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)

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: The Paraclete (4)

(The first Paraclete-saying [14:16-17] was discussed in the part 1 of this article; the second saying [14:25-26] in part 2.; the third [15:26-27] in part 3.)

Saying 4-5: John 16:7-15

The final Paraclete-saying(s) are found in the third (and final) discourse-division of the Last Discourse; on which, cf. again my outline:

    • 3:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

The theme of the third discourse, as I define it, is the departure of Jesus and his farewell to his disciples. In many ways, this has been the theme of the Last Discourse as a whole, but is especially emphasized here. In the central section of the discourse (vv. 16-24), Jesus discusses his departure and return. The context of the preceding vv.4b-15, which contain the Paraclete-saying(s), makes clear that he is referring to his ultimate departure (back to the Father) and subsequent (eschatological) return. During this period, he will be present with the disciples (and all other believers) through the Spirit.

Some commentators would demarcate two distinct sayings in vv. 7-15 (in which case, these would be sayings # 4 and 5); however, in my view, it is better to treat vv. 7-15 here as a single unit—treating it as a more complex and expansive single Paraclete-saying. Even so, structurally, we may divine this section of the discourse into three parts:

    • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 4b-7a)
      • The Coming of the Spirit (vv. 7b-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-15)

The Paraclete-saying covers the final two parts, anchored by the central reference (vv. 7b-11) to the coming of the Spirit (Paraclete). These verses have proven to be the most difficult to interpret of all the Paraclete-sayings, and among the most difficult portions of the Last Discourse as a whole. For this reason, I discuss vv. 7b-11 in detail through a set of supplemental (exegetical) daily notes.

As noted above, the Paraclete-saying must be understood in the immediate context of Jesus’ impending departure (back to the Father), vv. 4b-6. Because Jesus will no longer be physically present with the disciples, his continued presence must be spiritual—realized through the Spirit. In this regard, Jesus declares in v. 7 that it is actually beneficial for the disciples that he leaves them (physically):

“But I relate to you the truth: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away; for, if I should not go away, (then) the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you…”

The verb sumfe/rw literally means “bear together”; in English idiom, we might say, things “come together” for a person’s advantage, suggesting a convergence of beneficial circumstances. Jesus will be able to minister to believers, in perpetuity, through the Spirit, in ways that he simply could not do within the limited scope of his earthly ministry. And, indeed, his departure (back to the Father) is required for the coming of the Spirit:

“…but if I (do) travel (off), I will send him toward you.”

The Spirit comes from God the Father, and Jesus (the Son) must request and receive the Spirit from the Father so as to be able to send it along to the disciples (and other believers). Verse 7 here continues the progression of the prior sayings in this regard (note the shift of focus from the Father to the Son):

    • The Father gives the Spirit, at Jesus’ request (14:16)
      • The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:26)
        • Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father (15:26)
          • Jesus (the Son) sends the Spirit (16:7b)

Elsewhere in the Gospel, it is clearly indicated (or alluded to) that Jesus gives the Spirit to believers (1:33; 7:37-39, cp. 4:10-15; 6:51, 63; 19:30, [34]; 20:22), even though the Father is the ultimate source of the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35; 4:24; 6:32; 17:8ff).

As in the first and third Paraclete-sayings, the “one called alongside” (para/klhto$) is referred to by the title “the Spirit of truth”. In discussing the third saying (cf. Part 3), I mentioned that here “truth” (a)lh/qeia) refers principally, and most specifically, to the truth about who Jesus is. This Christological emphasis continues here in the final saying. However, the emphasis is expressed in a curious way, especially in comparison to the rather straightforward reference in 15:26 to the Spirit as a witness about (peri/) Jesus (“about me [peri\ e)mou]”). Here is how the matter is stated in v. 8:

“and, (hav)ing come, that (one) will show the world (to be wrong), about a(marti/a, and about dikaiosu/nh, and about kri/si$.”

I have discussed this verse in a recent note, which I would recommend reading before continuing with this article.

The verb e)le/gxw has the basic meaning of “expose, show (to be wrong)”. The Spirit will show the world (o ( ko/smo$)—that is, the current world-order, dominated by sin and darkness—to be wrong about (peri/) three things in particular:

    • a(marti/a (“sin”) [v. 9, note]
    • dikaiosu/nh (“right[eous]ness”) [v. 10, note]
    • kri/si$ (“judgment”) [v. 11, note]

As the parallel with 15:26 suggests, the Spirit’s witness “about” (peri/) these things is fundamentally Christological—that is, it relates to, and is defined by, the witness about Jesus (“about me”). This is expounded in vv. 9-11, where the Spirit’s role in relation to each of the three terms of the triad in v. 8 is explained. I have discussed these verses in detail in the supplemental notes (cf. the links above), so I will be giving only a summary of that analysis here.

    • a(marti/a (“sin”)Sin is defined, not as the world understands it, in a conventional ethical-religious sense, but principally in terms of trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus. From the Johannine theological standpoint, the great (and unforgivable) sin, of which the “world” is guilty, is an unwillingness to trust in Jesus as the Son of God.
    • dikaiosu/nh (“right[eous]ness”)—Again, true righteousness is not as the world understands or realizes it, but defined entirely by the righteousness of God (the Father) Himself, which is shared by, and manifest in, the person of the Son (Jesus). This righteousness follows the Son, in his exaltation and return to the Father, being otherwise invisible and hidden to the world. Only through the Spirit is this righteousness (of Father and Son) manifest, to believers.
    • kri/si$ (“judgment”)—The world also fails to understand the true nature of God’s judgment, in two main respects: (1) it is not limited to a future time, but is realized in the present; and (2) one experiences judgment based on whether one trusts and accepts the witness of who Jesus is. Those who trust in Jesus have already passed through the Judgment, while those who do not trust have, in a sense, already been judged (and condemned). Jesus may seem himself to have been judged by the world, under its authority, through his suffering and death; however, in reality, it is the world and its “Chief” (the Devil) that have been judged.

This witness by the Spirit, though it shows the world to be wrong, is directed primarily to the disciples (and other believers). This is clear from what follows in verses 12-15 (cf. the recent note). The theme of the Spirit’s teaching role is brought back into focus, from the earlier saying in 14:25-26 (cf. Part 2). The Spirit will continue Jesus’ role as teacher, continuing to teach believers (v. 12). The title “Spirit of truth [a)lh/qeia]” is particularly significant here, as Jesus declares that the Spirit with lead believers on the way [vb o(dhge/w] “in all the truth” (e)n th=| a)lhqei/a| pa/sh|). This association between the Spirit and truth reflects an important Johannine theme; indeed, the author of 1 John goes so far as to declare that “the Spirit is the truth” (5:6).

On the one hand, the Spirit becomes an additional link in the chain of relation: Father-Son-Believers. The Father gives to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives to believers. He gives the Spirit to believers, and then, through the Spirit, he continues to give to believers. Thus, he gives the Spirit the words to speak, and the Spirit speaks, in Jesus’ name and on his behalf, to believers. This continues an important Johannine theme regarding the Son speaking the words of the Father (cf. the references in the supplemental note on vv. 12-15). The Son speaks only the words which he hears, and is given, by the Father. Jesus responds as a dutiful son, following his father’s example—he says (and does) what he hears (and sees) the Father saying (and doing).

At the same time, the Son (Jesus) is personally present with (and within) believers through the Spirit. It is truly he who speaks in and among believers. In this way, Jesus is able to continue teaching believers, as he still has “many (thing)s” to speak. Some commentators would limit this dynamic, applying it only to the original disciples. However, in my view, such a restriction distorts the message of the Last Discourse as a whole, and would contradict the thrust of the Johannine theology. In 1 John 2:20, 27, for example, which will be discussed in the next article of this series, it is rather clearly expressed that the Spirit continues to teach believers. This is an important aspect of Johannine spiritualism, and it will be explored further, and in considerable detail, in the studies on 1 John.

In verses 14-15, the Paraclete-sayings reach their theological (and Christological) conclusion, restating several fundamental Johannine themes. First, there is the contextual theme (in v. 14) relating to the exaltation of Jesus, utilizing the key-verb doca/zw (“show/give honor”). The “lifting up” and honoring of Jesus begins with his Passion (12:23, 28; 13:31-32; 17:1) and concludes with his receiving of the Spirit to give/send to believers. This entire process of exaltation, as expressed in the Johannine Gospel narrative, is characterized by the verb doca/zw (cf. 7:39; 12:16).

Second, the exaltation of Jesus is part of a more fundamental (and essential) dynamic relationship between Father and Son (on the use of doca/zw in this context, cf. 8:54; 14:13; 15:8; 17:1, 4-5). As noted above, the Spirit now becomes part of the fundamental chain of relation: the Father gives to the Son, who then gives to the Spirit, and the Spirit, in turn, now gives to believers.

Finally, the climactic verse 15 summarizes the core Johannine theological-Christological message (cf. especially 13:34-35; 17:7ff). As the Son sent to earth by God the Father, Jesus receives “all things” from the Father, so that he is able to give them, in turn, to believers. The Spirit is the foremost of what the Father gives to the Son, and which also the Son gives to believers. Through the Spirit, the Son will continue to give to believers. The focus is principally on Jesus’ words, his teaching, that he gives to believers; however, the theological formulation of the statement in v. 15 is more comprehensive than that. The Spirit receives from that which belongs to the Son—from the “all things” that the Father gives to the Son.

As a last point, the thematic emphasis of the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 is also foreshadowed here, with an allusion to the unity between Father and Son: “all (thing)s, as (many) as the Father holds, are mine…”. In the Father’s giving to the Son, the Son shares in what belongs to the Father. Similarly, there is an allusion to believers’ unity with the Son (and the Father), since, through the Spirit, we (as believers) come to share in the things that belong to the Son. We must, however, emphasize again here that the communication of this to us takes place through the idiom of speaking and witnessing. The Spirit receives from what belongs to the Son and gives it forth as a message (vb a)nagge/llw) to us. The verbal aspect of this spiritual witness remains prominent throughout the Johannine writings, and is central to the Johannine spiritualism.

In the next article of this series, we shall begin to examine how the Johannine beliefs regarding the Spirit, as expressed in the Gospel, were realized in the wider Community. For this, we turn to the Johannine Letters, especially the work known as 1 John.

April 13: John 19:34

In the prior note (on John 19:30), we saw how the tradition regarding the moment of Jesus’ death underwent a certain theological development in the Gospels. From the simple historical tradition of Jesus’ giving out his last breath (and thus expiring/dying), we have, in the Gospel of Luke (23:46), the more theologically pointed idea of Jesus “giving along” his spirit. The concepts are distinct, but closely related, specifically since the Greek word pneu=ma (like Hebrew j^Wr) can mean both “breath” and “spirit”. The development is taken a step further in the Johannine version:

“Then, when he (had) taken the sharp [i.e. sour] (wine), Yeshua said ‘It has been completed’, and, bending the head, he gave along the spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].” (19:30)

Given the central importance of the Spirit in the Johannine writings, there is strong reason to believe that the author is here alluding to (and foreshadowing) the idea of Jesus giving along the Spirit to believers (cf. below). This is supported by the predilection of the Gospel writer (and of Jesus as the speaker of the Discourses) to utilize double-meaning and theological wordplay. There is almost always a deeper (spiritual) meaning to Jesus’ words and actions than what appears on the surface. So it is here as well. On the one hand, to “give along the spirit” means to expire/die; at the deeper level, however, it is a reference to giving along the Spirit (of God).

Interestingly, the verb paradi/dwmi (“give along”) in the Gospels typically refers to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, and of the “giving over” Jesus to the authorities. That is the context of every other occurrence of the verb in the Gospel of John (6:64, 71; 12:4; 13:2, 11, 21, etc; cf. also 19:16). Elsewhere in the New Testament, it can also be used in reference to the “giving along” of teaching and the authoritative (Gospel/apostolic) tradition to believers. Most relevant to the context here in 19:30 are the references (in the Pauline letters) to Jesus’ giving himself (or being given by God the Father) up to death for the sake of believers, as an atoning sacrifice over sin (cf. Rom 4:25; 8:32; Gal 2:20; Eph 5:2, 25). In 1 Pet 2:23, in what is likely an allusion to Jesus’ Passion, we have the idea of Jesus’ entrusting himself (giving himself along) to God.

The use of paradi/dwmi here thus adds to the possible association between the Spirit and the death of Jesus.

John 19:34

Following the narrative statement in v. 30, the Gospel records a famous detail immediately following the death of Jesus. It is tied to the tradition in vv. 31-37, in which the soldiers are directed to break the legs of the crucified victims in order to hasten their death. But when they come to Jesus, we read:

“but coming upon Yeshua, as they saw (that) he had already died, they did not break down his legs, but (instead) one of the soldiers nudged in(to) his side with the spear-point, and straightaway water and blood came out [e)ch=lqenai!ma kai\ u%dwr].” (vv. 33-34)

This information, especially the detail in v. 34, is unique to John’s Gospel, though it may still have derived from the wider Gospel Tradition. The fact that a narrative statement akin to v. 34 is found following Matt 27:49 in a number of manuscripts makes this a definite possibility. Yet only the writer of the Fourth Gospel has included it as a significant element of the Passion narrative.

At the historical level, many attempts have been made to give a physiological explanation for the “water and blood” which came out of Jesus’ side. While such speculation is interesting, it is far removed from the Gospel writer’s interest. In the context of the narrative, the main point would seem to be a confirmation that Jesus had experienced a real (human) death. Yet, for the author, both the detail regarding the breaking of Jesus’ legs (spec. that they were not broken), and the pricking/piercing of his side, were also regarded as the fulfillment of prophecy (vv. 36-37). The citing of the Scriptures (Psalm 34:20 [cf. Exod 12:10, 46; Num 9:12] and Zech 12:10) follows verse 35, in which the author explicitly states the importance of these details:

“And the one having seen (this) clearly has given witness, and his witness is true, and that (one) has seen [i.e. known] that he relates (it) true(ly), (so) that you also might trust.”

While the recognition of the fulfillment of Scripture certainly could lead one to trust in Jesus, there seems to be special importance given to the detail of the “water and blood” coming out—it is this, primarily, which the trustworthy witness has seen and reported. How would this particular detail lead to trust in Jesus? Many commentators feel that there is a deeper theological meaning to the image of water and blood coming out of Jesus’ side, just as there likely is to the statement that Jesus “gave along the spirit” (cf. above).

Certainly, the idea of blood shed (“poured out”) at Jesus’ death was given sacrificial and soteriological significance in the earliest Gospel tradition (Mark 14:24 par; Acts 20:28; Rom 5:9; 1 Cor 10:16, etc). While there is nothing comparable to Jesus’ words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel of John, there is strong eucharistic language and imagery in the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 (esp. verses 51-58); indeed, vv. 53-56 provide the only other reference to Jesus’ blood (and the only other use of the word ai!ma, apart from 1:13) in the Gospel. This will be discussed in an upcoming note in this series.

As there is nothing unusual about blood coming out from the pierced side, it is likely that the appearance of water, along with the blood, is what makes the event particularly noteworthy. And, if we consider how water—the word (u%dwr) and the image—is used within the discourses of Jesus, we note its close association with the Spirit:

    • John 3:5: “if one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit…”
    • John 4:10ff: “living water…the water that I will give [v. 14]…in the Spirit and the Truth [vv. 23-24]”
    • John 7:37ff: “come to me and drink…rivers of living water…(He said this about the Spirit)”

The last two passages refer specifically to water which Jesus gives (i.e. to believers), and, elsewhere, that which Jesus so gives is identified with the Spirit (3:34; 6:63; cf. also 15:26; 16:7). There may be an even closer connection between 7:38 and 19:34, if “his belly” refers to Jesus rather than the believer (cf. the earlier article dealing with 7:37-39)—i.e. it is out of Jesus’ belly/stomach that rivers of living water flow to the believer. Many commentators would interpret 7:38 this way and hold that the Gospel writer has this in mind in 19:34.

It is possible that an association between water and blood may also be found in the Cana miracle scene in 2:1-11 (i.e. wine as symbolic of blood). If so, then there is a parallel between episodes at the very beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry; interestingly, Jesus’ mother Mary appears in both episodes (2:1-5; 19:25-27).

That water, blood, and the Spirit are closely connected in the thought of the Gospel writer would seem to be confirmed by 1 John 5:6-8ff. While the Letter may (or may not) have been written by the same author as the Gospel, at the very least the two works draw upon the same language, imagery and theology. This passage will be discussed in an upcoming note in this series.

At the close of the Gospel, we find the actual moment when Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples:

“and, (hav)ing said this, he blew/breathed in(to them) and says to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit'” (20:22)

For Christians accustomed to thinking of the coming/sending of the Spirit in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4ff), it can be difficult to know what to make of the description in John 20:22. Is this a ‘preliminary’ or ‘partial’ giving of the Spirit, prior to the day of Pentecost? Or perhaps it is a special gifting for Jesus’ closest followers (the Twelve), compared with the wider audience of Acts 1-2? I have discussed these critical and interpretive questions in my earlier four-part article “The Sending of the Spirit”. We must avoid the temptation of comparing John with Luke-Acts, and attempting to judge or harmonize on that basis. If we look simply at the Gospel of John, and how the Gospel writer understood things, and what he intended to convey, the following points become clear:

    • There is nothing in the Gospel to suggest that 20:22 is anything other than the fulfillment of what Jesus described and promised in 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15, and what the author himself refers to in 7:39. Indeed, there is no suggestion of a ‘second’ giving/sending of the Spirit. Not even in the “appendix” of chapter 21 (which might otherwise correspond to Acts 1:3) is there any indication that an event like Acts 2:1-4 is to be expected.
    • Jesus’ statement to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 suggests that, for the Gospel writer, Jesus “ascends” to the Father prior (logically and/or chronologically) to his appearance to the disciples in vv. 19-23, thus fulfilling his statements in the Last Discourse.
    • This giving of the Spirit in 20:22 is described in terms which almost certainly allude to the Creation narrative—God breathing/blowing life into the first human being (Gen 2:7). As such, there would seem to be a definite connection to the “new birth” which believers experience (3:5-8)—”born from above” and “born out of the Spirit”.
    • The giving of the Spirit is connected with two aspects of Jesus’ “commission” for the disciples (and, by extension, to all believers): (1) He is sending them out (i.e. into the world) just as the Father sent him—i.e. the are literally “apostles” (ones sent forth), and function as Jesus’ representatives (in his place). This explains the role and importance of the Spirit, who effectively takes Jesus’ place in and among believers. (2) He grants to them the power/authority to “hold” and “release” sins. Again, it would seem that this is a result of Jesus’ presence through the Spirit (cf. 16:8-11, etc).
    • There is nothing to suggest that 20:21-23 applies only to the original disciples (apostles), and not to all believers. The language used throughout the Gospel, including the Last Discourse (addressed specifically Jesus’ closest followers), whom seem to confirm this—Jesus is effectively addressing all believers.

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.

June 14: Acts 1:8 (Luke 24:49)

Acts 1:8 (Lk 24:49)

These daily notes on the Lukan Spirit-theme will now focus on the book of Acts. The remaining references to the Spirit in the Gospel will be examined in light of the corresponding development of the Spirit-theme in Acts.

The first reference to the Spirit is found in the introduction to the book (1:1-5), a long and complex sentence, the syntax of which is most difficult and involves detailed textual questions that are beyond the scope of this note. The main point involves the character of vv. 1-5 as a summary of the Gospel (the first volume of the 2-volume work). Jesus’ ministry—especially his teaching to his disciples—took place “through the holy Spirit” (dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou). In the previous note, we saw how, in the Lukan narrative, the presence of the Spirit was central to the description of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning:

    • The Spirit comes upon Jesus at the Baptism (3:22)
    • Jesus is filled and guided by the Spirit as he is led into the desert (4:1)
    • The presence of the Spirit enables Jesus to overcome the Devil and come through the period of testing (implicit in the narrative)
    • Jesus returns “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14) to begin his ministry
    • In the synagogue at Nazareth he quotes Isa 61:1-2 (4:18-19ff), identifying himself as the Messianic figure of the prophecy, one who has been anointed by the Spirit.

The reference to the Spirit here in Acts 1:2 suggests that the Holy Spirit has remained upon Jesus throughout the entire course of his earthly ministry. Now, the time of his ministry has reached its end, and he is about to depart from his disciples (his ascension to heaven, vv. 9-11, cf. also Lk 24:51 [v.l.]). Much like the prophet Elijah, upon his departure to heaven (2 Kings 2:1, 11-12), who gave his prophetic spirit over to his disciple (Elisha, vv. 9-10), Jesus does the same for his disciples (on the connection between Jesus and Elijah, cf. the previous note and Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The Spirit will come upon them, in a manner similar to the way it came upon Jesus (at the Baptism). This coming of the Spirit upon Jesus was described as an anointing (vb xri/w) in Lk 4:18 (Isa 61:1), and it would be fair to say that this anointed (i.e. Messianic) aspect extends to the disciples of Jesus (believers) as well. Certainly this is suggested by the Elijah/Elisha parallel, since the giving of the prophetic spirit to Elisha is connected with the idea of a prophetic anointing (1 Kings 19:16).

At the close of the Gospel, Jesus promised that the Spirit would come upon his disciples:

“And, see! I send forth the e)paggeli/a of my Father; but you must sit in the city, until the (moment) at which you should be put in(to) [i.e. clothed in] power out of (the) height(s).” (24:49)

The noun e)paggeli/a is etymologically related to eu)agge/lion (“good message”). It literally means a message about (e)pi/) something, or upon a certain subject. Often it is used in the sense of a promise—i.e., that a person will do something; in a religious context, it typically refers to something that God has promised He will do. This is an important theme that is developed in the book of Acts, identifying the person of Jesus (the Messiah) and his presence (through the Spirit) as the ultimate realization of the covenant promises God has made to Israel (2:39; 13:23, 32; 26:6; cf. also 7:17).

We know that the e)paggeli/a in Lk 24:49 is a reference to the Spirit, because this is made explicit in Acts 1:4, and again in Peter’s Pentecost speech (2:33):

“… he gave along the message to them not to make space [i.e. move] away from Yerushalaim, but to remain about (for) the e)paggeli/a of the Father, of which you have heard (from) me.” (1:4)

“…so, (hav)ing been lifted high to the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of God, and (hav)ing received the e)paggeli/a of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father, he poured this out, [even] (as) you (have) seen and heard.” (2:33)

The Christological portrait in Luke-Acts accords with the Johannine tradition: the exalted Jesus receives the Spirit from God the Father, and then gives it, in  turn, to his disciples.

The restatement of this promise of the Spirit (by Jesus) in Acts 1:8 represents the keynote message and theme of the entire book:

“…but you will receive power, (with the) coming of the holy Spirit upon you, and you will be my witnesses, (both) in Yerushalaim and [in] all Yehudah and Shimron, and even unto (the) last (parts) of the earth.”

On the important association of the Spirit with power (du/nami$), cf. Lk 1:17, 35; 4:14; 8:19; 10:38; cp. in Paul’s letters, Rom 1:4; 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5, etc. The use of the verb e)pe/rxomai (“come upon”) reflects the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts (Lk 1:35); it is a distinctly Lukan verb, as seven of the nine NT occurrences are in Luke-Acts. Even as the Spirit comes upon Mary—who, in some ways, represents the first believer in the narrative—so also it will come upon all the believers as they are gathered now in Jerusalem (2:1-4).

In the next note, we will explore the context of the statement in Acts 1:8 a bit further, particularly in relation to the Pentecost scene that follows in chap. 2.

 

 

June 11: Acts 2:1-13

Acts 2:1-13

In the previous note, I examined the Prophetic theme of the “restoration of Israel” in the book of Acts, as it is symbolized by the reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (1:15-26). Today, I will look at the theme as it appears in the Pentecost Narrative itself, specifically in relation to the coming of the Spirit as the (eschatological) realization of the Kingdom of God (cf. the prior note on vv. 6-8ff). The discussion here draws upon earlier notes and articles.

The care with which the Pentecost narrative (2:1-13) has been constructed can be illustrated by a pair of chiastic outlines, emphasizing the theme of the restoration of Israel in terms of both (a) the unity of believers, and (b) the mission to the surrounding nations:

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

This second chiastic outline builds upon the first:

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

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

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

The first is an important and popular theme especially in the later Prophets (from the exilic/post-exilic periods), and, in particular, a number of key deutero- (and trito-)Isaian passages: Isa 43:5ff; 44:21-28; 48:12-21; 49:5ff; 51:11; 52:2, 7-12; 54:2-8; 55:12-13; 56:1-8; and throughout chapters 60-66, esp. 66:18-24. The imagery and sentiment of these passages largely concurs with that found in exilic/post-exilic prophets such as Ezekiel (esp. chapters 34, 37 and 47-48) and Zechariah 9-14. The motif of restoration/return appears frequently, of course, in subsequent Jewish writings—e.g., Tobit 14:5; 2 Maccabees 2:7; Jubilees 1:15-17ff; Testament of Benjamin 9:2, etc. I have discussed the Old Testament restoration-passages which involve the coming of God’s Spirit in recent notes.

The coming of the Spirit informs both of the aspects illustrated by the (chiastic) outlines above—the unity of believers and the early Christian mission. As indicated by Jesus’ words in 1:7-8, it is the presence and work of the Spirit, inspiring and guiding the proclamation of the Gospel, which represents the establishment of the Kingdom for God’s people in the New Age. This is the central theme of the book of Acts, woven throughout the narratives. It may also be demonstrated from the standpoint of the structure of the Pentecost narrative itself:

    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 briefly consider each of these parts.

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

It is helpful to break out the specific words of this short verse:

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

Here is the verse in literal translation:

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

And in a more conventional translation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following outline indicates the main elements of this section:

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

In the next few daily notes, we will examine further how the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God are developed within the first half of the book of Acts.

April 4: John 20:17

John 20:17

Yeshua says to her: “You must not attach yourself to me, for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father. But you must travel toward my brothers, and say to them, ‘I step up toward my Father and your Father, and (toward) my God and your God’.”

Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 represent perhaps the most challenging (and controversial) detail of the Johannine resurrection narrative. Much attention has been paid to the precise meaning of the prohibition “you must not attach yourself [a%ptou] to me…”, but this tends to ignore the reason given by Jesus in the words immediately following: “…for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father”. The verb a)nabai/nw (lit. “step up”), is common enough, frequently used in narrative in a general sense (i.e. “go up” {to a place}); however, in the Gospel of John, it has a special theological (and Christological) meaning, along with the related verb katabai/nw (“step down”). In the account of Jesus’ baptism, katabai/nw is used to describe the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (1:32-33, cf. Mk 1:10); similarly, in the visionary scene of Jesus’ saying in 1:51, katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw are used together (i.e. Angels descending and ascending upon the Son of Man).

In the Johannine Discourses, katabai/nw refers to the descent of the Son of God to earth as a human being, especially in the Bread of Life discourse (6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58). In descending from heaven, the Son comes to earth from the Father, and is ultimately to ascend back to Him. This is the context of a)nabai/nw in 6:62, and also in 3:13, where the two verbs are paired together. The Son’s ascension (return) to the Father occurs with the completion of his earthly mission—that is, his sacrificial death. In early Christian thought, the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus were closely connected, almost to the point of being considered part of a single event (Acts 2:32-33; 1 Pet 3:21-22, etc). This tends to run contrary to the thinking of later Christians, where the “ascension” of Jesus is fixed in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:1-3ff, 9-11), as a separate event occurring at least forty days after the resurrection, following a number of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. I have discussed this at length in an earlier set of articles.

The references in the Gospel of John to Jesus’ ascension (“stepping up”) to the Father are complicated, because they function on two different levels:

    • Jesus ascends to the Father, then returns to the disciples, and they receive the Spirit
    • Jesus ascends (departs) to the Father, only to return at a future (end) time, and believers receive the Spirit

The first level involves the traditional narrative, and the historical traditions regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. At the second level, the same dynamic of the historical tradition is repeated again for all future believers. Jesus’ words to Mary refer to the first level (i.e. the first ascension); that is to say, after his resurrection, Jesus ascends (“steps up”) to the Father, and is then able to give to his disciples the Spirit when he appears to them (vv. 19-23).

Why does Jesus give the prohibitive command to Mary (“You must not attach yourself to me”)? The Johannine understanding of the resurrection (outlined above) fits uneasily in this narrative framework. It would have made much more sense for Jesus to ascend immediately after his resurrection, without the initial appearance to Mary. However, this would have been impossible, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative; the historical tradition of a post-resurrection appearance to certain women (and Mary, specifically) was so well-established that it had to be included. In the Synoptic Tradition, Jesus appears to a group of women that included Mary (Mk 16:1ff par), while in John, it is to Mary alone. It is not entirely clear whether this difference is specific to the Johannine Tradition, or whether it reflects an intentional simplification of the scene, for literary and dramatic effect. In any case, the Johannine interpretation of the resurrection takes place within the historical-traditional context of the appearance to Mary.

Beyond this, the exchange between Jesus and Mary does have genuine theological significance, and it is important to the Johannine narrative. It establishes a contrast between the disciples (believers), relating to Jesus in terms of his earthly human life, rather than through the presence and power of the Spirit. As Jesus notes in his famous saying in 6:63: “The Spirit is the (thing) making [i.e. giving] life, the flesh is not useful, not (for) one (thing)…”. Mary was seeking to unite with Jesus again at the level of the flesh (i.e. human friendship/discipleship), whereas the true and proper union of the believer with Jesus can only take place through the Spirit; and, the Spirit cannot be given until Jesus ascends to the Father.

That is the very point Jesus makes to his disciples in the Last Discourse, in 16:7:

“But I relate to you the truth: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away. For if I should not go away, the (One) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you; but if I travel (away), I will send him toward you.”

For the disciples, this was fulfilled in the Passion and Resurrection, with the sending of the Spirit, narrated briefly, but pictorially, in 20:22. This serves as the type-pattern for all future believers, who receive the Spirit, though no longer in the visible presence of Jesus on earth (cf. 20:29ff and 17:20-23). Until Jesus goes away (ascends, “steps up”) to the Father, he does not send the Spirit.

The relationship between the Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus is often ignored or neglected by Christians. One main reason for this, I think, is the overriding influence of the narrative in Acts 1-2, which effectively separates the coming/sending of the Spirit from the Resurrection. The Spirit is recognized in commemoration of Pentecost, not Easter/Resurrection Sunday. The situation would be different, however, if we focused instead on the narrative in the Gospel of John. Not only does the sending of the Spirit function clearly as the climactic moment of the resurrection narrative in chapter 20, but Jesus’ teaching regarding the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete is central to the Last Discourse that precedes his Passion. I will discuss this further in the next daily note, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), when we turn to Paul’s famous discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 19:30, 34; 20:22

John 19:30, 34; 20:22

This note looks at three verses in the closing chapters of the Gospel of John (the Passion and Resurrection narratives) which refer, or may allude, to the Spirit. This note is also preparatory for the study of the relevant passages in this series from the Johannine Letters, which will begin with the next study.

John 19:30

This verse records the last words of Jesus, at the moment of his death, one of the traditional “Seven Words” from the Cross. It reads:

“Then, when he (had) taken the sharp [i.e. sour] (wine), Yeshua said ‘It has been completed’, and, bending the head, he gave along the spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

The description of Jesus’ actual death is similar to that in the Synoptic Gospels, and certainly reflects the wider Gospel Tradition. Compare:

    • Mark 15:37: “And Yeshua, releasing [a)fei\$] a great voice [i.e. cry], breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired]”
    • Matt 27:50: “And Yeshua, crying (out) again with a great voice, released the spirit/breath [a)fh=ken to\ pneu=ma].”
    • Luke 23:46: “And, giving voice [i.e. crying out] with a great voice, Yeshua said, ‘Father, into your hands I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit [to\ pneu=ma/ mou]’. And, saying this, he breathed out [e)ce/pneusen, i.e. expired].”

