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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

II.—THE PENTECOST.

1. The Advent of the Spirit, Acts 2:1-13.

1. Day of Pentecost—There were annually three great feasts at Jerusalem which every male Jew was required by the law to attend, namely, the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Each of these had a twofold reference; one historical, and the other agricultural. Israel was both a theocratic and an agricultural nation; and he blended the events of his theocratic history with the events of his agricultural year. Thus is commemorated God’s mercy both in the past and present. The God of the theocracy is thereby recognized as the God of nature.

(1.) The PASSOVER (a) commemorated the deliverance from Egypt by the hand of Moses, and (b) marked the earlier or barley harvest. It was continued one week. On the first day the Passover lamb was slain, symbolizing the historical event, as detailed in our note on Matthew 26:2. On the morrow after the Passover Sabbath the priest was ceremonially, and with prescribed sacrifice, to wave a sheaf of the first-fruits of the harvest in token of acknowledgment of the divine bounty. And before this act neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears were to be eaten. (Exodus 23:10-14.) It was rendering to the God who first delivered Israel his thanks for the bounty of harvest.

(2.) The Feast of TABERNACLES (see our note on John 7:2) commemorated the wanderings in the wilderness, and marked the final harvest, namely, of the vintage and the fruits.

(3.) Between these two, seven weeks, or fifty days inclusive from the day of the wave-sheaf, was the Feast of PENTECOST, kept for a single day. From the seven weeks’ interval between it and the Passover it was originally called by the Hebrews The Feast of Weeks. But later it was called Pentecost, from the Greek words signifying Fiftieth, from the number of intervening days. It marked a second or wheat harvest. That it also commemorated the giving of the law on Mount Sinai is not, indeed, said expressly in the Scriptures, and so is doubted by many biblical scholars; but we join with those who hold it as true: (a) because it was historically a fact that seven weeks did occur from the leaving of Egypt to the giving of the Law on Sinai; (b) because some of the most eminent Jewish commentators so held; (c) because the analogy of the other two great feasts requires a historical reference; and (d) because of the striking correspondence, yet contrast, between the giving of the Old Law by Moses and this giving of the New Law by Christ. The last day of the seven weeks, says Grotius, was the day of the given law, as is inferred from Exodus 19:1-2, and was called on this account שׁמהת תורה, The Feast of the Law.

St. Jerome thus finely contrasts the two: “Each law was made on the fiftieth day from the Passover; the one upon Sinai, the other upon Zion. At the one, the mountain trembled with a shaking of the earth; at the other, the house of the apostles. At the former, amid fiery flames and flashing lightnings there sounded a whirl of winds and a crash of thunders; at the latter, together with a sight of fiery tongues, there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing wind. In the former, the blast of a clarion uttered the words of the law; at the latter, the Gospel trumpet sounded forth from the mouth of the apostles.”

Wordsworth says: “From the end of Saturday, the sixteenth day of Nisan, forty-nine days are counted; and the fiftieth, or Feast of Pentecost, falls on SUNDAY. It was the ancient belief of the ancient Christian Church” that the Pentecostal day was Sunday.

All with one accord—The same one accord as in Acts 1:14, of the same body enumerated in Acts 1:15; namely, the about one hundred and twenty names representative of the New Testament Church. This one accord beautifully and repeatedly emphasises the unanimity of heart and movement of this wonderful little condensation of Christianity. The they of this verse grammatically referring to this company clearly negatives the addition of some imaginary Christians from the country at the feast, supposed by Alford and others.

In one place—Not, as some suppose, in the Temple. (See note on Acts 1:13.) Had Israel, indeed, accepted Jesus, (see note on Acts 1:7,) the Spirit, the life, and the Shekinah (note on Acts 7:2) would no doubt have made their centre, as of old, in the ancient house of God. The miraculous tongues would have belonged not to twelve, or a hundred and twenty only, but to more than a hundred and twenty thousand. All Israel, the chosen seed, would have been Christ’s holy apostles. But Israel’s unbelief shut them out of the holy sanctuary, and so shut the sanctuary out to be sanctuary no more, but to be food for fire and ashes, and left these, the new chosen seed, the holy remnant, to inaugurate the Dispensation of the Spirit in an unrecognised “upper room.”


Verse 2

2. Suddenly—Even after the ten days’ prayer (note on Acts 1:3) the mighty gift came unexpectedly to them, yet at the moment, doubtless wisely chosen by the Spirit, when their one accord with each other and with Himself was most perfect.

From heaven—Not horizontally sweeping over the earth, but perpendicularly descending from heaven to the earth.

Wind—not literally a wind, but AS such.

Rushing—Literally, borne, that is, borne down by its own powerful impulse. It—This it refers to the soundthe whole house was filled by the divine reverberation.


Verse 3

3. Unto them—To the “about one hundred and twenty” present.

Cloven tongues—The tongues appeared, then settled one upon the head of each person; each tongue being cloven, that is, undivided at the root, but flaring into several points at the extremity. By this terminal division was beautifully symbolized the variety of dialect spoken by each tongue.

Most commentators at the present day construe the Greek word rendered cloven to signify distributed; that is, distributed a single tongue to each individual. But the word usually signifies, not the distribution of several wholes, but the distribution of one whole into several parts; as, for instance, a pile of garments into the several articles. But here there is no one common whole or single mass of tongues to be distributed; nor is there any common mass of fire back of the tongues to be divided or distributed off into single tongues; but each tongue being a whole is distributed into terminal parts. The other rendering destroys the symbol by which the divided or terminally distributed tongues indicate the miraculous variety of languages.

