Saturday, June 4, 2022

Pentecost in Contexts

If you'd like to see a rhythmic version of the Pentecost story - which can be read in the voices of Clement Moore, Dr. Seuss, or Lin-Manuel Miranda, visit my other blog here. I also have an essay on Pentecost on the Politics of Scripture blog that you can read here

The story of the day of Pentecost - Acts 2:1-21 - can go in many directions, depending on the lenses through which we read it. If we read it alongside of Genesis 11 - the story of the Tower of Babel - we might attend to the languages and how God uses differing languages to scatter one people and to gather another. If we read it alongside of Ezekiel 37 - the valley of dry bones - we might attend to the spirit/breath that infuses the church, bringing new life. We might connect it to the 2nd creation story if we go in that direction, when God breathes life into the lump of clay called Adam. If we read it alongside of the tradition of Shavuot from Leviticus 23, we might see how this is an empowerment of justice, which is realized in Acts 2:44-5, All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments. I welcome your responses.

ACTS 2:1-21
1 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 supersessionism that 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.

2 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.”

3 καὶ ὤφθησαν αὐτοῖς διαμεριζόμεναι 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.

4 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 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.  

5 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’ (οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντες Ῥωμαῖοι), so it seems to me that some of the crowd may well be visiting instead of residing in Jerusalem, however cosmopolitan it was.

6 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. φωνῆς is 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).

7 ἐξίσταντο δὲ καὶ ἐθαύμαζον λέγοντες, Οὐχ ἰδοὺ ἅπαντες οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ 
λαλοῦντες Γαλιλαῖοι; 
Yet 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  

8 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 

9 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 οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντες Ῥωμαῖοι, 
Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya accorded to Cyrene, and the visitors from Rome,
ἐπιδημοῦντες: PAPart npm, ἐπιδημέω, 1) to be present among one's people, in one's city or one's native land  2) to be a sojourner  2a) of a foreign resident, among any people, in any country

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 languages the mighty acts of God. 
λαλούντων: PAPart gpm, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak
1. “the mighty acts of God,” is the first indication of what the disciples were speaking and what the crowd was hearing. This verse makes it clear that the “Pentecostal Experience” was not a kind of personal prayer glossolalia, but a way of communicating the mighty acts of God inter-culturally via many languages.

12  ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηπόρουν, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, Τί θέλει 
τοῦτο εἶναι; 
And all were astounded and perplexed, saying one to another, “What does this wish/intend 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
1. “astounded” – This is repetition of the claim in v.7. So far, Luke describes the crowd as gathered, bewildered, astounded (2x), and amazed. What if these were required words for every church’s mission statement?
2. “What does this wish to be?” is not the way that anyone translates the question of v.12, but it is as close to a word-for-word rendering as I can get. While this translation needs refining to make sense, I worry that “What does this mean?” (NRSV, NIV, ESV) misses the intentionality of the verb θέλω.

13 ἕτεροι δὲ διαχλευάζοντες ἔλεγον ὅτι Γλεύκους μεμεστωμένοι εἰσίν.
And others mocking said “They have been filled 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
1. The note that some folks likened this occasion to a drunken exhibition is either ridiculous on the face of it or it makes it much more lively than simply a story of inter-cultural communication. I don’t know if this comment reflects more on the actions of the believers or of the ones scoffing at them.

14 Σταθεὶς δὲ  Πέτρος σὺν τοῖς ἕνδεκα ἐπῆρεν τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ 
ἀπεφθέγξατο αὐτοῖς, Ἄνδρες Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ οἱ κατοικοῦντες Ἰερουσαλὴμ 
πάντες, τοῦτο ὑμῖν γνωστὸν ἔστω καὶ ἐνωτίσασθε τὰ ῥήματά μου. 
But standing with the twelve, Peter raised his voice and expounded to them, “Men of Judea and all those dwelling in Jerusalem: Let this be known to you and attend to my words. 
Σταθεὶς: APPart nsm, στημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set  1a) to bid to stand by.
ἐπῆρεν: AAI 3s, ἐπαίρω, 1) to lift up, raise up, raise on high  2) metaph. to be lifted up with pride, to exalt one's self 
ἀπεφθέγξατο 1) to speak out, speak forth, pronounce  1a) not a word of everyday speech but one "belonging to dignified  and elevated discourse"
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 
ἔστω: PAImpv 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐνωτίσασθε: AMImpv 2p, ἐνωτίζομαι, 1) to receive into the ear, to give ear to, listen
1. I’m appreciating the difference between the ones who were “mocking” (διαχλευάζοντες) in v.13 and Peter using ἀπεφθέγξατο, defined in some lexicons as a kind of discourse that is “dignified and elevated.” Perhaps part of the Spirit’s empowerment is – in addition to the content and language – the tone of the message.

