(1) Of all the feasts of the Jewish year, it was that which attracted the largest number of pilgrims from distant lands. The dangers of travel by sea or land in the early spring or late autumn (comp. Acts 27:9) prevented their coming in any large numbers to the Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles. At no other feast would there have been representatives of so many nations. So, it may be noted, it was the Feast of Pentecost that St. Paul went up to keep once and again, during his mission-work in Greece and Asia. (See Notes on Acts 18:21; Acts 20:16.) So far, then, there was no time on which the gift of the Spirit was likely to produce such direct and immediate results.
(2) And suddenly there came a sound from heaven. . . .—The description reminds us of the “sound of a trumpet” (Exodus 19:19; Hebrews 12:19) on Sinai, of the “great and strong wind” that rent the mountains on Horeb (1 Kings 19:11). Such a wind was now felt and heard, even as the wind, the breath, the Spirit of God, had moved upon the face of the waters, quickening them into life (Genesis 1:2).
A rushing mighty wind.—Better, a mighty breath borne onwards, so as to connect the English, as the Greek is connected, with St. Peter’s words that, “holy men of old spake as they were moved (literally, borne on) by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). The Greek word for “wind” is not that commonly so translated (anemos), but one from the same root as the Greek for “Spirit” (Pnoè and Pneuma—both from Pneô, “I breathe”), and rendered “breath” in Acts 17:25. It is obviously chosen here as being better fitted than the more common word for the supernatural inbreathing of which they were conscious, and which to many must have recalled the moment when their Lord had “breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). Now, once more, they felt that light yet awful breathing which wrought every nerve to ecstasy; and it filled “the whole house,” as if in token of the wide range over which the new spiritual power was to extend its working, even unto the whole Church, which is the House of God (1 Timothy 3:15), and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
(3) There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire.—Better, and tongues as of fire were seen by them, parted among them. The word translated “cloven” cannot possibly have that meaning. It is not uncommon (e.g., Acts 2:45; Matthew 27:35; Luke 22:17; and John 19:24), and is always used in the sense of dividing or distributing. What the disciples saw would, perhaps, be best described in modern phrase as a shower of fiery tongues, coming they knew not whence, lighting for a moment on each head, and then vanishing. The verb “it (sc., a tongue of fire) sat upon” is in the tense which expresses momentary, not continuous, action.
(4) And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.—The outward portent was but the sign of a greater spiritual wonder. As yet, though they had been taught to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), and, we must believe, had found the answer to their prayer in secret and sacred influences and gradual growth in wisdom, they had never been conscious of its power as “filling” them—pervading the inner depths of personality, stimulating every faculty and feeling to a new intensity of life. Now they felt, in St. Peter’s words, as “borne onward” (2 Peter 1:21), thinking thoughts and speaking words which were not their own, and which they could hardly even control. They had passed into a state which was one of rapturous ecstasy and joy. We must not think of the gift as confined to the Apostles. The context shows that the writer speaks of all who were assembled, not excepting the women, as sharers in it. (Comp. Acts 2:17-18.)
And began to speak with other tongues.—Two facts have to be remembered as we enter upon the discussion of a question which is, beyond all doubt, difficult and mysterious. (1) If we receive Mark 16:9-20 as a true record of our Lord’s words, the disciples had, a few days or weeks before the Day of Pentecost, heard the promise that they that believed should “speak with new tongues” (see Note on Mark 16:17), i.e., with new powers of utterance. (2) When St. Luke wrote his account of the Day of Pentecost, he must have had—partly through his companionship with St. Paul, partly from personal observation—a wide knowledge of the phenomena described as connected with the “tongues” in 1 Corinthians 14. He uses the term in the sense in which St. Paul had used it. We have to read the narrative of the Acts in the light thrown upon it by the treatment in that chapter of the phenomena described by the self-same words as the Pentecost wonder. What, then, are those phenomena? Does the narrative of this chapter bring before us any in addition? (1) The utterance of the “tongue” is presented to us as entirely unconnected with the work of teaching. It is not a means of instruction. It does not edify any beyond the man who speaks (1 Corinthians 14:4). It is, in this respect, the very antithesis of “prophecy.” Men do not, as a rule, understand it, though God does (1 Corinthians 14:2). Here and there, some mind with a special gift of insight may be able to interpret with clear articulate speech what had been mysterious and dark (1 Corinthians 14:13). St. Paul desires to subject the exercise of the gift to the condition of the presence of such an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:27). (2) The free use of the gift makes him who uses it almost as a barbarian or foreigner to those who listen to him. He may utter prayers, or praises, or benedictions, but what he speaks is as the sound of a trumpet blown uncertainly, of flute or lyre played with unskilled hand, almost, we might say, in the words of our own poet, “like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh” (1 Corinthians 14:7-9). (3) Those who speak with tongues do well, for the most part, to confine their utterance to the solitude of their own chamber, or to the presence of friends who can share their rapture When they make a more public display of it, it produces results that stand in singular contrast with each other. It is a “sign to them that believe not,” i.e., it startles them, attracts their notice, impresses them with the thought that they stand face to face with a superhuman power. On the other hand, the outside world of listeners, common men, or unbelievers, are likely to look on it as indicating madness (1 Corinthians 14:23). If it was not right or expedient to check the utterance of the tongues altogether, St. Paul at least thought it necessary to prescribe rules for its exercise which naturally tended to throw it into the background as compared with prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). The conclusion from the whole chapter is, accordingly, that the “tongues” were not the power of speaking in a language which had not been learnt by the common ways of learning, but the ecstatic utterance of rapturous devotion. As regards the terms which are used to describe the gift, the English reader must be reminded that the word “unknown” is an interpolation which appears for the first time in the version of 1611. Wiclif, Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Rhemish give no adjective, and the Geneva inserts “strange.” It may be noted further that the Greek word for “tongue” had come to be used by Greek writers on Rhetoric for bold, poetic, unusual terms, such as belonged to epic poetry (Aristot. Rhet. iii. 3), not for those which belonged to a foreign language. If they were, as Aristotle calls them, “unknown,” it was because they were used in a startlingly figurative sense, so that men were sometimes puzzled by them (Aristot. Rhet. iii. 10). We have this sense of the old word (glossa) surviving in our glossary, a collection of such terms. It is clear (1) that such an use of the word would be natural in writers trained as St. Paul and St. Luke had been in the language of Greek schools; and (2) that it exactly falls in with the conclusion to which the phenomena of the case leads us, apart from the word.
