Recommendations For The Future Of Pneumatology

Spirit Moving in New Pathways of Pneumatology

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Pneuma 33 (2011) 79-93

Recommendations for the Future of Pneumatology

John R. (Jack) Levison Professor of New Testament, Seattle Pacific University


Filled with the Spirit is set in this volume of Pneuma in conversation with the reviews of Blaine Charette, Jenny Everts, Amy Donaldson, Frank Macchia, Jim Shelton, and Archie Wright. Teir responses raise three critical questions about the character and future study of pneumatology: (1) Will future pneumatologies adequately embrace the presence of the spirit in all people from birth to death — and not just the experience of the spirit as a charismatic endowment? (2) Will future analyses of ancient pneumatology adequately incorporate indispensable extrabiblical sources, such as those that arose in Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts? (3) Will future pneu- matologies pay due attention to the exceptional symbiosis between ecstasy and comprehension that is integral to experiences of the holy spirit in the book of Acts?


pneumatology, spirit, holy spirit, spirit-filling, inspiration, hermeneutics, spirit baptism, subse- quence, virtue, Judaism, Greco-Roman, Hellenistic, ecstasy

In his artful response — the seeds of a sustained study in its own right — Frank Macchia draws on Filled with the Spirit “as a springboard for theologi- cal reflection.” I hope to take a page from Macchia’s appraisal by adopting these fine responses to my book as a further springboard for theological reflection. Trough their informed responses, Blaine Charette, Jenny Everts, Frank Macchia, Jim Shelton, and Archie Wright confront all of us — not just me — with thoughtful points of departure for pneumatological reflection.1 Each of them, in matters both of detail and direction, has provided the fod- der for fresh considerations of the holy spirit.

If I am to utilize them as a springboard for theological reflection, I cannot, in the brief compass of this response, speak to every matter of detail. Archie


I am grateful as well to Amy Donaldson and Alaine Tomson Buchanan for capably distill- ing nearly five hundred pages into just a few.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/157007411X554730



J. R. Levison / Pneuma 33 (2011) 79-93

Wright’s review, for example, which contains a dozen careful criticisms of my interpretation of early Jewish texts, represents an intra-scholarly discussion of Second Temple Judaism; readers of this journal may find my responses tire- some, so I have opted to discuss them with Archie over email and in person instead of in print format.

Rather than replying to matters of detail, notwithstanding their impor- tance, I have responded to three sweeping topics that are of particular impor- tance to Pentecostal readers of Filled with the Spirit.

1. A new sort of subsequence

2. A credible cultural matrix

3. An incomparable coalescence of ecstasy and restraint.

Tese topics, all of them rooted in the responses to Filled with the Spirit, pro- vide a clear agenda for our ongoing discussion of the holy spirit and a “spring- board for theological reflection.”

A New Sort of Subsequence

Tesis: Te spirit people receive from birth, according to several texts in the Jewish scrip- tures, is no less divine or holy than the spirit which they receive in alleged charismatic experiences. Tis thesis is evident for the Psalms and Job, where the spirit within from birth inspires life or wise sayings; it is less obvious for other texts, which I interpret against the flow of scholarship as references to the spirit given to all from birth rather than as sub- sequent, perhaps temporary, charismatic endowments (e.g., Joseph in Genesis 41; Bezelal et al. in Exodus 28-35; Micah 3; Daniel 4-6; Sirach 39).

Macchia pinpoints with the precision of a theological tool and die maker the payoff of this thesis for Pentecostals. His program for Pentecostals bears repeating:

Tis is indeed the subsequence issue on which we Pentecostals should be expending scholarly energy. As revivalists, we bathe in the glow of born-again Christianity and accent even more than other evangelicals the supernatural character of the Spirit’s presence as a gift given to those who embrace Christ by faith. Tis accent on the supernatural and eschatological nature of the filling of the Spirit is not problematic in itself, except that we tend to think that we can only highlight this by neglecting the Spirit that inspires human wisdom and virtue “from below,” so to speak. We thus tend to see life outside of (or prior to) Christ as dark, lost, and devoid of the Holy Spirit.


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Everts encapsulates the point of view that Macchia hopes to transcend, when she comments, “But at the end of the chapter on Paul, Levison leaves his read- ers wondering which is really more important to his thinking — the spirit that is breathed into Adam in Genesis 2:7 and the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, the spirit that fills the community at Qumran, or the Holy Spirit given to those who believe in the crucified and resurrected Christ,” I find this need for differentiation troubling and, I imagine, Macchia would find it unsatisfactory because it requires a “dividing line” (Everts’ word) that severs Christianity from its Israelite and Jewish roots. Everts even implies that the spirit of Eze- kiel’s vision is not the spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, which leaves us to wonder whether there are multiple divine spirits in Scripture. In contrast, Macchia would contend, and I with him, that the spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, that fills the church, that prompts purity and power is precisely the spirit that God breathes into all people, that vivifies the nation of Israel in Ezekiel’s vision of the very many, very dry bones, and that Jews, such as those who inhabited a little tract of intractable land at the northwest corner of the Dead Sea, believed they too possessed. Te impasse between Macchia and Everts represents the “subsequence issue on which [we] Pentecostals should be expending scholarly energy.” In this impasse, I come down squarely with Macchia: it is time to transcend the belief that the Israelites and their Jewish heirs possessed a sort of “life outside of (or prior to) Christ” that was “dark, lost, and devoid of the Holy Spirit.” Tis proposal portends several shifts for the future of pneumatology.

(1) From the perspective of the biblical canon, the starting point for pneu- matology should be the spirit understood as a presence in individuals by vir- tue of God’s inbreathing rather than as an “outburst of charismatic activity.”2 Tis view of God’s spirit as a sustained presence shapes belief early in the bib- lical canon — in Genesis 2:7 (combined with Genesis 6:3 and 6:17), Genesis 41:38, and Exodus 31:28-35 — long before the notion of the spirit as an intermittent presence, as in the books of Judges and 1 Samuel. Te latter, then, should be interpreted in light of the former.

(2) Macchia’s ability to focus subsequence upon the relationship between the testaments puts Pentecostal priorities in their proper perspective, shifting attention away from “the major tension for Pentecostals . . . between a view of


Roger Stronstad, Te Charismatic Teology of St. Luke (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984), 15. He refers first to Numbers 11, though I have argued that this is not an outburst of charis- matic activity. See “Prophecy in Ancient Israel: Te Case of the Ecstatic Elders,” Catholic Bibli- cal Quarterly 65 (2003): 503-21.



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the Spirit as a powerful supplement to faith in Christ (Luke, with fleeting examples from the Old Testament) and a pneumatology that placed the Spirit at the very foundation of faith in Christ (Paul).” Pentecostals have focused upon an intratestamental issue — Paul versus Acts — rather than the interca- nonical issue of how an Israelite belief in which human beings have the spirit of God within them from birth to death was transposed in early Christian literature. According to Macchia, “there is in the Scriptures a deeper tension in relation to the issue of ‘subsequence’ that makes any difference between Paul and Luke seem like small potatoes.”

(3) Tis new conception of subsequence expands the parameters of pneu- matology in a challenging direction by opening up the possibility that inspi- ration exists outside the realm of Christian faith. Te Israelite belief that God inbreathes all human beings, which is found in texts that are no less scriptural than the New Testament, opens a plethora of pneumatological possibilities, as Macchia puts it, “from below” with respect to people outside the boundar- ies of Christian faith. Te belief that all people have within them the spirit of God from birth is not automatically an issue of soteriological significance; it is not, therefore, necessarily the gateway to universalism. Nonetheless, in the texts of Scripture that propose the presence of the spirit within by dint of birth, there exists an extraordinary capacity for virtue and wisdom, wherever it may be found. Joseph is recognized as a person in whom is the spirit of God because he has lived in fidelity and labored in faith throughout his life. Bezalel and Oholiab are recognized as having the spirit within them because of their immense skill, most of which was honed long before they took over the task of constructing the tent of presence (Exodus 28-35). Micah has the spirit of the Lord — but not in isolation from longstanding commitments; he claims as well to be filled with justice, power, and might, quite unlike alleged seers who put their prophetic hopes in fleeting visions and dreams. Daniel is the epitome of the cultivation of a life of virtue; his first experience of revelations took place while he was eating lavish food, while he was study- ing ancient languages and literature, while he was a young and faithful Israelite in alien arenas. His virtue, his wisdom, the spirit in him — these were recog- nizable across several generations (Daniel 4-6). In the Jewish Scriptures, this much is clear: the lifelong presence of the spirit of God is evident among those who cultivate virtue.

