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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-47


The Day of Pentecost

1-13. Pentecost. On this day the risen Lord fulfilled His promise to send another Comforter (or Advocate) 'that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive; for it be-holdeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him; for He abideth with you, and shall be in you' (John 14:17). Primarily, Pentecost is to be regarded as the Consecration of the Church for its work of evangelising the world. The fiery tongues which lighted upon the Apostles symbolised the gift of 'boldness with fervent zeal constantly to preach the gospel unto all nations; whereby we have been brought out of darkness and error unto the clear light and true knowledge of Thee, and of Thy Son Jesus Christ.' To assist in the work of evangelising the world, the gift of prophecy (i.e. of inspired preaching) was given, nor was this gift confined to the Apostles, for 'I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.' The books of the NT. remain to testify that this gift of prophecy was. a real one. We must also believe (although St. Luke does not allude to the fact) that on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given as a principle of inward spiritual life. The Lord Jesus had definitely promised this at the Last Supper. He said that the Holy Spirit would come to dwell with them and within them for ever, and that He Himself would return with the coming of the Spirit to dwell in their hearts by faith. This Spirit was to be their Advocate with the Father, to teach them all things, to bring to their remembrance all things that Jesus had told them, and to guide them into all the truth. The Spirit was also to have a mission to those without. Through the earnest utterances of believers, He would 'convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment,' and a beginning of this process was seen, when the hearers of St. Peter's first sermon 'were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the Apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?' At Pentecost a new spirit entered the world, and began to transform it. That spirit is still at work, and the most sceptical cannot deny its presence or its power. Men may attempt to account for it by natural causes, but it is there, and history teaches us that it comes to us from Jesus of Nazareth, who, as Dr. Lecky says, 'has not only been the highest pattern of virtue, but the highest incentive to its practice, and has exerted so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind, than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and than all the exhortations of moralists.'

1. Pentecost] so called because it was the fiftieth day from the first day of the Passover. It was also called 'the Feast of Weeks,' because it occurred a week of weeks (i.e. seven weeks) after the Passover. It marked the completion of the corn harvest, and according to the later Jews it commemorated the giving of the Law on Sinai. The characteristic ritual of this feast was the offering and waving of two leavened loaves of wheaten flour, together with a sin offering, burnt offerings, and peace offerings (Leviticus 23:15-20). Appropriately, therefore, on this day the gospel harvest began; and the old Law of ordinances was superseded by the new Law of love.

2. A sound] The miraculous accompaniments of the outpouring of the Spirit were intended partly to strengthen the faith of the Apostles in the reality of the gift, and partly to arrest the attention of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

3. Cloven tongues] RV 'tongues parting asunder, like as of fire.' St. Luke means that the tongues or flames of fire appeared first in one mass over the assembled Church, and then divided, one flame or tongue settling upon the head of each disciple. The mighty wind symbolised the power and energy of the Spirit, and the tongues of fire the fervour with which the disciples were empowered to proclaim the gospel.

4. To speak with other tongues] We should not gather from the references to the gift of tongues in St. Paul (1 Corinthians 12-14) and in the appendix to St. Mark (Mark 16:17), that the gift in question was the power of speaking foreign languages. Nor do foreign languages appear to have been spoken when Cornelius and his companions spoke with tongues and magnified God (Acts 10:46), nor when the twelve men at Ephesus, upon whom St. Paul had laid hands, 'spake with tongues and prophesied' (Acts 19:6). Many, therefore, are of opinion—especially since St. Peter compares the case of Cornelius and his companions with the event at Pentecost (Acts 11:15)—that in this passage also the speaking with tongues is not to be understood as a speaking in foreign languages, but as some kind of ecstatic utterance of praise, not fully under the control of the speaker. This view is plausible, but difficult to reconcile with the primd facie meaning of the present passage. In Acts 2:6 it is said that the multitude were confounded, 'because that every man heard them speak in his own language.' Again in Acts 2:7 the multitude ask, 'Behold, are not all these which speak Galikeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?' (see also Acts 2:11). The meaning surely must be that the disciples either spoke, or that they seemed to their hearers to speak, foreign languages. This being so, we are constrained to believe, either that St. Luke has misunderstood the nature of the event, or that this Pentecostal miracle was of a higher and more extraordinary character than the later 'speaking with tongues.' Among modern parallels the most suggestive is the case of St. Vincent Ferrer, who, when preaching in Spanish, is said to have been understood by English, Flemish, French, and Italian hearers (see further on 1 Corinthians 12-14). We may see in this event, which seemed to obliterate the barriers of nationality and language, a reversal of the separation and confusion of tongues (Genesis 11).

