How Many Were Present at Pentecost?

When asked this question many Bible students automatically answer - 120. This is based on Acts 1:15 where “the number of persons was altogether about one hundred and twenty.” Is this verse referring to the actual moment when the holy spirit was poured out from on high? What does a careful consideration of the context and language indicate?

WHO WERE TOLD TO WAIT FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT?

Jesus told the remaining faithful eleven apostles: “And, look, I will send the promise of my Father to all of you [apostles]. So remain in the city until you [apostles] are clothed with power from on high.” [Luke 24:49 NCMM] Luke repeats the same in the opening words of the Acts of the Apostles, “Now while eating with them he gave them instructions not to depart from Jerusalem, but ‘to wait for the promise of the Father that I told you about. For John immersed in water, but you [apostles] will be immersed in the holy Pneuma only days from now.’” [Acts 1:4, 5 NCMM] No where in Scripture does Jesus the Nazarene say the same to his other disciples.

HOW MANY DISCIPLES WERE IN JERUSALEM?

From Paul’s language it could be assumed that “upwards of five hundred brothers” were still in Jerusalem after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. [1 Corinthians 15:6] Though some interpret Paul’s words to apply to the moment of Christ’s ascension, this is without real foundation. What does the context in Acts indicate?

Luke records what the eleven apostles now did: “Now when the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives - which is close to Jerusalem [about a Sabbath’s days distance] -- as they entered the city, they went into a room upstairs where they were staying. [These included] Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. All of these apostles were continually in devotional prayers along with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his [fleshly] brothers.” [Acts 1:12-14 NCMM] This record lists the names of the eleven apostles being in an upper room and includes some female followers of Jesus, including his mother and brothers.

The account in Acts then moves to another moment without indicating how much time elapsed. This is recorded in Acts 1:15-26 when a replacement for Judas was voted on by those present. The crowd is numbered as “about 120.” The opening words say, “in those days” without indicating how long later this was from the previous statements in verse 12 through 14. Peter addresses the assembled group, “Men, brothers … “ The Greek is ANDRES ADELPHOI referring specifically to a gathering of males who had a spiritual relationship. Though the designation “brothers” can sometimes include women, the qualifying word ANDRES means males. Why are these males gathered?

This is a meeting to make a decision on the appointment of an apostle to replace Judas. These males present likely included “those males [ANDRON] among us who gathered together during all the time the Lord Jesus came and went among us.” [Acts 1:21] This group of 120 men may have included the “seventy” Jesus had sent out as evangelists. Thus, these and the apostles numbered 81, leaving another 39 men who qualified. These men voted and the decision came down to two equally qualified men. Since the vote was divided, in harmony with Proverbs 16:33, they cast lots and it fell upon the disciple Matthias. It seems unlikely that female disciples of the Nazarene would have been included in this conference.

UPON WHOM WAS THE SPIRIT POURED OUT?

There seems a break in the context with Acts 2:1 as the record moves to the Jewish festival of Pentecost. The out-pouring of holy Pneuma as Jesus promised is described. Those who receive this spirit began to speak in foreign languages. The account states that reverent Jews from every nation heard these spirit-inspired languages. They responded: “They were amazed and astonished and began to say: ‘Look! are not all these speaking Galileans?” [Acts 2:7 NCMM] So, all those who spoke in these foreign languages were known to all be Galileans. It is well known the eleven apostles were such, and we may assume that Matthias was also Galilean.

The languages they heard are listed and it is possible to group these in twelve by number, indicating that each of the twelve apostles was speaking a different language. [Acts 2:9-11] Now, at this moment Acts 2:14, 15 states: “Now Peter rose with the eleven and raised his voice, declaring to them: “Men, Jews, and all those dwelling in Jerusalem, all of you know this and listen to my words! For these men [OUTOI] are not drunk as you suppose, for it is only nine in the morning!” Two things indicate that only twelve are present. First, “Peter rose with the eleven” harmonizes with the observation that these were all Galileans. Also, the Greek OUTOI indicates a number of men.

We have already been told that “reverent [Jewish] men from all nations” were being primarily addressed by Peter. Several times Peter addresses these Jewish males. [Acts 2:14 (ANDRES IOUDAIOI); Acts 2:22 (ANDRES ISRAELEITAI); Acts 2:29 (ANDRES ADELPHOI). How do these Jewish men address those Galileans who have just received the out-pouring of holy Pneuma? Acts 2:37 makes it clear: “Having heard this [the Jews] were pierced in their hearts, and they said to Peter and the other apostles: ‘Men, brothers, what should we do?’” [NCMM] Here these men use the address, ANDRES ADELPHOI, that is, “males, brothers.” The verse also says they addressed this to “Peter and the other apostles.”

Thus, nothing in the account indicates others, including women, were present at the out-pouring of the holy spirit. Rather, everything in the account points to only the twelve apostles as those who FIRST received the holy Pneuma as Jesus had promised.

“YOUR DAUGHTERS WILL PROPHESY”

Some will argue that Peter quotes Joel which shows that women also would receive the out-pouring of holy spirit in those last days upon Jerusalem and her Temple. This unique out-pouring of holy Pneuma upon the twelve apostles at Pentecost does no mean that others, including women, did not also receive the spirit later. For the first time in Acts 5:14 and Acts 8:12 female disciples of the Nazarene are shown to also be included in this spirit blessing. Many of these women did, in fact, “prophesy” [that is, publicly preach] to others outside of the Christian congregation. [Acts 21:9].

So, in summary, the truth that it was mainly the apostles who were to be the foundation of the spiritual Temple of Christ, that is, the new “Israel of God,” that future “New Jerusalem.” [Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14] It was only fitting that Christ’s promise of the spirit-helper fall first on these chosen men who had faithfully remained in Jerusalem until the out-pouring of the Father’s Pneuma.

Friends of the Nazarene Publishing

Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

Back to Index to Biblical Articles