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In Acts 1:2, it is written,

Βʹ ἄχρι ἡς ἡμέρας ἐντειλάμενος τοῖς ἀποστόλοις διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου οὓς ἐξελέξατο ἀνελήφθη TR, 1550

Does διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου modify ἐντειλάμενος or ἐξελέξατο? What are the arguments in favor of each position?

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The Idea in Brief

Bible scholars have noted that the phrase διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου in Acts 1:2 appears ambiguous because there appear to be several possible grammatical antecedents in the Greek. For example...

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To complicate matters, there have appeared variant manuscript readings that rearrange the verse and/or add clauses, which place more emphasis on one particular reading for the prepositional phrase. The following discussion provides one brief survey of available sources. which indicate that the best reading is to take ἐντειλάμενος as the antecedent: thus, "...he gave commandments to his disciples through the Holy Spirit." The strongest evidence for this reading stems from the ending of the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus provided the Holy Spirit to his disciples so that they would understand his words. The Holy Spirit was required for this occasion, since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had not yet occurred.

Discussion

Variant Manuscript Readings

Both the NA27(=UBS4) and NA28 indicate that the several manuscripts move the final verb (ἀνελήμφθη = he was taken up) toward the front of the verse in addition to including an additional clause at the end: and he commanded them to preach the gospel. This variant reading forces the reader to understand the propositional phrase with the remainder of the verse. The following translation will illustrate:

 Until the day he was taken up, Jesus had given orders to his disciples whom he had
 chosen in the Holy Spirit, and he commanded them to preach the gospel.

The late Bruce Metzger (1994), who had reviewed the variant readings and weighed the evidence, provided his cogent assessment of these variant manuscripts. His conclusion was that the variant readings were not the best witnesses. In this regard, the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Society's Greek New Testament assigned their highest confidence {A} that the received reading should omit the variant manuscripts. (The received reading appears at the heading of this post.)

Suggested Interpretations

Notwithstanding this clarification from Metzger, the confusion still remains as to what is modified by the prepositional phrase διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου. According to Moulton & Turner (2011), the grammatical arrangement of the verse appears "unnatural" because of the flexibility of the Greek language. This ambiguity leaves Bible commentators on both sides of the divide.

For example, one the one hand, Olshausen & Wiesinger (2008) in their commentary interpret the verse to read that Jesus had chosen his disciples through the Holy Spirit. In this regard, the acknowledge the ambiguity of the grammar and suggest that διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου could modify ἀνελήμφθη. On the other hand, there are commentators such as Henry Alford (1976) and John Polhill (1992) who indicate that the best reading would take ἐντειλάμενος as the antecedent. In this regard, they, like Olshausen, appeal to the literary evidence of the Gospels to draw their conclusions, because the grammar in the verse is too ambiguous.

Conclusion

In summary, the Greek in Acts 1:2 is ambiguous, and without reference to the Gospels, several grammatical antecedents are possible. In reference to the Gospels, then, the best reading appears to take ἐντειλάμενος as the antecedent. That is, Jesus had to blow the Holy Spirit on them (John 20:22) in order for them to understand his words after his resurrection. That is, the Holy Spirit opened their mind to the words of Jesus (Luke 24:45). This enablement was necessary because the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had not yet occurred at Pentecost.


Sources:

Alford, Henry (1976). Alford’s Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids: Guardian Press, 1-2.

Metzger, B. M., United Bible Societies (1994). A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.). London; New York: United Bible Societies, 236-237.

Moulton, J. H., & Turner, N. (2011). A Grammar of New Testament Greek: Syntax. (Vol. 3). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 350.

Olshausen, H., Ebrard, J. H. A., & Wiesinger, A. (2008). Biblical Commentary on the New Testament by Dr. Hermann Olshausen (Vol. III). (A. C. Kendrick & D. Fosdick Jr., Trans.) (Vol. 1–6). New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, & Co, 174.

Polhill, John B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 80-81.

