Spirit-Inspired Utterance

Spirit-Inspired Utterance
By: Anthony D. Palma

Pentecost month is an ideal time to take another and closer look at events connected with the initial out-pouring of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts 2. Of special interest is a word which occurs twice in that chapter and only once elsewhere in the New Testament–the Greek word apophthengomai (Acts 2:4,14;26:25). It is unfortunate that the various translations almost always weaken the force of this word.

Here are suggested renderings from a number of competent authorities. The Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker Lexicon suggests “speak out, declare boldly or loudly” and “declare to someone with enthusiasm.” The Grimm-Thayer Lexicon suggests “to speak out, speak forth, pronounce” and comments that it is “not a word of everyday speech, but one belonging to dignified and elevated discourse.” F.F. Bruce, noted and highly respected New Testament exegete, said in his commentary on the Greek text of the Book of Acts that the word in Acts 2:4 speaks “of weighty or oracular utterance,” that in 2:14 its probable meaning is “inspired utterance,” and that in 26:25 it is used “of solemn utterance.”

It is readily apparent that this verb goes beyond the more frequently occurring verbs such as speak, declare, pronounce, etc. A close look at its use in the New Testament and related Old Testament passages will
demonstrate this.

On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples spoke in other tongues “as the Spirit was giving them utterance” [the infinitive form of the verb apophthengomai is virtually equivalent to a noun and is therefore rendered utterance]. It is especially important to observe that their glossolalic utterances were made under the direct impulse of the Holy Spirit; the speaking in tongues did not originate with them. The tense of the verb was giving (edidou-Greek imperfect tense) is significant; it is past progressive and conveys the idea that the continuation of the speaking in tongues depended upon the continuing impulse of inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

This is related to the previous clause which states, “they began to speak with other tongues.” Some confusion exists in the interpretation of this statement because of the word began. In this context the Greek word (erxanto) is used idiomatically; that is, we have in this clause a pleonasm-the use of more words than are apparently needed. The word began should be dropped in a translation, and the infinitive which follows (to speak) should become the verb of the clause. A simpler but still accurate translation would read “they were speaking with other tongues.” (Two examples of this kind of grammatical construction can be found in Acts 1:1 and 11:15.) The broad meaning is that they were speaking with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

This same word apophthengomai is used specifically of Peter in 2:14 which states that Peter raised his voice and “declared” to the assembled crowd. Peter’s address was more than a sermon. It was a Spirit-inspired utterance that was comparable to prophetic messages often delivered by God’s servants in Old Testament times as they were moved upon by the Holy Spirit. It is used a number of times in the Septuagint for supernaturally inspired utterance, whether the source was divine or demonic. The following passages will bear this out: 1 Chronicles 25:1 (where the Hebrew words for prophesy [naba’] and prophet [nabi’] are used); Micah 5:12; Ezekiel 13:9,19–even though the translations sometimes obscure the meaning of the original text. The important thing to understand is that the writers are speaking of people whose utterances originated with some spirit force outside of themselves.

Acts 26:25 is especially significant. Paul was before King Agrippa and Festus, giving a detailed, animated account of his conversion. He was interrupted by Festus saying in a loud voice (perhaps to counteract Paul’s mode of speech), “Paul, you are out of your mind (Greek-mainomai). Your great learning is driving you mad (Greek-mania).” Paul responded, “I am not out of my mind (mainomai), most excellent Festus, but I utter (apophthengomai) words of sober truth” (Greek-sophrosune). The verb form of this last word (sophroneo) is used in Mark 5:15 in contrasting the delivered demon-possessed man with his previous condition.

Paul contrasted his manner of Spirit-inspired speaking with that of speaking prompted by evil spirits. He was careful not to identify his manner of speaking as mania, which in the thought of the day was often understood by pagans to mean possession by a deity. Paul disassociated himself from this concept by insisting his speaking was apophthengomai and not mainomai. The same impulse–that of the Holy Spirit–that on the Day of Pentecost prompted the disciples to speak in tongues and Peter to address the crowd so forcefully moved upon Paul in such a dramatic and obvious way that Festus the pagan told Paul he was “possessed.” The Greek words mainomai and mania did not suggest craziness in our sense of the word, but rather one who was taken over by a deity.

Paul then went on to say that he was speaking to the king with confidence (parresiazomai), a word which, with its cognates, conveys ideas like courage, boldness, fearlessness, and outspokenness.

In effect, the New Testament is saying that the same Spirit who emboldened the Old Testament prophets is now available to Christians inasmuch as all Christians may now be empowered by the Holy Spirit in the manner indicated on the Day of Pentecost and by Paul. All Christians may experience Spirit-inspired utterances.

(The above material appeared in the June 1992 issue of the Advance Magazine.)
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