May 28, 2004

“Full of New Wine” (Acts 2:13)

Category: Bible - NT - Acts :: Permalink

This week, as I worked on my sermon for Pentecost, I got thinking about the charge levelled against the church in Acts 2. When the crowd hears Jesus’ disciples speaking in other languages, some of them said, “They are full of new wine” (2:13), which Peter (rightly) understands as a charge that the disciples are drunk (2:15).

But why this charge in particular? On one level, we might say that the charge is simply based on the way the tongues-speaking sounded, especially as language followed language (though clearly what was being said was clear enough for the people to recognize that what they were hearing were “the wonderful works of God” being spoken in each of their own languages). Some of the languages, not to mention the switching from one to another, might have sounded like drunken speech.

But I find I’m not completely satisfied with such an explanation. Or, to put another way, “That’s just how it sounded” or “That’s just what happened” doesn’t seem to me an adequate account of why this charge is recorded in Scripture. After all, this isn’t “just what happened.” The Holy Spirit had a reason for making the tongues sound to (at least some of) the crowd like drunken speech.

Part of that reason, I submit, may be found in Isaiah 28:7-10. (Thanks to Jim Jordan for drawing my attention to this passage.)

In Isaiah 28:11-14, we have the warning that Yahweh will speak to Israel “with stammering lips and another tongue,” the warning that Paul picks up when he is explaining the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22. But in the preceding verses, we find this:

They have also erred through wine,
and through intoxicating drink are out of the way;
the priest and the prophet
have erred through intoxicating drink;
they are swallowed up by wine;
they are out of the way through intoxicating drink;
they err in vision,
they stumble in judgment (28:7).

Here, Yahweh indicts the priest and prophet in particular, as well as the people (28:1 refers to “the drunkards of Ephraim”) for being led astray through wine. Israel has been drunk with wine, and that is why Yahweh is going to speak to them “with stammering lips and another tongue.” That is, because Israel has been drunk and her priests and prophets have been drunk as they try to instruct Israel, Yahweh is going to instruct Israel in a way that sounds like drunken speech.

Here in Acts 2, Israel is symbolically drunk and her priests and prophets have given her drunken instruction to lead her astray. Yahweh is responding by speaking to Israel in speech that sounds drunken. The charge of drunkenness in 2:13 thus fits with the function of tongues-speaking as Isaiah and Paul present it.

But I also wonder if there isn’t something more going on here. The charge is not simply “These men are drunk.” The charge is “These men are full of new wine.” And that might prompt us to look back at the rest of Scripture to see what it says about “new wine.”

When Isaac blessed Jacob, he said,

May God give you
of the dew of heaven,
of the fatness of the earth,
and plenty of grain and new wine (Gen. 27:28).

Having “plenty of new wine” is God’s blessing to Jacob (= Israel). But on Pentecost, the charge is made that the church is “full of new wine.” Perhaps there is irony here: in being filled with the Spirit, the church is experiencing the blessing of new wine and unbelieving Israel isn’t.

In Numbers 18:12, Yahweh gives the priests “all the best of the new wine.” Perhaps, then, fullness of new wine can be seen as a priestly benefit. But on Pentecost, it is the church who has “all the best of the new wine.” On Pentecost, ironically, the church is God’s priestly people.

Of course, “new wine” is repeatedly listed as one of the blessings of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy (7:13; 11:14; 12:17; 14:23; 18:4; 28:51; 33:28; cf. 2 Kings 18:32; 2 Chron. 32:28; Isa. 36:17, etc.). Is it now the case that the church is inheriting all the blessings of the Promised Land?

The charge against the church in Acts 2 is meant as a charge of drunkenness and that fits with what God said in Isaiah 28: Israel is the one which is truly drunk and in judgment God is speaking “drunkenly” to them by speaking to them in other tongues. But perhaps there is also irony in this charge: They are not drunk with wine; rather, they are filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). But in being filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples really are “full of new wine” in a sense. They are enjoying the blessings of “new wine,” the blessings of the Spirit which were symbolized in the Old Covenant by “new wine,” the blessings God had promised to Israel (and especially to the priests).

Posted by John Barach @ 7:48 pm | Discuss (0)

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