What REALLY happened in Acts chapter two, on the day of Pentecost? Were the 120 in the upper room acting drunk? Were they staggering around, falling and screaming and convulsing? We know that some observers nearby said mockingly “they are full of new wine”. But let us not make a doctrinal belief from a few words from those who mocked a move of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did not inspire those mockers to say what they said. Just because an unbeliever says something, that does not become foundational for our understanding of truth, doctrine, or the testing of manifestations. Many Christians use those mocking words of the unbelievers to create an acceptance and foundation of ecstatic, extreme behavior in the church. Is this REALLY what was going on when Pentecost came? Drunken stupors, staggering around, and uncontrolled laughter and convulsing?
You may be new to my blog, so I want to take a quick paragraph to give you my background. At the time of this writing, I am 44 years old, and I was in the charismatic movement for my entire life. I was raised in it. I have been everything from a zealous young disciple in a church chair, to a musician and worship leader on stage as well. I have fully participated in churches and conferences where there was some very questionable, very ecstatic and unseemly behavior going on. I remember the days when I didn’t know any better, that I too thought that maybe being “drunk in the Spirit” was a great thing. I never fully bought into it, but I was around it. Although I have never ever felt so much as a tingle from all of that, nor have I ever been “slain in the spirit”, I am very familiar with all things related. I left the charismatic movement in 2012. If you are a charismatic Christian, you may now be saying “this guy just does not know the power of God yet!”. Well, after 40+ years in the movement, I can tell you I have experienced all the opportunity anyone could want to be “slain” or “drunk in the spirit”. These things do not affect me, as they do some others. I can tell you that I do fully know what many call “the presence of God”, and His power. I have led worship at various charismatic churches for years. This entire paragraph was written only to convey to you that I have been part of all things “charismatic”. Now I digress, back to the wonderful account of Pentecost!
To paraphrase the well-known story of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the men in the upper room were waiting for the Holy Spirit that was promised. (side note: they were simply waiting. It does not say they were asking, begging, or pleading for the Holy Spirit. They were waiting for the day of Pentecost to “fully come”. The Holy Spirit came at the APPOINTED time, and did not come because they were imploring God) OK, so they waited, and then …(Acts 2:2 and following)
“suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3) Then there appeared to them divided tongues as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4) and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance”.
(keep in mind, “tongues” simply means “languages”. They were speaking in known human languages which they had not previously learned) There were many people around them, even “devout men from every nation..” Vs 11 says the ones from the upper room were speaking “the wonderful works of God” (in languages) . So far in the account, do we have any form of what could be taken as drunken behavior”? No, we don’t. All we have is men “speaking the wonderful works of God” in various earthly languages (tongues). Let’s go to the next pertinent verse. Vs 13 “others mocking said “they are full of new wine”. STOP! That’s it! This one statement made by a few unbelievers has become used by many to justify outrageous behavior in churches and Christian conferences, which label it “the work of the Holy Spirit”. Now, let’s examine the evidence here so far in the story.
So far, we have 120 men who were filled with the Holy Spirit. They spoke in tongues (Languages) the “wonderful works of God”. (Note: it does not say they preached, They simply spoke aloud. Later, Peter gets up to preach the Gospel in the local language) So, we have the Holy Spirit filling them all, we also have tongues, and they were “speaking the wonderful works of God”. Then, we have some mockers nearby say “they are full of new wine”. So what? Why would they say that? Here’s my answer that I believe to be true. The men who were filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues were likely a bit loud, and excited. If you were hearing a large group of men suddenly get excited and speak in about a dozen or so different languages, all at the same time, would you not possibly think they were drunk? In no place in the Bible does it state or imply that they were staggering or convulsing or laying on the floor! They were simply speaking all at the same time in different languages, and were likely a bit LOUD. That alone would be reason to call them drunken, if you didn’t know better. Keep in mind that in those days, all the adherents of pagan religions would actually BE drunk during their religious gatherings. That very predisposed way of thinking may be what the bystanders were using for their assumptions of the 120 being drunken. It was very common for pagan religious gatherings in that day to be dominated by drunkenness and ecstatic behavior. The mocking bystanders likely saw this as just another group of religious drunkards. Why? Because they were being loud! We have no indicators whatsoever of “drunken behavior” in Acts 2. We do have strong reason to assume all 120 of them were speaking excitedly and loud. It would be very easy to label them as “drunk” for only that reason. But let’s also take another viewpoint, using a bit more information of Biblical times and culture.
