Sunday, May 24, 2020

Pentecost is Justice Revived

ACTS 2:1-13
Below is my translation of Acts 2:1-13, part of the story of the Day of Pentecost. 
If you want a modern rhythmic presentation of the story, click here

I want to focus more on the translation issues and the origins of the celebration of Pentecost than on Peter's interpretation of it in vv.14 and following. I think our imagination of this day - 12 people in an upper room with wind and fire and weird languages - is not altogether warranted. The wind and fire are analogies, not actual descriptions; they may have been in an upper room, but may not; there may have been 12 people or 120 people or any number of folks there on that particular day; etc. My fear is that this event has become the "birthday," a stand-alone sort of event, apart from the original occasion of the Feast of Pentecost. So, I am trying to interpret this event in light of the original event, and then interpret the original event in light of this event, in a spiral fashion. 
Still, it's early in the week and all of my remarks are still rough and open to your comments. 

Καὶ ἐν τῷ συμπληροῦσθαι τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς πεντηκοστῆς ἦσαν πάντες 
ὁμοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό. 
And in the fulfilling the day of the Pentecost, all were together at the same.  
συμπληροῦσθαι: PPInf, συμπληρόω, 1) to fill completely  1a) of the hold of a ship  2) to complete entirely, be fulfilled: of time 
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. The αὐτό (same) is substantive, meaning that it implies ‘the same … something.’ Most translations see it as implying location, so they make it “the same place” or “one place.” Since this story continues the story in c.1, one assumption is that they are in the “same place” as mentioned in 1:13, “an upstairs room.” That may be a faulty assumption, given that the 11 apostles are named in c.1 as staying in the upstairs room, but v.15 says “In those days Peter stood and addressed about 120 believers.” Do we picture this Day of Pentecost story as an upper room with 12 Apostles (after they added Matthias)? Do we picture an upper room with 120 believers? Do we picture a house (see v.2 below) with 12 or a large house with 120 persons? The story itself is inconclusive. (And while the question is curious, it seems unimportant, but for the fact that many have grown accustomed to saying that this is an “upper room” experience.) 
2. On the “fulfilling of the Day of Pentecost,” see the comment below on the origins of this holy day. 
3. I am uncomfortable with any interpretation of Luke’s language that implies that the real meaning of Pentecost in the OT is finally made known with the ‘birth’ of the Christian church. That seems to be yet another form of supersessionismthat only sees value in the God’s relationship with Israel if we can speak of it as unfulfilled until the Christian church came along. As an alternative, I suggest that Luke is one of many voices – including Jews, Jewish Christians, and others over long ages – who are in a continual conversation or argument over true meaning of the story of God and God’s people. If we join that conversation, the process is more circular than linear: We can interpret this “Day of Pentecost” story through the original story and re-interpret the original story through this story. 

καὶ ἐγένετο ἄφνω ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἦχος ὥσπερ φερομένης πνοῆς βιαίας καὶ ἐπλήρωσεν ὅλον τὸν οἶκον οὗ ἦσαν καθήμενοι: 
And there began/came suddenly out of the heaven a sound like a gusting, violent wind (or windy violence) and filled all the house where they were seating themselves.  
ἐπλήρωσεν: AAI 3s, πληρόω, 1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full  1a) to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally  1a1) I abound, I am liberally supplied 
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
καθήμενοι: PMPart npm, κάθημαι, 1) to sit down, seat one's self  2) to sit, be seated, of a place occupied  2a) to have a fixed abode, to dwell 
1. The root of the word “fulfilled” in v.1 and “filled” in v.2 are the same. Is this just happenstance, or is there a creative tie between the fulfilling of the Day of Pentecost and the filling of the house? Or, is that just the right word to explain a tornado-like sound? 
2. The word “wind” (πνοῆς) has the same root as the word which is typically translated “spirit” (πνεύματος) below. It could also mean “breath.” This particular variation of that root only appears one other time in the Scriptures, in Acts 17:25, which says that God “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” 