It is clear that all three verses derive from a common (Synoptic) tradition; the versions in Mark and Matthew certainly are simple variants of a shared tradition. Luke’s version, however, has interesting points of similarity with John’s account:

    • Both record actual words of Jesus, marking the conclusion of his earthly life and ministry (compared with the wordless “great cry” in the Synoptic tradition)
    • They use a similar expression:
      Luke (Jesus speaking): “I place along [parati/qemai] my spirit
      John (Gospel writer): “He gave along [pare/dwken] the spirit
    • Most surprising of all is the close similarity between the Gospel writer’s words at the end of Lk 23:46 and that in John 20:22:
      Luke: “And, saying this, he breathed out” (tou=to de\ ei)pw\n e)ce/pneusen)
      John: “And, saying this, he blew/breathed in” (kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e)nefu/shsen)

This last similarity increases the likelihood that more than a simple description of Jesus’ death is intended in John 19:30. While, on the basic level of the historical narrative, the expression “he gave along the spirit” could merely mean “he died”, much like the archaic English expression “he gave up the ghost”, or, more commonly in modern idiom, “he expired (i.e. breathed out)” ,”he breathed his last”. Yet, the frequent wordplay in the Gospel of John, along with the important emphasis on the Spirit, makes it likely indeed that there is a double meaning here. Almost certainly there is an allusion to Jesus’ giving the Spirit (cf. 3:34; 15:26; 16:7, etc) to believers. Thus, while it is not the primary meaning, we could also translate (in a secondary sense) as:

“…and, bending the head, he gave along the Spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

John 19:34

The Gospel of John records a famous detail following the death of Jesus. It is tied to the tradition in vv. 31-37, in which the soldiers are directed to break the legs of the crucified victims in order to hasten their death. But when they come to Jesus, we read:

“but coming upon Yeshua, as they saw (that) he had already died, they did not break down his legs, but (instead) one of the soldiers nudged in(to) his side with the spear-point, and straightaway water and blood came out [e)ch=lqenai!ma kai\ u%dwr].” (vv. 33-34)

This information, especially the detail in v. 34, is unique to John’s Gospel, though it may still have derived from the wider Gospel Tradition. The fact that a narrative statement akin to v. 34 is found following Matt 27:49 in a number of manuscripts makes this a definite possibility. Yet only the writer of the Fourth Gospel has included it as a significant element of the Passion narrative.

At the historical level, many attempts have been made to give a physiological explanation for the “water and blood” which came out of Jesus’ side. While such speculation is interesting, it is far removed from the Gospel writer’s interest. In the context of the narrative, the main point would seem to be a confirmation that Jesus had experienced a real (human) death. Yet, for the author, both the detail regarding the breaking of Jesus’ legs (spec. that they were not broken), and the pricking/piercing of his side, were also regarded as the fulfillment of prophecy (vv. 36-37). The citing of the Scriptures (Psalm 34:20 [cf. Exod 12:10, 46; Num 9:12] and Zech 12:10) follows verse 35, in which the author explicitly states the importance of these details:

“And the one having seen (this) clearly has given witness, and his witness is true, and that (one) has seen [i.e. known] that he relates (it) true(ly), (so) that you also might trust.”

While the recognition of the fulfillment of Scripture certainly could lead one to trust in Jesus, there seems to be special importance given to the detail of the “water and blood” coming out—it is this, primarily, which the trustworthy witness has seen and reported. How would this particular detail lead to trust in Jesus? Many commentators feel that there is a deeper theological meaning to the image of water and blood coming out of Jesus’ side.

Certainly, the idea of blood shed (“poured out”) at Jesus’ death was given sacrificial and soteriological significance in the earliest Gospel tradition (Mark 14:24 par; Acts 20:28; Rom 5:9; 1 Cor 10:16, etc). While there is nothing comparable to Jesus’ words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel of John, there is strong eucharistic language and imagery in the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 (esp. verses 51-58); indeed, vv. 53-56 provide the only other reference to Jesus’ blood (and the only other use of the word ai!ma, apart from 1:13) in the Gospel.

As there is nothing unusual about blood coming out from the pierced side, it is likely that the appearance of water, along with the blood, is what makes the event particularly noteworthy. And, if we consider how water—the word (u%dwr) and the image—is used within the discourses of Jesus, we note its close association with the Spirit:

    • John 3:5: “if one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit…”
    • John 4:10ff: “living water…the water that I will give [v. 14]…in the Spirit and the Truth [vv. 23-24]”
    • John 7:37ff: “come to me and drink…rivers of living water…(He said this about the Spirit)”

The last two passages refer specifically to water which Jesus gives (i.e. to believers), and, elsewhere, that which Jesus so gives is identified with the Spirit (3:34; 6:63; cf. also 15:26; 16:7). There may be an even closer connection between 7:38 and 19:34, if “his belly” refers to Jesus rather than the believer—i.e. it is out of Jesus’ belly/stomach that rivers of living water flow to the believer. Many commentators would interpret 7:38 this way and hold that the Gospel writer has this in mind in 19:34.

It is possible that an association between water and blood may also be found in the Cana miracle scene in 2:1-11 (i.e. wine as symbolic of blood). If so, then there is a parallel between episodes at the very beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry; interestingly, Jesus’ mother Mary appears in both episodes (2:1-5; 19:25-27).

That water, blood, and the Spirit are closely connected in the thought of the Gospel writer would seem to be confirmed by 1 John 5:6-8ff. While the Letter may (or may not) have been written by the same author as the Gospel, at the very least the two works draw upon the same language, imagery and theology. This passage will be discussed in an upcoming note in this series.

John 20:22

Finally, toward the close of the Gospel, we find the actual moment when Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples:

“and, (hav)ing said this, he blew/breathed in(to them) and says to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit'”

For Christians accustomed to thinking of the coming/sending of the Spirit in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4ff), it can be difficult to know what to make of the description in John 20:22. Is this a ‘preliminary’ or ‘partial’ giving of the Spirit, prior to the day of Pentecost? Or perhaps it is a special gifting for Jesus’ closest followers (the Twelve), compared with the wider audience of Acts 1-2? I have discussed these critical and interpretive questions in my earlier four-part article “The Sending of the Spirit”. We must avoid the temptation of comparing John with Luke-Acts, and attempting to judge or harmonize on that basis. If we look simply at the Gospel of John, and how the Gospel writer understood things, and what he intended to convey, the following points become clear:

    • There is nothing in the Gospel to suggest that 20:22 is anything other than the fulfillment of what Jesus described and promised in 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15, and what the author himself refers to in 7:39. Indeed, there is no suggestion of a ‘second’ giving/sending of the Spirit. Not even in the “appendix” of chapter 21 (which might otherwise correspond to Acts 1:3) is there any indication that an event like Acts 2:1-4 is to be expected.
    • Jesus’ statement to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 suggests that, for the Gospel writer, Jesus “ascends” to the Father prior (logically and/or chronologically) to his appearance to the disciples in vv. 19-23, thus fulfilling his statements in the Last Discourse.
    • This giving of the Spirit in 20:22 is described in terms which almost certainly allude to the Creation narrative—God breathing/blowing life into the first human being (Gen 2:7). As such, there would seem to be a definite connection to the “new birth” which believers experience (3:5-8)—”born from above” and “born out of the Spirit”.
    • The giving of the Spirit is connected with two aspects of Jesus’ “commission” for the disciples (and, by extension, to all believers):
      (1) He is sending them out (i.e. into the world) just as the Father sent him—i.e. the are literally “apostles” (ones sent forth), and function as Jesus’ representatives (in his place). This explains the role and importance of the Spirit, who effectively takes Jesus’ place in and among believers.
      (2) He grants to them the power/authority to “hold” and “release” sins. Again, it would seem that this is a result of Jesus’ presence through the Spirit (cf. 16:8-11, etc).
    • There is nothing to suggest that 20:21-23 applies only to the original disciples (apostles), and not to all believers. The language used throughout the Gospel, including the Last Discourse (addressed specifically Jesus’ closest followers), whom seem to confirm this—Jesus is effectively addressing all believers.

