June 15: Acts 2:4, 17-18ff
These June daily notes have focused on the development of the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God, among early Christians, as documented in the New Testament Writings. The previous few notes have examined the special emphasis given to the role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts, both in terms of the author’s adaptation of the wider Gospel tradition, and the unique treatment of the subject in the book of Acts.
There are dozens of specific references to the Spirit in the narratives, sermon-speeches, and summary notices of the book of Acts—and even more if one were to include the variant readings of the Western ‘recension’ (cf. my earlier note for key instances). I have discussed the matter in prior notes and articles, including a set of three notes in the series “The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition”. There I outlined the three main ways that the Spirit interacts with believers in Luke-Acts, with all relevant examples detailed in the notes:
Today I wish to focus specifically upon how this role and action of the Spirit reflects a development of the older lines of tradition. We may similarly isolate three aspects for study:
- The association with baptism
- The Prophetic tradition regarding the Spirit, in two respects:
(a) the coming of the Spirit upon God’s people in the New Age, and
(b) the ancient tradition of prophetic inspiration
- The phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”, as a (new) form of prophecy
All three of these run throughout the narratives of Acts, but they are also found, combined and in seminal form, in the Pentecost narrative of 2:1-4ff. On the association with Baptism, there is a clear parallel between Jesus and the disciples in this context (Lk 3:16; Acts 1:5); just as the Spirit came upon Jesus at his Baptism, so it does upon the disciples at their new “baptism”:
- Jesus: “…the Holy Spirit stepping [i.e. coming] down in bodily appearance as a dove upon [e)pi] him”—baptism by John in water (Lk 3:22)
- Disciples: “…tongues appeared as fire and sat (down) upon [e)pi] each one of them” (and they were all filled by the Holy Spirit)—baptism (by Jesus) in the Holy Spirit and fire (Acts 2:3-4)
This symbolism implies both cleansing (i.e. the use of water-symbolism for the Spirit) and also a fundamental association with anointing (i.e. the Spirit poured out on the chosen one[s] as oil). Luke gives greater emphasis to this than do the other Gospels, especially in the scene at Nazareth set at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Lk 4:14ff), where Jesus specifically identifies himself with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi] me, for (the sake) of which He anointed [e&xrisen] me…” (Lk 4:18-21ff). This passage is central to the idea of Jesus as the Anointed One [Christ/Messiah] in early Gospel Tradition (cf. Lk 7:19-23; par Matt 11:2-6, note also Matt 12:18 citing a different Isaian passage [Isa 42:1-3]), as I have discussed in detail in prior notes and articles (cf. the recent note in this series). The anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit is tied to his Baptism in Acts 10:38.
These two motifs—water (baptism) and oil (anointing)—are also combined in the image of the Spirit being “poured out” on believers in the book of Acts. The primary passage, of course, is the Pentecost speech by Peter in which Joel 2:28-32 is quoted (2:17-18ff), especially the key phrase (doubled in poetic parallel):
“I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit
—upon [e)pi] all flesh…
—(yes,) even upon [e)pi] my (male) slaves and upon [e)pi] my (female) slaves
I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit in those days…” (Acts 2:17-18 / Joel 2:28-29)
This language is repeated in Acts 2:33; 10:45. The gift of the Holy Spirit coming on believers is usually connected with baptism in some way throughout the narratives in Acts (see the wording in Acts 2:38), though clearly as a distinct event:
- In Acts 8:12-17, believers receive the Spirit subsequent to being baptized, through the laying on of hands by the Apostles (vv. 15-17)—cf. also Acts 19:2-6.
- In Acts 10:44-48 (and 11:15-16), the Spirit comes upon believers prior to their being baptized, following the preaching of Peter
In both of these passage the sudden, dramatic experience of receiving the Spirit is described with the verb e)pipi/ptw (“fall [down] upon”)— “as Peter was yet speaking these words, the holy Spirit fell upon [e)pe/pesen e)pi] all the (one)s hearing…” (Acts 10:44, cf. 11:15). As in the case of Mary and Jesus (cf. above), the coming of the Spirit “upon” [e)pi] believers indicates the presence and power of God which has come near, transforming their entire life and being. It should be understood as the first, primary stage—the first of the three motifs listed above. The presence of the Spirit upon a person is necessarily prior to the filling and inspired leading/guiding by the Spirit.
These dual symbols of water (baptism) and oil (anointing) reflect distinct lines of tradition regarding the role of the Spirit, which find fulfillment for believers in Christ in the New Age:
- The idea of cleansing and purification (through water and/or fire), which, in the later Prophetic tradition, was connected with the idea of Israel’s restoration. With the return of God’s people to their land, they would be given a “new heart” and a new spirit, through the work of God’s own holy Spirit. It would be the beginning of a New Age of peace, prosperity, and righteousness, in which Israel would adhere to the covenant with God in a new way (i.e. a “new covenant”). The message of God’s truth would extend from Israel/Judah to all the surrounding nations.
- The special anointing of kings (and prophets), marked by the presence of the Spirit coming upon them (1 Sam 16:13-14, etc), is extended to the people as a whole. This represents a “democratization” of the Spirit, which will no longer be limited to select, chosen individuals (cf. the earlier note on Num 11:16-30). To be sure, unique Messianic figures (and figure-types) still played a role in Jewish tradition, but the ultimate prophetic message, regarding the role of the Spirit in the New Age, involved the people (or Community) as a whole.
Both of these lines of tradition have been discussed at length in the recent (pre-Pentecost) series of notes on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”.
In the next daily note, we will look more closely at the Prophetic tradition regarding the Spirit, as it is manifest in the book of Acts, with special emphasis on the tradition of prophetic inspiration.