The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 2:14-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 18, 2013

This post contains the Bishop’s brief analysis of Acts chapter 2, followed by his notes on verses 14-21.


In this chapter is recorded the visible descent of the Holy Ghost, so often promised and so long expected, with some of its attendant circumstances, time, manner, form of parted tongues, result in the action taken by the Apostles (1–4). Effect of this stupendous miracle, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, viz., confusion and amazement (6–8). Astonishment on the part of strangers from the countries the most remote, who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time (9–12). The sarcastic gibes and mockery on the part of some (13). The apologetic defence by St. Peter and his refutation of the calumny uttered against the Apostles (14–15). His proofs from the Prophet, Joel, that all this had been predicted (16–21). His defence of our Lord’s authority and power, as demonstrated by miracles (22–23), by His resurrection predicted by David (24–31), confirmed by the testimony of the Apostles (32), by His Ascension and Power in Heaven. The happy effect of this address in the conversion of his hearers, numbering about 3,000 (36–41). The edifying life and spiritual exercises of their converts (42–47).

Act 2:14  But Peter standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke to them: Ye men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you and with your ears receive my words.

Peter, the divinely constituted visible head of the church, representing her invisible founder, with characteristic ardour, now comes forward to defend the Apostles and our Lord himself, who commissioned them, from so foul a calumny. He stands up in order to make himself heard, “with the eleven” who also very, likely, stood up with him, in token of their respect, and in order to express their concurrence in what he was divinely inspired to utter. What the idiom or language he employed was, is, a subject of controversy. It is supposed by many eminent Interpreters, that he addressed them in the vernacular of the country—The Syro-Chaldaic or Aramaic of Palestine, so that almost all understood him. Likely, the foreign Jews retained still, with their knowledge of the language of the countries of their abode, a knowledge of the language of the country of their origin also. It may be too that the miracle of tongues was continued here, God so disposing it, that his hearers, foreigners as they were, understood his words, though strange to them; or, the words having the sound of his native tongue for each, the one language spoken became diversified and transformed in the ears of each into his own native tongue. Of this we have an example in the life of St. Francis Xavier, who speaking one tongue was understood by different peoples as if he were speaking their own language.

This address of St. Peter is composed of two parts. In the first part, taking advantage of the circumstances, to defend the miracle and the Apostles against calumnies and ridicule, he shows from the wonderful event, which was, the subject of scorn—that the times of the Messiah had now arrived. In the second part, he shows from our Lord’s miracles, that he was the long-expected Messiah.

“Ye men of Judea.” Native born Jews, “and all you that dwell in Jerusalem,” all you—besides native born Jews—proselytes or strangers who now dwell in Jerusalem. These comprised the whole assembly.

“Receive my words.” Listen attentively to what I am about to say to you.

Act 2:15  For these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day:

“These,” himself and the others.

“The third hour of the day.” The Jews divided their days and nights into twelve equal parts, counting from sunrise to sunset. Now subject to Rome, they adopted the Roman system of calculating time. Days and nights they divided into twelve hours at all seasons. Hence, their hours were longer or shorter at several periods of the years. Not only were their civil duties, but also their Sacred and Ecclesiastical duties regulated by this division of time (Mark 15:25). (See Matthew 27:45; Commentary on.)

They divided the twelve hours of the day into four greater hours or principal parts, each comprising three common hours. The first great hour commencing at sunrise, continued three hours, and terminated at 9 o’clock, half the time from sunrise to midday. The next great or principal hour commenced at a time corresponding with 9 o’clock with us, that is three hours after sunrise, and ended at midday. This was the hour referred to here.

“The third hour of the day.” This was the earliest of the hours of prayer, at which the morning sacrifice was offered, midway between sunrise and noon. It was customary with the Jews to abstain from meat or drink on their Sabbaths and Festivals till after this hour. Sometimes, even until midday. (Lightfoot, Horæ Hebraicæ.) It was very unlikely—there was the strongest presumption to the contrary—that after a night of prayer and preparation for the great Festival of Pentecost, the disciples who made religion their profession, would indulge in intoxicating drinks, which was peculiar to dissolute and abandoned characters only. St. Peter’s address was his vindication and defence.

Act 2:16  But this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel:

This is but the fulfilment, in reality, of the words spoken by the Prophet Joel (2:28–32). Hence, far from being a matter for reproachful-taunts, the whole occurrence should be reverentially treated, as emanating from one of their own divinely inspired Prophets.

Act 2:17  And it shall come to pass, in the last days, (saith the Lord), I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy: and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

“In the last days.” The Hebrew of Joel has “after these things.” In the rendering of St. Peter, “the last days,” clearly refer to the Christian Dispensation, the last age of the world, from our Lord’s coming to the final consummation of all things. The “Lord hath said” are found not in the beginning, as here, but at the end of the Prophecy of Joel (2:32). Placed in the beginning, they fix the mind on the source whence it emanates and beget greater feelings of respect.

