Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pentecostal Easter?

Rembrandt, "The risen Christ appearing to the Magdalen"

Easter Sunday (
April 8, 2007)
Acts 10:34 - 48

One of the great things about reading the Bible based on a schedule like the Revised Common Lectionary is that one comes across passages that might be other than what one's faith community might typically read on given occasions. This passage has little chance of being read in my evangelical church on Easter Sunday.

For Pentecostals, this might be a wonderful passage. "See, here is clear evidence that when the Holy Spirit comes on someone they will speak in tongues, and that what is really happening is the baptism of the Holy Spirit."

May I suggest that there is something a bit different going on here. The focus of this chapter is clearly on the gospel reaching not only the Jews (like Peter) but the Gentiles as well (like Cornelius). 'Tongues' (v. 46) is now taken in contemporary English to mean "special spiritual languages," but this is a meaning being imposed on the text from without, and is therefore not a good translation. Why does the New International Version (NIV) then use it? I'd like to know the answer to this question myself. I'll try to find out. The alternate translation, which the NIV itself provides, is much better: 'other languages'.

What is happening here in chapter 10 is confirmation of what happened at Pentecost in chapter 2. Pentecost was about the coming of the new covenant for the benefit of every tribe, tongue (ala German, Russian, Italian), and nation. The prophet Joel had predicted that when the new covenant came we would know it in part because the Spirit would be poured out on "all people" (Acts 2:17). The word used here for 'people' is the Greek word SARKOS, which literally means "flesh". One of the uses of SARKOS is to refer to races of people (e.g. Rom. 11:14, "I can make the people of my own race (SARKOS) jealous"). What is Acts 2 about? Races of people receiving the Holy Spirit. Each race was hearing the gospel in their own language (Acts 2:11).

You might raise a question at this point: "Ahem, excuse me, but in Acts 10 those receiving the Spirit are not speaking in their own languages, but in other languages. Precisely. The issue at this point in the story is for the Jews to know that the Spirit really had come on these Gentiles. What better way to demonstrate this than for these Gentiles to speak in languages they didn't know, and which the Jews knew they didn't know, but which the Jews present understood. Forgive me for being so blunt on Easter, but had these Gentiles at this point started saying, "Yabba dabba doo, I want that too," nothing would have been accomplished.

I submit the above humbly as food for thought. There is however a real connection between Easter and Pentecost on which Christians of various persuasions can agree. The resurrection of Christ opened the door for the salvation of every people on earth. As new storm clouds are gathering on top of the existing ones in the Middle East, this is something about which we can truly rejoice. How good to know that amidst strife and conflict, the church remains steadfast, and offers hope to all who enter.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

1 comment:

Robert said...

I am an editor for Christian.com which is a social network dedicated to the christian community. As I look through your web site I feel a collaboration is at hand. I would be inclined to acknowledge your website offering it to our users as I'm sure our Pentecostal audience would benefit from what your site has to offer. I look forward to your thoughts or questions regarding the matter.

Robert Wright
rev.robertwright@gmail.com