Was the voice from heaven that spoke to Peter in Acts 10: 13, 15 that of the Holy Spirit?
We tend to read Scripture with certain assumptions in our minds, and those assumptions can be reinforced by the translation we use. Certainly we read of “the Spirit” in Acts 10: 19 speaking to Peter, and again in Acts 11: 12, but that, in itself, does not guarantee that the Holy Spirit was the speaker. Greek manuscripts are either uncials or cursives. In the former the Greek letters are all capitals, in the latter they are all lower case. Hence initial capitalisation of the word spirit is a matter of interpretation and not translation. The “Holy Spirit” (Acts 10: 38, my emphasis), where so described, is distinctive, while “the Spirit” in v19, while probably referring to the Holy Spirit (compare Acts 8 29), could conceivably refer back to the angel in v26.
There is then the matter as to whether “the Spirit” and “the voice” are the same. In Acts 10 we read: “And there was a voice to him, Rise, Peter, slay and eat. And Peter said, In no wise, Lord; for I have never eaten anything common or unclean. And [there was] a voice again the second time to him, What God has cleansed, do not thou make common” (vs 13–15). The heavenly speaker is described by Luke as “a voice”. Peter responds by addressing this speaker as “Lord”. This title of Lord, which occurs about 100 times in Acts, is clearly applied to Christ in the majority of cases for He now has that distinctive place of Lord (see Acts 2: 36; 10: 36). In the OT, God was known as Jehovah (Greek: kurios, Lord) and this is carried over into the NT in such places as Acts 2: 34; 7: 31, 33. God is addressed as Lord in Acts 2: 39; 3: 22; 17: 24 and in the prayer of Acts 4: 24-30 (not, notice, the Lord Jesus—see v30). The title is applied to any dignity (see Acts 25: 26) and the angel of God is addressed by Cornelius as Lord in Acts 10: 4. Thus the word Lord does not help us in our considerations.
The key passage in determining this matter is not Luke’s historical record in Acts 10 at Caesarea, but Peter’s ad verbatim account in Acts 11 at Jerusalem: “And I heard also a voice saying to me, Rise up, Peter, slay and eat. And I said, In no wise, Lord, for common or unclean has never entered into my mouth. And a voice answered the second time out of heaven, What God has cleansed, do not thou make common. And this took place thrice, and again all was drawn up into heaven” (Acts 11: 7–10). This is almost identical word for word to the words in chapter 10. This is strange if the “voice” is that of the Holy Spirit—as I will explain in a moment. A little further on we read “And the Spirit said to me to go with them, nothing doubting. And there went with me these six brethren also, and we entered into the house of the man” (v12). As I have said, Peter’s account in chapter 11 regarding the voice and the Holy Spirit is virtually the same as the historical one given by Luke in chapter 10. Hence the “voice” cannot be that of the Holy Spirit. Why? An example may make this clear.
I am in a meeting for the reading of the Scriptures. I am located behind a pillar and thus hidden from the view of the main speaker. I also have a sore throat and hence my voice is hoarse. I ask a question and the main speaker ‘X’ answers. In the interval someone raises the same matter with ‘X’. ‘Ah!’ He responds ‘Someone raised that matter in the reading’ (he says ‘someone’ because he did not recognise my voice or see my face). I now approach ‘X’, and raise the same matter again. ‘Oh! It was you ‘Y’ that raised this in the reading’ he says. A few minutes later someone else raises the same matter yet again with ‘X’. How does ‘X’ now respond to this person? Does he still say ‘Someone raised this matter in the reading’? No. Now that he knows my identity, he says ‘‘Y’ that raised that matter in the reading’. This was exactly the situation with Peter. If Peter had recognised the “voice” as that of the Holy Spirit he would not have spoken of “a voice” when he recounted the matter to those in Jerusalem but would have said ‘the Holy Spirit’. The fact that he did not do so shows that the voice, whoever it belonged to, was not that of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, a voice “out of heaven” (Acts 11: 9, my emphasis) would bring to our minds the Man who is now in heaven (compare Acts 9: 4, 5), rather than the “Holy Spirit, sent from heaven” (1 Pet. 1: 12).
That the Holy Spirit does communicate with God’s people is unquestionable—how else would He teach the Lord’s disciples all things (see John 14: 26)? It is also clear that other unholy spirits (see 1 John 4: 1) are seeking our unwitting attention. However, despite popular belief, there is no biblical evidence that either seek to communicate to us as voices ‘out of the air’. We are spoken to indirectly by evil spirits through persons (see 2 Cor. 11: 15), while the Holy Spirit speaks to us both through persons and through the Word.