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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: The Day of Pentecost - May 27, 2012



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Acts 2:1-21

The fifty-day wait for the Holy Spirit is only found in Luke/Acts. In John 20:22, Jesus breathes on the disciples, and says “‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”. This raises the question: is Pentecost the same as Jesus’ gift of the Spirit? I present two possible answers:

  • V. 4 reports that the disciples were speaking in different languages, without specifying which; v. 8 reports that members of the crowd were hearing in different languages. Perhaps the crowd were given a gift of interpretation of the tongues, and simply reported hearing their own language, so that the message might reach everyone.
  • In John 20:22, the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples, but in Acts he/she comes to (or is seen by) many.

Pentecost is the point where the true Israel starts to separate itself from unbelieving Jewry, to become the Church. Jews from greater Israel (the Diaspora) witness the event.

This story is reminiscent of Isaiah 66:15-20, especially the Septuagint translation. Isaiah 66:18-20 (NRSV) says, in part: “I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. ... They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations ... just as the Israelites bring a grain offering ...”

Verse 1: The Feast of Weeks, celebrating the wheat harvest, was fifty days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover; hence the name Pentecost. Only from the second century AD on (notes JBC) was the giving of the law to Moses also celebrated as part of the Feast of Weeks. Leviticus 23:15-21 commands that this festival be celebrated, and how.

Verse 1: “had come”: NJBC has was fulfilled.

Verse 1: “all together”: These may be the 120 people of 1:15: “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) ...”.

Verse 1: “in one place”: perhaps the house of 1:13: “When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying ...”. The scene changes to an arena or other public area in v. 5.

Verse 8: Here they speak in foreign tongues (or, in some cases, dialects), but in 1 Corinthians 14:1-33, their form of speech is incomprehensible. [NOAB]

Verses 9-11: The list is generally from east to west, but Judea is out of place. This list is unlikely to be of Lucan origin, for Luke tells of missionary work in Syria, Cilicia, Macedonia and Achaia. Also, "Cretans and Arabs” (people of Jewish descent, from Arabia) seems to have been tacked on by a later hand. [JBC]

Verse 11: “God’s deeds of power”: Peter tells of them in vv. 22-36. [JBC]

Verses 12-13: This prefigures Israel’s general rejection of Jesus’ teaching, later in the book.

Verses 17-21: The citation from Joel 2:28-32 follows the Septuagint translation. A most important guide to Luke’s intentions is the series of alterations he (or his source) has made in the quoted text to produce a pertinent testimony:

  • “In the last days”: This phrase replaces afterwards, making the prophecy more plainly the eschatological vision it already is. It is understood in the expanded sense of the time of the Church: see 1:6-8.
  • “they shall prophesy” (v. 18): Luke has added this phrase. While Jesus’ status as a prophet is never more than obliquely affirmed in Luke-Acts, and neither is the risen Lord’s status as a prophet like Moses, yet it is an important ingredient of Luke’s theory of the necessity of the Passion and the nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke brings out that the fact that the apostolic mission is part of the eschatological prophecy of Jesus himself in the Temple sermon (3:22-26).
  • “portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below” (v. 19): Luke has added “above”, “below” and “signs” for much the same reasons. [NJBC]

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel’s mission is to preach the word of God to bring new life to dead Israel. [NJBC] It summarizes the prophet's mission to the exiles.

See also Hosea 6:2: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him”.

This passage never mentions the resurrection of individuals, but the concept is not far removed: see also Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”. [NJBC]

Verses 1-28: Two vivid images depict the reconstitution of Israel, The second (vv. 15-28), the joining together of two sticks, is a symbol of the reuniting of the divided peoples of Israel (“Joseph”, vv. 16, 19, and “Ephraim”) and “Judah” (also vv. 16, 19). [NJBC] There will a single Davidic ruler over the united kingdom, and the people will be joined in a “covenant of peace” (v. 26), worshipping their God at a single sanctuary. [CAB]

Verse 1: “valley”: NOAB sees this as the same “valley” as in 3:22 (Ezekiel’s fifth commission from Yahweh) and in 8:4. The “valley” is the southern Tigris-Euphrates valley.

Verse 1: “bones”: The exiles have no more hope of resuscitating the kingdom of Israel than of putting flesh on a skeleton and calling it to life. Bones are often associated with the stamina a person needs to stand up to difficulties: see Job 4:14; Psalms 6:2; 102:5; Isaiah 38:13.

Verse 3: “‘Mortal, can these bones live?’”: A scholar says that because the resurrection of the nation was never in doubt, this vision must be about individuals. In 18:25ff, Ezekiel emphasizes individual responsibility as key to life with God, whose ways are fair.

Verse 9: The “four winds” may indicate God’s universal presence. [NOAB]

Verses 12 -13: In later Judaism, when a person died, his soul was believed to rest, uneasily, in the grave. Either these verses are the source of that belief, or they were written later. Matthew 27:52 speaks of the bodies of godly people who have died being “raised” when Jesus dies, and in John 5:28-29 Jesus says that “those who are in their graves” will hear Christ and “come out”.

Verses 12b-13: These verses may be a later addition. [NJBC]

Verse 14: This vision is indirectly an anticipation of the doctrine of resurrection. [NOAB]

Verses 15-28: The Oracle of the Two Sticks envisions the reunification of the long-divided land and the establishment of a united Israel, ruled by one king. Then the situation predicted earlier (34:28) will prevail: law-abiding living (11:20) in the Promised Land (28:25) under a Davidic king (34:23-24), a covenant of peace (34:25), and re-establishment of the central sanctuary (45:1-8). See also Zechariah 11:7-14.

Verse 16: “Ephraim”: The two largest tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, were sons of Joseph. The area of the north left after the Assyrian attacks of 732 BC were known simply as Ephraim. Hosea also uses this name. [NJBC]

Verses 23-28: These verses expand the implications in three areas:

  • The people will be made ritually clean (vv. 23-24)
  • They will once again be under one king in the Promised Land (vv. 24-25), and
  • The covenant will be reaffirmed as eternal.

Verse 25: “Jacob”: References to the patriarchs, meaning Israel, are occasionally found elsewhere: see Hosea 12:2 and Ezekiel 39:25. [NJBC]

Verse 25: “their prince”: i.e. the king. In 12:10, Yahweh says through the prophet: “‘... This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel in it’”. See also 34:24.

Verse 26: “an everlasting covenant”: 16:60 says “Yes, thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant”. In the Priestly (P) tradition, God made unconditional covenants with Noah and Abraham. [NJBC]

Verses 27-28: “dwelling place ... the LORD sanctify Israel ... my sanctuary”: These expressions prepare for chapters 40-48, as does God sanctifying Israel. [NJBC]

Psalm 104:24-34,35b

Verse 26: “Leviathan”: See also 74:14; 89:10; Job 3:8; 26:12-13; Isaiah 27:1; 51:9 (“Rahab”). [NOAB]

Verse 29: “breath”: The Hebrew word is ru’ah. It is also translated as spirit and as wind. [JBC]

Verse 30: “spirit”: Again ru’ah. Wind is also intended. The west wind brought rain; it renews the earth with vegetation. [NJBC]

Verse 35: This verse is a prayer for the restoration of the original, intended harmony of creation. [NOAB] The presence of sinners might cause God not to send the fall (autumn) rains as a punishment; hence the wish that they be eliminated. [NJBC] Characteristically, the Revised Common Lectionary omits this half verse.

