Saturday Series: Acts 2:1-13

Acts 2:1-13

In the Pentecost narrative proper (Acts 2:1-13), the author of Acts begins to develop a number of important themes that will carry through the book. These were established in the opening sections, beginning with the prologue (1:1-5, see the prior study), and presented more clearly in the opening narrative of 1:6ff (see last week’s study). Indeed, the central theme of Acts is stated in 1:6-8, with the brief exchange between Jesus and his disciples. Through this exchange, and Jesus’ answer (vv. 7-8) to the disciples’ question (v. 6), the author introduces the idea that the kingdom of God on earth, previously identified with the kingdom of God’s people Israel, is now to be identified with the early Christian mission, realized through two main aspects: (1) the coming of the Holy Spirit on believers (v. 8a), and (2) the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world (v. 8b).

Continuing this literary-critical study, let us consider how this theme is developed in the Pentecost narrative—the narrative of the sending of the Spirit during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), which inaugurates the Christian mission. I divide this section as follows:

    1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), verse 1.
    2. Manifestation of the Spirit, verses 2-4.
    3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the crowds), verses 5-13.

Let us examine each of these in turn.

1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), Acts 2:1:

As I did for Acts 1:14 in the previous study, I break out the specific words of this short verse:

    • kaí (“and”)
    • en tœ¡ sumpl¢roústhai (“in the being filled up” [syn as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
    • t¢¡n h¢méran t¢¡s pentekost¢¡s (“the Fiftieth day”)
    • ¢¡san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
    • pántes (“all”—all of them, together)
    • homoú (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar homothymadón [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
    • epí tó autó (“upon the [same] thing” —this phrase occurs repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts, though somewhat obscured by conventional translations; it is indicative of the unity of the believers)

Here is the verse in literal translation:

“And in the Fiftieth day’s being filled completely, they were all at one upon the (same) thing [or, place]”

And in a more conventional translation:

“And when the Fiftieth day had been fufilled, they were all together in the same place.”
[As C. C. Torrey and other scholars have noted, the Greek may reflect an Aramaic expression “when the Weeks had been fulfilled” (e.g., û»mišlam š¹»û±ayy¹°), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (š¹»¥±ô¾) in Israelite and Jewish tradition (cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12). Fifty days (seven weeks) are counted from the offering of the firstfruit sheaf of grain at the time of Passover. Traditionally, it was also the time associated with the Sinai theophany and giving of the Law (Ex. 19:1ff). In the Exodus narrative, the entire camp of Israel was gathered together beneath the mountain “to meet God” (Ex. 19:17). Here, the disciples, too are gathered together in the same place and will “meet God”. Elements of the Sinai theophany also have their parallel in the manifestation of the Spirit, as we shall see.

2. Manifestation of the Spirit, Acts 2:2-4:

Here the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) is recorded in dramatic fashion, in the language and imagery of Theophany. Since the manifestation of God at Sinai (occurring at Pentecost, by tradition) was mentioned above, it is worth looking at elements of that theophany:

    • Thunders (lit. “voices”) and lightnings (19:16)
    • A thick cloud
    • Fire went down upon the mountain; smoke (as of a furnace) went up from it (19:18), perhaps parallel to the cloud in v. 16.
    • The mountain “trembled” (or “quaked”); in v. 16 it is said the people trembled (same verb)
    • The sound (lit. “voice”) of a horn (shofar) (19:19, also mentioned in v. 16), which sounded long and grew louder

Consider also the theophany to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12):

    • A great and strong wind (or “breath”, “spirit” rûaµ = Grk pneúma) which swept through and tore at the mountain
    • An earthquake (“quaking”, “shaking” ra±aš)
    • Fire (°¢š)

all of which occur as God (YHWH) is “passing over” (or “passing by” ±œ»¢r), but God Himself is not in (b) the wind, quaking or fire. Then comes a quiet, thin voice.

Here is the manifestation of the Spirit as recorded in Acts (note the theophanic details in italics, with specific parallels in bold):

    1. “And suddenly there came to be out of the heaven a sound as of a violent wind [pno¢¡] being carried (along) and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting” (2:2)
    2. “And there was seen [i.e. appeared] unto them tongues as if of fire divided through(out), and it sat upon each one of them” (2:3)
    3. “And they all were filled of/by (the) holy Spirit [pneúma] and began to speak in other tongues even as the Spirit gave (to) them to utter forth” (2:4)

Clearly, there is wordplay with “tongues (as if) of fire” [glœ¡ssai hœseí pyrós] anticipating “with other tongues” [hetérais glœ¡ssais] in v. 4. There is at least one other occurrence of the phrase “tongues of fire” from roughly the same period in a Qumran text (represented by fragments of 1Q29 and 4Q376: these with 4Q375 and 1Q22 may all be part of the same work). 1Q29 fragment 1 can be restored on the basis of 4Q376 (ellipses indicate gaps [lacunae] in the text):

“…the stone, like… they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire [blšwnwt °š]; the stone which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after it [the cloud?] has been removed… and you shall keep and do all that he tells you. And the prophet … … who speaks apostasy … … YHWH, God of …”

Another tiny fragment reads: “… the right stone when the priest leaves … … three tongues of fire … … And after he shall go up and remove his shoes ….” (translations taken from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans 1997/2000, vol. 1 pp. 108-9). The words (possibly spoken by Moses) refer to an anointed Priest; the stones on the right and left (urim and thummim?) are associated both with light and the voice of the Priest as he addresses the assembly. It is possible the “three tongues” are also “divided out”, one over each stone, and one directly over the Priest in the middle.

There is some uncertainty whether the “other tongues” refer to an ecstatic ‘heavenly’ language or ‘earthly’ foreign languages. Other New Testament references (Acts 10:46; 19:6, and those in 1 Cor. 12-14) suggest the former, while the context here (cf. Acts 2:11) indicates the latter. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, in order to reflect both: (a) heavenly origin, and (b) the languages of the nations. Returning to the Sinai theophany, there is an old Jewish tradition that as the Torah (each word of God) went forth it was split into the seventy languages of the nations (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 88b); that is, each nation could hear the voice of God (the “thunderings”) in its own language (cf. Exodus Rabbah V.9). A tradition along these lines seems to be at least as old as Philo of Alexandria (On the Decalogue §46), and so nearly contemporary with the book of Acts.

3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the Crowd), Acts 2:5-13:

The following outline indicates the main elements of this section:

    • Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)
    • Response of the crowd (vv. 6b-11) in two aspects:
      1) Each person hears in his/her own language
      2) Nations respond in a (symbolic) united voice
    • Confusion (v. 12, see also in vv. 6-7)— “What does this wish to be?”

The mocking retort in v. 13 serves as a lead-in to Peter’s address in vv. 14-40. Let us look at each element in a little more detail:

a. Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)

The mention of “Jews” (Ioudaíoi) being in Jerusalem may seem unnecessary, but it is significant for at least two reasons: (1) to emphasize the underlying religious and cultural unity of the ‘nations’ present in the city, and (2) it draws attention to the (post-exilic) reality of the current situation. When Israel, and particularly the southern kingdom of Judah (centered at Jerusalem), was taken into exile, the people were dispersed among the nations; and it was in the “dispersion” (diaspora) that a distinctly Jewish identity developed. It is generally assumed that these Jews are sojourning in Jerusalem for the festival of Weeks (Pentecost); the verb katoikéœ often implies a more permanent residence, but here may simply mean generally “to dwell”. These Jews are “from every nation under heaven”, and have come together in the city (for the festival). At the coming-to-be of “this voice” (t¢¡ phœn¢¡), again Jews, symbolized as a specific crowd (pl¢¡thos), “come together” (sunérchomai) in confusion (being “stirred together” [sungchéœ]). It is interesting that, just in the tradition regarding the Sinai theophany, the multitudes are hearing different languages but one voice.

b. Response of the Crowd (v. 6b-11)

V. 6b and 7a reprise the confusion—they “stood out of (their minds)” and “wondered” in amazement as they heard the disciples speaking. It is unnecessary to ask just how, when, or where these people heard the disciples—and altogether beside the point. The author has crafted a marvelous dramatic scene, with events (at the historical level) certainly having been compressed together into a single moment. Similarly, it is rather unlikely that a single person or group of persons in the crowd would have said precisely what the crowd is recorded as saying here. Instead, various reactions and responses are represented by one voice. This is important thematically, and, one might say, theologically as well. Often a creative literary device conveys far more truth than a ‘sober’ record of events. Consider several of the themes inherent in the crowd’s response:

    • The reference to the disciples as “Galileans” (Galilaíoi), while serving to emphasize the wonder of the situation, also creates a subtle shift stressing ethnic (and geographic) identity. Most of the disciples, and certainly the Twelve were Galileans (“men of Galilee”, 1:11). The early Christian mission began in Galilee (cf. 1:1-2), is centered in Jerusalem (by the united community of the Disciples), and will spread from there into all nations (1:8).
    • Two key references to hearing the voices speaking “in our own language” (t¢¡ idía dialéktœ h¢mœ¡n, v. 8, see also v. 6) and “in our tongues” (taís h¢metérais glœ¡ssais, v. 11) bracket the list of nations in vv. 9-11a. The importance of this description should by now be apparent. It may be useful to consider the qualifying phrase accompanying each reference:
      (1) V. 8: “in our own language in which we came to be born” [en h¢¡ egenn¢¡th¢men]
      (2) V. 11: “(hear speaking) in our tongues the great (work)s of God” [tá megaleía toú Theoú]
      The first phrase clearly indicates ethnic sense; the second echoes Old Testament language whereby news of the great and glorious deeds of God is spread into the surrounding nations (cf. Ex. 15:11ff, and many others)—geographic sense.
    • The list of nations (vv. 9-11) has been a source of some confusion, as indicated by the number of textual variants and proposed emendations. However, much of the difficulty disappears when its literary nature is recognized, rather than simply being a list rattled off by someone in the crowd. The inclusion of “Judea” has seemed strange (since Jews are speaking, and they are already in Judea!) as well as its position, leading to many suggested emendations; however, as a separate geographical list it actually makes sense—moving from East (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia) to West (Anatolian/Asian provinces, Egypt, Lybia, Cyrene and Italy) with Judea in the middle. While still a bit uneven (the final two, Cretans and Arabs, don’t fit in order as well) and not without difficulties, its significance as a list of the (known and relevant) surrounding nations is obvious.
c. Confusion (v. 12, cf. also vv. 6-7)

The confusion of the crowd is re-iterated, stating that they all were beside themselves (again exíst¢mi, lit. “stand out of [one’s mind]” v. 7) and “thoroughly at a loss” (diaporéœ). Their summary response is: tí thélei toúto eínai; (literally “what does this wish to be?”), often translated more conventionally as “what does this mean?” —however a more literal rendering preserves better a sense of the strange, dynamic nature of the situation in which the crowd finds itself: events almost seem to have a will of their own! The ironic, mocking retort that closes the crowd’s response (“they are filled with sweet [wine]!”), of course, serves to lead into Peter’s great Pentecost speech (vv. 14-40). The disciples are indeed “filled” (pl¢¡thœ) with the Spirit (v. 4), rather than “filled” (mestóœ, a somewhat cruder verb which can indicate “stuffed”, “intoxicated”) with ordinary wine.

In conclusion, it is perhaps worth considering again the theme of the “restoration of Israel” in light of the Pentecost narrative:

    • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
      • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
        • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
      • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
    • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

Saturday Series: Acts 1:6-11ff

The first two chapters of the book of Acts are important for establishing all of the main themes that will be developed throughout the narrative. These sections also illustrate the distinctive way that the author develops the historical traditions related to the early Christian mission. There is thus much to explore in these chapters from a literary-critical and historical-critical standpoint. In this particular study, I will be focusing on the literary-critical aspects.

The role of the Spirit is central to this narrative, beginning with the prologue (see the discussion in last week’s study), and continuing through the Pentecost narrative of chapter 2. In order to gain a proper sense of the way that the themes are established, and the traditions utilized, in the Pentecost narrative, it is most helpful to keep in mind the context and structure of the early chapters, which I outline as follows:

    1. Lukan Introduction (1:1-5)—a long, complex and difficult sentence (cf. Luke 1:1-4), which turns into an historical summary (vv. 2-4a) and concludes with a direct address of Jesus to his disciples (vv. 4b-5).
    2. The Ascension (1:6-11), comprising:
      (a) the question regarding the Kingdom and Jesus’ reply to his disciples(vv. 6-8),
      (b) the visible ascension with theophanic/apocalyptic imagery (v. 9),
      (c) appearance of the (Heavenly) men and their address to the disciples
    3. A summary narrative (1:12-14) recording the return of the disciples to Jerusalem, and their united presence in the Upper Room (the Twelve [minus Judas Iscariot], some women, Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers). This summary parallels Luke 24:52-53, and is an important bridge between the Ascension and the following narrative.
    4. The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)—two key parts, both of which act as seminal motifs for the remainder of the book:
      a) Peter’s speech (vv. 15-22)—the first of many such speeches in Acts, centering on quotation/interpretation of Scripture (a tradition regarding Judas Iscariot has been inserted parenthetically, vv. 18-19)
      b) The selection/commission of a disciple (Matthias) for (apostolic) ministry (vv. 23-26)
    5. The Pentecost Narrative (chapter 2)
      5a. Narrative of the coming of the Spirit (2:1-13)
      5b. Peter’s Speech (2:14-40), again centered on quotation/interpretation of Scripture.
      5c. Historical/editorial summary (2:41-47).

This same structure will be carried out through much of Acts; for example, in the next two chapters:

    • Main historical narrative, including notable ministry work, miracles, etc. (“Acts”) of the Apostles (3:1-11; 4:1-22)
    • Speech (or intercourse), centered on a passage (or passages) of Scripture, and containing early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) (3:12-26; 4:23-30)
    • Historical/editorial summary (none in ch. 3; 4:31)

Each of sections 1-4 (which make up Acts 1) is important thematically for an understanding of the Pentecost Narrative. Here I summarize some key notes:

Section 1: Lukan Introduction (Acts 1:1-5):

  • The historical summary (vv. 2-4a), we we looked in the previous study, has at its heart the double phrase:
    hoís kaí parést¢sen heautón zœ¡nta metá tó patheín autón en polloís tekm¢ríois, di’ h¢merœ¡n tesserákonta optanómenos autoís kaí légœn tá perí t¢¡s basileías toú theoú
    “…and to whom [i.e. the disciples] he stood himself alongside [i.e. presented himself] alive after his suffering in many fixed marks [i.e. signs/proofs], through forty days being seen by them and recounting/relating the (things) about the kingdom of God”
    We can break down chiastically the elements of this phrase:

Living presence of God/Christ in his disciples
[to whom he stood himself alongside alive…]
— Demonstration that He is the Messiah and Son of the Living God
[…after his suffering in many fixed marks/signs]
— Ministry and proclamation
[through days being seen by them and recounting/relating…]
The Kingdom of God
[…the things about the Kingdom of God]

These are all seminal themes and motifs of the Book of Acts, and, one might say, form the core of the Gospel message.

    • The narration continues in v. 4a and blends into an address (in direct speech) of Jesus to his disciples. Again note the key elements:

a. Stay in (do not depart from) Jerusalem (see Luke 24:52; Acts 1:12)
b. Remain about (i.e. wait) for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49) which you have heard from me (see Acts 1:13-14, also Luke 24:53)
c. Reprise of John’s testimony:
“(On the one hand), John dunked in water, but (on the other hand), you will be dunked in the Holy Spirit after not many (of) these days”

Section 2: The Ascension (Acts 1:6-11):

Note again how one can break this passage down chiastically:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        —At their seeing/looking
        — He was raised up(on)
        — A cloud took him under
        —Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

The theme of the Kingdom—shorthand for “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)”—is most significant; I have discussed it in some detail in earlier notes and articles. One can, I think, outline four principal ways of understanding the phrase:

    1. As the Eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
    2. As an eschatological (Messianic) Kingdom, on earth, the establishment of which will involve:
      (a) judgment/defeat of the nations and enemies of God, and
      (b) restoration of the Davidic inheritance to Israel.
    3. In the person and work of Jesus—the miracles, teaching, foundation of the church, atoning death and resurrection, etc.
    4. As the (spiritual) presence and power of God in the heart, mind, and lives of believers.

Other interpretations are possible, but they likely will end up being a variation on one of the above. These four meanings can be found in the New Testament—even, I think, in Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom—but probably #1 and 4 are most common. The thorniest question scholars raise is to what extent #2 is part of Jesus’ teaching. It is likely that his proclamation “the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.) would have been understood in this manner—of eschatological/Messianic expectation—by his contemporaries; and this certainly seems to be what the disciples have in mind here at Acts 1:6.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question:

Kýrie, ei en tœ¡ chronœ¡ toútœ apokathistáneis t¢¡n basileían tœ¡ Isra¢¡l;
“Lord, in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of apokathist¢¡nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (apó) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own exousía

The word exousía (from éxestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom (meaning #2 above) common in popular religious thought. Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

Indeed, I would maintain that the idea of the “restoration of the kingdom”, or, one may say, the “restoration of Israel” is an important idea both in Jesus’ teaching and in the book of Acts.

Section 3: Summary narrative (1:12-14):

I have already mentioned a couple of themes found in this short passage; but, to reiterate, in light of the above comments:

    • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
      a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
      b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
    • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
    • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
      • hoútoi (“these” —the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pántes (“all” —that is, all of them, together)
      • ¢¡san proskarteroúntes (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • homothymadón (“with one impulse” —a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. thymós is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
      • t¢¡ proseuch¢¡ (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

Section 4: The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26):

Here it is important to emphasis again the theme of the Twelve. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected.

This sets the stage for the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-14ff) which I will discuss in detail next week, continuing our literary-critical study of the early chapters of the book of Acts.

Saturday Series: Acts 2:16-21 (Joel 2:28-32) (continued)

Acts 2:16-21 (Joel 2:28-32), continued

This Pentecost-themed study is focusing on the use of the Joel 2:28-32 (Heb 3:1-5a) oracle in the Pentecost sermon-speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-40). As I noted last week, in examining the use of Joel 2:28-32 (both by Peter and by the author of Acts) several factors must be considered:

    1. The original context of the passage
    2. How this was applied to the early Christian context (of Peter’s speech), and
    3. How the author of Acts adapted the text to fit this application (at the literary level, within the narrative setting)

The first point was discussed in last week’s study. Here, we will be looking at the final two points.

Application to the Early Christian Context (Peter’s Speech)

However one judges the historicity of the Sermon-Speeches in Acts, they appear, in the form we have them, as well-constructed literary productions in Greek. The Scripture citations tend to follow the LXX Greek version of the Old Testament, and yet this does not mean that the speaker (in this case, Peter), at the historical level, could not have cited the Scripture in the manner and context indicated. It simply means that such a speech, as we have it, is no mere stenographic reproduction, but a careful literary adaptation—and this includes the Scripture quotation.

