Does Acts 5:32 teach a non-miraculous indwelling for all Christians living today?
A question has been asked recently about the 'non-miraculous' indwelling in Acts 5:32. The questioner asked, "How can some people claim that this passage is not a reference to a non-miraculous indwelling, for Christians today?"
We shall answer this question, by noticing the scriptural context of the passage. And apply a little common sense to the situation.
Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. (Acts 5:26-33)
The Immediate Context
In the immediate context, the Jewish rulers/council (v21) were meeting together and wanted to question the Apostles for what they had been teaching and the miracles that they had been doing. They had already locked them up once during the night. God provided a way of escape for them and told the apostles to continue preaching/teaching in the temple. (v19-20)
The council then appeals to their own authority by saying “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?” (v28)
Peter and the apostles then pit their authority (God) against the council’s authority (men). He states: “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”
He continues to explain that it is by God’s authority and power that they are preaching/teaching and healing; and convicts them and their ‘authority’ as having been the ones who betrayed God.
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31)
He said, you killed Jesus and God exalted him. He did so in order to bring repentance and forgiveness of sin. The apostles then say:
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. (Acts 5:32)
So the contrast is:
- God’s authority (The Apostles)
- Man’s authority (The Jewish Leaders)
Before we break this passage down, let us notice the reaction of the leaders.
When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. (Acts 5:33)
Why would these leaders become so angry? Because miracles had been done and there was NOTHING that this council could say against them.
We are his witnesses? Who is the “we” in this passage? The Apostles, the ones who were standing in the presence of the Jewish leaders, witnessing on behalf of the authority of God. (John 15:26-27; Acts 1:8)
And so is also the Holy Ghost
Were the Apostles here referencing a non-miraculous type of ‘witness’? Were they saying, “we are able to prove the authority of God (which is the contrast they are proving) by this non-miraculous indwelling?” If the Jewish leaders asked them “what do you mean, when you say that the Holy Ghost is also a witness?” Would the apostles have responded, “Well, he is inside us, but he is non-miraculous, and you just need to believe us when we say he is our witness.” “Just take our word for it, he is there, but not in any miraculous sort of way.”
No, the Jewish leaders didn’t ask what the apostles meant by this phrase, because they had the evidence before them. They had seen the miracles being done. (5:12)
The Bible is clear that the way the Holy Spirit bears witness is by the miracles that He did.
Hebrews 2:3-4 says:
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Heb. 2:3-4 see also; Acts 14:3)
The evidence of the Holy Spirit being with them was the fact that they could do the miraculous.
And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen. (Mark 16:20)
The Lord was ‘witnessing/confirming’ the word with the followers by signs (miraculous events).
and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
“hath given” – is in the aorist tense
The aorist tense is characterized by its emphasis on punctiliar action; that is, the concept of the verb is considered without regard for past, present, or future time. There is no direct or clear English equivalent for this tense, though it is generally rendered as a simple past tense in most translations… The common practice of rendering an aorist by a simple English past tense should suffice in most cases. (Blueletterbible/lexicaldefinitions)
If it is the case, as the KJV has it, that “hath given” is punctiliar in action; that means this event is related to a single point in time. (which is the definition of “punctiliar”)
So, the Apostles are explaining to the council about a point of time in which God had given “them that obey Him” the witness of the Holy Ghost. So, when did that happen?
Recall that Jesus had earlier told them in Luke 24:
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (Luke 24:47-49)
The Apostles were instructed to wait in Jerusalem until the promise of the Father came upon them.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
He said they would be witnesses after the Holy Spirit is ‘come upon you.’
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
This passage concerns the moment in time when the Holy Spirit was to bear witness to the teaching. He did so, as pointed out earlier, by Miracles.
Acts 5:32 mentions that not only didthe Holy Spirit (miraculously) bear witness, but so did the ones that obeyed Him.
Who are “the ones that obey Him” in this context? Two options:
- The Jewish Leaders (claiming God’s authority)
- The Apostles (claiming God’s authority)
Were the Jewish leaders currently ‘obeying Him?’ No, they were opposing God by standing in opposition to the teaching. Therefore, the Apostles were the ones obeying Him.
He had instructed the apostles in Mark 16:14ff
Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:14-18)
In the context of Acts 5:32 the apostles are the ones who were obedient to God as opposed to the Jewish Council.
The evidence that they are talking about themselves (apostles) and not to the Jewish leaders is found in the reaction of the Jewish Leaders.
When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
The Jewish leaders heard these words and wanted to kill these Apostles.
But, wait! If the Apostles were merely discussing a ‘non-miraculous’ personal indwelling that applies to all men of all ages we would have to figure out the extreme reaction of the Jewish Council.
Were the Apostles simply saying “God allowed us to preach, and he gave the Holy Spirit in a direct but non-miraculous way so that we could prove that it is by the power of God that Jesus was raised up (Act.4:7)? And the way that we are able to prove that we are preaching by the power of God is by this non-miraculous indwelling?!” It seems foolish to draw such a conclusion.
The reaction of the Jewish Leaders is unwarranted if such were the case. Why kill someone for claiming power from God, and yet, having no ability to ‘prove’ this power? They should simply have stated, “Prove It!” Why kill someone when they could just make them appear to be foolish in front of all the people.
The Jewish Leaders should simply have said “You claim you have witness of the Holy Ghost, you claim it is by the power and authority of God that you do these things, (Acts 4:7) now… prove it.”
The only way that they could both be obedient to God as they were claiming and have the ability to prove that they were speaking truth, was by the miracles that they did. And that was the very witness of the Holy Ghost.
Again notice: Mark 16:14
Mar 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen…
…So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen. (Mark 16:19-20)
Notice, the Lord was working with them, confirming the word, not by a ‘non-miraculous’ indwelling, but ‘with signs following.”
In the context of Acts 5. The Apostles say “we must obey God rather than man.” But, obedience is based upon a source for authority. They were claiming ‘God’s Authority.’ Recall too, these men did not have the New Testament scriptures to support their claims, so they would need to prove their words somehow.
But where was the proof? How do these men prove that they have authority from God to be teaching their doctrine?
If we place ourselves in the seat of the Council, and we have no New Testament upon which to refer, and we were to hear these same claims from some men; what would be our response?
Claim: The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
Response: Prove it!
Claim: Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
Response: Prove it!
Claim: We are witnesses and so is the Holy Spirit!
Response: Prove it!
So, where is the proof?
- “Well, the Holy Spirit is inside me in a non-miraculous way and I can’t really show you anything to prove it… but He’s there, so just take my word for it.”
- “The miracles that we do are proof that the Holy Spirit is with us.”
And since they were actually doing miracles from God, we would have the proof we were seeking. The fact is these leaders had already admitted that the miracles were done:
Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. (Acts 4:16)
So, the only thing the council could do at this point was to get angry, and so they did.
When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
It is most consistent to the passage that the ‘witness’ of the Holy Spirit in Acts 5:32 is miraculous and that the ‘ones who obey him’ are specifically the Apostles who ‘were given’ the miraculous gifts on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.
This does not mean that we still have the miraculous abilities today. It simply shows, that these men had the ability to prove, by miracle, that God was with them. Today, we are able to prove this, by using the Holy Bible given by inspiration, written so that people may believe. (John 20:30-31; Rev. 1:1-3)
For further study on Miracles and the Holy Spirit: