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)

June 17: Acts 2:1-4ff

Acts 2:1-4ff

The Pentecost narrative in Acts 2:1-13 is the centerpiece of the early chapters of Acts. From the standpoint of the Lukan Spirit-theme, the opening chapters of Acts parallel those of the Gospel. Note the parallelism:

    • Announcement that the Spirit will “come upon” (e)pe/rxomai) Mary (Lk 1:35)
      Announcement that the Spirit will “come upon” (e)pe/rxomai) the disciples (Acts 1:8)
    • The Spirit descends upon Jesus at the Baptism (Lk 3:22)
      The Spirit descends upon believers in the Pentecost scene (Acts 2:3)
    • Jesus is filled with the Spirit (Lk 4:1)
      The believers are filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4)
    • Jesus proclaims the coming of the Spirit as the fulfillment of Prophecy (Isa 61:1-2, Lk 4:17-19ff)
      The believers (Peter) proclaim the coming of the Spirit as the fulfillment of Prophecy (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:16-21)
    • The coming of the Spirit is connected with the proclamation of the Gospel, marking the beginning of the New Age (Lk 4:18, 21; Acts 2:16-21ff, 41)

From a literary standpoint, the Spirit-theme is related to the Kingdom-theme of the narrative in chaps. 1-2 (1:3, 6-8, cf. the discussion in the previous note). An outline of the Pentecost scene illustrates how these themes are developed.

    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 briefly discuss each of these in turn.

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

To see how this theme of unity is expressed, it is worth breaking 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” (v. 8, cf. also v. 6) and “in our tongues” (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, 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 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)

Peter’s sermon-speech that follows (vv. 14-40, Parts 2 and 3 in the series “The Speeches of Acts”) serves as an exposition of the Pentecost scene. It also effectively expounds the key statement by Jesus in 1:8, identifying the end-time Kingdom of God on earth with the presence of the Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel. Peter’s declaration in v. 33 essentially restates the words of Jesus in Lk 24:49 and Acts 1:4, identifying the coming of the Spirit as the fulfillment of God’s promise (e)paggeli/a) to His people (for more on this, cf. the discussion in the prior note).

June 16: Acts 1:8 (continued)

Acts 1:8, continued

As we turn toward the Pentecost narrative in Acts, it is most useful 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: a detailed outline will be given in Part 2)
      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)

Let us consider the sections immediately surrounding the exchange between Jesus and his disciples in 1:6-8. We begin with the Lukan introduction (1:1-5); the historical summary (vv. 2-4a) has, at its heart, the double phrase:
oi!$ kai\ pare/sthsen e(auto\n zw=nta meta\ to\ paqei=n au)to\n e)n polloi=$ tekmhri/oi$,
di’ h(merw=n tessera/konta o)ptano/meno$ au)toi=$ kai\ le/gwn ta\ peri\ th=$ basilei/a$ tou= qeou=
“…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 dipped/dunked in/with water, but (on the other hand), you will be dipped/dunked in the Holy Spirit after not many (of) these days”

The ascension of Jesus is narrated in vv. 9-11. We can see how vv. 6-8 fit into the immediate narrative structure:

    • 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 will have discussed it in detail in an earlier article. Here is a summary outline of the 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. Most importantly, Jesus effectively defines the Kingdom for his disciples as two-fold, according to two fundamental aspects:

    • The empowering presence of the Spirit (“you shall receive [the] power of the holy Spirit…”)
    • The proclamation of the Gospel (“you shall be my witnesses…”)

Thus, the missionary work of the early believers, following the coming of the Spirit upon them (2:1-4ff), represents the establishment of the Kingdom in this New Age (New Covenant) for the people of God. In this regard, it is worth considering the fascinating textual variant in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, the petition for the coming of the Kingdom (11:2, e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou, “my your kingdom come”). In several texual witnesses, this petition is replaced by a request for the coming of the Spirit. In minuscule MS 700, this reads: e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqrisa/tw h(ma=$ (“may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”). This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

The two episodes that follow the Ascension, continue the development of this Kingdom-theme, preparing the ground for the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. First we have the transitional narrative summary in vv. 12-14; note the key motifs:

    • 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?

In vv. 15-26 we have a narrative episode that may be entitled “The Reconstitution of the Twelve.” 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.

At the close of the chapter, things are prepared for the coming of the Spirit upon the believers. The Twelve have been restored, the believers are all gathered together, in Jerusalem, in one place; and they are similarly united in spirit, being “of one impulse” (o(moqumado/n, i.e., “of one mind, with one purpose”), being especially united in prayer (cf. my recent study in the “Monday Notes on Prayer”). What follows in chapter 2 represents the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8 (also v. 4 and Lk 24:49). This we will examine in the next note.

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.

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

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

This week’s study, in celebration of Pentecost, will focus 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). This is one of three Scriptures cited in the speech, and the second of two major citations (the other being Psalm 16:8-11) that anchor the speech and frame the kerygma (Gospel proclamation) in verses 22-24.

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 will be discussed in this study; the second and third will be addressed in a follow-up study next week.

The original context of Joel 2:28-32

The work is comprised of four distinct oracles—1:2-20, 2:1-17, 2:18-32[3:5], and 3:1-21 [4:1-21]. The first two oracles focus on the coming invasion, with a call to repentance, and mourning in light of the destruction that this judgment will bring (as devastating to the people as a massive locust-attack on the crops). In the last two oracles, the focus shifts to the promise of restoration/renewal—the onset of a period of peace and prosperity—along with the ultimate judgment on the nations.

The dating of the book has varied considerably, and there continue to be differences of opinion among commentators. The (military) invasion by a foreign power (1:6ff), compared to a locust-attack (v. 4, cf. Judg 6:5; 7:12; Prov 30:27; Nah 3:15-16; Jer 46:23), would naturally focus the context on the campaigns and conquests of either the Assyrian or Babylonian forces. In the case of an invasion threatening Judah/Jerusalem, this would mean a time-frame corresponding to either 701 or 598/588 B.C., respectively. The apocalyptic and eschatological elements in the oracles of chapters 2 and 3 make a 6th century setting much more likely.

A basic outline of the book is as follows:

    • Joel 1:2-20: A lamentation for the land which has been desolated by a locust invasion (probably symbolic of a enemy military invasion)
    • Joel 2:1-11: Announcement to Judah/Jerusalem of an impending enemy invasion, with eschatological characteristics—it is God’s own judgment on the land, signifying the “day of YHWH” (verse 11)
      • Joel 2:12-17: A call to repentance for all the people in the land
    • Joel 2:18-27: A declaration that God will restore the fertility and bounty of the land, bringing blessing back to the people (described in material terms, as recovery from the locust attack)
    • Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]: A promise of spiritual blessing (i.e. the pouring out of God’s own Spirit) upon the all the people in the land—this will follow after the material blessing and restoration mentioned previously, and relates specifically to the survivors (i.e. the remnant) of the judgment (v. 32 [3:5]).
    • Joel 3:1-16 [4:1-16 Heb]: Announcement of God’s judgment on the Nations (following the restoration of Judah/Jerusalem, v. 1)—again this signifies the eschatological “day of YHWH” (v. 14, cf. 2:11).
      • Joel 3:17-21 [4:17-21 Heb]: The future fates of Judah/Jerusalem and the Nations are contrasted.