Let us see how the Scripture passage was applied in the context of Peter’s speech. First, the Text. The quotation from Joel closely follows the Greek (LXX) version, with the following notable variations:

    • “in the last days” (en taís eschátais h¢mérais) instead of “after these things” (metá taúta) [verse 17 / 2:28]
    • the positions of “young ones/men” (hoi neanískoi) and “old ones/men” (hoi presbýteroi) are reversed
    • the addition of “my” (mou) to “slave men” and “slave women” [i.e. male and female slaves] (doúlos/doúl¢) [verse 18 / 2:29]—indicating that these are slaves/servants of the Lord.
    • the addition of “and they will foretell [i.e. prophesy]” (kai proph¢teúsousin)—this repeats what is stated in verse 17 [2:28], and gives added emphasis on the theme of prophesying (see below).
    • the addition of “up above” (ánœ) and “down below” (kátœ) [verse 19 / 2:30]
    • the last portion of Joel 2:32 [3:5] as been left out: “so that in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be the (one) being saved, according to that (which) the Lord said, and they are (ones) being given the good message [euangelizómenoi], (those) whom the Lord has called toward (Himself)” (translating from the LXX; euangelizómenoi is a misreading of the Hebrew ba´rî¼îm [“among the survivors”])

In some manuscripts the quotation conforms more precisely with the LXX (as in the Alexandrian text represented by codex B), but this is likely a secondary ‘correction’. The version of the quotation which has been adapted to the context of the speech (especially in vv. 17-18) is almost certainly original. Overall the LXX here reflects a fairly accurate translation from the Hebrew. At the historical level, one would expect that Peter might rather have quoted from the Hebrew—if so, it is understandable that the author (trad. Luke) might simply substitute in its place the LXX (with some modification). On the (critical) theory that the speech is primarily a Lukan composition (set in the mouth of Peter), adapting the Greek version would be a natural approach.

What is the significance of these changes, and how does the subsequent modified Scripture relate to the message of both the speaker (Peter) and author?

In the narrative, no exposition is given by Peter, other than the statement that events of the moment are a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (v. 16). It is interesting to consider how Peter (and/or the author of Acts) applies this prophecy to the current situation. The phenomenon of speaking in tongues, though the principal occasion of the crowd’s amazement, appears to be only marginally connected with the prophecy. I would say that there are three main points of contact which are being emphasized:

    • God’s sending his Spirit upon the believers, and their being filled with the Spirit
    • That believers—both men and women—will prophesy
    • This pouring out of the Spirit specifically indicates it is the last days

Along with this, we have a central theme that runs throughout the work of Luke-Acts as a whole: that prophecy in the New Age (that is, the time of the New Covenant) is realized through the proclamation of the Gospel.

In many ways, the Joel oracle represents (along with Jeremiah 31:31-34) the keystone Old Testament prophecy regarding the “new age” (the New Covenant) inaugurated by the work of Jesus Christ. Consider the elements which are combined in this passage:

    • That God is doing a new thing, pouring out of his Spirit upon all people—young and old, men and women, slave and free alike (cf. Gal 3:28).
    • That God’s people will now be guided directly by the Spirit (on this theme, cf. Jer 31:34; 1 John 2:27).
    • Even the least of His people will be able to prophesy—that is, speak the revelatory word or message of God (in this regard, note the interesting passage Num 11:24-29).
    • This signifies that it is the “last days” (i.e. the end times)
    • Salvation (in Christ) is being proclaimed to all people

This is also an instance where the New Testament speaker/author has been relatively faithful to the original historical context of the prophecy (discussed in last week’s study). A simple outline of the main sections of the book of Joel would be:

    • 1:20-2:11—Judgment on Judah/Jerusalem (“day of YHWH”)
    • 2:18-32—Restoration and blessing (material and spiritual) for the survivors in Judah/Jerusalem
    • 3:1-16—Judgment on the Nations (“day of YHWH”), contrasted with the fate of (the restored) Judah/Jerusalem

Note the central position of the restoration theme, which includes the oracle in 2:28-32. Even though the context implies that the restoration indicated in 2:18-32 will be reasonably soon (not left for the indefinite future), it is not specified precisely when it will occur. Even today, there is a considerable divergence of views among commentators as to how such passages should be interpreted. Regardless, in Acts, it is clearly the spiritual side of Israel’s future restoration that is emphasized, being applied to believers in Christ—a theme which is found throughout the early chapters of the book. What is perhaps overlooked by many modern interpreters is the prominence of the eschatological motif. This is indicated here by:

    • The alteration of the LXX metá taúta (“after these [things]”, Hebrew “after/following this”) to en taís eschátais h¢mérais (“in the last days”) of Joel 2:28 [3:1] in v. 17, specifying clearly that this is the last-days / end-times.
    • The natural phenomena described in Joel 2:30-31 [3:3-4], included in vv. 19-20 are eschatological/apocalyptic images which came to be associated quite distinctly with God’s end-time Judgment—see especially in the Synoptic tradition (Jesus’ Olivet/Eschatological Discourse), Mark 13:14-15ff par.

Even though the natural wonders of Joel 2:30-31 are not technically being fulfilled at the time of Peter’s speech, they clearly signify that, in the mind of Peter (and, to some extent, the author of Acts), the end-times are definitely at hand. This belief in, and expectation of, the imminent judgment of God (and return of Christ), found in nearly all the New Testament writings, may trouble some traditional-conservative commentators (wishing to safeguard a certain view of Scriptural inerrancy); however, it is an important aspect of early Christian thought which cannot (and ought not to) be ignored or explained away.

The Application with in the literary and thematic framework of Acts

Nearly all of the sermon-speeches in Acts follow a basic format:

      • Narrative introduction—this may be a simple introduction or include an extended narrative
      • The speech itself:
        • Introductory address, often with kerygmatic elements, leading into the Scripture passage
        • Citation from Scripture
        • Exposition and Gospel kerygma
        • Concluding exhortation
      • Narrative summary

The relative length and complexity of Peter’s sermon-speech in Acts 2 stretches and expands the central portion of the outline. I divide the speech itself into three main sections, each of which has: (a) an introductory address, (b) Scripture citation, and (c) exposition/application. Each section begins with a (vocative) address to the crowd, according to three parallel expressions:

    • ándres Ioudaíoi—Men, Yehudeans [i.e. Judeans, men of Judea]!… (v. 14)
    • ándres Isra¢lítai—Men, Yisraelis [i.e. Israelites, men of Israel]!… (v. 22)
    • ándres adelphoí—Men, Brothers!… (v. 29)

The variation may be merely stylistic, but it is also possible that a progression is intended—from geographic (Judea) to ethnic-national (Israel) to a more intimate familial designation (Brothers).

The Joel oracle is the Scripture cited in the first section (see the outline pattern above):

    • Introductory address: “Men, Judeans…” (vv. 14-16), leading into the Scripture citation. There is no direct kerygma other than to turn the attention of the crowd to the current phenomenon they are experiencing, that it is a fulfillment of Scripture. But note also the concluding citation of Joel 2:32a in verse 21.
    • Citation from Scripture: Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 in Hebrew] (vv. 17-21).
    • {There is no specific exposition given or concluding exhortation in this section—application of the Scripture is implicit}

The way that the narrative introduction (vv. 1-13) leads into this section is significant, in the way that it develops certain key Lukan themes. The introduction has the following thematic outline:

    1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), verse 1.
    2. Manifestation of the Spirit, verses 2-4.
    3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the crowds), verses 5-13.

It is important to note the parallel theme of Israelite/Jewish unity:

    • The apostles (now reconstituted as twelve) and wider group of disciples (~120 = 12 x 10) are symbolic of the unified (12) tribes of Israel—note that they return to Jerusalem (Acts 1:12), gathering together in a single place (upper room)
    • The Jews dwelling in Jerusalem—whether temporarily for the feast, or on a more permanent basis (the verb katoikéœ could indicate the latter)—have come from all the surrounding nations (representing the exile/dispersion) and are gathered together in one place

I regard this as reflecting the key eschatological theme of the restoration of Israel. This sense of unity is most important when we consider the three sections which make up the speech in vv. 14-36. The crowd speaks with one voice (vv. 7-11)—a literary device, to be sure, but one of real significance. Note the thematic structure here:

    • The disciples speak with the various tongues (languages) of the nations (v. 3-4)
      • All of the crowd can understand, and responds with one voice (vv. 5-11)
    • The crowd is confused by hearing the various tongues (v. 7-8, 12)
      • Peter, speaking for the disciples, responds with one voice (vv. 14ff)

There is reflected here a kind of reversal, not only of the exile/dispersion, but also of the confusion of tongues in the Babel episode—an (eschatological) theme hinted at in Old Testament and Jewish tradition (see for example Zeph 3:9).

The exposition/application of the Scripture was discussed above. The prophetic theme is that of the coming of God’s Spirit upon all the people in the New Age (of Israel’s restoration), so that they all would function as prophets (the role no longer being limited to select/chosen individuals). In the context of Luke-Acts, this is fulfilled by the coming of the Spirit on the disciples of Jesus (believers) in the Pentecost episode (2:1-4ff). The significance of the Spirit’s presence and work in this regard was established at the beginning of the Acts narrative, by the statement of Jesus (to his disciples) in 1:7-8. In the New Age of the New Covenant, believers represent the true people of God. They (and we) are all called to prophesy, through the presence and power of the Spirit, which means the proclamation of the Gospel. The ecstatic/supernatural phenomenon of “speaking in tongues [i.e. foreign languages]” is a means (and symbol) for the communication of the Gospel message to the peoples of the different nations.

As noted above, there is no direct exposition of the Joel oracle, neither is there any clear kerygmatic formula in the text at this point, except, I should say, for the concluding citation from Joel 2:32a [3:5a] in v. 21:

“and it will be (that) every (one) that should call upon the name of the Lord will be saved”

In its original context, of course, it refers to calling upon the name of God (YHWH) for salvation, etc; however, in an early Christian context, it takes on a new meaning in reference to the risen/exalted Jesus as Lord [kýrios, see Acts 2:36, etc]. In this regard, note the key kerygmatic statement in Acts 4:12.

June 16: Acts 2:4, 17-18ff (continued)

Acts 2:4, 17-18ff, continued

The central aspect of the Spirit’s role in the book of Acts is expressed by the citation of Joel 2:28-32 [Hebrew 3:1-5] in the Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-40). This sermon-speech, discussed at length in an earlier two-part article, follows the Pentecost narrative of vv. 1-13 (on which, cf. my earlier set of notes). This use of the Joel oracle demonstrates how the coming of the Spirit upon the Jerusalem believers is seen as a fulfillment of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the restoration of Israel. I have discussed the association of the Spirit with this restoration-theme in earlier notes (see esp. the note on Joel 2:28-32); it is a theme which is prominent in the early chapters of Acts, as I have also discussed in previous notes.

