The missionary Spirit poured out at Pentecost in Acts 2

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:

Come and join Ian and James as they discuss all these things…

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49 thoughts on “The missionary Spirit poured out at Pentecost in Acts 2”

  1. But the text could not be clearer—the ‘all’ of Acts 2:1 refers to the 12 in the previous verse (Acts 1: 26) —the chapter split is awkward. Somebody in the crowd commented that all those initially speaking in tongues were Galileans (Acts 2:7) as the original 12 were (Acts 1:11). The promised spirit in Acts 1:8 was for the 12. If we misunderstand this we are wrong in everything that folowws.
    The NT is clear—this gifting initially came to the 12—but they could transmit it to others. This is spelt out in Acts 8:9-24. This transmission gift (that Simon the sorcerer asked for, not the gifts themselves—note he did not ask Philip) was the imprimatur for the 12 as communicators of Christ’s teachings. This is the repeated teaching of the NT—many verses do not make sense without this understanding— not least Romans 1:11.

    • So in 1 Timothy 4:14 when Timothy received his gift at the hands of the ‘elders’ —presumably Paul was present, because he corrects any misunderstanding in 2 Timothy 1:6.
      The only exception is in Acts 10 when people received the miraculous gifts in Peter’s presence with no evidence he laid hands on them—but the context of this—immediately after the vision of the animals—was that the Gentiles—which he was still ambivalent about —were entitled to receive the gifts. God stepped in and demonstrated that to him.
      In contrast, Paul spent a long time at Corinth, and they were awash with the gifts which as we know eventually caused a problem.
      When the last the Apostle died the gifts remained with those who had had an Apostle’s hands laid on them, but were eventually were lost to the church —but the Apostles’ teachings had been incorporated in the NT for the church era.

      • I suggest the transmission gift is the ‘mark of an apostle’ mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:12 (NIV) —the false apostles amazed people with all sorts of gifts but they could not transmit them to others—it was the gift Simon the sorcerer wanted. The transmission gift trumped every other—it was surely the ‘sign of an apostle’ 2 Corinthians 12:12 (ESV).

        • Colin,
          Is it your assertion that because the ‘transmission gift’ died out with the last of the Apostles and on those on whom it was conferred, then we should not expect to see spiritual gifts of a supernatural nature (as seen in the NT), manifest in the church today?

          • Chris,
            I suggest this is what Paul is telling the Corinthians (who else?) in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.
            There are two sets of gifts: faith, hope, and love—then: prophecy, tongues, and knowledge (‘charismatic’ specially revealed knowledge, e.g. the knowledge Peter seemed to have in Acts 5:1-11).

            We can call them group A and group B. Group A will finish before group B and that is when the ‘perfect’ comes. But this is ‘perfect’ as in the perfect tense—a completed action that is now in the past. I suggest Paul is talking about Scripture (yet to be completed in his lifetime).

            I know this is not in traditional understanding—but if we look carefully, we can see that the ‘perfect’ (completed) thing cannot be heaven—because faith and hope continue after that—and Paul says there is no faith and hope in heaven (e.g., Romans 8:24-25).

          • Chris – a correction:
            I got my groups the wrong way round (am busy—I have another life apart from blogging) —obviously prophecy tongues and knowledge finish before faith hope and love.

            But I think you get the gist of it. This is why ‘love is the greatest’ —it is the only one of the 6 gifts that survives both the Apostolic and the church age (which has Scripture, faith, and hope) – and continues into heaven.

          • Colin -If true, how staggeringly unfair that would be on the peoples living so far from Jerusalem that they could never hear the gospel in the apostolic era!

        • Except the NT doesnt mention a ‘transmission gift’ so you’ve just made that up! Which is very odd if you really want to keep to the text. The ‘signs’ of an apostle appear to be the actual wonders they perform, not if they pass on such gifts.

          You seem to be making various assumptions, wrongly. Such that it was only the original Twelve who received such gifts. Paul wasnt one of them so he negates your argument. But even if you argue that it was only the Twelve plus Paul, that is negated by Joel’s prophecy which speaks of men and women. It is God who was pouring out his Spirit at Pentecost, and given that there were already female disciples, taken together this means the women were also prophesying from the start, not waiting for the original 12 to pass on any gifts. That is what the crowd saw, men and women.