Although a pneumatology in which “the Spirit that inspired human wis- dom and virtue ‘from below’” may not lead directly to a thoroughgoing uni- versalism, it does root in Scripture the possibility that people outside the


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borders of Christianity are able to cultivate virtue because they attend to God’s spirit within them through living the sort of lives that Joseph, Bezalel, Micah, and Daniel lived. Perhaps Macchia is right when he rejects the view of “life outside of (or prior to) Christ as dark, lost, and devoid of the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps God is active in the world “from below” through the spirit God has inbreathed into all human beings.

(4) Tis issue of subsequence may pioneer a Pentecostal, spirit-centered way of understanding the relationship between the testaments that goes far beyond our usual categories, such as promise-fulfillment. While in part three of Filled with the Spirit I contend that the belief in the spirit as a lifelong pres- ence was supplanted in the New Testament by an association of the spirit with new creation, Macchia espouses a closer relationship between the testa- ments. On the one hand, he argues, the Jewish Scriptures look forward, with- out effacing the potential for virtue by dint of the spirit from birth, to something more, to a flourishing that, from the perspective of the New Testa- ment, reaches for Christ. On the other hand, Macchia argues that some New Testament texts, such as Romans 7 and Acts 17, characterize “the Spirit- inspired journeys of scattered peoples is explained as an act of divine provi- dence, not from a distant God, but rather from a God who creates, permeates, sustains, and guides both their physical vitality and their spiritual quests. By implication, it is the all-pervasive divine Spirit who led the Ethiopian eunuch to the Isaiah 53 text or Cornelius to both his prayers and his almsgiving, both of which were pleasing to God.” I hesitate slightly to accept Macchia’s pro- posal without qualification because the texts he cites do not contain a direct appeal to the spirit. Nonetheless, I agree with the direction in which he is moving, am intrigued by his scintillating suggestion, and am certain that this should be high on the next agenda for pneumatology.

(5) Finally, this new subsequence, with its emphasis upon the spirit within from birth, portends a missional shift. In the literature of the New Testament, it is possible to attribute virtue to the work of the spirit in charismatic empowering; the fruits of the spirit, for example, may be given to believers when they come to faith (Gal 5:22-23). I am suggesting that the Jewish Scriptures provide a complementary model of pneumatology in which long- standing fidelity (Joseph), proficiency in skills (Bezalel et al.), commitment to justice (Micah), and a life of simplicity and learning (Daniel) are the hall- marks of the spirit. Rather than relying upon charismatic gifts for the cultiva- tion of virtues (patience or kindness, for example), Christians can live simple, faithful, rigorous lives that create space for the presence of the spirit within



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them since birth. And the end product? Others outside the faith — not we ourselves — will be the judges of who has the spirit in full measure. It was, after all, not Joseph who claimed the presence of the spirit of God within him. Nor was it a self-aggrandizing Daniel who pointed himself out as one who was filled to the brim with spirit. Foreign queens and emperors did. Egyptians. Babylonians. Persians. Tat sort of recognition of the spirit by outsiders to the faith would be a welcome measure of contemporary Christi- anity.3

A Credible Cultural Matrix

Tesis: Early Christian conceptions and experiences of the holy spirit were rooted in their first-century context. Tis includes both Early Judaism, which was neither merely a post- biblical growth nor a pre-Christian background, and the larger Greco-Roman world. Our understanding of both cultural matrices is indispensable to our understanding of the rise of early Christian pneumatology.

When, several years ago, I read Christopher Forbes’ Prophecy and Inspired Speech in Early Christianity and its Hellenistic Environment, I noticed that he covers a wide swath of Greco-Roman literature in order to demonstrate the uniqueness of early Christian glossolalia.4 As I read the responses of Shelton, Charette, and Everts, I detected a similar commitment. Everts is perturbed by the close connections I draw between Jewish literature and the New Testa- ment. Charette and Shelton are disturbed by the wealth of Greco-Roman lit- erature I tap to explain the role of the holy spirit in New Testament literature. And why? Presumably because, however strong the correspondences, “as the writer of Hebrews says, the Christian revelation is better than and definitive of all that came before, whether from Jew or Gentile (11:1-3),” as Shelton contends.