Like as of fire—Not literal fire, but like as fire. It was the phenomenal emblem of the invisible Spirit; its divine essence, as it were, made visible. As Alford says, the sound was the Spirit’s symbol to the ear, as the fire (and we may add the “shape like a dove,” Luke 3:22) to the eye.

It sat—What sat? Not the tongues, for that is plural; but plainly the quasi-fire just mentioned, in the tongue shape. What Luke means to say is that the Spirit itself sat upon each head and gave them utterance. The fire sat upon their heads; and, as if it burned down into the depths of their souls, they were filled with the Holy Ghost.


Verse 4

4. Filled with the Holy Ghost—This was the great fact of the Pentecost, the great fact of the New Testament dispensation—the ADVENT OF THE SPIRIT.

Of this pentecostal sanctification we may remark: 1. It was a higher and purer endowment than the working of supernaturalisms, inasmuch as the latter does not necessarily imply even a regenerate character, and was mainly a transient and special provision for the establishment of the Church; while the former presumes a proximate conformity to the heavenly image, and is the normal privilege of the truly faithful for all ages. Even in the divine nature, though every attribute be perfect, yet holiness is pre-eminent over mere physical omnipotence. 2. Though the apostles before the Pentecost were holy after the less perfect dispensation of Moses, and so heirs of heaven, it was by this outpouring that they were wrought to the higher, and doubtless highest, sanctity of the new dispensation of the Spirit. 3. This sanctification was not merely sovereign or arbitrary from God, but consequent upon the entire self-consecration intimated in our note on Acts 2:14. The freedom of man and of God co-operated in the same blessed work. Man’s self-consecration is the condition, God’s sanctifying gift is the consummation. This sanctification is a source of spiritual power higher, because holier, than even miraculous power. (See our notes on Matthew 5:8; Matthew 5:48.) A fuller discussion would belong to note on 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

Speak with other tongues—In other languages than their native.

Spirit gave them utterance—The miraculous Spirit shaped their articulations.

In regard to the nature of this miraculous gift, we dismiss at once the rationalistic solutions that deny the miracle. Such are the hypotheses that it was simply a more fluent and ecstatic style of utterance; or, with Baumgarten, that it merely implied that their tongues, formerly instruments of the flesh, were now organs of the Holy Ghost. Still worse is the assumption of others, that the Christians who spoke were really Persian and other foreign Jews, and that a storm just then happening brought strangers to the place, who took the speakers to be mere Galileans miraculously speaking in foreign languages! On the other hand, we may dismiss the ultra-miraculous view that the apostles were at this time endowed with the permanent power of speaking in a variety of languages to enable them to preach the Gospel to the different nations of the earth. Of such a permanent gift there is no valid proof either in the New Testament or in early Church history. And for most of the nations of the Roman world the Latin, the Greek, and the Hebraic were a sufficient supply of dialects.

The ordinary supernaturalistic interpretation among commentators is, that each one of the disciples in turn spoke a single foreign language; so that the various foreigners were successively addressed, each in his own language. Our readers may still prefer that view, as it is maintained with great unanimity by all modern scholars; but to our own mind, we are obliged to confess, it is beset with difficulty. By most audiences such a miracle would be considered very equivocal, if not complete counterfeit. How could foreigners and strangers be absolutely sure that the speakers were genuine Galileans? How be convinced that each man had not learned his part and so was a deceiver? We can scarce consent that this great primordial event should receive so inadequate an explanation.

Now it is remarkable that a form of expression is thrice used which emphasises the marvel upon the hearing rather than the speaking. Acts 2:3. They “were confounded because every man heard them speak in his own language.” As if the hearing by every man in his own language was simultaneous, and produced by the same speaking and speaker. Acts 2:8. “How hear we every man in our own tongue?’ The we and the every man simultaneously hear their native language uttered. Acts 2:11. “We do hear them speak in our tongues.” The marvel plainly is that each Galilean speaker is simultaneously heard by each auditor in his own native-born dialect. The speaker’s organs furnished the vocality, which the Spirit shaped, and, as it were, translated into each hearer’s native tongue.

And this conception was by no means unknown to the Jewish Church. Tradition held that by such a polyglottal miracle the self-same vocality at Sinai was so divided and articulated as to be audible and intelligible to every man of all the seventy dialects of the world. (See our note, vol. ii, p. 105.) So Wetstein quotes Rabbi Jochanan as saying, “Whatever word goes forth from the mouth of God is divided into seventy languages.” And Mechilta, commenting on the word “voices” in Exodus 20:18, says, “How many were the voices? They heard each according to his own capacity.” Jochanan also says, “There went forth an utterance, and it was divided into seventy words in seventy languages; since all the nations heard, each hearing the word in the language of his own nation;” words singularly identical with Luke’s! Rabbi Tanchuma says upon Deuteronomy 5:23, “Said Moses, Thou hast heard how the utterance went forth to all Israel, to each one according to his own ability, old men, youths, boys, sucklings, women.”

That this polyglottal miracle actually took place at Sinai we have no Scripture proof; nor, perhaps, as a literal historical fact, did the Jewish doctors affirm it. They simply clothed in physical form the sublime conception that God’s law speaks, irrespective of national or racial boundary lines, to every human intelligence. Yet, as Christian baptism recognises and perpetuates in the new dispensation a later institute of the Jewish Church, being a physical form of the conception of sanctification, so the Pentecostal miracle was an appropriation of one of the divine thoughts of that same Jewish Church. The Divine Spirit here, as in many other cases, appropriates existing conceptions to valid and permanent uses.