It could also be outlined more simply as:

    • 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

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.

The oracles in 2:18-3:21 demonstrate a strong apocalyptic and eschatological emphasis, typical of a tendency that developed in the Prophetic writings of the exilic and post-exilic period. The trauma of the Exile (both for the northern and southern Kingdoms) led to this emphasis on a future hope—when Israel would be restored, and there would be a reversal of fortune, whereby the people of Israel would flourish in a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, while the nations (collectively) would face judgment. Joel 3 is one of the few passages in the Old Testament—and perhaps the earliest of these—where the “day of YHWH” motif, and the nation-oracle message of judgment (against individual nations), was broadened to apply to all the nations together.

The oracle of 2:18-32 [Heb 2:18-3:5] itself can be divided into three parts:

    • Vv. 18-20—A promise of salvation, in terms of the defeat/removal of the invading forces (from the north)
    • Vv. 21-27—A time of peace and prosperity—especially in terms of the fertility and (agricultural) fruitfulness of the land
    • Vv. 28-32 [3:1-5]—The manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people, as part of a powerful theophany that anticipates the judgment of the nations (chap. 3)

There is a similar sort of dual-aspect of Land/People in Isa 44:3 (which I discussed in a prior study):

    • Blessing on the landwater poured out on it, irrigating the fields and making them fertile again
    • Blessing on the people—the spirit poured out on them, stimulating the people and making them fertile (in a religious, ethical, and spiritual sense)

The second aspect—the pouring out of the spirit [rûaµ] of God—is expressed in vv. 28-29. What is especially notable, however, is the way that the idea of the spirit coming upon all the people is defined in such precise detail. Here is a translation of vv. 28-29 from the Hebrew (3:1-2):

“And it will be, following this, (that)
I will pour out my spirit [rûaµ] upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters will act as n¹»î°,
and your older (one)s will dream dreams,
and your choice (young one)s will see visions;
and even upon the servants and upon the (serv)ing maids,
will I pour out my spirit in those days.”

The term n¹»î° is key, and has been left untranslated above. In the ancient Near Eastern religious setting, a n¹»î° was essentially a spokesperson for God—that is, one who communicates the word and will of God to the people. The term is translated in Greek as proph¢¡t¢s, and again into English as “prophet”. Such a person was chosen and gifted, by the Spirit of God, to function in that leadership role.

In ancient Israel, the ideal of charismatic, Spirit-empowered leadership very much dominated the early tradition. The people were governed by an inspired n¹»î° (or ‘prophet’), beginning with Moses and his successor Joshua, followed by the Judges and the great prophet-figure of Samuel. The early kingship (Saul and David) continued to exhibit this same charismatic-prophetic character, though gradually the prophetic role evolved into a separate office employed by the royal court. In any case, only certain individuals were chosen and gifted (by God) to serve as a genuine n¹»î°.

An important theme, found theme found at a number of points in the Prophetic writings reflects what we might call a ‘democratization’ of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership. That is to say, the Spirit of God comes upon the land and its people as a whole, rather than on select individuals. This idea seems to have developed among the later Prophets, likely as a reaction (at least in part) to the trauma of the Exile. The collapse of the Israelite/Judean kingdoms, and the loss of the monarchy, left a void for the principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Two separate, distinct concepts took root during the exile, in response to this void.

On the one hand, the hope for a future ruler from the line of David, who would restore the fortunes of Israel, became an important component of Messianic thought; the roots of this tradition can be found in the exilic Prophetic writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. At the same time, an entirely different line of thought took shape—that of the anointed/inspired Community. Both of these lines of tradition coalesced in the Qumran Community, and, somewhat similarly, among the early Christians as well.

This ‘new’ manifestation of the Spirit can be seen, for example, in the Deutero-Isaian passage of Isa 44:1-5 (v. 3); other relevant passages can be found in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. In some respects, however, these Prophetic texts are simply drawing upon much earlier aspects of Israelite historical tradition. Consider the Moses tradition(s) in Numbers 11:10-30, which I examined in a prior study in the series “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”. By all accounts, these have to be at least as old as the historical traditions in Judges and Samuel, with their striking record of the ancient principle of charismatic (spirit-inspired) leadership at work.

In the Numbers passage, the inspired status of Moses—as the spokesperson (n¹»î°) and intermediary between YHWH and the people—is broadened out to include 70 chosen/appointed elders (vv. 16-17ff). The wording to describe this process is most significant:

(YHWH speaking) “And I will lay aside (something) from (the) spirit [rûaµ] that is upon you, and I will set (it) upon them…”

When this occurs in the narrative (vv. 25ff), the 70 elders begin to “act as a n¹»î°” , just like Moses—i.e., they become active, inspired (prophetic) leaders, who communicate the word and will of God to the people. When Moses’ young attendant Joshua becomes alarmed at this, the great leader utters an extraordinary statement that broadens the prophetic/inspired gift even further:

“Who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) n®»î°îm, (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [rûaµ] upon them!” (v. 29)

Ideally, all the people would function as inspired leaders/spokespersons, gifted to know and understand the word and will of YHWH directly from Him. This doubtless relates to the broader tradition of Israel as a holy, chosen people, a nation made up entirely of anointed/inspired priests and kings, etc (Exod 19:6). The ideal could not be maintained initially, as reflected by the people’s response to hearing and experiencing the voice of God at Sinai (20:18-21). Moses came to be designated as the spokesperson (n¹»î°), and, similarly, certain individuals (and only they) were selected to function as priests.

In the time of Israel’s restoration, a new covenant will be established between God and His people (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, etc). It marks the beginning of a New Age, and oracles such as Joel 2:28-32 are thus eschatological, describing the things that will happen at the end of the current Age (judgment of the nations, etc) and the beginning of the new.

How does the reference to the Spirit in vv. 28-29 fit into this eschatological framework, in light of our discussion above? We may gain a better sense of this by considering the thematic structure of the oracle chiastically, as follows:

    • Promise of salvation for the land and its people (vv. 18-20)
      • God’s presence brings life and blessing to the land of Israel (vv. 21-26)
        • He dwells in the midst of His people (v. 27)
        • He pours His Spirit on all the people (vv. 28-29)
      • God’s presence brings judgment to the earth and its nations (vv. 30-31)
    • Promise of salvation for Jerusalem (Zion) and its people (v. 32)

The spirit (rûaµ) of YHWH essentially refers to His presence, reflecting a manner of expression well-established in Old Testament tradition, going back to the Creation narratives. Thus the “pouring out” of His Spirit is a symbolic expression related to the presence of YHWH among His people. The era of the restored Israel essentially marks a return to the initial moment of the Sinai theophany, when the people collectively stood in God’s presence, prior to the designation of Moses as the spokesperson (n¹»î°) who would stand in their place (Exod 20:18-21). Now all the people are such spokespersons or ‘prophets’ (n®»î°îm), no longer requiring any select individual to serve as intermediary. Now the entire Community is inspired, with the Spirit coming upon them even as it once did the king (at his anointing), or upon the person gifted to function as a n¹»î°.

With this background of Joel 2:28-32 in view—especially the eschatological aspect of the promise of God’s Spirit (the prophetic Spirit) coming upon all of the people—we may now turn to the application this prophecy in the book of Acts. This we will do in next week’s study.