I am uneasy with the assumption that there is something hazardous about setting early Christianity in its Greco-Roman and Jewish contexts, that what


Archie Wright asks the question about those who do not cultivate this spirit. Te Jewish Scriptures do not address this question directly, though the example of Elihu, who claims the force of the lifelong spirit without having cultivated it, offers a modest clue: he lacks wisdom, sensitivity, and knowledge. Self-deceived, he thrashes a beleaguered Job instead of encouraging him.


Christopher Forbes, Prophecy and Inspired Speech in Early Christianity and its Hellenistic Environment (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997; originally published in Tübingen by Mohr Siebeck, 1995).


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we learn from these cultures might undermine what is unique in early Chris- tianity. Tis is like arguing that setting W. B. Yeats’ poignant poetry against the foreground of Ireland’s fractious relationship with England will under- mine its uniqueness, that setting Upton Sinclair’s powerful prose against the foreground of the horrors of exploitation during the Progressive Era will undermine its uniqueness, or that setting Bob Dylan’s stirring songs against the foreground of the Vietnam War will undermine their uniqueness.5 Te reality is that Jewish authors opted to write the New Testament in the language of their Greco-Roman environment. Te entire collection lies at the nexus of Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures. Consequently, many of the most illuminating texts for understanding the New Testament come from the cor- pora of Jewish and Greco-Roman literature. Tis is true, for example, of the Sabbath, where the ultra-stringent prohibition of work at Qumran reveals that the Pharisees were more lenient in their allowances for the Sabbath than the community at Qumran (CD 11.13-14); we can plot Jesus’ Sabbath prac- tices more accurately when we utilize the Dead Sea Scrolls to interpret the Gospels. It is true as well of the early church in Acts, whose communal meal and communal purse may find their closest counterparts in the practices of the community by the Dead Sea (1QS 6). And what scholar would argue that an intimate knowledge of Josephus undermines the uniqueness of Jesus or that Paul’s words in Athens, “For we too are his offspring,” are somehow less compelling if we know they may be derived from the third-century BCE astronomical poem of the Stoic, Aratus? Te truth of the matter is this: schol- arship requires us to adduce Jewish and Greco-Roman literature to illuminate the New Testament.

Israel, Early Judaism and the New Testament

Nonetheless, convinced by the alleged hazards of my approach in Filled with the Spirit, in which I interpret the New Testament in relation to its Jewish and Greco-Roman cultural matrices, Everts presumes the presence of a gulf between Paul and his Israelite and Jewish traditions. She drives a wedge between the uniqueness of Christianity and its Jewish cultural matrix when, up front in her abstract, she charges, “But in his eagerness to find parallels with these [Israelite and Jewish] texts and Paul’s letters, he is sometimes too


Wright, whose primary expertise lies in early Jewish literature, engages the Jewish material with perspicacity without asking whether it is appropriate to set the New Testament in its Jew- ish context. His critique assumes the value of Jewish literature.



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willing to ignore the possibility that a decisively different understanding of the Spirit has arrived with the death and resurrection of Christ and the inau- guration of a new covenant no longer dependent upon Torah obedience.” Everts admits that I acknowledge this “decisively different understanding of the Spirit;” yet, in her mind, I do so “a bit grudgingly” because, she claims, I “would be happier with a Paul who conformed a bit more to the understand- ings of spirit and Torah in the Judaic literature . . .” I cannot remember what I begrudged or what made me happy as I researched, wrote, and revised this chapter of Filled with the Spirit, but I can recall what I did write, on the basis of which it is evident that setting Paul in his Jewish cultural context does not lead to a dismissal of the decisive difference that their experience of the gift of the spirit made for Paul:

How can their memories be so short as to have forgotten that they have received the spirit ([Gal] 3:3, 14; 4:6), been made alive by the spirit (3:14, 21-22), been given birth by the spirit (4:29), lived by the spirit (5:16, 25), begun to walk by the spirit (5:18, 25), and receive a divine inheritance through the spirit in their hearts (4:6-7)? Tis is indeed a good deal to forget, claims Paul, and to return to Torah-adherence and its embodiment in the rite of circumcision is utterly incomprehensible to Paul. To forget this life inspired by the spirit would be tantamount to denying the entirety of God’s history, the whole scope of salvation (Filled with the Spirit, 270).