This, it may be said, not wisely, would be, not a miracle of tongues, but a miracle of ears. But the miracle, as we understand it, and as the Jewish Church conceived and described it, interposed at the initial point, namely, at the tongue; it truly articulated the vocality, and its result only reached the ear with its marvellous effect. Just as the fiery tongue, a unit at the root, is divided off into a variety of terminal points, so does the vocality, which is one and simple at the start, divide off into a variety of articulations. It is as if the Spirit tongue impregnated the fleshly tongue, like a soul, and flung off the various dialects from its flaring points. And that surely was not a miracle of ears, but a miracle of tongues.

The miracle did not certainly consist in putting into the brain of each speaker a complete miraculous knowledge of a new language, so that he could select from its entire vocabulary the term fitted to the thought. That, Alford says, not much too strongly, would be an inconceivable and monstrous violation of man’s cerebral and mental nature. When God made the dumb brute reprove the prophet Balaam, he did not bestow upon the animal the soul of a man to understand human language. He simply shaped the words in the mouth of the brute, so that, phenomenally, “the dumb ass spake.” And this the divine power could as easily do as shape the name of “Samuel” in the air for the hearing of the boy prophet. Nor in either case does it follow that the miracle was solely upon the ears, but a miracle in the utterance, reaching the ears in its realization. Nor in either case was there a “mistake.” (as Lechler in Dr. Schaff’s Lange says,) nor a “mere thinking that they heard,” but a reality, and a true hearing of a true utterance.

By this view of the case, 1. We have no equivocal miracle which a combination of impostors might simulate. 2. We have a miracle pregnant with a divine idea, symbolizing the power with which God’s voice finds an auditory in every human conscience. 3. We have confirmed the parallelism of the inauguration of the Pentecostal Gospel and the Sinaitic Law. 4. We have a clear symbol of the universal diffusion of the one true religion. 5. We have a type not only of the reparation of the confusion of Babel by the bringing the intelligence of all nations into the reception of one utterance, but a type of Edenic unity in the bringing all back to the one primitive God-formed language of created Adam, in whom all the race was embodied.

What is here said refers, of course, to the Pentecostal miracle alone. The power of that primordial miracle was never fully repeated. Secondary Pentecosts occurred at Samaria, (Acts 8:14-17,) at Cesarea, (Acts 10:44-48,) and at Ephesus, (Acts 19:2-7;) but the first power grew fainter and fainter, and the gift of tongues became less and less marked, as at Corinth, by its original attributes.

Since our writing of the above the following paragraph has appeared in the (London) Quarterly Review, commencing an article on Islam, by Immanuel Deutsch:

“The Sinaitic Manifestation, as recorded in the Pentateuch, has become the theme of a thousand reflections in the Talmud, and the Haggadah generally. Yet, however varied their nature, one supreme thought runs through them all, the catholicity of Monotheism in its mission to all mankind. Addressed, apparently, to a small horde of runaway slaves, the ‘Law’ was intended, the Doctors say, for all the children of men. ‘Why,’ they ask, ‘was it given in the desert and not in any king’s land?’ To show, it is answered, that even as the desert, God’s own highway, is free, wide open to all, so are his words a free gift to all. The ‘Law’ was not given in the stillness and darkness of night, but in plain day, amid thunders and lightnings. Indeed, the Law itself had been offered to all nations of the world before it came to [Israel] the ‘chosen’ one. But the other nations, one and all, had turned to some one special national bent, or mission, with which one or the other of these commandments would have interfered, and so they declined them all. As for trembling Israel, had they not accepted the ‘Law’ that self-same mountain would have covered them up, and that desert would have become their grave. But, the legend continues, when this Law came to be revealed to them in the fulness of time, it was not revealed in their tongue alone, but in seventy: as many as there were nations counted on earth, even as many fiery tongues leap forth from the iron upon the anvil. And as the voice of the ‘Law’ went and came, echoing from Orient to Occident, from heaven to earth, ‘all men heard and saw.’ They heard the voice, and to each it bore a different sound: to the men and the women, the young and the old, the strong and the weak. In that self-same hour God’s majesty revealed itself in its manifold words and aspects: as Mercy and as Severity, as Justice and as Forgiveness, as Grace and Peace and Redemption. And through the midst of all these ever-varying sounds and visions there rolled forth the Divine word, ‘I am the everlasting Jehovah, thy God, one God!’”


Verse 5

5. Dwelling at Jerusalem—Some, perhaps, only during the interval from Passover to Pentecost to enjoy both feasts. But the Greek word for dwelling implies permanent residence.

“The (present) Jewish population has been variously estimated from three to five thousand. The number varies, no doubt, from time to time, since many of them are pilgrims, who come and go in a very uncertain manner. Few of them, comparatively, are natives of the country. The majority of them are aged persons, who repair to the holy city to spend the remainder of their days, and secure the privileges of being buried in the valley of the Kedron, which, as their traditions assert, is to be the scene of the last judgment. Others of them are those who come hither to fulfil a vow, or acquire the merit of a pilgrimage, and then return to the countries where they reside. Among them may be found representatives of every land, though the Spanish, Polish, and German Jews compose the greater number. Like their brethren in other parts of Palestine, except a few in some commercial places, they are wretchedly poor, and live chiefly on alms contributed by their countrymen in Europe and America.”—Hackett’s Bib. Ill., p. 229.

This poverty of pilgrim residents goes far to illustrate the so-called “community of goods” of the first Jerusalem Church.

Every nation under heaven—”I would like to ask those,” says Erasmus, “who deny there is any hyperbole in Scripture, if they think there were any English or Scotch at the Pentecost.” But Grotius ingeniously identifies all the races named as being branches from the “sixteen grandsons of Noah, from whom all nations were descended.” Luke clearly uses these phrases of wide universality with a feeling that all the world was here represented.


Verse 6

6. Noised abroad—Literally, when this sound occurred; not the rumour of the event, or the loud voices of the speakers, but the sound from heaven, in Acts 2:2.


