Pentecost Sunday and Race in the U.S.

Around the year 2000, for the Eerdmans Lectionary commentary, I wrote on a reading for Pentecost Sunday, on Acts 2. Here is one paragraph that I wrote:

“After recounting the proofs of Pentecost, Acts focuses on the peoples of Pentecost: Jewish people from many nations serve as the first representatives of the gospel crossing all cultural barriers (2:5-11).  Some have compared the list of hearers here with the table of nations in Genesis 10, updated into the language of Luke’s day.  If so, this passage may reverse the judgment on the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11: as God once scattered the nations by dividing their languages, he now empowers his church to transcend those divisions.  One of the activities of the Spirit in the rest of Acts is guiding the church to cross cultural barriers beyond its comfort zones (8:27-29; 10:17-20; 11:12; 13:2, 4).  An expositor could easily apply this example to racial reconciliation, cultural sensitivity, crosscultural ministry, global mission, and to church unity today (Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:18-22).”

My family is interracial (I’m the only white member; my wife and kids are black), so you can tell where I would take this if I were preaching this weekend. (At, I usually focus on Bible study resources, but I responded with my personal convictions on my personal Facebook page shortly after the murder of our Christian brother George Floyd, because the issue just comes too close to home.)

But I think I can rightly hope that I am not alone on this. Given what’s happening in the U.S. right now (I write this on May 30, 2020), racial reconciliation is a burning topic. Nor is the issue a new one (I mentioned my earlier article to highlight this point). Minorities within a culture know the perspectives of the dominant culture, because such perspectives pervade the culture; the dominant culture, however, is usually far less acquainted with the experiences of minority cultures, because they can live life without having to recognize these experiences.

But as Christians, we belong to one body. It is incumbent on us—and especially for members of the dominant culture—to listen to and learn from the experiences of our brothers and sisters, to be “swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Some may want to ignore the pain of our brothers and sisters, using as an excuse hooligans who exploit protests as an opportunity to loot. But what hurts Christ’s body pains Christ the head, and those whose first loyalty is Jesus, who care about his heart, must care for one another, and stand for justice for one another.

I also wrote some of the material on Pentecost for the forthcoming lectionary commentary from Westminster John Knox, where I elaborated more extensively on the implications of the transformation of Babel in Acts 2. There I concluded: “The Spirit in Acts thrusts us across human barriers to honor our Lord among all peoples. The Spirit also empowers believers together, regardless of ethnicity, class, gender, as partners in this mission, equally dependent on God’s enablement. Perhaps it is time, like the first disciples, to pray for the enablement of God’s transforming Spirit.”

For fuller detail on Acts 2, see Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (4 vols.; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012-15), 1:780-1038; or, more concisely, Craig S. Keener, Acts (Cambridge NT Commentary; Cambridge University Press, 2020), 121-78.

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