True Confessions of an Interim

May 16, 2024

By The Rev. Dr. Carl Grosse 

Most of us understand Pentecost to be a Christian observance, celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers and marking the birth of the Christian Church. In Pentecostal congregations, I’ve witnessed worship services that were almost as ramped up as Christmas or Easter. In other congregations, I’ve seen red balloons and sung “Happy Birthday”. Sermons highlighted the spread of Christianity outside Judaism as people from other nations heard the gospel in their own languages and believed. Ok, let’s practice a little Sola Scriptura here and see what we get.

First, Pentecost is a Jewish festival called Shavuot in Hebrew. In Exodus and Deuteronomy, the people are commanded to count 7 weeks, generally from the end of Passover, and then the next day (49 days plus 1 equals 50) have a festival of freewill offerings and sacrifices of thanksgiving. It is one of three festivals requiring all Jewish males to come to Jerusalem. As Greek became the international language of the ancient mediterranean world, Jewish people translated their scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint) and adopted Greek names for holidays. Shavuot became Pentecost, the festival of the 50th day. Our Jewish friends still celebrate Shavuot/Pentecost.

Thus, all the “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia…” who were in Jerusalem were diaspora Jewish folks making their pilgrimage for Pentecost. If there were any Gentiles in the crowd who heard the Spirit-translated gospel, they were incidental. That’s why Peter gives a very Jewish sermon to explain the phenomenon. As for the Holy Spirit, who was “hovering over the face of the waters” at creation? Who inspired King Saul and King David to dance and prophesy? Who came down in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism? The Holy Spirit was around and working on earth well before that Pentecost. 

It’s ironic that what Pentecost has evolved into reflects churchy world more than the Bible. Next thing you know we’ll be singing “Don’t Stop Believing” as a closing hymn. In reality, Shavuot celebrated spring crops and the beginning of the productive season. The Pentecost event signaled the first fruits of the Kingdom of God with more spiritual harvesting to come. “Bringing In the Sheaves” or “Work for the Night is Coming” are hymns more in line with the biblical narrative of Pentecost. By the way, the real birthday of the Church is Easter.