Pentecost: The Birthday of the Church!

Or: Where Did Our First Festivals Come From?

Today, June 9, Jewish congregations are celebrating a festival known as Shavout. Details of the festival are found in Leviticus 23:15-22, but most Christians are unaware that the same festival is featured prominently in the New Testament, under its Greek name: Pentecost. Christians didn’t give it that name—it precedes the time of Christ. Philo of Alexandria uses the term in several of his works, linking the term Pentecost to the festival of the firstfruits, or Shavout as it is commonly called to this day (see Philo: Special Laws II, XXX, 176).

Pentecost becomes a feature of the New Testament in Acts 2, where it is recorded that the Holy Spirit was first given to the church on that day. As a result, many consider Pentecost to be the birthday of the church.  Unbeknownst to most readers of Acts 2, however, there is a linkage to an earlier celebration of the festival at Mount Sinai. Luke, in recording the event of Pentecost in 31 C.E., uses imagery that is found in both of the accounts of Israel's sojourn at Mount Sinai. Jewish tradition has long held that the giving of the Law and the confirmation of the Covenant at Mount Sinai occurred on the Festival of Shavout. Luke reinforces that idea by his use of imagery. The sound of wind, the references to fire and quaking, the universality of the experience, the aspect of people hearing the wonders of God in their own language and the change of heart are all found in the accounts recorded in Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 5.

It should be cause for Christians to stop and ponder. Two of the first Jewish festivals of the year, Passover and Pentecost, are fundamental to the foundation of the church. If that is so for the Passover and Pentecost, what about the possible applications of the remaining “Jewish” festivals to the church.  Have we become so far removed from our origins that we no longer have any appreciation for our foundation?


Tags: Festivals, Church, Leviticus 23, Passover, Pentecost, Philo

Paul the Jew

New considerations about the context of Paul's usage of Torah

The Apostle Paul and his writings have increasingly been of prominence at the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature, held each November. Currently, abstracts of papers to be presented this year are being made available. Here is one that is of great interest which was posted today on Torrey Seland on his Philo of Alexandria Blog.

Markus Tiwald, University of Vienna Paul: 
Apostle of Christ and Jew
The interpretation of the “Tora” – and all that was included in this very complex expression – was the central topic in early Judaism and was handled in a wide range of different theological concepts. The diversity of these concepts can be highlighted by the differing theology in the scriptures of Qumran, Jewish pseudepigrapha and the writings of Philo and Josephus. According to these results it can be shown, that the theology of the apostle Paul has to be understood as an inner-Jewish dialogue about the right fulfillment and interpretation of scripture – but not as an “abrogation of the Tora”, as often suggested by some exegetes. Paul was Jew – and he remained Jew also in his Christian times. As a Christian he did not abrogate the Tora, but adopted the position of a liberal Tora-interpretation that was already present in early Judaism.

This is a valuable topic as Paul is so often seen and read outside of the Jewish milieu from which he came.

Tags: Apostle Paul, First Century, Qumran, Paul, Philo, Josephus, Law, Nomos, Torah

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