15 οὐ γὰρ ὡς ὑμεῖς ὑπολαμβάνετε οὗτοι μεθύουσιν, ἔστιν γὰρ ὥρα τρίτη τῆς 
For these are not drunk as you suppose, for it is the third hour of the day,
ὑπολαμβάνετε: PAI 2p, ὑπολαμβάνω, 1) to take up in order to raise  ...  4) to take up in the mind  4a) to assume, suppose 

16 ἀλλὰ τοῦτόἐστιν τὸ εἰρημένον διὰ τοῦ προφήτου Ἰωήλ, 
But this is what has been said through the prophet Joel,
εἰρημένον: PerfPPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain

17 Καὶ ἔσται ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις, λέγει  θεός, ἐκχεῶ ἀπὸ τοῦ 
πνεύματός μου ἐπὶ πᾶσαν σάρκα, καὶ προφητεύσουσιν οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν καὶ αἱ 
θυγατέρες ὑμῶν, καὶ οἱνεανίσκοι ὑμῶν ὁράσεις ὄψονται, καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι 
ὑμῶν ἐνυπνίοις ἐνυπνιασθήσονται: 
And it will be in the last days, says God, I will pour out of/from my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young shall see visions, and your elders shall dream dreams;  
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
ἐκχεῶ: FAI 1s, ἐκχέω, 1) to pour out, shed forth  2) metaph. to bestow or distribute largely
προφητεύσουσιν: FAI 3p, προφητεύω prophesy, to speak forth, in declaration, warning, or exhortation, as directed by the Spirit of God
ὄψονται: FMI 3p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
ἐνυπνιασθήσονται: FPI 3p, ἐνυπνιάζομαι, 1) to dream (divinely suggested) dreams 
1. The NRSV, NIV, and ESV suggest that “my spirit” is the object of the verb “I will pour out.” But, “my spirit” is in the genitive case and is the object of the preposition ἀπὸ. As such, it seems to read “I will pour out from my spirit” instead of “I will pour out my spirit.” What is poured out is not given. I’m not sure if this observation matters greatly in a practical sense, but at the level of translation it is quite different from what we customarily hear. It could be that the implied object of the verb ‘pour out’ is ‘myself’ or ‘drunkenness’ or ‘fire,’ etc.

18 καί γε ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους μου καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς δούλας μου ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις 
ἐκείναις ἐκχεῶ ἀπὸ τοῦ πνεύματός μου, καὶ προφητεύσουσιν. 
And even upon my male and upon my female slaves in the last days I will pour out from my spirit, and they shall prophesy. 
ἐκχεῶ: FAI 1s, ἐκχέω, 1) to pour out, shed forth  2) metaph. to bestow or distribute largely
προφητεύσουσιν: FAI 3p, προφητεύω prophesy [verb] -ieth, -ied, -ing
1. Again the phrase is “I will pour out of/from my spirit,” not “I will pour out my spirit.” Whatever is being poured out, it enables prophesying.

19 καὶ δώσω τέρατα ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἄνω καὶ σημεῖα ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς κάτω, αἷμα 
καὶ πῦρ καὶ ἀτμίδα καπνοῦ: 
And I will give portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below and blood and fire and vaporous smoke;
δώσω: FAI 1s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone 

20  ἥλιος μεταστραφήσεται εἰς σκότος καὶ  σελήνη εἰς αἷμα πρὶν ἐλθεῖν 
ἡμέραν κυρίου τὴν μεγάλην καὶ ἐπιφανῆ. 
The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and epiphanic day of the Lord. 
μεταστραφήσεται: FPI 3s, μεταστρέφω, 1) to turn around, turn around 
ἐλθεῖν: AAInf, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning  
1. The word for “come” is ἐλθεῖν, an aorist infinitive. I’m not sure how to translate that most accurately.

21 καὶ ἔσται πᾶς ὃς ἂν ἐπικαλέσηται τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου σωθήσεται. 
And it will be anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be made whole.   
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐπικαλέσηται: AMSubj 3s, ἐπικαλέω (καλέω with ἐπί upon, prefixed) to call on, to call to (denoting the object, not the subject, as προσκαλέω (proskaleō 4341)) to call on any one (by turning towards and crying to him); in NT middle implying interest and advantage, to appeal; to call out something to some one, that is to say to name, designate
σωθήσεται: FPI 3s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction  1a) one (from injury or peril)
1. The verb σῴζω is very versatile. It is often translated “saved” here and that is one possibility. I shy away from “saved” because it has taken on specific ‘religious’ connotations of ‘saved from hell’ or ‘saved into heaven’ in many peoples’ minds. It could be translated ‘healed’ in many instances and points to a condition of being whole, not simply avoiding eternal punishment.  

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 50th day.


  1. Thank you for your insights from the Greek.
    As a Lay Leader I find them very helpful

  2. Thanks to you for chiming in. It's an honor to be journeying with so many folks who love the text and its meaning for us.

  3. PCUSA confessions talk about the Church extending back into the OT - The Church's birthday of Pentecost is not a Reformed concept!

    1. Well, if you read my note #3 on v.1 you'll see that I am not arguing that it is.


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