When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
There are two ‘worlds’ behind the text: the world that produced it and the world of the time in which it is set.
The world of the author’s community
Church tradition attributes the writing of the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles to the same writer – Luke, an associate of St Paul. Acts is a continuation of the Gospel according to Luke.
Most scholars conclude from elements in the Gospel that the author was a Gentile writing for a community predominantly made up of Gentile Christians.
Scripture scholars would suggest that this was written in Greek between 80 – 90, some 50 years after the events it describes. This is significant because this is after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70), which means that by the time of writing the original harvest ritual dimension of Pentecost was no longer able to be celebrated in the same manner (see below).
The world at the time of the text
The events described here happened around 30 during Pentecost, a pilgrimage festival. At this time, there were Jews living throughout the Roman Empire who would have travelled to the festival.
The day of Pentecost is ‘the fiftieth day’ after Passover. It was celebrated as the Harvest festival or the Festival of Weeks, giving thanks to God for the gifts of the land and its produce. People would present the first fruits of the grain harvest in the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Jewish tradition, this festival is also called Shavout.
Around the time of Jesus the festival was also increasingly associated with a celebration of God’s covenant with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai, which occurred ‘in the third month’ after the people left Egypt at Passover. As noted above, by the time the Acts of the Apostles was written, the Temple had been destroyed and the focus on the harvest gave way to Pentecost as the commemoration of God giving the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai, something on which the author draws.