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Believe it or not

Why some Bible stories are not always what they seem to be.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2)

Staying with the same passage as last week, we now apply our analytical tools to it in a different way. We now consider geography and ask the question, where exactly were the disciples when the Holy Spirit appeared?

The usual story tells us that they were in the same place as the Last Supper and the Ascension, the upper room. But were they? There are a few facts that seem to suggest otherwise.

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. (Deuteronomy 16:16)

As we discussed last week, they were in Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three great pilgrim festivals, Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. And to be specific, the exact location they would be before the Lord, would be the Temple. As it was early in the morning, this would be the time of morning sacrifice and prayer.

The confusion in the Acts 2 passage revolves around the Greek word translated as “house”, oikos. This word can actually refer to any building, even the great Jerusalem Temple. In fact, the ancient rabbis refer to the Temple as “The House” (HaBayit in Hebrew)

So, with this information let us revisit some of the subsequent verses:

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? (Acts 2:5-7)

The disciples were now speaking in other tongues as a witness to the other Jews who could observe them. They weren’t closeted away in an upper room, instead they were in full view in the Temple courts. It makes sense, doesn’t it, especially when we notice the huge numbers who were converted by Peter’s subsequent sermon?

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

The narrow streets of Jerusalem were no place for a sermon of this scale, only the Temple could have provided such a preaching platform.

There are many other examples in Scripture where we have been at the mercy of the agenda or shortcomings of the translators. An obvious one is the nativity tableau presented to us at Christmas time. It’s an incorrect picture. The wise men have been pushed forward in time by up to two years and there wasn’t necessarily three of them.

The onus is on us as intelligent Christians to have discernment and a desire to strip away interpretations that owe more to traditions than correct Scripture. God wants nothing more than our engagement with His Word.

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