July 14: Ephesians 6:16-18

Ephesians 6:16-18

The final Pauline reference to the Spirit to be considered in these notes is also the last such reference in Ephesians (see the previous notes on 2:18-22 and 4:3-4). It is part of the closing exhortation in 6:10-20, the famous “armor of God” section, which develops, in much expanded form, a Pauline illustration used as part of his ethical instruction elsewhere in the undisputed letters (1 Thessalonians and Romans). Here, in 6:11 we read:

“You must sink yourself in(to) [i.e. put on] all the equipment [panopli/a] of God, toward your being [i.e. so that you are] able to stand toward [i.e. in the face of] the ways of the Dia/bolo$ [Devil]”

The noun panopli/a means “all the equipment”, every kind of o%plon (piece of equipment, instrument, tool), a term frequently used for military equipment—weapons, armor, etc—and so also the connotation here. The weaponry is primarily defensive and protective, enabling the person (i.e., the believer) to stand against the Devil’s attacks. The warfare is not physical but spiritual, as Paul (or the author) famously states in verse 12:

“…(for) us the shaking [i.e. grappling] (in combat) is not (directed) toward blood and flesh, but … toward the world-powers of this darkness, toward the spirit-(thing)s of th(is) evil, in the (place)s over the heavens”

Elsewhere in his letters, Paul clearly has the same basic idea in mind, though he does not go into such detail. In 1 Thessalonians and Romans, the illustration is part of a more general ethical instruction, with a strong eschatological orientation. Note the same emphasis on darkness and on the current Age of wickedness:

    • “The night (has) cut (its way) forward [i.e. gone ahead], and the day has (now) come near. (So) then, we must put away from (us) the works of darkness, [and] we must sink ourselves in(to) [i.e. put on] the equipment [o%pla] of light.” (Rom 13:12)
    • “…you are not in darkness, (so) that the day [i.e. the day of Judgment] should not take you down as (one) stealing [i.e. a thief], for you are all sons of light and sons of the day—we are not of the night and not of darkness. … and we, being of the day, we should stay sober, sinking ourselves in(to) [i.e. putting on] (the) chest-guard of trust and love and (the protection) around the head of (the) hope of salvation” (1 Thess 5:4-8)

In Thessalonians, Paul mentions two pieces of equipment—a chest-guard (qw/rac) and a helmet, lit. protection around the head (perikefalai/a). The same two pieces are part of a more extensive armor-list in Eph 6:14-17, with similar kinds of associations with divine attributes:

    • loin-guard (something “being girded around the loins”)—truth
    • chest-guard (qw/rac)—justice/righteousness
    • footgear (equipment “bound under the feet”)—the good message (Gospel) of peace
    • shield (“door-[guard]”, qu/reo$)—trust/faith
    • helmet (protection “around the head”, perikefalai/a)—salvation
    • sword (ma/xaira)—the Spirit

The final, climactic element in the list (v. 17) is “the sword of the Spirit” —the sword (ma/xaira) being the piece of equipment which best enables the believer to strike back against the Devil’s attack. Since the nature of this attack is spiritual, from “things of the spirit” (pneumatika)—that is from unclean or evil spirits—the only real defense comes from the holy Spirit of God (and of Christ). The directive to the believer that “you must take the sword of the Spirit…” is followed by the qualifying phrase “…which is the utterance [r(h=ma] of God”.

This particular phrase has been poorly understood, especially for those who only read the passage in English translation, where the syntax and grammar in Greek are obscured or ignored. For Protestants with a Bible-centric orientation, it is popular to read this verse as saying that the “word of God” (understood as the Bible) is an inspired “sword” by which (through study and memorization, etc) one can defeat the Devil. Such a view, however, represents a backward and distorted reading of the text. For one thing, the relative pronoun here (o%) is neuter, and thus agrees with the noun pneu=ma (“Spirit”) rather than ma/xaira (“sword”, feminine). In other words, the emphasis is: “…the Spirit, which is the utterance of God”; that is to say, the Spirit is identified as the “utterance of God”.

The noun r(h=ma is often translated “word”, but properly refers to something uttered (“utterance”); while it can be used of the Scriptures (or a specific Old Testament prophecy), such a facile substitution should not be made here. Paul (or the author) is not speaking primarily about Scripture, but about the presence and power of the Spirit itself that dwells in and among believers. The Spirit is the source of life and power for the believer—and it is the internal guidance of the Spirit which allows us to combat the evil power of sin and wickedness, and to remain faithful and pure in our union with Christ. This emphasis is thoroughly Pauline, as even a casual reading of Galatians or Romans will make clear. The central role of the Spirit in this ethical-religious dimension of the believer’s life, was discussed, in particular, in the earlier note on Gal 5:16-25.

How this “sword of the Spirit” works is clarified in verse 18:

“Through all (your) speaking toward (God) and (making) request (to Him), (you should be) speaking toward (God), in every moment, in the Spirit [e)n pneu/mati]…”

The immediate context of the “sword of the Spirit” is not Scripture at all, but prayer—that is, we are to speak to God “in the Spirit” (cp. the role of the Spirit in Rom 8:26-27). The implication is that this realm of Spirit-guided communication (with God) is the main battleground where the combat with the Devil and evil spirits is to take place. There may be a connection here with the gift and experience of speaking in “tongues”, as Paul discusses it in 1 Corinthians 12-14. By contrast with the narratives in Acts 2:1-4ff, etc (where the speaking of real human languages is involved), this gift of tongues, as described in Corinthians, seems to have more the character of a special kind of prayer language, meant to be spoken to God, not to others (14:2ff). Note how Paul characterizes tongues as a state in which the believer “…speaks not to men, but to God; for no one hears [i.e. understands] (it), but in the Spirit [e)n pneu/mati] he speaks secrets [musth/ria]”.

June 20: 1 Corinthians 12:1-3ff

1 Corinthians 12:1-3ff

Chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians open an entirely new window upon the early Christian understanding of the Spirit of God, compared with the Pauline passages we have examined thus far in these notes. Paul begins this section with the following words:

“And, about the (thing)s of the Spirit, brothers, I do not wish you to be without knowledge.” (12:1)

The precise meaning of the substantive plural adjective oi( pneumatikoi/ is a bit uncertain. It could refer to persons—i.e., “the spiritual (one)s”, or “the (one)s of the Spirit”, masculine in gender; however, a neuter plural seems more appropriate in context: “the (thing)s of the Spirit”, “the spiritual (thing)s”. Possibly the neuter usage anticipates the plural noun xari/smata in vv. 4, 9, but it is better not to read this word (i.e. “gifts”) into the translation of v. 1.

The phrasing in verse 1 suggests that Paul is responding to something written to him by the believers in Corinth—here certain issues dealing with “matters involving the Spirit”, i.e. the presence and activity of the Spirit among believers in the community/congregational setting. The first issue, mentioned briefly in vv. 2-3, is somewhat obscure and poorly understood by Christians today. Here is how the instruction reads:

“You have seen that when, (as people of the) nations, you were (led) toward the voiceless images, being led [i.e. carried] away, even as you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking in (the) Spirit of God says ‘Yeshua (be) set up (under a curse)!’, and (similarly) no one is able to say ‘Yeshua (is) Lord!’, if not in (the) holy Spirit.”

This advice has seemed rather peculiar to many readers; after all, what Christian would ever curse Jesus? (the noun a)na/qema literally refers to something being “set up” under God’s curse). One has to keep in mind the context of charismatic prophetic experience in the ancient world, by which a person, under the influence of a divine spirit, would be caught up in an inspired ecstasy, often manifest in unusual behavior and the utterance of strange words. This was well attested as prophetic phenomena in the early periods of Israel’s history (cf. the earlier notes on Num 11:16-30; 1 Sam 10:6ff; 16:13-15, etc), though there is rather little evidence for it in the later writings (including the Prophets of the 7th-5th centuries). The charismatic/ecstatic manifestation of the Spirit in the book of Acts (i.e. the Pentecost narrative, 2:1-13ff) would seem to indicate a special reappearance of the phenomenon, associated with the “outpouring” of the Spirit in the New Age. The prophetic experience in the early chapters of Acts is manifested specifically by the miraculous speaking “in other tongues”; however, Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, has in mind a much wider set of spiritual phenomena (vv. 4ff, cf. below).

Believers, under the influence of the Spirit, would speak “in tongues” or otherwise “prophesy” in ways that might seem strange or difficult to understand (thus the need for designated interpreters, etc). Some at Corinth may have been concerned about certain things that might be said in such a state; could people be “carried away” so as to utter something scandalous, false, or even blasphemous to God? Paul addresses their concern (such as it may have been) by contrasting the Christian state of Spirit-inspired prophecy (v. 3) with similar sorts of oracular phenomena among the pagan Greeks (v. 2). As people are led (vb a&gw) toward the false gods (“voiceless images”), they are sometimes “led away” (a)pa/gw, i.e. “carried away”) so as to utter strange and false things (under the influence of false or evil spirits). However, the Spirit-inspired believer cannot utter anything false or contrary to God. Paul states this in the starkest terms by contrasting someone uttering a curse against Jesus with making a declaration of faith. No one under the influence of the holy Spirit could say anything against Jesus; similarly, no one under the influence of a false/evil spirit could declare the truth of Jesus as Lord.