καὶ ὤφθησαν αὐτοῖςδιαμεριζόμεναι γλῶσσαι ὡσεὶ πυρός, καὶ ἐκάθισεν 
ἐφ' ἕνα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν,
And there appeared to them various languages like fire, and sat on each one of them, 
ὤφθησαν: API 3p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
διαμεριζόμεναι: PMPart npf, διαμερίζω, 1) to cleave asunder, cut in pieces  2) to be divided into opposing parts, to be at variance, in dissension  3) to distribute
ἐκάθισεν: AAI 3s, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down  1a) to set, appoint, to confer a kingdom on one  2) intransitively  2a) to sit down
1. The language that Luke uses in vv.2 and 3 is physically powerful, but the terms are set off with “as” and “like,” which are words of analogy. It is tempting for Sunday School artists to depict actual flames of fire on top of each person’s head, while a swirl of wind seems to be engulfing the room. But, Luke seems to be in that wonderful biblical tradition of using poetic speech, where words point beyond their literal meaning to describe significance.  
2. The gathered ones sit (v.2) the appearances of fiery divided languages sit (v.3). Perhaps this just means that whatever was happening is involving each of them. 

καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου, καὶ ἤρξαντο λαλεῖν ἑτέραις 
γλώσσαις καθὼς τὸ πνεῦμα ἐδίδου ἀποφθέγγεσθαι αὐτοῖς. 
And they were all filled with a spirit of holiness, and began to speak other languages as the spirit was giving speaking [speechifying] to them.  
ἐπλήσθησαν: API 3p, πίμπλημι,  a lengthened form of the theme ΠΛΕΩ, whence πλέος, πλήρης fill, fill up. Passive to become full of, be satisfied, have enough of.
ἐδίδου: IAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  
ἀποφθέγγεσθαι: PMInf, ἀποφθέγγομαι, 1) to speak out, speak forth, pronounce  1a) not a word of everyday speech but one "belonging to dignified  and elevated discourse"
1. Again we have a word from the ‘filled’ family, to accompany ‘fulfilled’ v.1, and ‘filled’ v.2. The Day of Pentecost was fulfilled; the house was filled; each of them was filled. 
2. The word for ‘tongue,’ (γλώσσαις), carries the meaning of ‘language’ in Greek and in English.  

ησαν δὲ εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ κατοικοῦντες Ἰουδαῖοι, ἄνδρες εὐλαβεῖς ἀπὸ 
παντὸς ἔθνους τῶν ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν:
And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews/Judeans, men devout from every nation/ethnicity which is under the heaven;
κατοικοῦντες: PAPart, npm, κατοικέω, 1) to dwell, settle 1a) metaph. divine powers, influences, etc., are said to  dwell in his soul, to pervade, prompt, govern it 
1. The Jews from other nations were “dwelling in” (κατοικέω) in Jerusalem because of the feast of Pentecost. As a friend (who knows far more about these things than I) pointed out to me, κατοικέω is not indicative of ‘pilgrimage’ as much as ‘dwelling,’ and Jerusalem was a very cosmopolitan city - suggesting that these folks are residents and not simply pilgrims visiting Jerusalem on the occasion of the feast. 
2. However, in v.9 at least some of these folks are identified with the same word as those who dwell in Mesapotamia (κατοικοῦντες τὴν Μεσοποταμίαν). Likewise, v.10 speaks of ‘visitors from Rome’ (οἱἐπιδημοῦντες Ῥωμαῖοι), so it seems to me that some of the crowd may well be visiting instead of residing in Jerusalem, however cosmopolitan it was. 

γενομένης δὲ τῆς φωνῆς ταύτης συνῆλθεν τὸ πλῆθος καὶ συνεχύθη, ὅτι 
ἤκουον εἷς ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ λαλούντων αὐτῶν. 
And at the appearance of this sound, the crowd came together and was bewildered, because each one heard in the idiomatic dialect of their speaking. 
γενομένης: AMPart gsf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
συνῆλθεν: AAI 3s, συνέρχομαι, 1) to come together  1a) to assemble 
συνεχύθη: API 3s, συγχέω, 1) to pour together, commingle  2) to disturb the mind of one, to stir up to tumult or outbreak  3) to confound or bewilder 
ἤκουον: IAI 3p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear 
λαλούντων: PAPart gpm, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak  
1. The word “sound” (φωνῆς) is different from the word “sound” (ἦχος) that is used in v.2. φωνῆςis most often associated with voices, which would mean that it was not the sound like the wind (v.2), but the sound of voices that attracted the crowd. The second half of this verse confirms that the voices are the matter of interest. 
2. Luke uses “idiom” (ἰδίᾳ) and “dialect” (διαλέκτῳ) here rather than “language” (γλῶσσαι). 

