Acts 19:2


"He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost."

As with so many other examples in this lesson, this verse is objected to by James R. White in his book, The King James Only Controversy. Brother White states,

"One of the well-known problems in the AV is found in Acts 19:2 . . . The King James Version has Paul asking the disciples in Ephesus if they received the Holy Ghost "since" they believed, that is, subsequent to the act of believing. All modern translations, however, translate the passage, '"when" you believed.' The difference is not a slight one. Entire theologies of a second reception of the Holy Spirit have been based upon this one rendering by the KJV. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is materially impacted by how one translates this passage. . . This author has been extremely frustrated in attempting to get KJV Only advocates to seriously interact with passages such as this one." (230).

Those of us who have personally had ongoing exchanges of information and correspondence with Brother White, find the last phrase of utmost interest. In a series of online debates with James White and in writing a published critique of his book, I can say with all confidence that THIS author has been extremely frustrated in attempting to get James R. White to seriously interact with passages, textual data, and historical information where he has clearly provided information which lacks veracity. However, let us address the issue he claims KJV advocates ignore.

None of the Greek words used for "since" or "when" are in this verse. Instead, we must look at the construction of the Greek. The phrase, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed, " reads in Greek as, "Ei pneuma agion elabete pisteusantes." A literal translation would be, "[The] Spirit/Ghost Holy did ye receive, having believed?" The phrase in question stands in the Greek aorist. This refers to past time; thus, we have the past tense with the words "received" and "believed." Therefore, the translation put forth by White and others is quite correct as it relates to the Greek itself. However, the English word "since" also reflects past tense and is correct as it relates to the Greek text. Dana and Mantey address the use of the aorist. They write, "The fundamental significance of the aorist is to denote action simply as occurring, without reference to its progress." (A Manual Grammar Of The Greek New Testament, [Toronto: Macmillan, 1927],193) Therefore, the words "since" or "when" both reflect the proper use of the aorist. In reference to what is called the "Culminative Aorist," Dana and Mantey add,

"The aorist is employed in this meaning when it is wished to view an event in its entirety, but to regard it from the viewpoint of its existing results. Here we usually find verbs which signify effort or process, the aorist denoting the attainment of the end of such effort or process." (Ibid.,196-197).

In this regard, the translation of "since" is proper as it relates to the aorist tense. For it can indicate a past action, but one which was attained through a process. Dr. George Ladd (Fuller Theological Seminary) recognizes this and states, "The Greek participle is "having believed," and it is capable of being translated either "since ye believed" (AV) or "when you believed" (RSV)." (The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, [Nashville: The Southwest Company, 1962], 1160). Although Dr. Ladd prefers the word "when," he does not claim that "since" is a translational error which will lead to doctrinal error, as claimed by White. In fact, Dr. Ladd plainly states that both translations are possible. Since Mr. White received his M.A. from Fuller Theological Seminary (where Dr. Ladd taught), it is a shame that he did not make himself aware of Dr. Ladd's comments concerning Acts 19:2.

In White's noted objection, he indicates that the doctrine which teaches the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon the believer after salvation and not at the time of salvation, is the result of the King James Version. Among many Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians, the doctrine is taught that a person who is saved must later receive the Holy Ghost (usually with "evidences" such as speaking in tongues). And, it is true that some have used this passage as a proof text for that doctrine. However, to credit the translators of the KJV for providing this doctrine is somewhat ridiculous. First of all, the translators of the KJV were Anglican and Puritan, neither of which are proponents of such a doctrine. Secondly, we would have to ask ourselves why many Charismatics and Pentecostals have embraced modern versions which have removed the word "since" and replaced it with "when." In fact, the NIV had translators who support the very doctrine to which Brother White is objecting.

Regardless of our personal interpretation of the doctrine concerning the receiving of the Holy Ghost, we cannot allow such doctrine to affect the translation of the word of God. James White, in allowing his doctrine to translate for him, is faced with a paradox. If we reject the translation "since" in verse two and replace it with "when" because we believe that the Holy Ghost is received instantly at the very time of salvation, what do we do with the context of the passage? After all, context does count. As we consider the text, we find that Paul confronts a group of "believers" who never heard of the Holy Ghost, nor of personal salvation in Jesus Christ. These were believers in the teaching of John the Baptist and were still looking for the coming Messiah. Paul, in turn, then preaches to these Jews the person of Christ. After which, we read,

"When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the LORD Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied." (vs. 5-6).

The context teaches that these former followers of John first believe, then are baptized, and THEN receive the Holy Ghost with the laying on of hands by the Apostle Paul. The text shows that they received the Holy Ghost "since" they believed. Those who have historically and contextually recognized this, have not all taught that the Holy Ghost is received following salvation as a second blessing. Instead, they teach that the Holy Ghost comes to believers at the time of salvation. This passage is looked upon as transitional, and that these followers of John needed the laying on of hands by Paul in order to show Apostolic authority, not a need for a second blessing. Therefore, this act became their Pentecost.

 

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