Among the spiritual phenomena listed by Paul in verses 7-11 is diakri/sew$ pneuma/twn, the ability to judge/discern between spirits—that is, between the holy Spirit of God and other (false/evil) spirits. The fundamental meaning of kri/si$ has to with separating out, i.e. making distinction, such as between the true and false. The author of 1 John deals with a similar question of discerning between true Spirit-inspired teaching regarding Christ and that which is “antichrist” (against the Anointed), deriving from false/evil spirits (2:18ff; 4:1-6). In such a charismatic setting, where Christians relied on Spirit-inspired utterance for authoritative teaching and guidance, determining what speech was genuinely from the Spirit was a definite challenge for believers at the time.

The manifestation of the Spirit in the book of Acts, as crystalized in the Pentecost narrative (2:1-13) and the citation of Joel 2:28-32 in the speech of Peter that follows (vv. 17-21), would suggest that all believers were to function as Spirit-inspired prophets. Yet, here in 1 Cor 12, Paul lists prophecy as just one of the spiritual “gifts”, though certainly among the greatest of these gifts (12:28; 14:1ff). It would seem Paul has in mind that only certain individuals would possess the gift of prophecy, though his exhortation in 14:1 (and the instruction that follows) implies that all believers can (and perhaps should) possess this gift; it may only be the immaturity of believers  that limits or hinders possession and use of the gift (2:6ff, 14-16; 3:1-4ff). The egalitarian principle expressed in Joel 2:28-29 / Acts 2:17-18, and realized, to some extent at least, in the early Jerusalem Community, would seem to be maintained by Paul (and others) in the Corinthian congregations. In the congregational setting, different persons could prophesy in turn, including both men and women, though with certain restrictions (cf. 11:2-16; 14:13-40, and my earlier articles in the series “Women in the Church”). Practical considerations meant that not all believers in the congregation would actively perform as prophets, even if that were the ideal.

There may also be a valid distinction between the settings of Acts and 1 Corinthians—that of Acts is the early Christian mission (proclamation of the Gospel among the nations), while 1 Corinthians 12-14 has in view the interaction of believers with each other, in community. One may rightly say that all believers are called to be prophets, in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel, while, perhaps, this role is reserved for certain (gifted) individuals within the Community setting. We may compare, for example, the situation in Acts 6, where select individuals were called upon to serve at the table, while the apostles (i.e. the Twelve) focused more exclusively on preaching and teaching. Yet, certainly, men such as Stephen were perfectly able (and gifted by the Spirit) to preach the Gospel with skill and power, and scarcely limited to role of diako/no$ (servant) at table.

The rich assortment of spiritual “gifts” (xari/smata) outlined by Paul in 1 Cor 12:4-11, 27ff (cp. Rom 12:3-8) certainly marks a profound development of the prophetic tradition regarding the Spirit which we see in the book of Acts. From the single, overriding idea of believers functioning as inspired prophets (i.e. spokespersons for God), with the special manifestation of speaking in the tongues (languages) of the nations (i.e., for the mission to the Gentiles), in 1 Cor 12-14, the Spirit is described as manifest in a wide range of “gifts”. Even so, Paul’s discussion does focus essentially on the same two phenomena central to the Acts narrative—prophecy and speaking in tongues. Here “tongues” appears to have a rather different meaning than in the book of Acts, where it clearly (at least in the Pentecost narrative) refers to the miraculous ability to speak/preach in the languages of the nations. In 1 Corinthians, by contrast, Paul seems to have in mind a special sort of ‘heavenly’ language with which one may communicate with God. He devalues it use and importance within the public, congregational setting, since there were significant challenges regarding interpretation, which made it better suited for private worship. Also, as one reads between the lines, it is likely that some at Corinth were particularly enamored with the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”, and it may have been used among them as a status sign. Paul gives much greater weight to prophecy, since it represents the long-standing tradition of inspired communication of the word and will of God for His people. The close association between the Spirit of God and prophecy, in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, has been well documented in the earlier notes on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”.

 

 

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

Acts 2:4, 17-18ff, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outline 1:

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the verse in literal translation:

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

And in a more conventional translation:

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

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

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

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

The following outline indicates the main elements of this section:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outline 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Tongues of Fire

This phenomenon is described in verse 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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