ἐξίσταντο δὲ καὶ ἐθαύμαζονλέγοντες, Οὐχ ἰδοὺ ἅπαντες οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ 
λαλοῦντες Γαλιλαῖοι; 
And they were astounded and amazed saying, “Look! Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans?  
ἐξίσταντο: IMI 3p, ἐξίστημι, 1) to throw out of position, displace  1a) to amaze, to astonish, throw into wonderment  1b) to be amazed, astounded  1c) to be out of one's mind, besides one's self, insane 
ἐθαύμαζον: IAI 3p, θαυμάζω, 1) to wonder, wonder at, marvel  2) to be wondered at, to be had in admiration
λαλοῦντες: PAPart npm, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak  
1.So far, the crowd is gathered, bewildered, astounded, and amazed. 

καὶ πῶς ἡμεῖς ἀκούομεν ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ ἡμῶν ἐν  ἐγεννήθημεν; 
And how do we hear each in our idiomatic dialect in which we were born?” 
ἀκούομεν: PAI 1p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear
ἐγεννήθημεν: API 1p, γεννάω, 1) of men who fathered children  1a) to be born  1b) to be begotten  1b1) of women giving birth to children 

Πάρθοι καὶ Μῆδοικαὶ Ἐλαμῖται, καὶ οἱ κατοικοῦντες τὴν Μεσοποταμίαν, 
Ἰουδαίαν τε καὶ Καππαδοκίαν, Πόντον καὶ τὴνἈσίαν, 
Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and those who live in Mesopotamia, and Jews from Cappadocia, and Pontus and Asia, 

10 Φρυγίαν τε καὶ Παμφυλίαν, Αἴγυπτον καὶ τὰ μέρη τῆς Λιβύης τῆς κατὰ 
Κυρήνην, καὶ οἱἐπιδημοῦντες Ῥωμαῖοι, 
Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya accorded to Cyrene, and the visitors from Rome, 

11 Ἰουδαῖοί τε καὶ προσήλυτοι, Κρῆτες καὶ Ἄραβες, ἀκούομεν λαλούντων 
αὐτῶν ταῖς ἡμετέραις γλώσσαις τὰ μεγαλεῖα τοῦ θεοῦ. 
And Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabs, we hear their speaking in our own languagesthe mighty acts of God.  
λαλούντων: PAPart gpm, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak
“the mighty acts of God,” is the first indication of what the disciples were speaking and what the crowd was hearing. 

12  ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηπόρουν, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλονλέγοντες, Τί θέλει 
τοῦτο εἶναι; 
And all were astounded and perplexed, saying one to another, “What does he wish this to be?” 
ἐξίσταντο: IMI 3p, ἐξίστημι, 1) to throw out of position, displace  1a) to amaze, to astonish, throw into wonderment
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
θέλει: PAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose
εἶναι: PAInf εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
“What does he wish this to be?” is not the way that anyone translates the question of v.12 and I might not have it in a final, refined translation, but it is as close to a word-for-word rendering as I can get. “Wish” (θέλει) is in the 3rdperson singular present tense, but “this” is in the accusative, making it the object of the verb and not the subject. The subject, typically, is implied in the verb if it is not given explicitly. So, literally, “What (Τί) does he wish (θέλει) this (τοῦτο) to be (εἶναι).” 

