Since the rise of the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century, the interpretation of Acts 2 and its role in understanding Pentecostalism has been widely discussed. Since a lot of water has passed under the bridge of discussions about how to interpret the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its relation to Acts 2, the idea of an article like this is not to criticize Pentecostal doctrine itself, but to review the interpretation of this passage to identify if in its purpose and nature it allows to clarify the function and understanding of the baptism of the Spirit for the groups of Pentecostal origin, and also to evaluate if it functions as a space for decision on the need or not of the reformulation of this Pentecostal doctrine.
In the development of the article, what would be the natural division in the text will be followed. First, vv. 1-4 and the event of Pentecost, and subsequently the study related to verses 5-13 will be presented.
“Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.” (LBLA).
In this first portion, Luke presents us with an occasion (Pentecost), a phenomenon (the manifestation of tongues), and a result (everyone present was filled with the Spirit).
The choice of Pentecost for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit cannot be considered as something accidental, nor as an element of merely circumstantial mention. The church has its official birth in the celebration of Pentecost, and if you want to understand why, you must delve a little into what this celebration was and meant for first century Jerusalem. The Feast of Pentecost, so called in Greek, was the Feast of the Harvest or of the Weeks that we find in various Old Testament passages (Ex 23:16; 34:22; De 16: 9-10, 16; 2Ch 8: 13). In its origins, this agricultural court festival celebrated the first fruits (Nm 28:26; Ex 34:22), but as time passed it ended up representing the complete harvest or at least the end of the harvest. This celebration, originating from the Jewish understanding of the law, was one of the three main Jewish holidays, which involved a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to appear before the Lord with offerings (Ex 23: 14-17). However, this celebration of an agricultural nature did not exclusively represent a celebration of material provision, but with the development of the Jewish religion it began to be appreciated as a festival of spiritual provision, celebrating an anniversary of the delivery of the law in Sinai, derived understanding from the reading of Exodus 19: 1, from which it can be calculated that the Israelites reached Sinai about forty days after the celebration of that first Passover. We then see Pentecost, a special celebration for the Jewish people, which reminds us that God has given both the material provision – represented in the harvest – and the spiritual provision represented in the law.
However, in Luke’s narrative, the understanding of Pentecost will not be limited to these two elements. The event described is for the New Testament the inauguration of a new epoch, that of the Holy Spirit. Although the outpouring of this represents an unrepeatable historical event, from there all the people of God -in all the nations- would benefit from this new beginning. What the 120 gathered in the upper room are living results in the Pentecostal experience, in the manifestation of the Spirit in his coming through the fire and the wind that could be visible and audible. While it seems to be a puzzling phenomenon for those initiated here, it must be considered to be part of their understanding of the faith. It is possible in the Old Testament to relate the prophetic discourse with the filling of the Holy Spirit. We already see anticipated in the Old Testament that when the Spirit of God came upon a person, he habitually prophesied. This element is visible in Eldad and Medad, the elders of Israel who prophesied in the camp (Num 11:26). We can also see it with Saúl and other cases. In this case, what is peculiar is the format of the prophetic discourse, which we will work on later.
Following this understanding of Pentecost where God gives food, law and now his Spirit, we can affirm that there could not be a etter time for the sending of the Holy Spirit, because in relation to the nascent church, it is after the death of Jesus that it is generated the new creation and of this, the disciples represent the first fruits, nucleus of the people of God (Jr 31: 33-34; Ez 36: 22-32). This new people, framed by the gift of God, is a spiritual people born by the direct work of the Holy Spirit in a special way, framed in the celebration of Pentecost. If we return to the consideration of how the feast was celebrated and the loaves that were broken in it as a symbol of God’s provision, we could even mention that a comparison between this provision and the symbol of the Lord’s Supper of the bread that is made is interesting. part as a representation that we are one in Christ. That is, the nascent church also celebrates the Lord’s provision.
It is then, without exaggeration, Pentecost the best moment for the inauguration of the church, not only because of its background and its meaning, but also because of its reality in the first century of congregating in Jerusalem a large number of pilgrims who will eventually end listening to the message of God’s wonders. In this sense, we can see that Luke – in an indirect and subtle way – presents how the whole world was represented, through the people who came from the various nations, on the day of Pentecost.
Lucas, after locating us in a special event, describes the phenomenon experienced by the 120 gathered, following the tradition, in the upper room. It is important to mention that these disciples in unity reflect those mentioned in the previous chapter from where it can be inferred that unity should not be understood exclusively as being in the same place but something more related to being united in a common purpose or under a common thought. It is these united disciples who will end up experiencing this phenomenon and its result.