Everts also misunderstands my use of early Jewish literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls in particular, when she claims, “Levison seems so anxious to tie Paul’s thought to the Qumran community that he ends up distorting Paul’s view of Torah.” I refer to the Scrolls, however, not because they illuminate Paul’s thought, but, to the contrary, because they illuminate, as no other extant texts can, the peril the Galatians face: the possibility that the Galatians will slip back into an allegedly spirit-induced form of strict Torah adherence. When we realize that the people at Qumran combined a robust pneumatol- ogy with an intense adherence to Torah, we can grasp that what threatened the Galatians was not a hypothetical situation but a way of life that character- ized actual Jewish communities, such as the inhabitants of Qumran, during the first century.6 Paul was vehement, therefore, because he knew of this aber- ration, whether first-hand or by hearsay, and he knew as well that the Gala- tians could follow suit and, in so doing, forfeit the gospel he championed.


See, for example, Filled with the Spirit, 185-89, 202-17.


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Te Dead Sea Scrolls, in this instance, do not undermine the uniqueness of Paul’s position; they accentuate it.7

Greco-Roman Culture and the New Testament

Charette and Shelton, in contrast to Everts, tend to embrace the Jewish cor- respondences but fret the Greco-Roman ones. “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” Shelton asks. “A lot. But we are on a pilgrimage not north to Delphi but south to Jerusalem.” Both Charette and Shelton are especially disturbed by my appeal to the story of the slave-girl who followed Paul and Silas around, proclaiming the truth of their words by the inspiration of a pythonic spirit within her (Acts 16:16-19).8 I intended this foray to be a pro- vocative way to enter the book of Acts, and I was correct; this was so provoc- ative that Charette devotes nearly all of his response to only a tenth of the chapter on Acts — the portion devoted to the slave-girl — which comprises about one or two percent of the book.9 He devotes only two paragraphs to Pentecost and just one sentence to the inspired interpretation of Scripture, which is central to my interpretation of Acts.

I understand their resistance because I am heir to the History of Religions School, a scholarly movement that flourished a century ago, spawning some fascinating but far-fetched parallels between the early church and its Greco- Roman milieu. I can, therefore, understand Charette’s and Shelton’s disincli- nation to appreciate that I open the chapter on Acts with the slave-girl who was inspired by a pythonic spirit.

Nevertheless, Charette’s statement that Luke “would not use a pagan model [the slave-girl] as a descriptive device to assist his readers better to under- stand Christian conceptions of spirit filling and inspiration” is too strongly worded.10 We know, first, that Luke does use so-called pagan sources, such as


Everts also claims that, while interpreting 2 Cor 1:20-22, I spend so much time on Paul’s Israelite tradition as to fail to return to Paul’s letter. She quotes from page 258 but ignores what I write two pages later (260), where I return to 2 Corinthians with the full force of Paul’s Israel- ite tradition behind it. More important, I cannot comprehend why Everts drives a wedge between the Israelite foreground of Paul’s letters and his apostolic ministry, which he himself frames in terms of the calls of Jeremiah (Galatians 1) and Isaiah (Romans 15).


Filled with the Spirit, 317-25.


About five pages of the chapter are devoted to the slave-girl and over forty to the remain- der of Acts. Charette labels my interpretation of Acts “idiosyncratic,” therefore, principally on the basis of the first five pages of the chapter.


My language, such as “enticing analogy,” is more cautious than Charette’s “model,” “paradigm,” or “hermeneutical lens” indicates. Te story of the slave-girl is not the prism for



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when Paul cites the Greek poet in Acts 17:28. Second, we are not at all sure that there were well-defined “Christian conceptions of spirit filling and inspi- ration” when Acts was composed; certainly the story of Pentecost suggests that such conceptions were still fluid. Tird, I remain unconvinced that “if it were Luke’s intention to demonstrate these [Greco-Roman] associations, he would have written a very different narrative.” I am not as confident as Charette that I know what Luke, as a Jewish writer in a Greco-Roman context, would or would not have written — something he says twice in his response. Because I am skeptical that a modern author can unearth the intentions of ancient authors, I wonder whether Charette presumes too much, particularly when he consistently sets aside the Greco-Roman cultural matrix of Acts, which offers signposts and parameters for an interpretation of Acts.