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  • Joseph, Although I agree that the "ἐντειλάμενος" is being modified, I would like to know what the grammatical bases and rules are that underpin these graphs. (Which are very cool by the way). But, however cool they are, they don't really provide a general understanding that can then be applied to other prepositional passages--and I think because of this, the graphs don't really answer the question. – elika kohen May 23 '15 at 21:18
  • @e.s.Kohen - thanks for the feedback - I will edit my posting accordingly. – Joseph May 24 '15 at 0:09
  • Joseph, the quote, "the unnatural word order in this verse" ... points to a fragment of the context--could you clarify which author wrote that? Thank you for improving this, and I agree that these textual variants don't address "the confusion still remains as to what is modified by the prepositional phrase διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου.".... I look forward to part 2. :) – elika kohen May 26 '15 at 3:01
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If I understand correctly, the question is:

Question Restatement, Part 1: Acts 1:2 incorporates the phrase, "ιὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου", (through the Holy Spirit). Is it "Through the Holy Spirit", the apostles were instructed, (ἐντειλάμενος), or "Through the Holy Spirit", they were chosen, (ἐξελέξατο)?

Question Restatement, Part 2: What is the linguistic basis for this?

This answer relies on good-old-fashioned "Hermeneutic Consistency", rather than an analytical breakdown--which may yield a different point of view.

Proposed Answer: Consistently, when observed in the New Testament, the contexts affirm that this prepositional phrase follows the verb clause it modifies.

Acts 1:2, Give instructions -> through the Holy Spirit

Greek Orthodox Church 1904 ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας ἐντειλάμενος τοῖς ἀποστόλοις διὰ Πνεύματος ἁγίου οὓς ἐξελέξατο ἀνελήφθη·

Romans 5:5, Love of God has been poured -> through the Holy Spirit.

Greek Orthodox Church 1904 - ἡ δὲ ἐλπὶς οὐ καταισχύνει, ὅτι ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐκκέχυται ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν διὰ Πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ δοθέντος ἡμῖν.

2 Tim. 1:14, Guard/Keep -> through the Holy Spirit

Greek Orthodox Church 1904 - τὴν καλὴν παραθήκην φύλαξον - διὰ Πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ ἐνοικοῦντος ἐν ἡμῖν.

Titus 3:5, Saved us -> through the Holy Spirit

Greek Orthodox Church 1904 - οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων τῶν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ ὧν ἐποιήσαμεν ἡμεῖς, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸν αὐτοῦ ἔλεον ἔσωσεν ἡμᾶς διὰ λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ ἀνακαινώσεως Πνεύματος ἁγίου,

Acts 4:25, David, our father -> Through the Holy Spirit, Really?

Proper analysis is impossible with this passage, because of significant issues with the conflicting Greek Texts.

But, if Nestle is correct, and the Byz and Orth. are incorrect, then application of "Hermeneutic Consistenty", fails--here.

On the otherhand, if "Hermeneutic Consistency" is being applied correctly, this would prove that Nestle was in Error, and the earlier texts are correct.

Nestle GNT 1904 - ὁ τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν διὰ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου στόματος Δαυεὶδ παιδός σου εἰπών Ἵνα τί ἐφρύαξαν ἔθνη καὶ λαοὶ ἐμελέτησαν κενά;

NOTE: I confirmed that NA 28 maintains this reading as well, (and even sent a message to Nestle Aland, requesting their help! :) ...

Greek Orthodox Church 1904 - ὁ διὰ [OMITTED] στόματος Δαυῒδ παιδός σου εἰπών· ἵνα τί ἐφρύαξαν ἔθνη καὶ λαοὶ ἐμελέτησαν κενά;

RP Byzantine Majority Text 2005 - ὁ διὰ [OMITTED] στόματος Δαυὶδ παιδός σου εἰπών, Ἵνα τί ἐφρύαξαν ἔθνη, καὶ λαοὶ ἐμελέτησαν κενά;

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  • That's an unusual understanding of Titus 3:5. – user862 May 26 '15 at 4:23
  • H3br3wHamm3r81, Thank you for your comment. I went straight back to the Greek, to double check. In my opinion, regardless of the validity of my interpretation, it is certain/evident, that "Through the Holy Spirit" is a clause that, in the Greek, "Follows" what it is modifying, (indeed it follows all of the verbs in that text), and is obviously not modifying a any verb afterwards. (in Titus 3:6). I cite this passage only to show that in /all/ cases, without exception, this phrase follows, syntactically, whatever it modifies. – elika kohen May 26 '15 at 4:44

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