While the Greek citation of Joel 2:28-32 differs somewhat from both the Hebrew and LXX versions (for the details, cf. my earlier article), it preserves the fundamental message. This message entails a promise that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, the Spirit will no longer come only upon specific chosen/gifted individuals, but instead will be “poured out” upon all the people. This point is driven home emphatically by the inclusive references to male and female (“sons and daughters”), young and old, slave/servant and free person alike. It is essentially a fulfillment of the ideal expressed in the episode of Numbers 11:10-30 (see esp. Moses’ words in v. 29)—that is to say, all the people would function as prophets (<ya!yb!n+).

As I have previously discussed, the ayb!n` is best understood as a spokesperson for God—one who communicates the word and will of God to the people. In the ancient Israelite (and Near Eastern) tradition, this meant a divinely-inspired position of leadership and prominence in society, reserved only for select chosen or gifted individuals. Moses was the supreme ayb!n` in the early period, but eventually, as the tradition in Num 11:16-30 suggests, the role came to be filled by many others over time. It was based on the principle of charismatic leadership—of the Spirit’s presence manifest by unusual (and ecstatic) phenomena. The early Israelite kings (Saul and David) shared in this form of Spirit-inspired leadership (cf. my earlier notes on 1 Sam 16:13-15, etc). Eventually, however, this aspect of the Prophetic experience waned, and was given less emphasis, as indicated by the disappearance of the use of the denominative verb ab^n` (in the passive-reflexive stem) to denote this charismatic/ecstatic form of prophecy.

Such Spirit-inspired activity, in the ancient mode, was manifest by unusual behavior and strange speech—an indication that the person was under the powerful influence of a divine spirit. The narratives in the book of Acts show that the reappearance  of this basic phenomenon marks the “pouring out” of the Spirit in the New Age. The disciples of Jesus, who represent and symbolize the restored Israel (cf. my note on Acts 1:15-26), are the firstfruits of this harvest of blessing from the Spirit. The men and women in Jerusalem, who are believers in Christ, mark the first instance of the Spirit being poured out on “all flesh”. This coming of the Spirit will be repeated for others, as the Gospel is proclaimed and more people come to trust in Jesus. As Jesus’ words in 1:7-8 make clear, this dual dynamic of (a) the presence/work of the Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel, is the essential means by which God’s Kingdom will be established in the New Age. The narratives in the book of Acts document this process in the earliest stages. The Spirit-filled believers serve as prophets/spokespersons for God (and Christ) and the proclamation of the Gospel, the message of Christ, is their “prophecy”.

This brings us to the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”, which I regard as part of the same religious phenomenon as the ancient mode of ecstatic prophetic utterance (cf. above). What is thoroughly unique about this phenomenon among the early believers in Acts is the way that it is so closely tied to the specific (prophetic) mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to all the surrounding nations. As these nations speak many different languages (“tongues”), it would be necessary for the Christian missionaries to preach the message in these languages as well. This is the essence of what is described initially in 2:4:

“and they were all filled (with the) holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, even as the Spirit gave (it) to them to sound forth.”

These “other tongues” (e(te/rai glw/ssai) here unquestionably refer to ordinary foreign languages, as what follows in vv. 5-13 makes clear. As the disciples begin to speak out publicly, under this prophetic inspiration, the various Jews, who had come to Jerusalem (for the festival) from the surrounding nations, could understand the message in their own language (vv. 5-6). The experience was unusual and dramatic enough to cause surprise that local Galileans would be speaking in these other languages (vv. 7-8). Moreover, the claim that the believers were intoxicated (v. 13) suggests that there was an ecstatic quality to their speech and behavior, which, according to the ancient principle of inspiration (cf. above), was a striking sign of being in a prophetic state under the influence of a divine spirit. Some of the people mistake this for drunkenness (i.e. the influence of wine)—a misunderstanding that Peter addresses in the speech that follows. There is a bit of thematic wordplay here, as the claim that the believers are filled (“soaked full”, vb mesto/w) with sweet wine serves as an ironic contrast to the reality that they have been filled (vb plh/qw) with the Spirit.

In the next daily note, I will be turning from the Gospels and Acts to the remainder of the New Testament, focusing on how the traditions regarding God’s Spirit were developed by Paul in his letters.

Acts 2:1-4 and 4Q376

Acts 2:1-4 and 4Q376

One of the most striking features of the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2:1-4ff is the description of the coming of the Spirit upon the early believers as they are gathered together. The details are evocative of the ancient Near Eastern theophany (spec. the storm theophany) tradition, such as the famous Sinai theophany of Exodus 19-20. These details indicate the manifestation of God (El-YHWH): His presence on earth among His people, expressed through imagery associated with the storm—clouds, wind, thunder, fire, etc. Traditionally, the Sinai theophany, which marked the establishment of the covenant between YHWH and Israel, was associated with the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost); on the dating in support of this, cf. Exod 19:1; 2 Chron 15:8-15. The Torah, which served as the terms of the covenant, was given to the people (through Moses), in the context of this theophany (Exod 19-23), and the covenant was ratified in YHWH’s presence (chap. 24).

The Pentecost scene and narrative in Acts draws upon this line of tradition, only now it is a new covenant established among God’s people—who are believers in Christ. God is manifest through the presence of His Holy Spirit, and, just as the Torah was given at Sinai, so now the Gospel is proclaimed to all the people, as they are gathered together. The believers (the apostles and others) are the vehicle for this new manifestation of God’s presence; the Spirit comes upon them all collectively, as a Community, rather than upon one chosen individual (Moses).

The theophanous details in the Acts narrative are indicated in verses 2 and 3:

“And there came to be, without (any) shining (in advance) [i.e. unexpectedly], a sound (from) out of heaven, just as (of) a violent wind [pnonh/] being carried (along), and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting; and there was seen by them, being divided throughout, tongues as if of fire [glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$], and it sat upon each one of them…”

The coming of the Spirit is marked by sound (a roaring) and the idea of wind (play on the related words pnoh/ and pneu=ma) blowing through the house, but is indicated more directly and immediately by the image of “tongues of fire” resting upon each of the believers. The motif of tongues is certainly related to the phenomenon of the early Christians miraculously speaking in tongues (i.e. other languages). Indeed, there is word-play of this sort throughout these verses; note the parallels:

    • Believers sitting (kaqh/menoi) together
      • The sound of the rushing wind (pnoh/) filled (e)plh/rwsen) the house
        • The tongues (glw=ssai) of fire came upon the believers
    • The fire (of the Spirit) sat (e)ka/qisen) upon each believer
      • The believers were filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the holy Spirit (pneu=ma)
        • They began to speak in other tongues (glw=ssai)

While this may explain the use of “tongues” to describe the coming of the Spirit in the form of fire (cf. Matt 3:11 par), it is worth noting that the expression “tongues of fire” is attested in at least two other texts from the first centuries B.C./A.D. While the basic image is perhaps natural—i.e., a flame in the shape of a tongue, along with the idea of fire devouring/consuming (like a mouth), etc—it is interesting to consider how the expression itself is used.

4Q376 / 1Q29

The corresponding Hebrew expression (vva@ tonv)l=, “tongues of fire”) occurs in the Qumran text 4Q376 (= 1Q29). This small text-fragment provides an interesting example of the difficulties involved in trying to determine the context and nature of many of the Dead Sea Scroll writings. At least one fragment survives, preserving portions of three columns; what survives of each column is different enough for it to be unclear just how the text of the columns is related.

Column 1

This snippet (requiring some restoration) apparently refers to a sacrificial priestly ritual, involving the Urim and Thummim:

“[…and before the de]puty of the anointed priest […a young bul]lock from the herd and a ram […] […] for the Urim”

The expression “anointed [j^yv!m*] priest” is perhaps significant, given the evidence at Qumran for an Anointed (Messianic) priest figure-type as part of the Community’s Messianic expectation (cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

Column 2

“[…] the stone, like […] […]they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire; the stone of the left side which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after [the cloud (?)] has been removed […] and you shall keep and d[o al]l [that] he tells you. And the proph[et…] […] who speaks apostasy […] […Y]HWH, God of […]”
The words in italics above represent the corresponding parts of the same text (presumably) in 1Q29 which go beyond what is preserved in 4Q376.

This portion of the fragment preserves more substantial text, and includes the expression “tongues of fire”. The reference to the “stone of the left side” suggests that a ritual involving the Urim and Thummim (Exod 28:30, etc) is still in view. The ‘shining’ of one stone or the other (on the right or left side) indicated the will of God. This oracular technique, of which we have little actual detail in the Old Testament, was reserved for the priests (Lev 8:8; Num 27:21; Deut 33:8, etc). The reference to a (false) prophet, in the corresponding portion of 1Q29, may reflect an intentional contrast between priest and prophet, with the priesthood being given a higher position of authority and access to God’s will. The text 4Q375, which many commentators feel is related in some way to 4Q376, deals specifically with the question of how to determine the true prophet vs. the false (cf. Deut 13:1-5), and what steps must be taken in response.

Column 3

“in accordance with all this judgment. And if there were in the camp the Prince of the whole congregation, and […] his enemies, and Israel is with him, or if they march to a city to besiege it or in any affair which […] to the Prince […] … […] to field is far away […]”

It is hard to be certain, but the preserved portion in this column seems to give an example of the sort of priestly message that comes with the shining stone of the Urim/Thummim oracle. Such oracles would be consulted prior to the beginning of a military campaign, for example, and almost certainly the Urim/Thummim would have been consulted for this purpose (cf. 1 Sam 14:41; 28:6, and compare the consultation of prophets in 1 Kings 22:5-28, etc). The expression “Prince of the congregation” in the Qumran texts tends to have Messianic significance—i.e. the Anointed leader of Israel who will specifically have (political/military) leadership over the Community (as the faithful remnant of Israel) in the end-time. This part of the text may indicate the relationship between the Davidic and Priestly Messiahs of the Community, intended to illustrate how this will function in the end-time; the Priest receives the divine message and conveys it to the Prince for him to act.