“I will pour out of my spirit,” may mean, portions of “my spirit,” a plentiful effusion, denoting great abundance of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, whether, “ministrations” or “operations,” all varying, but emanating from one and the same spirit (1 Cor. 12:4–11). “Of my spirit” this is the reading according to the Septuagint. In the Hebrew it is, “my spirit,” “shall pour out my spirit,” denoting the Holy Ghost sent by the Son. “Of my spirit” denotes distribution of gifts just as God wills to give in greater or lesser measure. To the Holy Ghost is appropriated the giving of grace which is common to the entire Trinity.

“Upon all flesh,” all mankind without distinction of age, sex, profession or condition “will prophesy.” This is not necessarily confined to the prediction of future events, though primarily signifying this. It sometimes signifies communicating under Divine influence, the knowledge of the hidden things of God, or explaining, in intelligible language, the inspired utterances of others; or speaking, in foreign tongues (1 Cor. 14), the meaning it bears here.

“Visions,” whether in real, visible form, or, in ecstasy interiorly impressing upon them the images of things, conveying real and Divine knowledge, in regard to the supernatural and hidden things of God.

“Visions” are suited to the temperament of youth.

“Dreams” suited to old age. Visions and dreams are often employed, as the medium of communicating the Divine will and heavenly revelations. Whenever a dream comes from God, as in the case of Joseph, it will be ascertained without fail. Visions and dreams were (as in Numbers 12:6) two particular forms of Divine manifestations. The meaning of the whole passage is; the marvellous results of this spirit of prophecy poured out on all flesh will be, that your sons and your daughters, your old men, and your young men, every age, and sex, shall participate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Act 2:18  And upon my servants indeed and upon my handmaids will I pour out in those days of my spirit: and they shall prophesy.

“And upon my servants,” &c. The words for “and” in the Greek means, nay even. In the Hebrew of Joel, the reading is, “and upon the servants,” &c., conveying that no class is excluded from sharing in the gifts of the Holy Ghost. The most abject, even slaves of both sexes, the castaways of society, shall be sharers. These men and women of servile condition are called my servants; because in their abject condition they serve God and are loved by Him, with whom there is no distinction between slave and free.

The Septuagint and Vulgate reading “my servants,” would imply that the words refer to the religious worshippers of God of both sexes.

“And they shall prophesy,” are not found in the Prophecy of Joel. They are added by St. Peter for greater emphasis’ sake.

In order to stimulate his hearers to render themselves worthy of the promises conveyed in the Prophecy of Joel, St. Peter continues to quote from this Prophecy and sets before their eyes the frightful calamities which those alone will escape, “who shall invoke the name of the Lord.”

Act 2:19  And I will shew wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath: blood and fire, and vapour of smoke.

Not unlikely, the prodigies mentioned here and quoted from Joel have immediate reference to the unheard of calamities that befel the Jewish nation in the sack of Jerusalem under Titus, in punishment of their obstinate infidelity and resistance to grace, shown in their rejection of their long expected Messiah, their crimes culminating in the crucifixion of the Son of God. The interval between our Lord’s death and the final end of all things was comparatively very brief, and the woes that befell Jerusalem were only a type of those that are to take place at the end of the world. Hence, it is likely, that here, as in Matthew (c. 24) there is reference to the phenomena, that are to usher in the final end of all things. We are informed by Josephus (De Bello, Jud. vi. 3) and Tacitus (Hist. v. 13) that prodigies took place at the destruction of Jerusalem ‘evenerunt prodigia … Visæ per cœlum concurrere acies, rutilantia arma, et subito, nubium igne conlucere templum; apertæ repente delubri foresæ, et cœtera.”

“Heaven above and earth beneath,” “above and beneath,” are not in Joel. They are added by St. Luke.

“Blood” is understood of a shower of blood, of which Josephus speaks.

“Fire,” the fiery phenomena in the sky. “vapours of smoke.” In Hebrew, “pillars of smoke” columns of vapour like smoke ascending aloft from the bowels of the earth, or from the ruins of burning cities—the veriest picture of desolation.

Act 2:20  The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and manifest day of the Lord to come.

An hyperbolical form of expression not uncommon in Sacred Scripture (Isaias 13:10; Jerem. 4:13; Ezech. 32:7) well suited to the imagination of Eastern peoples.

“Before the great and manifest day,” &c. The Hebrew for “manifest” means, terrible. It refers, in the first instance, to the siege of Jerusalem, and, in the next, to the day of judgment of whose dreadful precursory Phenomena, those that occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem were a mere figure.

Act 2:21  And it shalt come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

“Whosoever,” be he Jew or Gentile, “shall call upon,” &c., embracing the Christian religion—“shall be saved” from ruin here. If it refers to the siege of Jerusalem, it was literally fulfilled in the case of the Christians, who by Divine admonition, fled to Pella, beyond the Jordan before the final destruction of Jerusalem (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. Lib. iii. c. 5).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: