Pentecost- from a Jewish perspective

I was recently given a gift; a Jewish Commentary of the NT. Here is an Amazon link to the book. I’m doing some research over the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2 for my dissertation. I thought this perspective was useful and wanted to get it written down, somewhere.

Pentecost (Shavu’ot in Hebrew) was a pilgrim festival, 7 weeks after Passover. (Pentecost means “50” so 50 days after Passover)

Pentecost was a day for the firstfruits of harvest to be brought into the temple. However, it was not just an agricultural celebration, it also came to be known as the day Yahweh gave Moses the Decalogue (1o Commandments, 10 words). If we link Passover, Pentecost, and the exit from the Wilderness (Sukkot) a theme of creation, revelation, and redemption appear. (note: these three themes of creation, revelation, and redemption, are the themes of the three meals of the Sabbath) Pentecost represents the idea of God’s self-disclosure and revelation to God’s people.

On the day of Pentecost, these readings were recited in places of worship:

Exodus 19-20 (10 words)
– Theophany readings of Ezekiel 1-2 and Habakkuk 3
– The whole book of Ruth (note: the reading of Ruth and the inclusion of Ruth [a Moabite] into the family of God… foreshadowing the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God… the grammatical use of remez)
– Also read was the death of David; Pentecost was a day to remember David’s death (Peter’s reference to David in v.25-32 may have been read on the very day of Pentecost)

It’s best to keep all of this in mind when reading Pentecost, lest we try to lift it from its original intent.

In the prophetic tradition of Jeremiah, Israel is promised a new day when the Spirit (ruach- breath, wind) would be written on God’s people’s hearts, not Torah. The same God who gave both Torah and Spirit on the same day is linking together the two stories. There is a fire on Mt. Sinai and there is a fire in an upper room. Now that we know better, we have to look at these stories together, as well.

In the NT, Jesus is referred to as “firstfruits” in 1 Cor 15:23. (cf Rom 8:29). Believers also are called “firstfruits” later in Acts 2:41 (responding to Peter’s new message) and in Romans 8:23.

In Jewish thought, Torah was not just rules, but also the identification markers of them belonging to God. The Torah would “keep” them as God’s people. Achad Ha’Am once said of Sabbath, “More than that Israel has kept the Sabbath, Sabbath has kept Israel.” In the same way, the Spirit will keep God’s people more than we can assume to keep the Spirit.

Giving of Torah and Spirit had many similarities, including:

– Delivered to God’s people
– Both took place during Pentecost
– Both had theophanies in the narrative
– Both were accompanied by tongues or languages (note: “thunders” from the Exodus Decalogue [Ex 19:16] account is translated “voices” in Hebrew)
– Both had fire
– A mixture of people were in both narratives (Ex 12:38; Acts 2:5)

Jewish hearers would’ve heard this story and thought of the prophecy from Isaiah 2:3, a powerful resemblance.

God’s provision of the Holy Spirit to all was a heart dream of Moses in Numbers 11:29.

Jews would have seen Pentecost as a reversal of the Babel narrative of Gen 11:1-9.

Wow, so much more here. Going to stop while I’m ahead. Bottom line, there is much that can be recovered if we try and listen to the biblical narrative in the world for which it was written.




Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

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