Acts 2.1-4

Fifty days after Passover was the festival of weeks (Deuteronomy 16.9Numbers 28.26). Part of what is being remembered is the time the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, when the law was given to God’s people. For this festival, ten days after Jesus ascended (cf. 1.3), the company of apostles and others were all together in one place. Then a sound like a mighty rushing wind…filled the entire house. In both Hebrew and Greek (the two major Biblical languages) the word used to speak of the Holy Spirit is also used to speak of wind (Hb. רוח, Gk. πνεῦμα). Words can have multiple meanings, cant they.

We then read something that is often debated in Christian circles:

“…tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them”.

(Acts 2.3-4, NET)

Some may point to Acts 2.4 as a prooftext for believers being given the miraculous ability to speak in ‘tongues’, maybe even as a prooftext to see how spiritual you are. Honestly, I think many misunderstand what ‘tongues’ actually are. 

Verse 4 says that the believers present were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.

Maybe your Bible translates v.4 as the believers were speaking in “other tongues”. The word we read as languages (γλῶσσα) can be read as ‘tongue’ literally and physically, but it can also describe speech and language. Words and their multiple meanings…

Context dictates that the first time we see this word in the passage,

“…tongues (γλῶσσα) spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them.” 

we picture some tongue-shaped manifestation of the Spirit. ‘Languages like fire’ doesn’t make much sense there, does it? 

Then, the second time we see this word used, context dictates we think of speech and language:

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages (γλῶσσα) as the Spirit enabled them”.

What is the point here, then? The point is not that believers are filled with the Spirit and given the ability to babble incoherently, as you may have seen before.

Just look at the following few verses:

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem. When this sound occurred, a crowd gathered and was in confusion, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Completely baffled, they said,

“Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that each one of us hears them in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and the province of Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great deeds God has done!

(Acts 2.5-11, emphasis added)

These miraculous abilities to speak in others languages weren’t for the benefit of those who received the gift, they were for the benefit of others (Acts 2.9-11). 

Acts 2.4 isn’t a prooftext to see if we are super-spiritual because we speak in tongues, it’s not something to check off a list to make sure we are a ‘real believer’, it’s not prescriptive. It is, however, descriptive. We are reading about what happened. It’s descriptive and a great verse because it shows us that the miraculous gifts of God are given to us for the benefit of others, to allow them to hear of His wondrous works (Acts 2.11), and to experience His great love for them (1 Corinthians 13-14.1-25).

Published by James Travis

Pastor of Saar Fellowship in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Married to Robyn and Dad to our two boys.

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