Notes on Prayer: Acts 4:23-31

Among the speeches (and sermon-speeches) in the book of Acts, that of 4:23-31 is properly not a speech, but a prayer to God. One might even make the claim that it is the earliest Christian prayer on record. Certainly, to the extent that what the author presents in these verses accurately reflects the historical situation, such a claim would be justified. The prayer-speech in 4:23-31 is, however, a literary work more than it is a stenographic record of what was said at the time. It takes the words, thoughts, and sentiments of the early Jerusalem Christians, and presents them as a single voice. This is appropriate, since the narrative in chapters 1-8 repeatedly emphasizes the unity of believers—how they were all of a single mind and purpose, best expressed by the use of the term o(moqumado/n (“[with] one impulse”, cf. 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6). This unity of thought and purpose is reflected in the prayer of believers, as indeed it should be for us today.

For the Monday following Pentecost (“Pentecost Monday”), I thought it worth providing a study, as part of the “Monday Notes on Prayer” feature on this site, of the prayer-speech in 4:23-31. In doing so, I have adapted an article from my earlier series on the “Speeches of Acts”. In considering the context of Acts 4:23-31, it is best to begin with an outline of chapters 3 and 4, dividing the overall arc into three distinct narrative sections, each of which contains a speech. 4:23-31 belongs to the third (final) section:

    • Introductory/Core Narrative—the healing Miracle (3:1-10)
    • First speech by Peter (3:12-26), with narrative introduction in v. 11 joining to v. 1-10
    • Narrative Summary (4:1-4)
    • Second Narrative (introduction)—Peter and John brought before the Sanhedrin (4:5-7)
    • Second speech by Peter (4:8-12)
    • Narrative Conclusion/Summary (4:13-22)
    • Third Narrative (introduction)—Disciples gather together (4:23)
    • Speech (Prayer) by the Disciples, addressed to God (4:24-30)
    • Narrative Summary (4:31)

Even if 4:23-31 is properly a prayer to God, it very much follows the same sermon-speech pattern that governs the other speeches in the book:

    • Narrative Introduction (v. 23)
    • Introductory Address, with kerygmatic detail (v. 24)
    • Citation from Scripture (vv. 25-26)
    • Exposition and Application (vv. 27-28)
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 29-30)
    • Narrative Summary (v. 31)

This confirms the literary character of the prayer-speech, and makes it unique and distinctive among the notable examples of early Christian prayer.

Narrative Introduction (verse 23)—this introduction also joins with the narrative in vv. 13-22, emphasizing succinctly several points which are key motifs in the book of Acts:

    • the disciples are loosed [i.e. set free] from (custody)—the opening participle a)poluqe/nte$
    • they go (return) to “th(eir) own (people)” [tou\$ i)di/ou$]—i.e. their fellow believers, gathered together (implied)
    • they give forth the message (a)ph/ggeilan) regarding what was said and done to them—part of the overall message/proclamation of the apostles

Introductory Address (verse 24)—this follows the same narrative pattern used in v. 23:

    • “and being loosed from (custody), they went…and announced….” (v. 23)
    • “and (the ones) hearing,… they lifted up voice…” (v. 24)

Here we also find the keyword o(muqumado/n (homothumadón), mentioned above— “of one impulse” (or, “of one mind, of one accord”), used numerous times throughout the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:46; 5:12; 8:6) to express Christian unity and solidarity.

Since vv. 23-31 represents a prayer (and not an ordinary speech), the address is not to a surrounding crowd, but to God. Parallels to this prayer in Isaiah 37:16-20; 2 Kings 19:15-19 (Hezekiah’s prayer) have been noted, and the author (or an underlying tradition) may have used the OT passage as a pattern; note also similarities of language in Psalm 146:6; Neh 9:6. The title despo/th$ (despót¢s), “master, ruler”, used in addressing God, is somewhat rare in the New Testament, though by no means uncommon (Lk 2:29; 1 Tim 6:1-2; 1 Pet 2:18, etc). For the use of this conventional, ritualistic language for God as Creator elsewhere in early Christian preaching, see esp. Acts 14:15.

Citation from Scripture (verses 25-26)—this is from Psalm 2 (vv. 1-2), one of the most popular and often-cited “messianic” Psalms in the early Church (see my earlier study on this Psalm), verse 7 being especially applied to Jesus (in Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5, and Luke 3:22b [v.l.]). But verses 1-2 also seem early on to have been related to Jesus’ suffering and death, in much the same way that they are interpreted here in Acts 4:25b-26. Cf. on the Exposition below.

The text of Psalm 2:1-2 here matches that of the Greek LXX precisely. However, nearly all scholars and textual critics are in agreement that the sentence which introduces the Scripture (in v. 25a), at least as reflected in the ‘earliest and best’ manuscripts (Ë74 a A B E 33 al), is syntactically garbled, preserving a primitive corruption. This is not so obvious in standard English translations (which attempt to smooth over the text), but is readily apparent in Greek. A literal rendering of the text as it stands (such as in the NA27 critical edition) is nearly impossible:

“the (one who) of our Father through the holy Spirit (of[?] the) mouth of David your child, said…”

The Majority text (primarily much later MSS) reads simply “the (one who) said through the mouth of David your child…” But this is generally regarded as a natural simplification and clarification; for, if it were original, how could the apparent confusion in early, otherwise reliable MSS such as B et al ever have been introduced? There are a number of suggestions to explain the older text, such as mistranslation from an Aramaic original. An interesting theory holds that Acts was left in an unfinished state, and v. 25a had different drafts of the sentence which ended up being accidentally combined; indeed, there do appear to be three distinct phrases jumbled together: (a) “through our father (David)…”, (b) “through the holy Spirit…”, (c) “through David your child/servant…”. I am somewhat inclined to think that tou= patro\$ h(mw=n was originally a reference to God as “the One (who is) of our Fathers [pl.] (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)”, as in Acts 3:13, but was subsequently misread as referring to David. The remaining confusion then has to do with the position (and place) of pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou (“[of] the holy Spirit”), either as a mistaken insertion, or as part of a complicated syntax which scribes found difficult to follow. Perhaps the original text (at least the basic sense of it) would have been something like:

“the (God) of our Fathers, (who) by the holy Spirit, through the mouth of David your child/servant, said…”

For more on detail on the text of v. 25a, see the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament (2d edition), pp. 279-281.

Exposition and Application (verse 27-28)

The key verb from Ps 2:1-2 (suna/gw, “lead/bring together”) is given in emphatic position in verse 27: “For upon truth [i.e. truly] they were brought together [sunh/xqhsan]…”, using the same form of the verb as in the Psalm (cf. also a similar use earlier in 4:5). The expression e)p’ a)lhqei/a$ (“upon truth, truly”) is common in the LXX and is used elsewhere in Luke-Acts (Lk 4:25; 20:21; 22:59; Acts 10:34); here it emphasizes the fulfillment of the Psalm (understood as prophecy). The specific application continues with the next phrase—”in this city, upon your holy child Yeshua whom you anointed…” The use of “child/servant” (pai=$) and the image of Jesus specifically as “Anointed” (xristo/$, here the verb xri/w [cf. Lk 4:18; Acts 10:38]) echo kerygmatic statements in the earlier sermon-speeches (in Acts 3:13, etc). Also expressed previously (cf. Acts 2:23), is the idea that the suffering and death of Jesus took place according to the sovereign will, foreknowledge and (predetermined) plan of God (v. 28). There seems to be a precise fulfillment for each of the four groups mentioned in Ps 2:1-2:

    1. The Nations [i.e. Gentiles/non-Jews] (e&qnh)—in v. 27 the e&qnh are principally the Romans (i.e. Roman government).
    2. The Peoples [laoi/], originally synonymous with e&qnh, but in v. 27 clarified as the “peoples [pl.] of Israel” (i.e. the Jewish people collectively, or generally).
    3. The Kings [oi( basilei=$]—here, king Herod (cf. Lk 23:6-12, otherwise Herod does not appear in the Passion accounts).
    4. The Chiefs/Rulers [oi( a&rxonte$]—i.e. the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who plays a key role in the Passion narrative and early kerygma.

