The missionary Spirit gives life to the people of God at Pentecost

This Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost, when we remember, celebrate, and re-engage with the first giving of the Spirit at Pentecost as recounted in Acts 2., and the lectionary reading in this Year CX is, as every year, Acts 2.1–21. Although it is a comparatively long reading, in one sense it is not long enough, since we do not hear the whole of Peter’s speech, nor do we hear the response to it!

With any of these annual celebrations, we are always confronted with the question of whether there is anything fresh to say. Commentators note that this is one of the most pored over passages in the whole New Testament—and in fact it is laden with theological significance in just about every verse. There are some puzzles which few have solved (and I will offer a solution to one of them!) and of course we need to remember that, whenever we are preaching, there are people listening who might not have reflected on this passage before. And after I had done my reading and preparation for this post, I realised that I had written on this previously—but what I planned was quite different from what I wrote before! So there is hope!

I also found it sobering to work with a different—and older—commentary on this passage, Howard Marshall’s Tyndale Commentary, first published in 1980 but revised in 2008, and given to me as a gift when I started theological study by my sending church in 1990. It is full of insight and application, and I think for that reason has not been replaced in the revision of the series (for which I wrote my commentary on Revelation). I would thoroughly recommend it.

Pentecost is often called ‘the birthday of the church’. Marshall notes (p 67) that the Pentecost narrative occupies the same place in Acts as the birth narrative occupies in Luke’s gospel. But we can go further: there is a striking parallel between the words of Gabriel to Mary, and the words of Jesus to the disciples.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1.35).

‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…’ (Acts 1.8)

In both cases, the Spirit will ‘come upon’ Mary or the disciples (and note, Acts 1.14, that Mary was amongst the disciples at Pentecost—she has seen this all before!), this will be accompanied by ‘receiving power’, and then something new will be brought to birth. There are earlier parallels here in descriptions of the people of God, awaiting deliverance by God from oppression in exile, as being in the ‘pains of childbirth’ (Isaiah 66.7f, Micah 4.10) and this is picked up by the image of the people of God awaiting the messiah in Rev 12.2. Paul also makes use of the image, though in a remarkable way, in Gal 4.19, where he tells the Galatians that he is in the pains of childbirth until Christ is born in them. The image is also used by Jesus in the ‘little apocalypse’ in relation to the longing for the age to come (Matt 24.8).

‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place’ (Acts 2.1). The ‘they…all’ here must refer back to the 120 referred to in Acts 1.15, rather than just the twelve apostles who are mentioned as the ones Jesus taught in Acts 1.2 and those standing with Peter in Acts 2.14. This implies that women, including Mary, were amongst those receiving the Spirit, and that in turn makes sense of Peter’s mention of Joel’s promise that the Spirit will be poured out on ‘sons and daughters…even on…men and women’ (Acts 2.17–18). It appears that, for Luke, the gift of the Spirit is given without distinction to men and women, as we might have expected from the way he describes women and men in the ministry of Jesus in his gospel.

It turns out that the ‘one place’ they are in (verse 1) is a ‘house’ (oikos, verse 2). This term can refer to any kind of domestic dwelling, and though it is used metaphorically to refer to the Jerusalem Temple (as the ‘house of God’) there is no suggestion that this is the reference here. But what is interesting is the implication that, at some point between verse 2 and verse 14, when Peter stands to give his speech of explanation, the group have moved from the enclosed space out into the public square, to engage with those who are questioning the meaning of the events. What a contrast to the post-resurrection accounts, where they have hidden in a locked room ‘for fear of the Jewish leaders’! The coming of the Spirit dispels fear and leads God’s people out into proclamation!

Marshall notes that, contrary to most visual depictions (which always, of necessity, involve literalising a text), the coming of the Spirit is like a rushing wind, and the Spirit on each is as if (or ‘seemed to be like’, TNIV) tongues of fire—not literally so in either case. There are allusions here to OT theophanies, such as 2 Sam 22.16, Job 37.10 and Ezek 13.13, and especially the appearance of God at Sinai (Ex 19.18). We miss in English the double meaning of the Greek pneuma as both ‘wind’ and ‘Spirit’, which Jesus in John 3 makes much of in his dialogue with Nicodemus, and the link with the ‘breath of life’ that animates the first Adam in Gen 2.7 (that Paul draws on in 1 Cor 15.45). But the primary allusion is to the promise of John the Baptist that Jesus would ‘baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Luke 3.16). This becomes a powerful Christological statement, which only makes sense with a Trinitarian understanding of God: the Spirit (presence and power) of God is sent by Jesus who baptises and fills his followers with the Spirit, who comes from the Father.

The outward and visible signs (wind, fire, speaking in tongues) point to an inward and spiritual reality, which is expressed by the language of ‘filling’. Although this appears to be an impersonal metaphor, likening the Spirit to inanimate realities such as water and air, in contrast to the personal metaphors of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, it is used all through the New Testament in several ways.

The word is used when people are given an initial endowment of the Spirit to fit them for God’s service (Acts 9.17, Luke 1.15) and also when they are inspired to make important utterances (Acts 4.8, 13, 13.9); related words are used to describe the continuous process of being filled with the Spirit (Acts 13.52, Eph 5.18) or the corresponding state of being full (Acts 6.3, 7.55, 11.24, Luke 4.1). These references indicate that a person already filled with the spirit can receive a fresh filling for a specific task, or a continuous filling. (Marshall, p 69).

Or, as graphically put by Michael Green in a sermon I heard as an undergraduate: ‘Why do I need to be filled again? Because I leak!’

Though the language of ‘filling’ can indicate initial, repeated and ongoing experiences, the word ‘baptism’ cannot (contrary to some mainline Pentecostal teaching). The word ‘baptize’ is never used for anything other than an initial experience. But the range of others words (including ‘pouring out’, Acts 2.17, 10.45) and ‘receiving’ (Acts 10.47) indicate that Luke sees this reality of the Spirit as something that is normative for both the beginning and the continuation of the life of discipleship.

The description of those residing in Jerusalem is both fascinating and puzzling—but offers some surprising insights. First, Luke notes that these were ‘devout’ people (Acts 2.5), in keeping with his emphasis that Jesus came to call both ‘sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5.32) and the devout to see their hopes of deliverance fulfilled. For Luke, it is simply nonsense to suggest that Jesus didn’t mix with, appeal to, or work with ‘the religious’; his problem is with those who are complacent and hypocritical.

The speech that Luke composes and places on the lips of these visitors is, of course, an artifice, as are in some sense all the speeches in Acts; they are (like all gospel material) far too short to be realistic. But what they are is Luke’s summary of the key points of what was said, recorded (inevitably) through his interpretive lens. In this case, he presents the conversation amongst the crowd as a kind of Greek chorus, in which they all speak in unison.

Commentators universally note that the number and ordering of the places mentioned is a puzzle to which no-one has a convincing answer. There is actually some sense of order; the first group are broadly speaking in the East of the Roman Empire; then we move to Judea and head north through central Turkey; then we move to the West of Turkey and North Africa; then further West to Rome, but with a jump south to Arabia. And of course there are many omissions in each direction.

But if the order makes little sense, the number is significant. The list is grouped to mention 4 + 4 (v 9) + 2 + 3 (v 10) + 4 = 17. Our attention is drawn to this by the odd separation of ‘Jews and proselytes’ from Rome, making what would have been 16 names into 17. Why does this matter? Because of the connection with Ezekiel’s prophecy of the water flowing from the temple, and the importance of 153 in the catch of fish in John 21. As I cite in the discussion of John 21:

In Ezekiel 47, we see baptismal waters flowing from the overturned Bronze Sea of the Temple, flowing out to the boundaries of the Land. Remember that Jesus claims to be the source of such living waters. In Ezekiel 47:9, we are told that “very many fish” will live in the (formerly) Dead Sea as a result of these living waters. In verse 10 we read, “And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it; from En-Gedi to En-Eglaim there will be a place for spreading of nets. Their fish will be acording to their kinds, like the fish of the Great [Mediterranean] Sea, very many.”

The Dead Sea is the boundary of the new land after the exile, and a place of contact with gentiles. The fishes are clearly gentile nations. The fact that the sea is formerly dead and now is brought to life surely indicates the influence of Restoration Israel over the nations before Christ, and points to the greater influence of the Kingdom after Pentecost.

Now, it is well known that Hebrew letters are also numbers: the first nine letters being 1-9, the next nine being 10-90, and the last five being 100-400. “Coding” words with numbers is called gematria. If we substract the “En” from En-Gedi and En-Eglaim, since “en” means “spring,” then the following emerges:

Gedi = 17 (ג = 3; ד = 4; י = 10)

Eglaim = 153 (ע = 70; ג = 3; ל = 30; י = 10; מ = 40)

Again, this seems too close to the mark to be a coincidence. Once again, we have the number 17 (Gedi, mentioned first) and its relative 153 (Eglaim, mentioned second 1) connecting to the evangelization of the gentiles, symbolized by fishing.

Conclusion: The number 153 represents the totality of the nations of the world, which will be drawn in the New Creation.

John, in his story of the fishing trip in John 21, makes use of his ‘double meaning’ of the literal and the symbolic to teach us that the gospel will reach all the world. Luke, using his historiographical account of Pentecost, tells us the same thing. The deliberate listing of the range of places both anticipates the areas where the gospel will reach, but also hints at the means; we later read about Jews being dispersed from Jerusalem, who ‘accidentally’ share the good news of Jesus the Jewish messiah with gentiles in Acts 8.4. Truly, salvation has gone out from the Jews (John 4.22).

(Possibly inadvertently, the lectionary points to us making this connection between Acts and John, by suggesting that we should also read John 7.37-39, which includes the obscure saying of Jesus, ‘as Scripture has said, out of his stomach/side will flow rivers of living water’. I agree with Richard Bauckham that this is an allusion to Jesus as the new temple of Ezekiel’s vision, from whom the Spirit flows, symbolised by the water flowing with the blood in John 19.34.)

Marshall argues (p 68) that this is not, as commonly preached, an ‘undoing’ of the confusion of Babel (Gen 11), since Luke offers no echoes of any OT text from that episode. I would also note that undoing Babel would imply eliminating linguistic difference and giving everyone a single language to speak. In fact, the gospel does something quite different—uniting people in one community whilst retaining their different ethnic, social and cultural differences, expressed in the four-fold phrase ‘every tribe, language, people and nation’ that we find seven times in the Book of Revelation.

Marshall also dismisses the idea that the giving of the Spirit contrasts with the gift of the law, which is also celebrated at the festival of Pentecost. I think this is just a convenient way of reading a kind of antinomianism into the New Testament; both Jesus and Paul see the gospel as a fulfilling not an abolition of the law, and both are just as concerned about outward expressions of devotion and obedience as they are about the inward reality of intimacy with God made real by the Spirit.

There are three important things to note about Peter’s speech from Acts 2.14 onwards. The first is that he sees the gift of the Spirit as neither an incidental consequence of Jesus’ death and resurrection nor a temporary thing for a limited period of time. Rather, he uses the language of Joel to claim that we are now in a new era, where the future age has broken into the present. ‘This’, the outpouring of the Spirit with its accompanying signs, ‘is that’ about which Joel wrote.

Peter’s speech as set out by Luke includes two intriguing changes. First, the times ‘after this’ (LXX Joel 3.1) has now become ‘the last days’; and ‘wonders in heaven, and on earth, blood and fire’ has become ‘wonders in heaven and signs on earth’. Luke’s Peter is clearly linking the gift of the Spirit with the hoped for ‘day of the Lord’ at the end of the age. Just as Jesus has preached the coming of the kingdom, breaking in as the new age and reality whilst the old age has not yet passed away, so Peter describes the coming of the Spirit as another aspect of that partially realised eschatology.