Verse 35: “Praise the LORD!”: This belongs to the next psalm. Like Psalm 106, Psalm 105 originally began and ended with Hallelujah! (meaning “Praise the LORD!”) [NOAB]

Romans 8:22-27

Verse 14: The Spirit not only enables us to cast aside materialism and immorality, but also animates us and activates us in the carrying out of the mission Christ gave us. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “adoption”: The Greek word used here is also found in 8:23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5. In 9:4, Paul uses it to describe Israel as chosen by God. This Greek word is not found in the Septuagint, probably because adoption was not common until more recent times among Jews. It was known in Hellenistic society, and was quite common among the Roman aristocracy, as a means of acquiring a worthy heir. When a man had no heir, or only a dissolute one, he would choose someone to adopt – sometimes even a freed slave – who would become the heir both to the man's property and also to his reputation and station in the community. Paul’s use of the term shows that Christians have status with God. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “Abba”: Jesus used this word: see Mark 14:36; also, in Luke 11:2, the Lord’s Prayer begins “Abba”. The familiar form was also used in the early Church. [NOAB]

Verse 15: “slavery”: Paul speaks of the Christian as a slave in Romans 6:16, 1 Corinthians 7:22 and Ephesians 6:6, but only to make a specific point. Actually the Christian is a son or daughter (Galatians 4:7), empowered by the Spirit to call upon God himself as a Father. It seems to be the Holy Spirit that constitutes Christian adoptive sonship – because it is the Spirit that unites people to Christ and puts them in a special relationship to the Father. [JBC]

Verse 16: In proclaiming that God is our Father, we are stating that we recognize ourselves to be adopted by God. The Spirit shares with us in this recognition, and is the mechanism by which we are active as sons.

Verse 17: “children”: In Roman law, both a slave and a son belonged to the household, but a son (unlike a slave) had status. Our status puts us in a special relationship with the Father and the Son. Of course, a son is free, but a slave is not.

Verse 18: The Christian life involves “sufferings” (especially for Paul) but he rejoices in the sure hope of “glory”. See also 5:2. [NOAB]

Verse 20: “the one who subjected it”: i.e. God, who subjected creation. See Genesis 3:17, where God says: “‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life’”. [NOAB]

Verse 21: When human beings (in Christ) are finally restored to their true destiny, nature will also share in this release from “bondage to decay” and in the “freedom of glory”. [NOAB]

Verse 22: Non-human createdness also shares in the stress and pain humans now endure. See also Galatians 4:19.

Verse 22: “groaning in labour pains”: An idea common in Greek philosophy. [NJBC]

Verse 23: “first fruits”: The offering of the first yield of the harvest to God symbolized the sanctification of the whole harvest: see Leviticus 23:15-21 (the Festival of Weeks), but “first fruits” is often used in connection with a pledge or guarantee of future benefits.

Verse 24: “we were saved”: It may be that the tense in the Greek is one which expresses a general truth rather than something that occurred in the past. This fits better with the mention of “hope” here and in v. 25. [NJBC]

Verse 24: “what is seen”: One scholar offers what he [or she] sees. [NJBC]

Verse 26: “that very Spirit intercedes”: It is not clear from the text as to whether the Spirit intercedes with or without our participation. Some manuscripts add for us, thus clarifying the issue. In 8:15-16, it is clearly with our participation.

Verse 27: This verse is difficult to understand because it was written before the Trinitarian notion was clearly defined. Paul does not yet have the language to express this notion. See also 1 Corinthians 2:16 and Romans 8:16.

Verse 27: “searches the heart”: An expression of an activity of God rooted in the Old Testament: see 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; Psalms 17:3; 139:1.

John 15:26-27;16:4b-15

15:18-27: The believer’s relationship to the world – to be separate from it. [NOAB]

15:26-27: In Acts 1:21-22, after the Ascension, Peter says to the gathered followers of Jesus: “‘So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection’”. In Acts 5:32, Peter and the other apostles tell the high priest: “‘And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him’”. [NOAB]

15:26: “Advocate”: The Greek word is parakletos. In 1 John it refers to Christ, but in the Gospel to the Holy Spirit. Parakletos is derived from a word that means call to one’s side, so it corresponds exactly to the Latin advocatus. But there is a difference between a Roman advocatus and a Hellenic parakletos: in a Roman court, an advocatus pleaded one’s case for one, but in a Greek court one had to plead one’s own case, but one brought along one’s friends as parakletoi to influence the court by their moral support and testimony to one’s value as a citizen. So Champion is a better translation. Note that the “Advocate” will testify, bear witness. This role is also ascribed to the Spirit in Matthew 10:20 and Mark 13:11. There are also other parallels (in vv. 18-20) to Matthew 10 and Mark 13. [BlkJn]

15:27: In Acts 1:8, Jesus says: “‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’”.

