Acts 2:40 (“Save yourselves from this crooked generation”)

(Act 2:40 ESV) And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

“Bore witness”

“Bore witness” can mean to testify as a witness, but can also mean to earnestly implore. I’m sure Peter did both. After all, he was in a position to tell the crowd what he’d seen.

“Save yourselves”

“Save yourselves” is ambiguous in the Greek. It could be “be saved” or “save yourselves.” The translations split down the middle.

In the Calvinist debates, this is considered a big deal, the theory being that “be saved” is both correct and more consistent with the idea that humans have nothing to do with their own salvation.

And, in reality, passive is probably to be preferred because the Bible consistently refers to God (or Jesus) as the one doing the saving. Either way, Peter is imploring those present to do something — to choose to repent and to be baptized. He’s urging a choice: “he bore witness and continued to exhort them.”

The passive construction certainly means that God does the saving, but the grammar plainly implies that Peter’s listeners are to make a choice, just as the passive “be baptized” means “choose to submit to baptism.”

If I tell my drowning child, “Be rescued by your older brother,” it’s a command that he may choose to obey or not – with consequences either way — despite the passive construction.

“Crooked generation”

“Crooked generation” is translated literally, and the metaphor works well enough in English, too. “Crooked” means wicked.

The language refers back to the Song of Moses, a psalm Moses sang at the end of Deuteronomy —

(Deu 32:5-6 ESV) 5 They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. 6 Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?

Moses’ language is borrowed by Asaph in a Psalm —

[QUOTE] (Psa 78:5-8 ESV) 5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, 7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; 8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

And Paul uses the same language —

(Phi 2:14-16 ESV) 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

And so the language describes a generation in rebellion against God who will be damned if they do not accept God’s Messiah. Indeed, Peter plainly compares his audience to the Israelites who died in the desert. The Song of Moses continues —

(Deu 32:20-29 ESV) 20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness. 21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. 22 For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.

23 “‘And I will heap disasters upon them; I will spend my arrows on them; 24 they shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured by plague and poisonous pestilence; I will send the teeth of beasts against them, with the venom of things that crawl in the dust. 25 Outdoors the sword shall bereave, and indoors terror, for young man and woman alike, the nursing child with the man of gray hairs. 26 I would have said, “I will cut them to pieces; I will wipe them from human memory,” 27 had I not feared provocation by the enemy, lest their adversaries should misunderstand, lest they should say, “Our hand is triumphant, it was not the LORD who did all this.”‘

28 “For they are a nation void of counsel, and there is no understanding in them. 29 If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern their latter end!

Wow! Peter’s use of a two-word phrase recalls a detail cursing by God on a people who died for lack of faith! This is much stronger language than we usually imagine.


  • Can we be witnesses today? What have you seen? What can you tell from your own experience?
  • Is it still true that we live in a crooked generation? Would Peter’s appeal to save yourselves (or be saved) from a crooked generation still work? Do people outside themselves see the world as crooked/twisted? Why or why not?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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8 Responses to Acts 2:40 (“Save yourselves from this crooked generation”)

  1. Jack Mann says:

    Peter, with the inspired words “save yourselves from this crooked generation”
    is speaking to “devout Jews” at Pentecost. “This generation” is the same generation Jesus speaks of in Matthew 23:33. A generation that called for His crucifixion
    ( Acts 2:23 ). “A generation of vipers” Jesus calls these men.

    To “escape this generation” is to believe the Gospel. To escape any generation
    is to become a “new creature in Christ Jesus” ( 2 Cor. 5:17 ). This is God’s only
    plan of reconciliation. To be baptized “for the remission of sins” removes the
    “enmity” of Genesis 3:15 on all sinful men.

    God no longer looks upon the flesh of men that separated mankind as Jew or Gentile. ( Gal. 3:27-29 ). “The veil of the temple was rent” at Calvary, which separated Jew and Gentile. ( Matthew 27:51 ).

    If one is not a “new creature in Christ,” he/she is therefore not “made the
    righteousnesss of God in him” ( 2 Cor. 5:21 ). There is not going to be anyone
    in heaven that is not as righteous as God! When one is baptized into Jesus Christ
    “for the remission of sins,” in God’s MIND (the seat of reconciliation ) man is “saved.”