(We find a similar dynamic in Rev 6.12, where the age to come marked by the sun darkening, the moon turning to blood, and stars falling, breaks into the world with the opening of the sixth seal.)

So the gift of the Spirit is not a flash in the pan, but the coming of the new age—a first fruits of the new reality, poured out at the Festival of First Fruits at Pentecost.

Secondly, it is in every way focussed on what God has done in the person of Jesus. Peter’s speech is structured in two parallel parts:

SubjectPart 1 (vv14b–24)Part 2 (vv 24–36)
Opening scriptureFrom Joel 2 about the Spirit poured out in the last daysFrom Psalm 16 about ‘your holy one will not see decay’
Account of what happened to JesusHis ministry of signs and wondersHis death and resurrection
God’s action and the response called forGod raised him upGod exalted him to his right hand and poured out the Spirit

The late Martyn Menken, in his book on Numerical Literary Techniques in John, comments in passing that Luke also uses numerical composition in his gospel and Acts, and this is a prime example.

There are also several instances of isopsephia in Acts, where the number of syllables of an episode or speech is equal to the numerical value of an important name or word occurring in or related to the passage in question (such as we found concerning John 1.1-18, where both the number of syllables and the numerical value of monogenes are 496). Peter’s speech in Acts 2.14-b-36 is made up of two equal halves: 444 syllables in 2.14b-24, and again 444 syllables in 2.25-36. Their sum, 888, is the numerical value of the name Iesous, a number which was famous in this quality in the second century, witness Irenaeus’ Aversus Haereses 1.15.2.

In other words, this is all about Jesus.

But thirdit is also worth noting the constant interplay here between God as Father, Jesus, and the Spirit. The resurrection of Jesus and the pouring out of the Spirit were both things done by God and both testify that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. So how should we respond to what God is doing? Believe in Jesus and receive the Spirit.

Thus Pentecost involves a profound personal experience that transforms fear into courage and hope. It turns the believers from looking in to looking outward, and enables them to offer a message of life to all people, so that the Spirit can form the people of God into a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and diverse group centred around the worship and proclamation of God as Father, Son and Spirit.

I hope that, in all this, you can find something new to explore this Pentecost Sunday!

For my other reflections on Pentecost, see:

(Published previously. Video discussion to follow in the next post.)

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128 thoughts on “The missionary Spirit gives life to the people of God at Pentecost”

  1. Hi Ian,

    As ever, an interesting post. You say:

    ““When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place’ (Acts 2.1). The ‘they…all’ here must refer back to the 120 referred to in Acts 1.15, rather than just the twelve apostles who are mentioned as the ones Jesus taught in Acts 1.2 and those standing with Peter in Acts 2.14.”

    —but surely it is more logical that the ‘all’ refers to the eleven apostles specifically mentioned in Acts 1:26 immediately before the ‘they’ in Acts 2:1 (as we know there were no chapter divisions in the original MS).

    This concept is reinforced n Acts 2:7 when the crowd pointed out that they were all Galileans—as the apostles were?

    • … and in Acts 2:14–15. Is ‘these men’ (ESV) of v.15 (surely the eleven) a good translation of ‘houtoi’ ?

      I am sure you are right about the number symbolism. Fascinating.

      • Colin Hamer

        You are probably right in your analysis.

        The logistics involved in feeding 120 people (gathered in one place), over a prolonged period of time (no fridges) would have been nigh impossible.

        Peter was standing with eleven men:

        “It is the way of a woman to stay at home and it is the way of a man to go out into the marketplace” (Bereshit Rabbah 18:1; cf. Taanit 23b).

    • Thanks–but I am not sure why? The selection of someone to join the Eleven clearly happened in the context of this larger group. ‘All together’ would be an odd way to refer to a small group of 12, but natural if the group were larger.

      • Hi Ian, great post.
        I had always considered the “all” to refer to the eleven apostles, given that they were all sitting together in one house (verse 3) and houses then were not that large. Also, verse 14 has Peter standing with the eleven.
        Verse 15’s “these people” would tend to support your view, though.

        Fascinating numerical symbolism. Thanks for feeding us so well


      • Hi Ian,
        There seems to be a hint at unity of purpose in the phrase ‘all together’.
        So, despite the fact that the 120 were spread between buildings/ covered courtyards they were of one mind and body. A minature version of what would sweep the earth. No closet, basement or back alley left out of the movement of the Wind and Fire. No island, steppe or jungle will be left out.

    • I tend to think a natural reading of the text is that it refers to the 120 previously mentioned. This makes sense when so many other languages were covered when they all began to talk in tongues. So I doubt it only referred to the 12.

      Thus all the initial believers had a similar experience, not just the apostles. Indeed it would seem very odd for Peter to go on to proclaim to the crowd that the Spirit was for everyone, if out of 120 believers only 12 (the select few) were evidencing the Spirit’s presence while the rest stood around looking gormless. That makes no sense neither to me nor the crowd.


      • ‘church’ has always been about a few working their socks off while everybody else stands around looking gormless! Its probably the deepest tradition all denominations agree on.

  2. Thanks, Ian. Unsurprisingly I am preaching on part of this passage on Sunday, although majoring on Peter’s use of the Joel prophecy (and not being constrained by the lectionary, I have the freedom to delve a little deeper into the remainder of Peter’s sermon). I thought I had pretty much finalised the framework and then I opened your email and find another couple of insights which will now have to be included.
    As part of my consideration of Peter’s use of Joel, reflecting on continuity and discontinuity I found myself questioning the ‘birthday of the church’ language which seems to me to emphasise too much the discontinuity. It may, as your post notes, be a common idea but used unwisely it could tend towards the replacement theology critiqued in your recent post. If we spoke of the ‘birthday of the ekklesia’ it wouldn’t make much sense as the ekklesia of God’s people existed from the Exodus onwards. I notice that Marshall, although drawing out the parallel with the Annunciation, does not use the idea. I believe there are good reasons not to. None of which is to suggest that something radically new did not take place at Pentecost.

    • Hi John. I am impressed that you prepared so early!

      The phrase I often use is: ‘God is doing something radically new—the same radically new thing he has always been doing!’

      Yes indeed, this cannot be the birthday of the ‘ekklesia’ because the ekklesia existed all through the OT. But I don’t think there is any doubt that Luke intends us to see a parallel between the birth of Jesus and the birth of this Jewish Jesus-focussed renewal movement. There has been a replacement—of the law as *the* means by which we relate to God by Jesus, with the law now having a supportive, rather than principle, role.

      Remembering that this new birth was of a Jewish group speaking to Jewish people, perhaps we should think of it as Israel birthed into its end-times mission to the world, that God had always intended…?

      • I’m persuaded by the idea that Luke is drawing a parallel; it’s just the way the language of ‘birhday of the church’ is used that concerns me. But I like the idea of Israel being birthed into its end time mission to the nations. Further revision to sermon coming… (and don’t be too impressed by early prep; I’m normally tinkering up to Saturday evening.)

        • Though there is something new and different coming into being. The new covenant is being inaugurated. The kingdom community is being fully equipped. The law and the prophets were until John and from then the eschatological community was being created. Christ says in Matt 16 ‘I will build my church’ which may have chronology implications. Most fundamentally the church in faith union with its exalted head is commenced; the church which is seated with him in heavenly places who is in union with the Son of man who has received a kingdom (Dan 7). Hebrews says

          And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

          It is trying to capture that balance between continuity and discontinuity, isn’t it.

  3. Thanks, Ian. Too much, too rich, to digest in one skimming on the phone.
    One initial thought: there was an inversion of Babel in so far that there was one common Good News language of Jesus, in various tongues, languages.
    Pour out your Spirit, Lord, revive your church again and again, as in humility we turn to you, having put Jesus on the cross and mocked, scoffed in our inflated intellectual importance and impoverished interpretation and understanding. Open the eyes of our hearts Lord, that we may see Jesus and in him the fullness of God, given and glorified.

  4. Such an interesting overview. Thank you.

    Ian, I don’t know if you could help me with one aspect of baptism which you mention:
    “The word ‘baptize’ is never used for anything other than an initial experience.”

    Now, I take a fairly Anglican and I guess catholic view on baptism as a sacrament – and I believe in *one* baptism. I was baptised as a baby, and to me that is my “initial” baptism point. I don’t believe I need a further baptism ‘ritual’.

    That said, my further experience and understanding of baptism is that it is an aspect of being buried in Christ and spiritually raised in Christ which, as a Christian, you grow into and keep living out.

    For example, as a baptised baby I did not yet have any conception of personal relationship with God, though I had the blessing. But when I came to Christ, the reality of baptism opened up to me. I didn’t need a second water baptism, but spiritually I do believe we open up to the spiritual process – a continuing process – of baptism.

    When Jesus told disciples “You will be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with” the narrator explains, “By this He meant his death”.

    The implication seems to be not simply we too will physically die, but that ‘death to self’ which is fundamental to Christian life… dying to self, and opening to the Spirit… so that Paul can write “I have been crucified in Christ”.

    So baptism seems not only to be an initial experience, but an ongoing experience all through our lives, as day by day we die to self, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.

    Is this a fair summary. We keep being baptized, not just initially?

    • Baptism symbolises the death of the old, unforgiven self and the raising of the new forgiven self. As such it is a one-time event. I think youre referring more to the daily recognising that our old self is dead. Something we sometimes struggle to do.

      You also pick up on an interesting question re infant baptism – was that ‘real’ baptism and if not should someone who comes to faith be baptised as an adult regardless of being baptised as a baby. Personally whilst I dont expect the Anglican church to change its practice, I think adult believers should be given the opportunity to be baptised if they so wish. Unfortunately regardless of the rights or wrongs of infant baptism, it is often the norm in churches regardless of whether or not their parents or other family members are believers (and probably even fewer who believe in satan), and I see no real evidence that such ceremonies lead people to go to church, except out of ‘tradition’.


      • Hi Peter,

        I agree that the event of water baptism is a one-time event (we may have different views on when that should or may happen); and I agree that it symbolises our salvation event, in that sense you described: death of the old unforgiven, raised of the new forgiven person in Christ.

        I think what I’m saying is that baptism is also from that time of salvation an ongoing state of being, and process we have to live out day by day, dying to self, and opening to God’s love to others. That is frankly an ongoing dimension of the reality of an ongoing death to self in our lives.

        I see baptism as a dynamic which you live out day by day, as well as a static event which has a start date.

        In a sense, when people talk about being ‘baptised in/with the Holy Spirit’ I suggest that is part of opening up to the Baptism that has made them inheritors. All our lives we are challenged to open up to that baptism. We’re not just saved one day, and that’s it. Each day we have to die to self and engage with our devotion (in OT sense) and death to self… each day we need to be baptised in the Spirit… and open to the flow of God’s love.

        The whole Bible is packed with images/metaphors for baptism: Noah’s Ark, the Exodus, Jonah in the Whale, Daniel in the Lions’ den, the firy furnace… again and again… as a state of being… we are being called day by day into the process of baptism. Of course, the greatest baptism of all was the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

        When we take up our cross each day… that is death to self, to follow Jesus. That to me is submitting to baptism.

        I guess what I’m saying is the difference between a picture of New Zealand on a postage stamp, and actually being there in New Zealand, looking at the same scene in more dimensions.

        I’m suggesting that there are more dimensions to baptism than just the ‘event’ of water baptism, or even being born again and saved. While that is decisive, there is also an extra dimension, a dynamic, to baptism in/with the Spirit… which is basically LOVE. Opening to the love of God, when we believe and trust, and die to self and open to God in our daily life.

        As we tenderly care for someone today…

        That is baptism going on. Dying to ourselves, abandoning our selfish control, and opening to the life and the love of God.