16:1-33: The Christian’s relationship to the world. [NOAB]

16:1-4a: Forewarning of conflict. It is to be expected that the world, even the religious world, will persecute the followers of Christ. See Acts 22:3-5 and 26:9-11 for Paul’s description of his persecution of the Church. [NOAB]

16:1: “these things”: i.e. the hatred by the world and the activity of the Spirit in 15:18-27. [BlkJn]

16:1: “to keep you from stumbling”: BlkJn offers so that you should not be made to fall away. See also 13:19; 14:28; 15:11.

16:2: “put you out of the synagogues”: This is one word in Greek: aposynagogos. It (and the notion) is also found in 9:22 and 12:42. That Jesus foretold such an event is likely. Note that relations with the synagogue were by no means cordial in the mid first century: for example, Paul seceded from the synagogue at Corinth (see Acts 18:5-7). The synoptic gospels also contain predictions of persecution and of death for the faith: see, for example, Mark 13:9, 12-13, 18-19; Matthew 5:10; 10:17-18, 21-23; 24:9; Luke 12:4, 11; 21:12, 16-17, 23-24. [BlkJn]

16:3: “they have not known the Father or me”: For failure to know Christ or the Father, see also 1:10; 8:55; 17:25. This involves an inadequate apprehension of the true nature and activity of the Father and of Jesus, coupled with an inability to obey God’s will. [BlkJn]

16:6-7: “sorrow” at Jesus’ departure is transformed by “the truth” that his death and resurrection make possible the Spirit’s work. [NOAB]

16:7: “if I do not go away ...”: The Spirit could only be given after Jesus’ death (see 7:39), but is to remain with the disciples for ever (see 14:16) and will teach them things that they cannot grasp before the resurrection (see 16:12). As a result, a richer experience awaits the disciples. Here, as in 15:26, it is Jesus who sends the Spirit, not the Father, as in 14:16, 26. [BlkJn]

16:8: “prove the world wrong about sin ...”: BlkJn offers convict the world of sin ... . The Greek verb, elegchein, is forceful. It is also used in 3:20 and 8:46.

16:9-11: ”because”: The subordinate clause in each verse is introduced by oti, which can mean either in that or because: it is perhaps more likely that the reasons for the conviction of the world are being given rather than that the terms “sin”, “righteousness” and “judgement” are being defined. [BlkJn]

16:9: In 3:19-21, part of Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus is: “‘And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God’”.

16:11: “ruler of this world”: See also 12:31 (“the ruler of this world will be driven out”); 14:30 (“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me”); 1 Corinthians 2:8; Colossians 2:15. [NOAB]

16:13: “Spirit of truth”: A term also found in 14:17 and 15:26. In 1 John 4:6, the “spirit of truth” is contrasted with the “spirit of error”. Similar contrasts are found in 1QS (Qumran Rule of the Community) 3:13-4:26 and Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. John uses terminology current at the time he was writing. [BlkJn]

16:13: “he will guide you into all the truth”: This expression probably comes from Psalms 25:5 (“Lead me in your truth”); 143:10 (“Let your good spirit lead me”) and Isaiah 63:14 - all in the Septuagint translation. [BlkJn]

16:13: “he will not speak on his own”: Like Jesus, he will not speak on his own authority. In 5:30, Jesus says: “‘I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me’”. See also 7:17; 12:49; 14:10. [BlkJn]

16:14: “he will take what is mine ...”: The Spirit will continue the work Jesus has begun but will not reveal completely fresh notions – in the light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. [BlkJn]

16:15: Further indication of the close relationship that exists between Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit. [BlkJn]

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