Verse 7

7. Marvelled—The expressions of emotion on the part of these spectators are reiterated very emphatically. Confounded, expresses their first mental perplexity at the apparent confusion of the scene; amazed, their emotion at the miracle; marvelled, their wonder at the wonderful thoughts expressed from a source so extraordinary.


Verse 8

8. Wherein we were born—The tongue of the country of their birth. A Persian Jew understood Persic, an Egyptian one Coptic; just as an American Jew knows English, and in addition perhaps the vernacular Hebrew or Aramaic.

How shall we consider the house such as to admit so large an audience as this one hundred and twenty, three thousand devout hearers, and perhaps, five hundred mockers? We may figure an eastern structure (see fig., vol. i, pp. 121, 326) so built as to enclose a square central area, lined with galleries looking in upon the area from the four sides. The gathering crowds, called by the supernatural sound, fill the area and galleries; and from the most elevated gallery we conceive Peter as addressing the whole.


Verses 9-11

9-11. To give a view of the above-expressed universality, Luke now spreads out a map of Israel’s wide dispersion. And Israel’s dispersion is the type of the Babel dispersion of the race, inasmuch as these Pentecostally-gathered sons of the dispersion are here to represent all nations.

Luke’s survey commences with the far east. Parthia, Media, and the Elamites embrace areas of the old Persian empire, where Shalmanezer, king of Assyria, settled the ten tribes at the first captivity. Westward thence is Mesopotamia, (note on Acts 7:2,) whence came ancestral Abraham, and where Nebuchadnezzar settled the victims of the captivity. Luke’s western progress brings him home to Judea. Turning to the north-west, he ranges through five of the provinces of Asia Minor. By a sudden southern descent he arrives at Egypt, the seat of the old Pharaonic captivity, where large numbers of Jews, especially under the first patronage of Alexander the Great, had settled and flourished. Rome represents Europe. The strangers are the residents there of Abrahamic faith, whether Jews by birth or proselyte. The regular plan of his map then seems finished, but he adds the Cretes and Arabians as a supplement too important to be omitted.

Why in this catalogue of countries, whose natives wondered to hear their dialects here spoken, Judea should be enumerated, is an unsettled question among commentators. The manuscripts admit no doubt of the true reading. The opinion of Alford, that it is named because it lay in Luke’s route westward; of Olshausen, because Luke speaks from his stand-point at Rome; of Bengel, Meyer, and others, because the dialect of Galilee was different from Judea, are all rejected by Dr. Gloag, who agrees with Hackett, that it was because Luke would enumerate all the dialects spoken. But what Luke is really enumerating is (Acts 2:8) the countries of those who wondered to hear their dialect spoken by Galileans in Judea. This could, apparently, have been surprising to a Judean solely because the Galilean dialect was different from the Judean. But by our view of the nature of the miracle the difficulty disappears. That from the utterance of the same speaker one should hear Persic, another Coptic, and another Hebrew or Aramaic, would be as wonderful to the Judean as to the Persian.


Verse 11

11. Wonderful works of God—When the human spirit, wherein resides man’s susceptibility to the religious emotions, is breathed upon by the Divine Spirit, and awakened into ecstasy, it may call the poetic powers into action, and evolve itself in the psalm. And if the man be endowed with the gift of genius, his psalm, like those of David, may be a permanent gift of God to his Church. Even among our Aryan ancestors a few of the hymns of their Rig-Veda, or Psalm-lore, evince that there were even with them some faint breathings of the blessed Spirit. Minds less endowed, when awakened to religious devotion, rather avail themselves of the strains of their greater predecessors than succeed in producing psalms of pure and perfect originality. This present passage confirms the idea that Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46) was improvised and uttered in a spiritual ecstasy. And the Magnificat may be read as furnishing some idea of the nature of these raptured Pentecostal utterances.

Besides these strains in Luke’s first chapter, the New Testament age was not inspired to furnish any permanent psalmody to the sacred canon. There is nothing in the New Testament corresponding with the Psalms in the Old. The prose narrative, epistle, and prophecy, ending in the semi-poetic Apocalypse, were all that the Church’s discerning of spirits could recognise as entitled to a place in her new Scriptures.


Verses 12-21

I. Peter’s first answer to the question of Acts 2:12-21.

This is the predicted inauguration of the Church of the Spirit, Acts 2:16-18; by wonderful omens is heralded this notable day, Acts 2:19-21.

Peter is now not only an expounder of prophecy, but an empowered and inspired prophet. His comment, and even his variations, are of an equal authority with the original text.


Verse 13

13. Others mocking—Those who asked What meaneth this? spoke in solemn sympathy with, as well as amazement at, the scene. But there was another quite different set, who have had their like in all generations, of worldly, irreligious mockers. The former class are said to be all; that is, all the devout foreign residers in Jerusalem; while these others are more likely to be Palestinian Jews, either profane in character or bigoted Judaists, and so hostile to Christianity. Out of sympathy, they were perhaps unsusceptible of receiving the supernatural impression.

New wine—The must, or unfermented juice of the grape, which was a very luscious wine and not intoxicating, but only exhilarating. It is true that the grapes of the year had not been gathered, so that real new wine could not yet have been made. But there were processes by which the fermentation could be prevented, and the must be preserved through the year. One method was to boil it, (see note on John 2:3;) another was to put it into a perfectly tight cask and submerge the cask entirely in water for forty days. The fact that the must was only exhilarating seems to indicate that even these mockers did not see enough in the one hundred and twenty such ecstasies as to suggest a charge of complete drunkenness. Kuinoel quotes a Greek line which describes a minstrel as “exhilarated with must singing the sports of the Muses.” Though the Pentecostal brethren were exulting with joyous rapture, yet was every thing done “decently and in order.”