Charette’s suggestion that “Levison’s overall argument could be more con- vincing if he were to develop a definition of ecstasy that owed less to Helle- nistic conceptions and more to the understanding that Luke (and Paul) are seeking to promote” offers a clinic in how resistance to cultural matrices — Jewish or Greco-Roman — may hamper our effort to arrive at a full under- standing of ancient texts. First, I situate the writings of Paul and Luke against the foreground of Jewish authors during the Greco-Roman era — not just Greco-Roman (that is, Hellenistic) ones. Tere is a certain imprecision in Charette’s references to Greco-Roman literature; he does not adequately acknowledge that a thorough study of the New Testament incorporates both Greco-Roman and Jewish (for example, Philo; Dead Sea Scrolls; and 4 Ezra) texts. Second, Charette assumes what we do not know: the understanding of ecstasy that Luke and Paul are seeking to promote.11 He does not describe their understanding, nor can he, because their understanding is not explicit. Tat is why it is necessary to undertake this sort of research. And third, what better way to develop a definition of ecstasy than by appealing to authors who offer explicit definitions? Luke does not. Paul does not. John does not. Philo does, and in no small measure of detail. Terefore, I appeal among oth- ers to Philo, a first-century Jewish cosmopolitan author who had traveled from Alexandria to Rome and who seems to have possessed knowledge of communities in Palestine, where the events of Pentecost transpired. I appeal as well to Plutarch, whose writings contain extensive, detailed explanations of ecstasy during the late first and early second centuries CE — perhaps when

inspiration in Acts; the story does provide surprising entrée to inspiration. See Filled with the Spirit, 318.


Tis corresponds to his attempt to claim what Luke “would” and “would not” write.


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Luke composed the book of Acts. Te literary output of such authors, coupled with writings found in caves by the Dead Sea and various other early Jewish and Greco-Roman texts, supply what we may not otherwise see in our reading of the New Testament.

Jewish and Greco-Roman Correspondences with the New Testament

Still, since I recognize, with Charette and Shelton, the delicacy that is required to identify plausible correspondences in the commonplace religious environ- ment of the early church (it would be more accurate to refer, in the plural, to the diversity of geographically scattered churches), let me point out three key directives for adducing Jewish and Greco-Roman correspon- dences to the New Testament in order to establish an agenda for the responsible inclusion of those sources in future research on early Christian pneumatology.

(1) Plausible Greco-Roman and Jewish foregrounds to New Testament litera- ture provide elements of both continuity and discontinuity. In the example from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which I cite above in my discussion with Everts, the Scrolls offer an historical connection between spirit and Torah that Paul repu- diates. Tis is discontinuity plain and simple.

(2) Striking correspondences reveal how indispensable cultural matrices are for interpreting ancient texts. Let me offer a negative example. Charette distin- guishes the early church from its cultural matrices when he claims that “both authors [Paul and Luke] seem to favor a controlled comprehensible ecstasy that is distinct from the experiences commonplace in the religious environ- ment outside of the Christian community.” In making this claim, Charette ignores Philo Judaeus, a first-century Alexandrian Jewish writer who offers detailed descriptions of “sober intoxication” that correspond to the controlled ecstasy of the early church.12 Why invent such dramatic discontinuity with Luke’s religious environment when this cultural matrix offers such rare insight into Luke’s portrayal of Pentecost as an experience of controlled comprehen- sible ecstasy? Even if the phenomena described by Philo are not exactly the same, a comparison with similar experiences can only help us to plot the pri- orities and practices of the early church along the spectrum of religious expe- rience in antiquity.


See Filled with the Spirit, 331-34.



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(3) Correspondences should not be hamstrung by a particular hermeneutical grid or assumption about the superiority of Christianity. Even without such assumptions, we are able to grasp the poignancy of New Testament texts. Tis occurs in a felicitous way in my analysis of Luke’s portrayal of Pentecost, not on the basis of a prior commitment to the superiority of early Christianity but because the Greco-Roman data point in that direction. Terefore, I con- clude this segment by citing portions of the final paragraph on Pentecost in Filled with the Spirit, in which we can discern a coalescence of cultural corre- spondences and literary elements that illuminate the uniqueness of Luke’s narrative:

Luke, as we have seen repeatedly, preserves important Greco-Roman elements that would serve to heighten a Roman reader’s appreciation for the events which he nar- rates. A dramatic infilling by the holy spirit, tongues as of fire, the impression of intoxication, speaking in tongues — even other languages — all of these are elements that set the Pentecost narrative against the background of the grand oracular history of Greece and Rome. Acts is not merely a history of the holy spirit in the early church; the early church is a magnet that draws together the very best and the most popular modes of inspiration . . . the reminiscence of the Ionian festival in the narra- tive of Pentecost may be still another instance of Luke’s attempt to expand the canvas of his portrait, to stretch the allusive boundaries of his story. If even a rehearsed abil- ity to speak in other tongues was considered a spectacle of noteworthy proportions, how much more so would the spontaneous inspiration of the holy spirit be notewor- thy if it produced in unlettered Galileans the ability to communicate God’s powerful acts in the foreign language of every single soul gathered from the Jewish Diaspora in Jerusalem.13

An Incomparable Coalescence of Ecstasy and Restraint

Tesis: Tough ecstasy was important in Antiquity, it should not be allowed to overshadow inspired intellectual acuity, which also played a crucial role in early Judaism and Christi- anity. Te genius of early Judaism and Christianity, which reaches its apex in Luke’s inter- pretation of Pentecost, is the ability to embrace and to communicate the symbiosis of ecstasy and intellectual acuity. In a remarkable way, ecstasy and restraint, spontaneity and study, coalesce in early Christianity.

Te role I attribute to ecstasy at Pentecost prompts a particular disquiet in Shelton. Part of his concern is with the Greco-Roman foreground from which I draw to accentuate the ecstatic dimensions of Pentecost, though I am careful


Ibid., 346-47.


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to demonstrate that these elements make up the warp and woof of Jewish interpretations of inspiration as well, as in the Liber antiquitatum biblicarum and the commentaries of Philo.14 Part of Shelton’s concern is with ecstasy itself. “Te picture may not be tidy,” he writes, “but it is not chaotic; hurri- canes have purposes, especially holy ones.” He does eventually acknowledge that, in my view, “Luke preserves the ecstatic dimension and the comprehen- sibility; he celebrates both ‘ecstasy and restraint’ (346),” but Shelton remains, nonetheless, troubled by the accent on ecstasy in my interpretation of Acts. I would frame the symbiosis between ecstasy and comprehension in the strongest of terms because it is fundamental to Luke’s strategy in Acts, where the spirit combines the best of ecstasy with the most profound abilities of comprehension. In the narrative of Acts we discover an uncanny coalescence of ecstasy and restraint that is both rife with the fragrance of Greco-Roman rapture and rooted in a profound knowledge of Jewish Scripture. Tis alchemy is astounding, leading us beyond our usual debates. From the per- spective of this symbiosis, Acts is not about xenolalia (comprehension) versus glossolalia (incomprehension). Acts is not about ecstasy (incomprehension) versus restraint (comprehension). Acts is not about water baptism versus spirit baptism. Luke offers much more: a mode of inspiration that unites the quintessence of ecstasy with intellectual acuity.

A combination of ecstasy and restraint is apparent in the narrative of Pen- tecost, which exhibits both the accoutrements of ecstasy — fire, filling, and apparent drunkenness — and the compulsion of comprehensibility, when Jesus’ followers speak the praiseworthy acts of God. “Praiseworthy acts” is a shorthand expression used in both the Psalms and the Dead Sea Scrolls for God’s powerful acts in Israel’s history.15 Ecstasy is, then, directly associated with comprehensible speech at Pentecost. Elsewhere in Acts, believers who are filled by the spirit preach and teach about Jesus in light of the Jewish Scriptures. For instance, when Peter is filled with the spirit in Acts 4, he cites Psalm 118:22. And so it goes: filling with the spirit in the book of Acts is evi- dent principally in the inspired interpretation of Scripture.

Te powerful symbiosis in Acts between ecstasy and exegetical acuity is evident in a triad of speaking in tongues. At three epochal junctures in the book of Acts — the beginning of the church (Acts 2:4), the inclusion of Gen- tiles (10:44-46), and the completion of John’s promise of baptism with the holy spirit (19:6) — there occurs a lucid association between the gift of the


Ibid., 157-59, 325-34. 15

See ibid., 341.



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holy spirit and some form of speaking in tongues. In none of these pivotal situations is the phrase speaking in tongues left to stand alone as a cipher for ecstasy.