          As for seemingly passing on gifts, yes there are instances where that happened at the apostles’ hand, but you shouldnt presume that was unique to them as the text itself doesnt say that.

          I dont think your argument is backed up by Scripture or church history.


          • Peter,
            “Except the NT doesnt mention a ‘transmission gift’ so you’ve just made that up! Which is very odd if you really want to keep to the text.”
            —See Acts 8:18-19.

            “The ‘signs’ of an apostle appear to be the actual wonders they perform, not if they pass on such gifts”
            —2 Corinthians 12:12 — ‘the signs of a true apostle were performed’ along with other miracles. Miracles could not be the sign of a true Apostle because many others could do them including many that the Apostles had laid hands on. So, what the was the distinguishing sign of a true Apostle?

            “Joel’s prophecy which speaks of men and women.”
            —Yes. Lots of men and women – all those that the Apostles laid hands on.

            “I dont think your argument is backed up by Scripture or church history.”
            —It was the point Simon made in Acts 8 and Peter did not contradict him—all the other specific texts I have cited strongly support that understanding.
            —And I suggest church history does support the argument— the supernatural revelatory gifts appear to have been lost in the early post-Apostolic period. Manifestation of gifts subsequently does not prove a Scriptural point. The LDS (‘Mormons’) and the Roman Catholics and others all claim miraculous gifts authenticate their faith.

    • Actually if you read Acts 1 and 2, particularly in the context of Joel’s prophecy which Peter quotes, the ‘all’ most likely refers to the 120 believers of Acts 1, both men and women. There is no reason why that group of 120 suddenly reduced to just 12 from Acts 1 to Acts 2. In Acts 1 Peter stands up in front of the 120 to appoint a replacement for Judas. In Acts 2 Peter along with the other 11 stand up, in my view, from amongst the 120 believers. The Spirit fell on all of them, men and women alike. Indeed it would have been very odd for Peter to specifically quote Joel who refers to men and women, in other words all people regardless, if only 12 men were visibly affected by the Spirit coming.

      Sorry, but you need to think about the scene being painted by Luke.


  2. Thanks so much for this. Fascinating insights from the numerology/gematria details here.

    I had to check about this – presumably Gedi=17 and Eglaim=153 comes from the Hebrew letters/values whereas Jesus/Iesous=888 comes from the Greek?: –
    I = 10 (iota)
    e = 8 (eta)
    s = 200 (sigma)
    o = 70 (omicron)
    u = 400 (upsilon)
    s = 200 (sigma)
    Does that change anything?

  3. I think that Colin is conflating fruit, gifts and ministries.
    Clearly the *ministries” have not ceased in the Church after the Apostles.
    Of gifts Paul urges to seek earnestly[Zealously] spiritual gifts,[ “the best gift being Prophesying [chimes with Moses “would that all God’s people were Prophets NUM.11:27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.
    11:28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.
    11:29 And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them! which chimes with Jesus-
    MARK.9:38 And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.
    9:39 But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.
    9:40 For he that is not against us is on our part.
    Clearly the *gifts* were not limited to the Apostles.
    The *fruits* are/ were not temporary,limited to the Apostles.
    What is the evidence that spiritual gifts came to an end if fruits and ministeries did not?
    It was said of John Wesley that he exhibited all the gifts except speaking in tongues ;perhaps the Methodist might help with this?
    THE problems at Corinth were not due the gifts but the fruit by which the genuine could be discerned.
    Alas, I have met with some pentecostals who are fervent about gifts but barren of fruits.

    • Hi Alan,
      “I think that Colin is conflating fruit, gifts and ministries.”

      I am a little puzzled by this because I thought I was doing the precise opposite. I am suggesting that the gifts distributed by the laying of the Apostles’ hands are the miraculous gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge outlined in Corinthains 13:8-13 and declared there to be temporary. And I might suggest the gift of healing on demand also.
      Of course there are many other gifts, fruits, and ministries.

      • Again you seem to be making things up as you go along! There is no such thing as ‘the gift of healing on demand’. Whilst it appears from the text that sometimes people were indeed healed like that, you cannot conclude others werent healed by, for example, repeated prayer (you know even the Son of God had to pray twice for healing to happen).

