Monday, November 17, 2014



This is the fifth entry in the Bible Junkies Online Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. The first entry covered some of the major critical, technical and background issues that will concern us as we read through and comment on the Acts. The second post, found here, considered the prologue to the Acts of the Apostles. In the third column, we began to examine the founding of the Jerusalem Church. In the fourth blog post, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the beginning of Peter’s speech was discussed. In this, the fifth post, the bulk of Peter’s speech is examined.

3. Contents:
B) Founding of the Jerusalem Church (1:12-2:47): iii) Pentecost (2:16-28):
16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 "In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' 22 "You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him, "I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.' (NRSV)

After Peter has responded to the claim that the ecstatic speech event of Jesus’ disciples was due to drunkenness not the Holy Spirit  - Peter lets the assembled group know that this was the work of God’s spirit, in case there was any doubt - he begins to place the glossolalia (“speaking in tongues”) in the context of Old Testament prophecy. Peter cites the prophet Joel 2:28-32, in which the text follows the LXX (the Septuagint, or the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures carried out by Jews in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE) closely, but not exactly.
The passage in Acts 2 is as follows:

17 In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Acts has Peter saying “in the last days” in 2:17 while the Greek of Joel in the LXX only has “after these things” (meta tauta). Later in this passage in Joel, though, as T.E. Page points out, the prophet does speak of “in those days” (2:29) and “the great and terrible day of the Lord” (2:31), which certainly put in Luke’s (or Peter’s) mind the coming of the Messianic kingdom (T.E. Page, The Acts of the Apostles, 88).[1] Indeed, however the prophet Joel imagined it, it seems that Joel has in mind the coming of the kingdom of God himself, given the relationship between the day of the Lord and the coming of God’s kingdom.

The heart of the prophecy is that in the last days, the time of the end, God’s Spirit will be poured out “upon all flesh,” which will lead to an outbreak of prophetic activity, including “visions” and “dreams.” This will impact all people, not simply a few chosen prophets, but men, women and slaves. This, Peter argues, is what took place in the Pentecost experience. What happened with the speaking in tongues might be unusual, but it was simply the fulfillment of prophecy and the activity of God among Jesus’ disciples. Peter believes that Pentecost is inaugurating a new age for all humanity.

In Acts 2:19, Luke has Peter recite Joel 2:30, in which events of the last days will not just effect people but the natural world. Yet, even here slight additions have been made, for Luke has “I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below,” but the LXX (and the Hebrew) do not have “signs” (sêmeia) only “portents.” Why has Luke done this? It seems to stress that some events will take place in heaven “above” (another addition in Acts, Greek anô) and some “signs” on earth below. The whole of the natural world will be impacted by these events. 

Chaos in the natural world is a common description of events before the coming of the Day of the Lord in many Jewish and Christian prophetic and apocalyptic texts, namely, that the coming of God’s Messiah will be attested by numerous events, either wondrous or strange, but which cannot be missed. And so “the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day” (Acts 2:20). The word translated “glorious” in the NRSV is epiphaneia, the same word from which we derive “Epiphany,” which celebrates the manifestation of the divine Jesus in his infancy. It would be better to translate this word as “evident” or “manifest” for whatever takes place will be “clearly visible” in occurrence but perhaps also significance (Page, 89).  These things will come before the return of Jesus, but these signs will make obvious that the Messiah will soon return.

Even more significant, though, is Acts 2:21, which stresses that the importance of all of these events, whether experienced that day at Pentecost or still to come, is that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Salvation of “all” is going to be a central themes running throughout Acts of the Apostles. 

It is now that Peter will turn to his own speechmaking to make sense of Pentecost, the prophet Joel and how they relate to the life of Jesus and the promised salvation. Peter is here speaking to his own people, “you that are Israelites,” and describes Jesus as a man from Nazareth. This was not an ordinary man, however, but one “attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). “Attested” here is apodeiknymi which could mean something like “approved,” “displayed” or “appointed.” Luke Timothy Johnson has “accredited” and what he is trying to get at is the way in which this verb shows how someone is pointed out especially or is set apart from others (Johnson, 50). Luke has Peter stress that Jesus’ deeds of power were unique because they were done with and through God’s “accreditation” of Jesus.

Not only that, but “this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law” (Acts 2:23). Jesus’ death, as much as his miraculous deeds of power, was a part of God working in Jesus and not only Jesus, because those who participated in the death, Jew or Gentile, were also fulfilling God’s plan. The point for Peter (and Luke) is that the death of Jesus was intended by those who killed him as the end of him and his work, but as a part of God’s plan it was only the beginning. Peter’s intention is blunt: he does not mitigate the harsh reality of Jesus’ death, or who caused it, but sees in it a greater purpose.

Then Luke has Peter state that “God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24). Again, God is actor here, freeing Jesus from death. The Greek phrase here translated as “having freed him from death” offers an interesting echo of the LXX according to both Page (91) and Johnson (51). The phrase in Acts literally translated would be “loosed him from the pangs of death.” Why is it “pangs”? 

This phrase “loosed him from the pangs of death” is influenced by the LXX translation of Psalms 18:4. In the translation of the Hebrew from Psalms 18:4-5, it reads,

4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me; 5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
When translating from Hebrew to Greek, the LXX translators read “pangs” (Hebrew ḥêbel) instead of “cords” (ḥebel) and so “the pangs of death encompassed me.”  Luke shows evidence of this LXX Psalm in the depiction used by Peter to describe Jesus’ release from the bonds of death through the power of God because he picks up on the LXX “pangs” (ôdin). 

The next verse gives even more evidence of the influence of the Psalms on this speech, as Acts 2:25-28 cites LXX Psalm 16: 8-11 verbatim. It also gives more evidence of the early Christian understanding that many of these prophecies and passages of the Old Testament were applicable to Jesus ultimately. The opening of this passage is important, for Luke has Peter say explicitly that in this Psalm David is speaking of Jesus, for “David says concerning him” (Acts 2:25a), and later in Peter’s speech, to be covered in the next entry, the claim is made that David even knew he was speaking of the coming Messiah with these words.

The citation from Psalm 16:8-11 reads,

25b I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.
While on first glance this passage might seem to concern David himself and the protection God offers him in preserving him in this life, Peter will offer an interpretation that asserts it is about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Next entry, The Conclusion of Peter’s Speech.

John W. Martens
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This entry is cross-posted at America Magazine The Good Word





[1] This brings up the question of the speeches. Do whom do we attribute them? Luke or (in this case) Peter? It is certainly likely that Luke is working with actual reports, oral or written is not known, and then shaping the speeches. But how many changes for instance should be attributed to Luke? If Peter is speaking in Aramaic or Hebrew in Jerusalem, he certainly would not have altered the Greek LXX text. It is most probable that such changes are coming from Luke, but there remains a slight chance they could have been part of a source given to Luke.