Sometimes there is great value in paying attention to the little details of the text. Acts 1.8 is a good example where a common reading in the Evangelical world emphasizes something that is different from what the text actually says. The passage reads as follows:

ἀλλὰ λήμψεσθε δύναμιν ἐπελθόντος τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς καὶ ἔσεσθέ μου μάρτυρες ἔν τε Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ [ἐν] πάσῃ τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ καὶ Σαμαρείᾳ καὶ ἕως ἐσχάτου τῆς γῆς.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in the following places: Jerusalem, all of Judea, Samaria, and as far as the ends of the earth.

My translation of this (justly) famous verse might sound a bit odd at first read. To anyone familiar with the passage, the last chunk of the verse is probably in your mind as “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the ends of the earth,” or something similar. One application often drawn from this passage goes something like this: the Apostles were to start their ministry in Jerusalem, then move to all of Judea, then Samaria (crossing ethnic lines here), then on to the ends of the earth. So to, we should start where we are and move progressively outward in our evangelistic efforts.

This is a theologically helpful and immensely practical application of Acts 1.8 and it receives support from the unfolding narrative of Acts which chronicles the progression of the gospel in basically this geographic order, with some loop backs through Jerusalem. However, this interpretation puts an emphasis on the notion of sequential progression from place to place, a notion entirely absent in the Greek text! The geographic places are linked together with two particles in coordination (often called a “coordinating conjunction”): τε…καί (highlighted in the text above). Brief attention to the meaning of this conjunction pair will clarify my point.

‘τε’, when used as a coordinating conjunction, primarily connects non-sequential items, that is, it gives a list of items without implying orderly progression; it simply groups them closely together. According to Denniston, who wrote an influential study of Greek particles in Homeric through Classic Greek, this is the main function of the τε particle.[1] It retains this function into Koine, as seen in the definition of this function in BDAG as a “marker of connection between coordinate nonsequential items.”[2]

What does a closer look at ‘τε’ in this verse tell us? As my above translation shows, the emphasis at the level of Greek is not on Jesus giving an itinerary for his followers: Jerusalem first, then the next place, and so on. The statement is a prophetic pronouncement emphasizing the totality of places that the gospel will go through Jesus’ work through the Holy Spirit. This is what is chronicled in Acts. That the gospel spreads in basically this geographic sequence in the narrative of Acts is significant (but, think about how the church is already established in Rome before Paul gets there, indicating spreading that is happening outside of the narrative of Acts as well). The geographic pattern, though, is not the point of Acts 1.8.

For the reader today, the point is rather simple: we all are somewhere within “the ends of the earth” where Jesus pronounced that his witnesses would be at work. So be Jesus’ witness by the power of the Holy Spirit wherever you are.

[1] J. D. Denniston, The Greek Particles, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954), 496.

[2] To my knowledge, there are no major studies of the usage of the particle τε as a coordinating conjunction in Koine Greek. Iver Larsen makes some brief comments on τε in the following article: Iver Larsen, “Notes on the Function of γάρ, οὖν, μέν, δέ, καί, and τέ in the Greek New Testament,” Notes on Translation 5, no. 1 (1991): 35–47. It is far from systematic and in-depth. The two major studies of particles in Koine (Jerker Blomqvist, Greek Particles in Hellenistic Prose (Lund: Gleerup, 1969); Margaret E. Thrall, Greek Particles in the New Testament, New Testament Tools and Studies, III (Leiden: Brill, 1962)), make no mention of this particle. Levinsohn deals with τε used in isolation, but not as a coordinating conjunction (see Stephen H. Levinsohn, Discourse Features of New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on the Information Structure of New Testament Greek, 2nd edition (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2000), 106–11).