        • PC1
          “You seem to be making things up as you go along! here is no such thing as ‘the gift of healing on demand’”

          – ‘healing on demand’ is the terminology in the literature to explain Peter’s actions in Acts 3:6.

          I haven’t done an analysis of this but I would supect thatany instances of this were done by Christ himself or the Apostles (or perhaps had had hands laid upon them?). This does not negate our own ability today to pray in the hope a miracle will happen.

      • In 1 Cor 13:10, what is it that you consider came as the apostolic era went, to cause certain gifts of the Spirit to cease?

        I suggest that you are every bit as driven by experience as charismatics: your exerpience is that you have not witnessed the Gifts, ‘therefore’ they are not available to the church today. I suggest that the church in the West is Laodicean and does not deserve them.

  4. We need to be careful with the terminology. In the original Hebrew it is the NESHAMAH of life that God breathes in to Adam, not RUACH. Animals have RUACH and NEPHESH according to the Hebrew scriptures, but the multiple appearances of NESHAMAH are all associated with humans (not animals) except for one which is ambiguous.

    The noncorporeal aspects of humans have two facets – in English denoted soul and spirit – and it is not clear to me that the divide between the two is identical in English, ancient Greek, and ancient Hebrew cultures. For years I have been looking for wisdom on this subject, but everything I have read or been referred to convinces me that the difference between me and those who have written is that I *know* I don’t understand it…

    • Im not sure there is such a distinction. I suspect they are words that simply describe living things.

      Given that Neshamah is used in Genesis itself when referring to both mankind and animals etc that breathed air, that tends to negate your argument. If the author was trying to make a point about the difference between mankind and other living things, that was a rather obvious blunder.

      Ruach seems to be mainly translated ‘spirit’ or ‘wind’. In most cases it seems to refer to mankind, their spirit. But sometimes God’s Spirit. But also the ‘life’ of any living thing.

      In Genesis when God tells man he will return to the dust of the earth, I wonder if there is any real distinction between man and other living things. We like to think so or assume it, but perhaps there are just ‘living’ things and everything else is non-living. There is, after all, a notable difference between living and non-living but which is hard to describe.

      But as you indicate, perhaps there is no definitive answer…

      • PC1,
        David Instone-Brewer points out how careful Scripture is, in that that the term ‘soul’ (Hebrew = nephesh Greek = psuchē) is used of animals and humans but never for God and angels. But “spirit” (Hebrew = ruach, Greek = pneuma) is used only for humans, God, and angels.

        So, humans are in both groups—this means that theoretically you could have a human that did not have God’s spirit in him.

        David Instone-Brewer, Science & the Bible: Modern Insights for an Ancient Text (Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham, 2020), 158–59.

        • I searched the Biblehub interlinear for ruach, and it shows for example in Gen 6:17 where it seems to apply to all living things, not just humans or God.

      • Given that Neshamah is used in Genesis itself when referring to both mankind and animals etc that breathed air

        Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. In Genesis 2:7 God blew the neshamah of life into Adam. God and man are described as having neshamah in the Old Testament. Genesis 7:22 might be taken to apply the word to animals, but the reference is ambiguous and the other 23 references aren’t. so we can settle the ambiguity in two ways: (1) Use the unambiguous references to settle the ambiguity in Genesis 7:22, or (2) take animals as having neshamah. In view of the number of unambiguous references I prefer (1).

        • I dont think that example is ambiguous. The context is that ALL living things, those that breathed air, were destroyed. That is why it wasnt just humans in the ark but humans + animals etc. It is clear the author is referring to all those living creatures outside of the ark which died due to the flood and only those within the ark that survived.

        • On thinking about it, perhaps the distinction is rather than the same words being used to apply to mankind and other living creatures (as I think they are), it is the direct act of God ‘breathing’ into the humans that makes the difference? Maybe that is the part of the text that the author is using to show the difference, that it is God’s own breath breathing into us, part of being made in His image?

          But Im happy to agree to disagree.

    • @ Anton

      You may find this Coptic Orthodox presentation helpful (or not!)

      The soul is different from the spirit and not part of it. The soul is the substance of life … Humans and animals have souls. As for the spirit, it is the breath of God that He breathed into Adam, and it exists only in humans. Animals have souls only but no spirits.

