Acts 2:2-4: Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

        As discussed last week, the English word tongue is taken from the Greek word glossa.  Greek Lexicons define glossa as the physical tongue or as language.  The word glossa appears in the Greek New Testament fifty times. It is used in a variety of ways.  I gave examples of how at times glossa is used metaphorically to represent speech.  Here in Acts 2:2 it is used to signify the granting of the ability to speak in languages that had never been learned.

Tongues of fire:

       It is recorded, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” The Greek rendered “seemed” is optomai and simple means to see something and is used in this manner multiple times in the NT.  Many translations render this word as “appeared” in the passage under consideration.  The Greek word pur rendered “fire” in this passage is used both figuratively and literally of fire in the NT.   

       In reviewing several dozen translations of this passage, the indication is that what was seen were not tongues of actual fire but flame-like projectiles that appeared as physical tongues.  Flames of a fire fan out in many directions. This tongue like phenomenon of fire appears to be used here to show how the observed tongues flared our and landed on the recipients. Here are several renderings that indicate this.

       And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them (New English Translation {NET}).

       They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated, and one rested on each of them (International Standard Version)

       And tongues like fire that were divided appeared to them, and they sat on each one of them (Aramaic Bible in Plain English).

       Tongues that looked like fire appeared to them. The tongues arranged themselves so that one came to rest on each believer (God’s Word Translation)

       And they saw tongues of what looked like fire distributing themselves over the assembly, and on the head of each person a tongue alighted (Weymouth Translation)

      The implication here is that the fiery looking tongues that landed on the recipients of these tongues were separated or divided with the result being that different tongues fell on different recipients of the tongues. In other words, they all didn't receive the same tongues but different individuals received different tongues which facilitated the speaking of different languages. They weren't all given the same language. They were given different languages.

       All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other (Greek heteros which means other or different) tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

       This is an important consideration because it is said of the crowd that heard the tongues speakers that "each one heard them speaking in his own language" Because it is stated this way, some believe the miracle experienced on Pentecost was not only in the speaking but also in the hearing or possibly entirely in the hearing.   

       Acts 2:5-8: Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?

       Some believe Luke is saying that each one in the crowd heard each tongues speaker speaking in their native tongue. It is believed the ones given the tongues all received and spoke some kind of neutral language which was then supernaturally translated into separate languages that could be understood by those in the crowd who spoke those languages. 

       Some take this a step further and believe that the miracle was not in the speaking at all. Some believe the tongues speakers were all speaking in their native tongue but those who heard them, heard them in their own native tongues through instant supernatural translation. Is there any validity to this approach?     

       As already discussed, Luke writes that the tongues were divided or separated as they came down upon those receiving the tongues. This appears to reveal that different tongues landed on different recipients.  If this is the case, there were a number of different tongues that were bestowed upon the recipients of the Holy Spirit.  These different tongues were then understood by those in the crowd who spoke those tongues. There does not appear to have been any supernatural translation going on. The miracle appears to have been in the speaking only.  The tongues speakers spoke in a variety of different languages which were understood by those who spoke these languages.  Luke makes this quite clear in his narrative.    

       Acts 2:4: All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other (Greek heteros which means other or different) tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

       For the record, where it is written that “each one heard them speaking in his own language,” the Greek word rendered "language" is dialektos.  Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines this word as conversation, speech, discourse or the tongue or language peculiar to any people.  The Arndt/Gingrich Greek Lexicon defines dialektos as the language of a nation or region.         

Why the tongues event?

       It is sometimes believed and taught that the reason for the tongues event was to allow the Apostles to preach the Gospel in understandable languages to the foreign Jews visiting Jerusalem to observe Pentecost. Luke writes there were Jews from every nation under heaven in attendance. It is assumed that these Jews were mostly visitors who did not speak the local language.  The assumption is that these Jews would not have understood the Apostles if the Apostles spoke only in their native tongue which was probably Aramaic. Therefore, the tongues event is seen as taking place to ensure the Gospel message could be understood by those assembled to observe the feast of Pentecost.     

       Acts 2:5-11: Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"

       The narrative of Acts 2 does show that some of those present were visitors from outside of Judea. It's not revealed whether they were able or unable to speak or understand the native language of the Apostles. What is noteworthy however, is that it is apparent many if not most of those present were foreigners who had taken up permanent residence in Jerusalem and were not just visitors as is often assumed. 

      The Greek word rendered “staying” in Acts 2:5 is katoikeo. The Greek lexicons define this word as a place of permanent residence, a place of settlement. Strong’s Lexicon defines this word as “to house permanently.”  Thayer’s Lexicon defines this word as to dwell or settle.  The Arndt/Gingrich Lexicon defines it as “cause to dwell, establish, and settle.”  

       Katoikeo appears 47 times in the NT and by context can be seen to identify an ongoing residency and not just someone visiting from out of town. It’s apparent the Jews being addressed were by and large residents of Jerusalem and would have spoken the same native language as the tongues speakers spoke.  These Jews and converts to Judaism, while originally residing in a number of different countries, had at some point moved to Jerusalem and taken up residence there.

       The NET translation footnotes Acts 2:5 by stating that while there may have been Jews visiting Jerusalem to keep Pentecost, it is probable that the audience consisted of families who had taken up permanent residence in Jerusalem and that archaeological evidence from tombs in Jerusalem indicates that many families immigrated to Jerusalem permanently.     

       Therefore, it is apparent that the majority of those in the crowd hearing the tongues speakers where permanent residents of Jerusalem.  They would have spoken and understood the native tongue of the tongues speakers which was probably Aramaic. Therefore, they would not have had to be spoken too in their native language in order to understand the Apostles.  If this is the case, it may be incorrect to look at the tongues event occurring for the purpose of ensuring the crowds gathered for Pentecost were able to hear and understand the tongues speakers.   

       The reason for the tongues event is actually made very clear by Apostle Peter. It appears to simply be the sign God used to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit had come and that it would be available to all peoples. When the crowd witnessed the tongues event, it is recorded that "they were all amazed and perplexed and they asked one another, "What does this mean?"   Some accused the tongues speakers of being drunk.  Peter, in responding to their accusation, showed them in no uncertain terms what the event they were witnessing meant.

       Acts 2:14-18: Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  "`In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

       Peter addressed the crowd and directed his answer to fellow Jews and all those who live in Jerusalem.  The Greek word rendered “live” is katoikeo. As already discussed, this Greek word describes a place of permanent residence.  The indication is that he was largely addressing those who lived in Jerusalem and was most probably addressing them in the language common to most of them which, as indicated, was probably Aramaic.  The tongues event may have been a short lived event that got the attention of the crowd and caused many of them to give heed to Peter’s message.

       However, the main reason for the tongues event appears to be to demonstrate that a prophecy of Joel had come to pass. Peter is stating that what the assembly gathered in Jerusalem is seeing is the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel said would happen in the last days.

       What they are witnessing is the prophesied pouring out of the Spirit of God on all people. Peter makes this very clear later in his sermon.

       Acts 2:32-33: God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

       What Peter was telling them was that what they were seeing and hearing gave witness to the Holy Spirit being poured out as prophesied by Joel and promised by Jesus.  The Apostles speaking in unlearned languages was for the express purpose of giving evidence to the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel and the Son of God had promised would occur. The tongues event got the attention of the audience which allowed Peter to proclaim the gospel message to what was now an attentive audience.  Peter goes on to provide a synopsis of the Christ event. 

       Acts 2:22-24:  "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

       Peter brings to their attention that Jesus was a man accredited by God.  To accredit someone is to authorize and sanction them.  God did this by providing Jesus the power to perform miracles and signs and wonders, all things Peter says they knew.  This further verifies that Peter was addressing a crowd who lived in the area and was familiar with what had happened. Peter reveals to them that it was within God’s will and foreknowledge that Jesus was handed over to them and they proceeded to crucify him even though they knew the good that He had done.  Peter goes on to tell them how David had prophesied the death and resurrection of Jesus and concludes with telling his audience that God had made this man they had crucified both Lord and Christ.

       Acts 2:36-38: Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

       Acts 2:41: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

       Peter’s message had a powerful impact on those being addressed.  This message would not have had this impact if it wasn’t for the tongues event.  The tongues event was designed to get their attention and get their attention it did. To hear these tongues speakers speak in a variety of unlearned languages must have made quite the impression. 

       Peter told them to repent and be baptized and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  While it is generally believed that one receives the Holy Spirit when repenting and being baptized, it is believed by some modern day Christians that following water baptism and receiving the Spirit, it is important to experience another kind of baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  This is believed by some to be a separate and distinct spiritual experience.

       Baptism of the Holy Spirit is believed to empower one to live a more Godly life and witness to others.  Speaking in tongues is believed to be confirmation that one has received this special baptism. Since speaking in tongues is seen in the NT as a witness to having received the Holy Spirit, it is believed that this same witness should be seen today as confirmation of having received the Holy Spirit.

       The problem with associating the present day tongues phenomenon with what we see recorded in Acts chapter two is that what we see today has no resemblance to what we see in Acts 2.  There certainly isn't a sound like that of a rushing wind or the appearance of what looks like tongues of fire accompanying modern day tongues speaking.  Neither do we see in modern day tongues speaking the speaking of known human languages as was the case on Pentecost in AD 31.

       What we see in Acts 2 are the NT tongues speakers speaking supernaturally enabled languages and others hearing the tongues speakers in their own native language. What we see with modern day tongues speakers is the utterance of sounds that are not associated with any known language. No one hearing these sounds hears them as their native language.

       Furthermore, when the NT tongues speakers spoke in tongues, their tongues did not have to be interpreted by someone in order to be understood.  Those hearing the NT tongues speakers understood exactly what they were saying because it was being spoken in the hearer’s native language. 

       Scripture records that those who accepted the message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.  Peter had told them that when being baptized, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Nothing is recorded as to any of the three thousand who were baptized speaking in tongues as a demonstration or conformation of having received the Holy Spirit.

       When you look at what happened at Pentecost in A.D. 31, it is very apparent that the tongues spoken were extant human languages and this event occurred in order to demonstrate the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit which would now be available to all peoples.  What happened on Pentecost, A.D. 31 is not what we see being practiced today.  Therefore, the events recorded in Acts two, should not be used as a template for what we see in the tongues speaking community of the past hundred years or so. 

       So what are we to make of present day tongues speaking?  If it is not what we see in NT times, what is it?  Multiple thousands of modern day Christians practice this phenomenon.  While it is a virtual part of the doctrinal system of the Pentecostal church (AKA the Assemblies of God), it is found to occur in many Protestant denominations and also in the Catholic Church, Mormon Church and other Christian groups.  Of interest is the observation that speaking in tongues is also found in non-Christian groups such as Islam and Buddhism. Tongues speaking as practiced today (also referred to as ecstatic speech), has been seen historically to have occurred in various ancient Egyptian and Greek religious systems as well.        

 Tongues research:

       A lot of independent research has been done relative to the modern day tongues phenomenon.  It’s been found that those who speak in tongues do not appear to be speaking any known language.  Research has shown that most known languages utilize about thirty distinct sounds.  The least amount of sounds utilized in known language is thirteen.  Most tongue speakers utilize around six different sounds in their speaking in tongues. 

       Therefore, researchers have been unable to associate what is spoken by tongues speakers with any known language.  This doesn’t prove that those who speak in tongues aren’t speaking a real language.  It only shows that no such language has been identified as being spoken by any extant human culture.

       It’s been demonstrated that those who speak in tongues will use sounds that are common to their native language.  A person who speaks English will use sounds that are germane to the pronunciation of English. A person who speaks German will produce sounds that are common to the German language.  A Spanish speaking person will produce sounds common to the Spanish language.  In other words, the sounds put forth by tongues speakers cannot be associated with the sounds of a language that is foreign to them.

       It has also been demonstrated that tongues speakers do not reflect local dialects.  A southern US speaker in tongues will not speak in tongues with a southern accent.  Someone from New Jersey will not have an Eastern accent when speaking in tongues.

       Research has determined that tongues language represents a very simple expression of sounds as compared to known languages which by and large are much more complex.  Therefore, researches have concluded that speaking in tongues is not the speaking of a known human language.  What has further supported this conclusion is the research done as to interpretation of tongues.  As a youth growing up in the Pentecostal church which is known for tongues speaking, I often witnessed what appeared to be interpretations of tongues.  Someone would speak in tongues and either the same person or someone else, often the church pastor, would offer an interpretation in plain English of what was said.   

       Researchers have studied the interpretation of tongues and found it to be very problematic.  Researchers have made recordings of tongues and then played such recordings for those who claimed to have the gift of interpretation. What was found is that each interpreter gave a very different interpretation of the meaning of the tongues.  Other researchers have put into print what was spoken in tongues and when presented to would be interpreters, such interpreters gave different meanings to what was written.  

       When interpreters are asked about such inconsistency in their interpretations, they simply claim that God gives different interpretations to the same set of words being interpreted.  Some tongues speakers claim tongues is an angelic or divine language not subject to the rules of earthly language and therefore God can make such language to mean anything he wants to make it mean to any given interpreter.  Therefore, it is claimed that the same set of tongues sounds can be interpreted in different ways. 

       Some feel that the Spirit of God gives interpretation to a specific tongues speaking at the time such tongues are spoken and such interpretation is not available when such tongues are later presented to interpreters.  If this is true, it could explain why there are differences in the interpretation of tongues presented to interpreters at a time separate from the time the tongues were originally given. However, if this is truly the case, it raises serious questions as to the integrity of such after the fact interpreters.

       Some researchers have attended Pentecostal Church services and spoken in an obscure foreign language that would not have been spoken or understood by anyone in the church congregation they were attending.  The researchers, of course, knew the language and knew exactly what they were saying in that language.  When someone got up and presented an interpretation of what was said, it did not at all reflect the meaning of what the researcher knew he had said. 

       Yet despite all the research that has been done that raises questions about their being a supernatural connection to modern day speaking in tongues, multiple thousands of Christians and some in non-Christian religions as well, have spoken in tongues and continue to do so.  Christian tongue speakers are convinced that tongues are a gift of God facilitated by the Holy Spirit and tongues are seen as a virtual divine language where God communicates His will and facilitates worship through the tongues phenomenon.  Those who speak in tongues believe that what they do is grounded in the tongues speaking events recorded in the New Testament Scripture.