Mis-Readings Acts: Promised Only to the Apostles?

A narrow reading of John’s prediction that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit, as repeated in Acts 1:4–5, is that John’s prediction was specifically about the apostles. However, Luke’s presentation of John’s prediction is much broader, in fact, much broader. For example, Luke records,

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit… (Luke 3:15–16 NIV).

Luke is clear that John’s audience were people in general. John claimed that he could only baptize the people in water but the Messiah will baptize “you” (his audience) with the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 13:24; 19:2–4). These words are then picked up in Acts to refer to what the apostles would soon experience on Pentecost (Acts 1:4–5). Later when Luke narrates how the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and his household, he recalled John’s words:

Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”(Acts 11:16–17)

The “us” of this text is Peter’s Jewish Christian audience (“us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ”) and the “same gift” (ἴσην δωρεὰν) is the Holy Spirit which parallels what Peter promised to all believer in Acts 2:38 (δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος). Luke does not see the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to be fundamentally different from other “comings” of the Spirit on people throughout Acts. This topic will be treated more fully in a later blog, but for now the word “promise” through Acts 1 and 2 is my focus.

  1. The early disciples are commanded to go to Jerusalem and “wait for what the Father has promised which you have heard about from me” (1:4; cf. Luke 24:49). He then links this promise to be what John had said (1:5).
  2. In Acts 2:33, Peter, in his first sermon, explained that the exalted Jesus “has received the promised Holy Spirit and now pours out what you see and hear.”
  3. In Acts 2:38, Peter’s well-known invitation to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin is followed by “and you will receive (future tense–think about it!) the Holy Spirit.” Baptism and repentance, then, prepares the way for the Holy Spirit to come. For Luke, this is not so odd as Jesus received the Spirit following his baptism, as he was praying (Luke 3:21–22).
  4. Luke is not done yet. After noting that people who come to Jesus will “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” he continued, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39 NIV). This is Luke’s way to say that the Messiah will continue to pour out his Spirit on his people. Luke gives us no reason to think that he is now talking of a different experience when it comes to receiving the Spirit of God.

This is consistent in Paul’s writings, too. In 1 Cor 12:13, Paul writes, “For we were all baptized by [in, with] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Paul see all Christians as those who have been baptized “in” one Spirit.

And then in Titus 3:4–6, Paul rejoiced that “…when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Here Paul used the language of Pentecost to speak of all those who have been saved.

Finally, from Luke’s perspective, the Holy Spirit is the certain sign that God has kept his promise.


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Mis-Readings Acts: The Case of the Missing Pronoun

In this second installment of “Mis-Reading Acts,” I focus on whether the empowering of the Holy Spirit came on just the twelve apostles or the whole community of believers numbered by Luke at “about one hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15). Scholars from the Restoration Movement have commonly argued that the Holy Spirit came only upon the Twelve on Pentecost. One can trace this from McGarvey’s original commentary on Acts (1872), through his revised edition (1892), and then to modern restorationists, such as Gaertner (College Press NIV Commentary, 1993) and Moore (College Press NIV Commentary, 2011).

Other commentators could certainly be added, but I’m most interested in the perpetuation of the pronoun-antecedent argument within this interpretive tradition that argues that if one follows the pronouns from Acts 1 to the “they” in Acts 2, the text is clear that the Holy Spirit only filled the apostles. Since McGarvey’s argument is typical, I quote him from his revised 1892 commentary (p. 21):

The persons thus assembled together and filled with the Holy Spirit were not, as many have supposed, the one hundred and twenty disciples mentioned in a parenthesis in the previous chapter, but the twelve apostles. This is made certain by the grammatical connection between the first verse of this chapter [2] and the last of the preceding [1]. Taken together they read as follows: “And they gave lots for them and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place.”

McGarvey attached a footnote to this paragraph that amplified his understanding of Acts 1 and 2:

The supposition first advanced by Chrysostom, and adopted very generally by the more recent commentators, that all the one hundred and twenty were included, and the view advanced in modern time (see Alford in loco), that all the disciples of Jesus who had come to the feast were included are entirely without support in the context; and the only plausible reason given for either is the universal language employed in the quotation made below from Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams,” etc. But it is obvious at a glance that these words were not all fulfilled on that occasion. Nobody then present was seeing visions, or dreaming dreams. There was here only the beginning of a fulfillment which afterward was extended until all was done which Joel predicted.

