I have always understood Pentecost to be a celebration of the “birth of the church”. I am not sure if I should continue to affirm this. Now the word “church” in modern discussions may be distant from the biblical concept of ekklesia. It seems to me that this word does not carry as much baggage as the modern word “church”. In fact, it is hard to determine whether or not we should continue to think of the pre-Pentecost people of God as anything less than the “church”. I guess it really depends on what we mean by the word.

What we can confidently say about the Day of Pentecost is it is the full inauguration of the New Covenant. The Spirit is equated with the New Covenant in the writings of the Hebrew prophets, Johannine literature, and Pauline literature. The New Covenant does not exclude the people of the Old Covenant. In fact, it is an invitation to those very people to renew their covenant with God.

According to the narrative of the Book of Acts the Gentiles are a later addition to a Covenant offered first to Jews who understood themselves to be in covenant with God already. It is renewal, not discontinuation. This is the “Israelology” of Rom. 9-11 as well. Paul sees Gentiles as being grafted into a people of God that already exists. Those Jews who rejected the new covenant were broken off of the tree. What Pentecost was not is the end of one people of God in favor of the beginning of another.

Even Paul’s understanding of a new humanity consisting of “neither Jew nor Gentile” does not mean that this is a “new” people of God. Rather, it means what defined the people of God over and against those who were not the people of God has been redefined. Those who failed to transition from one covenant to another exited the people of God that continued.

I am inclined to think of Pentecost as the inauguration of the New Covenant. The people of God already existed. For some the New Covenant was a renewal. For others (esp. Gentiles) it was a new invitation. Even if we use the word “church” to define the new people of God consisting of Jews and Gentiles we cannot think of Pentecost as the day this happened for it took some time for the Jesus sect to realize that Gentiles were now welcomed freely.