THE CHURCH IN PALESTINE AND SYRIA 2, 1 -- 12, 25
1. Growth of the Church in Jerusalem 2, 1 -- 8, 3
2, 1-13: Descent of the Holy Spirit. 1.
Pentecost celebrated the conclusion of the harvest and commemorated the giving of the Old Law. It occurred
fifty days after Passover, hence the expression, when the days . . . were drawing to a close. This becomes
the birthday of the universal Church. They were all together: most likely the one hundred and twenty
persons spoken of in 1, 15 were all present. 2. The sound came suddenly
so as to attract more attention: though not caused by the wind, it was like the roaring of a might gale; it was so loud that
it was heard throughout the city, or at least by those in the vicinity who then spread the news. This marvel recalls
the thunder and lightning on Mt. Sinai at the promulgation of the Old Law, and God's breathing upon the first creation.
3. Besides, over the heads of the disciples were seen tongues which had the appearance of fire; they all spread
out from one central flame; they were distributed so that one flame in the shape of a tongue was above the head of each.
The tongues were symbols of speech, of preaching, of the oral testimony which was to be the medium for announcing the Messianic
message (Matt. 28, 20; Rom. 10, 14-16). They were like fire because the Messias was to baptize in
the Spirit and fire (Matt. 3, 11); He came to cast fire upon the earth (Luke 12, 49); all things are to
be purified by fire (1 Pet. 1, 7); and God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4, 24).
4. There was a corresponding interior marvel, for all were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Their souls, as appears later, were endowed with supernatural light, courage, and zeal. Only one effect, the gift of
tongues, is here noted because of its striking nature. The Greek term used for to speak means utterance of
a solemn and wondrous kind; the subjects they spoke of are hinted at in v.11, the wonderful works of God; they did
not preach, but proclaimed God's praises. The miracle was in their use of languages unknown to them and not in the hearing
of their audience (cf. 1 Cor. 14, 21; etc.).
ff. The crowd was composed of men from all parts of the civilized world. They were all Jews
by birth or conversion and had come either to take part in the great feast or to dwell near the temple and be buried in the
land of their fathers. The disciples went out, it seems, and mingled with the crowd and so each of the spectators could
hear one or more of the disciples speaking in that person's own native language. Naturally there was general astonishment
at this strange occurrence and no explanation could be found for it. But some of the crowd, not even taking the trouble
to look for an explanation, tried to ridicule the whole affair by saying that the disciples were intoxicated.
2, 14-36: Peter's Discourse. As in the first chapter, St. Peter acted as
the primate and leader of the Apostles. He began his address with confidence, prudence, and solemnity, and showed a
mastery of the Scriptures; this revealed the effects of Christ's closing instructions and of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
He may have spoken in Greek, since this language was known to very many in the crowd; but more likely he spoke in Aramaic,
commonly used by the Jews in Palestine and by many of the Dispersion.
refuting the calumny of drunkenness he explained from the prophet Joel the true cause of the marvels they had beheld; this
was the outpouring of the promised Spirit. Then he developed his proposition: this divine Spirit, who according to Joel
was to be given in the Messianic times, had been sent by Jesus whom they had crucified, but who had been raised from the dead
in fulfillment of the prophecy of David and was then seated at the right hand of God, and who was in this way shown to be
the Messias and true Lord.
14-16. St. Peter began
kindly without denouncing the malice of the mockers. No one feasted early in the day; good Jews did not eat before the
fourth hour (10 a.m.). Prudence demanded that he should say nothing in the beginning about Jesus and the Holy Spirit,
so he showed first that the present event had been foretold by the prophet. 17 f.
The last days are the times of the Messias; all flesh means all men; hence the universality of the gospel
is announced on the very first day of the Church's existence. The effect of this outpouring of the Spirit was to be
the speaking of salutary things, things hidden and future. 19 f. In the usual prophetic
manner Joel saw the whole Messianic period as a unit and linked the beginning with the end and added what will happen at the
end of the world. 21. With this divine manifestation was united the promise of salvation.
22. The fulfillment of this prophecy offered the true explanation
for the present marvels, for the Messias had already come and was no other than Jesus of Nazareth. St. Peter took up
first the well-known miracles of Jesus; as miracles, they showed God's power; as wonders, they excited the
astonishment of the beholders and so secured their attention; and as signs, they pointed out the worker as one approved
by God. 23. But Jesus had been put to death; here was the great scandal. This
death however, far from having been forced upon Him, was part of the plan of God. Foreseeing the malice of the Jews,
God decreed to permit it to run its course. 24. But then came the miracle of the
Resurrection. Hell: i.e., "sheol," the place where the just were detained after death; it was the unseen world.
25-28. Since the Resurrection had not been strikingly presented to the public, St. Peter first showed
that it had been foretold and then proved its reality by the testimonies of the witnesses. David was not speaking of
himself, for like other men he died and was buried and his tomb was before their eyes in Jerusalem. 29-32.
But David was speaking of Christ who fulfilled the prophecy. For God raised Jesus from the dead, and the witnesses were
St. Peter and the other Apostles.
33. With the fact
of the Resurrection admitted, it was easy to believe in Christ's exaltation. What they had just beheld, this outpouring
of the Holy Spirit, was simply one of the effects of this exaltation of Jesus. The people had heard the various languages
spoken by the disciples, had seen their enthusiasm, and probably also the tongues of fire; they had at least some vague idea
of the Holy Spirit from Joel (cf. Ezech. 11, 19; 36, 26; Isa. 44, 3; Matt. 3, 11).
Exalted may have special reference to the Ascension. 34 f. The exaltation
is further described in the words of David; the Jews themselves had acknowledged that David spoke of Christ, for Jesus had
used this prophecy to prove the divinity of the Messias (Matt. 22, 44 f). Seated at the right hand of God,
Christ is in complete triumph. As a sign of victory oriental conquerors at times placed their feet on the necks of the
36. The address is brought to a strong
and compelling conclusion. Jesus, whom they had crucified, had risen from the dead, was exalted to heaven, and was then
sitting as Lord and Christ (Messias) at the right hand of God. The whole nation should realize this, for they were the
chosen people of God to whom had been made the promises which were now fulfilled.
37-41: The Result. 37. The Holy Spirit added persuasive force to the words of the Apostle.
Feeling the sharp sting of contrition, many asked for further directions. The entire nation had sinned at the crucifixion;
perhaps some of those present had added their voices to the shouts demanding Barabbas and condemning Jesus; but now the prayer
"Father, forgive them" is answered. 38. Like Jesus and the Baptist, St. Peter called
for repentance (cf. Luke 24, 47), since their words showed that they believed. They must be baptized in the
name of Jesus, i.e., as a profession of faith in Him; the formula to be used in Baptism is not indicated here, but in the
last command of our Lord (Matt. 28, 19). Then he revealed the purpose of Baptism; it was for the remission
of sins and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Justification is not something merely negative, the removal of that which
makes us enemies of God; it is also positive, the infusing of sanctifying grace and all the wonderful gifts of the Holy Spirit
coming and taking up His abode in the sanctified soul which then becomes the temple of God.
39. After this exhortation and promise St. Peter gave them a solid reason for hope and
confidence: the promise made by Joel was to them and to their children. Still it was also universal. To all
who are far off: these were not the Jews scattered in Gentile lands since they had already been called in God's special
choice of the nation (Matt. 4, 14; 22, 3). St. Peter was well aware of the future calling of the Gentiles
from our Lord's words (John 10, 16; Matt. 28, 19; Mark 16, 15; Luke 24, 47; Acts 1,
8; Eph. 2, 11-13.17), and Jesus had explained to the Apostles the meaning of the Messianic prophecies.
40. Burning with zeal, he urged them to save themselves from the punishment in store for their sinful
fellow citizens. It was an evil and adulterous generation (Matt. 12, 39), obstinately holding to the wicked
ways on which it had entered, just as had been often foretold (cf. Matt. 8, 12; 21, 41; Rom. 10,
21; Isa. 65, 2). St. Peter knew that a large part of the Jews would remain obdurate. Only the substance
of his discourse is given by St. Luke, and so on this and similar occasions there need be no surprise at great results from
a few words. 41. Three thousand were then added to the original group.
2, 42-47: Fervor of the Early Church. Brief
sketches of the manner of life among the early Christians feature this part of the Acts (cf. 4, 32-35; 5,
12-16). From them and from other scattered notices it is clear that from the beginning the Church was a well defined
and perfect society, independent of the old organization of Judaism. Externally they were a closely knit body to which
unbelievers were not admitted; converts were added to this nucleus (1, 15; 2, 41-47; 5, 13).
As an organized society they are called "the Church" (5, 11). They took care of their own poor (2,
45; 6, 1). This moral unity is also expressed by the names used for the faithful; they are "brethren" (like
the members of a family), "disciples" (like a school of thought), "saints" (like a society or group consecrated to God).
Authority was vested in the Apostles under the leadership of St. Peter; discipline was enforced (5, 1 Ananias) and
commands issued (6, 3). Their beliefs were those taught by the Apostles (2, 42) and they had distinct
religious rites: Baptism (2, 38), the Holy Eucharist (2, 42), the common prayers (2, 42 where the
definite article is used in Greek), Confirmation (perhaps 8, 17; 2, 38), the imposition of hands and
Orders (6, 6).
Because of the miracles, which were blessings for
the whole neighborhood, and because of the virtuous lives of the disciples, the people honored them and regarded them with
reverential fear; in this way Providence gave the new seed time to take root (2, 43.47; 4, 21; 5,
13). The Jewish authorities were disturbed, but at a loss how to proceed against the new teaching. After the cure
of the lame man (3, 1) they arrested St. Peter and St. John, but fear of the people made them cautious and they had
to be content with vain efforts to intimidate the Apostles. When fresh miracles increased the popularity of St. Peter,
they again threw the Apostles into prison; exasperated by their constancy, they even thought of putting them to death, but
Gamaliel intervened, warning them against extreme measures, and so they had them scourged and then dismissed them with threats
The disciples frequented the temple, for there was to
be no sudden break with the past, but they had their own regular assemblies for prayer, instruction, and the Holy Eucharist.
Their life was marked by simplicity, zeal, fortitude, and thanksgiving. So unstinted were they in manifesting their
brotherly love through works of charity that they could be said to have but one heart and one soul (2, 42 ff; 4,
24-37). Many even sold their possessions for the common good, and all were ready to help the needy. That this
is the true meaning of the passages referring to the selling of property comes out clearly in the case of Ananias (5,
4), whose punishment for lying preserved discipline and prevented disorders. There was no "communism," but the more
fervent voluntarily disposed of their goods. When property was sold, the proceeds were entrusted to the Apostles to
be used as a common fund; the later destitution of the community was not due to this practice, but to persecutions and a general
famine (Acts 11, 29; 1 Cor. 16, 3).
Descent of the
Holy Spirit 1* And when the days of Pentecost were drawing to a close, they were all together in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a violent wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were
sitting. 3 And there appeared to them parted tongues as of fire, which settled upon each of them. 4* And they
were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak.
5 Now there were staying at Jerusalem
devout Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound was heard, the multitude gathered and were bewildered
in mind, because each heard them speaking in his own language. 7 But they were all amazed and marvelled, saying, "Behold,
are not all these that are speaking Galileans? 8 And how have we heard each his own language in which he was born?
9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and
Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 Jews also and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians,
we have heard them speaking in our own languages of the wonderful works of God."
12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another,
"What does this mean?" 13 But others said in mockery, "They are full of new wine."
14 But Peter, standing up with the Eleven, lifted up his voice and spoke out to them: "Men of Judea and all you who dwell
in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15* These men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it
is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17* 'And it shall come to pass in the last
days, says the Lord, that I will pour forth 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* And moreover upon my servants and upon my handmaids in those days will I pour forth of
my Spirit, and they shall prophesy,
19* And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth beneath, blood and fire and vapor
20* The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood,
Before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'
22 "Men of Israel, hear these words. Jesus of Nazareth was a man approved by God among you by miracles
and wonders and signs, which God did through him in the midst of you, as you yourselves know. 23 Him, when delivered
up by the settled purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have crucified and slain by the hands of wicked men. 24* But
God has raised him up, having loosed the sorrows of hell, because it was not possible that he should be held fast by it.
25 For David says with reference to him,
'I saw the Lord before me always, because he is at my right hand, lest I be moved.
26 This is why my heart has made
merry and my tongue has rejoiced;
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope, 27 because thou wilt not abandon my soul to hell,
neither wilt thou let thy Holy One undergo decay.
28* Thou hast made known to me the ways of life;
Thou wilt fill me with joy in thy presence.'
29 "Brethren, let me say to you freely of the patriarch David that he both died, and was buried,
and his tomb is with us to this very day. 30 Therefore, since he was a prophet and knew that God 'had sworn to him with
an oath that of the fruit of his loins one should sit upon his throne,' 31 he, foreseeing it, spoke of the resurrection of
the Christ. For neither was he abandoned to hell, nor did his flesh undergo decay. 32 This Jesus God has raised
up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Therefore, exalted by the right hand of God, and receiving from the Father the
promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured forth this Spirit which you see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into
heaven, but he says himself,
'The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand, 35* until I make thy enemies thy footstool.'
36* "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know most assuredly that God has made both Lord
and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
The Result 37 Now on hearing this they were pierced to the
heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"
38 But Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized
everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39 For to you is the promise and to your children and to all who are far off, even to all whom the Lord our God calls to himself."
40 And with very many other words
he bore witness, and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this perverse generation."
41 Now they who received his word were baptized,
and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Fervor of the Early Church 42* And they continued steadfastly
in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of the bread and in the prayers. 43 And fear came
upon every soul; many wonders also and signs were done by means of the apostles in Jerusalem, and great fear came upon all.
44* And all who believed were together and held all things in common, 45 and would sell their possessions and goods and distribute them
among all according as anyone had need. 46* And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread in
their houses, they took their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and being in favor with all the
people. And day by day the Lord added to their company such as were to be saved.
1: The feast of Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after the Passover.
4: Foreign tongues: languages unknown to the
speakers. Literally, different tongues," i.e., different from their own speech.
15: Third hour: nine in the morning,
since the hours were counted from sunrise at about six.
17-21: Joel 2, 28-32.
24 Hell: limbo, where the souls of the just awaited redemption.
36: Made: manifestly
proved the divinity of our Lord and His office as Messias. By the Resurrection and Ascension Jesus enters on the perfect
glory belonging to Him and is proved to be the Son of God and the Messias (Christ).
42: Communion, etc.: in Greek, "in the
fellowship" (the Church as a distinct society), "in the breaking of bread" (the Eucharist). In the prayers:
certain prayers said in common or already taught them by the Apostles; a liturgy was developing.
44: In common: all were ready to
help the needy and, as occasion demanded, they even sold their possessions to do so; this spirit of fraternal charity is widely
different from modern Communism.
46: The temple: there was to be no sudden break with the past, but the disciples had their own
sacrifice, the Eucharist, in their houses where they also took their evening meal beforehand, as our Lord did at
the institution of the Eucharist.