Saturday, February 20, 2016

Pentecost in Four Geographical Stages

Lately I've been studying Luke and Acts. In Acts 1:3-5 the risen Jesus teaches his disciples about two things: (1) the kingdom of God and (2) the coming baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then we read in Acts 1:6, "So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'" They view the kingdom as Jewish dominion in the Promised Land. Jesus responds by announcing a key distinctive of the New covenant era. The kingdom will advance beyond the Land into the whole world through the Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel. We read in Acts 1:7-8, "He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.'" This geographical advance is the organizing principle of the book of Acts. Ch. 1-7 have to do with the advance of the kingdom in Jerusalem. Ch. 8-12 have to do with its advance in Judea and Samaria. Ch. 13-28 have to do with its advance to the end of the earth. But what about the various Spirit baptisms in Acts (i.e. ch. 2, 8, 10, 19)? How do they fit? Are they somehow related to the geographical advance of the kingdom?

Sinclair Ferguson makes this connection in his excellent book The Holy Spirit. Ferguson considers the pouring out of the Spirit at Ephesus in ch. 19 to be of a different kind than the previous three. Thus he proposes a three stage Spirit baptism from Jerusalem (ch. 2, Jews) to Samaria (ch. 8, Samaritans) to Caesarea (ch. 10, Gentiles, "end of the earth"). The weaknesses of this view are the disqualification of the ch. 19 event and the discontinuity with Acts 1:8 with respect to the kingdom's advance into "all Judea."

R.C. Sproul sees things differently. In a recent lecture he proposes a four stage Spirit baptism based on four kinds of people: (1) Jews, (2) Samaritans, (3) God-fearers, and (4) Gentiles. In ch. 2 the Spirit is poured out on the Jews. In ch. 8 he is poured out on the Samaritans. In ch. 10 he is poured out on the God-fearers (i.e. Cornelius's household). And finally in ch. 19 he is poured out on the Gentiles. The weakness with this view is that it is not entirely clear that those who received the Spirit in ch.19 were Gentiles, and, if they were, that they shouldn't be considered God-fearers like Cornelius. After all, they had already received John's baptism, a baptism that was preached specifically for the Jews and only applied in Judea. It seems much more likely that these men were Jews who had encountered the ministry of John during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem some years earlier.

I think there may be a simpler explanation. Perhaps the four stage Spirit baptism aligns with the four stage geographical advance of the kingdom laid out in Acts 1:8?

The first stage is easy to identify. The Day of Pentecost is Jerusalem. The second stage is easy to identify. Ch. 8 is Samaria. The fourth stage is easy to identify. Ephesus becomes the center of Paul's mission to the Gentiles, so ch. 19 is "the end of the earth." But what about the third stage? What about Caesarea where the Spirit was poured out upon Cornelius's household? Could Caesarea represent Judea? If you look at the maps in the back of your Bible, you wouldn't think so. But those maps represent a Jewish understanding of the regions in question. What if Luke is thinking about them from a Gentile point of view? The Roman region of Judea was much bigger. It extended further north and included Samaria and Galilee. Caesarea was a capital city for the region. This is why Paul was eventually sent from Jerusalem to stand trial before Felix in Caesarea. We see more evidence for a Gentile rendering of Judea in Luke's gospel. Luke 4:14-9:50 focuses on Jesus' ministry in Galilee. But we read in Luke 4:44, "And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea." Now, if Luke intends to refer to the region of Judea as the Jews conceived it, this verse is out of place. In 4:43 and 5:1 Jesus is in Galilee. Why would he all of a sudden be 60 miles south in v. 44? Interestingly, there is a textual variant at this point. Some later manuscripts replace "Judea" with "Galilee." Could this be a scribal attempt to clarify Luke's Gentile usage of the term? I think that is likely.

So now the third stage of the geographical advance of the kingdom is in alignment with the pouring out of the Spirit in Caesarea. Thus the four stage "geographical advance/Spirit baptism" is as follows:
  1. Jerusalem- Ch. 2
  2. Samaria- Ch. 8
  3. Judea- Ch. 10
  4. The end of the earth- Ch. 19
Now, one might quibble with the ordering of (2) and (3). Acts 1:8 says, "in all Judea and Samaria." Why are they now out of order? One possible answer is that Samaria was part of Judea as the Romans conceived it. So, perhaps we should render Acts 1:8, "in all Judea even (or including) Samaria." The semantic range of kai certainly allows for this. In that case we would expect the advance of the kingdom into Samaria to precede its advance into all Judea.  

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