I am trying to resolve an issue regarding Acts 2:6. Someone with whom I am engaging is claiming that the devout Jews from every nation miraculously understood what was being said to them, as if the disciples were NOT actually speaking the dialects of their languages; rather, the devout Jews simply heard the otherwise unintelligible speech of the disciples and somehow nonetheless understood it, instead of it being the other way around, that is, that the disciples actually were supernaturally speaking the dialects of those devout Jews who heard them, and that is why the devout Jews could understand what was being said.

The matter seems, for the fellow I am engaging, to come down to the word "them", or αὐτῶν. His claim is that the "them" refers to the disciples.

I am looking at it in Greek, and I see that αὐτῶν is listed as follows on Biblehub:

Personal/Possessive Pronoun - Genitive Masculine 3rd Person Plural

My question then, is, since the case is genitive, does "them" or αὐτῶν really refer to the disciples, or, should it be read/interpreted/translated "of them" to signify possession as it pertains to the dialects, that the devout Jews, simply put, heard their own dialects/languages being spoken?

I would think that if "them" or αὐτῶν refers to the disciples, it would be in the dative case, treating the disciples as the indirect object (the subject = devout jews, verb = heard, direct object = dialects/languages, indirect object = them/αὐτῶν/disciples). Why or why not?

3 Answers 3


The Greek text of Acts 2:6 states,1

Ϛʹ γενομένης δὲ τῆς φωνῆς ταύτης συνῆλθεν τὸ πλῆθος καὶ συνεχύθη ὅτι ἤκουον εἷς ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ λαλούντων αὐτῶν TR, 1550

The same construction, λαλούντων αὐτῶν, occurs merely five verses later in Acts 2:11 where it may be translated,

11 Cretes and Arabs, we hear them speaking the wonderful works of God in our languages.

ΙΑʹ Κρῆτες καὶ Ἄραβες ἀκούομεν λαλούντων αὐτῶν ταῖς ἡμετέραις γλώσσαις τὰ μεγαλεῖα τοῦ θεοῦ TR, 1550

The double genitive object construction following the verb ἀκούω is not uncommon. Alexander Buttman wrote,2

Buttman, p. 301, §144, 6, c), α)

Thus, in Acts 2:6, the Greek phrase «ἤκουον εἷς ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ λαλούντων αὐτῶν» would be translated,

...each one heard them speaking in his own dialect.

Most importantly, αὐτῶν is not modifying τῇ...διαλέκτῳ (“dialect”) since ἰδίᾳ (“his own”) already does so.


Buttmann, Alexander. A Grammar of the New Testament Greek. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Andover: Draper, 1873.


1 No significant textual variants noted between TR, 1550 and NA28.
2 p. 301, §144, 6, c), α)


Well, that is an interesting question. The word "them" does refer to the apostles who were speaking. But, was the miracle that the spirit poured forth only causing the apostles to speak in different languages? Or, was it only causing the people to hear in their own language what the apostles said?

Further evidence is available in the succeeding verses of Acts 2:7-11,

"and they were all amazed, and did wonder, saying one unto another, `Lo, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

8 and how do we hear, each in our proper dialect, in which we were born?

9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and those dwelling in Mesopotamia, in Judea also, and Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia,

10 Phrygia also, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya, that [are] along Cyrene, and the strangers of Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

11 Cretes and Arabians, we did hear them speaking in our tongues the great things of God.' (YLT)

The context of all of the verses makes it clear that the devout Jews standing next to, or near each other recognized that those around them who were of different nations understood what the apostles were saying even though their companions were of different languages and dialects.

It seems evident that they were hearing their own dialects / languages no matter what language the apostles spoke. Peter was standing with the eleven (vs. 14) and the text lists at least 14 countries / areas in the audience. The twelve had to cover all of the languages present.

The RSV has vs 6-11,

" 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Par′thians and Medes and E′lamites and residents of Mesopota′mia, Judea and Cappado′cia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phryg′ia and Pamphyl′ia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyre′ne, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

Imagine if the miracle was only that the Apostles spoke in different dialects. If that were the case, then those of the audience would be able to hear all of the apostles as each spoke in different languages. It would be a cross talk situation, with each listener trying to filter out only his own language / dialect.

It is probably best to allow the full miraculous power of the Holy Spirit to do both: a) to allow the apostles to speak in foreign languages, and b) to allow the listeners to hear in their own language / dialect.

The end result of this miracle is the direct witness that would be spread throughout all of those lands by the people who returned home to tell of what they saw and heard on that special Pentecost. It aided the spread of the gospel throughout the lands, and established that the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and had authority from God to be His messengers for the gospel of Christ.


This is a good question. First, you are seeking the antecedent of a pronoun. The rules for doing that in Greek are similar to English, with some differences. In this situation, the pronoun in question is part of a uniquely Greek construction, a "genitive absolute." This particular genitive absolute itself identifies the antecedent of the pronoun as the apostles. The context of verse 4 strongly implies the apostles were speaking the dialects of the gathered Jews, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:6 can be broken into 4 segments thus:

  1. γενομένης δὲ τῆς φωνῆς ταύτης
    [When] this voice happened, [genitive absolute]

  2. συνῆλθε τὸ πλῆθος καὶ συνεχύθη,
    the crowd came and gathered,

  3. ὅτι ἤκουον εἷς ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ
    because each one [of the crowd] was hearing in his own dialect,

  4. λαλούντων αὐτῶν·
    [while] they were speaking. [genitive absolute]

The final segment #4 contains your pronoun of interest. Because of the nature of a genitive absolute, "they" can refer only to those who "were speaking."

Enough of the grammar, now on to the context. Who was speaking? Acts 1:26, 2:1, 2:2, 2:3, 2:4, and 2:14 agree those speaking were the Eleven apostles. (Also logically, the crowd of devout Jews weren't speaking to themselves; the apostles were speaking to the devout Jews.)

To address your comments:

  1. You are correct that αὐτῶν is genitive. That's because it's part of
    the genitive absolute construction.

  2. The disciples are not an indirect object here, because no indirect object exists. The disciples are represented by the pronoun αὐτῶν, which is actually the subject of the verb λαλούντων, "were speaking" (the subject of a genitive absolute is properly in the genitive case).

  3. The bottom-line question is, "Were the apostles speaking gibberish that the crowd supernaturally understood in their own dialects, or were the apostles supernaturally speaking the dialects of those in the crowd?" Nothing in the grammar of this verse decides one over the other: it simply (my translation), "Each one of the crowd heard in his own dialect, while the apostles were speaking."

  4. However, Acts 2:4 says, "All of them [the Eleven apostles] were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." Although I'll avoid going to the controversy over what "tongues" means, 2:6 says (my translation), "[When] this voice happened, the crowd came and gathered, because each one of the crowd was hearing his own dialect, [while] the apostles were speaking." The combination of verses 4 and 6 strongly imply the apostles were speaking the dialects of the devout Jews, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

References: Machen, J. Gresham. "New Testament Greek for Beginners." Toronto: Macmillan, 1923.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.