Originally, Psalm 2 was a royal psalm presumably set in the context of the inauguration/coronation/enthronement of the (new) king. The accession of a new king (often a child or young man) was typically an occasion when vassals and ambitious nobles might take the opportunity to rebel and carve out power or territory for themselves. This is the situation generally described in vv. 1-3; God’s response, with a promise to stand by the king and secure his rule, follows in vv. 4ff. The king was anointed (v. 2) and, symbolically, was also God’s son (v. 7)—two titles and expressions which, of course, caused this Psalm to be applied to Jesus from the earliest time.

Concluding Exhortation (verses 29-30)

As this speech is a prayer, the exhortation primarily takes the form of a request/petition to God: “And now [kai\ ta\ nu=n], Lord, look upon [e)pi/de]…” For the expression  kai\ ta\ nu=n, cf. 2 Kings 19:19 [LXX] and in Acts 5:38; 17:30; 20:32; 27:22; or a similar contextual parallel to the imperative e)pi/de, cf. Isa 37:17 [LXX]. There are two parts to the request:

    1. look upon [e)pi/de] their [i.e. the religious leaders’] threatening (words and action)s
    2. give [do/$] to believers [God’s slaves/servants] so that they are able, with all parrhsi/a… —to speak [lalei=n] God’s word (i.e. God speaking through the believers) —to stretch out [e)ktei/en] God’s hand, in order to bring about healing and for there to be “signs and wonders”

They clearly ask to be made instruments of God’s own work and power, with the emphasis that miracles come to be done “through the name” [dia\ tou= o)no/mato$] of Jesus (cf. Acts 2:21, 38; 3:6, 16; 4:7, 10, 12, 17-18). Note also the references again to Jesus as “holy” [a%gio$] and “child/servant” [pai=$], titles characteristic of early Gospel preaching in Acts.

Two other expressions are worthy of special notice:

    • the term parrhsi/a, “speaking out (with) all (freedom/boldness)”, i.e. “out-spokenness”—a key word in Acts (cf. 2:29; 4:13, 31, and again in the concluding verse 28:31); it implies speaking openly, in public.
    • “speak the word (of God)” [lalei=n to\n lo/gon]—a common theme and expression in the book, cf. Acts 4:29, 31; 8:25; 11:19f; 13:46; 14:1, 25; 16:6, 31; and similarly (with variation) in several dozen other verses. Lo/go$, typically translated “word” is perhaps better rendered “account”, as this emphasizes the descriptive and narrative element central to early Gospel preaching and proclamation.

Both of these details appear together again at the end of verse 31 (below).

Narrative Summary (verse 31)

“And (on) making their need (known) [i.e. making their request], the place in which they were brought together was shaken, and they all were filled (full) of the holy Spirit and spoke the word/account [e)la/loun to\n lo/gon] of God with all (freedom/boldness) of speech [parrhsi/a$].”

This verse echoes the earlier manifestation of the Spirit in the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-4); the common elements are:

    • The disciples are all together (in one place) [2:1, the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/]
    • The manifestation of the Spirit is accompanied by theophanous elements—in 2:2 there is the sound of a mighty wind and appearance of fire; in 4:31 there is shaking (saleu/w), as of an earthquake.
    • The disciples are all filled with the holy Spirit (2:4)

Shaking (or an earthquake) is a common feature of God’s manifestation (theophany) to human beings—cf. Exodus 19:18; 1 Kings 19:11; Isa 6:4; also Josephus Antiquities 7.76-77. This sort of divine appearance in response to prayer may not have a precise parallel in the Old Testament, but it is certainly common enough to ancient religious thought (and experience)—for examples from the Greco-Roman world, cf. Ovid Metamorphoses 15.669-72, Virgil Aeneid 3.88-91 [for these and several other references above, I am indebted to E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles (Westminster Press: 1971), pp. 226-229].

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).

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Pt 1)

In this next portion of the series Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament I will be exploring the early Christian preaching as recorded in the book of Acts. Upon a casual reading, it would appear that eschatology is not very important in the book, since the author himself does not emphasize it explicitly in the narratives, and, even in the various sermon-speeches, statements regarding the ‘end times’ are relatively slight. However, when one considers the two-volume work of the Gospel and Acts together, it is abundantly clear that the context of the entire volume of the ‘Acts’ of the Apostles is, in fact, eschatological. Before proceeding to examine individual passages, it will be important to isolate several of the principal themes of Luke-Acts, and how they relate to the eschatological worldview of early Christians. There are three themes, in particular:

    1. A period of missionary activity by the followers of Jesus, and the persecution they will endure; the eschatological basis for this is established in the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (21:5-36 in Luke)
    2. The mission to the Gentiles—a Messianic/eschatological context by way of a number of key passages in the Prophets, as interpreted by early Christians
    3. The coming and work of the Holy Spirit—a sign that the early Christians were living in the “last days”

Beyond this, we must deal with the central fact that the very belief that Jesus is the Anointed One (‘Messiah’), according to whichever Messianic figure-types are in view, is fundamentally eschatological. This is discussed in an earlier article of this series, as well as all throughout the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The uniquely Christian adaptation of Messianic thought also affects the eschatological outlook of early believers, and may be summarized as follows, under two points:

    • Jesus is identified with all of the main Messianic figure-types attested at the time; the appearance of these figures was generally understood to coincide with end of the current Age and the beginning of the Age-to-Come. Thus, it meant that believers in Christ were living in the “last days”—the time just prior to the divine Judgment that marks the end of the (current) Age.
    • At the same time, Jesus, in his lifetime, did not fulfill all of the end-time actions expected of these Messianic figures—esp. the Davidic ruler figure-type, but also the “Son of Man” heavenly-deliverer type. The complete fulfillment of these Messianic roles would not—indeed, could not—take place until the return of Jesus, at an indeterminate time in the (near) future.

We will see both of these points clearly enough as we proceed through all the remaining eschatological/prophetic passages in the New Testament, but they could already be glimpsed in the way that the traditional material—sayings and parables of Jesus, along with the “Eschatological Discourse”—was handled by the three Synoptic Gospel writers, which we studied in detail in the prior articles. It is important to keep them in mind in this study of the early Christian eschatology in the book of Acts. As it happens, the three eschatological themes outlined above, are all present, combined, in the keystone passage at the beginning of the Acts—the transitional episode (1:6-11) between the introduction and the Pentecost narrative(s).