We turn to the history that follows in this chapter, and we find almost identical phenomena. (1) The work of teaching is not done by the gift of tongues, but by the speech of Peter, and that was delivered either in the Aramaic of Palestine, or, more probably, in the Greek, which was the common medium of intercourse for all the Eastern subjects of the Roman empire. In that speech we find the exercise of the higher gift of prophecy, with precisely the same results as those described by St. Paul as following on the use of that gift. (Comp. Acts 2:37 with 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.) (2) The utterances of the disciples are described in words which convey the idea of rapturous praise. They speak the “mighty works,” or better, as in Luke 1:49, the great things of God. Doxologies, benedictions, adoration, in forms that transcended the common level of speech, and rose, like the Magnificat, into the region of poetry: this is what the word suggests to us. In the wild, half dithyrambic hymn of Clement of Alexandria—the earliest extant Christian hymn outside the New Testament—in part, perhaps, in that of Acts 4:24-30, and the Apocalyptic hymns (Revelation 4:8; Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:13; Revelation 7:10), we have the nearest approach to what then came, in the fiery glow of its first utterance, as with the tongues “of men and of angels,” from the lips of the disciples. (3) We cannot fail to be struck with the parallelism between the cry of the scoffers here, “These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13), and the words, “Will they not say that ye are mad?” which St. Paul puts into the mouth of those who heard the “tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:23). In both cases there is an intensity of stimulated life, which finds relief in the forms of poetry and in the tones of song, and which to those who listened was as the poet’s frenzy. It is not without significance that St. Paul elsewhere contrasts the “being drunk with wine” with “being filled with the Spirit,” and immediately passes on, as though that were the natural result, to add “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:18-19). If we find the old Jewish psalms in the first of these three words, and hymns known and remembered in the second, the natural explanation of the adjective specially alluded to in the third is that the “songs” or “odes” are such as were not merely “spiritual” in the later sense of the word, but were the immediate outflow of the Spirit’s working. Every analogy, it will be noticed, by which St. Paul illustrates his meaning in 1 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Corinthians 14:7-8, implies musical intonation. We have the sounding brass and the tinkling (or clanging) cymbal, the pipe, the harp, the trumpet giving an uncertain sound. It falls in with this view that our Lord Himself compares the new energy of spiritual life which He was about to impart to new wine (Matthew 9:17), and that the same comparison meets us in the Old Testament in the words in which Elihu describes his inspiration (Job 32:19). The accounts of prophecy in its wider sense, as including song and praise, as well as a direct message to the minds and hearts of men, in the life of Saul, present Phenomena that are obviously analogous (1 Samuel 10:10-11; 1 Samuel 19:20; 1 Samuel 19:24). The brief accounts in Acts 10:46, “speaking with tongues and magnifying God,” and Acts 19:6, where tongues are distinguished from prophecy, present nothing that is not in harmony with this explanation.
In the present case, however, there are exceptional phenomena. We cannot honestly interpret St. Luke’s record without assuming either that the disciples spoke in the languages which are named in Acts 2:9-11, or that, speaking in their own Galilean tongue, their words came to the ears of those who listened as spoken in the language with which each was familiar. The first is at once the more natural interpretation of the language used by the historian, and, if we may use such a word of what is in itself supernatural and mysterious, the more conceivable of the two. And it is clear that there was an end to be attained by such an extension of the in this case which could not be attained otherwise. The disciples had been present in Jerusalem at many feasts before, at which they had found themselves, as now, surrounded by pilgrims from many distant lands. Then they had worshipped apart by themselves, with no outward means of fellowship with these strangers, and had poured out their praises and blessings in their own Galilean speech, as each group of those pilgrims had done in theirs. Now they found themselves able to burst through the bounds that had thus divided them, and to claim a fellowship with all true worshippers from whatever lands they came. But there is no evidence that that power was permanent. It came and went with the special outpouring of the Spirit, and lasted only while that lasted in its full intensity. (Comp. Notes on Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6.) There are no traces of its exercise in any narrative of the work of apostles and evangelists. They did their work in countries where Greek was spoken, even where it was not the native speech of the inhabitants, and so would not need that special knowledge. In the history of Acts 14:11, it is at least implied that Paul and Barnabas did not understand the speech of Lycaonia.
(5) There were dwelling at Jerusalem.—The phrase is one of frequent occurrence in St. Luke’s writings (Luke 13:4; Acts 1:19; Acts 4:16). As a word, it implied a more settled residence than the “sojourning” of Luke 24:18 (see Note), Hebrews 11:9, but was probably sufficiently wide in its range to include the worshippers who had come up to keep the feast.
Devout men.—For the meaning of the word see Note on Luke 2:25. The primary meaning was one of cautious reverence, the temper that handles sacred things devoutly. As such, it was probably used to include proselytes as well as Jews by birth. The words that are added, “from every nation under heaven,” reduce the probability to a certainty. It appears again in Acts 8:2.
