Book: The True Meaning of Acts 2:1

By the will of God, the New Testament was written and preserved in Greek. The writers of the New Testament wrote their books and epistles in Koiné Greek, which was the common language of their time. The New Testament in any other language is a translation of the Greek text. Most translations are fairly reliable in their interpretation of the Greek text, but some translations contain serious errors. These errors can do much damage when they are accepted as truth and are used to establish doctrine. When there are doctrinal differences and controversies involving any passage in the New Testament, a thorough examination and careful analysis of the Greek text is required in order to determine the true meaning of the words that God originally inspired.

Among the various Greek texts of the New Testament in existence today, the best and most accurate is the text that was first published by Erasmus in 1516. This text, the first printed Byzantine text, was republished by Erasmus in 1519 and 1522. Before its final editing by Stephens in 1550, it was used by William Tyndale for his translation of the New Testament. Later this text became known as the textus receptus, or the received text. The received text was the official Greek text that the translators of the King James Version of 1611 used for their translation of the New Testament. In his book The King James Version Defended, Edward F. Hills, ThD., verifies that this Greek text was used by the translators of the King James Version and is the most accurate Greek text of the New Testament. This same Greek text was used by George Ricker Berry in his book The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. The author has also used this Greek text for his analysis in this presentation.

The analysis of the Greek text presented in this study paper will enable the reader to come to a correct understanding of Acts 2:1. In order to thoroughly examine each phrase in this verse, both the English and the Greek texts are presented in interlinear form. Even the reader who has no knowledge of Greek will be able to see the similarities and differences in the letters, or spelling, of the Greek words. The author realizes that most of those who will read this study paper have little or no knowledge of New Testament Greek. Although this study is technical, the author has attempted to make it easy to understand. Every Greek word has been defined as clearly as possible. When the reader has completed this study, he or she will be able to see clearly that the Greek text absolutely does not support the observance of a fiftyfirst day Monday Pentecost. As we will see, the Greek text is most specific concerning the time of the observance of Pentecost.

Let us begin our study by comparing the beginning words in the King James translation of Acts 2:1 with the original words of Luke as preserved in the Greek text.

King James Version

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come...” (Acts 2:1).

The Greek Text with the English Directly Below

Kai en tw sumplhrousqai thn hmeran thV penthkosthV ...

And during the accomplishing of the day — of Pentecost

The English translation directly below the Greek text is the translation given in Berry’s Greek-English interlinear. While it is a correct translation, it is not a complete translation because Berry did not translate the definite article thV [tees], meaning “the,” which immediately precedes the last word of the phrase, penthkosthV [penteekostees], meaning “of Pentecost.” A complete translation would include the definite article:

“And during the accomplishing of the day, the fiftieth [day]...”

Although Berry’s translation is incomplete, it correctly reflects the actual meaning of the Greek words, which show that what Luke was relating was in the process of taking place at that time. The Greek phrase that is used at the beginning of Acts 2:1 cannot be defined as showing action that was completed at a past time. This Greek phrase literally expresses an ongoing “accomplishing” of the day of Pentecost. Thus Berry has accurately translated it “during the accomplishing of the day of Pentecost.”

The word that Berry has translated “accomplishing” is the Greek infinitive sumplhrousqai [sumpleerousthai]. This infinitive is derived from the root word sumplhrow [sumpleeroo], a verb that has the following meaning: “to fill completely, to fill quite full, and of time to fulfill [or to accomplish]” (Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). This definition of the root verb sumpleeroo can give us a general understanding, but it cannot give us the specific meaning of the infinitive sumpleerousthai, which is the term used in Acts 2:1. It is a fact of Greek grammar that no root or base) verb, such as sumpleeroo, can by itself define the specific meaning of its various forms in Greek. The structure of New Testament Greek demands that the exact meaning of the Greek verbs and verbal forms be determined by their specific voice, person, gender, case, tense and mood. Consequently, the specific meaning of any Greek verb or verbal form cannot be determined simply by reading the definition of its root or base verb in a concordance or lexicon.

The complexity of New Testament Greek makes it impossible to determine the specific meaning of the Greek text without a basic knowledge of the rules of the language. In order to determine the specific meaning of any text, a complex process of analysis is required to determine the specific meaning of the verb forms used. The knowledge that is available in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, or any other Greek lexicon, is not sufficient to fully understand the specific meanings of the Greek verbal forms. The different verb forms used in the New Testament number over 1,200. The exact meaning of each of these verb forms is determined by its gender, person, voice, case, tense and mood, as revealed by the structure and spelling of each verbal form.

Those who have no knowledge of the six factors that govern the specific meaning of every Greek verb form should not attempt to interpret the verbal infinitive that is used in Acts 2:1. A lack of such knowledge can lead to faulty and inaccurate interpretations of the Greek text. These mistaken interpretations can do great damage when they are presented as scriptural fact, as in the papers “The Plain Truth about Pentecost and Passover” and “Pentecost: What are the Facts?” These papers may appear to be authoritative, but because the writers did not understand the complexities of New Testament Greek, their interpretation of Acts 2:1 is completely erroneous.

In seeking to understand the true meaning of Acts 2:1, we must be careful to observe the rules of Greek grammar (which these writers have overlooked). We must apply the definition of the base verb sumpleeroo, meaning “to fulfill,” as it is determined by the specific verbal form found in the text. When we follow the rules of Greek grammar and analyze this verbal form, we find that it is in the present tense and the passive voice.

Here is a literal translation of the Greek text:


Kai en tw sumplhrousqai thn hmeran thV penthkosthV...

And in the fulfilling of the day the fiftieth [day]...

Let us examine the verbal phrase en tw sumplhrousqai [en too sumpleerousthai], which means “during the accomplishing of or in (during) the fulfilling of. This phrase is a very specific type of verbal form known as an articular infinitive because the infinitive form of the verb is used with the definite article (the). Here, the infinitive with its definite article tw [too] is preceded by the preposition en [en], as shown below:

Preposition Definite Article Verbal Infinitive
en tw sumplhrousqaip
en too sumpleerousthai
during, or in the accomplishing of
during, or in the fulfilling of

The use of en and too with the infinitive sumpleerousthai clarifies the basic meaning “to fulfill” and shows that the fulfilling was in the process of being accomplished. When Greek uses en too with a verbal infinitive in the present tense, as it is in Acts 2:1, it always and only reflects action that is taking place at that time. The phrase actually means, “While the fiftieth day was being fulfilled….” This phrase clearly shows that the events described in Acts 2:1 were actually taking place while the fiftieth day was in the process of being fulfilled. The events could not have been taking place after the fiftieth day had ended, or was already fulfilled, because the Greek articular infinitive is in the present tense. A present tense infinitive is never used to express action that has already been completed. It is contrary to the rules of New Testament Greek to interpret this present tense infinitive as expressing past or completed action. Past action is never expressed by an infinitive that uses the preposition en and the definite article too. Completed action is expressed by the use of a different verbal form and a different construction of the Greek text, as we will see in the next chapter.