Acts 1:6-11

I have already examined this passage in some detail in earlier notes (cf. the 4-part series “The Sending of the Spirit”). It may be summarized as Jesus’ farewell to his disciples, and outlined as follows:

    • Question by the disciples (v. 6)
    • Jesus’ answer—commission to the disciples (vv. 7-8)
    • Jesus’ departure from earth (v. 9)
    • Angelic announcement to the disciples (vv. 10-11)

There is eschatological significance to each of these elements, which must be briefly considered.

Verse 6

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”. The eschatological significance of this verb likely stems from its use in Malachi 3:23 LXX.

This question by the disciples reflects aspects of Messianic (and eschatological) thought shared by many Jews of the first centuries B.C./A.D.—of the restoration of Israel which would occur at the end of the current Age. This was associated, in particular, with the Davidic ruler figure-type—an anointed Ruler from the line of David who, it was believed, will subdue the wicked nations and deliver the people of Israel, establishing a Kingdom even greater than that ruled by David and Solomon centuries before. Whether this Messianic Age (and Kingdom) coincides with the Age to Come, or represents a period preceding it, there can be no doubt that the idea and expectation is fundamentally eschatological. On this Messianic figure-type, cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the separate article (Part 5) on the “Kingdom of God”; for more on the Kingdom concept, see also the 2-part article “…the things about the Kingdom of God”. Given the importance of the Kingdom concept in Jesus’ preaching from the very beginning (cf. the earlier article on Mark 1:15 par), and its definite eschatological aspects, it was reasonable that his followers, still operating under the traditional Jewish understanding of the time, would expect that the Messiah (Jesus) would fulfill his role as Davidic Ruler and establish the end-time Kingdom of God on earth. This idea runs through the Gospels and is evident in various ways, especially within the Gospel of Luke; on this traditional Messianic expectation, see, for example, Lk 1:67-75; 2:1-14, 25-26, 38; 17:20; 19:11, 38; 23:51. Such a Kingdom was not established by Jesus prior to his death, even when it might have been expected (19:11, 38); now, surely, after his resurrection from the dead, this would occur.

Verses 7-8

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 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.”

The focus is not on the traditional Messianic expectation, but on the unique mission, which they—his followers—were to carry out in his name. It is fair to understand this mission as the way the (Messianic) Kingdom would be realized on earth—through the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of the Spirit. In this regard, it is important to note the interesting variant in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (11:2)—instead of the majority reading “may your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) have “may your holy Spirit come [upon us] and cleanse us” (e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion [e)f’ h(ma=$] kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$). Such a reading was also known by Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century (followed by Maximus Confessor), and traces of it are found earlier in Tertullian’s work Against Marcion (4:26). The context of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke specifically relates prayer to a request by believers for the Holy Spirit (11:13), and helps to establish the basic connection of the Kingdom of God with the coming of the Spirit, as we see here in Acts 1:7-8ff. Moreover, the early Christian mission itself, summarized here by Jesus’ words, “and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Yerushalaim {Jerusalem}, and [in] all of Yehudah {Judea} and Shimron {Samaria}, and unto the end of the earth”, within the Acts narrative structure, is closely connected to the idea of the restoration of Israel, as I have discussed previously. This may be summarized as follows:

    • 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)

Verse 9

“And having said these (thing)s, (with) their looking at (him), he was lifted upon (the air) and a cloud took him under, (away) from their eyes.”

This verse narrates Jesus’ departure from earth, i.e. his ascension into the heavens. In the Gospel of John, this is described theologically, in terms of his return back to the Father; here, we have the traditional visual idea of being raised up to Heaven (where God the Father dwells). Two specific details are mentioned in relation to this “ascension”: (a) being taken into a cloud, and (b) that he was no longer seen by them (lit. “[taken] away from their eyes”). This first is important quite apart from the obvious association of the cloud with divine manifestation (theophany, Lk 3:21-22; 9:34-35 par), due to the eschatological-Messianic image (from Daniel 7:13-14) of the Son of Man “coming in/on (the) clouds”. This represents the final, climactic moment of the “Eschatological Discourse” (Lk 21:27-28 par), marking the end of the current Age, and is also mentioned as the climactic point in the Synoptic scene of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62; par Lk 22:69). The second detail relates to the uniquely Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, as noted above. The fact that he is no longer to be seen on earth by his disciples, means that he is now in heaven, having been exalted to the right hand of God the Father—a central element of the earliest Gospel proclamation and understanding of Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God. There are two key aspects of his presence in heaven (and not on earth) which are essential to the early Christian preaching, and its eschatology, as recorded in the book of Acts:

    • It is this exaltation to God’s right hand which makes Jesus fundamentally different from the traditional idea of the Messiah (as David Ruler, etc)—he has a divine/heavenly status which informs his (Messianic) identity as “Son of God”, but also identifies him with the Danielic (7:13-14, etc) deliverer figure known by the title “Son of Man”
    • It is from this exalted position in Heaven that Jesus will come (back) down to earth to usher in the Last Judgment, and to deliver the faithful ones of God’s people (i.e. believers) at the end-time. While the idea that a Messianic figure would appear from heaven is not unknown in Jewish tradition of the time, rarely (if ever) is it so clear and specific as the early Christian view was.

Verses 10-11

This brings us to the final element of the passage, the announcement of the two heavenly/angelic men in white to the disciples. Their message, echoing the scene of the ascension itself, emphasizes three important details:

    • The focus on the heavenly location from which Jesus will appear—i.e. Jesus as the heavenly deliverer (“Son of Man”) at the end-time
    • That he will come again in the same manner he departed implies an appearance “coming in the clouds” which also identifies him as the “Son of Man” figure (of Dan 7:13-14 etc)
    • It is effectively a promise that Jesus (the Anointed One) will soon return, completing his Messianic role on earth—i.e. realizing the Kingdom of God, delivering the faithful, and ushering in God’s Judgment

Having examined this first passage, it is now necessary to consider the eschatological elements and details in the various sermon-speeches of Acts. It continues to be a point of debate among New Testament scholars and commentators as to whether, or to what extent, these sermon-speeches reflect authentic preaching by the earliest believers, or are the (literary) product of the author. I discuss this question in some detail in my series on the Speeches of Acts, and will not go into it further here, except to point out that, in my view, it is possible to discern enough peculiar features, atypical of Lukan vocabulary and style, which suggest that, in fact, portions of genuine early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) are recorded and preserved in the speeches. This also implies that elements of the earliest Christian eschatology, insofar as they are present in the kerygma, are also preserved for us in the speeches. As I will demonstrate, the language and wording in which these elements are expressed is distinct enough to indicate that they are authentically part of the early preaching.

Generally, the eschatological details are included in the closing exhortation portion, except when there is a key Scripture citation earlier in the speech which, as interpreted by early Christians, has definite eschatological significance. This is certainly the case in the great Pentecost Speech by Peter, part of the Pentecost narrative of chapters 1-2, where the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 is cited.