In Acts 2, Luke conveys an experience in which the early believers, on the day of Pentecost, “were filled with the holy spirit and began to speak in other tongues.” With the word other, the miracle of Pentecost becomes one of com- prehensibility; Jews who had gathered from around the world could under- stand the disciples’ recitation of God’s praiseworthy acts in their own dialects or tongues (2:5-8, 11). Te word other complements the purely ecstatic char- acter of speaking in tongues that is otherwise supported by a variety of fea- tures, such as fire and filling with the spirit, which may have prompted Roman readers to see speaking in tongues as an instance of inspired ecstasy. Luke does not, however, excise the ecstatic impulse; he joins it at the hip to the comprehensible recitation of God’s praiseworthy acts.

When, in the second instance, the holy spirit comes upon Cornelius and his Gentile friends, Peter and his coterie hear them “speaking in tongues and praising God.” Te association of speaking in tongues with praise draws the reader back to speaking in other tongues in Acts 2, where the recitation of “God’s praiseworthy acts” in other languages is comprehensible; the verb praise in Acts 10:46 is even related to the noun praiseworthy acts in Acts 2:11. Tis literary parallel suggests that this second instance combines comprehen- sible praise with the ecstasy of speaking in tongues.

A similar scenario characterizes the third instance of speaking in (other) tongues, in which Luke’s readers meet a band of “disciples” who had not heard of the holy spirit (19:1-7); when Paul laid his hands upon them, “the holy spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” Prophesying in Acts, like praise, is comprehensible. Prophets punctuate the history of the early church with occasional but certain clarity about the future. For example, the prophet Agabus correctly predicts a famine (11:27-28). Judas and Silas, themselves prophets, are sent to Antioch with a letter to interpret the Jerusalem Council’s decision “by word of mouth.” When they arrive in Antioch, they encourage and strengthen the believers; this speech, of course, is comprehensible (15:22, 27, 32). In Acts 19, then, speaking in tongues is combined with comprehensible speech.

Luke’s portrayal of speaking in (other) tongues, then, joins ecstasy to com- prehension — what Charette calls “controlled comprehensible ecstasy” and what Philo Judaeus might have seen as an instance of “sober intoxication.” In Acts 2 the believers speak in “other” tongues. In Acts 10, they speak in tongues and praise. In Acts 19, they speak in tongues and prophesy. All of


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these are comprehensible speech acts, though their association with speaking in tongues suggests that they are not merely comprehensible speech acts.16 Luke refuses to opt for either comprehension or ecstasy because his under- standing of inspiration combines the most respected forms of Greco-Roman ecstasy — so respected, in fact, that Jews adopted them to explain prophetic inspiration — with the richest interpretation of Jewish Scripture to illumi- nate the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.17


One of my dearest mentors, Louis Feldman, once quipped, “Statistics show that scholarly articles are read by an average of eight people, and that includes the author’s mother.” To have Filled with the Spirit read by seven scholars — plus my mother (though this is doubtful) — brings me right up to that magi- cal number. I have made it. I have arrived.

Or have I? As you can see from their wide-ranging responses, my col- leagues have pressed and pushed me in many ways; it is evident to me that I have not arrived at all. I have only just begun. But there is in this ongoing process an exquisite joy, a sober intoxication, because I continue now in the company of colleagues who have compelled me to think well beyond the arena of exegesis and to dive into the turbulent waters of narrative criticism, theology, and Pentecostal hermeneutics. Macchia writes that what we find in Filled with the Spirit “should give us pause to think.” Tanks to my able col- leagues, to whose thoughtful reviews I have only given preliminary responses, I, too, am given pause to think, though now in the compass of their talented company.


Tis combination is apparent as well in the Fourth Gospel, where the paraclete, the spirit of truth, leads believers into the truth that Jesus was unable to communicate while he was still alive because the disciples were so grief-stricken. Tis truth is about the life, death, and resur- rection of Jesus, which is brought to light through the study of the Jewish Scriptures. We see this combination of inspiration and education twice in John’s Gospel: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the statement about the spirit in John 7. In both cases the disciples understand an act or word of Jesus only after his death, and they do so only in light of a specific text from the Jewish Bible. Simply put, the spirit in the Fourth Gospel, like the spirit in the book of Acts, imparts an inspired interpretation of Jesus that is rooted in Israel’s Scriptures. For a detailed analysis, see Filled with the Spirit, 399-404.


See Filled with the Spirit, 343-44 for a full statement.


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