        But I’m interested in Ian’s views or other people’s too.

  5. “The speech that Luke composes and places on the lips of these visitors is, of course, an artifice, as are in some sense all the speeches in Acts; they are (like all gospel material) far too short to be realistic. But what they are is Luke’s summary of the key points of what was said, recorded (inevitably) through his interpretive lens.”

    I am impressed that you say this, because it distinguishes you from literalistic fundamentalism. From your statement here, you seem to be asserting that some of these ‘set piece’ speeches are not the *exact* words spoken, but a recollection and summary of what was said. I suppose the same case might be applied to some extended passages of Jesus in later parts of John’s Gospel. What we are getting is summary, written by witnesses, not exact word-for-word record such as you would get on a video recording of a speech.

    Now, of course, the Holy Spirit will have been at work in assisting the witness to recall and understand what was spoken, but presumably we are to exercise caution about taking individual words and sentences as ‘exact’. The witness, open to the Holy Spirit, is trying to make sense and do justice to the ‘jist’ of what they heard.

    In these kind of speeches it’s the human author who (to use your words) ‘composes’ the speeches in their present state, and ‘places’ them ‘on the lips’ of the speaker (Jesus, Peter).

    If they are (again to use your words) ‘far too short to be realistic’, then we’re not getting ‘verbatim’… we’re getting an onlooker’s version and summary and understanding and recollection.

    Isn’t that how the whole Bible is written? Witnesses trying to make sense of encounters. The intricate numerological aspects of construction also suggest that they were constructions written after the event, rather than the literal word.

    None of that means the summaries don’t contain truth, but we should read scripture in the context that what we read has been filtered by the authors and their own attempts to make sense, convey, and bear witness to encounters with the holy. In that process, the Holy Spirit helps them recall and open up to those encounters, but they are not always writing *exact* words.

    I think that’s an important principle of the literary criticism and understanding of the Bible, if that’s what you’re meaning by ‘artifice’ and ‘interpretative lens’? The question then begged is, if not all the Bible is literal and exact (and you concede that’s the case), how far do you factor in context of human witnesses using ‘interpretative lens’ and their understanding of what they try to represent?

    If some of the Bible is attributing words to Jesus, or Peter, but they are not the exact words… what does that say for other passages where human interpretation is in play to ‘construct’ understanding of morals or to make sense of the frankly ‘through a glass darkly’ depths of God’s work and purposes?

    If Peter’s speech is ‘artifice’ then how do we know if other things in the Bible are also filtered through the ‘interpretative lens’ of the fallible human authors?

    I only ask, because there seems to be precedent here, if the words are not the exact words, for reviewing exact words in Genesis about Adam or Noah, and seeing those too as written through the ‘interpretative lens’ of an author trying to make sense, but not necessarily writing exact and literal statements. Or fast forwards to the ‘interpretative lens’ of what gets written in the NT with regard to the authors’ contemporary pre-suppositions, religious culture, or moral ideas.

    I’m not saying the Holy Spirit does not interact with all these authors, but apparently they write through the filter or ‘lens’ of their own attempts to make sense?

    • Cor lumy.
      I’ve never taken minutes of a meeting. I assume there isn’t time to record, “ I says to him, blah blah blah and he turn to me and says blah blah so I turned to him and says, etc”
      What level of authenticity are you hoping to find?
      St.Paul knew when he was stepping out of the Spirit to say, “I say, not the Spirit”. I feel sure the other authors knew what they were doing.

      • Fair point, Steve.

        I was mostly interested in Ian’s take, because he handles text acutely at the literal level, with close eye for every word, and to realise that he actually regards some speeches in the Bible as non literal in the sense that they are not the exact words spoken – while that’s long been my own view of Jesus’s long passages of speech in John – it made me interested in how he views that in terms of where the line gets drawn.

        If some parts of the Bible are not the exact words they are presented to be, but an author’s version through an ‘interpretative lens’… which is what I also believe… then where do we stop? To what extent is all Bible content written through the ‘interpretative lens’ (Ian’s term) of the human beings who wrote it. What is to be taken exact, and word-for-word, and what is an interpretation or assertion of an author, where we are not bound to literally accept it word-for-word. Is some text actually filtered through the author’s ‘lens’ of culture, time and place?

        Specific to the article, is the speech a carefully crafted literary artifice, right down to the number of syllables deployed to represent the name Jesus? To what extent are New Testament texts vivid and immediate snapshots of events, and to what extent constructed to develop the narrative of a new religious movement? (A movement I believe in because I find it authentic in its core truth about Jesus, which is congruent with my own faith experiences and encounter.)

        • It’s written entirely through the interpretative lens of the person who wrote it – that lens is shaped and formed by the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit wanted a Paul then he would shape a Paul through nature and nurture and the new birth etc to be exactly who he wanted him to be.

          Inerrancy (the Bible, aside from scribal errors is free from error) is in my view both what the Bible insists upon for itself and is necessary if we are to trust it otherwise we simply pick and choose what we fancy. Indeed, I don’t really see how any objective faith could exist. Christianity is the incarnate word speaking and revealed through the written word. The Bible is ‘the word of God’.

      • Steve

        I think you mean ‘I say, not the Lord’ in 1 Cor 7. He possibly means by this ‘what I said before Jesus also taught – look at the gospels – but now I’m bringing you something he did not teach re marriage; it has apostolic rather than dominical authority’.

    • Susannah

      I don’t think many thoughtful theologians (I’m not one, just a Christian reader) would argue the words put in the mouth of a character are necessarily the exact words spoken. In the gospels different writers put words slightly differently in the mouth of Jesus. How recognised a biographical technique this was I am not qualified to say. What a conservative Christian would argue is that the words of the writer were inspired and inerrant; at least this one would.

      It is clear that Biblical writers had a perspective and theological purpose which shaped the material they chose. They did not invent the material but redact it. In all of this they were guided by the Holy Spirit. Jesus sees the Holy Spirit’s providence on/with the OT books to be such that the books were entirely reliable…. Not one jot or tittle… Their intention was to accurately reflect the meaning of a speaker. I would think it is impossible to say just how far the writer strays from what the character cited literally said.

      One of the problems with Red-letter bibles is that they seem to have given greater value to the ‘words’ of Jesus than to the rest of the Bible. This is a failure to see that the rest of the Bible is the words of the incarnate word. Inspiration lies in what is written. The Holy Spirit is able to keep them from error.

    • Susannah York

      I am sure Psephizo did not use the word ‘artifice’ in the modern sense meaning ‘trickery’ or ‘deception’.

      He tells the reader what he means: ‘But what they are is Luke’s summary of the key points of what was said’.

  6. Susannah,
    You are seeking to sidetrack this article and in doing so making a number of presuppositional, undefined assertions and drawing conclusions.
    If you want to know about Ian’s interpretive framework, could it be suggested that you read the Grove booklets.
    It boils down to what scripture is, or, to put it another way, the doctrine of scripture.
    I do hope this article is isn’t going to get hijacked.
    These articles look to assist lectionary preaching. Preaching, I’d contend is not moralistic, therapeutic deism, nor imparting good information, nor good advice, but the Good News of Jesus.
    As Ian writes, and I pick out two points:
    1. ” … a powerful Christological statement which only makes sense in a Trinitarian understanding of God.”
    2. “… it is in every way focussed on what God has done in the person of Jesus.”

    • Geoff – as far as I’m concerned, Susannah has correctly pointed out that Ian Paul has dropped a clanger – a clanger which is worthy of Christopher Shell.

      Christopher Shell informed us a few weeks ago that the parables were actually made up by Luke, as a way of putting across the theology that (in his opinion) Jesus was trying to communicate.

      Similarly, trying to tell us that `the speech that Luke composes and places on the lips of these visitors is, of course, an *artifice*, as are in some sense all the speeches in Acts …’ is a clanger at a similar level.

      No wonder all the skolars want as late a dating for these texts as possible – these visitors would all have to be long since dead and buried if Luke wasn’t going to get done for libel.

      • I did not inform you of any such thing. Could you read what I wrote.

        I just said that there are some in that category.

        The mistakes in what you say are legion.

        (1) What is true of one parable may not be true of the next. You are being sweeping.

        (2) Theology did not come into it. I never mentioned it.

        (3) How could Luke invent ‘the parables’ when he was the final gospel writer and 2 of his predecessors had already included parables?

        (4) The dating options are not ‘early’ and ‘late’. Those seem more like ideologies, which would be a serious felony(!). There are loads of dating options, and they are not going to cluster at the poles – that would be most unlikely, as you’d agree.

        (5) Why do early and late matter if Luke was indeed the author, just writing towards the end of the first century after 50 years of ministry? I don’t understand that.

        The ‘skolars’ are those who have studied more than you, not necessarily those who are cleverer than you. You are intelligent and are wasting it.

        • I just said that there are some in that category.

          I’m surprised you put any into an invented category Christopher.

          • John – do you remember the advertisement for Skol lager back in the 1970’s/80’s – `when you know lager, you’re a skolar’.

            I believe that the authors of Scripture were guided by the Holy Spirit, but I also believe that the Holy Spirit chooses natural ways to do this guiding as much as possible.

            I don’t (unfortunately) have too much time to read theological books, but from the little I have read, I am building up a picture, which is that the writing, for the most part, is pretty close to source.

            One explanation I saw for apparent inconsistencies is that those to whom the texts were entrusted understood that they had been penned by extraordinarily holy people – and refused point blank to alter them – even when there may have been problems.

            Fast forward to the New Testament and I simply don’t see why similar principles weren’t in operation. From the opening of Luke’s gospel, we see that Luke was the one entrusted to make a careful study. With Peter’s sermon in Acts (for example) I simply don’t see why he couldn’t have asked Peter whether or not these were the words that Peter actually spoke (Peter may have spoken other words in addition to those recorded which weren’t deemed sufficiently important for remote posterity). With the long speech that Stephen the Martyr gave, well – we know that Paul listened to the whole thing (Acts tells us so) and we know that Luke and Paul were closely associated.

            I have seen the arguments – and don’t buy the arguments that Luke has to place much speech on the lips of people at all. It seems to me that there is every possibility that it is all pretty close to source.

          • John. you can do better than that.

            In order to make that assertion you just made, you would need to have studied each of the 50 parables one by one in the context of the 3 evangelists’ works and of their background. What percentage of that have you in fact done, though?

          • It never says that Luke was entrusted to make a careful study. You are rewriting.
            With Peter’s sermon… – circular argument, since Peter may or may not have been alive at the time when Luke wrote. Even the most normal datings of Mark range slightly after Peter’s death – and Luke comes after Mark.

            Some arguments are ‘I don’t see why not…’. But another person could say ‘I don’t see why…’. And could, secondly, wonder why you cherry picked that particular option in the first place. That is not scholarship. Scholarship is finding ways to weigh the various possibilities against each other.

            Ideologues prioritise what is congenial, whereas scholars (and Christians) prioritise what is truthful. Isn’t there enough ideology in the World without contaminating the Church with it?

          • However, as Goulder writes, there are no parables created de novo. There are always preexisting germs or kernels.

          • Jock

            I allow for a measure of editing of the words of others but not fiction. As I understand it oral tradition would be very accurate. I also believe that God used men like Luke, godly, a careful recorder etc and enabled him in a supernatural way to be accurate,

            Christopher… there are two ways of reaching a conclusion – inductive and deductive, I base my conviction on the deductive… on the view that the text has integrity. Plus, we stand on the shoulders of others. How many conservative scholars would say that Luke had invented some parables? We can’t reinvent the wheel each time. We must trust scholarly consensus.