After the mockers had fully exhibited their folly, the miraculous tongues became silent; and, from the mass of the hundred and twenty, Peter stood forth as vindicator and spokesman for the whole.

With the eleven—Who, heretofore undistinguished in the body of believers, now stood forth as witnesses, (Acts 2:32,) to sustain the testimony of their orator.

Lifted up his voiceLifted, because the audience he addressed was vast, and, however silent, needed a fulness of voice to be reached. After a graceful defensive exordium, Peter proceeds to answer their question, (Acts 2:12,) What meaneth this?


Verse 14

2. Second Speech of Peterthat at Pentecost. Acts 2:14-40.

14. Men… dwell—Of course, during the Pentecost the men of Judea were gathered to the capital. We have, indeed, present several classes of persons more or less mingling—Palestinian Jews, foreign Jews, devout residents and mockers.


Verse 15

15. Not drunken—Base and preposterous as their ribaldry was, Peter replies with a most elevated calmness of denial.

The third hour—Eight or nine o’clock, the Jewish hour of morning prayer, when none but profligates, as no one supposed these to be, were drunken.


Verse 16

16. This is that—This wonderful manifestation is the (or a) fulfilment of the ancient predictions of the prophets, especially of Joel 2:28-32, that the age of the Messiah should be the dispensation of the Spirit. This inaugural effusion is the earnest, nevertheless, of future still more widespread and powerful effusions which are yet to be—the characteristics of the last days.


Verse 17

17. The last days—This phrase occurs many times in both Testaments with somewhat different meanings. What the last days are somewhat depends upon what are the antithetical first days. In the Old Testament, the Old Testament dispensation being the first age or days, the last days were the days of the Messiah, or the Christian dispensation. Such is the meaning here.

All flesh—Not upon a few priests and prophets alone, but upon all ranks and classes; not for one race alone, but inherited by all nations.

Prophesy… visions… dreams—The Pentecostal Church inaugurated by this effusion was a charismatic Church. Yet the signs and gifts here predicted, being really attendants upon the person of Jesus, commenced at his approaching advent. Note on Matthew 1:20.

After a long withdrawal of miracle and sign, the Baptist’s birth was announced by a vision of Zachariah’s. Our Saviour’s birth was heralded by the dreams of Joseph, the vision of Mary, and that of the shepherds. Simeon, Agabus the Apocalyptist, and others, prophesied. All these were in essence concentrated in the Spirit’s power bestowed at Pentecost.


Verse 18

18. My servants… my handmaidens—The words in the Old Testament signify servants or slaves, male and female; and the meaning is, that the Spirit shall condescend to the lowest rank. But Peter, in a true New Testament spirit, inserting the my, elevates them into God’s servants and hand-maids.


Verse 19

19. Wonders in heaven—The angels appearing in the sky to the shepherds; the descent of the Spirit, dove-like, from heaven at Jesus’ baptism; the voice from heaven, John 12:28; the Pentecostal mighty rushing as of wind from heaven.

In the earth—Birth and miracles of Christ and his apostles, and especially Christ’s resurrection.

Blood—The wonderful blood at the crucifixion.

Fire—The opening wonder of the Pentecost.

Vapour of smoke—At the darkness and earthquake of the crucifixion.


Verse 19-20

19, 20. Before this notable inauguration day there should be a series of wonders, and after it should follow the offers of grace and mercy. By Acts 2:22 it appears that these signs and wonders are attendant on the person of Jesus. They are the accessory wonders of that central wonder, the incarnation.


Verse 20

20. Sun… darkness—At the Saviour’s death.

Moon… blood—The optical effect of the miracle of darkness. Yet physical wonders are but the visible signs and indexes of the spiritual and moral movements in the kingdom of God. And all these wonders had their type in the manifestations at Sinai. Again, Sinai and Pentecost are antithesis to each other.

Notable dayIllustrious day, according to the Septuagint. The Hebrew may mean terrible day. Both were true. The same day has a bright and a dark side to it; the stern old prophet gives the dark side as for God’s enemies; the serene apostle gives to these Pentecostal hearers the side of brightness and promise. Nevertheless, for the persistent mockers (Acts 2:13) the dark side remains true.

Day—The prophetic passage quoted by Peter comes to a point upon this very day; and the question (Acts 2:12) What meaneth this? is answered.


Verse 21

21. Shall be saved—And this for his listeners the truest glory of the notable day. It is a day of an offered Saviour, and all these signs are proclamations of a day for men to repent, and accept him of whom the prophets spake.


Verse 22

22. Ye men of Israel—The orator at this point seems to collect his strength and begin anew. He addresses them by their noblest title of Israel, as if to show that it is from no want of love or respect that he lays upon them firmly the charge of being the slayers of Jesus.

Jesus of Nazareth— Pity that our English translators, and so our English speaking Christendom, had not retained the true literal terms, Jesus the Nazarene. We should have more clearly felt the power of the prophecy in Matthew 2:23; and we should more constantly recognise the inspired magnanimity with which the early apostles gave the key-note of glorying in the cross of that name.

Approved of—Sanctioned by.

Miracles… wonders… signs—As prophesied in Acts 2:19-21. And of course to the believers in genuine prophecy there need be no difficulty in believing real miracles.

Ye yourselves also know—It was but little more than fifty days since Jesus lived on earth. The devout foreign Jews had, doubtless, all been at the Passover, and witnessed, and in some degree shared in the crucifixion; and most knew Jesus and his miracles as eye-witnesses. But of the dwellers of Jerusalem the knowledge of Jesus’ works and participation in his death were matters that Peter could safely charge.


