What Does God Call You? (Acts 2:39) – Mondays with Mounce 275
In Peter’s sermon on the eschatological outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he says this. “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call (προσκαλέσηται)” (NIV).
There are two problems with this translation. (1) It does not particularly make sense. Call what? (2) Why is προσκαλέσηται middle?
The point, of course, is to point out the scope of God’s salvation. Joel has already said that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21); that is the human side of salvation. Now, in v 39, is the divine side of God calling people.
And to be fair to the NIV, their English is reflecting the Hebrew (ארק; qal) and the LXX (προσκέκληται; perfect, not Luke’s aorist).
προσκαλέω occurs 29x in the New Testament. BDAG says, “in Gk. outside our lit. and in LXX predom. mid., in our lit. exclusively mid.” It means “summon, call on, call to oneself.” BDAG has a separate entry for our passage; “God’s invitation to share in the benefits of salvation call (to) God or Christ, to faith.”
Since the aorist middle is a distinct form from the passive, we know for sure this is a middle, and the verse brings up the whole issue of the middle voice. Current research suggests that the category of deponency is not legitimate. We have been taught (through the incursion of Latin grammar into Greek) that deponent verbs lost their active forms and their middle/passive forms have active meaning. The problem is that many of these so-called deponent verbs never had active forms (among other problems).
Rather, we are now coming to see that many “deponent” verbs are actually true middles. The middle voice indicates that the subject still does the action of the verb, but the subject is also in some way affected by the action of the verb, hence the term “subject-affectedness.” I have a YouTube video up to help explain what is happening in modern research (and you can download the PowerPoint slides I made for the presentation).
What this means is that for Acts 2:39, we can now understand the translation of the ESV. “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (italics added; also NET, NRSV). The Lord is being affected by his effectual call on people since he truly is calling them to himself.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language and exegesis on the ZA Blog. He is the president of BiblicalTraining.org, a ministry that creates and distributes world-class educational courses at no cost. He is also the author of numerous works including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek and a corresponding online class. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.
Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at BillMounce.com.