(6) When this was noised abroad. . . .—Better When there had been this voice, or utterance. The word for “voice” is never used for rumour or report in the New Testament; always of some utterance—human (Matthew 3:3; Galatians 4:20), angelic (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 5:11), or divine (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5). In John 3:7 (see Note there) we find it used, in the same connection as in this verse, for the “voice” or “utterance” of the Spirit.
Were confounded.—The word is peculiar to the Acts (Acts 9:22; Acts 19:32). If we were to draw a distinction between two words of cognate meaning with each other and with the Greek, confused would, perhaps, be a better rendering than confounded.
Every man heard them speak.—The verb is in the imperfect. They went on listening in their amazement as one after another heard the accents of his own language.
In his own language.—Another word peculiar to the Acts. (See Note on Acts 1:19.) It stands as an equivalent for the “tongue” in Acts 2:11, but was used for a dialect, in the modern sense of the term, as well as for a distinct language.
(7) They were all amazed and marvelled.—It will be noted that this is precisely in accordance with what St. Paul describes as the effect of the gift of tongues. They were a “sign” to them that believed not, filling them with wonder, but the work of convincing and converting was left for the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:22).
Are not all these which speak Galilæans?—This was, of course, antecedently probable, but it is singular that this is the first assertion of the fact as regards the whole company. The traitor had been apparently the only exception (see Note on Matthew 10:4), and he had gone to his own place.
(8) And how hear we every man in our own tongue?—We have here, it is obvious, a composite utterance, in which the writer embodies the manifold expressions which came from those who represented the several nationalities that are afterwards enumerated.
(9-11) Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites. . . .—The list that follows is characteristic of the trained historian—trained, it may be, as in the school of Strabo (see Introduction to St. Luke)—who had carefully inquired what nations were represented at that great Pentecost, who had himself been present, at least, at one later Pentecost (Acts 21:15), and knew the kind of crowd that gathered to it. There is a kind of order, as of one taking a mental bird’s-eye view of the Roman empire, beginning with the great Parthian kingdom, which was still, as it had been in the days of Crassus, the most formidable of its foes; then the old territory of the Medes which had once been so closely connected with the history of their fathers; then, the name of the Persians having been thrown into the background, the kindred people of Elam (commonly rendered Persia in the LXX.) whom Strabo speaks of as driven to the mountains (xi. 13, § 6); then the great cities of the Tigris and Euphrates, where the “princes of the captivity” still ruled over a large Jewish population; then passing southward and westward to Judæa; then to Cappadocia, in the interior of Asia Minor; then to Pontus, on the northern shore washed by the Euxine; then westward to the Proconsular Province of Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital. From Ephesus the eye travels eastward to the neighbouring province of Phrygia; thence southward to Pamphylia; thence across the Mediterranean to Egypt; westward to Cyrene; northward, re-crossing the Mediterranean, to the great capital of the empire; then, as by an after-thought, to the two regions of Crete and Arabia that had been previously omitted. The absence of some countries that we should have expected to find in the list—Syria, Cilicia, Cyprus, Bithynia, Macedonia, Achaia, Spain—is not easy to explain, but it is, at any rate, an indication that what we have is not an artificial list made up at a later date, but an actual record of those whose presence at the Feast had been ascertained by the historian. Possibly they may have been omitted because Jews and converts coming from them would naturally speak Greek, and there would be no marvel to them in hearing Galileans speaking in that language. The presence of Judæa in the list is almost as unexpected as the absence of the others. That, we think, might have been taken for granted. Some critics have accordingly conjectured that “India” must be the true reading, but without any MS. authority. Possibly, the men of Judæa are named as sharing in the wonder that the Galileans were no longer distinguished by their provincial patois. (Comp. Note on Matthew 26:73.)
(10) Strangers of Rome . . .—Better, the Romans who were sojourning there—i.e., at Jerusalem. The verb is peculiar to St. Luke in the New Testament, and is used by him, as in Acts 17:18, of the strangers and visitors of a city.
Jews and proselytes.—The words may possibly be applicable to the whole preceding list; but they read more like a note specially emphasising the prominence of the Roman proselytes in that mixed multitude of worshippers. It lies in the nature of the case, that they were proselytes in the full sense of the term, circumcised and keeping the Law. Looking to St. Luke’s use of another word (“they that worship God,” as in Acts 16:14; Acts 17:4; Acts 17:17) for those whom the Rabbis classed as “proselytes of the gate,” it is probable that he used the term in its strictest sense for those who had been received into the covenant of Israel, and who were known in the Rabbinic classification as the “proselytes of righteousness.”
(11) The wonderful works of God.—Better, the great things, or the majesty, of God. The word is the same as in Luke 1:49. The word points, as has been said above, distinctly to words of praise and not of teaching.
(12) They were all amazed, and were in doubt.—The last word is somewhat stronger in the Greek: “were much perplexed,” as in Luke 24:4. No New Testament writer uses it except St. Luke.
What meaneth this?—Better, What may this mean? The same phrase occurs in Acts 17:18.
(13) These men are full of new wine.—Literally, of sweet drink—the word “wine” not being used—stronger and more intoxicating than the lighter and thinner wines that were ordinarily drunk. The Greek word was sometimes used, like the Latin mustum, for the unfermented grape-juice. Here, however, the context shows that wine, in the strict sense of the word, was intended, and the use of the same word in the LXX. of Job 32:19 confirms this meaning. The word for “new wine” in Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, is different, but there also (see Notes) fermentation is implied. The words, as has been said above (Note on Acts 2:4), point to a certain appearance of excitement in tone, manner, and words.