          • No scholar is ‘conservative’ or ‘radical’ because ‘conservative’ and ‘radical’ are ideologies and thus opposed to scholarship. All scholars are truth seekers instead. They follow evidence. That is what being a scholar means.

            You can see where the other way leads to – your presuming to dictate to those who have done less study (whereas I would be ashamed to do that), whereas we should each be dictated to on a given subject by people who have done more study.

            When you say ‘I allow for a measure of editing’ that is irrelevant, because the way these questions are addressed is not by seeing what JT thinks.

            You write just ‘I believe that’ whereas a scholar would write ‘The reasons for believing that X are ABC’. And it is obvious which is better.

            Inductive and deductive – yes, both – but you are speaking as though there is only one datum or consideration involved. There are millions.

            As for scholarly consensus – which is usually a good thing – it does not always exist, but in this instance it is not as you say it is anyway. As in Jock’s case nothing will remedy save further study.

          • Read: ‘presuming to dictate to those who have done more [not ‘less’] study’.

          • Christopher

            I don’’t buy into a totally objective scholarship nor a totally careful one.; this is an ideal from which many fall short. Bias inevitable creeps in, especially where the Bible is concerned. I f I am wise I will listen to scholars who have established a reputation over the years among able conservative evangelicals

            You surely understand this. Christopher. Your average vicar or pastor cannot do the kind of study you are advocating. He must rely on secondary sources and he must find his way as to which sources are considered most reliable. He must judge on criteria that is not scholarly peer assessment,

            Yes, there will be mistakes made here. Yes I may be limited to a certain band width (the one where I hear the music). This is not of course a complete leap in the dark. As I say, reputation among peers will be important. Secondly, my own understanding of Scripture will also help me gauge the value of a commentator. The layman’s personal Bible study should not be underestimated by the academy.

            There is no doubt an uneasy balance here. On the one hand we need scholars but on the other we cannot fully trust them. They are flawed individuals. They have their own axes to grind.

            ‘I allow for a measure of editing’… Christopher, we are on a blog. We will not always back up a comment with proof especially where we think most will agree.

            I am still unsure what point you made about parables in Luke but if, for example. you did say Luke invented some of them, can you not see that this is an immediate red flag to me. I have a view of Scripture’s veracity that this challenges. I view Scripture as God’s word that does not lie and I am aware of no C1 convention that would justify inventing a parable. I cannot go and consider all the arguments and reasons that have led to this conclusion. A deductive study is beyond me. I must reject it on other grounds – a doctrine of Scripture and any information I have from about the parables from the academy. I’m using this as an example I am not saying this is what you have done.

            Normally I find your comments helpful and orthodox. I hope to be further helped.

          • So here is how that seems from here:
            (1) ‘A deductive study is beyond me’ – no problem. All you need to do is read/hear those who can do it.
            (2) ‘A deductive study is beyond me, I must reject it on other grounds.’ If deductive study is beyond you, then it is hubris to venture to give a worthwhile conclusion at all, until you have first familiarised yourself with it.
            (3) Scholars have axes to grind? No more than anyone else. But their training in objectivity is more than anyone else. And if they are Christians and good people their desire for and exaltation of objectivity will be more than anyone else too.
            (4) As mentioned before, parables are not invented de novo, but the kernel or seed principle certainly applies (very suitably, considering that parables are fundamentally a ‘seed’ sort of thing: Mark 4). They are often expanded (somewhat like basic sermon illustrations, that bring the underlying principle/maxim to life) from a preexisting kernel. Most notably with those 3 Matt parables that postdate the Mark kernels which they expand upon. And also with those Luke parables that are generated by his Deuteronomy 1-26 template in the section 9.51-18.14. It is just that kind of analysis that you are missing with your too-broad brushstrokes.
            (5) You persist in exalting the ‘conservative’ but that makes all your arguments circular. It is a foregone conclusion that conclusions will have to be as you say – otherwise they would not classify as conservative in the first place. And you are not giving place to any other possibility – so everything is predetermined. I am sure you can see the circularity really. If you are restricting yourself to the conservative (rather than the evidenced, with which it will sometimes overlap) then you have already decided what conclusions must be (broadly). That is Veruca Salt – I want it and I want it now. Historical conclusions that arise from evidence are very unlikely in the real world to be precisely what we want.
            (6) ‘Red flag’ – it is a red flag only regarding your wishes and preferences (which, obviously, are irrelevant) not regarding your study, which has not as yet reached that point.
            (7) ‘Orthodox’ is neutral. The question is whether orthodoxy is warranted. Things can be orthodox and true, orthodox and false, unorthodox and true, unorthodox and false.
            (8) No C1 convention that would justify inventing a parable? Preaching? Suppose people could have a story instead of a bare proverb? Would that not be more colourful and also more memorable? When people preached on Jesus’s proverbs, would they not illustrate them by expanding them into stories? Would not some of those stories have been well prepared and memorable and worth preserving, and an improvement on the bare proverb by itself which was still retained as the moral and foundation and summary of the story anyway?
            (9) The layman’s personal Bible study should not be underestimated by the academy? Each layperson is different. It will always be better for them, for interpretation purposes, to have more background knowledge rather than less. It is seriously puzzling how anyone could think otherwise. Laypeople who have no interest in learning from experts are just like anyone who thinks they know better than experts. As mentioned, that is an attitude I would be ashamed to hold, but worse it is a conscious lie. I know I have a lot to learn about particle physics, which is why I do not pronounce on it but am fascinated to talk to those who have studied it.

          • Christopher

            Do you think the apostle John would have urged the believers to go and immerse themselves in the teaching of the gnostics (or their progenitors)? He advised them to ‘hear’ the apostles. My point is we all must take care what we read and more importantly who we trust o read.

            I’m not saying there is not a place for reading beyond your family (conservative evangelical). Certainly scholarly study will be on a much broader canvas. Laymen who have a really good working knowledge of the Bible will be in a safer position to swim in more treacherous waters but not all can do this and survive. Someone who makes it their business to read a fair bit of Bart Ehrman shouldn’t be surprised if his faith begins to crumble.
            Polluted sources pollute.

            If I found that your contention about parables had traction among sources I trust then I may try to read up on it a little and adjust my theology accordingly. My first instinct is caution for such a view has not been on my radar over the years and I have read reasonably broadly within evangelicalism.

            Scholars have axes to grind… no more than anyone else. Agreed. But you were claiming a much higher standard for scholarship and I am questioning whether it is so high. Even where there is no conscious bias there is unconscious bias and then there is just plain getting it wrong. Getting it wrong is much harder to detect in the arts than in the sciences. The arts are much more subjective.

            My basic approach is to have a healthy caution about assured conclusions until there is a scholarly consensus within the conservative evangelical world – the world of Bible believing Christians. I thought you were part of that world Christopher?

          • John – I thought I’d contribute something – but then I saw that you had said pretty much what I was going to say (and you had taken the trouble to expand it in a way that was immeasurably better than what I would have done).

            All these issues – did the people really say the things that the writers of Scripture attributed to them? were non-issues say 300 years ago – and it was basically taken as read that they did. It is interesting to see the origins of the subject and the attitudes of those who started raising these questions – and coming up with answers such as `no – the writers put words into their mouths’.

            It doesn’t look good – because there is a very heavy dose of `Christian’ theology (labelled `liberal’) that does not emphasise the `once for all’ event, the crucifixion by which our sins are dealt with, the resurrection, by which we know (those who believe) that Christ has conquered death on our behalf – and now Ian Paul points out the necessity of the ascension, so that He is at the right hand of God.

            The subject may have taken a better turn in recent years, but there is an old Glasgow saying, `you can polish a jobby as much as you want to – it is still a jobby’

            In a previous conversation with Christopher, he admitted that the `plain man hypothesis’ (the first thing that would enter the head of the `plain man’) that people were well aware of the momentous nature of the events and were highly likely to be taking notes – is basically a hypothesis that hasn’t even been interact with by scholarship (it is not as if they have thought about it and come up with good reasons to reject it).

            Until this happens, I find other Christian reading much more profitable (e.g. re-reading John Bunyan, which I have already read several times).

          • ‘ Laypeople who have no interest in learning from experts are just like anyone who thinks they know better than experts. As mentioned, that is an attitude I would be ashamed to hold, but worse it is a conscious lie.’

            Christopher, you reveal little confidence in conservative evangelicalism or orthodoxy. Why should scholars be granted greater trust. I don’t think they should. Think of C19 biblical scholarship; it was destructive of faith and much of it is now discredited. We should not think C21 scholarship will be so much more trustworthy.

            The Bible says ‘lay hands suddenly on no man and don’t be a partaker in another man’s sins. Wise advice. Wait and weigh new ideas.

          • Things become orthodox (or traditional) often because they are tried and tested. (There are other possible reasons: for example, they may serve the interests of elites.) So while there is no intrinsic connection between conservatism and accuracy nor between radicalism and accuracy, one would expect conservativism to do better than radicalism here, because it can point to years of mainstream status. It is impossible for things that are too self contradictory to gain mainstream status – as we are now seeing with much of wokeism. I drew attention to a whole list of self-contradictions in secularism at the start of my chapter 11 in WATTTC. It is coherence and lack of self contradiction, together with correspondence to reality, that makes a maximally true or accurate theory.

            You are very far off the mark in understanding of what I am saying, but I think the main reason is a binary/polarised way of looking at things. It usually is. That never has any mileage. Scholarship (or, the search for the truth, which is something all people of truth prize) is a refinement process, not a battle between poles.

            So when you are writing of ‘little confidence in conservative evangelicalism or orthodoxy’ you are missing it, we are talking past each other. You are presupposing from the start what the right perspective should be (something that, in fact, can only possibly come at the end of the search) – whereas I am keeping all options open which means that any gains are real gains and not predetermined.

            Orthodoxy is sometimes something imposed by the powerful, at other times something deduced from a common core of durable findings. It is a word that can be avoided – if we seek only accuracy then orthodoxy (which will be the same as accuracy anyway) will look after itself.

            By the way you are often talking about ‘theologians’ but New Testament scholars do not need to be theologians at all, though they need among many other things to be familiar with the early *history* of theology. NT scholars are quite different from theologians in general, though there are several who are very successful at both disciplines; and often there is justified mutual suspicion between them. (Well, it is justified when directed by the NT scholars towards some of the theologians….)

          • Christopher

            I recognise that the material point of this discussion – the invented parables – is not nearly as dramatic as that description suggests. You seem to be suggesting that Luke may have expanded core statements of Jesus to explain them more fully. Yet even expanded core statements of Jesus does concern me. This is an interpretation presented as a statement of Jesus. I don’t say it is impossible but I do wonder just how sure any scholar can be in this field. We return to the levels of subjectivity in such fields of inquiry. I seems a disciple where it would be easy to get it wildly wrong. I think again of how these critical tools have got it wrong over the years.

            You’re right, over the years hypotheses are tested and approved or found wanting. In the meantime they do great damage. It is why change in thinking should come slow – lay hands suddenly on no man.

            I am intrinsically wary of anything that appears to be undermining the reliability of Scripture. This comes from what the Bible teaches about its own reliability and the self-evident fact that if the Bible is unreliable then faith in Christ has no adequate foundation. I think this wariness is the right place to start.

            You ‘keep all options open’ and the right option comes only ‘at the end of the search’. My first instinct is to say this is an impossible position for faith to live with. Faith cannot forever be open ended. It cannot simply be as good as the next scholarly inquiry. Intelligent faith starts with ‘givens’ and inquiry must function within these. Thus, I suspect, evangelical scholars with a high view of Scripture and strong commitment to the gospel survive scholarly inquiry better than some who engage with a frail view of Scripture and weak gospel faith.

            The academy need not be the enemy but it frequently is. Outside Evangelical Bible Colleges it is normally dominated by unbelievers. The critical tools are like loaded dice virtually designed to find fault. It seems to me only a very cautious discerning use can save the user from self-harm. You have far too high a confidence in scholarly objectivity for my taste Christopher.

            There is of course an interface here between the church and the academy. There is an uneasy dialogue between a confessed faith and a criticised faith. I recognise both are needed. I simply urge less confidence in the trustworthiness of the academy; it is controlled by unbelief; it rewards unbelieving conclusions; it is driven often by hubris; the scholar wishes to be well thought of etc. How do I know this to be largely true? Because it is true in every walk of life.

            I want to hear the ‘expert’. However, I am not going to be in thrall to th expert. Experts can get it wrong and frequently do. Experts tell me the miracles of the Bible are fiction. They tell me ‘Adam and Eve’ are fiction. The ‘expert’ is a priestly caste that can take the Bible away from the ordinary person. Caution is required and a healthy dose of suspicion. Prejudice , as I say, belongs in the academy as well as the church. A century ago the Bible’s teaching on patriarchy would have been a given. Nowadays theologians tell us egalitarianism is the biblical teaching. I understand your distinction between scholars and theologians the point of similarity however is that both are human, subject to error and prejudiced.

            I am not discounting your scholarly endeavours Christopher. I trust they yield real benefits for the church. I often find help in your incisive comments here. I am trying simply to give what I think is a balance and perhaps in doing so overstate my case.

          • Points arising:
            (1) ‘The ordinary person’ as described by you wants all findings/realities to be as they would wish. But that sounds like the very demanding and less mature ordinary person – not quite control freak but you get my point. So a child says: ‘But I *want* Mickey Mouse to be at the Parade. Why is he not there?’. Or: ‘I am going to sit here until this sponge cake changes into chocolate cake.’.
            (2) The ‘faith’ of which you speak you prioritise – but there is no biblical faith that is not evidence based. Often it is based on the prior evidence of the trustworthiness of God, for example. I do not think I can think of any examples of where the idea is that it is good to believe things that are not the likeliest. Talking of ‘faith’ is always tricky because the English language does not map onto Greek at all here, and both ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ tend to mean something totally different in modern parlance than in those biblical passages which perforce translate thus for want of a better alternative. In any case, you were asserting that ‘faith’ is the topic we are essentially dealing with -just as some people might say it was ‘religion’- and I think both sets are wrong, and not just because they are being too vague.
            (3) I didn’t say that The Prodigal was an expansion on a kernel saying of Jesus, though some parables are. The Prodigal seems to be (a) an expansion of Matt’s own Two Sons expansion on the Baptist Test in the Temple in Holy Week, together with (b) the Luke counterpart to Deuteronomy’s rebellious-son passage, in the context of his sequential Deut26-Luke9.51-18.14 matchup.
            (4) The point is that all this is part of an overall coherent theory of that is able to predict successfully in advance how gospel writers will act, and that is the sort of theory that should be prioritised.
            (5) Also there is the model of the ‘logic problem’. We see the larger patterns that are too large to exist by chance. The detailed logic of these helps us to understand the workings of the evangelists in the details we find throughout the gospels.
            (6) As mentioned I am not a theologian. I have zero skills in that area. I love NT historical and logical issues.
            (7) Scholarly objectivity – I didn’t say I trusted it, only that on average those trained to be objective will be more objective than those not trained.
            (8) You are impatient with the search and want the destination now. (‘Are we there yet?’ as the refrain goes.) But the destination can come only when every single angle has been looked at. Wanting it will, of course, not bring it. In the meantime there are any number of really rewarding sub-destinations. I have long been critical of NT study in this one sense – that there seems to be an unwritten rule that advances should never be made. By contrast, I think there are tight logical findings which deserve to be called advances.
            (9) Experts say the biblical miracles didn’t happen? I was not aware that they said that in a blanket way. The generalisation is far too large.
            (10) Nowadays the theologians tell us egalitarianism is the thing, not patriarchy? They sound like rather basic entrenched tribalists. Trained minds are more nuanced than that.

          • Regarding what Jock says:
            (1) I most certainly did not ‘admit’ anything. The only ones who ‘admit’ had previously been dishonest.
            (2) The emphasis on transmission of the oral word, and also on notetaking, have yielded many thousands of scholarly pages, each of them. Quite the opposite of what you say. But how would you be in a position to know whether this was or was not the case, without asking?
            (3) To be ‘liberal’ is out of court for any scholar. How to generalise at such an unintelligent level? Liberalism is also (a) very hard to pin down, (b) sometimes parasitic, i.e. being defined by what it denies rather than what it asserts.
            (4) If things were non issues at any time, that means that no thought went into them. Which certainly is not a good start.
            (5) I am a plain man on many things, most of them scientific. But I certainly am not proud of that. It boils down to that you are asserting – ‘The less you know, the more you know.’.
            Is it also true that the less you eat, the more you eat?
            The less you run, the more you run?

    • I agree we shouldn’t get side-tracked, and you’ll see from the first post I made that I am seriously engaging in its content. My second post, I admit, runs the risk of de-railing, but if we just leave Ian to speak for himself, then we can stick to the subject… I wrote it, to double-check what Ian was saying about Peter’s speech, and to double-check that he really meant what he said. To make clear my intent, I will not post again on the subject of ‘exact’ words I have just raised or anything else in my second post, except in response to Ian.

    • I think Suzannah has every right to comment on what Ian has written. That’s not side-tracking. If you dont want to attract comments, dont write it.

      There is a lot of genuine side-tracking on this blog, particularly when sexuality is mentioned!


      • Peter,
        What is the article about, its purpose, reason for being?
        I, for one, consider anything else to be irrelevant, that is, not logically probative, of the purposes – the Good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is played out in the canon of scripture.
        The how? of scripture is a separate topic.
        I wonder why we can’t take too much self revelation of God in Christ Jesus, in and through scripture without seeking to remove him, either through salami slicing, or decapitation of the Head from his body or the *postmortemism* of postmodernism.

        • Geoff

          I agree that it is by looking at Jesus that faith grows and is fed. Other questions can easily have the effect of attacking faith if we are not careful. A comment on a blog post gives little room for constructing a doctrine of Scripture.

  7. That as maybe, Jock, but it is shunting the article into a siding, away from the journey (longitudinal, canonical, Biblical history of redemption in time, space and place) and destination.

  8. Hi Ian, I’m not so sure I’d say the missionary Spirit gave ‘life’ to the early church. They already had ‘life’. He gave himself as the eschatological gift who would bring above all power to the life of the infant church (rushing wind… you will receive power). They received much else of course as befitted the residence of a divine person; they become a missionary church (each heard in own tongue). A new holiness filled them (tongues of fire)… the new age had decisively arrived.

  9. Sir

    Thank you for pointing out the application of isopsephia.

    Praise God!

    The Holy Spirit, just like the brush strokes of Rembrandt, has left his signature.

  10. There is a different way of looking at this—that this experience at Pentecost was to demonstrate that the apostles carried the authority of Christ and thus were given evidential gifts (e.g., tongues) to that end. Thus, only the apostles could transmit these gifts through the laying on of hands as seems clear throughout the rest of the New Testament (only one exception) —and in particular Acts 8 where Simon surely correctly deduces such—and thus he asked Peter (not Philip) for that transmission gift (Acts 8:18) —not the gifts themselves.

    Thus, our passage can be read:

    And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. When the day of Pentecost arrived, they [the apostles] were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they [the apostles] were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them [the apostles] and rested on each one of them [the apostles]. And they [the apostles]. were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them [the apostles] utterance … Are not all these [the apostles] who are speaking Galileans? (Acts 1:26–2:4)

    But Peter, standing with the eleven [the apostles], lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people [the apostles] are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. (Acts 2:14–15)

    Don’t the rules of grammar dictate, or at least suggest this interpretation? Also, we read ‘they’ were all Galileans [as were the apostles] —would the 120 of Acts 1 all been Galileans?

    • Colin Hamer

      What keeps rolling around in my mind is Psephizo pointing out that Luke is summarising.

      Then why would Luke stop to mention the number 120 were gathered? Why is he specific?

      Could it be that they were recalling Ezra’s Grand Sanhedrin? That the 120 (at least) were needed? For what?

      To form a counci?

      • Ah well, going down that route reminds me of the 120 provinces in the book of Esther. Does anyone see a connection between 120 provinces, 120 disciples and 24 elders in Revelation?

        • Steve

          How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

          Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four

          • Now I take the biscuit for being vague and oracle like. You will have to explain what you mean!

      • I do not know …

        But consider Romans 1:11 —what is it that Paul in that great epistle could not do, but instead needed him to be physically present in the church?

        In contrast, where had Paul spent a great deal of time—where they seemed to glory in the many miraculous spiritual gifts they had?

        And what were the signs of a true apostle that Paul talked of in 2 Corinthians 12:11–12? Many could do miracles etc., and some “super-apostles” apparently persuaded many—but he claimed his unique apostolic gifting trumped them all. What could that be?

        • Ezra was part of the Satrapy under the king. I assume the 120 in Acts alludes to that. Ie under the apostles in hierarchy the 120 disciples became satraps, symbolical administrators/governors of peoples, nations, tongues etc. within Christ’s Kingdom.

          Apostles are those who are first into virgin territory. They also have authority through endorsement. Paul by the elders in Jerusalem.
          Nothing like being with real people. Paul wanted to be with his own. The super apostles were hirelings. I bet they had impressive mission statements. Paul’s love was his.

          • Steve

            Never mind about this satrapy business.

            When probing options we must consider connections in this case the number 120).

            Decide on what the criteria are for admissibility and inadmissibility of evidence; the correct standard of belief to apply; degree of conformity with other parts of scripture et cetera.

            Then decide if the option (120 satrapies) is credible or incredible. If credible place it on the table with the others.

            For example, did Adam die in a day?

            God prophesied he would.

    • No, I dont agree. Youre simply rewriting the text to suit your own theological understanding, that it was only through the apostles that gifts etc were given.

      Even one exception shows such a view cannot be correct. By definition you cant then use ‘only the apostles’. And of course we simply dont know how many such instances occurred.

      As for the Galileans, Luke is recording what some in the crowd were saying. That doesnt mean that every one of the 120 were Galileans (though of course they may actually have been, why would that be odd?) In reality Luke is stating the crowd’s impression of the group of believers.

      I would also point out that limiting what was happening to just 12 men completely negates what Peter actually says in his speech in trying to explain what the crowd was witnessing:

      “In the last days, God says,
      I will pour out my Spirit on ALL people.
      Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
      your young men will see visions,
      your old men will dream dreams.
      18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
      I will pour out my Spirit in those days,”

      It is clear that in pouring out His Spirit in such an obvious way on both men and women believers, He was showing the inclusivity of the Gospel and the fulfilment of the prophet’s words.

      • Yes. Through the ministry of the apostles the spiritual gifts of prophecy etc., would be poured out on “all people” —in Scripture “all” hardly ever means literally ‘all’, rather many, or all categories, i.e., Jew, Gentile, men, and women.

      • “Even one exception shows such a view cannot be correct.”

        But I think this one exception ‘proves the rule.’ It is in Acts 10 —God had to demonstrate to Peter that the gift he had been given truly was for all—remarkably, even for the Gentiles.

        It seems God stepped in to the situation to demonstrate that to Peter.

      • I agree. I can see no obvious narratival reason for seeing the group as other than the 120. The point of Pentecost was the outpouring of the Spirit on all Jewish believers (later to include gentiles). To have the gift descend on only a privileged group of disciples would undermine the eschatological aim – a universalising of the Spirit among God’s people, not limited to specific individuals.