    Aren’t you glad!? Is not that “Good News”!? God’s plan of sacrificing His only begotten Son at Calvary provided a way for you and me to inherit eternal life!

  2. John says:

    Every generation has its own “crooked ways”, its own particular problems. I am amused at times when Christians, usually conservatives, speak of how evil the present is. My question to them would be, “In comparison to what?” Name any decade and I can rattle off all sorts of problems that caused the people of that time to think they were living in the “evil of all evil”. Besides, there are segments of society who would not want to go back, and undertandably so. How many African Americans or women would want to go back to the 1950s? Conservatives have a way of revering the past, claiming to live its values, while enjoying the pleasures of the present that those of the past would call immoral, and forgetting much of the harm that the past caused.

    Yes, people would respond to “save yourselves from this crooked generation”. But preaching and teaching have to mature past the thinking that says “I don’t do this, that, or the other thing; and the crooked generation is of those who do”. What preaching and teaching must do is to call the crooked way of life the life that inflicts harm on any other segment of our time, which usually means ignoring them. Remember Lazarus at the rich man’s gate.

  3. hank9981 says:

    Really, the “be saved” translations offer no support for the Calvinists at all because it still means that there was something each person needed to do individually in order to be saved. Namely, to repent and be baptized. And that was 100% their responsibility. It would be like either saying “be quiet” or “quiet yourselves “. Both phrases have the same exact meaning. Of course, taking the NT as a whole, it is God who makes salvation possible. Still, salvation is only possible for those who are willing to “save themselves” (or “be saved”) as Peter exhorted them to do.

  4. Charles McLean says:

    Peter’s words put me to mind of the pleading of Joshua and Caleb for the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. In both cases was more than a call to merely act, it was a call to believe. Israel sat back and did not enter in– because of their unbelief.

    “Believe,” the message reads then and now, “and so be rescued from the destiny of this unbelieving generation. Or find yourselves in the same situation as your ancestors whose bones littered the desert.”

  5. Emmett says:

    I can bear witness to what God has done for me. I do so regularly. What I have seen, and what I have personally experienced, is an infusion of power that removes cravings, enhances spiritual growth, and continues to be felt and manifested to others day by day. I have seen it in others and I have experienced it my self. I have no qualms about this testimony for it is true; those who are unwilling to accept it because of their fast-held beliefs to the contrary notwithstanding. As I hear read regularly, we claim spiritual growth, not spiritual perfection.

    This is where a lot of folks have problems with accepting the gospel – because to them it doesn’t seem like good news. They think it’s all on them to be good, and realize that they can’t. So they never take that first step. In our congregation we finally baptized a couple whose outlook was precisely this – and they told us they viewed church as a place they didn’t belong because they were imperfect. Well, it isn’t all on them, or on me, or on you – because the Comforter is here within us! That’s good news.

    C. S. Lewis, in his space trilogy volume one, uses the term “bent” to describe fallen humanity – “bent hman” is what the Hrossa call Weston and Devine after observing their twisted nature. When I first read this, the crooked generation statement came to mind. It seems obvious that was how Lewis viewed it. I agree.

  6. Jack Mann says:

    I believe we must look at Pentecost through the eyes of a “devout Jew,”
    after all, Luke informs the reader who was there in attendence ( Acts 2:5 ).
    Most of the sermons I have listen to on Acts 2 by preachers who will say, “This is the first gospel sermon this side of the cross.” I agree,….but, Peter’s words here would go right over the head of a gentile who might have been present and caught up in the excitement.

    The question asked in verse 12, “what does this mean” must be asked through the
    mindset of a devout Jew who was there, saw and heard. The Jew could see that this phenomena of “speaking in tongues” was from God ( v. 11 ).

    But, why wouldn’t God speak to the Jew in Hebrew? After all, in their mind, Hebrew was the language of God. Note verses 5-11 , they “were amazed” that these Galileans were speaking in languages from their home country: “Parthians, Elamites, Libya, etc.” Didn’t God speak to Moses in the Hebrew? and here at Pentecost in many tongues? what’s up with that?