1Q29

In addition to the main fragment (cf. above), there are 6 additional tiny fragments belonging to 1Q29 (= 4Q376). Unfortunately, they are too small to add much to our knowledge of this writing. Fragment 2 seems to mention the stone on the right side (“the right stone”), corresponding to the “stone of the left side” that shines. In this context, we have the intriguing mention of “three tongues of fire”, a detail that further defines the expression “tongues of fire” in fragment 1 (= 4Q376 col. 2), above. It may be that the three tongues refer to the stone on the left side, the stone on the right, and the priest (in the middle?); there is, however, no way to be sure.

The remaining fragments, it would seem, tend to emphasis the role of the priest in conveying the will of God (YHWH) to the people (the Community). In particular, the (Anointed) priest is equipped to explain all that YHWH wishes, and that the people are to keep and observe this instruction. From the standpoint of the Community, this involves a correct interpretation and explanation of the Torah, but also of the other Scriptures (the Prophets). The prophetic emphasis in this text (cf. also 4Q375) suggests that there is also a special inspiration that belongs to the priestly leadership of the Community, which may have been expressed in the form of oracular messages. Admittedly, there is relatively little evidence for this charismatic aspect of the teachers/leaders of the Qumran Community, but it seems to have applied to the person known as the “Teacher of Righteousness”; and, to the extent that it was part of the religious/spiritual dynamic of the Community, it could form a certain parallel with the Spirit-inspired leadership (apostles, prophets) in early Christianity.

1 Enoch

The only other occurrence of the expression “tongues of fire” in Jewish literature of the period (as far as I am aware) is found in the book of Enoch (1 Enoch). In 14:9-10 and 71:5 the expression is part of a visionary description of the heavenly realm. On his journey through the heavens, the seer encounters a great wall, built of crystals, and “surrounded by tongues of fire” (14:9). He proceeds into this fire and approaches a crystal house, or palace, part of a complex that eventually leads to the Chariot-throne of God Himself (14:10-20ff). The reference in 71:5, is part of a similar description, in poetic form, composed almost certainly by a different author and at a later time.

These references in the book of Enoch make it likely that the expression “tongues of fire” in 4Q376/1Q29 is part of a visionary/apocalyptic tendency, in certain Qumran writings, blending the heavenly realm together with the religious ritual of the Community. The Qumran Community very much considered itself to represent the “holy ones” on earth who functioned in tandem with the “holy ones” (i.e. Angels) in heaven, and this was part of the imagery in a number of texts, such as in the War Scroll and the so-called “Angelic Liturgy” (or “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”). As the inspired/anointed Priest ascertains and explains the will of God, he touches upon the heavenly realm (of God’s Throne and His Angels), and the oracular response of the Urim/Thummim (the “shining” stones) is accompanied by “tongues of fire” that mark the Divine/Heavenly presence.

It is quite possible that the narrative in Acts 2:1-4 is alluding to a similar line of tradition, and that, here too, the “tongues as of fire” are meant to convey the idea of the Heavenly/Divine presence at work within the Community.

The translations of the Qumran texts above are taken from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentíno García Martinez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).

June 3: Acts 2:1-13 (conclusion)

In the previous day’s note (for Pentecost Tuesday), I discussed the third of three major themes associated with the Pentecost Narrative of Acts 2:1-13: namely, the Restoration of Israel. This same theme was examined in two earlier passages—the disciples’ question regarding the Kingdom (Acts 1:6-8) and the reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26). Today, in conclusion, I will look at the theme as it appears in the Pentecost Narrative itself.

This can be studied according to a pair of useful, and (I think) meaningful, chiastic outlines. First:

Outline 1:

  • The unity of the disciples (together in one place and/or for one purpose—e)pi\ to\ au)to/), verse 1.
    • The house/place of gathering is filled (e)plh/rwsen) with the Spirit, verse 2.
      • Appearance of tongues (glwssai) of fire upon each individual disciple (~120), verse 3
      • The disciples (each) begin to speak in other tongues (glwssai), verse 4
    • The disciples are all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit, verse 4
  • The unity of the crowd—devout Jews (from all nations) in Jerusalem come together in one place, verse 5ff

I discussed the “tongues of fire” in the note for the second day of Pentecost. Here I will briefly examine the outer ring of this outline—(a) the unity of the disciples (v. 1), and (b) the unity of the crowd (v. 5ff).

a. The Unity of the Disciples (2:1)

Here are the specific words of this short verse (taken from an earlier note):

    • kai\ (“and”)
    • e)n tw=| sumplhrou=sqai (“in the being filled up” [su/n as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
    • th\n h(me/ran th=$ pentekosth=$ (“the Fiftieth day”)
    • h@san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
    • pa/nte$ (“all”—all of them, together)
    • o(mou= (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar o(moqumado\n [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
      e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (“upon the [same] thing”—this phrase occurs repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts, though somewhat obscured by conventional translations; it is indicative of the unity of the believers)

Here is the verse in literal translation:

“And in the Fiftieth day’s being filled completely, they were all at one upon the (same) thing [or, place]”

And in a more conventional translation:

“And when the Fiftieth day had been fufilled, they were all together in the same place.”
[As C. C. Torrey and other scholars have noted, the Greek may reflect an Aramaic expression “when the Weeks had been fulfilled” (e.g., aY`u^Wbv* <l^v=m!b=W), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (toub%v*) in Israelite and Jewish tradition (cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12). Fifty days (seven weeks) are counted from the offering of the firstfruit sheaf of grain at the time of Passover. Traditionally, it was also the time associated with the Sinai theophany and giving of the Law (Ex. 19:1ff). In the Exodus narrative, the entire camp of Israel was gathered together beneath the mountain “to meet God” (Ex. 19:17). Here, the disciples, too are gathered together in the same place and will “meet God”.

b. The Unity (i.e. the united voice) of the Crowd (2:5ff)

By this is meant the reaction of Jews in Jerusalem, to the theophany of the Spirit and the “speaking in other tongues”, as narrated in Acts 2:5-13.

The following outline indicates the main elements of this section:

    • Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)
    • Response of the crowd (vv. 6b-11) in two aspects:
      1) Each person hears in his/her own language
      2) Nations respond in a (symbolic) united voice
    • Confusion (v. 12, see also in vv. 6-7)—”What does this wish to be?”

The mocking retort in v. 13 serves as a lead-in to Peter’s address in vv. 14-40. Let us look at each element in a little more detail:

Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)

The mention of “Jews” ( )Ioudai=oi) being in Jerusalem may seem unnecessary, but it is significant for at least two reasons: (1) to emphasize the underlying religious and cultural unity of the ‘nations’ present in the city, and (2) it draws attention to the (post-exilic) reality of the current situation. When Israel, and particularly the southern kingdom of Judah (centered at Jerusalem), was taken into exile, the people were dispersed among the nations; and it was in the “dispersion” (diaspora) that a distinctly Jewish identity developed. It is generally assumed that these Jews are sojourning in Jerusalem for the festival of Weeks (Pentecost); the verb katoike/w often implies a more permanent residence, but here may simply mean generally “to dwell”. These Jews are “from every nation under heaven”, and have come together in the city (for the festival and/or to take up residence). At the coming-to-be of “this voice” (th/ fwnh/), again Jews, symbolized as a specific crowd (plh=qo$), “come together” (sune/rxomai) in confusion (being “stirred together” [sugxe/w]). It is interesting that, just in the tradition regarding the Sinai theophany, the multitudes are hearing different languages but one voice.

Response of the Crowd (v. 6b-11)

V. 6b and 7a reprise the confusion—they “stood out of (their minds)” and “wondered” in amazement as they heard the disciples speaking. It is unnecessary to ask just how, when, or where these people heard the disciples—and altogether beside the point. The author has crafted a marvelous dramatic scene, with events (at the historical level) certainly having been compressed together into a single moment. Similarly, it is rather unlikely that a single person or group of persons in the crowd would have said precisely what the crowd is recorded as saying here. Instead, various reactions and responses are represented by one voice. This is important thematically, and, one might say, theologically as well. Often a creative literary device conveys far more truth than a ‘sober’ record of events. Consider several of the themes inherent in the crowd’s response:

  • The reference to the disciples as “Galileans” (Galilai=oi), while serving to emphasize the wonder of the situation, also creates a subtle shift stressing ethnic (and geographic) identity. Most of the disciples, and certainly the Twelve were Galileans (“men of Galilee”, 1:11). The early Christian mission began in Galilee (cf. 1:1-2), is centered in Jerusalem (by the united community of the Disciples), and will spread from there into all nations (1:8).
  • Two key references to hearing the voices speaking “in our own language” (th=| i)di/a| dialek/tw| h(mw=n, v. 8, cf. also v. 6) and “in our tongues” (tai=$ h(mete/rai$ glw/ssai$, v. 11) bracket the list of nations in vv. 9-11a. The importance of this description should by now be apparent. It may be useful to consider the qualifying phrase accompanying each reference:
    (1) V. 8: “in our own language in which we came to be born” [e)n h! e)gennh/qhmen]
    (2) V. 11: “(hear speaking) in our tongues the great (work)s of God” [ta\ megalei=a tou= qeou=]
    The first phrase clearly indicates ethnic sense; the second echoes Old Testament language whereby news of the great and glorious deeds of God is spread into the surrounding nations (cf. Ex. 15:11ff, and many others)—geographic sense.
  • The list of nations (vv. 9-11) has been a source of some confusion, as indicated by the number of textual variants and proposed emendations. However, much of the difficulty disappears when its literary nature is recognized, rather than simply being a list rattled off by someone in the crowd. The inclusion of “Judea” has seemed strange (since Jews are speaking, and they are already in Judea!) as well as its position, leading to many suggested emendations; however, as a separate geographical list it actually makes sense—moving from East (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia) to West (Anatolian/Asian provinces, Egypt, Lybia, Cyrene and Italy) with Judea in the middle. While still a bit uneven (the final two, Cretans and Arabs, don’t fit in order as well) and not without difficulties, its significance as a list of the (known and relevant) surrounding nations is obvious.
Confusion (v. 12, cf. also vv. 6-7)

The confusion of the crowd is re-iterated, stating that they all were beside themselves (again e)ci/sthmi, lit. “stand out of [one’s mind]” v. 7) and “thoroughly at a loss” (diapore/w). Their summary response is: ti/ qe/lei tou=to ei@nai; (literally “what does this wish to be?”), often translated more conventionally as “what does this mean?”—however a more literal rendering preserves better a sense of the strange, dynamic nature of the situation in which the crowd finds itself: events almost seem to have a will of their own! The ironic, mocking retort that closes the crowd’s response (“they are filled with sweet [wine]!”), of course, serves to lead into Peter’s great Pentecost speech (vv. 14-40). The disciples are indeed “filled” (plh/qw) with the Spirit (v. 4), rather than “filled” (mesto/w, a somewhat cruder verb which can indicate “stuffed”, “intoxicated”) with ordinary wine.