        • Hi John,

          No—the promise is not limited to the apostles, but this aspect of the promise, e.g., prophecy, is to be mediated by the apostles to “all” — regardless of ethnicity or gender.

          A remarkable event indeed. In the OT no prophet declared himself to be a prophet, rather he was commissioned by God. Through the apostles Christ appoints some (many?) to be prophets. But I do not think the understanding was that an individual could declare himself to be a prophet without the sanction of an apostle.

          You say: “ I can see no obvious narratival reason for seeing the group as other than the 120” —but I am arguing it is a grammar thing. When we have a pronoun, the usual rule is that it relates to the previous noun. Try it for yourself in conversation with friends—without that rule I think you will quickly see that the conversation becomes meaningless.

          • Notwithstanding the grammatical exegetical issues, the idea that an individual can declare himself/herself a prophet presents considerable problems, especially in the developing world.

            My book “Discovering God’s Will” has a section on the understanding of the Pentecost event and charismatic gifts in the NT and has been published in the UK and the USA and by Presses Bibliques Africaines—who commissioned a translation into French for francophone Africa.

            I was invited on a speaking tour of West Africa (passing by Timbuctoo—which I previously thought was fictional) to promote it and discovered first-hand the immense problems that individual revelations had for the gospel in these developing countries, especially in regard to the syncretism of Christianity with witchcraft.

          • Colin

            A couple of things. Firstly, it is a moot point which is the source noun – apostles or 120 brothers. I’m not convinced that the immediately previous need be the pronouns’ referent. But more importantly, I don’t detect any effort to suggest those baptised in the Spirit are only the (new) 12.

            Also I continue to think that limiting the baptism to the 12 undermines the whole egalitarian purpose of the gift of the Spirit. The theme is effectively ‘all know the Lord from the greatest to the least’. I can’t help but feel that the baptism of the 12 would have undermined the equality of standing in the body of Christ.

            It is true that we are built on the foundation and apostles and the apostles who were led into all truth lead us into truth. On the other hand John can write, speaking specifically of the Spirit, 1 Jn 2:27

            ‘As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him’

            The filling of Pentecost fulfilled the premise… to the Jew first but as I say I do not see it as limited to the apostles. Peter, in 15:6, speaks of how the gentiles had received the Spirit ‘just as he did to us’. Peter is addressing a group wider than the apostles. The implication in Acts is that these Jews (including James, the Lord’s brother) received the Spirit at Pentecost. There is no record of Jewish believers being baptized in the Spirit at a later date.

            Colin, I’m tempted to say here you are too much a son of hierarchical Anglicanism 🙂

        • Colin

          Acts 10

          While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

          I know you’re not saying other Jews were not baptised in the Spirit but we would expect such a key baptism to be documented in Acts.

          • John,
            “Also I continue to think that limiting the baptism to the 12 undermines the whole egalitarian purpose of the gift of the Spirit.”

            No—that is not what I am saying—the gift of the spirit is for all but not necessarily the miraculous gifts of the spirit (tongues and prophecy) and an apostle’s authority to transmit such which is what I think Acts 2 is primarily about. Thus every NT prophet could trace their commission back to the apostles and thus to Christ.

            “I’m tempted to say here you are too much a son of hierarchical Anglicanism.”

            Ah – no. I am a son of non-conformism. I have only recently started attending an Anglican church, and although think I understand Anglicanism as much as most (see my book on Thomas Cranmer published by Evangelical Press) — I still feel a bit of an interloper.

          • John,

            Ian does not like the expression ‘the birthday of the church’ and I sort of agree.

            But we are told the whatever the NT birthed it is built “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20) —and that it seems began at Pentecost.

            Incidentally, re your reference to Anglicanism, if I were to choose a hero from the Reformation it would be Thomas Cranmer. I know this is not the place to plug merchandise but Robert Letham, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at the Union School of Theology—and a noted expert on the period commented on my book on Cranmer:

            “Interacting with recent research that has greatly enhanced our knowledge of Cranmer, Colin Hamer has written an outstanding brief biography … that is both a lucid and accurate.”

      • PC1


        ‘As for the Galileans, Luke is recording what some in the crowd were saying. That doesnt mean that every one of the 120 were Galileans…’

        I thought Luke said Peter stood with the eleven.

        Either you, or Luke is right.

        • He stood from the 11, but that does not mean noone else was there. Luke is simply saying out of the apostles, Peter was the one that spoke to the watching crowd.

  11. As Scripture has said, out of his stomach/side will flow rivers of living water.
    The word here is koilia, ‘belly’; it does not mean ‘side’.

    Marshall argues (p 68) that this is not, as commonly preached, an ‘undoing’ of the confusion of Babel (Gen 11), since Luke offers no echoes of any OT text from that episode.
    Luke echoes Gen 11:9 when he describes the onlookers’ reaction as being ‘confounded’ (Acts 2:6), the very same word as in the LXX. The point is not that Pentecost eliminates linguistic difference and gives everyone a single language to speak, but that it gives believers a single Spirit, a power and a unity that overcomes linguistic barriers (Gal 3:28).

    Marshall is also wrong to dismiss the idea that the giving of the Spirit contrasts with the gift of the law. The Law was given on the 50th day (Ex 19:11), so there is clearly a parallel. Whether the point is one of contrast or of the Law being fulfilled is a question to worked out in the light of NT theology.

    Luke’s Peter is clearly linking the gift of the Spirit with the hoped for ‘day of the Lord’ at the end of the age.
    There is anything clear about this. The ‘Day of the Lord’ is still in the future, as Rev 6:12 does make clear.
    (reposted from 18/05/21)

    • Steven,

      I think I agree with these statements. And of course, Isaiah 28:11 (not seemingly mentioned in the article) is surely a reference to Pentecost and the ‘tongues’ —a new situation where Israel will for the first time have heard God speak in language other than their own. The tongues were known languages as the text of Acts makes clear.

      • Colin

        When Paul takes up ‘men of strange tongues I will speak…’ he is telling the Corinthians that tongues were not an evangelistic help but a hindrance. He is saying when God intends to judge a nation/group he speaks to them in a tongue they will not understand. In Isa 28 the men of strange tongues were the Assyrians sent to judge Israel.

        Thus Paul is telling the Corinthians unknown languages are not a gospel proclamation but a judgement. That is why he advocates prophecy rather than tongues.

        Incidentally, I think the tongues of Corinthians and those of Acts are different. I don’t like this conclusion but it seems unavoidable; the tongues of Acts communicate in the language ff the hearers while the tongues of Corinthians are not understood by any but the speaker.

        • I tend to agree with your last para. Or at the very least God intended to use the ‘tongues’ for a different purpose. But tongues in the normal context of a church gathering should only be spoken aloud if there is an interpretation – Paul makes that clear. Otherwise it should be done quietly if at all, in that context.

          • I agree with you, Peter. In a church setting it seems that tongues should only be spoken aloud if there is an interpretation (in my view, given to somebody else).

            That said, I personally think it’s acceptable if sometimes in singing, tongues ripples out gently. I believe the Holy Spirit does sometimes come down upon some people that way.

            I don’t like loud, hyper-emotional mass displays of tongues in church. That may be a cultural thing, I don’t know, but there is a point beyond which things are shifting out of control and the ‘sound mind’ that we’re supposed to have in the Spirit.

            Don’t know what others think about singing in tongues?

  12. It is suggested that this passage needs to be rooted primarily in Joel, and the God ordained Feast of the Lord, the Feast of Shavuot, a celebration of the Feast of Weeks, that is the first fruits of the wheat harvest. (Exodus 34:22). Leviticus 23: 15-21.
    It was considered to be the conclusion to Passover, the season of Passover not completely over until Pentecost is completed. And it reviews and fulfills the Exodus story from Passover to Pentecost. 50 days counted from the Feast of First Fruits.
    Crucially for the purpose of understand who were gathered and address it was one of three pilgrim festivals for the ingathering to Jerusalem, a compulsory convocation as it were from the provinces.
    They were festivals of the Lord, for both Jew and non-Jew, invited guests, jointly with each other. Deuteronomy 16:10 -11, 14-16)
    So far as this relates to Joel 2:23 the “latter rain” relates to the wheat harvest of Pentecost.,and the outporing of the Holy Spirit. (Rain at the right time.)
    The Feasts were to be seen as rehearsals to teach about events in the hisltory of redemption,
    or a *shadow of things to come* (Colossians 2:16-17).
    Or were to be seen as
    not only historic but aks
    our type and example (1Corinthians 10:1-2, 6, 11)

    Pentecost speaks of the beginning of the harvest of the salvation of people who would believe in Jesus, the Messiah.

    Some more could be said about about the fire for the burned meal offering and about Pentecost image as a betrothal (to bind together) contract between God and his people.
    With references to Sinai, Jeremiah. Joel. (I do perceive, Colin Hamer interjecting at this point, saying God divorced Israel, whereas is is suggested that the bethrothal wasn’t legally validly withnesses by two parties, as Moses , a witness assigned to the bride, smashed the two tablets on his return from God, seeing the unfaithful worship of the golden calf. The full marriage was not entered into, effected.
    To make one or two comparisons.
    1 50th day v 50 day
    2 written by the finger of God v written on hearts by the Holy Spirit of God
    3. 3000 slain v 3000 alive
    4. Letter of the Torah v Spirit of the Torah

    • Thanks Geoff. I agree with a lot of this. I think the OT meaning of Pentecost is important in this discussion. I also accept that there must be a measure of parallel and contrast between this (the inauguration of the new covenant) and the inauguration of the old covenant it replaces which must have been constituted around Pentecost; evidently one demanded of all the people while the language in Acts 2 is of supply. ‘Pouring out’ suggests supply.

  13. Thanks again Ian. Lots to reflect on here.

    Thanks for mentioning that the images of wind and fire are not literal but illustrative metaphors, and for trying to wean us off the visual images of little tongue-shaped flames hovering over the disciples’ heads. I think you could have gone further.
    The ‘tongues’ that everyone saw coming upon them were the languages they all started speaking, and nothing to do with the baptism of fire mentioned in Matthew 3 which is destructive and mentioned as a counter point to the baptism in the Spirit.

    10The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

    11“I baptize you with (or in) water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with (or in) the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

    For this reason, I don’t think the fire metaphor in Acts 2 is related to this reference, or to Sinai, here, but is a simple reference to the spreading of the languages across the group, like a wild fire…

    But the important thing is that when the Spirit anoints people they generally start speaking. In this instance, the Spirit fills the disciples and they are equipped, as you say, to be missionaries, all of which is a fulfillment of the Spirit inspired ‘prophecy’ of Joel.

    Perhaps Marshall should have said that this was the birth not of the gathered church, or ekklesia, but of God’s new mission agency.

    • “Thanks for mentioning that the images of wind and fire are not literal but illustrative metaphors.”

      But I suggest that the wind was not solely an abstract metaphor. It was a bit more than that. I suggest the wind was actually there, and was actually blowing.

      Of course, we are not talking about earthly, everyday wind… otherwise the whole building would have been wrecked and everything strewn everywhere.

      But I believe this was a spiritual rushing of a spiritual wind, in experience just as tangible, because supernatural things can be tangible, but – if you like – of a different dimension or level of nature… call it supra-nature if one liked. Maybe even more real and more tangible than the physicality of our passing world.

      The experience of the ‘ruach’ is not simply a breeze on this occasion. It was a mighty rushing similar in experience to what we’d call wind in this passing world. But so powerful – this ‘dunamis’ of the Holy Spirit – that it was more like rocket thrust in force, rushing through them and enfolding around them, wrapping around them as it rushed and kept on rushing, growing in power. It may very well have been like an embrace for them.

      I think it would be a mistake to suppose that God would not give them an actual experience – like a physicality of experience but on a higher, spiritual level.

