Acts 5:32 Peter says,

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

My reading of Greek grammar tells me that obey is a present participle that should normally denote an action simultaneous with the principal verb gave, which is in the aorist indicative. This would translate to, “Whom God gave to those who obeyed [listened to] him.” The reference would be to a previous outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Simple English Bible translation, “God has given the Spirit to those who obeyed him”). Peter refers to Pentecost.

Prior to Pentecost, the apostles had certainly been responsive to the message of Christ, as opposed to most of the Jewish authorities. Therefore, when the Spirit came on Pentecost it did not fall on the recalcitrant Jewish leaders, but on those who had shown receptivity to the gospel, the apostles. This would not be an invitation to respond to the gospel, but a rebuke of the Jewish leaders. This would account for their subsequent rage (v. 33).

If this analysis is incorrect, please explain.

  • Interpretation is right but grammatical reason or basis is wrong. Participle means simply to be those obeying him. Holy spirit can never be given to the unbelievers or unrighteous.
    – Michael16
    Nov 16, 2022 at 2:45
  • The indwelling Holy Spirit is not given to the unbeliever, but the Holy Spirit visiting someone for empowering a prophecy or miracle may occur. See Caiaphas (John 11:49-50); certain of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:2); Balaam and his donkey (Numbers 24:2ff; 22:28-30). Several Old Testament characters were temporarily empowered by a visitation of the Spirit, without any indication of their sanctification. The Lord could empower anyone he wishes with his Spirit. The indwelling sanctification of the Spirit is reserved for the faithful.
    – Forester
    Nov 16, 2022 at 23:11
  • The outpouring and indwelling of Spirit upon believers is unrelated to any revelation or communication to animals or random empowering etc.
    – Michael16
    Nov 17, 2022 at 6:50
  • The office of the Holy Spirit in the OT the gospels and Acts is empowerment, not sanctification (Acts 1:8). Paul is the one who reveals the doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit with reference to sanctification. It is not found in Acts.
    – Forester
    Nov 18, 2022 at 1:08

3 Answers 3


You are treating the participle «τοῖς πειθαρχοῦσιν» as a circumstantial participle, but the syntax precludes that due to the presence of the article τοῖς. Circumstantial participles lack the definite article.

As Herbert Weir Smyth wrote,1

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That being said, contextually, the author is referring to the apostles and disciples being given the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As a historian, he is concerned with narrating his understanding of what others eye-witnessed and passed down to him.2


        1 Smyth, p. 456–457, § 2054. For more on the circumstantial participle, see also, Funk, § 845.
        2 cf. Luke 1:2–3


Funk, Robert W. A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek. 2nd ed. Missoula: Scholar’s, 1973.

Smyth, Herbert Weir. A Greek Grammar for Colleges. New York: American Book, 1920.

  • The several Greek grammars I consulted only said that the present participle should be governed by the tense of the main verb. No exception was noted for non-circumstantial participles, unless I misread the texts.
    – Forester
    Nov 18, 2022 at 1:29
  • 2
    @Forester—That makes no sense to me. If you have a participle functioning attributively, e.g., modifying a noun as an adjective, why would it be governed by the tense of the main verb? What verb is “governing” τοῦ φαινομένου which functions attributively to modify ἀστέρος in Matt. 2:7? Nov 18, 2022 at 3:35
  • If I understand your answer (up-voted +1) then if a participle is used as an adverb (He came, running) it is circumstancial and has no need of article, for it modifies the verb. But if it is used adjectively (He had a running sore) it is attached (in meaning) to the noun and participates in the locative need of the article - that running sore. But here it is not that easy as the participle is physically located to the noun, albeit the meaning is verbal. Am I understanding aright ?
    – Nigel J
    Nov 18, 2022 at 18:14
  • Excellent answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Nov 18, 2022 at 19:46
  • @NigelJ— “the meaning is verbal” — Doesn’t that apply to all participles? Per Funk, “...the participle is a verbal adjective...” (§ 0467) For more on the different functions of the participle, see Funk, § 770. Nov 19, 2022 at 3:15

Let me quote a series of very literal translations of Acts 5:32 -

  • NASB: And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
  • BLB: And we are witnesses of these things, and also the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those obeying Him."
  • YLT: and we are His witnesses of these sayings, and the Holy Spirit also, whom God gave to those obeying him.'
  • Green: And we are His witnesses of these things, and also the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those obeying Him."