Outline 2:

This second chiastic outline builds upon the first (described in detail above):

  • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
    • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
      • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
    • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
  • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

This emphasizes more clearly the theme of the “restoration of Israel”, according to the eschatological imagery of the later Old Testament prophets and Judaism, which involves two related themes:

    1. The return of Israelites (Jews) from exile among the nations—this return is to the Promised Land, and, in particular, to Judah and Jerusalem.
    2. The Nations (Gentiles) come to Judah and Jerusalem, bringing tribute and/or worshiping the true God there.

The first theme, of course, is more prominent in the Pentecost narrative, since the people from the nations in Jerusalem (v. 5) are all devout (eu)labh/$, lit. “taking good/proper [care]”) Jews (perhaps also including proselytes, v. 11). However, the global emphasis—a)po\ panto\$ e&qnou$ tw=n u(po\ to\n ou)rano/n “from every nation under the heaven”—certainly provides an ideological and narrative foundation for the mission to the Gentiles (lit. “the nations”, ta\ e&qnh). I will explore this thematic parallel between Jews and Gentiles, in relation to the early Christian mission, in an upcoming article.

One final point in this regard: the “tongues” (glw=ssai) in the Pentecost narrative relate not only to the restoration of Israel, but, I believe, in a secondary sense, to the restoration of the human race as well. There is almost certainly an echo of the “confusion of tongues” episode from the Tower of Babel episode narrated in Genesis 11:1-9. In traditional terms, humanity (united by language) was dispersed throughout the world (speaking different languages), just as Israel would be dispersed among the nations. The Hebrew verb JWP (pûƒ, “break into pieces, scatter, disperse”) in Gen. 11:4, 8-9 is translated in Greek by diaspei/rw (diaspeírœ, “[sow] seed throughout”, i.e. “scatter [seed]”). In the New Testament, this verb is used only in the book of Acts, and refers to early believers being scattered/dispersed from Judea and Palestine into surrounding countries as a result of persecution (Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19). Ironically, this dispersion sets the stage for the mission to Jews (and Gentiles) in the wider world. Also ironic is the way that another division (of the 120 disciples) into separate languages will begin the process that (re-)unites humanity (Jews and Gentiles both) into a new people (of God). There is a touch of this idea in the eschatology of the Old Testament Prophets, as in Zephaniah 3:9:

“For then I will turn over the peoples to a purified/polished lip [i.e. language/speech] (for) all of them to call on the name of YHWH, to serve him (together with) one shoulder.”

A final touch of irony: the “confusion” (ll^B*, “mix [together]”; LXX sugxe/w, “pour together”) of tongues in Gen 11:7-9 is healed and reversed (symbolically) with a new “confusion” (Acts 2:6, same Greek verb sugxe/w) as the crowd (of Jews from the nations) comes together (sune/rxomai) at the marvellous sound (lit. “voice” fwnh/) which speaks in different individual languages (dia/lektoi) at once. In response, though still confused, the crowd speaks with a united voice (in vv. 7-11)—though a literary device, it is one of considerable theological and spiritual significance, for it presents an Israel united again in one place (Jerusalem) to hear the word of God.

June 2: Acts 2:1-13 (part 3)

For the third day of Pentecost (Pentecost Monday), I will be exploring the last of three primary themes related to the Pentecost Narrative of Acts 2:1-13 (cf. also Part 2 of the article “The Sending of the Spirit”):

    1. Theophany (Pentecost Sunday)
    2. Tongues of Fire (Pentecost Monday)
    3. The Restoration of Israel

3. The Restoration of Israel

There are actually three episodes in Acts 1-2 where this theme is prominent:

    1. The question of the disciples regarding the Kingdom, with Jesus’ response (Acts 1:6-8)
    2. The reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26)
    3. The Pentecost Narrative (Acts 2:1-13)

Each of these will be examined in turn.

The Question regarding the Kingdom (Acts 1:6-8)

This passage should be considered as part of the Ascension narrative (1:6-11), which one may break down chiastically:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        —At their seeing/looking
        —      He was raised up(on)
        —      A cloud took him under
        —Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

The theme of the Kingdom—shorthand for “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)”—is most significant; I discussed this in detail in an earlier post. One can, I think, outline four principal ways of understanding the phrase:

    1. As the Eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
    2. As an eschatological (Messianic) Kingdom, on earth, the establishment of which will involve: (a) judgment/defeat of the nations and enemies of God, and (b) restoration of the Davidic inheritance to Israel.
    3. In the person and work of Jesus—the miracles, teaching, foundation of the church, atoning death and resurrection, etc.
    4. As the (spiritual) presence and power of God in the heart, mind, and lives of believers.

Other interpretations are possible, but they likely will end up being a variation on one of the above. These four meanings can be found in the New Testament—even, I think, in Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom—but probably #1 and 4 are most common. The thorniest question scholars raise is to what extent #2 is part of Jesus’ teaching. It is likely that his proclamation “the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.) would have been understood in this manner—of eschatological/Messianic expectation—by his contemporaries; and this certainly seems to be what the disciples have in mind here at Acts 1:6.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question:

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=|   )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom (meaning #2 above) common in popular religious thought. Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

Indeed, I would maintain that the idea of the “restoration of the kingdom”, or, one may say, the “restoration of Israel” is an important idea both in Jesus’ teaching and in the book of Acts.

The theme of the “Restoration of Israel” can be glimpsed in the subsequent summary narrative (1:12-14) as well:

    • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
      a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
      b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
    • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
    • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
      • ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
      • h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. qumo/$ is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
      • th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)

Here it is important to emphasis again the theme of the Twelve. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected. It may also be worth noting the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. The symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel could perhaps also be inferred by the use in v. 15 of two other items which appear elsewhere at significant points in the narrative: use of the comparative particle w(sei (cf. Acts 2:3), and the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (Acts 2:1, and elsewhere).

The Pentecost Narrative (2:1-13)

This will be discussed at some length in a follow-up note.

June 1: Acts 2:1-13 (part 2)

For the second day of Pentecost (Pentecost Monday), I will be examining the the second of three primary themes related to the Pentecost Narrative of Acts 2:1-13 (cf. also Part 2 of the article “The Sending of the Spirit”):

    1. Theophany (Pentecost Sunday)
    2. Tongues of Fire
    3. The Restoration of Israel

2. Tongues of Fire

This phenomenon is described in verse 3:

kai\ w&fqhsan au)toi=$ diamerizo/menoi glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$ kai\ e)ka/qisen e)f’ e%na e%kaston au)tw=n
“and (there) was seen [i.e. appeared] to them divided throughout tongues as if of fire, and it sat upon each one of them”

It may be useful to examine several of the key words and expressions a bit more closely:

w&fqhsan (“was seen”)—the aorist passive of this verb (o)ptanomai, as an alternate for o(ra/w, etc), is used frequently in both the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and Luke-Acts in the context of theophany (i.e. “appearance/manifestation of God”, see the previous day’s note) or an otherwise divine/heavenly appearance: cf. Gen 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; Exod 3:2; Luke 1:11; 24:34; Acts 7:2, 26, 30, 35; 9:17; 13:31; 16:9; 26:16). In such a context, the plural form is rare—here it refers to the theophanic appearance of “tongues” (pl.).

diamerizo/menoi—this verb is a compound of meri/zw (“divide, separate, portion”) and the preposition dia/ (fundamentally, “through”); here the preposition serves as an intensive, or to convey a distributive sense. It is a feminine plural passive participle (modifying “tongues” glw=ssai), a compact way of describing the “tongues” suddenly/instantly (?) being distributed throughout the group of believers gathered in the house. In the New Testament, the verb occurs in the negative (or hostile) sense of separating/dividing something (Lk 11:17-18; 12:52-53; Mk 15:24 par [citing Psalm 17:14]), and similarly the noun diamerismo/$ (Lk 12:51). However, in Luke-Acts, there are three occurrences where the verb is used in a positive sense, i.e. of distributing something among a group of believers: in addition to the “tongues” in this verse, it is used (1) for the bread and cup of the last supper (Lk 22:17), and (2) for the distribution to the needy of the resources held in common by the early believers in Jerusalem (Acts 2:45).

glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$ (“tongues as if of fire”)—this expression will be discussed below; note the comparative particle w(sei (“as if”, i.e. “as, like”), to indicate the symbolic description of the manifestation of the Spirit. There is a similar use of w(sei in the Matthean account of Jesus’ baptism—the Spirit coming down upon Jesus w(sei (“like, as if”) a dove, i.e. in the apparent form of a dove.

e)ka/qisen (“sat”)—here the verb kaqi/zw (“set, sit [down]”) may have the sense of “settle, rest, hover”, etc; however, the semitic idiom “to sit” (Hebrew verb bv^y`) can also be understood figuratively as “settle [down], set [down roots], dwell”, and so a more permanent dwelling of the Spirit may be implied as well. Note the singular form of the verb (“it sat”, lit. “she sat”), though the subject “tongues” is plural.

e)f’ e%na e%kaston au)tw=n (“upon each one of them”)—the idea seems to be that a “tongue” of fire sets down individually on each of the (approximately) 120 believers in the house. This was already implied in the use of the verb diameri/zw in the distributive sense (see above), but here is made explicit with the involved expression, literally “upon (each) one separate(ly) of them”. So we have a powerful juxtaposition of: (a) the unity of the group (community) of believers together, and (b) the distinctiveness of each individual. This can be illustrated by a comparison of verse 1 and 3:

one (together) upon the same (thing/place)” (v. 1)
o(mou= e)pi\ to\ au)to/
“upon each one of them” (v. 3)
e)f’ e%na e%kaston au)tw=n

“…and they were all filled…” (v. 4)
kai\ e)plh/sqsan pa/nte$

Verse 4 continues in parallelism with verse 2b-3:

    • The Spirit filled (e)plh/rwsen) the whole house where they where sitting (kaqh/menoi) together (v. 2b)
      • and there appeared to them “tongues (glwssai) of fire”… which sat (e)ka/qisen) upon each of them individually (v. 3)
    • They were all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit (v. 4a)
      • and began to speak with other tongues (glwssai) as the (Holy) Spirit gave them to pronounce/speak forth (v. 4b)

Clearly, there is wordplay with “tongues (as if) of fire” [glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$] anticipating “with other tongues” [e(te/rai$ glw/ssai$] in v. 4. There is at least one other occurrence of the phrase “tongues of fire” from roughly the same period in a Qumran text (represented by fragments of 1Q29 and 4Q376: these with 4Q375 and 1Q22 may all be part of the same work). 1Q29 fragment 1 can be restored on the basis of 4Q376 (ellipses indicate gaps [lacunae] in the text):

“…the stone, like… they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire [va twnwvlb]; the stone which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after it [the cloud?] has been removed… and you shall keep and do all that he tells you. And the prophet … … who speaks apostasy … … YHWH, God of …”

Another tiny fragment reads: “… the right stone when the priest leaves … … three tongues of fire … … And after he shall go up and remove his shoes ….” (translations taken from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans 1997/2000, vol. 1 pp. 108-9). The words (possibly spoken by Moses) refer to an anointed Priest; the stones on the right and left (urim and thummim?) are associated both with light and the voice of the Priest as he addresses the assembly. It is possible the “three tongues” are also “divided out”, one over each stone, and one directly over the Priest in the middle. For other references to “tongues of fire”, see 1 Enoch 14:9ff; 71:5ff which are part of a description of the heavenly realm.

There is some uncertainty whether the “other tongues” refer to an ecstatic ‘heavenly’ language or ‘earthly’ foreign languages. Other New Testament references (Acts 10:46; 19:6, and those in 1 Cor. 12-14) suggest the former, while the context here (cf. Acts 2:11) indicates the latter. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, in order to reflect both: (a) heavenly origin, and (b) the languages of the nations. Returning to the Sinai theophany, there is an old Jewish tradition that as the Torah (each word of God) went forth it was split into the seventy languages of the nations (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 88b); that is, each nation could hear the voice of God (the “thunderings”) in its own language (cf. Exodus Rabbah V.9). A tradition along these lines seems to be at least as old as Philo of Alexandria (On the Decalogue §32-49), and so nearly contemporary with the book of Acts. In particular, Philo emphasizes an interesting relationship:

Sound/Voice (of God) (h@xo$, cf. Acts 2:2)
{changed into}
Fire (pu=r/puro/$, cf. Acts 2:3)
{changed into / understood as}
Human language (dia/lekto$, cf. Acts 2:6ff)

which generally seems to follow the same logical/narrative sequence in Acts.

In addition to the Sinai theophany, there would seem also to be an echo of the “confusion of tongues” episode in the Tower of Babel narrative (Gen 11:1-9); as we shall see in the next day’s note, the Pentecost narrative almost certainly draws upon the eschatological motif of the restoration of a common human language as part of the imagery surrounding the inauguration of a Christian world mission.

May 31: Acts 2:1-13 (part 1)

In celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, I will be exploring the Pentecost Narrative in the book of Acts (Acts 2:1-13, cf. also the article “The Sending of the Spirit”), with one of three central themes highlighted for each of the three days of Pentecost (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday):

    1. Theophany
    2. Tongues of Fire
    3. The Restoration of Israel

To see how these three themes fit together, it is important to look at the introductory verse (v. 1) of the Narrative. Here I break out the specific words of this short verse:

    • kai\ (“and”)
    • e)n tw=| sumplhrou=sqai (“in the being filled up” [su/n as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
    • th\n h(me/ran th=$ pentekosth=$ (“the Fiftieth day”)
    • h@san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
    • pa/nte$ (“all”—all of them, together)
    • o(mou= (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar o(moqumado\n [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
    • e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (“upon the [same] thing”—this phrase occurs repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts, though somewhat obscured by conventional translations; it is indicative of the unity of the believers)

Here is the verse in literal translation:

“And in the Fiftieth day’s being filled completely, they were all at one upon the (same) thing [or, place]”

And in a more conventional translation:

“And when the Fiftieth day had been fufilled, they were all together in the same place.”
[As C. C. Torrey and other scholars have noted, the Greek may reflect an Aramaic expression “when the Weeks had been fulfilled” (e.g., aY`u^Wbv* <l^v=m!b=W), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (toub%v*) in Israelite and Jewish tradition (cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12). Fifty days (seven weeks) are counted from the offering of the firstfruit sheaf of grain at the time of Passover. Traditionally, it was also the time associated with the Sinai theophany and giving of the Law (Ex. 19:1ff). In the Exodus narrative, the entire camp of Israel was gathered together beneath the mountain “to meet God” (Ex. 19:17). Here, the disciples, too are gathered together in the same place and will “meet God”. Elements of the Sinai theophany also have their parallel in the manifestation of the Spirit, as we shall see. Indeed, this brings us specifically to the first theme of the narrative which I would emphasize, the subject of today’s note.

1. Theophany

Here the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) is recorded in dramatic fashion, in the language and imagery of Theophany. A theophany is a manifestation (literally “shining [forth]”) of God—at the historical level of Scriptural narrative, of course, this means a manifestation in time and space, one which can be observed by God’s people. Within the Old Testament tradition, specific manifestations of God (YHWH), are typically described (and experienced) in terms of natural phenomena—light, wind, fire, thunder, earthquake, and so forth.

Since the manifestation of God at Sinai (occurring at Pentecost, by tradition) was mentioned above, and is perhaps the most prominent such manifestation recorded in Scripture, it is worth looking at elements of that theophany:

    • Thunders (lit. “voices”) and lightnings (19:16)
    • A thick cloud
    • Fire went down upon the mountain; smoke (as of a furnace) went up from it (19:18), perhaps parallel to the cloud in v. 16.
    • The mountain “trembled” (or “quaked”); in v. 16 it is said the people trembled (same verb, drj)
    • The sound (lit. “voice”) of a horn (rp*ov, shofar) (19:19, also mentioned in v. 16), which sounded long and grew louder

Consider also the theophany to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12):

    • A great and strong wind (or “breath”, “spirit” j^Wr = pneu=ma) which swept through and tore at the mountain
    • An earthquake (“quaking”, “shaking” vu^r^)
    • Fire (va@)

all of which occur as God (hwhy) is “passing over” (or “passing by” rb@u), but God Himself is not in (b) the wind, quaking or fire. Then comes a quiet, thin voice.

Here is the manifestation of the Spirit as recorded in Acts (note the theophanic details in italics, with specific parallels in bold):

    1. “And suddenly there came to be out of the heaven a sound as of a violent wind [pnoh/] being carried (along) and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting” (2:2)
    2. “And there was seen [i.e. appeared] unto them tongues as if of fire divided through(out), and it sat upon each one of them” (2:3)
    3. “And they all were filled of/by (the) holy Spirit [pneu=ma] and began to speak in other tongues even as the Spirit gave (to) them to utter forth” (2:4)

The parallels with the Sinai theophany, especially, make clear that, to the author of Acts at least (and/or the underlying tradition he inherited), the coming of the Spirit is meant to indicate the very power and presence of God Himself. In this respect, the Acts narrative is somewhat different from the account of the coming of the Spirit in the Gospel of John (Jn 20:19-23), which, in light of the earlier Paraclete passages of the Discourses of Jesus in Jn 13-17, emphasizes the Spirit as the continuing presence of Jesus in the hearts and lives of his disciples. This is just one of several fundamental differences between the Lukan and Johannine accounts; however, one important point of emphasis they hold in common is that the coming of the Spirit is central to the empowering and equipping of the disciples for the Christian mission. This mission is only touched upon briefly in Jn 20:19ff (and again in the ‘epilogue’ of Jn 21), but it encompasses almost the entirety of the book of Acts. As we shall see, the theme of the mission to the wider (Jewish and Gentile) world is a thread underlying the Pentecost Narrative.

The Sending of the Spirit, Part 2: Book of Acts (2)

For introductory notes on the first chapter of Acts and other matters preliminary to the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2, see Part 1 of this article.

The main narrative of the sending of the Spirit during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) I divide as follows:

    1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), verse 1.
    2. Manifestation of the Spirit, verses 2-4.
    3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the crowds), verses 5-13.

I will discuss each of these in turn.

