Acts 2 : 1 - 11 ( NRSV )

When the day of Pentecost1 had come, they were all together in one place.(1) And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,2 and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.(2) Divided tongues, as of fire,3 appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.(3) All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit4 and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.5(4) Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.(5) And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.6(6) Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?(7) And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?(8) Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,(9) Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,(10) Cretans and Arabs7 - in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."(11)

Comment

     The coming of the Spirit as an event that breaks down the formidable barriers to communion, created by different languages. The Spirit enables new speech through which the gospel may be heard.
     Our modern world struggles to put pluralism together with equality. At the first Christian Pentecost the group of apostles speak God's praise in their own language and are understood by people of diverse cultures. The Christian community from its very beginning, claimed to have the ability within it, to reconcile the tension between plurality and equality. Christian claimed an empowering for unity-in-diversity. This empowering reverses the confusion of language at the Tower of Babel. In Luke/Acts the writer tells of the first Christian group awaiting this impressive empowerment(vv.1-4).
     On the feast of Pentecost Hebrews remembered a tradition of the theophany at Sinai where on the mountain the voice of God, mediated by flames of fire, addressed all the peoples of the world. The world rejected the voice of God - except the Hebrews. The accepted the Torah (Law).
     The author of Acts describes the events of this Pentecost as an invasion of power "from heaven"(v.2). The experience outruns the author's ability to describe it! In the re-telling, the language of vision, allusion and imagination is needed. God is praised by ecstatic speech which surprises the listeners. The action is like wind and like fire! The author describes tongues as of fire coming to rest on each member of the community-in-waiting. The the word tongue is used a second time - but now its used to make an allusion to speech. The tongues of fire result in the tongues of speech. Both - the tongues of fire and of speech are gifts of the wind of God(vv.5-11).
     In this praising of God through the ecstatic speech of the apostolic group at the beginning of the Church, the author recognises a foretaste of the preaching which was soon to carry the gospel to all the peoples of the world. The disciples of Jesus are shown to be undoing the confusion of languages that bedevilled humankind since the Tower of Babel(cf Gn.11:6-7).
     This Pentecost event features two groups of people. Both groups already know pluralism. Firstly, there are the believers in Jesus - the women and the mother of Jesus(Ac.1:12-14). Secondly, among the listeners, there are, "devout men from every nation under heaven"(v.5 NJB). Among them, thirteen different countries of origin are mentioned. That is, the whole devout world gathered at Jerusalem and the wonder is that those who were closest to Jesus speak their own language and all the other hear and discern. Believers speak and the devout hear. Barriers are broken down! This is genuine communication. In the speaking and hearing of God's Word, a community or a communion is created there and then!!
     The subject of the new speech is the apostolic group's witnessing to the transformative acts of God that turn the ordinary world on it's head. The wonder of God's life among the Hebrews and among the nations of the world, begins new speech. The new speech is followed by a series of actions which make new life possible. The nations are enabled by the power of God's spirit to hear, understand and participate in God's marvellous actions that have been recited in this event. The communication that happened on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem defies explanation. What human beings would judge impossible, is made possible by the power of God! The narrative of Luke emphasises that the promise of empowerment given by the departing Jesus has been kept!
 
footnotes:
Acts 2:1-41 Luke's pentecostal narrative consists of an introduction (Ac.1-13), a speech ascribed to Peter declaring the resurrection of Jesus and its messianic significance (Ac.14-36), and a favorable response from the audience (Ac.2:37-41). It is likely that the narrative telescopes events that took place over a period of time and on a less dramatic scale. The Twelve were not originally in a position to proclaim publicly the messianic office of Jesus without incurring immediate reprisal from those religious authorities in Jerusalem who had brought about Jesus' death precisely to stem the rising tide in his favor.
1. The Day of Pentecost (Lv.15-21): Jewish tradition held that the Law was given on this day, seven weeks after Passover.
2. [ v.2 ] From heaven there came a sound ... violent wind: Wind and spirit are associated in Jn.3:8. The sound of a great rush of wind would herald a new action of God in the history of salvation.
3. [ v.2 ] From heaven there came a sound ... violent wind: Wind and spirit are associated in Jn.3:8. The sound of a great rush of wind would herald a new action of God in the history of salvation.
2. [ v.3a ] Tongues, as of fire: See Ex.19:18 where fire symbolizes the presence of God to initiate the covenant on Sinai. Here the holy Spirit acts upon the apostles, preparing them to proclaim the new covenant with its unique gift of the Spirit(Ac.2:38).
4. [ v.3b ] John had promised a baptism of the holy Spirit and fire(see Lk.3:16).
5. [ v.4 ] To speak in other languages: Ecstatic prayer in praise of God, interpreted in Ac.2:6, 11 as speaking in foreign languages, symbolizing the worldwide mission of the church.
6. [ vv.4-11 ] The other languages in the Corinthian church were an incoherent form of speech(1 Co.14:1-33). Here Luke thinks of a gift of foreign languages as though the story of the tower of Babel (Gn.11:1-9) had been reversed.
7. [ v.11 ] Arabs: That is, people of Jewish descent who came from Arabia.

 

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