[Note that the presence of the pronoun "His" is due to a difference between the USB5/NA28 text (BLB & NASB) vs the Byzantine text (YLT & Green).]

If I translated this verse, it would produce a result identical to the BLB.

The operative verb here is πειθαρχοῦσιν (peitharchousin) is present participle active dative masculine plural. The only valid way to translate πειθαρχοῦσιν is "obeying" - BDAG defines πειθαρχέω (the lexical form) as: "obey".

Strongs concordance offers this meaning: "obey one in authority, conform to advice, obey, follow".

The verb only occurs in four places: Acts 5:29, 32, 27:21, Titus 3:1, with the same meaning.

In the grammatical construction Luke uses in Acts 5:32 we have:

the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those obeying Him.

The thrust of Luke's statement is that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given and continues to be given to those who continue to obey God. There is no suggestion here that once the spirit is given the gift cannot be withdrawn or rejected. Quite the contrary, the gift of the Holy Spirit was given and continues to be given only while obedience to God occurs.

Indeed, there are instances of where the Holy Spirit is rejected: Acts 6:10, 7:51, Eph 4:30, Gal 5:17, 1 Thess 5:19, etc.

  • This answer does not address the grammatical issue whether the present participle should be governed by the main verb which is aorist.
    – Forester
    Nov 18, 2022 at 1:23
  • 1
    @Forester - the great wisdom of the learned translators begs to differ with you. What is your source for this grammatical rule?
    – Dottard
    Nov 18, 2022 at 7:42
  • @Forester - your grammatical rule would have some chance of being correct if the participle and the verb were connected (one modifying the other). But, in Acts 5:32 the two are not grammatically connected.
    – Dottard
    Nov 18, 2022 at 19:48
  • Moule, "Idiom Book" p. 99. "The ruling consideration in interpreting participles is that they express something which is dependent on the main verb, or a pendant to it; and one is sometimes given a clue to the interpretation of participle not by its own tense but by the main verb, or the context in general." See also: Burton "Moods" #119; Moulton Prolegomena p. 126; Winer, p. 444; Zerwick p.371f, Brooks-Winbery p. 132; Turner p. 79f; Robertson p. 891; Symth #1872. But the learned responses I have received tell me I must have missread these authorities.
    – Forester
    Nov 19, 2022 at 16:15

The translation of Acts 5:32 given at the start is sound. Nobody has any quarrel with it, nor do I gather from your comments that you disagree with it. Then you say that your reading of Greek grammar for that verse gives you a translation of, “Whom God gave to those who obeyed [listened to] him.” Your translation accords with the first one given (apart from introducing the word [listened]) because the meaning of "them that obey him" incorporates past obedience. The verse does, indeed, refer back to obedience prior to the Pentecost outpouring. But nobody for a second would think that it did not also incorporate on-going obedience! The question of Greek grammar may be precise in upholding the present tense of the verse, but I for one would not try to use it to say you are wrong to put that verse as "them that obeyed him", past tense.

What does puzzle me is introducing the rage of the Jewish leaders (vs. 33), claiming that it was the evidence of the Holy Spirit in the apostles that caused a desire to slay them. The text in question clearly states that it was because the apostles were witnesses to Christ's resurrection. This is stated in vss. 30, 31 and 32. Because Peter and the other apostles were obeying God rather than men, they had received the Holy Spirit. The inference is that the religious leaders had not, and were not obeying God, yes, but the cause of their wrath was the irrefutable proof of eyewitnesses that Christ had risen from the grave. They thought that by killing those eyewitnesses, they could get rid of the evidence.

I mention this because even if Greek grammar does not support your point here, you are not wrong to say the Holy Ghost was given to those apostles because they had obeyed God. Nor are you wrong to say that "when the Spirit came on Pentecost it did not fall on the recalcitrant Jewish leaders, but on those who had shown receptivity to the gospel". Where your analysis might be weak is in saying it was the rebuke given to the religious leaders that turned their thoughts to murder. No, it was being confronted with powerful eyewitness testimony to Christ triumphing over their killing of him, by Christ's resurrection, that was the cause of their rage. But that point is not linked to Greek grammar, I would suggest.

  • The text says, v. 33, "When they heard this." The logical antecedent of "this" is what immediately preceded -- Peter's statement in verse 32. Culy and Parsons, Acts: A Handbook on the Greek Text says, "This expression functions as an implicit jab at the Jewish leaders (who by implication do not obey God). It is no wonder that they have a strong negative response to Peter's speech"
    – Forester
    Nov 19, 2022 at 16:00

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