First, McGarvey is wrong. Acts 2:1 in Greek does not have the pronoun “they.” The text instead reads, “all were together in the same place.” The phrase ἦσαν πάντες (“all were”) is the “to be” verb followed by its subject. And verse 4 reads, ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου, all were filled of the Holy Spirit. The subject in each case is “all.” In English translation “they” is for the sake of English sense. Furthermore, the relationship between pronouns and their antecedents in Greek differs from English.

So the pronoun-antecedent relationship upon which McGarvey—and all later interpreters—built his case does not exist in the original language of Acts.

Second, Luke’s intent is for his readers to understand that the Holy Spirit came upon all of the believers present at Pentecost. Allow me to share several lines of reasoning.

  1. The trajectory of the Old Testament is that God wants to give his Spirit to his people. In Num 11:29–30, in response to the Spirit coming upon two elders who had failed to show up at their consecration, Joshua begged Moses to put a stop to the prophesying elders. Moses responded, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’S people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
  2. The testimony of the prophets is the same as this but no clearer than in Joel 2, the text cited by Peter. On this matter, McGarvey misreads Acts by not including the testimony of Luke’s Gospel. Against McGarvey’s contention these words were not all fulfilled that day, I would agree. Some of them were already being fulfilled in the earliest chapters of the Gospel of Luke where one finds dreams, visions, and prophesy. And, of course, these phenomena continued to happen throughout the narrative of Acts.

Other points to be made include

  1. Peter says that the prophecy from Joel is that which was taking place before the eyes of his hearers: “This is what is spoken…” (Acts 2:16). This being the case, then, the Holy Spirit coming upon just the Twelve would hardly satisfy the intent of Joel’s text that the Holy Spirit was to come upon all people. Luke has conveniently informed his readers that women were among the earliest gathering of Jesus’ followers.
  2. Next John the Baptist promised that Jesus would baptize more than a few in the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Luke 3:15–17 reads, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ The “you” here has “people” as it antecedent-–if one might be looking for an antecedent argument.
  3. One last piece of evidence for the Holy Spirit coming on more than the Apostles on Pentecost is a careful reading of Acts 2:38–39. Since this text will be examined in a future blog, suffice it here to say that the gift of the Holy Spirit is best read as the Holy Spirit as the gift. And there is no compelling reason in Luke-Acts to read the Holy Spirit here as a “different” gift than the Holy Spirit is throughout the book of Acts.

I conclude this piece with a minority voice among Restorationists Barton W. Johnson who in his People’s New Testament commented on Acts 2:1:

They were all… in one place. Not only the apostles, but the hundred and twenty disciples. They probably had an intimation that the promised day had come.

And again on v. 4:

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. All the disciples present. To be filled implies that the human spirit within was overwhelmed by, or immersed in, the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit was not a sprinkling, but an outpouring that overwhelmed the human spirit.

(See https://www.ccel.org/ccel/johnson_bw/pnt.pnt05.pnt0502.html)

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Mis-Readings Acts: Restoring the Kingdom to Israel

With this piece, I’m beginning a series for those who love the Acts of the Apostles. Acts has been a favorite book among my tribe, the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, primarily because of it’s value in establishing certain soteriological and ecclesiological norms. And because of this, those of us so trained naturally interpret Acts to say what we thought the text needed to say. I have become quite taken with the number of times Acts really does not say what I was taught that it did. So here we go.

A traditional reading of Acts 1:6, for example, is that the apostles were still naive about Jesus’s intent to restore the kingdom to Israel because they were still hoping for a physical kingdom.

Lord, are you at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?

To which Jesus answered,

It is not yours to know the times and seasons which the Father has established in his own authority but you . . .

Jesus does not tell them “no” but instead that what they were asking depended on God’s timing.

There are several reasons to suggest that the apostles asked a very pertinent question and one consistent with what Jesus (and Luke) taught.