The phenomenon consists of several elements that function as a whole in the development of the founding history of the church. The phenomenon described in Luke includes a strong wind that is heard and that could be felt throughout the house, as well as being able to see the tongues as of fire spread over each one of those present, this accompanied by speaking in tongues, technically called glossolalia. All as a result of “they were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 2-4). The filling of the Holy Spirit that we find described in this passage has strong echoes that recall the way the law is given at Sinai. So, like the law, Pentecost allows the disciples to make known the work of the Holy Spirit by proclaiming the good news of God to all human beings.
The signs of Pentecost must be considered in the light of the Old Testament, since fire, wind, even speech, are part of the theophanies presented to us there. It is in this sense that, together with Trenchard, we can affirm that the supernatural manifestations at Pentecost were understandable to an Old Testament reader, although this in a limited sense, since Peter has to explain the event in the broad development and support of his sermon (vv. 14-42). These events, these signs, given at Pentecost – and among them speaking in other languages – show us that God participates in a supernatural way in history, giving his message through a miraculous manifestation. The importance of the gift of tongues described here is closely related to the work expected of the proclamation; For this reason, although attention has been drawn to the occasion and the phenomenon, the important thing ends up being the result of these.
Luke presents us, as a primary conclusion of the threefold phenomenon that he has just described, that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. This “baptism” in and with the Spirit would then be the fulfillment of the announcements made by Jesus in chapter 1: 5,8. These disciples – filled with the Spirit – now began to speak in other languages, as the text tells us, as the Spirit gave them to speak. In the narration of Acts, it can be observed that the event has new appearances although of somewhat different understanding.
We have here then a clearer framework for the explanation of the events given at Pentecost. So far it is clear that the party, due to its particularities, was special, and that the phenomenon, understood as a divine manifestation and the fullness of the Spirit, represent for the church its beginning, its baptism, and just as Jesus received the baptism of the Spirit to initiate your ministry, the church receives the baptism for yours.
“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under the sky. When this sound was heard, the multitude came together and were bewildered, because everyone heard them speaking in his own language. They were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Behold, aren’t all these who speak Galileans? How do we hear, everyone in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians: we hear them speaking in our languages the mighty works of God!” They were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Others, mocking, said, “They are filled with new wine.”” (LBLA).
This second portion presents the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who are amazed by the phenomenon and its present result. Lucas describes the population, shows their amazement, lists the nations represented and presents the perception of those who were able to witness such a formidable event.
Luke begins this portion by indicating that there were Jews and pious people in Jerusalem from all over the world who had gathered for the feast, as one of the blessings of Pentecost. However, we can note that the emphasis for Luke is not the diversity of the population, but the way in which they gather around the phenomenon and it is highlighted in the text that, despite being all Galileans, they speak in the languages of the dispersion. , thus constituting what many authors consider the reverse of the curse of Babel. Moreover, that God has decided to carry out this wonderful event through Galileans, according to the mention of the passage, only makes his work greater since in Jewish cultural understanding the Galilean was viewed with contempt because it was considered inferior. condition and purity.
They spoke in tongues
In this portion, the mention of “we hear them speak in our own language” is repetitive and that is why it is necessary to stop for a moment here and develop this particularity a little more. It is known that part of the discussion revolves around the type of phenomenon that these languages represented; For some, the miracle is a miracle of hearing, that is, the disciples did not speak in other languages, but the assistants heard them in their own language. Now, starting from the consideration that the miracle at Pentecost is primarily about speech, it should also be mentioned that tongues as a sign do not respond to an arbitrary use of Luke, but to the understanding that the baptism of the Spirit connects with other cultures which is understood as the means to reach the world with the testimony of Christ.