The Sending of the Spirit, Part 4: Gospel of John (2)

(See Part 3 for the beginning of this article)

Returning now to John 20:19-23:

a. Resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples (v. 19-20), and the saying (v. 21)

The significance of the narrative portion (v. 19-20) can best be indicated by a comparison with the parallel account in Luke 24:36-40 (portions identical or close to that of John are italicized):

 

Luke 24:36-41a:

36 And at their speaking these things, he (him)self stood in their midst and said to them: “Peace to you”. 37 But startled and coming to be in fear they seemed to behold a spirit! 38 And he said to them: “(For) what are you (so) disturbed, and through what does (such) reckoning (pl.) climb up in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet—that it is I (my)self! Stroke me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones even as you behold me having.” 40 And (at his) having said thus, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And (in) their distrusting yet from joy and wondering…

John 20:19-20:

19 It being therefore late on the same day, on the first of the week, and the doors having been closed where the disciples were through fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood into the midst and said to them: “Peace to you.” 20 And (at his) having said thus, he showed them his hands and his side. Therefore the learners [i.e. disciples] were joyful (at their) having seen the Lord.

The language is close enough to indicate a common developed Gospel tradition (written or oral) here—one of several such agreements between Luke and John in the Resurrection narratives. It should be pointed out that a number of these agreements (including 24:40) are absent from the “Western” text of Luke (so-called Western “Non-Interpolations” see my earlier post on this topic); however the majority of scholars today accept the longer text. The reference to Jesus’ “side” rather than “feet” is likely an adaptation made to reflect the earlier narrative detail in John (19:34-37).

One could break down vv. 19-21 more narrowly, as a chiasm:

    • “Peace to you” (19)
      • Shows his hands and side; disciples’ joy (20)
    • “Peace to you” (21)

where the manifestation of Jesus’ wounds is bracketed by his two-fold greeting; or as a doublet:

    • “Peace to you” (19)
      • Shows his hands and side; disciples’ joy (20)
    • “Peace to you” (21)
      • Saying—sending the disciples

As for the saying in verse 21, it also seems to be part of a wider Gospel tradition. Compare the following:

 

John 20:21b:

“Even as the Father has sent (a)pe/stalke/n) me (forth), (so) also I send (pe/mpw) you”

John 17:18:

“Even as you have sent (a)pe/steila$) me into the world, (so) also I have sent (a)pe/steila) them into the world.”

John 13:20:

“Amen, Amen, I say to you: the (one) receiving (he) whom I would send (pe/mpw), receives me; and the (one) receiving me, receives the (one) having sent (pe/myanta/) me.”

Matthew 10:40:

“The (one) accepting you, accepts me; and the (one) accepting me, accepts the (one) having sent (a)postei/lanta/) me.”

John 13:20 and Matthew 10:40 are very close in form and meaning, if not actual wording. The Gospel of John has another pair of similar sayings (12:44-45), along with many other related references to Jesus being sent from God (John 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 33, 36-38; 6:29, 38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:49; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:8, 18, 21, 23, 25). 17:18 and 20:21b are likewise similar in form and meaning to each other; both reflecting the intimate relationship and union between the Father, Jesus, and disciples. One might indicate this by the following pair of diagrams:

The Father sends

The Son (Christ)

Into the World

Chooses/calls disciples
To the Father

Christ shows/leads way

Out of the World

Chooses/calls disciples
The Father sends

The Son (Christ)

Into the World
Christ sends

His disciples

Into the World

For the verb a)poste/llw (from which is derived a)po/stolo$, apostle) one would  render literally “to set/place (someone away) from”, often with the sense of sending someone out to a different position (for a specific purpose)—i.e. to commission a soldier or emissary—and sometimes with the idea of consecration (setting apart). Pe/mpw in its primary sense can be translated more simply “send” (cause one to go [forth]). In these sayings of Jesus, a)poste/llw is typically used in the past (or perfect) tense, pe/mpw more commonly in the present/future; but otherwise with little apparent difference in meaning. The two verbs are combined in 20:21: “As the Father has sent (a)pe/stalke/n, perfect) me, so I send (or I am sending) (pe/mpw, present) you.”

b. Jesus’ breathing in the Spirit to the disciples, and the saying (v. 22-23)

We now come to the account of the “sending of the Spirit” proper. Let us examine the verse by word and phrase:

kai\ tou=to ei@pwn (“and having said this”)—connecting this narrative piece with the previous saying. One may regard this as either simple historical narration or as an editorial phrase joining separate bits of tradition.

e)nefu/shsen (“he blew in”)—often translated “he breathed on (them)”, but the literal rendering of the prefix e)n (“in”) is preferable. In English, “breathe in” would be misleading, for Jesus’ is not inhaling, but rather blowing in(to) the disciples. Most likely there is here an echo of the Creation account (Gen. 2:7): “and (God) blew (jpn) in his nostrils the breath (hmvn) of life.” In the LXX the Hebrew is rendered kai\ e)nefu/shsen ei)$ to\ pro/swpon au)tou= pnoh\n zwh=$ (“and He blew in into his face the breath of life”)—the same verb used here.

kai\ le/gei au)toi=$ (“and said/related to them”)—introducing an accompanying direct address of Jesus in the narrative; most likely this does not reflect a separate saying.

la/bete pneu=ma a%gion (“take/receive [the] holy Spirit”). As there is no definite article, this could be translated “receive a holy spirit”; however, there are other passages where pneu=ma is used without an article, and the (personal) Holy Spirit of God is meant (cf. Acts 2:4 for a similar instance). Pneu=ma really should be rendered literally as “breath” or “wind” (that is, “blowing”), except that in English these words are nearly always impersonal, while in Greek pneu=ma came to be used to describe personal ethereal/invisible beings and well as the ‘inner essence’ of a person. The Genesis account uses the word pnoh/, from the same derivation as pneu=ma, and with the similar meaning of “breath/wind”.