Verses 22-33

II. Peter’s second answer to the question of Acts 2:12 : This effusion is shed forth from the crucified and risen Jesus, Acts 2:22-33.

Jesus, wickedly slain, has risen, (Acts 2:22-24,) as is proved by David’s prediction, (Acts 2:25-28,) as interpreted by Peter, (Acts 2:29-31,) and confirmed by witnesses, Acts 2:32. Therefore from the risen and ascended Jesus this effusion is shed forth. Which is the full answer to the question.

Sustained now, both by the Pentecostal miracle and its confirmation by prophecy, Peter is emboldened to assert and maintain by further prophecy the great miracle which proves Christianity true—the resurrection of Jesus—and that resurrection enables him to explain the Pentecostal miracle.


Verse 23

23. Determinate—This Greek participle is derived from a noun signifying boundary line; hence, the determinate counsel is the well-defined counsel, the definite counsel, namely, his counsel that Christ should redeem the world by voluntarily dying for it. The term counsel in Greek, βουλη, is the word from which our words volition and will are derived, but signifies a counsel or decree.

Wicked hands—The best reading omits have taken. For with wicked hands the preferable reading is with the hands of lawless men. They had used the instrumentality of a Gentile (without law, Romans 2:12) soldiery for the deed. The apostle discriminates with delicacy between the act of God and the act of man. He is no fatalist or predestinarian. The delivery of Christ was His act; the wicked slaying was their responsible act, foreseen by the foreknowledge of God. There were thousands of ways in which Christ could have died without being obliged to these wicked hands for its accomplishment God needs not any man’s sin. But God selected that point in human history where the most wicked men were ready to show how far wickedness could go, to place his consenting Son at the post of duty and death. Hence, he was holily delivered by God’s counsel, but wickedly slain by wicked hands. And now, graceful and respectful as is the style in which our apostle has addressed these men, he firmly reveals to them, in the light of prophecy and well-known fact, that they have committed the greatest crime in human history. See note on Acts 4:28, and Romans 8:29-30.


Verse 24

24. Whom God hath raised—Now comes the great sequel to this crucifixion—the resurrection. The listeners knew the crucifixion; the apostles, as Peter will assure them, (Acts 2:32,) knew the resurrection. But first he will prove it by testimony infallible, namely, testimony before the fact, being Divine prophecy.

Loosed the pains of death—In his resurrection Jesus was not released from the “pains of death,” for they had ceased when he expired. In Psalms 18:5, the Hebrew word for “snares” or “bonds of death” may signify either snares, or birth-pains, or agonies in general. The Septuagint Greek has ωδινες, a word of this last signification. Luke, in translating Peter’s speech from the Hebrew, in which it was spoken, into Greek, uses the Septuagint word. Probably in the Hebraized Greek of the day the word had the same double meaning; so that an English translator might suitably render it snares or “bonds of death;” a meaning suggested by the terms loosed and holden.

Not possible—The impossibility that Christ should fail of a resurrection was not because it was prophetically predicted, but it was predicted because it was an impossibility. The Prince of Life could die in order to be the author of life to dying men; but the conquest of death must give way to a resurrection. His death was voluntary, his resurrection a necessity. The impossibility is additional, in Peter’s own view, to the prophecy. He knew it to lie in the very nature of Christ, who was able not only to lay down his life but to take it again. Hence in a true sense his resurrection was a natural event, being the legitimate effect of a sufficient cause. Hence, there is a fine truth in a striking reply of Goldwin Smith to those who object to a religion’s depending on human testimony. The resurrection of Christ is a necessary result of the high perfection of his character. If his life is a true life, and his death a transcendent death, then his resurrection is a necessary sequence, whether proved by human testimony or not. Not only does the testimony prove the fact, but the fact proves the testimony.

Holden of it—Holden of death. We have a mighty Saviour who submitted to death, conquered death, and finally holds the keys of death and of Hades. His resurrection, surely, is a very natural event.


Verse 25

25. Concerning him—Namely, Christ. The quotation is from Psalm xvi, which psalm the best Christian interpreters apply to Christ—truly, no doubt, if it be true that David, even as a representative man, speaks in the first person of the Messiah, the Holy One. (Acts 2:27.) This is an epithet that no mere man is entitled to apply to himself; and if it could be truly applied to any being, that being would be entitled never to see corruption. If David were truly inspired, he could mean such a title only for some One higher than himself.

I foresaw—The prefix fore merely implies what is expressed in the following word, before.

Right hand—As my right-hand man, that is, my aid or seconder.


Verse 27

27. Hell—The place of departed spirits, Hades. (See notes on Luke 16:23,)

Thine Holy One—A term which David under inspiration would hardly apply to himself simply.

Corruption—Rationalists have denied that the Hebrew word used by David signifies corruption; but they are refuted on this point by Hengstenberg. As he well remarks, corruption refers to the body, as Hades refers to the soul. Good proof that in both David’s and Peter’s theology body and soul are different things, and may exist apart.


Verse 28

28. Ways of life—In the Hebrew, the way of life; signifying, as applied to the Messiah, his path through resurrection to life.

Thy countenance— After his ascension to God.


Verse 29

29. Freely speak—In spite of your great reverence for David.

Patriarch—Evincing his profound respect for David by this unusual, but most venerable title, which belonged more strictly to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his twelve sons, the fathers of the twelve tribes.

Sepulchre is with us—And the “tomb of David” is still standing on the brow of Mount Zion. From Nehemiah 3:16, we learn that “the sepulchre of David” was near to a “pool that was made;” and the present tomb is near the pool of Gihon. It is jealously guarded by the Turks, no Christian being allowed to enter upon pain of death. Dr. Barclay, in his “City of the Great King,” narrates that his own laughter, by a singular adventure, obtained entrance long enough to sketch a picture of its gorgeous interior, which is exhibited in rich colorings in his book. Peter could, of course, assume this tomb to be monumental evidence that David had not passed through a resurrection and ascension.


Verse 30

30. A prophet—In the sense both of speaking by inspiration and of predicting the future.

An oath—In 2 Samuel 7:5-16, God promises to David a successorship on the throne forever; in <19D211>Psalms 132:11, David affirms that God had so sworn; both in consequence of David’s determination to build a house for Jehovah.

Fruit of his loins—Peter speaks as if it was, as it were, through his line of descent that David was able to look prophetically as through a line of light. Thereby he identifies himself with his great descendant the Messiah, and speaks in Psalm xvi as Messiah himself. The best reading, instead of he would raise Christ to sit on his throne, would substitute, that of the fruit of his loins One should sit on his throne. With that future One Peter now (in Acts 2:32) identifies Jesus.


Verse 31

31. Spake of the resurrection of Christ—The word Christ signifies Messiah, and it is worth while to note how Peter changes from Christ or Messiah to Jesus in the next verse. His meaning is that Messiah was predicted as having a resurrection; that this Jesus had a resurrection we know, and, therefore, a presumption, in the surrounding circumstances, that this Jesus is Messiah. For his soul was not left in hell, a reading more probable would be, he was not left in hell. The copyist probably borrowed the word soul from Acts 2:27.


Verse 32

32. We—The men whose divine authority you have seen demonstrated in this pentecostal miracle.

Witnesses—See note on Luke 1:2. Our eyes can testify the accordance of fact with prophecy.


Verse 33

33. Therefore—As the result of the whole.

Exalted—A clear testimony to the ascension.

Shed forth this—So that we have here Peter’s second answer to the question, (Acts 2:12,) What meaneth this?—It is a manifestation sent down from the ascended Jesus Messiah. Peter now confirms the exalted Lordship of the ascended Jesus by further prophecy.


Verse 34

34. David is not ascended—And it is not, therefore, David’s exaltation that the prediction announces. And as the Jewish Church admits that the Messiah, and he alone, is foretold in David’s psalms, so if it be not David, it must be Messiah.

The Lord—David’s Hebrew for Lord (Psalm cx) is JEHOVAH, which is God’s proper name; just as David is the proper name of the man so named. It is, therefore, an incommunicable name, belonging to the God of Israel alone. So solemnly did the ancient Jews reverence is as never to utter it vocally; and as the ancient Jews had no vowels in their writing, so both the pronunciation and the proper vowels are lost. When the sacred name occurred in the Holy Text, the Jews in reading substituted the word Adonai, Lord; and when the vowel characters were afterward invented, not knowing the proper vowels to be added to the consonants of the sacred name, they gave it the vowels of the word Adonai. Nor is it probable that these were the proper vowels, nor are they certainly known. The English translators, most improperly following in many places the example of the Septuagint, have rendered the name Jehovah by the word LORD, spelling it, however, as here, in capitals.


Verse 35

35. Thy footstool—A figure taken from the custom of ancient conquerors of setting their feet on the heads or necks of their captured foes. So Josephus paints the Jewish hero Jonathan as treating Pudens the Roman: “Treading upon the dead general he shook his bloody sword, with his shield in his left hand, shouting many things to the army, boasting over his fallen foe, and scoffing at the Romans looking on.” But the conqueror in the present Messianic image is sitting in quiet victorious state beside the throne of Jehovah, with all his foes lying like a footstool beneath his feet.


Verse 36

36. Therefore—And now comes the inference in conclusion. The crucified and ascended Jesus, from whom this Pentecostal effusion has come, is Lord and Messiah; and well it is that the house of Israel should note the assured fact.

Whom ye have crucified—Your crucified victim is your triumphant Lord.


Verse 37

37. Pricked—Pierced to the heart. Remorse for their sin, and terror at its consequences from the triumphant Christ on high, are their struggling emotions. Even these devout Jews (Acts 2:5) discover that the prophecies of the Testament, and all the forces of the old dispensation, are against them; that the great Messiah has truly come, but that, instead of being his friends, they are the foes beneath his feet.

What shall we do?We, crucifiers of the Jesus who is now the glorified Lord and Christ.


Verse 38

38. Repent—Literally, change your minds, namely, from your guilty hostility to Christ to a full faith in his name. In its full Christian sense repentance includes a perfect and saving faith in Christ.

Repent, and be baptized—By repentance they renounce their hostility to the crucified One, and all the sins that slew him; by baptism they are accepted into the body of his friends; and by the gift of the Holy Ghost they become truly one with the sanctified hundred and twenty, (Acts 2:1,) and are empowered to do mighty wonders in behalf of Christ the exalted Lord.

For the remission of sins—Baptism is the external act and manifestation of an internal justifying faith already existing. As the outward act and manifestation of the conditional faith, baptism is mentioned before that remission which follows the internal faith, although the instant divine act of remission has actually preceded the baptism. Internal faith precedes the divine act of remission; while the external baptismal act of faith is the organic condition to the normal state of remission. Hence only the justified person is rightly baptized. The infant is baptized as a virtual, and the adult as an actual believer. From all this it would follow that a wilful neglect of baptism, where no impossibility exists, endangers the permanence of the remission, and so of the salvation. To the question whether a justified, unbaptized person may rightfully commune at the Lord’s Supper, we should reply that it is the wrong order; nevertheless, the wrong consists not in the communing, but in the omission of a previous baptism. Baptism externally brings us into the Church; communion testifies that we are in the Church.


Verse 39

39. The promise—The promise, of Acts 2:21, that in the new age of Christ the Lord, all that call on him shall be saved; and hence the save yourselves of Acts 2:40.

