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The Significance of Pentecost*

  • I. Howard Marshall (a1)

For the Christian ‘Pentecost’ is a shorthand way of referring to the initial outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples of Jesus described in Acts 2, although of course the events of that historic day included a public address by Peter and the conversion and baptism of a substantial number of his hearers. The event is scarcely mentioned elsewhere in the NT. The narrative in Acts interprets it as the fulfilment of the prophecy of the baptism with the Spirit made by John the Baptist (Acts i.4f.), and there is one clear reference back to it in Peter's account of the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 11.15–17; cf. 10.47). Otherwise there is no specific reference to it anywhere in the NT, and there is an account of what appears to be a different bestowal of the Spirit by Jesus on ten of His disciples in Jn. 20.22. Luke's narrative is filled with problems of interpretation, and the lack of comparative material makes assessment of its historicity and significance all the more difficult. What we may be able to discuss with some hope of success is Luke's own understanding of the event, since we have the rest of his narrative in the Gospel and Acts as a context to aid us in discovering his interpretation.

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page 347 note 1 ‘We must start from the question, “What was Luke's intention?”’ (Haenchen, E., Die Apostelgeschichte, Göttingen, 1959 12, p. 137).

page 347 note 2 For the Greek word see Tob. 2.1; 2 Macc. 12.32.

page 347 note 3 For details see E. Lohse, TDNT VI, pp. 44–53, especially 45–49; M. Delcor, DBS VII, pp. 858–879; Kremer, J., Pfingstbericht und Pfingstgeschehen, Stuttgart, 1973, 1127.

page 348 note 1 There was, however, a dispute between the Pharisees and the Boethusians over the right way to calculate the fifty days from Passover to Pentecost. The Pharisees interpreted Lev. 23.15 to refer to the first day of the Passover feast, which was celebrated as a Sabbath, and hence reckoned 50 days from Nisan 15; this meant that Pentecost fell on the same day of the week as Nisan 16. The Boethusians interpreted the same text to refer to the first weekly sabbath after the celebration of the Passover, and hence for them Pentecost always fell on a Sunday.The former practice appears to have been followed in the first century; cf.SB II, pp. 598–600; Bowker, J., Jesus and the Pharisees, Cambridge 1973, pp. 5557.

page 349 note 1 Unpublished evidence from 4QDb placing the ceremony in the third month is cited by Milik, J. T., Ten Tears of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea, 1959, pp. 116f.; cf. J. Kramer, op. cit., pp. 16f.

page 349 note 2 Seder Olam Rabba 5 (SB II, p. 601). However, in Jub. 1.1 Moses receives the law at Sinai on the 16th day of the 3rd month. It seems that already for the author of Jubilees the law-giving is associated with the Feast of Weeks. The question appears to have been discussed early in the second century AD by R. Akiba (Yoma 4b; B. Noack, ‘The Day of Pentecost in Jubilees, Qumran and Acts’, ASTI 1, 1962, pp. 73–95, especially 81).

page 349 note 3 Ps. 68 was a lesson used at the Festival of Weeks. Jewish exegesis regarded v. 19 as a reference to Moses giving the law to Israel (cf. SB III, pp. 596–8), but it is not clear how far back this use and interpretation go.

page 349 note 4 SB II, pp. 604f.; J. Kremer, op. cit., pp. 25O–52, Cf. Betz, O., ‘Zungenreden und süsser Wein’, in Wagner, S. (ed.), Bibel und Qumran, Berlin, 1968, pp. 2036. For a more cautious verdict see E. Lohse, op. cit., p. 49 n. 33. See further Dupont, J., Études sur les Actes des Apótres, Paris, 1967, pp. 481502.

page 351 note 1 Conzelmann, H., Die Apostelgeschichte, Tübingen, 1963, p. 22.

page 351 note 2 Bruce, F. F., The Book of the Acts, 1954, p. 36. On the place of the Spirit in the teaching of Jesus see Beasley-Murray, G. R., ‘Jesus and the Spirit’, in Descamps, A. et al. , Mélanges Bibliques, Gembloux, 1970, pp. 463478.