(14) But Peter, standing up with the eleven, . . .—We are struck at once with the marvellous change that has come over the character of the Apostle. Timidity has become boldness; for the few hasty words recorded in the Gospels we have elaborate discourses. There is a method and insight in the way he deals with the prophecies of the Christ altogether unlike anything that we have seen in him before. If we were reading a fictitious history, we should rightly criticise the author for the want of consistency in his portraiture of the same character in the first and second volumes of his work. As it is, the inconsistency becomes almost an evidence of the truth of the narratives that contain it. The writer of a made-up-history, bent only upon reconciling the followers of Peter and of Paul, would have made the former more prominent in the Gospels or less prominent in the Acts. And the facts which St. Luke narrates are an adequate explanation of the phenomena. In the interval that had passed, Peter’s mind had been opened by his Lord’s teaching to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45), and then he had been endued, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, with power from on high. That which he now speaks is the first utterance of the new gift of prophecy, and followed rightly on I the portent of the “tongues” to bring about the work of conversion which they had no power to accomplish. The speech which follows was spoken either in the Aramaic of Palestine, or, more probably, in the Greek, which was common in Galilee, and which would be intelligible to all, or nearly all, of the pilgrims from distant countries.
And said unto them.—The verb is not the word commonly so rendered, but that which is translated “utterance,” or “to utter,” in Acts 2:4. The unusual word was probably repeated here to indicate that what follows was just as much an “utterance” of the Holy Spirit, working on and through the spiritual powers of man, as the marvel of the “tongues” had been.
Hearken to my words.—Literally, give ear to. The verb is an unusual one, and is found here only in the New Testament. It is used not unfrequently in the LXX., as, e.g., in Genesis 4:22; Job 23:18.
(15) Seeing it is but the third hour of the day.—The appeal is made to the common standard of right feeling. Drunkenness belonged to the night (1 Thessalonians 5:7). It was a mark of extremest baseness for men to “rise up early in the morning that they may follow strong drink” (Isaiah 5:11; comp. also Ecclesiastes 10:16). “Were the disciples likely to be drunk at 9 a. m., and that on the morning of the Day of Pentecost, after a night spent in devotion, and when all decent Jews were fasting?
(17) It shall come to pass in the last days.—The prophecy of Joel takes its place, with the exception, perhaps, of Hosea, as the oldest of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. The people were suffering from one of the locust-plagues of the East and its consequent famine. The prophet calls them to repentance, and promises this gift of the Spirit as the great blessing of a far-off future. He had been taught that no true knowledge of God comes but through that Spirit. So Elisha prayed that a double portion (i.e., the eldest son’s inheritance) of the Spirit which God had given to Elijah might rest upon him (2 Kings 2:9).
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.—The Old Testament use of the word, in its wider generic sense, as, e.g., in the case of Saul, 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:20-24, covered phenomena analogous to the gift of tongues as well as that of prophecy in the New Testament sense. The words imply that women as well as men had been filled with the Spirit, and had spoken with the “tongues.”
Your young men shall see visions.—The “visions,” implying the full activity of spiritual power, are thought of as belonging to the younger prophets. In the calmer state of more advanced age, wisdom came, as in the speech of Elihu, “in a dream, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men” (Job 33:15).
(18) And on my servants and on my handmaidens . . .—This was the culminating point of the joyous prediction. Not on priests only, or those who had been trained in the schools of the prophets, but on slaves, male and female, should that gift be poured by Him who was no respecter of persons. The life of Amos, the herdsman of Tekoa, the “gatherer of sycomore fruit” (Amos 1:1; Amos 7:14), was, perhaps, the earliest example of the gift so bestowed. The apostolic age must have witnessed many. The fisherman of Galilee, who was now speaking, was the forerunner of thousands in whom the teaching of the Spirit has superseded the training of the schools.
(19) And I will shew wonders in heaven above.—St. Peter quotes the words of terror that follow, apparently, for the sake of the promise with which they end in Acts 2:21. But as it was not given to him as yet to know the times and the seasons (Acts 1:7), it may well have been that he looked for the “great and notable day” as about to come in his own time. The imagery is drawn as from one of the great thunder-storms of Palestine. There is the lurid blood-red hue of clouds and sky; there are the fiery flashes, the columns or pillars of smoke-like clouds boiling from the abyss. These, in their turn, were probably thought of as symbols of bloodshed, and fire and smoke, such as are involved in the capture and destruction of a city like Jerusalem.
(20) The sun shall be turned into darkness.—Both clauses bring before us the phenomena of an eclipse: the total darkness of the sun, the dusky copper hue of the moon. Signs, of which these were but faint images, had been predicted by our Lord, echoing, as it were, the words of Joel, as among the preludes of His Advent (Matthew 24:29).
That great and notable day.—St. Luke follows the LXX. version. The Hebrew gives, as in our version, “the great and terrible day.” As seen by the prophet, the day was terrible to the enemies of God; a day of blessing to “the remnant whom the Lord should call” (Joel 2:32). The Greek word for “notable” (epiphanès) lent itself readily to the thought of the great Epiphany or manifestation of Christ as the Judge of all.
(21) Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord . . .—Singularly enough, the precise phrase, to “call upon” God, common as it is in the Old Testament, does not occur in the Gospels. With St. Luke and St. Paul it is, as it were, a favourite word (Acts 7:59; Acts 9:14; Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 1:2). Its Greek associations gave to the “invoking” which it expressed almost the force of an appeal from a lower to a higher tribunal. (Comp. Acts 25:11; Acts 25:21; Acts 25:25.) Here the thought is that that Name of the Eternal, invoked by the prayer of faith, was the one sufficient condition of deliverance in the midst of all the terrors of the coming day of the Lord.
(22) Jesus of Nazareth.—We hardly estimate, as we read them, the boldness implied in the utterance of that Name. Barely seven weeks had passed since He who bore it had died the death of a slave and of a robber. The speaker himself had denied all knowledge of Him of whom he now spoke.
A man approved of God.—The verb is used in its older English sense, as proved, or pointed out, not as we now use the word, as meeting with the approval of God.
Miracles and wonders and signs.—Better, mighty works . . . The words are three synonyms, expressing different aspects of the same facts, rather than a classification of phenomena. The leading thought, in the first word, is the power displayed in the act; in the second, the marvel of it as a portent: in the third, its character as a token or note of something beyond itself.
(23) By the determinate counsel and fore knowledge of God.—The adjective meets us again in St. Peter’s speech in Acts 10:42; the word for “foreknowledge in his Epistle (1 Peter 1:2), and there only in the New Testament. The coincidence is not without its force as bearing on the genuineness both of the speech and of the letter. It has now become the habit of the Apostle’s mind to trace the working of a divine purpose, which men, even when they are most bent on thwarting it, are unconsciously fulfilling. In Acts 1:16, he had seen that purpose in the treachery of Judas; he sees it now in the malignant injustice of priests and people.
Ye have taken. . . .—Better, ye took, and by lawless hands crucified and slew. Stress is laid on the priests having used the hands of one who was “without law” (1 Corinthians 9:21), a heathen ruler, to inflict the doom which they dared not inflict themselves.
(24) Whom God hath raised up.—It is probable enough that some rumours of the Resurrection had found their way among the people, and had been met by the counter-statement of which we read in Matthew 28:11-15; but this was the first public witness, borne by one who was ready to seal his testimony with his blood, to the stupendous fact.
Having loosed the pains of death.—The word for “pains” is the same as that for “sorrows” in Matthew 24:8 : literally, travail-pangs. The phrase was not uncommon in the LXX. version, but was apparently a mistranslation of the Hebrew for “cords,” or “bands,” of death. If we take the Greek word in its full meaning, the Resurrection is thought of as a new birth as from the womb of the grave.
Because it was not possible. . . .—The moral impossibility was, we may say, two-fold. The work of the Son of Man could not have ended in a failure and death which would have given the lie to all that He had asserted of Himself. Its issue could not run counter to the prophecies which had implied with more or less clearness a victory over death. The latter, as the sequel shows, was the thought prominent in St. Peter’s mind.
(25) For David speaketh concerning him.—More accurately, in reference to Him—i.e., in words which extended to Him. Reading Psalms 16 without this interpretation, it seems as if it spoke only of the confidence of the writer that he would be himself delivered from the grave and death. Some interpreters confine that confidence to a temporal deliverance; some extend it to the thought of immortality, or even of a resurrection. But Peter had been taught, both by his Lord and by the Spirit, that all such hopes extend beyond themselves—that the ideal of victory after suffering, no less than that of the righteous sufferer, was realised in Christ. The fact of the Resurrection had given a new meaning to prophecies which would not, of themselves, have suggested it, but which were incomplete without it.
He is on my right hand.—The Psalmist thought of the Eternal as the warrior thinks of him who, in the conflict of battle, extends his shield over the comrade who is on the left hand, and so guards him from attack. When the Son of Man is said to sit on the right hand of God (Psalms 110:1; Matthew 26:64) the imagery is different, and brings before us the picture of a king seated on his throne with his heir sitting in the place of honour by his side.
(26) My tongue was glad.—The Hebrew gives “my glory,” a term which was applied to the mind of man, perhaps also to his faculty of speech (Psalms 57:8; Psalms 62:7), as that by which he excelled all other creatures of God’s hand. The LXX. had paraphrased the word by “tongue,” and St. Peter, or St. Luke reporting his speech, follows that version.
Also my flesh shall rest in hope.—Literally, shall tabernacle, or, dwell as in a tabernacle. We may, perhaps, trace an echo of the thought in 2 Peter 1:13-14.
(27) Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.—Literally, in Hades. (See Note on Matthew 11:23.) As interpreted by St. Peter’s words in his Epistle (1 Peter 3:19), the words conveyed to his mind the thought which has been embodied in the article of the “Descent into Hell,” or Hades, in the Apostle’s Creed. The death of Christ was an actual death, and while the body was laid in the grave, the soul passed into the world of the dead, the Sheol of the Hebrews, the Hades of the Greeks, to carry on there the redemptive work which had been begun on earth. (Comp. Acts 13:34-37, and Ephesians 4:9.) Here again we have an interesting coincidence with St. Peter’s language (1 Peter 3:19), as to the work of Christ in preaching to the “spirits in prison.”
Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.—The word for “holy” is different from that commonly so rendered, and conveys the idea of personal piety and godliness rather than consecration. As the Psalmist used the words, we may think of them as expressing the confidence that he himself, as loving, and beloved of, God, would be delivered from destruction, both now and hereafter. St. Peter had learnt to interpret the words as having received a higher fulfilment. Christ was, in this sense, as well as in that expressed by the other word, “the Holy One” of God (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). In Hebrews 7:26; Revelation 15:4; Revelation 16:5, this very word is applied to Christ. The Hebrew text of Psalms 16:10 presents the various reading of “the holy ones,” as if referring to the “saints that are upon the earth,” of Acts 2:3. The LXX., which St. Peter follows, gives the singular, which is indeed essential to his argument, and this is also the reading of the Masoretic text. The Greek word for “corruption” ranges in its meaning from “decay” to “destruction.” The Hebrew to which it answers is primarily the “pit” of the grave, and not “corruption,” or “wasting away.”
