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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: The Day of Pentecost - May 19, 2013



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 members of 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]

Genesis 11:1-9

10:32-11:9 is from the Yahwist (J) tradition. [NJBC]

This is really the story of the city with a tower in its midst rather than The Tower of Babel. [NJBC]

Perhaps technological advances cause the people to think that they can be gods. [FoxMoses]

Chapter 10 tells of the multiplication of people since the Flood, but relatively few people have settled in their God-appointed (or God-given) lands. People and their lands are mentioned in 10:5-7, 20, 25, 31, 32. [NJBC]

Comments: All the people settle in one place (disobeying God’s order): In 1:28, God has ordered humankind to “... fill the earth and subdue it”, i.e. take possession of it. V. 4 implies that they are disobeying God’s order.

Verse 1: “same words”: One translator offers set of words.

Verse 2: “land of Shinar”: 10:9 tells of “Nimrod, the mighty hunter”. Legend says that he was the founder of Babylon. 10:10 says “The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar.”

Verse 3: “brick” and “bitumen” are Mesopotamian building materials; “stone” and “mortar” are Hebrew ones. [JBC]

Verse 4: “tower”: A ziggurat was a stepped temple with a rectangular or square base. The god was thought to appear on its summit. The ziggurat at Ur, dating from the late third millennium, is well preserved.

Verse 4: “let us make a name for ourselves”: Compare this with what God says to Abraham in 12:2: “I will make ... your name great”. [NJBC]

Verse 6: “this is only the beginning ...”: While the phrases can be applied to any ancient Near East religion, here God is sovereign over the other heavenly beings: see v. 7. [NJBC]

Verse 7: “Come ...”: The divine answer to humankind’s identical cry in vv. 3-4.

Verse 7: “us”: The idea of God’s royal court was found in early Israelite religion. Gradually the lesser gods were demoted to angels, principalities and powers.

Verse 9: “Babel ... confused”: “Babel” means Gate of God. The Hebrew word balal means to confuse. [NOAB] [NJBC]

Comments was cut due to space limitations. Here is what was cut:

God guards against future mass assaults on divine sovereignty; he distances himself from humankind. God wins: he scatters the peoples to the lands he has given them. The symbols of the unfinished tower (v. 8), dispersal of the builders, and (in essence) making fun of the mighty name of Babylon, also repudiates the culture from which the Israelites sprang. Recall that Abraham was from Ur, also in “the land of Shinar”. The story also explains, to primitive people, how languages arose. With the scattering of the peoples, Genesis leaves primeval history behind and concentrates on God’s own people, Israel. The separation between God and humans will continue until Pentecost – when God’s Spirit will come to dwell permanently with and in the faithful.

Chapter 10 tells of all then-known peoples, but after our story, the author focuses on Israel: he traces the lineage down to Abraham.

The story can also be seen as further mounting of the load of sin on the people. The prophets will announce the reversal of the process of deepening sin (e.g. Isaiah 2:1-5, “... Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem ...”); this prophecy is fulfilled at Pentecost.

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 8:14-17

Verse 12: “debtors”: BlkRom says that we are under obligation to God, rather than being “debtors” – for there is no actual debt. The same Greek word is used in 1:14-15: “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish – hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

Verse 13: It is still possible for a baptised Christian to be tempted to live immorally, “according to the flesh”. We should make use of the Spirit: this is the debt (in an accounting sense) that we owe Christ. [JBC]

Verse 13: Paul says in 6:12-13: “... do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness”. See also Colossians 3:5 and Galatians 5:24. [CAB]

Verses 14-15: Note Paul’s play on the word pneuma, here meaning spirit or Spirit. We are made “children” by the Spirit; we are not slaves. [NJBC]

Verse 14: God’s action continues in the life of the believer. See also 2:4 (“... Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”); Galatians 5:18 (“... if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law”); 1 Corinthians 12:2. [CAB]

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.

Verse 14: “children of God”: In Galatians 4:24-26, Paul tells us: “Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother”. [CAB]

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 (he writes in Galatians 4:7 “you are no longer a slave but a child”), 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. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “spirit”: Paul may intend Spirit. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “adoption”: The Greek word used here is also found in 8:23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5. [CAB] 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 Hellenic 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.

Verse 15: “When we cry”: NJBC offers which enables us to cry. As in 9:27, “cry” has the sense of cry aloud, proclaim.

Verse 15: “Abba”: This is the Aramaic word of familiar address to a father. Paul also uses this word in Galatians 4:6. Jesus addressed the Father as Abba in his prayers: see Mark 14:36. [NOAB] In the Greek text of Luke 11:2, the Lord’s Prayer begins Abba. The early church used this title for the Father, as indeed does a Christian song sung today.