      I do not believe we should simply say ‘it’s metaphor’ with any certainty, because the experience certainly happened and it happened like wind, only more so… more real, more overwhelming, and wrapping them around as it rushed, in wind and in fire. It might be hard to describe in words the rushing, rushing, rushing and the enfolding in love.

      And surely, they encountered God in the event. Like God drawing so close to them, holding them, entering them, and as God released them they were speaking in tongues.

      The power of the Holy Spirit came upon them, and was experienced by them… a mighty power, in the rushing, and the coming of God.

      We need to be careful we do not reduce any of that by calling it metaphor. Yes, it’s metaphor in that the coming of the Spirit is likened to what we familiarly know as wind because it’s the nearest term they could use… but it was a spiritual wind which itself was no metaphor, but actually experienced, even if the ‘physicality’ of what was experienced was at the supra-natural and deeper level.

      You are quite fairly entitled to disagree in any way, but this is what I say and how I understand those events.

  14. Sir (Psephizo)

    ‘The speech that Luke composes and places on the lips of these visitors…’


    ‘he presents the conversation amongst the crowd as a kind of Greek chorus, in which they all speak in unison.’

    Luke probably was educated in Greek and Roman literature. But I think you are going too far to suggest (and thereby subtly attribute) traits (putting words into people’s mouths) displayed by such writers as Suetonious to Luke.

    • Indeed,
      That is what started Susannah, Jock, PC1(Peter), John’s comments above, and Christopher’s scholar’s push back.
      I too, as former lawyer with some little experience of the gathering of eyewitness/earwitness testimony would see such addition, putting words into mouths as being, inadmissible, excluded from evidence. Indeed when police officers put words into the accused mouths, it was known as being “verballed”.
      I’d therefore press Christopher and Ian Paul, for evidence that it happened, rather than scholar’s assertion.
      There are two main aspect’s
      1 truth- is it true. Is it a false witness to what was said and done?
      2 It renders what is written as unreliable in whole or part, therefore to be excluded.
      It is indeed no small matter, as others mention

      • Geoff – and if they are able to prove that it actually happened, then we have no reason to trust anything that the bible says. `The things that you’re liable to read in the bible – it ain’t necessarily so’ (as Louis Armstrong sings – from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin).

      • DS,
        Sometimes after being interviewed, under caution, the accused would be asked if they’d like to make written statement. Frequently the officer would then write the statement with their words their emphasis, asking the defendant to sign (some defendants weren’t very literate). Some statements were reliable accounts, if not precise, others were neither, and wouldn’t be signed.
        For an extended look at oral tradition and transmission and reliablity in the Biblical eras, a couple of books are worth a look are from Josh McDowell. Ian Paul doesn’t favour McDowell’s works, but has not said why, nor offered alternatives. The books are, “The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” – it is more of a tome, a curated bibliography of scholar’s texts; “He Walked Among Us” – this is freely downloadable.
        One of our ministers in his younger years was part of McDowell’s set -up in the USA. But as a former lawyer, new born into a charismatic Christian church setting, and encountering Higher/ form criticism for the first time in biblical studies, I ‘d benefited greatly from his work years before meeting the minister.
        Apologies, if you are already familiar with all this.

        • Geoff

          I can understand the great temptation for an admired theologian to demonstrate the breadth and depth (in this case the classics of antiquity) of his knowledge.

          It’s just that there is no evidential support to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that Luke is using the techniques of Roman and Greek writers.

          Further, I do not believe (should it be suggested) that Luke sat down and planned the gematriac coding needed for the calculations pointing to concealed messages waiting to be discovered. Those concealed messages, now being rediscovered, are the signature of the Holy Spirit.

          God is telling us, loud and clear: trust my Logos.

  15. It is a pity that the church has not been more rigorous in its study of this passage which became the foundation text for the latter day charismatic movement. But it is difficult to see how Luke could have made the story clearer—the event was about equipping and giving authority to the apostles and enabling them to evidence that authority in Christ’s absence.

    If we go back to the beginning of his account, Luke makes it clear who the event is intended for:

    “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them [the apostles] after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them [the apostles] during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them [the apostles] he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you [the apostles] will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:1–5

    Modern day believers of charismatic persuasion have appropriated this evidential apostolic authority as their own personal gifting—but it seems clear that when the last apostle died the specific miraculous ‘on demand’ gifts faded out of the church because there were no more apostles to transmit them.

    • On the contrary! We are now in the new age of the Spirit—the work and power of the Spirit was not merely for a passing apostolic age. I think Luke makes that very clear!

      • I think we are conflating two things. Throughout my comments I have been talking about the miraculous (sometimes ‘on demand’) spiritual gifts (not the gift/filling of the spirit) that were for the apostles only—and those that they laid hands on. By on demand I mean an apostle could say, for example, rise up and walk (Acts 3:6). We, I suggest, can only pray for healing.

        I believe Paul references this in 1 Corinthians 13:8–13 where prophecy, tongues, and [miraculous] knowledge will pass away, but faith, hope, and love will endure through the church age—love alone continuing in the age to come.

        • The miraculous will pass away when what is perfect comes. I sincerely hope you don’t think the church is this perfection!

          Paul is referring to the full coming of the new age when Jesus returns.

          • Yes – sadly, indeed not.

            As you will know ‘perfect’ in Greek here can mean complete— just as we have the ‘perfect’ tense. So, I see (as do others) that the ‘perfect thing’ is in contrast to the partial thing (1 Cor 13:10) —i.e., partial revelation in scattered prophecies is contrasted with a complete (or at least a sufficient) revelation—as per 2 Tim 3:16 (et al) —the completed NT.
            In short as the NT era came to a close and the cannon was completed these ad hoc prophecies were no longer required. Thus God in his providence didn’t allow those who had received the miraculous spiritual gifting from the apostles to pass it on to others.

            “Paul is referring to the full coming of the new age when Jesus returns” —I suggest this cannot be correct, because if you look carefully at the flow of Paul’s argument—the prophecy tongues and knowledge, the partial things, will be lost when the ‘perfect’ comes, but faith hope and love continue after that.

            This must be the church age because the NT is clear that there’s no faith and hope in heaven. So the perfect thing arrives before the eschaton.

            Of Paul’s six things only love survives the eschaton in age to come, 1 Cor 13:13. So two pairs of three, the second pair being 2+1. Warning, ironic joke coming for my mathematical friend: Do the numbers?

    • Your view and you support your case. Colin, I don’t agree. Firstly, I don’t think so-called ‘charismatic Christians’ have sought to appropriate the passage. It is a specific and powerful narrative about the coming of the Holy Spirit and I think they would all agree about that.

      Secondly, God’s gifts are never ‘on demand’. They are bestowed by our sovereign God. So I agree with you about that, whether this event is regarded as a one-off apostolic event or the beginning of an ongoing ‘pouring out’ of the Holy Spirit on Christians from then on. God is not ‘on demand’.

      Thirdly, I do not at all believe the gifts and phenomena mentioned in this passage only occurred at Pentecost and then died out. I believe that God still comes (when God chooses) in deeply personal, amazingly powerful, supernatural ways upon Christians and Christian gatherings. I believe that speaking in tongues, the rushing ‘wind’ of the ruach, and spiritual fire are still real and bestowed… because our God is a supernatural God and a personal God.

      Of course, these gifts can become distraction if over-focussed on. We should seek God, not experiences. So it’s incredibly important that the ‘God on demand’ mentality is avoided, and don’t need an ‘experience’ “fix” every time we go to church. But God supports Christians in God’s own time, on God’s own occasions, at God’s own sovereign Will.

      I believe our attitude should be the opposite of ‘on demand’. We should just want God, and we should be quiet in attitude, but just be recipient to whatever way God chooses to act. The greatest gift of all is the Love of God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, Christians today are encouraged to open our hearts to the flow and the power of that Love, and that coming of Christ in our hearts.

      I believe the Pentecost Spirit is for all Christians, in all sorts of ways as God chooses, but an absolutely primary imperative – and it is an imperative, a command – is to open our hearts to the power of God’s love.

      However, I wholeheartedly accept that Christians may take different views on these matters.

      • Susannah,

        Yes, indeed.

        I am sure of the genuineness in your multiple ‘I believe’ statements—but in contrast I am persuaded by what I see as the Bible’s teaching.

        And incidentally (I mean that in its literal sense) by experience. I was for several years a leader in a charismatic church.

        PS I do appreciate your considered and focused comments on the blog.

        • Thank you Colin.

          I can see the weight of your comment, and your care to root it in scripture. I do understand the principle that this could have been a coming of the Spirit where God first came upon the apostles, and empowered them, for their specific tasks and calling.

          I too, after ‘born again’ experience, started my conscious and personal Christian life in a charismatic House Church (in the Scottish Highlands). I guess personal experience leads me to affirm the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in supernatural ways, right up to today – indeed I would find it irrational to deny those things.

          To me, the concept of ‘baptism’ in scripture is very important.

          The people gathered together at Pentecost were, effectively, baptised in/with Spirit and with fire (however you interpret that bit). Wind and fire basically, albeit thread through with God’s personal presence.

          My belief is that baptism involves an ongoing ‘death to self’ and working of the Spirit – in the supernatural opening up to the love and power of God.

          This outpouring at Pentecost was just the first (albeit momentous) outpouring of the Spirit. Joel prophesied such a time would come… and that supernatural things would happen… dreaming dreams etc… so the outpouring was not just a one-day event. It was promised to be community-wide. People would go on to dream dreams, see visions etc.

          Nice talking with you though. When people talk together with grace, it’s amazing how even with different views, there is opening for God to operate with grace as well.

          In my long and extended dialogue with an evangelical minister on gender issues (not discussing in this thread) it was extraordinary how we both were touched… and how I found God actually used the dignity and grace of that man to renew my own ardour for God.

          It’s great not just to talk ‘about’ God, but to open to grace in the way we engage. Ian may quite often find my comments here a ‘pain in the… proverbial’ but I do think he exercises grace in allowing diverse views like mine to be expressed (and I respect him for that, and for his clear teaching gifts). It’s quite surprising really because he could have just blocked me long ago, but I think we enlarge our Christian lives and character by being willing to meet with courtesy, patience, prayer and grace.

          I appreciate yours.


    • Hi Colin

      I’ve been guessing at the journey you may have taken. It seems to be from a fairly full blown charismatic conviction to a reformed cessationist’s position. Is the latter the driving force for limiting the prophetic gifting (though not the Spirit) to the apostles? I confess I don’t see it as an at all likely position. The point of the Joel quotation is to a)reveal the age to come has arrived b)show this was an age of universal knowledge of God.

      Clearly in the early church gifts such as tongues, prophecy, miracles were given and not only to apostles. Nor is it clear that all gifting was given by the laying on of apostolic hands.

      As Ian says, 1 Cor 13 is not contrasting the apostolic age with a post apostolic age. It is contrasting the present phase of the kingdom with that yet to come ‘the perfection’. I was raised on the view the ‘perfect’ was the completed canon. I was surprised some years ago to see S Ferguson subscribing to it. I can’t help but feel the exegetical motivation is to remove any place for charismatic gifting. I have no personal axe to grind in favour of charismatic gifts. I have never been in an active charismatic church or experienced charismatic gifts. I just view the cessation it’s position as weak. Paul’s point in 1 Cor 13 is that gifts of any kind are for this interim stage of the kingdom. They are needed for the time of immaturity. I find it unlikely that Paul would deem the period of the apostles more vulnerable and less equipped than the post-apostolic days of a completed canon. It’s hard to see apostolic teaching as seeing through a glass darkly while the post apostolic church is the time of seeing fully, maturity and ‘known as we are known;.