5. Were dwelling] i.e. were dwelling permanently. Their love of Jerusalem and the Temple had attracted them from all lands to take up their abode in the Holy City.

6. The multitude] comprising not only these 'dwellers' in Jerusalem, but those who had come to keep the feast. Pentecost was one of the three festivals at which every Israelite was expected to appear before the Lord.

9. Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites] are nations beyond the empire and influence of Rome. Here were settled the Ten Tribes of the first captivity (2 Kings 17:6). Mesopotamia] The chief Jewish centre here was Babylon, which, ever since the captivity of Judah, was famed for its rabbinical schools, and was for that reason regarded as part of the Holy Land.

Judæa] Judaea, as distinguished from Galilee, to which the Apostles belonged. Cappadocia.. Pamphylia] Jews were scattered throughout Asia Minor as far as Pontus, and even crossed the Euxine to the Crimea. They enjoyed everywhere full civic rights.

10. Egypt] According to Philo there were a million Jews in Egypt. They formed a large part of the population of Alexandria, where Judaism allied itself with the Platonic philosophy, and attempted to appropriate the best elements of Hellenic culture. Cyrene] A Greek city in N. Africa, founded 631 b.c. A quarter of its great population consisted of Jews, who possessed full rights of citizenship. See Matthew 27:32; Acts 6:9; Acts 11:20; Acts 13:1.

Strangers of Rome] RV 'sojourners from Rome.' They probably possessed the Roman citizenship, like St. Paul. Jewish prisoners were brought to Rome by Pompey, but they soon regained their freedom, and settled, with full civic rights, in a district beyond the Tiber. In 19 a.d. they were banished, but, after the fall of Sejanus, were allowed to return.

14-41. St. Peter's sermon and its effects. Peter's sermon falls into four divisions:

(1) Acts 2:14-21. Explanation of the phenomenon of speaking with tongues as a manifestation of the outpouring of the Spirit foretold by the prophet Joel, Joel 2:28. (2) Acts 2:22-28. St. Peter shows that the outpouring of the Spirit is connected with the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, whom, after His crucifixion by lawless men, God raised from the dead, according to the prophecy of David in the Psalms (Psalms 16:8-11). (3) Acts 2:29-36. St. Peter proves that Psalms 16:8-11 refers to the Resurrection not of David but of Jesus, and adds the personal testimony of the Apostles that Jesus had really been raised. He then affirms the Ascension of Jesus, and declares that it is He who has sent down from heaven the gift of the Holy Spirit. From the Ascension which he illustrates by Psalms 110:1, he further concludes that Jesus is the Messianic King so long expected by the Jews. (4) Acts 2:37-40. St. Peter concludes with a practical exhortation to his hearers to repent and be baptised, that they and their children may receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The genuineness of this speech is vouched for by the simplicity of its theology, and by its resemblances to 1 Peter (e.g. 'foreknowledge,' 1 Peter 1:2; 'to call upon' (God), 1 Peter 1:17; 'rejoicing,' 1 Peter 1:6, 1 Peter 1:8; 1 Peter 4:13; 'the right hand of God,' 1 Peter 3:22; 'exalt,' 1 Peter 5:6; 'the house' (= Israel), 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 4:17, etc.).

15. But the third hour] On festival days the Jews tasted nothing until the morning synagogue service, held at the third hour (9 a.m.), was finished.

16. Joel] see Joel 2:28-32. The only important variation is that Peter changes Joel's 'afterward' into the more definite 'in the last days.' The 'last days' are the Christian'dispensation.

19. Wonders in heaven, etc.] A metaphorical description of the calamities which will happen on earth before Christ's Second Coming, which St. Peter probably regarded as near: cp. Matthew 24:29.

20. That great and notable day] i.e. either the destruction of Jerusalem, or Christ's Second Advent.

23. By wicked hands] lit. 'by the hand of lawless men' (i.e. the Romans).

24. The pains of death] lit. 'the birthpangs of death.' Death being personified as a woman in travail, and receiving relief when the dead are 'born again' by resurrection. But it is more probable that St. Peter really spoke of the 'snares' of death, the word for 'snare' (hěbel) and that for 'birth-pang' (hçbel) being practically identical.

25. See Psalms 16:8.

26. Rest in hope] lit. 'pitch its tent upon hope.'

27. Hell] i.e. Hades, the abode of disembodied spirits waiting for the resurrection (Heb. Sheol). A proof text of the reality of Christ's descent into 'hell' (i.e. Hades).

