PENTECOST (pĕn'tĕ-kŏst, Gr. pentēcostē). The word derives from the Greek for “the fiftieth day.” It was the Jewish
Originally, the festival was the time when, with appropriate ritual and ceremony, the firstfruits of the corn harvest, the last Palestinian crop to ripen, were formally dedicated. The festival cannot therefore have antedated the settlement in Palestine.
It seems reasonable, therefore, in view of the fact that in a Greek and Aramaic-speaking audience no practical purpose can be seen for a multiple use of languages, to reject the view that unknown tongues were used for the preaching of the new faith at Pentecost. The lack of any need for “interpreters” also makes it difficult to identify the situation in Acts with the one Paul sought to regulate in the Corinthian church. The “tongues” made for clarity; they did not destroy clarity for those who listened with sympathy.——EMB
The name is derived from the Greek word for “fiftieth” (pentemcostos) for it was seven weeks after Passover that the “ ” (Exod. 34:22; Deut. 16:10) or the “Feast of Harvest” (Exod. 23:16) was observed. It marked the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. It was one of the three occasions in the year on which male Israelites were to appear before the Lord (Deut. 16:16), but it was much less observed as an occasion of pilgrimage than the feasts of Passover and Tabernacles. Pentecost was regarded in later Judaism as the conclusion of the Passover rather than as a harvest festival. After the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70 it was taken to commemorate the giving of the Law on . Acts 2 records how the was given to the first Christians on the day of Pentecost, which no doubt symbolized both the completion of the redemptive act of and Easter and the beginning of the harvest of the nations. Pentecost was observed by the second century as a Christian feast, second only in importance to Easter. The name “Whitsunday” came to be attached to it because of its being a major occasion for baptisms, the baptisands being clothed in white. New proposals for the calendar of the churches in England refer (as does the ) to “Sundays after Pentecost” instead of “after Trinity.”
Other names for the feast.
The feast was designated the “day of first fruits” (
The profane use of the word “Pentecost” from the 4th cent. b.c. was in connection with a tax on goods as impost to the state. In non-Biblical usage, the word πεντηκοστή, G4300, was a technical tax term, originally connected with a cargo tax in the harbor of Piraeus. In Israel there were no connotations of a tax of firstfruits. Jubilees 6:21 states: “This feast is twofold and of a double nature,” referring to the weeks and firstfruits.
Reckoning the feast.
In ancient Pal., the grain harvest lasted seven weeks, beginning with barley harvest during the Passover and ending with the wheat harvest at Pentecost. The offering of the sheaf fell on the day after a sabbath; reckoning this as the first day, the feast was celebrated on the fiftieth day. Disagreement has arisen as to the meaning of “sabbath.” Is the weekly sabbath meant? Is some other day of rest (Israel has several sabbaths) indicated? The words “after the seventh sabbath” (
The rites of the feast.
The sheaf brought as a wave offering (
The feast was one of joy and thanksgiving for the completion of the harvest season. As a holy convocation (
The main offering of the day was a cereal offering of two loaves (
This feast, as stated above, was also the Feast of First Fruits (
It may be helpful to set forth the sacrifices offered on the Feast of Weeks: (1) the daily burnt offering of two lambs (
The Talmud and the Feast of Weeks.
The Talmud, which commonly refers to the feast day as עֲצֶרֶת (“assembly”), stresses its relation to Passover and the harvest season together with the presentation of firstfruits; thus the festival is strictly agricultural in nature. Because the adds the thought of covenant renewal for Noah’s covenant on this day (
Change in celebration.
After the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70, Weeks was celebrated, but now as a feast commemorating the giving of the law at Sinai. The joy of the feast was transferred to joy over the law. Since Passover and Tabernacles were linked with the Exodus and wilderness experiences, later Judaism sought to connect the Feast of Weeks with the Mosaic era. They indicated that Weeks commemorated the giving of the law at Sinai. This change was all the more necessary in view of the loss of the Temple in a.d. 70. The first certain evidence that the rabbis considered the giving of the law took place on Pentecost is the statement of Rabbi Jose ben Chalaphta (c. 150): “In the third month (Sivan), on the sixth day of the month, the ten commandments were given to them (the Israelites), and it was a sabbath day” (Seder ’Olam Rabba, 5). In the 3rd cent. Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedath (c. a.d. 270) spoke of the common belief of his time: “Pentecost is the day on which Torah was given” (Pes. 68b). Philo, Josephus, and the earlier Talmud know nothing of this new significance attached in later Jewish history. However, it is too late to credit Maimonides as the origin of the change, a view adopted by Christian writers.
In keeping with the rejoicing over the law, some leaders arranged special reading sections for the Pentecost eve, consisting of excerpts from the beginning and end of every book of the Bible and Mishnah, which abridgement they considered tantamount to the reading of the entire works. The reading takes some till morning, but others finish it at midnight. About a.d. 200, the custom arose of reading
As the second of the three annual pilgrim feasts (
The Church Fathers highly regarded Pentecost. Easter was always on Sunday, so Pentecost was also. Between Easter and Pentecost there was to be no fasting. Praying was done standing rather than kneeling. During this time, catechumens were baptized. Many expected, because the Ascension had taken place near Pentecost, that Christ would return in the same season. The custom, still common in the Roman Catholic Church and among Protestants who observe the ecclesiastical calendar, is to celebrate the festival for two days. The practice of dressing in white preparatory to baptism on Pentecost gave rise to the name “Whitsunday” (for “Whitesunday”).
It is a popular custom among Jews on Pentecost (Weeks) to eat dairy products and cheese cakes in honor of the law, which has been compared to “honey and milk” Song of Solomon. A meat repast follows the milk meal, both meals recalling the offering of two loaves of bread in the Temple.
E. Auerbach, “The Feast in Ancient Israel” (in German), Vet Test, VIII, 1ff.; Jew Enc, IX (1905), 592ff.; H. Schauss, The Jewish Festivals (1938), 86ff.; S. M. Gilmour, “Easter and Pentecost,” JBL, LXXXI (Mar 1962), 62-66; J. C. Rylaarsdam, “Weeks, Feast of,” IDB, IV (1962), 827, 828; J. M. Chinitz, “Elusive Revelation,” Judith 14 (Spring, 1965), 187, no. 4; G. Friedrich, ed., TDNT, VI (1968), 44-53.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. In the:
The Old Testament does not give it the historical significance which later Jewish writers have ascribed to it. The Israelites were admonished to remember their bondage on that day and to reconsecrate themselves to the Lord (
2. In the:
The old Jewish festival obtained a new significance, for the Christian church, by the promised outpouring of the
The occurrences of the first pentecostal day after the resurrection of Christ set it apart as a Christian festival and invested it, together with the commemoration of the resurrection, with a new meaning. We will not enter here upon a discussion of the significance of the events of the pentecostal day described in Ac 2. That is discussed in the article under TONGUES (which see). The Lutherans, in their endeavor to prove the inherent power of the Word, claim that "the effects then exhibited were due to the divine power inherent in the words of Christ; and that they had resisted that power up to the day of Pentecost and then yielded to its influence." This is well described as "an incredible hypothesis" (Hodge,
Whatever we may think of this matter, the fact remains that Pentecost completely changed the apostles, and that the enduement with the Holy Spirit enabled them to become witnesses of the resurrection of Christ as the fundamental fact in historic Christianity, and to extend the church according to Christ’s commandment. Jerome has an especially elegant passage in which Pentecost is compared with the beginning of the Jewish national life on Mt. Sinai (Ad Tabiol, section 7): "There is Sinai, here Sion; there the trembling mountain, here the trembling house; there the flaming mountain, here the flaming tongues; there the noisy thunderings, here the sounds of many tongues; there the clangor of the ramshorn, here the notes of the gospel-trumpet." This vivid passage shows the close analogy between the Jewish and Christian Pentecost.
3. Later Christian Observance:
In the post-apostolic Christian church Pentecost belonged to the so-called "Semestre Domini," as distinct from the "Semestre Ecclesiae" the church festivals properly so called. As yet there was no trace of Christmas, which began to appear about 360 AD. Easter, the beginning of the pentecostal period, closed the "Quadragesima," or "Lent," the entire period of which had been marked by self-denial and humiliation. On the contrary, the entire pentecostal period, the so-called "Quinquagesima," was marked by joyfulness, daily communion, absence of fasts, standing in prayer, etc. Ascension Day, the 40th day of the period, ushered in the climax of this joyfulness, which burst forth in its fullest volume on Pentecost. It was highly esteemed by the Fathers. Chrysostom calls it "the metropolis of the festivals" (De Pentec., Hom. ii); Gregory of Nazianzen calls it "the day of the Spirit" (De Pentec., Orat. 44). All the Fathers sound its praises. For they fully understood, with the church of the ages, that on that day the dispensation of the Spirit was begun, a dispensation of greater privileges and of a broader horizon and of greater power than had hitherto been vouchsafed to the church of the living God. The festival "Octaves," which, in accordance with the Jewish custom, devoted a whole week to the celebration of the festival, from the 8th century, gave place to a two days’ festival, a custom still preserved by the Roman church and such Protestant bodies as follow the ecclesiastical year. The habit of dressing in white and of seeking baptism on Pentecost gave it the name "Whitsunday," by which it is popularly known all over the world.
Henry E. Dosker