(28) Thou hast made known to me the ways of life.—The Apostle does not interpret these words, but we can hardly err in thinking that he would have looked on them also as fulfilled in Christ’s humanity, To Him also the ways of life had been made known, and so even in Hades He was filled with joy (better, perhaps, gladness, as in Acts 14:17), as being in the Paradise of God (Luke 23:43).
(29) Let me freely speak.—Better, it is lawful for me to speak with freedom. Those to whom the Apostle spoke could not for a moment dream of asserting that the words quoted had been literally and completely fulfilled in him, and it was therefore natural to look for their fulfilment elsewhere.
Of the patriarch David.—The word is used in its primary sense, as meaning the founder of a family or dynasty. In the New Testament it is applied also to Abraham (Hebrews 7:4) and the twelve sons of Jacob (Acts 7:8). In the Greek version of the Old Testament it is used only of the comparatively subordinate “chief of the fathers” in 1 Chronicles 9:9; 1 Chronicles 24:31, et al.
His sepulchre is with us unto this day.—The king was buried in the city which bore his name (1 Kings 2:10). Josephus relates that vast treasures were buried with him (Ant. vii. 15, § 4), and that John Hyrcanus opened one of the chambers of the tomb, and took out three thousand talents to pay the tribute demanded by Antiochus the Pious (Ant. xiii. 8, § 4). Herod the Great also opened it and found no money, but gold and silver vessels in abundance. The tradition was that he sought to penetrate into the inner vault, in which the bodies of David and Solomon were resting, and was deterred by a flame that issued from the recess (Ant. xvi. 7, § 1). It is difficult to understand how such a treasure could have escaped the plunderer in all the sieges and sacks to which Jerusalem had been exposed; but it is possible that its fame as a holy place may have made it, like the temples at Delphi and Ephesus, a kind of bank of deposit, in which large treasures in coin or plate were left for safety, and many of these, in the common course of things, were never claimed, and gradually accumulated. The monuments now known as the “tombs of the kings” on the north side of the city, though identified by De Sauley with the sepulchres of the house of David, are of the Roman period, and are outside the walls. David and his successors were probably buried in a vault on the eastern hill, in the city of David (1 Kings 2:10), within the range of the enclosure now known as the Haram Area.
(30) Therefore being a prophet.—The words “according to the flesh, He would raise up Christ,” are wanting in many of the best MSS. Without them the sentence, though somewhat incomplete, would run thus: “That God had sworn with an oath that from his loins one should sit upon his throne.” The words claim for the Psalmist a prophetic foresight of some kind, without defining its measure or clearness. His thoughts went beyond himself to the realisation of his hopes in a near or far-off future. As with most other prophets, the precise time, even the “manner of time,” was hidden from him (1 Peter 1:11).
He would raise up Christ.—The Greek, by using the verb from which comes the word “resurrection,” gives to the verb the definite sense of “raising from the dead.”
(31) He seeing this before. . . .—In the vision of the future which St. Peter thus ascribes to David, the king had been led, as he interprets the words, not only or chiefly to speak out his own hopes, but to utter that which received its fulfilment in the fact of the resurrection. What was conspicuously not true of the historical David was found to be true of the Son of David according to the flesh.
(32) This Jesus hath God raised up . . .—From the first the Apostles take up the position which their Lord had assigned them. They are witnesses, and before and above all else, witnesses of the Resurrection.
(33) Therefore being by the right hand of God.—The Greek has the dative case without a preposition. The English version takes it, and probably is right in taking it, as the dative of the instrument, the image that underlies the phrase being that the Eternal King stretches forth His hand to raise Him who was in form His Servant to a place beside Him on His right hand; and, on the whole, this seems the best rendering. Not a few scholars, however, render the words “exalted to the right hand of God.”
Having received of the Father.—The words of St. Peter, obviously independent as they are of the Gospel of St. John, present a striking agreement with our Lord’s language as recorded by him (John 14:26; John 15:26). The promise throws us back upon these chapters, and also upon Acts 1:4.
Hath shed forth this.—Better, hath poured out. The verb had not been used in the Gospels of the promise of the Spirit, but is identical with that which was found in the Greek version of Joel’s prophecy, as cited in Acts 2:17, “I will pour out of My Spirit.”
(34) The Lord said. . . .—There is, when we remember what had passed but seven weeks before, something very striking in the reproduction by St. Peter of the very words by which our Lord had brought the scribes to confess their ignorance of the true interpretation of the Psalmist’s mysterious words (Psalms 110:1). (See Note on Matthew 22:44.) Those who were then silenced are now taught how it was that David’s Son was also David’s Lord.
(36) That same Jesus. . . .—Better, this Jesus.
Both Lord and Christ.—Some MSS. omit “both.” The word “Lord” is used with special reference to the prophetic utterance of the Psalm thus cited. There is a rhetorical force in the very order of the words which the English can scarcely give: “that both Lord and Christ hath God made this Jesus whom ye crucified.” The pronoun of the last verb is emphatic, as pointing the contrast between the way in which the Jews of Jerusalem had dealt with Jesus and the recognition which he had received from the Father. The utterance of the word “crucified” at the close, pressing home the guilt of the people on their consciences, may be thought of as, in a special manner, working the result described in the next verse.
(37) They were pricked in their heart.—The verb occurs here only in the New Testament, and expresses the sharp, painful emotion which is indicated in “compunction,” a word of kindred meaning. A noun derived from it, or possibly from another root, is used in Romans 11:8 in the sense of “slumber,” apparently as indicating either the unconsciousness that follows upon extreme pain, or simple drowsiness. In “attrition” and “contrition” we have analogous instances of words primarily physical used for spiritual emotions.
