30May Pentecost – who did the Spirit descend upon?

Pentecost by Nora Kelly


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Who were present at Pentecost?

The Roman Lectionary renders Acts 2:1 as: “…the apostles were all together in one place…” This gives a particular interpretation to the text, suggesting that only the twelve apostles were the recipients of the Spirit at Pentecost. The actual text says that when the day of Pentecost had come, ésan pantes homou epi to auto, (literally “THEY WERE ALL together in one place”). Who were those “ALL” who were present?

The preceding chapter lists eleven of the Lord’s chosen Twelve, now gathered in the Upper Room, “constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (1:14). The next verse refers to a larger group of believers (about 120 persons in all) among whom Peter stood up, to propose selecting a replacement for Judas (Ac 1:15).

After the selection was made (by election, followed by drawing of lots) the final words of that chapter say that Matthias “was added to the eleven apostles” ( μετa τwν eνδεκα aποστόλων, Acts 1:26). But it is not clear from the story as a whole that the THEY who were all together in one place, and received the gift of the Holy Spirit, refers only the restored circle of the Twelve.

The answer to this puzzle could have practical implications for ecclesiology. Might not the group who experienced the first Pentecost include the whole faith-community of 120 persons, or at least the smaller group (perhaps twenty in all) — consisting of the apostles, plus certain women and Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers? Most paintings of the Pentecost event include Our Lady, flanked by the Twelve, but without any other recipients. But St Luke may have meant that spiritual power was given to the whole group who still treasured the memory and message of Jesus. It could diminish his story, were we to limit his Pentecost scene only to the inspiriting of the Twelve who became the founding leaders of a structured church.

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