1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), Acts 2:1:

As I did for Acts 1:14 in Part 1, I break out the specific words of this short verse:

  • kai\ (“and”)
  • e)n tw=| sumplhrou=sqai (“in the being filled up” [su/n as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
  • th\n h(me/ran th=$ pentekosth=$ (“the Fiftieth day”)
  • h@san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
  • pa/nte$ (“all”—all of them, together)
  • o(mou= (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar o(moqumado\n [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
  • e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (“upon the [same] thing”—this phrase occurs repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts, though somewhat obscured by conventional translations; it is indicative of the unity of the believers)

Here is the verse in literal translation:

“And in the Fiftieth day’s being filled completely, they were all at one upon the (same) thing [or, place]”

And in a more conventional translation:

“And when the Fiftieth day had been fufilled, they were all together in the same place.”
[As C. C. Torrey and other scholars have noted, the Greek may reflect an Aramaic expression “when the Weeks had been fulfilled” (e.g., aY`u^Wbv* <l^v=m!b=W), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (toub%v*) in Israelite and Jewish tradition (cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12). Fifty days (seven weeks) are counted from the offering of the firstfruit sheaf of grain at the time of Passover. Traditionally, it was also the time associated with the Sinai theophany and giving of the Law (Ex. 19:1ff). In the Exodus narrative, the entire camp of Israel was gathered together beneath the mountain “to meet God” (Ex. 19:17). Here, the disciples, too are gathered together in the same place and will “meet God”. Elements of the Sinai theophany also have their parallel in the manifestation of the Spirit, as we shall see.

2. Manifestation of the Spirit, Acts 2:2-4:

Here the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) is recorded in dramatic fashion, in the language and imagery of Theophany. Since the manifestation of God at Sinai (occurring at Pentecost, by tradition) was mentioned above, it is worth looking at elements of that theophany:

    • Thunders (lit. “voices”) and lightnings (19:16)
    • A thick cloud
    • Fire went down upon the mountain; smoke (as of a furnace) went up from it (19:18), perhaps parallel to the cloud in v. 16.
    • The mountain “trembled” (or “quaked”); in v. 16 it is said the people trembled (same verb, drj)
    • The sound (lit. “voice”) of a horn (rp*ov, shofar) (19:19, also mentioned in v. 16), which sounded long and grew louder

Consider also the theophany to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12):

    • A great and strong wind (or “breath”, “spirit” j^Wr = pneu=ma) which swept through and tore at the mountain
    • An earthquake (“quaking”, “shaking” vu^r^)
    • Fire (va@)

all of which occur as God (hwhy) is “passing over” (or “passing by” rb@u), but God Himself is not in (b) the wind, quaking or fire. Then comes a quiet, thin voice.

Here is the manifestation of the Spirit as recorded in Acts (note the theophanic details in italics, with specific parallels in bold):

    1. “And suddenly there came to be out of the heaven a sound as of a violent wind [pnoh/] being carried (along) and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting” (2:2)
    2. “And there was seen [i.e. appeared] unto them tongues as if of fire divided through(out), and it sat upon each one of them” (2:3)
    3. “And they all were filled of/by (the) holy Spirit [pneu=ma] and began to speak in other tongues even as the Spirit gave (to) them to utter forth” (2:4)

Clearly, there is wordplay with “tongues (as if) of fire” [glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$] anticipating “with other tongues” [e(te/rai$ glw/ssai$] in v. 4. There is at least one other occurrence of the phrase “tongues of fire” from roughly the same period in a Qumran text (represented by fragments of 1Q29 and 4Q376: these with 4Q375 and 1Q22 may all be part of the same work). 1Q29 fragment 1 can be restored on the basis of 4Q376 (ellipses indicate gaps [lacunae] in the text):

“…the stone, like… they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire [va twnwvlb]; the stone which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after it [the cloud?] has been removed… and you shall keep and do all that he tells you. And the prophet … … who speaks apostasy … … YHWH, God of …”

Another tiny fragment reads: “… the right stone when the priest leaves … … three tongues of fire … … And after he shall go up and remove his shoes ….” (translations taken from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans 1997/2000, vol. 1 pp. 108-9). The words (possibly spoken by Moses) refer to an anointed Priest; the stones on the right and left (urim and thummim?) are associated both with light and the voice of the Priest as he addresses the assembly. It is possible the “three tongues” are also “divided out”, one over each stone, and one directly over the Priest in the middle.

There is some uncertainty whether the “other tongues” refer to an ecstatic ‘heavenly’ language or ‘earthly’ foreign languages. Other New Testament references (Acts 10:46; 19:6, and those in 1 Cor. 12-14) suggest the former, while the context here (cf. Acts 2:11) indicates the latter. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, in order to reflect both: (a) heavenly origin, and (b) the languages of the nations. Returning to the Sinai theophany, there is an old Jewish tradition that as the Torah (each word of God) went forth it was split into the seventy languages of the nations (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 88b); that is, each nation could hear the voice of God (the “thunderings”) in its own language (cf. Exodus Rabbah V.9). A tradition along these lines seems to be at least as old as Philo of Alexandria (On the Decalogue §46), and so nearly contemporary with the book of Acts.

3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the Crowd), Acts 2:5-13:

The following outline indicates the main elements of this section:

    • Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)
    • Response of the crowd (vv. 6b-11) in two aspects:
      1) Each person hears in his/her own language
      2) Nations respond in a (symbolic) united voice
    • Confusion (v. 12, see also in vv. 6-7)—”What does this wish to be?”

The mocking retort in v. 13 serves as a lead-in to Peter’s address in vv. 14-40. Let us look at each element in a little more detail:

a. Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)

The mention of “Jews” ( )Ioudai=oi) being in Jerusalem may seem unnecessary, but it is significant for at least two reasons: (1) to emphasize the underlying religious and cultural unity of the ‘nations’ present in the city, and (2) it draws attention to the (post-exilic) reality of the current situation. When Israel, and particularly the southern kingdom of Judah (centered at Jerusalem), was taken into exile, the people were dispersed among the nations; and it was in the “dispersion” (diaspora) that a distinctly Jewish identity developed. It is generally assumed that these Jews are sojourning in Jerusalem for the festival of Weeks (Pentecost); the verb katoike/w often implies a more permanent residence, but here may simply mean generally “to dwell”. These Jews are “from every nation under heaven”, and have come together in the city (for the festival). At the coming-to-be of “this voice” (th/ fwnh/), again Jews, symbolized as a specific crowd (plh=qo$), “come together” (sune/rxomai) in confusion (being “stirred together” [sugxe/w]). It is interesting that, just in the tradition regarding the Sinai theophany, the multitudes are hearing different languages but one voice.

b. Response of the Crowd (v. 6b-11)

V. 6b and 7a reprise the confusion—they “stood out of (their minds)” and “wondered” in amazement as they heard the disciples speaking. It is unnecessary to ask just how, when, or where these people heard the disciples—and altogether beside the point. The author has crafted a marvelous dramatic scene, with events (at the historical level) certainly having been compressed together into a single moment. Similarly, it is rather unlikely that a single person or group of persons in the crowd would have said precisely what the crowd is recorded as saying here. Instead, various reactions and responses are represented by one voice. This is important thematically, and, one might say, theologically as well. Often a creative literary device conveys far more truth than a ‘sober’ record of events. Consider several of the themes inherent in the crowd’s response:

  • The reference to the disciples as “Galileans” (Galilai=oi), while serving to emphasize the wonder of the situation, also creates a subtle shift stressing ethnic (and geographic) identity. Most of the disciples, and certainly the Twelve were Galileans (“men of Galilee”, 1:11). The early Christian mission began in Galilee (cf. 1:1-2), is centered in Jerusalem (by the united community of the Disciples), and will spread from there into all nations (1:8).
  • Two key references to hearing the voices speaking “in our own language” (th=| i)di/a| dialek/tw| h(mw=n, v. 8, cf. also v. 6) and “in our tongues” (tai=$ h(mete/rai$ glw/ssai$, v. 11) bracket the list of nations in vv. 9-11a. The importance of this description should by now be apparent. It may be useful to consider the qualifying phrase accompanying each reference:
    (1) V. 8: “in our own language in which we came to be born” [e)n h! e)gennh/qhmen]
    (2) V. 11: “(hear speaking) in our tongues the great (work)s of God” [ta\ megalei=a tou= qeou=]
    The first phrase clearly indicates ethnic sense; the second echoes Old Testament language whereby news of the great and glorious deeds of God is spread into the surrounding nations (cf. Ex. 15:11ff, and many others)—geographic sense.
  • The list of nations (vv. 9-11) has been a source of some confusion, as indicated by the number of textual variants and proposed emendations. However, much of the difficulty disappears when its literary nature is recognized, rather than simply being a list rattled off by someone in the crowd. The inclusion of “Judea” has seemed strange (since Jews are speaking, and they are already in Judea!) as well as its position, leading to many suggested emendations; however, as a separate geographical list it actually makes sense—moving from East (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia) to West (Anatolian/Asian provinces, Egypt, Lybia, Cyrene and Italy) with Judea in the middle. While still a bit uneven (the final two, Cretans and Arabs, don’t fit in order as well) and not without difficulties, its significance as a list of the (known and relevant) surrounding nations is obvious.

c. Confusion (v. 12, cf. also vv. 6-7)

The confusion of the crowd is re-iterated, stating that they all were beside themselves (again e)ci/sthmi, lit. “stand out of [one’s mind]” v. 7) and “thoroughly at a loss” (diapore/w). Their summary response is: ti/ qe/lei tou=to ei@nai; (literally “what does this wish to be?”), often translated more conventionally as “what does this mean?”—however a more literal rendering preserves better a sense of the strange, dynamic nature of the situation in which the crowd finds itself: events almost seem to have a will of their own! The ironic, mocking retort that closes the crowd’s response (“they are filled with sweet [wine]!”), of course, serves to lead into Peter’s great Pentecost speech (vv. 14-40). The disciples are indeed “filled” (plh/qw) with the Spirit (v. 4), rather than “filled” (mesto/w, a somewhat cruder verb which can indicate “stuffed”, “intoxicated”) with ordinary wine.

In conclusion, it is perhaps worth considering again the theme of the “restoration of Israel” in light of the Pentecost narrative:

  • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
    • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
      • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
    • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
  • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)