Acts 2:16-21

Peter’s Pentecost speech (2:14-36ff), opening as it does with the famous quotation from Joel 2:28-32 (in vv. 16-21), must be understood in the context of the narrative of Acts, with its eschatological implications:

    • The final words of Jesus and his departure to heaven (on the eschatological aspects, cf. above)—1:6-11
    • The reconstitution of the Twelve Apostles, symbolic of the (end-time) restoration of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, all gathered together (as one) in Jerusalem—1:12-26
    • The coming of the Spirit upon the believers, symbolizing the coming/establishment of the Kingdom (cf. above)—2:1-4
    • Jews from all the surrounding nations present in Jerusalem to hear the word of God (the Gospel first proclaimed), symbolic of both: (a) the gathering of Jews from the nations, and (b) the nations coming to Jerusalem to worship God, both end-time motifs—2:5-13

Thus, it can as no surprise that Peter’s great speech opens with a profound eschatological message: what the prophet (Joel) said would happen “in the last days” is happening now, at this very moment, among the first believers in Jerusalem (“this is the [thing] spoken through the Foreteller…”)! I have discussed this previously in the article on Peter’s speech (Part 2 in the series “The Speeches of Acts”); here I will repeat parts of that discussion, emphasizing, in particular, the details and features as they relate to early Christian eschatology.

Verse 16

“But this is the (thing) spoken through the Foreteller Yo’el”

The demonstrative pronoun tou=to (“this”) refers back to the manifestations of the Spirit in verses 4ff, specifically the miraculous speaking in other languages (“tongues”) so that the first proclamation of the Gospel could be instantly understood by people (Jews) from the surrounding nations (vv. 5-13). How this relates to the original oracle of Joel is interesting, especially when considered within the context of the Acts narrative (cf. above).

Consider the place of this prophecy in the book of Joel:

    • Joel 1:2-20: A lamentation for the land which has been desolated by a locust invasion (probably symbolic of a enemy military invasion)
    • Joel 2:1-11: Announcement to Judah/Jerusalem of an impending enemy invasion, with eschatological characteristics—it is God’s own judgment on the land, signifying the “day of YHWH” (verse 11)
      • Joel 2:12-17: A call to repentance for all the people in the land
    • Joel 2:18-27: A declaration that God will restore the fertility and bounty of the land, bringing blessing back to the people (described in material terms, as recovery from the locust attack)
    • Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]: A promise of spiritual blessing (i.e. the pouring out of God’s own Spirit) upon the all the people in the land—this will follow after the material blessing and restoration mentioned previously, and relates specifically to the survivors (i.e. the remnant) of the judgment (v. 32 [3:5]).
    • Joel 3:1-16 [4:1-16 Heb]: Announcement of God’s judgment on the Nations (following the restoration of Judah/Jerusalem, v. 1)—again this signifies the eschatological “day of YHWH” (v. 14, cf. 2:11).
      • Joel 3:17-21 [4:17-21 Heb]: The future fates of Judah/Jerusalem and the Nations are contrasted.

It could also be outlined more simply as:

    • 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

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.

Verses 17-18

“And it will be, in the last days, God declares, ‘I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will foretell [i.e. prophesy], and your young (one)s will look gazing (at visio)ns, and your old (one)s will see (vision)s in (their) sleep; and even upon my (male) slaves and upon my (female) slaves in those days will I pour out from my Spirit, and they will foretell.”

This is the first portion of the actual citation (Joel 2:28-29). There are several differences from the Hebrew; most notably, the generic expression /k@-yr@j&a^, i.e. “after this, following these (things)”, Grk. meta\ tau=ta (LXX), has been changed to “in the last days” (e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$). This clearly makes it an eschatological interpretation, referring to future events of the end time. Such an interpretation of the passage may be original to the early Christians, but there is also the possibility that it was understood as such by Jews at that time. In particular, the expression /k@-yr@j&a^ (“after this”) could easily have blended with the similar expression <ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^, “(the time) after the days”, which occurs at Gen 49:1 and Num 24:14—two passages influential on Messianic/eschatological thought in the first centuries B.C./A.D. That same expression is also found in Deut 4:30; 31:29, and originally meant simply “in days/time to come, in the future”, but came to take on eschatological significance through its use by the later Prophets (e.g., Jer 23:20; 30:24; 31:33; 48:47; 49:39; Ezek 38:16; cf. also Hos 3:5; Mic 4:1); in Daniel 10:14, an eschatological framework is clearly in view, as also with its occurrences (around 30) in the Qumran texts.

Interestingly, even though the phenomenon of miraculous speaking in other languages (“tongues”) is at play in the Pentecost episode of Acts 2, the oracle cited by Peter specifically mentions prophecy—indeed, it is especially emphasized by the repetition of “and they will foretell/prophesy” at the end of Joel 2:29, a detail that is not part of the Hebrew text, but which accords well with early Christian priorities. It would seem that prophecy serves here to represent the presence and work of the Spirit among believers, epitomizing all such phenomena. Early Christians regarded prophecy—not simply foretelling the future, but an inspired speaking of the word and will of God before others—as the central and most important such manifestation (or “gift”) of the Spirit, as Paul makes clear at several points in his letters (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1-25ff). This work of the Spirit in and among believers was seen as something new, marking the coming of a New Age, and thus carried eschatological significance even apart from the specific declaration in 2:17a. The fact that the Spirit was manifesting itself in all believers—men and women, young and old, regardless of social and economic circumstances (“even…slaves”)—was a sign that the phenomenon was truly new and momentous. The early Christian acceptance of inspired female prophets, however slight the surviving evidence for it in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 21:9; 1 Cor 11:2-16), finds support in the citation of Joel 2:28-29.

Verses 19-20

“‘And I will give (out) wonders in the heaven above and signs upon the earth below—blood and fire and blowing of smoke—the sun will be turned over into darkness and the moon into blood, before (the) coming of the day of the Lord th(at is) great and shining (forth) upon (all)!'”

It is still YHWH speaking through the Prophet (Joel 2:30-31), announcing what is to come in the future—the “Day of YHWH” (hw`hy+ <oy). Originally this expression referred to the time when YHWH acts to bring (destructive) judgment on the wicked, whether for the surrounding nations or His own people Israel. As such, it was oriented more or less to the immediate future—i.e., God was about to act in Judgment—but without any eschatological significance per se. However, eventually, through the influence of the oracles of the Prophets as a whole, it came to be understood and used in an eschatological sense, and that is certainly the case in Peter’s Pentecost speech. The “Day of the Lord” (h(me/ran kuri/ou) means the end-time Judgment God was to bring upon the earth and all humankind. Early Christians believed that Jesus, as God’s Anointed (Messiah), on his return to earth, would usher in and oversee the Judgment. This reflects the specific Messianic figure-type indicated by Jesus’ use of the expression “Son of Man” (inspired by Dan 7:13-14); for the eschatological Son of Man sayings of Jesus, see the earlier article in this series.

In Jewish and early Christian eschatology, as well as in much eschatological thought worldwide, the end of the current Age would be marked by terrible upheavals in the natural order, resulting in both destructive natural disasters and supernatural phenomena. This is abundantly clear from the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, especially in the climactic section of Mark 13:24-27 par. Just prior to the appearance of the “Son of Man”, there will be extraordinary and destructive cosmic phenomena, signifying God’s Judgment and the dissolution of the current order of things, the present Age. This summary description in Mk 13:24-25 par echoes Joel 2:30-31, as well as other passages from the Prophets (Isa 13:10; 14:12; 34:4; Joel 2:10; 3:15; Ezek 32:7). The sixth seal-vision in Revelation 6:12-14ff describes similar cosmic phenomena, but without culminating in the appearance of the Son of Man.

