What does “untoward” mean?


by Shawn Brasseaux

The word is found one time in the Authorized Version, Acts 2:40, where the Apostle Peter is preaching to the nation Israel on the day of Pentecost: “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” At first glance, we understand this to be an appeal to seek deliverance from an evil entity. Let us fine-tune that definition.

Up to the time of chapter 2 of Acts, Israel’s behavior has been anything but exemplary. Read these excerpts from Peter’s sermon: “[22] Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: [23] Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: [24] Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it…. [36] Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. [37] Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? [38] Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. [39] For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. [40] And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

Peter urges his unsaved Jewish audience to convert to Jesus Christ, the same God-Man they murdered in cold blood only about two months earlier. They should “repent” (change their mind about who He is—He is Messiah) and then be water baptized in His name so as to receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Otherwise, when He returns, He will consume them in His fiery wrath. They are to leave their apostate nation and join the Little Flock, Israel’s believing remnant, who will survive that wrath and inherit God’s earthly kingdom (cf. Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock: for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”).

The Greek word for “untoward” in Acts 2:40 is “skolios,” which, of course, is the origin of “scoliosis.” Scoliosis is an abnormal medical condition characterized by a sideways curvature of the spine. The basic idea, then, is a deviation from the correct path. That Greek term was rendered “crooked” in Luke 3:5 and Philippians 2:15. It was once translated “froward” in 1 Peter 2:18. “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;…” (Luke 3:5; cf. Isaiah 40:4). “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;…” (Philippians 2:15). “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward (1 Peter 2:18).

Returning to Acts 2:40, Israel is wicked, a “generation” that is evil. In fact, Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7 refer to them as a “generation of vipers” (snakes). Even Jesus called them this in Matthew 23:33. They are “of [their] father the devil” (John 8:44)—he himself being the chief snake or cunning individual (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2). It is this very nation that will be consumed at Christ’s return, with the Little Flock alone surviving. For more information, see our Hebrews 10:25 study linked below.

By the way, the English prefix “un–” means “not, absent, reversed.” Instead of “toward,” one who is “untoward” is literally “not toward” (that is, resistant or defiant; rebellious).

Also see:
» Does Hebrews 10:25 mean we are obligated to attend church?
» What does “froward” mean?
Who are those “afar off” in Acts 2:39?