page 351 note 3 Dunn, J. D. G., Baptism in the Spirit, 1970, pp. 42f.

page 352 note 1 I. H. Marshall, ‘The Meaning of the Verb “To Baptize”’, EQ, 45, 1973, pp. 130–40. Cf. J. Kremer, op. cit., p. 185.

page 352 note 2 J. Dupont, op. cit., p. 484.

page 352 note 3 For a detailed treatment, see J. Kremer, op. cit.

page 353 note 1 J. D. G. Dunn, op. cit., p. 40.

page 353 note 2 Cf. J. Kremer, op. cit., p. 215. Dupont holds that the group in 1.14 is meant, 1.15–26 being a later addition to the original narrative.

page 353 note 3 Preferred by F. F. Bruce, op. cit., pp. 55f.

page 353 note 4 E. Haenchen, op. cit., p. 131 n. 8.

page 353 note 5 Beasley-Murray, G. R., Baptism in the New Testament, 1962, pp. 6772.

page 354 note 1 The choice of the word pnoē is dictated by the fact that pneuma was obviously unsuitable at this point in the sentence. For a similar physical accompaniment to the coming of the Spirit see Acts 4.31.

page 354 note 2 Josephus, however, mentions it (Ant. 3.80). Certainly there was noise (echos) at Sinai: Ex. 9.16; Heb. 12.18f. Philo. Decal. 33, 46.

page 354 note 3 Philo, Decal. 33, 44–49; Tg. Jon. Ex. 20.2 (cited by Kremer, op. cit., p. 247). Cf.JF. Lang, TDNT VI, pp. 934–41. In Philo the voice of God was changed into a flaming fire as the commandments were uttered.

page 355 note 1 On the words used see G. Delling, TDNT VI, pp. 128–31, 283–98.

page 356 note 1 J. D. G. Dunn, op. cit., pp. 70–72.

page 357 note 1 J. Behm, TDNT I, p. 447.

page 357 note 2 The problems caused by the list of nations in vs. 9–11 cannot be discussed here. Cf. Metzger, B. M., ‘Ancient Astrological Geography and Acts 2.9–11’, in Gasque, W. W. and Martin, R. P., Apostolic History and the Gospel, Exeter, 1970, pp. 123133; J. Kremer, op. cit., pp. 145–58.

page 357 note 3 E. Haenchen, op. cit., p. 138.

page 358 note 1 G. Friedrich, TDNT VI, pp. 851f.

page 360 note 1 See especially E. Haenchen, op. cit., pp. 30–139; Zehnle, R. F., Peter's Pentecost Discourse, Nashville, 1971, pp. 111123.

page 360 note 2 H. W. Beyer, TDNT II, pp. 7O2f. and many scholars.

page 361 note 1 Cf. I. H. Marshall, as in p. 352 n. 1, above.

page 361 note 2 Haenchen has evidently not heard of Hanham Mount or Mow Cop—or even taken into account the size of ancient theatres.

page 361 note 3 Haacker, K., ‘Das Pfingstwunder als exegetisches Problem’, in Böcher, O. and Haacker, K., Verborum Veritas, Wuppertal, 1970, pp. 125131. Similarly, J. Kremer, op. cit., pp. 160–3.

page 361 note 4 J. G. Davies, ‘Pentecost and Glossolalia’, JTS 3, 1952, pp. 228–32; R. H. Gundry, ‘“Ecstatic Utterance” (N.E.B.)?’, JTS 17, 1966, pp. 299–307. While these scholars restrict tongues to human languages, ‘heavenly’ languages should probably be included also (1 Cor. 13.1).

page 362 note 1 Cf. K. Haacker's comments (op. cit.).

page 362 note 2 Samarin, W. J., Tongues of Men and Angels, 1972.

page 362 note 3 Samarin claims that there are no authenticated modern examples of speaking in foreign languages, but see Howard, D. M., By the Power of the Holy Spirit, Downers Grove, 1973. See p. 369 n. 1, below.