It is undeniable that the miracle here is related to the proclamation of the wonders of the Lord, but how are tongues to be understood in this passage? We have here authors from both ends of the discussion; for some the tongues in Acts 2 should be understood as mostly angelic tongues, as in 1 Corinthians 12-14.30. Following Stott, we can say that there is a difference between the languages presented here and those in 1 Corinthians 12-14, in terms of the direction of their message, in terms of the type of languages that were spoken, and in terms of their purpose. Against this point, we can mention Paul, who recognizes tongues in the Corinthians as a genuine gift that comes from the Spirit but at the same time laments the inappropriate importance that some of the members of the church give to the practice of it ( 1Co 12:10, 28-30; 14: 2-19). In addition, some Pentecostal authors – such as Gordon Fee – differentiate between the Pentecostal languages and those described in Corinth, since the latter are mentioned as an analogy and the analogous is usually not identical to what he is identifying. In this sense the suggestion is to follow Paul who in 1 Corinthians 13: 1 presents us as a key to understanding languages the mention “language of angels”, since part of the discussion about languages revolves around the type of languages that these are. In Fitzmyer’s words:
‘Speaking in tongues’ is a gift of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28, 30; 14: 2, 4-9. For many interpreters … the meaning of the gift here is glossolalia, understood as ‘exalted word’. For others, however, it is xenology, ‘speaking in foreign languages’ … Anyway, only Luke makes of him a miraculous gift to speak’ in other languages’, that is, other human languages, not ‘languages of the angels’ (1 Cor 13: 1). When the phenomenon is mentioned again in Acts 10: 45-46; 19: 6, the adjective heterai is not used. That may, then, be glossolalia, but it is not the case here. In Acts 2 v. 6 and 11 mention is made of dialects and hai hemeretai glossai, which clearly indicates the different human languages, later clarified in the list of nations (2: 9-11).
This then comes as a surprise to those who witnessed such a magnificent event. However, it is recognized that ecstasies tend to be similar, which is why Paul – who had the gift of glossolalia – warned the Corinthians that a non-Christian who entered their meetings seeing this phenomenon would consider them crazy (1Co 14: 23) a situation similar to that experienced by the disciples at Pentecost, who were considered drunkards. As a conclusion to this point, we can show here that the mentioned languages represent a miracle of speech, that they were dialects or languages that the disciples did not know and that they spoke by divine gift.
Pentecost vs Babel
It is important in the interpretation of the passage to go beyond languages as an end in itself and to think about the principle behind its use. Even at this point the first discussion is whether the medium is more important than the message. Following Bruce we think that the message and the medium are united, but the message represents a historical redemption for humanity and is that of the redeemed Babel. Seeing this relationship does not represent an exegetical novelty, since already in the history of interpretation it is a fairly widespread option. In this portion, without a doubt, we want to show the relationship of Babel with Pentecost since in the latter the confusion of the former is annulled and men once again have unity in the possibility of hearing the voice of God in their language and not only those strong allusions but the event presented as the work of the Spirit that makes God accessible to all flesh. Even so, this relationship is complex in the interpretive tradition, but the Lucan invitation can be clear when pointing out that while at Babel the pride of the people led them to try to ascend to heaven, at Pentecost heaven descended to earth. And the message that emerges from this understanding results in the possibility of unity for the new humanity that are no longer interrupted by the barriers that divided the human race as a product of divine punishment. In this new humanity – the product of a new approach – the dispersion and disunity that were the product of the confusion of languages are no longer present, but the capacity to understand the work of the Spirit in different languages is recovered, through the tongue of the Spirit that reestablishes the unity of creation. Babel is thus overcome by Pentecost, and what separated the people who could not, because of language, hear the voice of God, now gives them an open invitation to listen to the wonders of the Lord. In conclusion, the supremacy of Pentecost over Babel is more important here than the simple act of speaking in tongues. Although languages are the wonderful medium, “The ‘sign’ consisted in that the fullness of the Spirit made known ‘the greatness of God’, jumping over the barrier of the diversity of languages - this symbol of humanity divided by the sin – by means of a miracle in direct opposition to the confusion of ‘Babel’ ”.
The nations represented
It has already been mentioned that Luke does not attempt to make an exhaustive list of the nations present in Jerusalem during the feast so much as to show the universality of the event in description. Here then, it can be added that the intention – according to the narrative line of the book of Acts – represents in the first instance the message to the Jews before the Gentiles. However, the locations mentioned represent an inversion in which it can be said that just as Genesis follows its list of nations around the dispersion of languages at Babel, in the same way Luke makes his summary of nations showing also multiplicity of languages. However, the nations mentioned in both accounts have a different purpose; while in Genesis they are mentioned for divine judgment, in Acts they are mentioned around the common worship of God (2:11).
The mention of nations in the Pentecost event and the power to share the message are memorable, as they represent – following Fitzmyer – a unique opportunity for the disciples, as witnesses of the risen Christ, to confront God’s message to Israel and to the world. This confrontation is – in the light of Acts – more important than just receiving the baptism in the Spirit. The nations mentioned are then a format of universality that speak of the divine redemptive power.