  1. Jesus had just spent some 40 days teaching them, have “given instructions (commanding) through the Holy Spirit to them” (1:2) and speaking to them about the “kingdom of God.” This raises the question as to what Luke means by the kingdom of God in relationship to the kingdom of Israel. Why ask a question about the kingdom of Israel if Jesus had just spent forty days speaking about the kingdom of God?
  2. The people of Israel are quite important to Luke. Just do a word search on Luke and Acts to see this. A few examples of this focus include Simeon’s waiting for the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25), the apostles will “judge the twelve tribes of Israel” (22:30), and the disciples on the road to Emmaus “hoped that Jesus… would redeem Israel” (24:21). In Acts, one finds from Paul’s sermon that from Abraham’s descendants “God brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus as he had promised (13:23)” Later Paul stated for the “hope of Israel” that he was under house arrest (28:20). These texts are enough to show that Luke’s sees his narrative to be about God’s continued relationship with Israel.
  3. What if Luke saw the early church in Jerusalem as the beginning of the restoration of Israel. Let’s take a closer look at how Luke guides us to understand the events leading up to Pentecost and then Pentecost itself.
    1. Repentance and forgiveness of sins will reach to all nations beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:47; cf. Isa 66:20; Jer 3:17; Ezek 5:5; Mic 4:2: Zech 8:22).
    2. The “royal” family has assembled among those praying as the early disciples waited for power to come on them from high (Acts 2:14)–after all, we do have a coronation coming soon.
    3. Replacing Judas is driven by the need to complete the Twelve, a number symbolically connected to the twelve tribes of… Israel.
    4. Pentecost is the Jewish celebration of feast of weeks during which God is given the first fruits of the harvest. And who are these first fruits? None other than Jews gathered from among the nations (Acts 2:8–11; cf. Deut 4:27). By the way, Pentecost always occurred on the first day of the week.
    5. And about those Jew from the nations. God had promised repeatedly that he would gather his people from among the nations (Ezek 39:28; Hos 8:10; Zech 8:3; et al.). Again, we have another item connected to the restoration of Israel.
    6. Acts 2:21 stops Joel 2:32 short. In Joel, the text continues, “for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.” The original audience of the text is Israel.
    7. According to Peter, Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David (Acts 2:25–31). What difference would this make if the “kingdom of God” had nothing to do with the “kingdom of Israel”? To bring David into view is to emphasize that Jesus is the rightful heir to Israel’s throne. But now as Peter portrays Jesus, he is both Lord (YHWH) and Messiah (YHWH’s representative or king). If this is not saying that God has restored Israel, from Luke’s perspective, what else would be required?

For good measure, one more example seals the deal. James, the Lord’s brother, is clearly the leader of the law-observant Christians. As he asserts that Gentiles do not have to become Jewish in their practices to become believers in Jesus, he affirms that the prophets agree that the influx of Gentiles is God’s plan when he cites Amos (9:11–12):

After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ — things known from long ago. (Acts 15:16–18 NIV)

This phenomenal text places the rebuilding of the fallen tent of David as a pre-condition to the Gentiles seeking the Lord. In other words, James saw the early church (both Jews and Gentiles) as the rebuilt, restored kingdom of Israel.

So did those apostles before the Ascension really asked a misguided question? How do you read it now?

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No Church in Acts 2:47?

Growing up with the KJV, I learned Acts 2:47 as

And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Later in life, I moved to the NIV, which reads,

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Where did the church go? One explanation is that the evil NIV hated the church and thus remove mention of it from this text. However, that explanation would be wrong.

The answer to which translation is correct comes down to the matter of how the manuscripts of the NT were preserved and eventually came down to us.

Actually the NT manuscripts (MSS) contain some variations. The “best” reading is ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό (to thier group/number) instead of τῇ ἐκκλησία (to the church). That is, some MSS of the NT have the first reading while the majority of MSS have a variation of the latter.

The first reading (ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό) is supported by 01 02 03 04 81 1175.

However regarding the addition of “church,” the following readings are attested in the MSS:

  1. τη εκκλησια 08 014sup1 025 044 049 056 1 33 69 88 226 323 330 440 547 614 618 927 1241 1245 1270 1505 1611 1646 1828 1837 1854 2147 2344 2412 2492

  2. τη εκκλησια επι το αυτο 35 945 1739 1891

  3. εν τη εκκλησια 104 1243

  4. + εν τη εκκλησια 05

  5. της εκκλησιας επι το αυτο 2495

Metzger, in his Textual Commentary, offer the following explanation for the rise of the jumbled secondary readings:

The phrase ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, which is common enough in classical Greek and in the Septuagint, acquired a quasi–technical meaning in the early church. This meaning, which is required in 1.15; 2.1, 47; 1Cor 11.20; 14.23, signifies the union of the Christian body, and perhaps could be rendered “in church fellowship.”91 Not perceiving this special usage of the word in ver. 47, scribes attempted to rearrange the text, either by moving the phrase to the following sentence (3.1) or by glossing it with an equivalent phrase, ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ.

This being the case, therefore, the first time Luke uses the word “church” (εκκλησια) is Acts 5:11 (followed by Acts 7:38; 8:1, 3; 9:31; 11:22, 26; 12:1, 5; 13:1; 14:23, 27; 15:3-4, 22, 41; 16:5; 18:22; 19:32, 39-40; 20:17, 28).