The attached saying in verse 23 is a bit more complicated:

“Of (those) whose sins you would release, they have been released to them; of (those) whose (sins) you would hold (firm), they have been held.”

Here there are several important details to note:

    1. The verbs used: a)fi/hmi here has been rendered literally “release”, conventionally translated in such contexts as “forgive”; krate/w means “use strength”, but can have the figurative sense of “exercise power, rule” or the concrete sense of “grasp, seize, hold firm”. The last rendering (“hold firm”) is probably best here, as it clearly indicates the opposite of “release”.
    2. The tense/mood used: the best reading for each verb is aorist subjunctive (active “you would/might…”) followed by perfect indicative (passive “they have been…”). However, in a number of manuscripts the second instance of a)fi/hmi is a present (a)fi/entai, “they are [being] released”) or future (a)feqh/setai “they will be released”) form rather than the perfect.
    3. The use of a&n + the subjunctive has much the force of a conditional clause (i.e., with e)an): “If you forgive/release…”; but the whole construction, with emphatic use of particle and pronoun, also yields a solemn declaration: “If/when you should forgive/release (for anyone)… then (indeed)…”
    4. The plural indefinite pronoun (tinwn) would seem to have a general open-ended application: “whosever sins you would release…”. On its face, it is not limited to a specific group or community.

What exactly is Jesus saying here? I think it is useful to compare v. 23 with a somewhat similar saying in Matthew 16:19 (and 18:18):

Matthew 16:19 (18:18 is nearly identical):

“The (thing) which you would bind upon the earth will have been bound in the heavens; and the (thing) which you would loose will have been loosed in the heavens”

The form is nearly identical with that in John, also using aorist subjunctive and perfect indicative for each verb. The relative pronoun (o%) is even more general, not being limited to sins. To “bind” and “loose” is very close in meaning to “hold” and “release”, so that something of the same sort of power or authority is being described in both passages (in Matthew and John). The reference to keys earlier in the Matt. 16:19, would seem to echo Isa. 22:22 (“key of the house of David”). Interestingly, the Sinaitic Syriac for the second half of John 20:23 reads “shut (the door) against” instead of “hold”, language similar again to Isa. 22:22.

Interpretations vary both as to the nature and extent of the “power” granted by Jesus (a sampling of some of the more common):

    • The power over sin (given to all disciples) simply refers to the power to proclaim the forgiveness offered in the Gospel.
    • The reference is to the sacramental authority either in the sense of admitting persons to baptism and/or the sacrament of penance. Here the power would be limited to church officials and leaders (i.e. the apostles)
    • To the priestly power of absolution (limited to the apostles, and by extension, to priests).
    • A unique power granted to (the apostles) in the early Christian community—as representatives of Christ, they possess the same authority to address sin as he did in his earthly ministry. As such, it would only marginally relate (if at all) to future Christians.
    • Authority granted to all believers (i.e. all the disciples) to address sin, both in the world and, in particular, the Christian community.

I believe that a sound interpretation yields a combination of the last two positions listed above. I would combine them as follows:

    1. The early disciples—Peter (Matt. 16:19), the Twelve, and all others addressed in John 20:23—in fact held a unique commission from Jesus, including a leading position of authority in the early churches. This authority involved power to address and handle sins.
    2. However, this same power is possessed by all believers, to judge from parallel Johannine passages (see especially 1 John 5:16-17) and elsewhere in the New Testament (see James 5:13-19). Mutual confession of sin and correction seems to be involved, at least within the community of believers, as well as prayer against sickness, etc. How this relates to addressing sin in the World is less clear—but consider in this context the power of prayer described in James 5:15ff.

Part of the difficulty here lies in the tendency to consider “sin” in its cosmic dimension, in terms of salvation history, particularly as presented in the famous Pauline passages in Romans (esp. chapters 3 & 5) and elsewhere. But there are other aspects of “sin” and evil—the ability of human beings, both in a positive sense, especially through prayer and proclamation of the Word of God, or in a negative sense, to “hold” or “release” sin, need not contradict the belief that ultimate “release” (forgiveness) and salvation come from God.

3. Concluding Comparison of John 20:19-23 and Acts

In conclusion, I shall return to the comparative question addressed above. Several points related to the list of solutions presented there:

  • A simple, straightforward chronological harmonization of the two passages is neither advisable nor entirely appropriate. There is no indication that John or Luke-Acts is familiar with each other’s account. The only point of possible contact would seem to be the shared narrative tradition at Luke 24:36, 40 and John 20:19-20, and even that is not absolutely certain on text-critical grounds. Futhermore, in the “appendix” (ch. 21) of John there is no mention of a subsequent sending of the Spirit (nor future Ascension); Luke-Acts makes no mention of the disciples having received the Spirit prior to Acts 2. As tempting as the desire to harmonize might be, one should exercise caution.
  • The great narratives of the four Gospels (and Acts) are more than collections and arrangements of historical tradition: they are powerful creative works. Their distinctions should not be limited to preserving different traditions. Luke, in the Gospel, and Acts have presented a story of the Spirit coming upon the disciples, using the language and description of Old Testament theophany (“power from on high”). John has crafted his own story, using the images and symbols from earlier in the Gospel (especially chs. 13-17) and centered on the motif of “sending”. Luke has chosen the tradition of the Spirit’s manifestation at Pentecost, John has enhanced the tradition of the resurrection appearance.
  • For those inclined to harmonize, I would suggest a different approach:
    In Luke 24:49 we read: “and [see!] I send (a)poste/llw) you the e)paggeli/a of my Father upon you; but you, sit in the city until the (moment) in which you should be set in power (from) out of the height.”
    a)poste/llw is in the present tense (“I send” or “I am sending” [forth]), but, in light of Acts 2 (and the end of the verse here), typically understood in a future sense (“I [am about to] send”). But what if one were to read the present literally in light of John 20:22: i.e., “See, (here now) I am sending you the Spirit [i.e., promise/announcement, e)paggeli/a] of [i.e. from] my Father…” at which point one can fill in (or at least reference) the breathing of the Spirit from John.
    An interpretative rendering to be sure, but is this not approximately when the account of John 21:22 would have taken place in the Lukan scene?

Finally, I might boldly suggest that our connection to the Spirit need not be understood in a particular moment or event of “sending”. Perhaps, indeed, no single narrative is sufficient to describe its wonder and mystery—does it come to us from out of heaven, or from the breath of Jesus’ own lips?—as fire, wind, water, breath, dove, and many other images: they are nearly as inexhaustible as God’s Word itself.