It is important to pause the text here before transitioning to the initial question of whether Pentecostal is Pentecostal. Until now, an attempt has been made to establish the importance of the festival, the extraordinary nature of the phenomenon with which the Holy Spirit descended and “baptized” the church for the beginning of its ministry. It was also evidenced how these men “filled with the Holy Spirit” were able to witness to all the represented nations of the earth in a clear redemption from the punishment of Babel on humanity. Understanding these elements as fundamental in the interpretation of the text and that lead the interpretation of it to focus on the message and not on the form, we must ask ourselves how Pentecostal it turns out to be Pentecost. By doing so here, it is recognized that the question has been addressed more than from a doctrinal position, from a traditional hermeneutical understanding.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit
Although, it has already been stated that the text in Acts 2: 1-13 does not mention the expression “baptism in the Spirit” but “filling in the Spirit”, doctrinally there is a discussion regarding the understanding of baptism based on Acts and its interpretation of exclusivity in the unique manifestation in speaking in tongues. It is necessary to clarify that the expression “To be filled with the Holy Spirit” is frequent in Lucan writings (Lk 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 4: 8,31; 9:17; 13: 9), and is usually related with God’s gift of the prophetic message. Luke takes this expression from the LXX (Pr 14: 4; Eclo 48:12), and since it is a common expression in Luke, it is then taken as a starting point for understanding baptism as the first moment and filling as a constant need in the life of the believer.
The Pentecost event is central to Christianity in general, but in the Pentecostal interpretation we find the imperative to consider something else in Acts. The Pentecostal interpretation and possibly the Wesleyan Holiness movement, which was its predecessor, seek for the church a subjective experience of Christ and find it in the personal life of the believer and in community worship through the work of the Holy Spirit. Although this is the common perspective, the perspective of Pentecost as individual and ecclesial revival in which speaking in tongues is the proof that the believer has received the Holy Spirit and his gifts, makes that interpretation become one of the differentiating elements between Pentecostal groups and other evangelical groups. This means that, among the groups classically considered Pentecostals, the baptism in the Spirit is understood as closely related (if not equal), to the manifestation of the gift of tongues, thus considering that the primary evidence of said baptism is the glossolalia and de there one passes to the practice of the other spiritual gifts. This initiation occurs as a post-conversion element and commonly this first speaking in other languages is called the baptism of the Spirit and is in turn considered the second blessing. This widely distributed belief within Pentecostal churches is also formalized in some ecclesial statements of faith such as that of the Assemblies of God: “The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is evident with the initial physical sign of speaking in other languages such as the Spirit direct them (Acts 2: 4). Speaking in tongues in this case is essentially the same as the gift of tongues (1Co 12: 4-10, 28), but it is different in purpose and use. Various authors deepen the Pentecostal understanding of it.
We will only add to the traditional position, what Baumert, quoted by Bosqued, mentions regarding this passage:
… the history of the interpretation of the concept indicates that from the time of Origen the ‘baptism of the Spirit’ was understood only as a description of the sending of the Spirit. According to him, the sense of unique and particular experience, with the connotations of a profoundly existential initial event, and of an exceptional nature, as conceived by Pentecostals, is something relatively recent. As a result of the rise of this novel interpretation, some authors have begun to defend with increasing intensity the traditional opinion regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Among the most prominent is James Dunn with his classic work The Baptism in the Holy spirit. In it he argues that, in biblical terms, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is equivalent to conversion-initiation. For him and other evangelical authors, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is something intrinsic to being a Christian. That is, it is not a second blessing that may or may not occur, nor a higher spiritual level, but it is equivalent to the gift of the Spirit, automatically given to all believers.
The question then arises whether the idea that speaking in tongues is the only valid manifestation to speak of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer can still be maintained. Faced with this question, the evangelical answer supposes the best approach when mentioning that the New Testament does not present the gift of tongues as a normative element for the baptism of the Spirit. The scriptural evidence is not categorical to justify this position as exclusive in the New Testament. Like Dye, I think it is difficult to sustain this affirmation of baptism as the only sign, especially starting from the perspective that Pentecost seeks to show the globality of the church and that languages are a sign of universality and not of separation between believers. In that sense, Pentecost is not Pentecostal, or at least not exclusively.
Pentecost is an invitation to manifest the glory of God, not only keeping his charisms, but also taking the proclamation to every nation. This passage invites us to review our tradition and think more about the church as a means for the redemption of humanity divided at Babel, rather than languages as a means designed to generate divisions within the people of God. Speaking in tongues may be seen as one of the vehicles of continuity in the many strands of Christianity, but not as the only path toward understanding the work of the Holy Spirit, at least not in light of this passage.
Source: Jhohan Centeno, Mg.