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The Holy Spirit In Acts 2


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#1 Fortigurn

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 05:27 AM

Firstly, we must identify on whom the Spirit would fall, according to Joel first, and then Peter. The argument usually goes that the passage in Joel refers to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all believers (Jew and Gentile), from Pentecost onwards, and that this is how Peter is interpreting it in Acts 2.

What we may have overlooked, however, is that this second reference of Peter's ('to those who are afar off'), is not taken from the prophecy in Joel, and may not be a reference to the Gentiles receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.


Let's have a look at the passage:

Joel 2:
28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29  And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My spirit.


I've emphasised the word 'your', because Yahweh is directly addressing the Jews. We must note also that the entire context of Joel 2 and 3 is what Yahweh intends to do for the Jews. This is an extremely important point, because it is critical to our understanding of both the primary and the secondary fulfilments of the prohecy.

From this passage alone, it would appear that only Jews are to be the recipients of this outpouring - at the very least, it is not necessary for Gentiles to receive the outpouring in order to fulfil the prophecy, for no Gentiles are mentioned at all.

But what does Peter say? When he quotes Joel, he does so directly:

Acts 2:
17  And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out of my Spirit on 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  And on My servants and on My handmaidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy:


The recipients, we note, are the Jews, as we saw in Joel 2. But later in the chapter, Peter adds this:

Acts 2:
38  Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 
39  For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.


We note that Peter uses the same language we found in Joel 'you' and 'your', but that he adds also 'and to all that are afar off''. This would appear to be speaking of the Gentiles, but Joel 2 does not mention the Gentiles at all. Is Peter telling us something which Joel omitted? Is Peter adding these words because they are speaking of a situation which is different to that described in Joel 2?

The answer is that in Acts 2:38-9, Peter is not referring to Joel 2 at all. He doesn't even quote it. In fact, it's fascinating to note that as far as Peter is concerned, this is the fulfilment of Joel 2 right here:

Acts 2:
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said to them, You men of Judaea, and all you that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known to you, and listen to my words: 
15  For these are not drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. 
16  But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;


I've highlighted the word 'these', because this is the group whom Peter identifies as fulfiling the prophecy of Joel 2 (at least in part). They are all the Jewish disciples of Christ.
Each and every one of them. When Peter quotes Joel 2 therefore, he does not step out of the context in the least, and he does apply the words of Joel 2 to the Jews and to the Jews only (as does Joel 2).

#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 05:28 AM

But what we should understand is that Peter does not appeal to Joel 2 to explain that the Gentiles will receive the Holy Spirit. More than this - when the Gentiles do receive the Holy Spirit, Peter is as amazed as anyone:

Acts 10:
44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word.
45  And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.


I'd like to know why these Jews (who had been converted to Christ), were astonished that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit, if it Peter had already preached in Acts 2 that they would. The answer to that, of course, is that it had not been understood or taught that the Gentiles would receive the Holy Spirit - not in Acts 2, and certainly not from Joel 2.

Peter's report of this incident to the Jerusalem ecclesia demonstrates that it was wholly unexpected by them all:

Acts 11:
15  And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
16  Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.


Peter's account shows that this was an event which prompted him to recall to mind not a passage speaking of the receipt of the Holy Spirit by the Gentiles, but rather the words of Christ assuring the disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit. What staggered Peter was that this was a clear demonstration to him that Christ wished Gentiles to be his disciples, even whilst they were uncircumcised, and not even proselytes to the Jewish faith:

7  Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?


Peter expresses the fact that it was the pouring out of the Spirit on these Gentiles which convinced him that they also were being called to salvation.
But isn't this what he was already preaching in Acts 2? If this is what 'those who are afar off' refers to, then why is he so surprised?

#3 Fortigurn

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 05:29 AM

It seems that 'those that are afar off' in Acts 2 refers to Jews elsewhere in the empire, rather than to Christians. The entire necessity of providing Peter with the vision of the sheet, the conversion of Cornelius, and a demonstration of the receipt of the Holy Spirit by the Gentiles, tells us that this was something which Peter had to learn, not something he had already taught, and the response of the Jerusalem ecclesia confirms this:

18  When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.


Noteworthy are the following points:

1) Peter makes no reference to Joel 2, and nor does anyone else.

2) Peter does not repeat his earlier words from Act 2, speaking of 'those that are afar off'.

3) The Jerusalem ecclesia sees this miracle as a demonstration, for the first time, that Gentiles are being offered salvation without the necessity of them becoming Jews.

4) Both Peter and the Jerusalem ecclesia recognised this as the first indication that the Gentiles would receive the Holy Spirit.

Peter would refer to the conversion of Cornelius' household much later, at the Jerusalem Conference, and his words on that occasion confirm what we have said previously about the significance of the event:

Acts 15:
7  And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
8  And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as He did unto us;
9  And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.


Once again, Peter makes it clear that the moment when the Gentiles were offered salvation was by his mouth - but was this at Acts 2?

No it was not, firstly because in Acts 2 Peter did not preach to the Gentiles, and secondly because Peter specifies that the occasion to which he refers here is the conversion of the household of Cornelius.

Whilst Peter tells us that this was by the time of the Jerusalem Conference 'a good while ago', he also indicates that this was the first time he was made aware of the availablility of salvation by faith to the Gentiles (giving them equality with the Jews), and the first time he was made aware of the availability of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles.




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