“New wine”. What is it? It is new, barely fermented wine. Barely, maybe not even at all fermented. It was often the equivalent of grape juice. You could say the mockers were simply poking fun at the newly Spirit filled believers, saying effectively “you bunch of light-weights! You are drunk on grape juice!”. (This actually makes me laugh when I envision it) This scenario is certainly one to consider. When interpreting the Bible, we must always try to have an understanding of what the surrounding factors were. We must take into account the culture, the traditions, the mindset of the people in the story, the language and time barrier between us and them, and more. So, new wine was barely alcoholic, or not at all. It was not yet fully fermented. If the 120 in the upper room were staggering around acting like drunkards, then why would the mockers say “new wine”? (grape juice)
To be clear, there is never-EVER a place in scripture that speaks positive about acting or being drunk. Drunken behavior is NEVER a good thing in the Bible. You can look up all the occurrences of the words “drunk” or “drunken” in the Bible, and you will see that it is always a bad thing. Always. It doesn’t matter if some modern-day preacher wants to run around calling himself “The Holy host Bartender”, and using manipulative, possibly demonic means to create a false drunkenness in the congregational. This is not a good thing, according to Biblical standards. It is certainly not in line with Acts 2, try as they may to twist it.
So, to recap. The 120 in the upper room were simply speaking in various earthly languages, all at the same time, and they were likely a bit loud and excited. That’s all there was to it. We cannot read anything more into it. There is no drunken behavior mentioned. Neither is there is such a Biblical term as “drunk in the Spirit”. What then, causes people to fall prey to these modern-day preachers who encourage and promote, and cause such behavior?
As is typical in the charismatic movement, there is a LOT of manipulation going on. Emotional and mental manipulation. Some of it is purely mass-hypnosis. This is not done by dangling a medallion in front of their faces, but through other methods, such as repetitious music, suggestion and anticipation, and several other commonly used methods. It is quite easy to manipulate humans into an altered state of consciousness, and the aforementioned methods all work. Sometimes demonic activity is involved. I believe this is a far cry from Godliness, and can actually be blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. (Don’t panic here, this sin was not forgivable to the Jews during Jesus’s time on Earth. But almost all Biblical scholars agree it is not an unpardonable sin in our day) Christians will defend God the Father. They will defend God the Son, Jesus Christ. However, in modern day Christianity, it seems just about anything goes with regard to what is attributed to the Holy Spirit. Almost nobody will strongly defend what is the true work or nature of the Holy Spirit. There seems to be no limit to what type of ecstatic behavior can be attributed to the Holy Spirit. Many actually seem to think there is some sort of contest to see who can act more ecstatic, more drunken than another group of Christians. False revivals are big in the past 20 years or so. One seems to compete with the other for who can outdo the other is bizarre behavior. Many people are now anxiously awaiting more of this,praying for it, and paying for it. Is this really the work of the Holy Spirit?
You may say to me “wait a minute, I have experienced being drunk in the Spirit, and it felt amazing, etc” To that I would remind you that not everything that glitters is gold. Also, we cannot base our Christianity on experiences, and then try to find ways to make scripture line up with our experience we have had. That is called “experiential theology”. We will always be doing better to have “Biblical theology”. We learn our beliefs and doctrines from Scripture, not the other way around. We cannot be constantly “proof texting” our learned beliefs that we learned from somewhere besides the Bible. “Proof texting” is where people have a specific doctrine or belief that they try to find Biblical text to justify it with. In the world of Biblical interpreting, we call this eisegesis. In these last days, we simply must keep our eyes and our minds pointed toward true Scriptural theology. Many will be deceived in the end times. Let that not be you or me.
In Ephesians 5:18, Paul said “and be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit”. This scripture is not equating drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit. It is drawing a contrast. Again, nowhere in the Bible is drunken behavior condoned. It is always condemned. Let us all be wary, and be wise, and watch out for the perverted false gospels and false spirits that are out there today. Let us keep our minds sober in every way. The last fruit of the spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 is “self-control”. That is a fruit of having the Holy Spirit dominate and operate in your life. Self control. Not staggering. Not uncontrolled manic laughter. Self control. Let’s not forget love and peace!
I will close with this positive scripture as a reminder of some of the true inner workings of the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17–“for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”.