      I think there is a sense in which faith hope and love are eternal. We will always trust God. There will be an eternal future calling for hope. And of course love will be eternally active.

      Paul’s advice then was to desire and pursue the best gifts.

      I had a look at your site and intend to read your divorce articles. I wrote about this at some length in the past for my then home church. I’ll be interested in what you have to say. I found Andrew Cornes very good at that point, and Wenham.

      • If I may join in on one point, John and Colin…

        “I think there is a sense in which faith hope and love are eternal. We will always trust God.”

        My opinion is that faith is not just for this present age. When we talk of faith, what do we mean? Do we just mean “I believe you exist”? Or do we mean “I believe and have faith in who you are, your qualities, your reliability, I have faith in the kind of God you are”?

        For example, if I say to a friend, to their face: “I have faith that you exist” that wouldn’t say much. But if I say to a friend: “I have faith in you, in who you are as a person, I trust in you”… that kind of faith, it seems to me, is deeper faith.

        And in that sense, I think faith like that continues in eternity. So much of our faith is rooted in trust.

        More than that, we also find that not only does that kind of faith in God (or ‘trust’ in God) go deeper than mere belief in God’s existence (I have faith the Devil exists but I don’t have faith and trust in who the Devil is)…

        …but we also find over the test of time, how completely faithful God is, in God’s promises to us, and love for us, and care about us. Faithfulness is not just what we have towards us, but what God exercises towards us, so we have such cause to trust God, and have faith in God.

        Trust is fundamental. I don’t only believe in God. I trust God, because of so many ways I have faith in who God is.

        Of course (at least, speaking for myself) our human trust and faith flickers a bit through life if we are honest. But God’s fidelity is steadfast like a rock, holding us even when we are afraid and losing trust ourselves.

        And so I sing:
        “The steadfast love of the Lord never faileth. And mercies new from day to day. They come new every morning, new every morning, great is your faithfulness, Oh Lord, great is you faithfulness.”

        In the end we are held by God’s faith, now and in eternity. And God longs to share fidelity of relationship, rooted in love and faith… forever.

        • Susannah,
          How do you know that? How do you know not only the subjective but also objective truth of it? What is the source, the primary source?
          By what measure(s) do you test it? And discern from the counterfeit love a feelings and self deception. For the “heart is deceptive above all things”. Indeed it is an idol factory, which I have come to realise un times of desperation, when I’ve longed for healing more than I wanted God.
          I’ve asked something along these lines before but you had to rush away.

          • Hi Geoff.

            How do I know ‘what’? I made quite a few statements.

            I’m willing to try to answer, but please could you be specific.

            Are we talking about trusting God, having faith in God because of what God’s like?

          • As I may have problems being online much tomorrow, I’m going to try guessing what you are asking me. Are you asking me how I can believe in God other than by the info the Bible offers us?

            Let’s start by reflecting on God. None of us can know God in more than limited ways. But God may choose in sovereign will and purpose to disclose to us through various ways and inputs.

            The first 26 years of my life, I did not experience a personal dimension to my faith, or personal relationship with Jesus. I had multiple inputs which, looking back, gave me glimpses and sense of a numinous God.

            1. Love. I was enfolded by family love (I was blessed that way). So sense and awareness of the importance of love came early and natural to me. As thoughts of God later evolved, ideas of love were sort of already there. Parents I trusted, parents who loved me.

            2. Nature. I was very receptive as a child. Receptivity is a big part of my own personal traits. I was privileged and had huge gardens to play in. I just loved nature, growing things, wildlife… beauty. From age 4 to 8 in particular, I had a sense of mystery… of there being an ‘old man of the mountains’. I felt that in nature. That there was a presence. I can’t explain that well, but it was an intuition that never left me. A kind of wonder in nature and a receptivity.

            3. From age 6 to 8 I had Christian school teachers who talked about Jesus. I did not go to church then (though I’d been baptised as a baby, which meant I’d received sacrament and its blessing). They encouraged me to trust about a man called Jesus, and I sometimes stayed in at breaks, drawing pictures of Jesus.

            4. I had a Christian great aunt who prayed for me all through my years into adulthood. I believe those prayers were truly meaning ful and significant. God listens to prayers.

            5. In my teens I immersed myself in literature and from that gained input on spirituality from poets like Wordsworth and Shelley and Herbert and Donne.

            6. I sang in an Anglican Chapel Choir from age 10 to 17. From that I opened to liturgy, and church year, and became receptive to God both through Bible readings, psalms, and God’s mystery through music. My priest was liberal catholic in disposition. I grew a deep sense of wonder and mystery, through music like Britten’s Carols, and church anthems. I was open to that mystery. I believed in there being a God, because I felt familiar with repeated experiences of numinous presence. It was an extension of the numinous I sensed in the garden when I was younger.

            7. My life between 18 and 26 was taken over by mountaineering and the wilderness. It became a way of life. What drove me was companionship, but also the sense of mysterious beauty, flow, and openness to the presence of the One I had so long sensed was there.

            [At this stage I still had no formulated experience of the gospel. No-one had sat down and explained it, and I just hadn’t put all the pieces together. I had no personal relationship with Jesus.]

            8. Music. I opened to God’s numinous wonder and beauty through music, especially Vaughan Williams.

            9. October 1979. I read the first 3 chapters of John’s gospel, and underlined “The Light Shines On in the Darkness”. I was renting a farmhouse from a Christian lady. The witness of her faith spoke to me (wordlessly) profoundly. She saw my underlined gospel verse one day, and the fellowship started to pray for me. Car crash in the dark. Flashing headlights and then car upside down in the river. I thought I was going to die, but I felt like an angel led me out of a hole where my feet had been. Unknown to me, one of the Christians was taken up for hours in the night, speaking in tongues. Tearful repentance next day. Born again encounter with Jesus. Suddenly I was aware of a presence in a room, and that that person was Jesus. I phoned the minister who ran a charismatic house church, based at a farmhouse (I was in the Highlands). Next day he sat me down and explained the gospel. The following months I was a baby Christian in a strongly charismatic house church.

            10. March 1980. Hands laid on me to receive more of the Holy Spirit. Three days later, two women laid hands on me again and I spontaneously started speaking in tongues.

            11. 1980. I had returned south because my father was dying, and I joined an evangelical church in the parish where I was born. For the next eight years I read the Bible over and over and over again, cover to cover. I believed it all very literally.

            12. 1981. Had an experience of the Holy Spirit which I have alluded to but which I won’t develop here.

            12. Gradually, my walk with God began to deepen in a different way. Contemplation. Receptivity. I came to understand that literalism was too narrow and forced, and that God wanted me to read the bible with more awareness of context, and cultures.

            13. Learning about contemplative practice, in the Catholic tradition of the Spanish Carmelites. Huge influence of two convents, and guidance. Opening to a vocation of prayer and deepening trust in Jesus through Carmelite discipline.

            14. Contemplative experiences which I won’t detail here.

            15. Community and growing understanding of what that means both in the Church and in the secular society around.

            In conclusion, I believe that God helped me all through my life through multiple blessings and initiatives. I have come to know and trust Jesus through the accumulation of all these things I’ve detailed. They converge in the person of Jesus Christ. The narratives of the Bible contribute hugely to that, but I don’t treat them all literally or legalistically. The Bible is a conduit for encounter with God, among other conduits.

            I don’t really want to be cross-questioned further on this, because this is a long post on someone else’s blog, and it’s a blog about the Holy Spirit. I think to conclude, if I’m reading the direction of your question aright: yes, the Bible informs me of a lot, but it does not all have to be infallible for me to draw enough to know Jesus, and from other people’s witness, and from God direct (because God’s sovereign and can do that, and through prayer.

            The key thing is opening our hearts to the flowing water of the Spirit of God… opening our hearts to the power and the flow of God’s love… and above all… trust in God, through relationship over many years (42 years since I was born again). Love is the imperative. Christianity is pastoral – and that includes pastoral care in secular community.

            It’s so obvious to me that God is revealed to us in Jesus. I have found Jesus is my friend. In multiple encounters and the experiences of life, I trust that Jesus is God. That’s all I’m saying on this page. I’m out.

            To return to topic, really believe that God longs to pour out the Holy Spirit… God loves and treasures us… we are God’s children.

      • John,
        Not sure Colin accepts the principle of the Fall. Or what he sees as received theology of the Reformation.
        Not sure though what Colin has received and from whom and where?
        Apologies Colin, I can’t recall what you have written in that regard.
        Though if I recall correctly you do subscribe to longitudinal, biblical theology. Sorry for speaking as if you are not in the room.

        • I thought Colin’s cessationist theology was coming out of a reformed package – someone like S Ferguson who excellent though he is has to my mind overstated the case for cessation. I’m not sure what he says on Acts 2. I have his book on the Spirit but its unlikely I’ll check.

  16. Regarding the tongues of fire, the text says that ‘there appeared to them dividing tongues as of fire’. Those who witnessed the event evidently saw things looking like flames resting on them, dividing just as the flames of a fire continually reform. Even to a child reading the text it will be clear that what they saw was not real physical fire. I am surprised that the distinction is even raised as a question!

    • Depends what you mean by ‘real’, Steven.

      Is a vision ‘real’ for example?

      If I have a vision of an overflowing cup, is it ‘real’?

      Should we consider that God’s supernatural things are ‘not real’, ‘are real’, or are ‘more real’.

      I believe the latter.

      I also believe that the things in God’s supernatural realm are more physical, not less physical, than the things we more usually encounter on planet Earth in our little passing lives.

      So my take would be that the rushing wind and fire were more ‘real’ – and more dimensional perhaps – and really happened in the upper room.

      • I have already said what I meant by ‘real’ – ‘real physical fire’.

        The more important question is why the Holy Spirit appeared in this way.

        • God sometimes used fire as evidence of His presence in the OT, eg the burning bush. So why would the Holy Spirit not appear in this way in the NT at this momentous occasion?

          Also John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Hence it came true.


  17. It is Holy Fire, with connotations of the Sheckina glory and sacrificial burnt offering.
    Anyway, this has stimulated me to read “Holy Fire”, by Dr R T Kendall, loaned to me, a few weeks ago, by friends, so far unread.
    It is described variously as; the best, epic, work on the Holy Spirit – the most misunderstood person of the Trinity; a challenge both to Reformed cessationists and card-carrying charismatics; pastorally sensitive- theologically exact.

    • Meanwhile, I am enjoying ‘Echoes of Exodus’ which you recommended. Thank you. There is a fascinating chapter on Sinai and Pentecost there.

      Outwith that, I have been reflecting, it’s worth noting that in the wilderness, the people of God were guided and accompanied by a pillar of fire. To those who say that fire is a symbol of destruction, well yes of course it can be, but as we look to Pentecost and beyond, I think we should consider ‘Holy Fire’ as also expressive of the experience and work of the Holy Spirit.

      Fire purifies and refines… makes holy… but fire also enlightens. The message of the Burning Bush narrative – it seems to me – is that in the economy of God, fire may be used by God not to consume but to enfold, or to signal, or guide, or enflame our hearts. Similarly the narrative of the Firy Furnace, and encounter with a fourth presence, and the fire does not consume them. Or that passage in Isaiah: “When you pass through the fire, you will not be burned… for you are precious in my sight.”

      So I regard the presence of fire at Pentecost as sign of God’s purifying, God’s presence, God’s love, God’s coming in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  18. On page 132 of When the Towers Fall: A prophecy of what must happen soon one will read how the Joel prophecy applies primarily to a visitation of the Spirit yet to happen, notwithstanding Peter’s citation of it in Acts 2. As the book explains, the age that is about to conclude begins with the erection of one tower – at Babylon/Babel – and ends with the collapse of many towers, the high-rise buildings of Babylon the Great, which is our civilisation.


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