Unto you—Even, emphatically, unto you, who (Acts 2:36) have crucified this Lord. And, more abundantly, it dies not with you, but extends to your children, your offspring. Nor geographically is it limited to your lineage, but extends afar off; for that promise of salvation to all that call upon the Lord (Acts 2:21) shall extend even to all that the Lord by his Gospel shall call. To ask whether this means Jews or Gentiles is an empty question; for the apostle has not race in view, and is thinking only of the extension of the Gospel invitation in its blessed but indefinite vastness. Good proof this that the apostles and their followers expected the conversion (and not the immediate destruction) of the world.


Verse 40

40. Save yourselves—Rather passively, be saved. Perform the conditions necessary to being saved; saved, that is, with a present salvation from sin, and liability to hell.

Untoward generation—Which has upon it the guilt of special crime, and a doom of special destruction. (See notes upon Matthew 23:33-36, and upon Luke 21:32.)


Verse 41

3. Pentecostal ChurchFirst Repose Period with community of goods, Acts 2:41-47.

41. Then—Forthwith at the close of the sermon. Pity that the routine of modern congregations were not oftener thus broken up by immediate repentance, faith, and self-consecration to Christ.

Three thousand souls— The unforced words affirm that three thousand were baptized in one day. Places enough for immersion, doubtless, there might be; but the publicity of the movement, in addition to the previous excitements, would have been eminently unsafe, and is not a supposable thing.


Verse 42

42. Steadfastly—Though the conversion was sudden, the perseverance was steadfast.

Apostles’ doctrine—The apostles’ instruction. As yet no Gospels were written for them to read, and they listened to and studied the oral teachings of the apostles as their living Gospels. See our vol. ii, pp. 5, 6. Theirs was that pregnant faith in the unknown whole of the apostolic Christianity from which ready belief in its details of truth was produced. Believe, in order that you may understand, and soon you will believe because you understand, and understand because you believe. Under their inspired teachers they studied the life of Christ and its relation to prophecy; the death of Christ, its relation to their salvation; the example of Christ, its power over their lives; and the love of Christ, its spirit within their own hearts. And such being their tuition under the Pentecostal refreshing, we see what manner of Christianity appeared in them. A brief millennium brightened, in one blessed spot, upon the world!

Fellowship—What is called in the Apostles’ Creed “the communion of saints.”

Breaking of bread—Repeated in Acts 2:46. The time of large church edifices had not yet come, and so the religious exercises were conducted in various private homes, when not using the Pentecostal house and not at the temple. Nor were the different sorts of religious exercise classified and separated. Hence, melted into one large, loving family, the new Church variously assembled in as large a number as allowable, every day took a repast, called the agape, or love-feast, preceded or followed by the Lord’s Supper.

So the Lord himself had united a meal with his first eucharist.

The Agape, or Love-Feast, was an institute of the earliest apostolic times, and was continued for centuries, though often abused, and finally disused. Besides this place, they are alluded to in Judges 1:12 as feasts of charity, and, perhaps, in 2 Peter 2:13. St. Ignatius: “Not without the bishop is it lawful either to baptize or hold a love-feast.” St. Chrysostom calls the love-feast “a custom most beautiful and most useful; for it was the supporter of love, a solace of poverty, a moderator of wealth, and a discipline of humility.” Abuses of the institution are rebuked in 1 Corinthians xi, consisting in making them a luxurious and riotous meal. In later centuries they are recognized as existing in various places. They were revived in modern times by the Moravians, and adopted by Mr. Wesley as one of the institutes of Methodism.


Verse 43

43. Fear came upon every soul—This refers to the nearest margin of population outside the Church. There appeared something so supernatural upon these “Nazarenes,” their doctrines of judgment upon unbelievers, and the wonders and signs done by the apostles combined, as to hush the mockers and stay the hand of persecutors. The Church had power and peace.


Verse 44

44. Together—Not residing together, but united together, having their common family reunions at their agapes.

All things common—Common not by joint ownership, but by freedom of use. On this special liberality we may note, 1. It partly arose from the non-resident or pilgrim character of a large part of the converts. (See note on Acts 2:5.) 2. It was not an obligatory rule; the laws of ownership or property were not disturbed or questioned. Even Ananias might have kept all his lands unblamed. (Note on Acts 5:4.) 3. This liberality was local, being confined to Jerusalem; and temporary, not surviving the dispersion of the Church by the Sauline persecution. 4. It was not what Renan calls it, a coenobitical or communistic institute, had no monastic quality, but was a common impartation arising from the exigency of the times and the free spirit of Christian love. 5. The Jerusalem Church, under pressure of the hierarchy, was a long time impoverished, and Paul labored largely for contributions to its poor during years of his ministry.


Verse 45

45. Sold their possessions—Under the Pentecostal power the solids melted into fluids.


Verse 46

46. Daily… in the temple—They not only forsook not the old Jewish temple service, but were specially punctual at the morning and evening sacrifices (John 1:29) and other services therein, even after the great atonement, following the example of Jesus. To the Jews they thereby still appeared to be true Jews, only with the peculiarity of a special sort of piety, and a belief that the expected Messiah had come in the person of Jesus.

One accord—The accord of perfect Christian unity.

From house to house—In social worship at their various dwellings.


Verse 47

47. Favour with all—Not being considered apostates, their piety seemed to excuse their slight heresy, and their lovingness won love.

Such as should be saved—A prolix and excuseless mistranslation of a Greek participle signifying the saved, or, those being saved, that is, with a present salvation from sin and guilt. (See note on Acts 2:40.) Peter had exhorted them to be saved and they did become saved. And so the Lord added daily the saved to the Church.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-2.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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