When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What
does this mean?’
But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” ……… (click for the rest of this story)
When I’m studying a section from scripture, I like to read several different versions of it, to see whether something sings out from one of them. In this story, there are a few things that I noticed, both from Young’s Literal Translation. This translation is always an interesting one to use for exegesis — though I wouldn’t recommend it for just plain reading — because it’s closer to the source material than most English translations, especially those based on the Vulgate.
In the story pasted above, the Jews in Jerusalem ask, What does this mean?, which appears to be pretty typical in the English translations. But in the YLT, the question is instead, What would this wish to be?
Isn’t that a fascinating question? It doesn’t imply just one answer. What does this mean sounds like there’s a right meaning for the situation, and if we know all the facts, we should get the right answer. But what would this wish to be is more loose, more open. We have would instead of does, and wish as well.
This moment can mean so many different things, and all we have to do is imagine them! In fact, the Creation account can sound like God imagined everything that is, into being: Let light be! Let earth be! Let plants and animals be! Would would our whole universe wish to be? What would I wish to be?
Once the people ask this question, being astounded and baffled at the strong wind and the tongues of fire and the disciples each preaching in a different language, Peter stands up and tells the story of Jesus. At the end of his testimony, he wraps up with Save yourselves from this corrupt generation! The other English versions I’ve looked at seem to agree; these people Peter is talking to need to take some kind of action to save themselves. Now I believe that salvation comes only from God, through grace; nothing I can do can ever change that. So my heart sang when I read this same sentence in the YLT: Be saved from this perverse generation. Now it is not my action, but God’s. And that is good news indeed, because if I have to save myself, then I’m going to be in big trouble!
We learn at the end of the story how the people decide to be saved, what it is that they would wish to be. The NRSV tells us this:
So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
What great news! I know so many who would love to add three thousand persons to their church family… even if the baptism and communion service would take hours. 🙂 Many of the English translations of this sentence just say “three thousand” or “about three thousand.” I have to admit that I’d rather be one of three thousand persons, than just one of three thousand; the former remembers that I am a person, and the latter feels more like I’m just adding to the headcount (or maybe to the pledging units).
I’ve always found this to be such a wonderful and dramatic story. It’s got so
many great pieces: crowds, wind, fire, change of heart. All four of the classical elements are present: air in the great wind, fire in the tongues of flame, earth represented by the bodies, and the water of baptism. This story is celebrated as the birth of the Church universal (that would be catholic, with a small-c). With the story of the Holy Spirit coming to us at Pentecost, the story of Jesus ends, and the story of the followers of Jesus begins to take off. And that’s our story, my friends. How will we continue it?
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
and will be forever,
world without end.