Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bertram's Notes on a Pentecostal Pericope

Among the "reddest" margins in Bob Bertram's notated Greek New Testament are those alongside Acts 2:1-21, the pericope that serves as the assigned first (or second) reading for the Day of Pentecost, which this year is Sunday, June 8. Bob's handwritten notes for those first 21 verses fill four pages. I won't repeat all of his comments here, but will share a few to mark this important "coming" of "the Holy Gust."

V. 1: We're not going to limit our pericope merely to vv. 1-21 but will have to take the whole of chapter two, if only because we need [to read] all the way to the end of Peter's sermon (v. 36) to establish an important point of that sermon, viz., that "the new age had broken in." So says IDB (Suppl. Vol. 8), pointing out that to that extent Luke does agree with Paul ("unlike the earliest believers"). However, the art. goes on to say, Luke "differed from Paul in his belief that the decisive act of salvation would occur only at the Parousia." But the Lukan proof which Vielhauer evidently cited for that opinion is Ac. 3:19ff. But what Luke's Peter says in that sermon is that, only after "the restitution of all things" will "the Lord" send Jesus Christ back, but that prior to that, for those who repent, there is forgiveness of sin and "times (Kairoi) of refreshing from the presence of the Lord"--and those times do provide "the times (Chronon) of restitution." So that much "salvation," for those who believe and repent, there is now already.

V. 2: The "noise" (H. Spirit?) comes from the direction to which the ascended Jesus had been "taken up." (Cf. 1:2, 9, 10, 11.) The angel had told the onlooking disciples that Jesus "will come back in the same way...." But I don't suppose that this outpouring of the Holy Spirit is (yet) his coming back.

V. 2: The wind that blows is not just "strong" but "violent."

V. 6: The crowd was not so much "excited" as "confounded," "confused," "bewildered."

V. 4: Notice, "and they began to speak in other languages/tongues." So it is not just a matter of the audience hearing other languages. Those languages were actually being spoken. O'Toole seems to think they continued to speak in Aramaic, and I'd like to think that, too--rather than that some began to speak, say, Egyptian or whatever. Still, the text does suggest that they spoke in "other tongues," yet without specifying which "other tongues." On the other hand, v. 6ff. might be interpreted as saying that, though all the apostles were speaking as "Galileans" (viz., in Aramaic and with a Galilean dialect at that), they were nevertheless being heard in the respective language of the different hearers. In any case, as the long passage of vv. 6ff. shows, the phenomenon was sufficiently wondrous to necessitate Luke's elaborate description and explanation.

V. 7: Actually verbs: "And they were amazed and wondered." But notice, they are not said to "fear." See, not only is Peter (who is about to stand up and preach) provided with an audience, but the audience also speaks--in response to which, I suppose we might say, Peter says what he does. Likewise, after he has spoken, the audience speaks again (v. 37)--by that time, about themselves, though here (vv. 7-13) only about the disciples. But after all is said and done we could still not characterize this 2-way speaking as "dialogue." Perhaps Luke comes a little closer to that sort of discourse in Paul's sermon at the Areopagus (Ac. 17:22-31). But in this Pentecost sermon of Peter's the mode is pretty strictly Q&A. Even so, the way Peter answers the people's questions is not authoritarian but might still qualify for what Ricoeur calls a "non-coercive appeal," or Tillich "the method of correlation." For me, the test of that would be, Does Peter leave the responsibility for the decision with his hearers? I think he does. That by no means becomes coercive simply because he poses for them both alternatives, though he does even that quite subtly. On the other hand, there is no slightest doubt but that Peter is convinced that he knows what's best for his hearers. That might strike some moderns as patronizing; so be it. Peter nowhere qualifies his claims with, "It seems to me," although he does cite his own eye- and ear-witness experience. But that much does at least make him vulnerable, just as the entire charismatic experience here subjects him and his colleagues to the suspicion of being drunk--a suspicion which he welcomes the responsibility to allay. But it soon appears from his discourse that it is not himself and his friends whom he is primarily concerned to defend but rather Jesus Christ--and all that, in turn, for the welfare and healing of the audience.

V. 13: "Gleukous" = "sweet wine." "memestomenoi" -- This word for "having been filled" is not the same word as in 2:4, "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." It is significant, though, that both kinds of "fullness" resemble each other. Notice, Peter's counter-proof (vs. the disciples' apparent intoxication) is highly circumstantial; all he can do is cite what hour of the day it is. He does not administer an alcohol breath-test or have them walk a straight line. They were probably too euphoric to hold still long enough for that, too alive, to holied (healed). Ordinarily we don't see folks turned on like that except under the influence of something toxic and injurious.

V. 17: The "all flesh" is important, viz., the universality of the promise. [In a later note Bob writes of this verse: Emphasize "all." That is also borne out by the sequel's inclusiveness: male & female, young & old, even "slaves." But nothing about Goyim, Gentiles.] The wonderful incongruity is not just in the combining of "spirit" with "flesh" (that is already a closing of one gap, a kind of healing) but also the combining of the One (the One-&-Only) with the-everybody-&-anybody, regardless of the latters' age group or gender or social-economic status. Nor is it just that all this indiscriminate "flesh" would be regarded favorably by God, far away; they would all experience that God's favor, very intimately. Notice, too, not just "the spirit" but "my [i.e., God's own personal] spirit"--as in the creation account of Genesis. Isn't there the question implied here, If "in the beginning" the Creator had already "breathed into the nostrils" of his Adamic clay "the breath of life," so that this human "became a living soul," then why at this later time would the Creator have to do that all over again--unless in the meantime there had been the Fall?

V. 19: More references to "heaven"/"sky," recalling the earlier references to where Jesus had ascended & from which the "Holy Gust" had blown.

V. 20: Is the "great & epiphanic/wondrous Day of the Lord," prior to which the terrifying astronomical & meteorological "signs" will have occurred, the same as "those last days" (v. 17) or subsequent to them? Are "the days" and "The Day" simultaneous or sequential/successive? Whatever, they aren't all just so many good-natured fireworks. These very wonders and signs (v. 19) predicted by Joel turn out in the following verses (v. 22) to be those terasi kai semeiois (wonders and signs) by which Jesus the Nazarene was approved to you by God. And in his case, too, the signs and wonders are signs of the apocalyptic coming of the great and epiphanic Day of the Lord--though with the coming of Jesus it is a Pre-Apocalypse. Still later in this chapter (v. 43) "wonders and signs" would also be said to occur "through the apostles." Since I'm pursuing a particular interest in Luke's emphasis upon speaking and hearing, all as the medium through which the Spirit does the holying/healing, the question naturally arises, What's the connection between the linguistic speech, on one hand, and the "wonders and signs," on the other?

V. 21: This reference to people's needing in that Last Time to be "saved," & then only on a very specified condition, should make it clear that those "days" (whether in the Joeline prophecy, or in the Pentecost experience here recorded) is a time of terrible jeopardy & judgment. And the fact that the jeopardy is multi-national, pan-ethnic, worldwide--that is, inescapable for anyone--only makes its fatefulness all the more terrifying.

V. 21: "Name." Think back to 1:14, where we are told that "these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication." In other words, these closeted supplicants were living out the apocalyptic last times of the Joeline vision: they were calling "on the name of the Lord" in order to be "saved." This Name-calling is an essential part of the acoustical "hearing the healing." It isn't that calling on the Name of the Lord is the being saved; the Name-calling is followed by salvation-healing.

V. 22: "Listen to these words." That could almost serve as the summary title for our Crossings course on this pericope (Ac. 2:1-21), "Hearing the Healing." Notice, not "listen to your heart," not "listen to the voice of experience," not "listen to the following prescription," but "listen to these words." Now, of course, the question arises, What sorts of words are these? Are they of the heart, from experience, prescriptive words? Read on. For that matter, it could be that by "these words" Peter is referring to his question from Joel, immediately preceding.