A superficial reading of Acts 2:16-20 would suggest that Peter is claiming that such cosmic phenomena are occurring at the present moment, with the coming of the Spirit. What is more important to realize is that, 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. The reference to these upheavals in the natural order simply reflects the essential belief that early believers were living in the “last days”, and that God’s end-time Judgment was soon to come upon the world. We may set this in context by comparing the citation of Joel 2:28-32 with a (partial) outline of the Eschatological Discourse:

    • A period of missionary work by Jesus’ disciples (Mk 13:9-13 par) =
      The Spirit-inspired preaching, etc, of the first believers (Acts 2:17-18)
    • The cosmic phenomena marking the end-time Judgment (Mk 13:24-25) =
      The same sorts of phenomena, identifying this Judgment with the “Day of the Lord” (Acts 2:19-20)
    • The deliverance of the Elect (believers) at the appearance of the Son of Man (Mk 13:26-27) =
      The salvation of all who trust in Jesus prior to the End (Acts 2:21)

Verse 21

“And it shall be (that) all who would call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This citation includes only the first portion of Joel 2:32, omitting the remainder:

“…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 [eu)aggelizo/menoi], (those) whom the Lord has called toward (Himself)”
(translating from the LXX; eu)aggelizo/menoi is a misreading of the Hebrew <yd!yr!c=b^ [“among the survivors”])

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 [ku/rio$, cf. Acts 2:36, etc]. In this regard, note the key kerygmatic statement in Acts 4:12. Early Christian eschatology is not as immediately evident in this declaration, so basic to the thought and life of believers in all times and places. However, it is important to realize that, for the earliest Christians, the principal context of salvation was not being saved from the effects of sin, nor saved from ‘hell’ after death, but rather of being saved from the end-time Judgment (“anger/wrath”) of God that was about to come upon humankind. This is clear enough from the earliest Gospel tradition (Mk 1:4f, 15 par; Luke 3:7ff par, etc), and runs through to the latest portions of the New Testament (cf. the detailed exposition in the book of Revelation). Thus declarations such as Acts 2:21 in the early Christian preaching refer, not to a generic salvation from sin, but to the more concrete salvation/rescue from the coming Judgment.

This last point must be kept in mind, since it relates to the eschatological elements in the other sermon-speeches of Acts, occurring as they do, for the most part, in the closing exhortation/warning sections of the speech. In the second part of this article, we will examine briefly these passages, as well as several other references in the remainder of the book which may be considered to have eschatological significance.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 14:25-26; 15:26-27

John 14:25-26; 15:26-27

In this note, I will be examining the second and third references to the Spirit in the Last Discourse. The meaning of the word para/klhto$ and its identification with the Spirit were discussed in the previous note (on 14:16-17), along with the primary significance of the “one called alongside”—the abiding presence of both Jesus (the Son) and God the Father in and with the believer, a presence which will last “into the Age”. In the three references which follow—14:25-26; 15:26-27 and 16:7-15—Jesus provides more detail as to the role and work of the Spirit/Paraclete, and the kind of help/assistance which the he will provide on behalf of believers. In discussing these two passages, I wish to explore two key aspects:

    1. The relationship between Jesus and the Father in the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete, and
    2. The specific role/action of the Spirit/Paraclete

1. With regard to this first point, there can be a good deal of confusion: is it the Father or Jesus (the Son) who gives/sends the Spirit? Let us look at how this is described in each of the passages, beginning with the two under discussion today:

    • “…the one called alongside [para/klhto$], the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” (14:26)
    • “…the one called alongside [para/klhto$], whom I will send (from) alongside the Father, the Spirit of Truth…” (15:26)

There is even more variation if we include all four passages:

    • “I will ask (of) the Father and He will give…” (14:16)
    • “the Father will send in my name…” (14:26)
    • “I will send (from) alongside the Father…” (15:26)
    • “I will send (him)…” (16:7)

How are we to understand this interrelated dynamic—the involvement of both Father and Son (Jesus) in sending/giving the Spirit? To begin with, the ultimate source of the Spirit/Paraclete is God the Father, as is clear from 15:26: “…the Spirit of Truth which travels out [e)kporeu/etai] (from) alongside the Father”. This is also confirmed by the progression indicated in the four passages:

    • The Father gives (at Jesus’ request)—sole/primary action of the Father
    • The Father sends in Jesus’ name—primary action of the Father
    • Jesus sends from the Father—primary action of Jesus
    • Jesus sends—sole/primary action of Jesus

This transference reflects the basic theological model in the Johannine discourses—the Father gives to the Son (Jesus), who, in turn, gives to believers. This is expressed most precisely in 5:26:

“For just as the Father holds Life in himself, so also he gave to the Son to hold Life in himself”

Life and the Spirit are virtually synonymous in the Gospel of John, and this same relational dynamic is expressed, in terms of the Spirit, in 3:34-35:

    • “The Father…has given all things in(to) the (Son’s) hand” (v. 35)
    • “The (Son) God (the Father) sent…gives the Spirit” (v. 34)

2. The role and work of the Spirit/Paraclete is expressed by Jesus in both of these passages, which are closely parallel with each other:

“These things I have spoken (while) remaining alongside you, but the one called alongside, the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name—that (one) will teach you all (thing)s and will put under your mind/memory all (the thing)s that I said to you.” (14:25-26)

“When he should come, the one called alongside, whom I will send to you (from) alongside the Father—the Spirit of Truth who travels out (from) alongside the Father—that (one) will give witness about me, and you also will give witness…” (15:25-27)

Thus there are two roles the Spirit/Paraclete will have for believers:

    • To teach them all things, and especially to help them remember the things which Jesus himself has taught them
    • To give/bear witness about Jesus—that is, through the disciples (believers), as is clear from verse 27 (cf. also Mark 13:11 par; Luke 12:12; Acts 4:8, 31; 6:10; 7:55, etc)

There is a tendency, perhaps, to limit these (esp. the first) to the disciples (apostles), but this is unwarranted; the Last Discourse, and, indeed, all of Jesus’ teaching in the discourses, can be taken as applying to all believers. The role of the Spirit teaching believers “all things” is confirmed by the similar (Johannine) statement in the first Letter (1 Jn 2:27):

“And the anointing which you received from him [i.e. Jesus] remains on/in you, and you have no business [i.e. need] that any one should teach you; but (rather), as the anointing (from) him teaches you about all things and is true, and is not a lie, and even as it/he taught you—remain in him.”

This corresponds precisely with what Jesus says of the Spirit/Paraclete in 14:26. The function of bearing witness will be developed further in the final passage in the Last Discourse (16:7-15), to be discussed in the next note.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 14:16-17

John 14:16-17

For the next three notes in this series, I will be examining the four passages in the Last Discourse where the Holy Spirit is specifically mentioned. The first of these is found in 14:16-17. I wish to discuss this reference according to three points:

    1. The meaning of the word para/klhto$ and its identification
    2. Its primary significance in the Last Discourse, and
    3. The connection between vv. 16-17 and verse 15
1. The meaning and identification of para/klhto$

The noun para/klhto$ literally means “one called alongside”, or, in the active sense, “one who calls (a person) alongside”. The “calling alongside” fundamentally refers to giving help or assistance to a person. This help sometimes is in the technical (legal) sense of a defender or “defense attorney”, i.e. an advocate—and so the word is rendered here in some translations. However, translations such as “Advocate” or “Comforter”, etc, are interpretive renderings which tend to focus only on one particular aspect of the kind of “help” a para/klhto$ might give. To avoid this, other translators and commentators give a simple transliteration in English—”Paraclete”—but this offers no guidance as to the meaning of the word. In point of fact, Jesus describes the specific “help” which the para/klhto$ will give to his disciples (believers) in the context of these sayings, so it is best to translate the word itself literally—i.e., “one called alongside”:

“And I will ask (of) the Father and he will give to you another (who is) called alongside [para/klhto$], (so) that he might be with you into the Age…” (v. 16)

The use of a&llo$ (“[an]other”) suggests that Jesus himself was a para/klhto$—i.e. one called alongside believers, and that this second “helper” will take his place. This would seem to be confirmed by 1 John 2:1, the only other occurrence of the word in the New Testament outside of the four in Jn 14-16. Who is this “second” para/klhto$? Jesus identifies him in verse 17:

“…the Spirit of Truth [to\ pneu=ma th=$ a)lhqei/a$], whom the world is unable to receive, (in) that [i.e. because] it does not observe [i.e. recognize] him and does not know (him)—but you know him, (in) that [i.e. because] he remains with you and will be in you.”

The expression “Spirit of Truth” is used to identify the para/klhto$ also in 15:26 and 16:13; only in 14:26 is the specific title “Holy Spirit” used. This has led some critical commentators to theorize that originally the “Spirit of Truth” may not have referred to the Holy Spirit (in a Christian sense), nor even to the essential Spirit of God (YHWH), but to a distinct divine/heavenly being (or “Angel”). The expression “Spirit of Truth” is found in the Qumran text 1QS (“Community Rule”), where the reference is to God’s cleansing of humankind (i.e. the righteous/believers) through His truth:

“He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (in order to cleanse him) from…the unclean spirit, in order to instruct the upright ones with knowledge of the Most High…There will be no more injustice…Until now the spirits of truth and injustice feud in the heart of man: they walk in wisdom or in folly. In agreement with with man’s inheritance in the truth, he shall be righteous…” (1QS 4:21-24)

Even in the thought of the Qumran Community, this “spirit of truth” is identified with the “holy spirit”

“For it is by the spirit of the true counsel of God that are atoned the paths of man, all his iniquities, so that he can look at the light of life. And it is by the holy spirit of the community, in its truth, that he is cleansed…” (3:6-7)

The idea seems to be that God, through his own Spirit (of truth and holiness), cleanses the “spirit” of the Community, and that, by joining the Community, a person’s own “spirit” is likewise cleansed. For early Christians, this cleansing Spirit was associated with the person (and work) of Jesus, already in the earliest Gospel tradition (Mark 1:8 par).

2. The primary significance of para/klhto$

As indicated above, the essential meaning of the noun is “one called alongside [para/]”. The primary emphasis is not on what this person does, but rather his presence alongside believers. This is clear from Jesus’ words here in vv. 16-17

    • “(so) that he might be with you [meq’ u(mw=n] into the Age” (v. 16)
    • “(in) that he remains alongside you [par’ u(mi=n me/nei] and will be in you [e)n u(mi=n e&stai]” (v. 17)

The parallel with verses 23-24 strongly indicates that the presence of this para/klhto$ signifies the presence of both God the Father and Jesus—Father and Son—together:

“…my Father will love him [i.e. the believer], and we will come toward him and we will make our abiding/dwelling (place) with him” (v. 23b)

The noun monh/ (“abiding [place]”, i.e. place to stay) is related to the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”)—just as the Spirit/para/klhto$ abides with the believer, so Jesus and the Father together have their abode with him.

3. The connection between verse 15 and vv. 16-17

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this passage is how verses 16-17 relate to the conditional statement in v. 15:

“If you love me, you will keep my e)ntolai/

The noun e)ntolh/ is typically translated “commandment”, which can be somewhat misleading, especially in the Johannine discourses. As I have discussed in earlier notes, the word essentially refers to something given (laid on) a person to complete. When Jesus applies it to himself (always in the singular), it signifies the task, or mission, given to him by the Father. Every aspect of the mission is involved, including all that he is to say and do, culminating in his sacrificial death on the cross. When the word (either singular or plural) applies to believers, the emphasis is on accepting Jesus word—primarily in terms of the witness to his identity, as the divine/eternal Son sent by the Father. The use of the plural e)ntolai/ can be somewhat confusing, especially when translated “commandments”, since it gives the impression of a set of specific commands, such as the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and other portions of the Old Testament Law (Torah). However, one finds no evidence for anything of the sort in the Gospel of John; and, while Jesus certainly gave considerable teaching of various kinds to his disciples, actual “commandments” are quite rare. Indeed, it is possible to isolate only two primary requirements which would seem to comprise Jesus’ e)ntolai/: (1) trust in Jesus, and (2) love for one another, according to Jesus’ own example. Both of these can be viewed as part of a single injunction to love; note the parallel:

    • “if you love me, you will keep/guard my e)ntolai/” (v. 15)
      “if anyone loves me, he will keep/guard my words [lo/goi]” (v. 23)
    • “the one holding my e)ntolai/ and keeping/guarding them—that (person) is the one loving me” (v. 21)

Loving Jesus is thus synonymous with keeping/guarding his words, which Jesus elsewhere identifies with the Spirit and Life (6:63).

Taking vv. 15-17 (and the parallel in vv. 23-24) out of context might lead to the idea of a probationary period for believers—i.e., only if they prove faithful and obedient to Jesus’ commands will the Spirit be sent to them. Such a view would be contrary to the overall evidence from the Gospel, and reflects a misunderstanding of the logic at work here. As will be discussed in an upcoming note (on Jn 20:22), the Spirit is given to believers immediately upon Jesus’ initial appearance to them after the resurrection. Similarly, in the book of Acts, the Spirit comes to believers in conjunction with their first demonstration of faith (usually associated with the baptism ritual), it is not earned as a result of religious obedience. How then should the conditional statements in vv. 15 and 23 be understood? The interpretive key, I believe, is found in the intervening statement in verse 21, which expresses two fundamental points:

    • The identity and character of the believer:
      “The one holding my e)ntolai/ and keeping/guarding them—that (person) is the one loving me”
      The person who loves Jesus is identified/characterized by accepting all his words and his identity as the Son sent by the Father—the acting out of this acceptance is not a pre-condition, but reflects the believer’s essential identity.
    • The reciprocal relationship of unity between Father, Son, and believer:
      “The one loving me will be loved by my Father and I (also) will love him”
      I.e., love is a sign of intimate relationship and unity.

If we wish to view this dynamic as a logical or temporal sequence, it might be summarized as follows:

Trust in Jesus—i.e. acceptance of his words, etc
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Following the example of Jesus’ love—the presence of this love in the believer
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The believer’s relationship with Father and Son is realized
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The presence of the Father and Son is manifest in/with the believer

The Spirit is the manifest presence of Father and Son, as is clear both from verse 23 and the closing words of v. 21:

“…and I will make myself shine (forth) in/on him”

This relationship between Father, Son (Jesus) and Spirit will be discussed further in the next note (on 14:25-26 and 15:26-27).

Translation of the Qumran texts, given above, are taken from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (2 Vols), eds. Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8).

For a discussion of the Spirit in the Pentecost narrative of Acts 2, cf. my earlier three-part article “The Sending of the Spirit” and the article on Peter’s Pentecost speech.