page 362 note 4 Bruce, F. F., ‘The Sermons in Acts—after Thirty Years’, in Banks, R., Reconciliation and Hope, Exeter 1974.

page 362 note 5 Dodd, C. H., According to the Scriptures, 1952, pp. 4648.

page 363 note 1 J. Kremer, op. cit., pp. 28–86.

page 363 note 2 J. Kremer, op. cit., p. 237, rightly notes that other important incidents such as the birth and baptism of Jesus find no mention in the Epistles.

page 363 note 3 R. F. Zehnle, op. cit., p. 112, citing G. Kretschmar, ‘Himmelfahrt und Pfingsten’, ZKG 66, 1954–55, PP. 2O9–53. But did this celebration on the 50th day include both the ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit? Cf. Eph. 4.7f.

page 363 note 4 E. Haenchen, op. cit., pp. 137–9.

page 364 note 1 There is certainly not sufficient proof of an association with the law-giving in various languages at Pentecost to allow for a firm case. We need some firm indication in Acts 2 that the narrator had in mind a conscious contrast with the law giving at Sinai. Although Kirby, J. C. asserts that this is implicit (Ephesians, Baptism and Pentecost, 1968, p. 118; cf. J. D. G. Dunn, op. cit., pp. 48f.), I cannot find any evidence for it in the narrative (similarly Wilson, S. G., The Gentiles and the Gentile Mission in Luke-Acts, Cambridge, 1973, pp. 126f.) Knox, W. L., The Acts of the Apostles, Cambridge, 1948, pp. 85f. claimed that Ps. 68 (67): 19, which in Jewish tradition was interpreted of the giving of the law, is alluded to in Acts 2.33 with reference to the gift of the Spirit. J. Dupont (op. cit., p. 100) originally rejected this allusion. In his later study of Pentecost (ibid., pp. 295 n. 25 and 481) he accepted it, and has recently attempted to substantiate it in ‘Ascension du Christ et don de l'Esprit d'après Actes 2.33’, in Lindars, B. and Smalley, S. S. (edd.), Christ and Spirit in the New Testament, Cambridge, 1973, pp. 219228. See also O. Betz, TDNT IX, p. 246.

page 365 note 1 R. Zehnle's theory is similar to Haenchen's and equally speculative and vulnerable. J. Kremer's detailed study comes to the conclusion that a historical event on the day of Pentecost lies behind Luke's narrative, although he claims that Luke has given it a more realistic, concrete form, and that much of the imagery of wind, fire and tongues is a midrashic development made at an earlier stage in the development of the tradition. See also Goppelt, L., Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, 1970, pp. 2024.

page 365 note 2 L. Goppelt, ibid., rightly regards Acts 2 as programmatic for the book of Acts in the same way as Luke 4.16–30 is for the Gospel.

page 366 note 1 Trocmé, E., Le ‘Livre des Actes’ et 'Histoire, Paris, 1957, pp. 202206; E. Haenchen, op. cit., p. 138; S. G. Wilson, op. cit., p. 126, argues that this element may have been more obvious in a putative original form of the tradition which described a mass ecstasy in which disciples spoke in one single Spirit-language. But this is purely hypothetical.

page 366 note 2 The use sugcheo in Acts 2.6 and Gen. 11.7, 9 is not a very strong link.

page 366 note 3 Dupont, J., Études, p. 501 n.

page 367 note 1 J. D. G. Dunn, op. cit., p. 100.

page 368 note 1 For the development of this idea see Barrett, C. K., The Signs of an Apostle, 1970.

page 369 note 1 See further Dunn, J. D. G., Jesus and the Spirit, 1975, pp. 135156, for a study which reaches very similar conclusions. Dunn argues for the essential historicity of the Pentocost event, holding that the disciples experienced ecstatic speech in which many of the hearers thought that they recognised words and phrases from their own languages.

* The presidential address delivered at the meeting of the Scottish Church Theology Society held in January, 1974, at Crieff.

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