    One must correlate Peter’s words, “save yourselves from this crooked generation”
    with his words of verse 17, “and it shall come to pass in the last days”
    The “last days” of what? Judaism? I believe so….God was about to rain destruction
    on national Israel for the consummating sin of killing his Son.
    Read Jesus’ words in Matthew 21, “the parable of the wicked husbandmen.”
    Note verse 41, “He will misserably destroy those wicked men.”

    Destroy those “wicked men” for What? Had these wicked men “killed and stoned his servents” ( vs. 35-36 )? The parable said that they did. “But last of all, he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.”
    Did national Israel reverence his Son? We know they did not! “And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard and slew him.” ( v. 39 ).

    But wait, surely the “devoute Jew” who was here for Pentecost from Rome, Arabia, Cappadocia, Crete, etc., was did involved in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazerath, why most had never heard of Him.

    Was this not the excuse of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:30-33 when they said to Jesus “If we had been in the days of out fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” ?

    Note what Jesus said to their misserable excuse: “You are witnesses unto yourselves, that you are the CHILDREN of them which killed the prophets,
    Fill you up then the measure of your fathers, You serpents, you generation of vipers,
    how can you escape the damnation of hell?”

    “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” as seen through the eyes of a Jew and understanding the Hebrewism of Joel’s prophecy as echoed in the words of Peter, “And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour and smoke; The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:

    A Jew would reconize these words as a standing formula for JUDGMENT of a
    city or a nation. One finds this style of Hebrewism in Ezekiel 32:7-11 prophesying the fall of Egypt by the king of Babylon’s sword” ( v. 11 ).
    Isaiah 13: 10, we read the words “For the stars of heaven and the consellations
    thereof shall not give their light; and the sun shall be darkened in his going forth,
    and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”
    These are words of “destruction,” that Babylon was about to fall by the wrath of God using the Meads as His vessle of judgment. “Therefore I will shake the heavens and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the WRATH of the Lord of
    hosts, and the day of his fierce anger” ( Isaiah 10:13 ).

    Believe me, a Jew listening to Peter’s message would be aware of his prophecy of judgment upon them! Their cry of “men and brethren what shall we do?” were the words of a generation of men that were about to feel the wrath of God and they knew it!

    Rome marched into Judaea in 66 A.D., and left in 70 A.D with the nation and the city of Jerusalem in shammbles. If you have not read “The Jewish War” by Josephus
    then you have no idea how God used the military might of Rome to bring judgment on national Israel! “There was a wont for wood to crucify men upon.”
    Did not Jesus say in His Olivet discourse that “this generation shall not pass away
    until all these things be fulfilled” ( Matthew 24:24?

    The temple, the seat of Jewish national religion, with its alter and animal sacrifices came down. The Roman boot stood in the holy of holies.
    Read again the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24:29-30. Words of destruction?
    “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” Those Jews who recalled the words of Jesus would “flee into the mountains, not stopping to pick up a coat etc” ( Ma. 24:16-17 ) .

    It is always good to obey the Lord and not face destruction!
    “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” ( Acts 2:38 ).

  7. Doug says:

    I was reminded last week how “Crooked” our generation is today. A young man who I worked with in Drug Rehabilitation and Jail ministries, a man who had seemingly escaped from his own addictions and trouble with the law and had lived an exemplanary life for over 10 years, a man that I trusted implictly, a man who had a wonderful testimony and was instantly able to talk with conviction to those we ministered to, was arrested and charged with several serious felonies. I am absolutely shaken and heart broken about this situaton. All this began about 6 months ago when he abruptly resigned all of his Rehab and Jail ministry duties. I immediately tried to contact him and arrange a meeting with him but he refused to talk with anyone associated with these ministries and would take any counsel from any of us who were worried about him. I feared the worst and it has occured. Now I am wondering if these ministries do any good at all? If we can’t help somone like this man, what am I doing talking to people who are in much worst positions? The drug culture is as “crooked ” a generation as any to come along. Lord have mercy!

  8. Doug says:

    The sentence above should have read: “I immediately tried to contact him and arrange a meeting with him but he refused to talk with anyone associated with these ministries and would NOT take any counsel from any of us who were worried about him.”

    Sorry for the mistake!

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