(38) Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.—The work of the Apostles is, in one sense, a continuation, in another a development, of that of the Baptist. There is the same indispensable condition of “repentance”—i.e. a change of heart and will—the same outward rite as the symbol of purification, the same promise of forgiveness which that change involves. But the baptism is now, as it had not been before, in the name of Jesus Christ, and it is connected more directly with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The question presents itself, Why is the baptism here, and elsewhere in the Acts (Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5), “in the name of Jesus Christ,” while in Matthew 28:19, the Apostles are commanded to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Various explanations have been given. It has been said that baptism in the Name of any one of the Persons of the Trinity, involves the Name of the other Two. It has even been assumed that St. Luke meant the fuller formula when he used the shorter one. But a more satisfactory solution is, perhaps, found in seeing in the words of Matthew 28:19 (see Note there) the formula for the baptism of those who, as Gentiles. had been “without God in the world, not knowing the Father;” while for converts from Judaism, or those who had before been proselytes to Judaism, it was enough that there should be the distinctive profession of their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, added on to their previous belief in the Father and the Holy Spirit. In proportion as the main work of the Church of Christ lay among the Gentiles, it was natural that the fuller form should become dominant, and finally be used exclusively. It is interesting here, also, to compare the speech of St. Peter with the stress laid on baptism in his Epistle (1 Peter 3:21).
Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.—The word for “gift” (dôrea) is generic, and differs from the more specific “gift” (charisma) of 1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Corinthians 12:28. The Apostle does not necessarily promise startling and marvellous powers, but in some way they should all feel that a new Spirit was working in them, and that that Spirit was from God.
(39) The promise is unto you, and to your children.—The tendency of sects has always been to claim spiritual gifts and powers as an exclusive privilege limited to a few. It is the essence of St. Peter’s appeal that all to whom he speaks can claim the promise as fully as himself. The phrase “those that are afar off,” was probably wide enough to cover both the Jews of the Dispersion, to whom the Apostle afterwards wrote (1 Peter 1:1-2), and the heathen nations among whom they lived. The use of the phrase in Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:17, inclines rather to the latter meaning.
Even as many as the Lord our God shall call.—There seems, at first sight, a limitation on the universality of the previous words. And in some sense there is; but it is not more than is involved in the fact that spiritual knowledge and culture are not bestowed on all nations and ages alike. Wherever there is a difference, some possessing a higher knowledge and greater power than others, the Apostle could only see, not chance, or evolution, but the working of a divine purpose, calling some to special privileges, and yet dealing equitably with all.
(40) With many other words.—The report breaks off, as if St. Luke’s informant had followed closely up to this point and then lost count of the sequence of thought and words.
Did he testify—i.e., continued to testify.
Save yourselves.—Literally, in the passive, Be ye saved. They were invited to submit to God’s way of salvation, to accept Jesus as their Saviour.
From this untoward generation.—Literally, from this crooked generation, as the word is rendered in Luke 3:5; Philippians 2:15.
(41) They that gladly received his word were baptized.—This was, we must remember, no new emotion. Not four years had passed since there had been a like eagerness to rush to the baptism of John. (See Notes on Matthew 3:5; Matthew 11:12.)
Three thousand souls.—The largeness of the number has been urged as rendering it probable that the baptism was by affusion, not immersion. On the other hand, (1) immersion had clearly been practised by John, and was involved in the original meaning of the word, and it is not likely that the rite should have been curtailed of its full proportions at the very outset. (2) The symbolic meaning of the act required immersion in order that it might be clearly manifested, and Romans 6:4, and 1 Peter 3:21, seem almost of necessity to imply the more complete mode. The swimming-baths of Bethesda and Siloam (see Notes on John 5:7; John 9:7), or the so-called Fountain of the Virgin, near the Temple enclosure, or the bathing-places within the Tower of Antony (Jos. Wars, v. 5, § 8), may well have helped to make the process easy. The sequel shows (1) that many converts were made from the Hellenistic Jews who were present at the Feast (Acts 6:1); and (2) that few, if any, of the converts were of the ruling class (Acts 4:1). It is obvious that some of these converts may have gone back to the cities whence they came, and may have been the unknown founders of the Church at Damascus, or Alexandria, or Rome itself.
(42) And they continued steadfastly.—The one Greek word is expressed by the English verb and adverb. As applied to persons, the New Testament use of the word is characteristic of St. Luke (Acts 2:46; Acts 6:4; Acts 8:13; Acts 10:7), and peculiar to him and St. Paul (Romans 12:12; Romans 13:6; Colossians 4:2).
The apostles’ doctrine.—Four elements of the life of the new society are dwelt on. (1) They grew in knowledge of the truth by attending to the teaching of the Apostles. This, and not the thought of a formulated doctrine to which they gave their consent, is clearly the meaning of the word. (See Note on Matthew 7:28.) (2) They joined in outward acts of fellowship with each other, acts of common worship, acts of mutual kindness and benevolence. The one Greek word diverges afterwards into the sense of what we technically call “communion,” as in 1 Corinthians 10:16, and that of a “collection” or contribution for the poor (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 9:13).
And in breaking of bread, and in prayers.—(3) St. Luke uses the phrase, we must remember, in the sense which, when he wrote, it had acquired in St. Paul’s hands. It can have no meaning less solemn than the commemorative “breaking of bread,” of 1 Corinthians 10:16. From the very first what was afterwards known as the Lord’s Supper (see Note on 1 Corinthians 11:20) took its place with baptism as a permanent universal element in the Church’s life. At first, it would seem, the evening meal of every day was such a supper. Afterwards the two elements that had then been united were developed separately, the social into the Agapœ, or Feasts of Love (Jude 1:12, and—though here there is a various-reading—2 Peter 2:13), the other into the Communion, or Eucharistic Sacrifice. (4) Prayer, in like manner, included private as well as public devotions. These may have been the outpouring of the heart’s desires; but they may also have been what the disciples had been taught to pray, as in Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:1, as the disciples of John had been taught. The use of the plural seems to indicate recurring times of prayer at fixed hours.