33. By the right hand] or, 'to the right hand.' The promise of] i.e. the promised Holy Ghost.

37. Were pricked in their heart] (1) because they had crucified Jesus; (2) because they had not acknowledged Him as the Messiah, and had thus deprived themselves of the hope of salvation.

38. In the name of Jesus Christ] see on Matthew 28:19. The remission of sins] one of the principal benefits of Holy Baptism, when the ordinance is rightly received (Acts 22:16 cp. Acts 10:43, Acts 10:47; Acts 13:38; Hebrews 10:22 also 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:25-26). The gift of the Holy Ghost] It is to be inferred from Matthew 19:6, cp. Hebrews 6:2, that the Holy Ghost was given by the laying on of the Apostles' hands.

42-47. The life and worship of the first converts. The converts were still earnest Jews, attending the services in the Temple daily (Acts 2:46), but they already formed a Church within a Church: for (1) they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42), i.e. they no longer regarded the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees as their accredited teachers, but rather the Apostles. Thus the breach with Judaism had already begun in principle. (2) They continued stedfastly in the Apostles' fellowship. (3) They continued stedfastly in the breaking of bread, i.e. in celebrating the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion. At first the Lord's Supper was celebrated daily (Acts 2:46), but afterwards every Lord's Day at least (Acts 20:7). (4) They continued stedfastly in the prayers, i.e. in the prayers offered at the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and at the other services of the Church (so the RV). The AV, however, translates 'in prayers,' which would include private prayers also.

42. In prayers] lit. 'in the prayers,' i.e. the public prayers of the Church. These would probably be partly liturgical, after the example of the Temple and the Synagogue (cp. the liturgical addition to the Lord's Prayer, Matthew 6:13; AV), and partly extempore. Extempore prayer was allowed to be offered at the celebration of the Lord's Supper by the Christian prophets (see the 'Didache'), and was apparently still in use in the age of Justin Martyr (150 a.d.), but shortly after this the public prayers of the Church became exclusively liturgical.

44. Were together] probably they had common meals. Had all things common] This arrangement was not exactly what we call communism, for, (1) the sale of property was voluntary, the result of a spontaneous outflowing of Christian love (Acts 5:4); and (2) even when property had been sold, the money usually remained in the hands of the vendor, to be distributed to the poorer saints from time to time 'as every man had need' (Acts 2:45). The cases of Barnabas and of Ananias and Sapphira, who not only sold property, but even laid the money at the Apostles' feet, were exceptional, and because exceptional are specially noted by the evangelist.

46. Breaking bread from house to house] RV 'breaking bread at home,' probably in the 'upper room' where the Sacrament had been instituted, and the Holy Ghost had descended. The reference is probably to the Lord's Supper, and not to an ordinary meal; but it must be remembered that at this period the Lord's Supper was usually celebrated at the close of a sacred meal, called the agape or love-feast: see below.

47. And the Lord] RV 'And the Lord added to them' (RM 'together') 'day by day those that were being saved,' i.e. conscious of sin and seeking salvation.

The Love-Feast

It is clear from Acts 2:46, and 1 Corinthians 11:20. that Holy Communion was at first celebrated in connexion with a common meal called agapé, i.e. 'love-feast,' or 'feast of charity' (Judges 1:12). Our Lord had instituted the Sacrament at the close of a sacred banquet, and the Apostolic Church at first naturally followed His example. The feast was an afternoon or evening meal, at which rich and poor met together in the church, the food and drink being provided mainly by the rich. Prayers and benedictions, similar to those of the Jews, were said over each dish or course, and 'the kiss of charity' (1 Peter 5:14) probably concluded the meal. Then hands were washed, and there followed prayer and sacred psalmody under the leadership of a prophet or other minister. 'The breaking of bread,' or Holy Communion, seems to have followed (not preceded) the agapé (1 Corinthians 11:21, 1 Corinthians 11:25) and the agapé and the Holy Communion were regarded as forming one service, called 'the Lord's Supper' (1 Corinthians 11:20). The abuses to which this arrangement gave rise (see 1 Corinthians 11), led, somewhat late in the apostolic age, to the gradual separation of the two rites. Already in the time of Pliny (115 a.d.) the Holy Communion was celebrated in the morning, and the agapé' in the evening; and Justin Martyr (150 a.d.), in describing the Holy Communion, makes no allusion to the agapé, which was by that time an entirely separate ordinance.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Acts 2:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/acts-2.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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