Peter addressing the crowd on Pentecost

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heavenAnd when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language (Acts2:5-6NASB).

The context of this passage is the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit which is undoubtedly the key theme of Acts chapter two. But as has sometimes been the case in this process I find myself drawn to some seemingly inconsequential comments or statements which actually are theologically significant, especially for anyone who wishes to take the Bible seriously and as literally as possible. This is one such passage where Luke comments on the fact that many of the Jews living in Jerusalem were “devout” [Greek=εὐλαβής], which literally  means those who lay  hold on what is good, or in the religious context are God fearing. It should be noted incidentally that the crowd that gathered to whom Peter preached at Pentecost, many of whom were added to the Church were described by Luke predominantly if not exclusively as Jewish. If you have been following and understanding my posts that should no longer surprise you.

In terms of hermeneutics, if one chooses not to take a passage of Scripture literally there needs to be a valid reason. I mention this in the context of Romans chapter eleven, vital to my central thesis, where Paul’s comments in verses 11,12,15 and 30 regarding biblical salvation/Kingdom inheritance being made available to the rest of the world as a result of Jewish unbelief have simply not been given serious credence. Yet there are a few cases in Paul’s writing where a literal interpretation is not intended.  Crucially, in the context of this post, such an example is Romans 3:9-18 where Paul infers that “not one (Jew) is upright, no not one (v10); not one of them does right (v12); their feet are swift to shed blood (v15) and there is no fear of God before their eyes (v18). This, if it were true would certainly contradict our verse from Acts and frankly much else that the Bible portrays concerning the variability of the human condition. Irrespective of their religion the reality is that some people pursue a path of integrity whilst others follow a path of lawlessness. This is reflected in Old Testament wisdom literature with which Paul would be well acquainted. For example Proverbs2:13 speaks of those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, and in Paul’s own writing where he refers to those (Gentiles) outside the Law who in response to their consciences do by nature the things contained within it, so becoming a law to themselves. (Rom2:14)

So why is a literal reading not valid in Romans 3, a passage which the Protestant Reformers utilize as a proof narrative to support their doctrine of total depravity? Well, apart from it being an observational absurdity to say that no Jew on the planet ever feared God, with a little investigation and knowledge of Scripture it becomes evident what Paul is doing here. He is linking together passages from the Old Testament in which God’s own people were being chastised.  It is a typically Jewish literary method of critique, and Paul is using it to adduce universal sinfulness, i.e. that all, whether Jew or Gentile are under the reign of sin and death. He is not intimating that it is in everyone’s nature to act in the depraved manner described in these concatenated prophecies, as a careful reading of the rest of Paul’s writings affirms.

So, in accordance with Like’s account in Acts2, a good number of the Jews will have been devout and God fearing even though they were initially perplexed by the work of the Spirit they were witnessing. Nevertheless, Peter affirmed that they had been responsible for the Messiah’s death and needed to “Repent and  be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so that they might be “delivered from this perverse generation” (v38-40) . The preaching of Acts is of particular interest being the only apostolic evangelistic preaching (as opposed to pastoral teaching) in the New Testament, so will be examined in subsequent posts.