13 ἕτεροι δὲ διαχλευάζοντες ἔλεγον ὅτι Γλεύκους μεμεστωμένοι εἰσίν
And others mocking said “They are having been filled/ drunk with sweet wine.” 
διαχλευάζοντες: PAPart npm, δια-χλευάζω; to deride, scoff, mock,
ἔλεγον: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
μεμεστωμένοι: PerfPPart, npm, μεστόω, 1) to fill, be full
εἰσίν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

The Festival of Weeks; Shavuot; Pentecost; 

Leviticus 23:15-22 reads: “And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation-offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation-offering, each made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of choice flour, baked with leaven, as first fruits to the Lord. You shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, one young bull, and two rams; they shall be a burnt-offering to the Lord, along with their grain-offering and their drink-offerings, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. You shall also offer one male goat for a sin-offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of well-being. The priest shall raise them with the bread of the first fruits as an elevation-offering before the Lord, together with the two lambs; they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. On that same day you shall make proclamation; you shall hold a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a statute for ever in all your settlements throughout your generations.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.”  

The word “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek word for 50, pente. There is a natural sense of the “day of Pentecost” being fulfilled, since the original establishment of the celebration encouraged the people to “count” seven weeks of seven days from Passover until the day after the seventh Sabbath, or the 50thday. 

Over time, the celebration of Shavuot was associated with the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. I suspect that ‘religious’ perspective was a later development of what was, originally, a more seasonal harvest festival. What I really like is how the Leviticus passage moves directly from thankfulness to justice, by following the long discussion of what kind of harvest offering to bring, with the ethical demand not to harvest the fields to their fullest extent, but to leave the edges for the poor. As I understand it, the landless would often follow behind the harvesters in order to pick up what had been dropped or to glean what had been left. Leviticus 23:22 is one of several places where the landed folk were to leave dropped bundles on the ground, were not to harvest all the way to the edges, were not to beat olive trees or strip grape vines completely, because they were once poor and landless and God had given the land to them. They, therefore, were to consider their land, their trees, and their vineyards as a means of providing for the poor. 

It is my hope that whatever else we have to say about Pentecost Sunday, we remember these roots – that Pentecost was essentially a celebration for those who had been lifted out of poverty and slavery to remember that abundance and freedom obligate us to those who continue to live in poverty and chains. 


  1. "there were living in Jerusalem." Where do you get pilgrimage from this? Since Hengel, we have known that Roman Palestine was cosmopolitan. These were migrants to Jerusalem, religious migrants, economic migrants, but they were resident...not pilgrims. κατοικεω is not linked with pilgrimage to my knowledge.

  2. Margaret: I'm thinking that you are responding to my comment, "The Jews from other nations were gathered in Jerusalem because of the feast of Pentecost."
    It is good to know that, given the cosmopolitan nature of Palestine, they may have been dwellers and not just visitors because of the feast. I'll take that into my language from now on.
    It certainly seems that Luke's emphases are on their places of origin, especially their languages and idioms, as opposed to their places of residence.
    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Margaret: Your excellent question and comment has helped me to pay closer attention to the part of this text that I typically glide over - the naming of the languages and peoples gathered in the story. Some are identified as "residents/dwellers in Mesapotamia" (κατοικοῦντες τὴν Μεσοποταμίαν); others as "visitors/sojourners/maybe even former residents of Rome" (οἱἐπιδημοῦντες Ῥωμαῖοι). I've never notices that before. Thanks again.

  4. I cannot argue with the excellent content your blog has to supply and therefore I need to say thanks

  5. D. Mark, I am part of a small but vitally important pericope study group which meets weekly to discuss the readings for the coming Sunday, especially the Gospel, and engage in discussions regarding the preaching task. My Greek is more than "rusty", but we cherish your 'Fine oiled" understanding of the text and I (we) thank God abundantly for you!!!

  6. D. Mark, I am part of a small but vitally important pericope study group which meets weekly to discuss the readings for the coming Sunday, especially the Gospel, and engage in discussions regarding the preaching task. My Greek is more than "rusty", but we cherish your 'Fine oiled" understanding of the text and I (we) thank God abundantly for you!!!

    1. Thanks, Paul. I, too, was part of a small study group that fed me enormously during a critical phase of my ministry. I'm not in such a group at the moment and I miss it. My best to you and your colleagues.


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