This study is part of a series that will examine the Jewishness of the original followers of Jesus. Did their belief in Jesus the Messiah and his death and resurrection lead to a subsequent abandoning of various Jewish practices? The approach taken will be to go through each book of Acts, examining relevant texts for insights into this question.
Acts 2:1 NKJV “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”
Pentecost is the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. The most sensible interpretation of the text is that the disciples were gathered together to observe the Shavuot festival. Although Pentecost now has significant Christian associations, it did not have any of those associations for the disciples as they began the day. They were simply a group of Jewish pilgrams to Jerusalem who were conforming to their Torah inspired heritage— although, with out a doubt, the events of the recent past would have been prominent in their thinking.
Acts 2:5 NKJV “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews...”
At this point in time, Christianity does not exist; everything in this account is taking place within the context of 1st century Judaism. The disciples and the crowds of people in Jerusalem for Shavuot— they are all Jewish.
Acts 2:10 NKJV “... both Jews and proselytes,...”
Proselytes are Gentile (non-Jewish) converts to Judaism. Paul's outreach to the Gentiles described in later chapters of Acts should be seen, not as behavior that is uncommon in 1st century Judaism, but rather, as consistent with the practices of the wider Jewish community.
Acts 2:14 NKJV “... Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem...”
“Men of Judea” may also be translated as “You Jewish Men”. It is “Men, Jews!” in the Young's Literal Translation. Peter is addressing a Jewish audience.
Acts 2:16-21 ESV “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, ... and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; ...And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”
Peter appeals to the Hebrew Scriptures in his defense of his fellow disciples. The followers of Jesus were not in isolation from Judaism, but rather, appeal to the Jewish Scriptures to promote their beliefs.
The context of the text that Peter quotes is helpful in filling out the picture: “Joel NRSV 2:23-27 O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. ... 27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 28 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;... 32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. 3:1 For then, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations. ..."
In this prophecy, Jerusalem, Judah and Israel are not pushed into the background or gone from the scene, rejected or replaced. The last part of the prophecy in Joel “I will gather all the nations... and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations” suggests a future fulfillment and a continuation of the “chosen” status for Israel.
Acts 2:22 NKJV “Men of Israel...”
As with verse 2:14, Peter speaks to Jewish listeners.
Acts 2:30 NKJV “of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne”
Peter is establishing that the Messiah (Christ) is a descendent of King David and will “sit on his throne”, that is, as King of Israel.
Acts 2:34-36 ESV “... “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.””
Psalms 110:1-2 NRSV “The LORD says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” The LORD sends out from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes.”
Even this text has a context that includes a reference to Zion, that is, Jerusalem. Where is the “mighty scepter” sent out from? From where will the “Lord and Christ” rule? To whom is Peter addressing his speech? Is it not Israel?
Peter continues to address his listeners as Israelites. He makes the claim that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ), which is a Jewish concept that would not make any sense apart from Judaism.
Acts 2:37 NRSV “... they ... said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?””
In verse 36 we saw that Peter addresses his listeners as Israelites. They, in turn, respond to Peter and the apostles as fellow Israelites. It would have been easily apparent to all present if the apostles had removed their tzitzit or were no longer participating in the temple services.
Acts 2:38 NKJV “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Ritual washing with water is required in the Torah for many different situations. Matthew 3:5-6, Mark 1:5 and Luke 3:7 are evidence that the baptism of John was widely accepted and therefore within the range of accepted practices of first century Judaism. Wikipedia articles on "Ritual washing in Judaism" and "Mikveh" provide more context. See also the comments on Acts 8:12.
The exact phrase “Holy Spirit” occurs in the Hebrew Bible three times—Psalms 51:11; Isaiah 63:10, 11— and there are other uses of the word Spirit referring to God. The Soncino Talmud contains 39 references to “Holy Spirit” and 11 more references in the notes. When Peter used the phrase “Holy Spirit” he was using a Jewish idiom. There is no suggestion in the text that Peter needed to explain this concept to his hearers.
Acts 2:39 ESV “For the promise is for you and for your children...”
Peter is addressing a Jewish audience. He does not seem to be considering the idea that his message is in any way alien or against Judaism.
Acts 2:40 ESV “... “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.””
Paul uses similar language in Philippians 2:15. Jesus also used similar language— Matthew 17:17 and Luke 9:41. All of them are using language taken from the Hebrew Bible— Deuteronomy 32:5 and Psalms 78:8. They are not speaking against Judaism. Rather, they are using Jewish language within the context of Judaism.
Acts 2:41 NRSV “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.”
It stretches credulity to suggest that three thousand Jewish pilgrims were persuaded by Peter's short presentation— all happening within the temple courts— to abandon Judaism and forsake Torah observance. There is nothing recorded here in Acts to suggest that Peter spoke in any way against establish Jewish understanding— his message was thoroughly Jewish and thus resonated with his Jewish audience.
Where would three thousand persons be baptized? Most likely Peter was addressing people in the temple— verse 46. It is hard to imagine that large numbers of people could be baptized unless they made use of the facilities that were available in the temple area for ritual immersion. It is also hard to imagine that the apostles would have been permitted to use the facilities in a way that would have been plainly different from normal use. These practical considerations, and the lack of explanatory comments in this brief description, suggest that the baptism of the three thousand was within the scope of accepted Jewish practice of the day. The three thousand did not “convert” to a new religion called Christianity— they were and remained Jewish but now believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of Israel (Matthew 2:6, Luke 2:32, Luke 24:21, John 1:49, John 12:13).
Acts 2:46 NKJV “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple...”
The apostles and the believers were daily “in the temple”. The most straight forward interpretation of this text is that they were participating in the services at the temple. Alternative understandings— for example, that the apostles were only in the temple to convert the people to Christianity (and away from Judaism)— require reading “into” the account a presupposition that the text does not make.
Acts 2:47 NKJV “... having favor with all the people...”
The apostles certainly would not have had “favor with all the people” if they were teaching against the Torah or if they appeared to be in any way against Judaism.