ASK Commentary
October 12, 2005 

The Upper Room

Commentary for October 12, 2005 — Where Was It? 

Question: I was wondering if you have run across any historical indications as to where in Jerusalem was the upper room where Jesus kept His last Passover? City of David? Tryophean valley (where the poor resided)? or the Upper City (SW hill)? 

Answer: First of all whenever you have a question like this, go to the Advanced Search on the ASK Website and type in (with quote marks) "Upper Room" and it will yield all (if any) references in the ASK articles dealing with that subject. From there you can go to the biblical references. 

The answers to your questions are both complex and inconclusive. 

The “Upper Room” in the Gospels 

Both Mark 14:12–16 and Luke 22:7–13 speak about a man carrying “a pitcher of water.” The two disciples were to follow him so they could meet the owner of the house for whom the man was carrying water. The important point to note in this passage is that it was highly unusual for a man to carry water pitchers — at any time. A man carrying “a pitcher of water” would be very easy for the disciples to pick out in a crowded public area. 

Men did not carry water in pitchers (although they carried waterskins for their own drinking) in ancient Israel. Transporting water was woman’s work. Remember when Abraham’s servant Eleazar met Rebecca and began the arranged marriage for Isaac in Genesis 24:13–20? The women drew the water from the well. Note also Exodus 2:15–17 where Moses helped the women at the well, one of which was his future wife, Miriam. The women were getting the water from the well. Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. She was there to draw and carry water (John 4:5–29). Nowhere in Scripture will you find men drawing and carrying water for domestic use except in the Mark and Luke passages. 

The man carrying water led the two disciples to the owner of the house who, as Jesus’ agents, told the owner to prepare the Passover arrangements in the large upper room that was a guestchamber. 

Two Kinds of “Upper Room”?  

There is a reference to an “upper room” in Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12. Both verses use the Greek root noun anogeon that occur only in those two passages in all the New Testament. This word by itself means “upper chamber.” This chamber is specifically described as a “large” (Greek, megas) upper room in both verses. The room was furnished, set up, and prepared for the Passover by the two disciples.

That “upper room” was also described as a “guestchamber” in the previous verses of Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11 (Greek root noun kataluma). This room therefore was very likely made available for groups to meet, celebrate, and perhaps to lodge in during the times of the Jewish feasts. Always keep in mind that Jerusalem in the Second Temple period was sort of a “convention town.” Huge crowds required temporary housing during the annual feasts. Recall also when there was no room in the “inn” for Joseph and Mary in Luke 2:7? The same Greek term kataluma is translated “inn” while it is translated “guestchamber” in Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12. 

In the King James Version there is another instance of the English phrase “upper room,” but in this case a different Greek word altogether is used in Acts 1:13,

“And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty) …” 

Acts 1:13–15

The Greek word translated “upper room” is from the root noun huperoon. The term means the “upper chamber” of a structure with 2 or more stories. This term occurs later in Acts 7:37, 39 and 20:8. 

The fact that Luke used two different Greek terms in Luke 22:12 and Acts 1:13 may show that dissimilar types of “upper room” were intended. That would mean the upper room (or social room of an inn) of Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12 was different than the upper room (or upper chamber) of Acts 1:13. On the other hand, Luke may simply have used a different term to describe the same room both where the Passover Supper was held and where Pentecost room occurred. It cannot be determined clearly from the text. 

Remember, it was the evening of the resurrection that Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit:

“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled [they came together again from their homes, verse 10] for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and said unto them, ‘Peace be unto you.’ And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive you the Holy Spirit.” 

John 20:19–22

The context does not indicate whether there were just the 12 apostles in the room or more (the text says “the disciples”), perhaps up to the number of “about 120” that gathered at the time of Acts 1:15. Later in John 20:24 it says that “Thomas, one of the twelve,” was not with the “other disciples.” (John never uses the word “apostle” in his Gospel, but he does use the designation “the twelve.”) This may indicate there were disciples present other than the 12 apostles. Of course this would be reasonable. 

Bottom line is that we cannot know if the “upper room” in the Gospels of Mark and Luke was the same room where “the disciples were assembled” in the Gospel of John. The evidence is not conclusive, although logically it would likely be the same room. 

The “Upper Room” in Acts 

Still later, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven “the apostles” (Acts 1:2) traveled from the Mount of Olives into the city of Jerusalem to the “upper room”:

“Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an [the] upper room. …” 

Acts 1:12–13

First note that the “upper room” (remember that a different Greek term is used from Mark and Luke) was stated to be in Jerusalem, specifically within “a sabbath day’s journey.” This common rabbinical term is used only this one time in Scripture. This gives us a clue as to this room’s location in Jerusalem. 

A sabbath day’s journey was a distance of about 2,000 cubits or about 1,000 yards (depending on the length of a cubit). Josephus notes that the distance from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem was variously 5 stadia (1,000 yards, Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.8.6 [¶169]) or 6 stadia (about 1,200 yards, Josephus, Wars of the Jews 5.2.3 [¶70]) depending on from where on the Mount of Olives one started. Therefore, from an indeterminate area at the Mount of Olives, a distance of 2,000 cubits would have taken a traveler not far from the Temple into Jerusalem. 

Further, although the disciples and women were not wealthy, we know that the room they were in at Pentecost could hold about 120 people (Acts 1:16). If it was the same room as in the Gospels, then the house may have been in a wealthy area directly south of the Temple near where the chief priests lived. It is more likely, however, that the house was where the common people lived west of the Temple, in the Lower City. (It is doubtful the disciples would have stayed north of Fortress Antonia, itself north of the Temple.) Considering Dr. Martin’s evidence about the location of the Temple, the location of the “upper room” would therefore have been, most likely, on the western slope of the Tyropean Valley.  

Other indications tell us that this “upper room” of Pentecost was located near the Temple. We can know this because many people going to (or near) the Temple were attracted by the sounds of rushing wind at the coming of the Holy Spirit with power. 

Peter's reference to David's Tomb seems to indicate that the site of the Upper Room was close to that well-known location also (Acts 2:29–36). 

Putting all the information together, the Upper Room of Acts was a large room in the city of Jerusalem, near to both the Temple and David's Tomb. This must be west of the correct site of the Temple (not west of the Haram esh-Sharif), immediately west of the Gihon Springs. 

Pentecost 

All of the events from Acts 1:13 through 2:41 occurred in proximity of that “upper room.” Later, on the day of Pentecost it says:

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” 

Acts 2:1

Were They the Same Room?  

My best-guess answers to your questions are these: While it is stated that the room in both Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12 was large, remember that the room in Acts 1:13 held 120 disciples, meaning that it was also a large room. This is the primary reason why I identify these as being the same room in all the passages in Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. This is in accord with what most commentators have concluded.

The location was close to the Temple, likely in the poorer section of Jerusalem just west and a bit south of the Temple, itself west of the Gihon on the top of Mount Zion (not the location of the Haram esh-Sharif). Even poor areas have gathering rooms or halls for weddings, celebrations, meetings, etc. It was likely on the western slope of the Tyropean Valley. 

Although Scripture does not always fill in details to our satisfaction, it is stunningly consistent in its information.

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

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