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 16: “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 17: “heirs of God”: Paul discusses the promise to Abraham, that he would be the “father of many nations”, in Chapter 4 (especially 4:17). It is now fulfilled. [CAB]

Verse 17: “joint heirs with Christ”: Christ has already received a share of the Father’s glory; the Christian will receive a share. In Jesus’ time, a son inherited his father’s estate; God’s estate is his glory. [NJBC]

John 14:8-17,(25-27)

Verse 2: “my Father’s house”: Jesus has already spoken of this in 8:34-38 (“... The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever ...”). [BlkJn]

Verse 2: “many dwelling places”: 1 Kings 6:5 describes the Temple in similar terms. [BlkJn]

Verse 3: Previously Jesus has only hinted at the possibility of the disciples following him: in 12:26, he says: “‘Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also’”. See also 13:36. Because the disciples follow his example, particularly in mutual love, they can eventually be with him, whereas the Pharisees cannot: see 7:33-36; 8:21; 13:33. [BlkJn]

Verse 5: “Thomas”: Thomas expresses their bewilderment with characteristic bluntness: see also 11:16 (“‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’”) and 20:24-25. [BlkJn]

Verse 6: “‘I am the way’”: He is the sole means of access to the Father: Jesus says in Matthew 11:27: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”. See also Luke 10:22; John 1:18; 3:3 (to Nicodemus); 6:46; Acts 4:12 (Peter’s speech before the Council) Romans 5:2; Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 10:20. [BlkJn] [NOAB]

Verse 6: “‘I am ... the truth, and the life’”: Jesus is all-sufficient because he is both God and human. [BlkJn]

Verse 6: “the truth”: 1:14 says “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth”.

Verse 6: “the life”: See also 1:4; 6:35 (“‘I am the bread of life’”), 6:48; 11:25 (“‘I am the resurrection and the life’”).

Verse 7: On Jesus being God, 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. In 10:30, Jesus says “‘The Father and I are one’”.

Verse 7: “‘If you know me’”: They can know him since he is a human.

Verse 7: “you do know him”: BlkJn offers you are getting to know him. Because they know Jesus, they are getting to know the Father.

Verse 8: Moses makes a similar reasonable request in Exodus 33:18: “‘Show me your glory, I pray’”. Philip's misunderstanding, like Thomas’, helps Jesus to make his meaning clear. [BlkJn]

Verse 10: For Jesus as agent of the Father, see also, for example, 3:34; 7:17-18; 8:28, 47; 12:47-49. [NJBC]

Verse 10: “Do you not believe that ...”: BlkJn translates the Greek in a more understandable way: You believe, do you not,

Verse 10: “on my own”: The Greek literally means from myself. BlkJn translates it as on my own authority.

Verse 11: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”: The unity of the Father and the Son is a recurrent theme in this part of the book: see also vv. 7, 9, 20 and 16:15; 17:21-23. [BlkJn]

Verse 12: See also Luke 17:6 (“‘faith the size of a mustard seed”) and Matthew 17:20. [NJBC]

Verse 12: “‘Very truly, I tell you”: In the Greek, “Very truly” is Amen, Amen. This double amen is characteristic of, and peculiar to, this gospel and is used to introduce solemn, almost oracular, declarations. See also 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20, 21, 38; 16:20, 23; 21:18. [BlkJn]

Verse 12: “works”: i.e. miracles. [BlkJn]

Verse 13: For variants, see Matthew 7:7-8; 18:19; 21:22; and in Johannine writings, see John 15:7, 16; 16:23, 24, 26; 1 John 3:21-22; 5:14-15. Sometimes Jesus will answer the request, and sometimes the Father will answer when asked in Jesus’ name. At times the Father is addressed directly, and at times neither Father nor Son is specified (but one presumes that the Father is meant). [NJBC]

Verse 13: “in my name”: This means ask as Jesus’ representative, while on his business, rather than invoking Jesus as a kind of magic spell. The meaning here is the same as when Jesus speaks of having come in his Father’s name in 5:43 and 10:25, and when Acts tells us that the apostles performed miracles in Jesus’ name: see Acts 3:6 (healing of a man lame from birth), 16; 4:10; 16:18 (a slave girl is cured). [BlkJn]

Verse 16: “give you another Advocate”: BlkJn offers give you another as your Champion. The Greek word translated Advocate is parakletos, sometimes transliterated as Paraclete. While in 1 John 2:1 it refers to Christ, in John it refers to the Holy Spirit: see also v. 26 and 15:26; 16:7. The Greek word is derived from a verb meaning call to one’s side. The Latin word advocatus has the same meaning, but there is a distinction to be made between the Greek and Roman judicial systems. In a Roman court, an advocatus pleaded a person’s case for him, but a Greek parakletos did not: in the Greek system, a person had to plead his own case, but he brought along his friends as parakletoi to influence the court by their moral support and testimony to his value as a citizen. BlkJn argues that the sense in John is of giving help – as is usually the sense in the New Testament, e.g. “console” in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and “exhort” in Romans 12:8. A Champion is one who supports by his presence and his words.

Verse 17: “whom the world cannot receive”: REB and BlkJn translate the Greek as whom the world cannot accept. To receive the Spirit, people must abandon their hostility to God.

Verse 17: “sees him ... knows him ... knows him”: BlkJn offers perceive him ... recognise him ... recognise him.

Verse 17: “abides with you”: The Greek word is the same one translated as “stay” in 1:38-39, where two disciples stay with Jesus. [BlkJn]

Verses 18-20: The Holy Spirit imparts Christ’s life and unites believers to God. In his speech on the Day of Pentecost, Peter says: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33). [NOAB]

Verse 20: “On that day”: i.e. the day of Christ’s resurrection. Then they will realize that they have been incorporated into the divine society of the Father and the Son. They will then share in the divine life. [BlkJn]

Verses 21-24: Fellowship with Christ is dependent on the love which issues in obedience. [NOAB]

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