(43) Fear came upon every soul.—The Greek text shows a careful distinction of tenses. Fear—i.e., reverential awe—came specially at that season; the “signs and wonders” were wrought continually. (See Note on Acts 2:19.)
(44) All that believed were together. . . .—The writer dwells with a manifest delight on this picture of what seemed to him the true ideal of a human society. Here there was a literal fulfilment of his Lord’s words (Luke 12:33), a society founded, not on the law of self-interest and competition, but on sympathy and self-denial. They had all things in common, not by a compulsory abolition of the rights of property (see Acts 5:4), but by the spontaneous energy of love. The gift of the Spirit showed its power, not only in tongues and prophecy, but in the more excellent way of charity. It was well that that inimitable glow of love should manifest itself for a time to be a beacon-light to after ages, even if experience taught the Church in course of time that this generous and general distribution was not the wisest method of accomplishing permanent good, and that here also a discriminate economy, such as St. Paul taught (2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 3:8), was necessary as a safe-guard against abuse. It was, we may perhaps believe, partly in consequence of the rapid exhaustion of its resources thus brought about, that the Church at Jerusalem became dependent for many years upon the bounty of the churches of the Gentiles. (See Note on Acts 11:29.)
(45) And sold their possessions and goods.—The verbs throughout this description are in the imperfect tense, as expressing the constant recurrence of the act. The Greek words for “possessions” and “goods” both mean “property,” the former as a thing acquired, the latter as that which belongs to a man for the time being. Custom, however, had introduced a technical distinction, and “possessions” stands for real property, “goods” for personal. So in Acts 5:1; Acts 5:3; Acts 5:8, the former word is used interchangeably with that which is translated “field,” and in the LXX. of Proverbs 23:10; Proverbs 31:16, is used both for “field” and “vineyard.”
As every man had need.—The words imply at least the endeavour to discriminate. The money was not given literally to every one who applied for it, and so the way was prepared for more fixed and definite rules.
(46) Continuing daily with one accord in the temple.—At first it would have seemed natural that the followers of a Teacher whom the priests had condemned to death, who had once nearly been stoned, and once all but seized in the very courts of the Temple (John 8:59; John 10:31; John 7:45), should keep aloof from the sanctuary that had thus been desecrated. But they remembered that He had claimed it as His Father’s house, that His zeal for that house had been as a consuming passion (John 2:16-17), and therefore they had attended its worship daily before the Day of Pentecost (Luke 24:53); and it was not less, but infinitely more, precious to them now, as the place where they could meet with God, than it had been in the days of ignorance, before they had known the Christ, and through Him had learnt to know the Father. The apparent strangeness of their being allowed to meet in the Temple is explained partly by the fact that its courts were open to all Israelites who did not disturb its peace, partly by the existence of a moderate half-believing party in the Sanhedrin itself, including Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathæa, and Gamaliel (Acts 5:35); and by the popularity gained for a time by the holiness and liberal almsgiving of the new community.
Breaking bread from house to house.—Better, with the margin, at home—i.e., in their own house. The Greek phrase may have a distributive force, but Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:14, where the same formula is used, seem to show that that is not the meaning here. They met in the Temple, they met also in what, in the modern sense of the word, would be the “church” of the new society, for the act of worship, above all, for the highest act of worship and of fellowship, for which the Temple was, of course, unsuitable.
Did eat their meat . . .—We have again the tense which implies a customary act. The words imply that as yet the solemn breaking of bread was closely connected with their daily life. Anticipating the language of a few years later, the Agapè, or Love-feast, was united with the Eucharistic Communion. The higher sanctified the lower. It was not till love and faith were colder that men were forced to separate them, lest (as in 1 Corinthians 11:20-21) the lower should desecrate the higher.
Gladness and singleness of heart.—This “gladness” is significant. The word was the same as that which had been used by the angel to Zacharias (Luke 1:44) in announcing the birth of the Forerunner. The verb from which the noun was derived had been employed by our Lord when He bade His disciples rejoice and be glad (Matthew 5:12). The literal meaning of the word translated “singleness,” which does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, was the smoothness of a soil without stones. Thence it came to be used for evenness and simplicity, unity of character; thence for that unity showing itself in love; thence, by a further transition, for unalloyed benevolence, showing itself in act.
(47) Having favour with all the people.—The new life of the Apostles, in part probably their liberal almsgiving, had revived the early popularity of their Master with the common people. The Sadducean priests were, probably, the only section that looked on them with a malignant fear.
The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.—Many of the better MSS. omit the words “to the Church,” and connect “together,” which in the Greek is the first word in Acts 3:1, with this verse—The Lord added together . . . The verb “added” is in the tense which, like the adverb “daily,” implies a continually recurring act. “The Lord” is probably used here, as in Acts 2:39, in its generic Old Testament sense, rather than as definitely applied to Christ. For “such as should be saved”—a meaning which the present participle passive cannot possibly have—read, those that were in the way of salvation; literally, those that were being saved, as in 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15. The verse takes its place among the few passages in which the translators have, perhaps, been influenced by a Calvinistic bias; Hebrews 10:38, “if any man draw back,” instead of “if he draw back,” being another. It should, however, be stated in fairness that all the versions from Tyndale onward, including the Rhemish, give the same rendering. Wiclif alone gives nearly the true meaning, “them that were made safe.”
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Acts 2". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany