Salvation blessings come to those who hear, receive, believe and hold fast to the Word, the gospel message (Lk 8:15; Acts 2:22; 3:22-23; 4:4; 15:7; 13:44; 19:5; 26:29; 28:26-28). So here the Spirit falls on them, just as Peter speaks these words of the welcome promise of forgiveness to all who believe and the audience hears the message (probably referring to the gospel, not just Peter's sermon—Lake and Cadbury 1979:122; compare Lk 8:15; Acts 4:4; 8:4; 10:36; 11:19; 15:7; 17:11).
In our day Western society is increasingly turning its back on its rational, cognitive heritage in favor of high-impact, "high-touch" experience. Some Christians engaged in crosscultural mission hail this mindlessness as a liberation that permits us to frame a truly contextual gospel free of Western rationalism. Yet at the very beginning of crosscultural mission, Peter neither depended on power encounter nor denigrated the cognitive. In fact, the Word and the Spirit were interdependent. And so must it ever be.
Luke's description of the Spirit's coming lets us know that the Gentiles' salvation is divinely worked, complete and authentic. It is all of God, for Peter has not even finished his speech. He has not given an invitation. God, the knower of all hearts, has chosen to cleanse their hearts by faith (15:8-9). He demonstrates that these Gentiles have indeed been given "repentance unto life" (11:18) by pouring out the gift of his Spirit on them, as he did on Jewish believers at Pentecost (2:4, 17, 33; compare 2:38; 8:20; 11:17). That the Spirit came on them (literally, "falling on," 8:16; 11:15) points not only to arrival but also to suddenness and intensity (Turner 1981:49). By combining this description with the imagery of "pouring out on," inundating with as with an overwhelming tidal wave (10:45), Luke highlights the completeness of the salvation experienced. Its authenticity is manifested by the Gentiles' speaking in tongues.
As the NIV marginal note indicates, there is some uncertainty about what the word tongues refers to and hence how it is to be translated. The literal translation tongues here would refer to Spirit-inspired ecstatic utterances of "heavenly languages" that require an equally inspired interpreter (1 Cor 14; compare Acts 19:6; Longenecker 1981:394: Haenchen 1971:354). The marginal reading other languages (note that other is not present in the Greek text) points to human languages (2:4-8). If we opt for the "ecstatic utterances" interpretation, we have to explain the claims that the experience paralleled that of Acts 2 (10:47; 11:15, 17). Williams says they need to be similar though not identical to satisfy the claims of the text (1985:184). If we opt for the "foreign languages" explanation, we must account for the lack of the term other and how such an outburst of foreign languages could have been convincing to the Jewish believers. It would have been convincing if these Gentiles spoke in languages including Hebrew and Aramaic, which the Joppa believers could follow.
Though it is difficult to be certain about the nature of the "tongues" (Kistemaker 1990:400), what the early believers conclude from this manifestation is certain: salvation blessings have been poured out on uncircumcised Gentiles. This challenges the Jews' basic assumption that a holy and pure God would not pour out his Holy Spirit on profane, common and unclean Gentiles, unless they became holy and ritually pure through becoming Jews. No wonder that Jewish Christians with a commitment to circumcision showed the same "astonishment" at this phenomenon as the Pentecost crowd did (2:7, 12; compare 8:13; 9:21).
The experience of salvation always evokes praise to the Giver of salvation. So here, as at Pentecost (2:11) and in Ephesus, the last evangelized area of Paul's missionary journeys (19:17), the newly converted or newly filled-with-the-Spirit magnify God.
Expecting a negative answer, Peter asks, in essence, "Who is going to stand in the way of God's work?" Only at the risk of resisting God would someone dare to hinder the full incorporation into the church via baptism of Gentiles who have the Spirit's baptism (compare Lk 18:16; Acts 5:39; 8:36; 28:31). So Peter orders their baptism and enjoys their hospitality for a few days.
The ground is indeed level at the foot of the cross. What a comfort to all the racially and culturally despised in our day, who thirst for the dignity that comes from spiritual equality in the "Christ identity." What a challenge to the church to live out, through acceptance across racial, class, ethnic and gender lines, our profession that we serve an impartial God who has sent us a universal Lord and Savior.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.