the world.

INITIATING THE NEW WAY OF GOD IN THE WORLD. The Twelve were unlearned in the ways of scholars and theologians (Acts 4:13). They had never been to a Mishna and Torah school. Their manners were rough. Their dialect had regional defects. They quarreled for the topmost position in the kingdom that was yet to come. They called for thunder and lightning to consume their fellow Jews who did not believe like they did. They cringed in the face of death when their Master was arrested, tried and hung outside the city walls. Yes, they were human, as human as anyone of us are.

Nevertheless all those— those minus points and flaws in their character—did not matter, for these were to change because of their continued association with the Great Personage who got out of His tomb one early Sunday morning.  The fact that He rose again, and made a promise that he would come and see them again, made them brave and courageous. To top it all, they were to experience one of the most wonderful phenomena the world has ever known—the Holy Spirit’s outpouring— which was to help them initiate the New Way of God in the world.

IN THE INITIAL SPURTS OF THE SPIRIT’S OUTPOURING, they came to be filled with it. Notice the language of Acts 2:4a. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” The verb EPLESTHESAN, “they were filled,” is the aorist indicative passive 3rd person plural form of PIMPLEMI, “to fill” (Rogers & Rogers, The New Linguistic & Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, page 231).

In a reading from Julius Pollux, an Egyptian Greek lexicographer who compiled a Greek lexicon for Emperor Commodus, the man who is said to be PLERES THEOU, “filled with God,” is also inspired of God (Colin Brown, Ibid.). PLERES, “filled,” is also rooted from PIMPLEMI.

PLERES THEOU, “filled with God,” was a very common idiom among writers both heathen and Christian. In fact in his apology written against a heathen writer, Origen the Christian faith defender said the heathens could not deny that the Holy Spirit indeed inspired the writers of the Christian Oracles because even they themselves believe their Pythian priestess is said to be filled by the spirit of a god when she utters an oracle! (Origen, Contra Celsus, 7, 3; cited from Colin Brown, ibid.).  This is a technique in debates called “turning the table on your opponent.”

Now if “filled with God” means “inspired of God,” then its related idiom, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” EPLESTHESAN PANTES PNEUMATOS HAGIOU (Acts 2:4a), teaches that the apostles were indeed inspired of the Holy Spirit! The text where this is found also says they spoke “as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4b).

The phrase says they were all filled with one Spirit; the verb however does NOT say they were EACH filled with the Spirit, as if the Spirit was distributed in the body of each apostle personally as the Pentecostals want us to believe. It was one Spirit filling them ALL; not one Spirit distributed to EACH one of them, Their being filled with the Spirit resulted in their speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

THE ANTICS OF THE PENTECOSTALS. The passive form of the verb also indicates the apostles were not the doers of the action but were recipients of it; “they were filled with the Holy Spirit” (passive voice), not “they filled themselves with the Holy Spirit” (active voice). The action of “filling” is understood to be done by God himself, in a case that scholars generally consider as “divine passive.” In my debate with a Pentecostal, I challenged him to fill himself with God’s Spirit, complete with winds (Acts 2:2) and utterances (Acts 2:4) and cloven tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). He could not provide the winds, but uttered words I could not understand. And the cloven tongues of fire? He got it in a sardines can filled with hot coals which he placed on his head!

WHAT THE AORIST TENSE TEACHES. The aorist tense EPLESTHESAN in Acts 2:4 shows the act of filling as a finished action viewed as a whole. Aorist is always viewed as that— a point action, a finished action encapsulized. There is a sense in which a Greek verb describes an action as ongoing or continuing, and that is the job of the present active indicative. One passage (e.g. Col. 2:9) describes indwelling as a permanent thing, with its use of the present active indicative, but the aorist active/passive indicative is not the verb for that purpose.

Am I saying that apostolic inspiration ceased after Acts 2:4? No. I am just saying that EPLESTHESAN in the context of Pentecost event was a done thing.  I am in agreement with every Christian theologian that apostolic inspiration only ceased after AD 96, when John the apostle composed the Book of Revelation. But for goodness’ sakes, do not make an aorist verb in Acts 2:4 teach what it does not!

PIMPLEMI, when it appears in the passive, simply means “to be satiated, to have one’s fill of” something to the point of being complete (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich & Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 658). Their being “satiated with the Spirit” made them an ideal mouthpiece for God. The Spirit gave them utterance; in fact it can be said that they spoke as the Spirit moved them. Acts 2:4 really works in harmony with 2 Peter 1:21.

So “being filled with the Spirit” (in Acts 2:4) simply teaches apostolic inspiration. It is just the fulfillment of Christ’s promise in John 14:26 (“the Holy Ghost will teach you of all things which I told you”), John 15:26 (“the Spirit will witness concerning me”), and John 16:13 (“the Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth; he will not speak from himself but will speak what he hears; and he will announce to you the coming things”).

EPLESTHESAN PANTES PNEUMATOS HAGIOU, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” thus does not mean “they were all indwelt by the Spirit.” The Greek words for indwelling are OIKEO, KATOIKEO, KATOIKIZO, ENOIKEO, and MENO. Let us not force the inspired Word to teach what it does not teach. If we are strict with the meaning of BAPTIZO, why can’t we be strict in the meaning of EPLESTHESAN?

We are thousands of years away from the events mentioned in Acts 2. Koine Greek, in which the Greek New Testament was written, is now a dead language. I am thankful it is now dead. Being dead, it did not grow. The words and their meanings, with their accompanying idioms and nuances did not change but remained static. English and other languages on the other hand evolve and grow, and keep evolving and growing, and meanings change. God has stored His living Word in a Book written in a language that is now dead–in order to preserve not only the Book but everything in it—words, idioms, nuances, tenses, moods, and cases. Our job basically is to understand what the ancient writers mean, not to impose our own meaning on what they wrote.

The Greek New Testament fares better in the hands of those who respect and love it and endeavor to preserve its teachings.

The idea of “personal indwelling” might be taught in other passages, and it’s our job to look for it. But definitely indwelling of the Spirit is not taught in Acts 2:4.

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