Category Archives: Judaism

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.


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Give God what is God’s

 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s

and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

Mark 12.17

This is the answer Jesus gave the religious leaders and politicians who attempted to trap him into admitting that Jews should pay tribute to Caesar. Believers today tend to understand Jesus’ answers to be, “Of course, good Christians pay their taxes.” However, that understanding does not arise from a historical and contextual reading of this text.

First, if Jesus had answered clearly and unambiguously—that Jews should pay taxes to Caesar—then his adversaries could have revealed Jesus as the false Messiah they believed him to be.  Since no true King of Israel would concede that tribute should be paid a pagan overlord like Caesar.

Secondly, if Jesus had answered clearly and unambiguously that Jews should not pay taxes to Caesar, then his adversaries could have handed him over to Rome as a subversive and be done with him.

So what did Jesus’ response mean?  How did Jesus avoid both of these trap doors?

By reviewing the image on the coinage, Jesus underscored the religious leaders and politicians’ hypocrisy in using “Caesar’s” money in the first place. Though the Jews strongly detested images of any kind as in keeping with the first of the Ten Commandments (not to make graven images), they had, in this case, capitulated. Now they had to admit how dependent they really were on Rome; and consequently—if they thought more deeply about it, how little they actually trusted God. “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19.15) was truer than any of them would have admitted.

What amazed the people is not that Jesus said believers should pay their taxes without actually saying believers should pay their taxes; but that Jesus had been able to bypassed totally the either/or mentality of his opponents (as well as most Christian interpreters today).

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s || and to God what is God’s.”

Using the common poetic device of parallelism Jesus crafted a conundrum (a riddle or parable designed to tease and puzzle one into a deeper levels of understanding).  Thus when we read this saying along the lines of “Pay your taxes and don’t forget your tithes” we greatly miss the point; most of us give Caesar more money than we do the church anyway.

The wonder of the statement is that once we give God his due, what is left for Caesar?  Nothing!  This was the beauty of the statement!  It rested in the eye of the beholder!  One inclined to trust Caesar would hear it one way; while those inclined to trust God would hear it another.

He who has an ear to hear…

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Searching for Allusions (Wis 7.1 and Acts 10.26)

Allusions from earlier literature is often hard to spot. I have an index that says that there is allusion of Wis 7.1 in Acts 10.28; this is particularly interesting because Wisdom of Solomon comes from the Greek OT (also called the Septuagint), but more importantly, because Wisdom of Solomon is classed las either Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical.

What do you think? Are these two texts related?

Εἰμὶ μὲν κἀγὼ θνητὸς ἄνθρωπος ἴσος ἅπασιν καὶ γηγενοῦς ἀπόγονος πρωτοπλάστου· καὶ ἐν κοιλίᾳ μητρὸς ἐγλύφην σὰρξ (Wisdom 7:1 LXX)

I also am mortal, like everyone else, a descendant of the first-formed child of earth; and in the womb of a mother I was molded into flesh (Wisdom 7:1 NRSV)

And here is the text from Acts:

ὁ δὲ Πέτρος ἤγειρεν αὐτὸν λέγων· ἀνάστηθι· καὶ ἐγὼ αὐτὸς ἄνθρωπός εἰμι. (Acts 10:26 GNT-T)

But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal. (Acts 10:26 NRSV)

I’m going to say similiarity of ideas here; no allusion. What say ye?

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Indices for Finding Quotations in Other Works

At the end of standard critical texts of the Greek New Testament, the editor have conveniently add several indices that allow a person to find a OT citation in the NT or find where an OT citation in the NT originates.

These indices are very helpful and they can save one a lot of time. For example if I wanted to find where Josephus quotes the OT, where would I go?

Answer: H. B. McLean, Citations and Allusions to the Jewish Scripture in Early Christian and Jewish Writings through 180 CE (Lewiston, NT Mellen Press, 1992).

Or what if I wanted to find the Scriptures cited or use by a Church Father?

Biblia patristica: index des citations et allusions bibliques dans la littérature patristique.

Don’t let the French title keep you away, it is quite useful with just a little orientation; and the best news! It’s available in a very useful online interface: For serious work, though, be sure to consult the paper edition and if you do find an error in the online database, be sure to report it.

Are there other indices like these that you know of?

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