On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“‘I have made you[a] a light for the Gentiles,
that you[b] may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’[c]”
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
– Acts 13:44-52, New International Version
As we study the Hoy Spirit, our focus in this passage is on verse 52. In order too have the full context before us, we will begin in Acts 13:13. A major turning point occurred. When the Jews repudiated the Word of God, Paul and Barnabas announced (verse 46) that they were turning to the Gentiles. All this culminates in the disciples being filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
Paul Turns to the Gentiles
When Paul and Barnabas started their missionary journey, they went from Antioch to Cyprus. From Cyprus (Acts 13:13) they sailed to Perga in Pamphylia. Ancient Perga is in modern Turkey. While they were in Perga, John Mark left them and went back to Jerusalem.
Going on from Perga, Paul and Barnabas arrived in Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath day, they went down to the synagogue where Paul preached (Acts 13:16-41) a powerful message to the Jews and to the God-fearers (Acts 13:16, 26). Then, as Paul and Barnabas were going out of the synagogue, the people begged them (Acts 13:42) to speak to them again on the next Sabbath. When the meeting broke up, the Jews and “God-fearing proselytes” followed Paul and Barnabas, who then urged them to continue in the grace of God.
On the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled (Acts 13:44) to hear the word of God. When the Jews saw the crowds they were filled with jealousy. They began contradicting Paul and blaspheming. Then Paul announced that, because the Jews had repudiated the word of God, he and Barnabas would turn to the Gentiles.
In support of his action, Paul applies Isaiah :6 to their ministry. He declares (verse 47): “For the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you as a light for the gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.'” Compare Isaiah 42:6; Luke 2:32 and 24:7.
When the Gentiles heard the news, they began rejoicing and glorifying the Word of the Lord. Luke says (verse 48) that “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” They believed in Christ and accepted Him. The Word of the Lord spread throughout the region.
Then, the Jews aroused the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas. They drove them out of their district. Because of this, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.
With all this as background, we turn now to verse 52. Luke writes “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” When Luke writes “and the disciples,” to whom does he refer? Paul and Barnabas moved on to Iconium with their traveling companions. The new converts stayed behind. We know, from verse 48, that the new converts were rejoicing. No doubt “the disciples” includes both the party that moved on and the disciples that stayed. There is no reason to limit the term.
This is a story of the triumph of the gospel. In spite of persecution there was great joy. The “disciples” were continually filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. Throughout history, the church has triumphed over persecution. The church will triumph over all opposition. The Spirit-inspired joy of the harvest is one of our great rewards!
Two Greek Verbs
Luke says that the disciples “were continually filled.” Here, Luke uses the imperfect passive (eplerounto) of the verb pleroo. This is the only time that Luke uses pleroo in connection with the Holy Spirit. Normally, Luke uses the verb pimplemi rather than pleroo. The only other such usage of pleroo is in Ephesians 5:18. The word pleroo is the verbal form of pleres (full). Luke uses pleres several times in connection with the Spirit.
Why does Luke use pleroo instead of pimplemi? According to Ervin (p. 77), the reason is grammatical. He holds that the verb pimplemi has a defective tense system in the New Testament and related Christian literature. It is used only in the aorist tense with active and passive voices, and in the future tense with the passive voice. To better state his meaning, Luke used pleroo, which has a more complete tense system. He selects the imperfect tense of pleroo to express his thought.
The Imperfect Tense
Luke uses the imperfect tense of pleroo. Ervin (Drunken, pp. 71-72) suggests that there are three possible meanings. These potential meanings are among the indicated usages of the imperfect analyzed by Wallace.
First, Ervin says the imperfect tense here can be interpreted as an iterative imperfect meaning “again and again.” Wallace (p. 546) says that the iterative proper indicates “repeated action by the same agent.” Given this meaning, we would say that the disciples were filled “again and again” with joy and the Holy Spirit.
Second, according to Ervin, the iterative imperfect meaning “one after another” is grammatically possible. Wallace (p. 546) says that another type of iterative imperfect is the distributive imperfect. This is used for “individual acts of multiple agents.” This corresponds to Ervin’s “one after another.” Using this meaning, the disciples were filled “one after another” with joy and the Holy Spirit.
Third, Ervin says that the verb may be a descriptive imperfect (durative) meaning “kept on being filled.” As he points out, the descriptive imperfect is sometimes called the progressive imperfect. Wallace (p. 543) acknowledges this usage as well.
According to Wallace (p. 547), sometimes the iterative imperfect has both a distributive and an iterative proper sense. He cites Mt. 27:30 as an example. The solders “were repeatedly beating” Jesus, and each soldier “would strike more than once.”
Clearly, the context must determine what the imperfect tense means because a variety of interpretations is grammatically possible. One possibililty is that the disciples were filled “one afer another.” The other possibilities are ” filled again and again” and “kept on being filled” or “were continually filled.”
The most common view seems to be that the disciples “were continually filled” or “kept on being filled.” Some interpret this as a continuing condition. Rea, for example, says (p. 165): “Here the verb pleroo is in the imperfect tense, describing a continuing condition in past time.” The verb, however, expresses action, not a state. This suggests that there was a constant supply of the Spirit. To describe a state, Luke might have said that they were full. If we must think of a state, it was the state of being continually filled.
The language is very flexible. Even though we are “full” of the Spirit, we can be filled again, and we can be continually filled. This could happen to one after another or to several at a time. This opens the door to a rich and varied experience with the Spirit.
Joy and Holy Spirit
According to Luke, the disciples were continually filled with “joy and Holy Spirit.” What is the relationship between joy and the Holy Spirit? Before we answer this question, let us look at other instances where Luke connects the Holy Spirit with various characteristics.
As Turner (p. 263) points out, Luke has seven such expressions: (1) In Luke 1:17 John the Baptist will go as a forerunner to Christ “in the Spirit and power of Elijah.” (2) John the Baptist says that Jesus will baptize you with the “Holy Spirit and fire.” (3) Stephen (Acts 6:3) was a man full of the “Spirit and of wisdom.” (4) Also, he was a man (Acts 6:5) full of “faith and of the Holy Spirit.” of faith and of the Holy Spirit. (5)God anointed Jesus (Acts 10:38) with the “Holy Spirit and with power.” (6) Barnabas (Acts 11:24) was a good man who was full of the “Holy Spirit and of faith.” (7) Acts 13:52.
We could interpret this as “with joy” and “with Holy Spirit” as two separate and unrelated items. However, as the above instances suggest, when Luke connects the Spirit with a characteristic, such as power, it normally signals a relationship. The characteristics are not synonymous with the Spirit, but they are related. Usually, the Holy is either the source or at least a source of the characteristic.
The source of the joy mentioned here is the Spirit. The occasion of the joy was the progress of the gospel. We might call this joy a “fruit of the Spirit,” but Luke does not use the term. Joy as a fruit of the Spirit is no doubt a broader concept. The Spirit, in Luke writing, is a gift. Then, he connects the Spirit with such characteristics as wisdom, joy, and faith.
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Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1970.
Ervin, Howard M. These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose. Plainfield: Logos International, 1968.
Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Rea, John. Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit. Orlando: Creation House, 1998.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Turner, Max. Power from On High. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1996. Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
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