      The word soul is translated from the Hebrew word “nepesh”, a breathing creature or the Greek word “psuche”, breath, the equivalent of “nepesh” …

      The soul which makes a human or animal body alive. This usage refers to life in the physical body “and so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin” (Genesis 35:18). “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Elijah the Prophet brought a child back to life when “and he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him” (1 Kings 17:21).

      The soul referring to the inner life of man, his emotions, and his desires: love “His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman” (Genesis 34:3); longing for God “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1); rejoicing “Rejoice the soul of Your servant, For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Psalm 86:4); knowing “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:14); memory “My soul still remembers and sinks within me.” (Lamentations 3:20); In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of His soul as being “exceedingly sorrowful” (Matthew 26:38). St. Mary proclaimed that her soul “magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). St. John prayed that Gaius would “prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).

      The word spirit is translated from the Hebrew word “ruah”, meaning breath, wind and the Greek “pneuma”, meaning wind, breath and the vital principle … The term is used in the Scriptures generally to denote purely spiritual beings; also the spiritual, immortal part in man. While the term soul specifies that in the immaterial part of man that concerns life, action, and emotion, the term spirit is that part related to worship and divine communion. Animals do not have a spirit but do have a soul. There are verses that emphasize a distinction between soul and spirit “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23); “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

      However, sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably, the same functions being ascribed to each. Compare the Holy Book of James 5:20 to the Holy Book of 1 Corinthians 5:5 and the Holy Book of 1 Peter 2:11 to the Holy Book of 2 Corinthians 7:1.

      Or, in Roman Catholic ‘speak’, a soul, on its most basic level, is the “life principle” or “animating principle” of a body. All living bodies have a soul. If they did not have souls, they would not be alive. The human soul is unique. In man, the soul has not only vegetative powers (as plants have) and sensitive powers (as animals have) but also rational powers, which makes it akin to pure spirits in that sense.

      Consequently, we say that a human is unique among living beings because a human is a created, immortal spirit united to and animating a body. Man is the only bodily being whose soul is a spirit (animals are not spiritual), and the only spirit which is a soul (angels do not have a body and therefore no soul). Only in humans do we find both soul and spirit.

      “Soul” when distinguished from “spirit” means that which gives life to a body. “Spirit” when contrasted with “soul” simply means those aspects of human life and activity that transcend our bodily limitations and so open the soul toward the supernatural life of grace and communion with God.

  5. Supernatural Spiritual Gifts have continued since the Apostolic age. They are present now, but perhaps more evident in some parts of Africa than the UK. They were very much present with the preaching of John Wesley.

    To say that they are absent since the apostolic age is to say that the prophecy in Joël 2 ceased to fully be relevant after the Apostolic age. In addition, it means some parts of the NT are nowadays irrelevant.

    • Agreed. Though I disagree re your comment on the NT. For example, Paul told his readers to stay single if single, or stay married if married, apparently because he believed the end was nigh. But Ive yet to come across even one modern Christian leader who is telling single people today that they should remain single and not marry. The opposite is true.


      • PC1 – I can give one example (although perhaps not so modern) of William Still (Gilcomston South, Aberdeen) who, back in 1960 advised someone (let’s call him Joe -because that was his name) whom he thought might be suitable for the Ministry, not to marry my mother’s twin sister (on the grounds that William Still had reservations about whether or not she was a proper Christian). Because the match did not have the approval of W.S., Joe stopped ‘going out’ with her. He didn’t go into the ministry after all. He died a single man approximately 6 years ago – and was on record as having said a couple of years earlier, ‘mine is a wasted life’. Willie Still turned out to be absolutely right about my mother’s twin sister – although she might have been able to keep up the facade of being a Christian if she had ended up with Joe (rather than the English atheist whom she subsequently met and married).

        • Sightly different – Rev Still wasn’t telling Joe not to marry at all, just not to marry that particular woman. Very sad story all the same.

          • AJ Bell – well, in addition to the girl’s ‘lack of Spirituality’ as W.S. saw it, I’ve heard that he also had the idea (which I find very weird) that someone who goes into the Ministry is better off remaining single.

            I’m not sure how sad it is – there is a Darwinian effect here. Anybody who is stupid enough to hearken to advice from some church man on these matters has something seriously wrong with their brain – and just as well to have this eradicated from the gene pool.

            Of course, it could be that he simply didn’t like the girl and used the ‘oh the minister told me to dump you’ as the excuse.

    • Hi Andy,
      It is an awkward path to tread from perceived phenomena back into Scripture exegesis.

      I have spent time in Africa and the miraculous gifts we see in the NT are manifested today in various atheistic tribal cultures—especially where a form of witchcraft is still practised.

      And I do think parts of the NT are no longer relevant—most Reformed traditions accept there are not authoritative Apostles today.

      • That’s a matter of definition. If “apostle” means one of the Twelve (plus Paul) then the statement is trivially true. If it means “one who is sent to evangelaise a people who haven’t heard the gospel” then it is trivially false – and remains so in a few places.

      • Hi Colin
        My experience in Africa was as a medical missionary working with a Pentecostal Indigenous Church and sent by a pentecostal mission. So my experiences of the supernatural related to born again Christians.

        Regarding the term Apostle, I agree that it only applies to the Apostolic age and apostles were those who had seen the risen Jesus Christ. Thus Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 15:8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, phe appeared also to me.

        • Andy,
          Although that is the traditional argument—and all the Apostles had indeed seen the risen Christ—but it cannot be the defining qualification because many others did also.

          I would argue that the defining qualification for being an Apostle was to be personally commissioned by Christ—as was done for the twelve (e.g. John 16:13) —and then given the authenticating ability to transmit the supernatural (revelatory) gifts that he told them to wait for (Acts 1:8). As you point out Paul was late on both counts.

          You will realise I am distinguishing an Apostle —an authoritative teacher of Christ’s message—from an apostle who is simply one who was sent.

          • There seems to be little comment about Matthias in the literature (Acts 1:23-26).
            I would argue that Peter had ‘jumped the gun’ and had no authority to select an Apostle of his own choosing – and indeed Matthias does not appear again in the NT? It seems the replacement for Judas was indeed Paul.

          • Authoritative teaching was also done by Priscilla and Aquila (note the woman is first!) to correct Apollos.

          • Acts 1 gives two attributes for the replacement for Judas:
            – witness to the resurrection
            – with (the others) from the beginning
            i.e. the 12 ‘sent ones’ were to be witnesses of all of Jesus ministry, not just the resurrection.

            Paul does not meet the second. So Paul cannot be Judas’ replacement.

            It is also odd to say that Mathias was a mistake because we hear nothing of him subsequently. The same is true of most of the 12!

      • It’s not really surprising satan and the demonic would try to imitate some of the things the Spirit does. He is the deceiver after all. But that does not negate the existence of the genuine.

        • PC1
          “Authoritative teaching was also done by Priscilla and Aquila (note the woman is first!) to correct Apollos.”
          Acts 18:26 says ‘accurately’. But of course anybody can preach authoritatively from Scripture —but it is a derived authority from the Apostolic teaching.

        • “It’s not really surprising satan and the demonic would try to imitate some of the things the Spirit does. He is the deceiver after all. But that does not negate the existence of the genuine.”
          But neither does the phenomena prove a Scriptural point. The Church of Rome repeatedly claims miracles to authenticate their own teaching.

  6. The issue discussed here is not a sideshow?

    If we do not have a specific group of identifiable Apostles who were uniquely authoritative teachers of Christ’s message —and there are people today who have revelatory prophetic gifts (prophecy, tongues, and ‘knowledge’), the NT — which is traditionally believed to have been written by the Apostles (or at least its authors supervised by them) and thus be a ‘closed’ revelation — has no ultimate authority.

    It then follows that the church must also attend to John Smith who lives down the road and has just had revelation directly from God (no need for an Apostle to lay hands on him). And perhaps to the secular society in which we live.

    Which of course is the view of many today.

    • You chose, not to respond, yet again Colin?
      The conclusion to be drawn, is yes, you have been a pastor of a charismatic church.

    • Isnt that assuming that the prophetic gifts in the Apostolic age were on the same level as what became the NT? You’ve already agreed that not only the Twelve received such gifts in those early years. So by your own logic the Twelve are nothing special when it comes to ‘revelatory prophetic gifts’ because others had them, even if given via the Apostles.

      I think you believe that Scripture is the ‘when the perfect comes’ but that isnt the case.


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