While I’m certain the Lord adds people to the church, I’m also certain Luke did not use the word church here–now those later scribes . . . well, that’s a different matter and another topic.

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Summary of “The Text of Acts in the Writings of Origen”

My thanks to Adam Harwood for posting a summary of my research on Origen on his site at http://www.adamharwood.com/?p=74.

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Origen and the First or Second Psalm

Most of the examples of Origen’s text-critical observations occur in the Gospels, but I have found one in Acts. In commenting on Acts 13:33, Origen notes that Acts attributes Psa 2:7 to the first psalm (ὡς γὰρ γέγραπται φήσιν ἐν πρώτῳ ψαλμῷ) as does Codex Bezae (D),[1] however, all other extant MSS of Acts refers to the second psalm (καὶ ἐν τῷ ψαλμῷ γέγραπται τῷ δευτέρῳ). After pointing out this discrepancy, Origen discusses the different numbering systems used by the Hebrew OT, in which Psalms 1 and 2 are considered separate compositions, while Acts 13:33 (apart from D) knows Psalm 1 and 2 as a single psalm (τὰ Ἑλληνικὶ μέντοι ἀντίγραφα δεύτερον εἶναι τοῦτον μηνεύει. τοῦτο δὲ οὐκ ἀγνοητέον ὅτι ἐν τῷ Ἑβραϊκῷ οὐδενὶ τῶν ψαλμῶν ἀριθμὸς παράκειται πρῶτος εἰ τύχοι ἢ δεύτερος ἢ τρίτος).[2] While this is one of the few places where Origen agrees with D alone, Origen’s comment gives evidence that at Acts 13:33 “ἐν πρώτῳ ψαλμῷ” was present in some Greek MSS in the early third century.

[1] PS.CAT – 1099/1100, D2 is a catena and as such may not necessary reflect the exact text of Origen. 05 reads τω πρωτω ψαλμω γεγραπται.

[2] The Latin is “… verum exemplaria Graeca hunc secundum esse indicant illud autem non ignorandum est in Hebraieis exemplaribus nulli psalmo numerum apponi sive primus sive secundus sive tertius sit.” On the numbering of Psa 1 and 2, see Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1–50 (WBC 19; Waco: Word Books, 1983), 18–19, who misreads the case when he writes, “The evidence from the early Christian tradition is found in Acts 13:33. The writer, Luke, gives a quotation from Ps 2:7, but introduces it as coming from the first psalm; the corrections, both in the early Greek text and in modern English versions, to read ‘the second psalm,’ are appropriate given the change in the conventional system of numbering the Psalms. Nevertheless, the oldest Greek text of Acts provides evidence for the early Christian view that the first two psalms were considered to be a single unit.” Actually, only D among extant Greek MSS, has ἐν πρώτῳ ψαλμῷ.


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Origen and the Text of Acts

It has been a while since I have posted here. Largely  because I have been busy working on my dissertation on Origen’s text of Acts. In fact, it was my work on Origen, that caused me to name this blog Stan’s Σχόλια (scholia) since Origen left many scholia, or marginal notes, or catenae, and also fragments preserved by other writers.

As I complete the dissertation, I can begin to share some of my findings, saving the ultimate findings for the dissertation itself.

To get to this point, I have collected every citation and allusion in Origen’s extant writing to the text of Acts. Though I will only use the Greek materials for the reconstruction of Origen’s text of Acts, I have collected everything–and some of it is remotely related to the text to which it is suppose to allude.

As scholars have known, not a great deal of Acts survives in Origen and this will create some challenges in being confident about the overall nature of the text or texts of Acts used by him. However, since a comprehensive collection and analysis of what is available has not been done (at least not recorded), then it is worth the work. Even the incidentals on particular texts of Acts have been enlightening.

At this stage I’m currently  analyzing Origen’s text against representative MSS of what has been traditionally called text-types: Alexandrian (primary and secondary), the ‘Western,’ namely Codex Bezae (D), and the Byzantine tradition.

MS 1739 is getting a lot of attention since previous scholars have shown that it has some affinity with Origen, especially the text of Romans in it. Some have thought that 1739 might also be close to Origen in Acts.

It has been interesting to revisit Tom Geer’s work on 1739. Tom was one of my professors at ACU. Tom showed that 1739 was a secondary Alexandrian text in Acts.

So if you are interested in this type of stuff, follow along.


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