Pentecost 2018 (Year B, May 20)
Hold on, it’s about to get bumpy!
Pentecost in the Jewish Tradition
Pentecost (Gk. πεντηκοστή, the ‘fiftieth day’). The Greek name given to the Feast of *Weeks (e.g. Tob. 2:1; *Josephus, Ant. 17. 10. 2), so called because it fell on the 50th day after *Passover. At this feast the first-fruits of the corn harvest were presented (Deut. 16:9) and, in most later times, the giving of the Law by Moses was commemorated. As the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles on this day (Acts 2:1), the name was applied by the Church to the feast celebrating this event, popularly called *whitsunday (q.v.). In early times, e.g. in the *Nicene canons (can. 20), the word ‘Pentecost’ was also used for the whole period between Easter and Whitsunday, i.e. the Paschal time, during which no fast was allowed and prayer was only made standing. For further liturgical details see WHITSUNDAY.
F. Lohse in TWNT 6 (1959; Eng. tr., 1969), pp. 44–53, s.v. πεντηκοστή, with refs.; M. Delcor in Dict. Bibl., Suppl. 7 (1966), cols. 858–79, s.v. ‘Pentecôte (la Fête de la)’. For the Hebrew feast, see also WEEKS, FEAST OF; for the Christian, see WHITSUNDAY.
PENTECOST (חג שׁבעת, chg shb't, “weeks”; πεντηκοστή, pentēkostē, “fiftieth”). In the Hebrew Bible, Pentecost is an annual harvest festival that occurs seven weeks after Passover. It became an important Christian holiday after God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Jerusalem church on the first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection.
PENTECOST [pĕnˊtə kôst] (Gk. pentēkostḗ “fiftieth [day]”).† The Old Testament and Jewish Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:15–21) is referred to under its Greek name three times in the New Testament, twice simply as an indication of date (Acts 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8). These and other texts (cf. Acts 18:21 [the Western text]; 20:6; 27:9) show that Paul thought of the year and seasons according to the Jewish calendar.
At 2:1 “Pentecost” is again an indication of date, and also a means of accounting for the large crowd gathered from far away places in Jerusalem that witnessed the events associated with the coming of the Spirit on the Church (vv. 5–11). The Jewish Feast of Pentecost came to be a commemoration and celebration of the giving of the law at Sinai, but this change in the understanding of the Feast does not appear to be reflected in the record in Acts of the Church’s Pentecost experience and, at any rate, probably arose only in the second to fourth centuries A.D.
Two factors involved in the interpretation of the Pentecost event of Acts 2 are Jesus’ promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:12; Acts 1:8) and the prophetic view of the future age of the Spirit and of salvation (represented by the quotation of Joel 2:28–32 MT 3:1–5] at Acts 2:17–21). Another important factor that shapes the report of this event is the understanding of it as the initiation of the Church’s worldwide preaching of the gospel. The report includes, therefore, the first post-Easter gospel sermon (vv. 22–36, 38–40), a report of the resultant great augmentation of the original community (v. 41), the establishment of the community in a pattern of liturgy, teaching, sharing of goods, miracles, and numerical growth (vv. 41–47), and a prefiguration of the worldwide aspect of the spread of the gospel (vv. 5–11). The miracle of “other tongues” (v. 4) is of significance with regard to the last of these—whatever the nature of the speaking, the miracle was mainly one of hearing (vv. 8, 11).
See WEEKS, FEAST OF.
WEEKS, FEAST OF (Heb. ḥag šāḇu˓ôṯ Gk. pentēkostḗ). † The second of the three great annual feasts of Israel (Exod. 23:14; 2 Chr. 8:13), to be celebrated seven full weeks (or fifty days) from the beginning of the barley harvest (Lev. 23:15–16; Deut. 16:9). In later Judaism it became an anniversary celebration of the giving of the law at Sinai, and in the New Testament signified God’s outpouring of his Holy Spirit upon his people, the birthday of the Christian church.
I. Old Testament
According to Deut. 16:9 the Israelites were to “begin to count the seven weeks from the time you first put the sickle to the standing grain” This cutting was a part of the waving of the sheaf ceremony recorded at Lev 23:9–14. The feast itself was originally agricultural in character, as the names Feast of Harvest (Heb. ḥag̱ haqqāṣîr; Exod. 23:16) and Day of the First Fruits (yôm habbikkûrîm; Num. 28:26) indicate. Other titles, such as Feast of Weeks (Exod. 34:22; Deut. 16:10, 16; 2 Chr. 8:13) and Pentecost (LXX, Lev. 23:16; RSV “fifty weeks”) refer to the seven-week or fifty-day period that commenced with the waving of the sheaf and reached its completion on the actual day of celebration itself. Scholars disagree as to the precise significance of this seven-week or fifty-day period. While some have sought to emphasize the importance of the number seven and its multiples (with their obvious connotation of wholeness or completeness), others see the period as possessing no special significance—that it was simply the normal time span required for completion of the harvest. While admitting the crucial role played by the number seven in the structure of Israel’s feasts, one must also take into account the fact that nature itself could at times override (as in the case of harvest) adherence to a strict timetable.
Cultic regulations concerning the one-day festival are given in full in the two parallel accounts of Lev. 23:15–21; Num. 28:26–31. Earlier and more brief references to the feast occur at Exod. 23:16; 34:22, with a later treatment (somewhat different in emphasis) at Deut. 16:9–12. On the festal day itself a holy convocation was to be called and no laborious work could be done (Lev. 23:21; Num. 28:26). Pentecost was one of three times during the year when all males were required to appear before the Lord (Exod. 23:17; 34:23). A cereal offering of new grain (two loaves of leavened bread) was offered as first fruits in thanksgiving to the Lord for his bounteous harvest blessings. The two loaves were to be waved before the Lord by the priest, together with two male lambs a year old (Lev. 23:20). In addition to the cereal offering there was to be a burnt offering—consisting of one bull, two rams and seven male lambs a year old, along with their respective cereal and drink offerings (v. 18; Num. 28:27–29) and a sin offering of one male goat “to make atonement” for their sins (Lev. 23:19; Num. 28:30). Also, each was to make a freewill offering from his own hand, in accordance with the manner in which God had blessed him (Deut. 16:10, 17). Pentecost was a time of rejoicing (v. 11), a time to celebrate and recognize the manifold blessings that Yahweh had bestowed upon his chosen people. This thankfulness was to extend to those outside the fold as well; Israel was to remember that they too had been strangers in a strange land and thus now, in remembrance of their former status, should share their abundance with those less fortunate (Lev. 23:22; Deut. 16:11–12).
In later Judaism Pentecost became an anniversary celebration of the giving of the law on Sinai (cf. Exod. 19:1, which indicates that Israel came into the wilderness of Sinai on the third new moon [the third month] after the exodus from Egypt). The book of Jubilees (second century B.C.) provides a perhaps earlier interpretation of the feast that may have served as a transition to this later equation with the Sinai event. The writer of the book, in an effort to establish the antiquity of “the feast of Shebuot” in Israel’s history, sets its origin in the covenant made by God with Noah in the third month when the patriarch had emerged from the ark “in order to renew the covenant in all [respects] year by year” (Jub. 6:17–18); the consonantal form of Heb. “weeks” (šḇ˓wṯ) here could also connote the meaning “oaths.” Other references to the feast (14:20; 15:1–10; 22:1–9) recognize its agricultural (or “weeks”) character, yet place the festival within a context more suited to its role as a celebration of covenant renewal (“oaths”) (cf. 6:21; 2 Chr. 15:10–15).
The determination of a precise date for the beginning of the festival has remained a matter of long-standing debate in rabbinic writings. The crucial phrase “the morrow after the sabbath” (mimmāḥaraṯ haššabbāṯ; Lev. 23:15) has been subjected to two major interpretations: that of the Sadducees, who understood the Sabbath as a normal weekly one and began counting the seven weeks the day after (thus the counting could begin anytime during the Passover week, depending upon where the normal Sabbath fell after the first day of Passover), and that of the Pharisees, who interpreted the Sabbath of Lev. 23:15 in a more restrictive sense as the first day of the Passover feast, whereby the counting of the seven weeks always began on the second day of Passover.
Textual evidence for a definite relationship between Pentecost and the giving of the law at Sinai does not emerge until the second century A. D., and many view the events of A.D. 70 (the destruction of Jerusalem) as the major factor in the reinterpretation of the festival. The association of Pentecost with an event of major importance in Israel’s history served to elevate the feast from its previously inferior (and original) status as a minor harvest celebration. The transition from God’s covenant with Noah (Jub. 6) to the Sinaitic covenant was a natural one that placed Pentecost on equal footing with Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. See PENTECOST.