Acts 2:3 KJV

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

The word DIAMERIZO is interpreted as "cloven" or split in the KJV. I had always "assumed" that the "split tongue" was in two parts. But is there anything in the text that prevents the understanding that the tongue was split into more than two parts?


The word used in Acts 2:3 is διαμεριζομεναι which is exactly the same as that used in Mark 15:24 and in Luke 23:34 for the activity of the soldiers parting or dividing the garments of Jesus among themselves.

It seems highly unlikely that there were only two soldiers involved in the execution by crucifixion of three persons. Thus, in that case, 'parted' or 'divided' would, almost certainly, indicate more than two parts being separated.

So I would suggest that the word itself, alone, does not convey how many parts the tongues were parted or cloven into.

The word appears to only convey that a parting occurred.

The literal wording of :

διαμεριζομεναι γλωσσαι ωσει πυρος εκαθισεν τε εφ ενα εκαστον αυτων

[Received Text - Stephens, Beza, Elzevir and Scrivener are all identical]

is as follows :

divided tongues as of fire and sat upon one each of them [EGNT]

divided tongues as it were of fire it sat also upon each one of them [Young]

(The KJV conveys 'cloven tongues' and 'it' sat upon each of them.)

The three translations above seem to me to indicate that something mysterious is being conveyed and there is doubt among the translators as to what is happening.


My own thought is that there is one source of fire, divided. And it is the divisions of fire that are being described as 'tongues'. And the same fire sits upon each of them, since a tongue of fire reaches each individual.

Thus what appears, in a supernatural manifestation, conveys two things - the unity of being invigorated by a single source and the individuality of each one being granted a fiery tongue with which to express themselves.

But I would not wish to argue that interpretation in the context of a mysterious occurrence which valid sources have found difficult to translate. I only offer the suggestion.

  • I have wondered about this in the past. I agree with you you on this. In addition, here's what Pulpit Commentary has to say on this: "Tongues parting asunder. The idea of the cloven tongue, i.e a tongue parted into two, which is thought to have been the origin of the miter, is not suggested either by the Greek or by the circumstances, and is clearly a mistaken one διαμεριζόμεναι means distributing themselves or being distributed. From the central apparition, or rather place of sound, they saw issuing forth many several tongues, looking like small flames of fire, and one such tongue sat upon e
    – user42723
    Sep 13 '18 at 1:01
  • @user42723 Thank you. Can you supply the link for that, please ?
    – Nigel J
    Sep 13 '18 at 1:03
  • Here is the link: biblehub.com/commentaries/pulpit/acts/2.htm
    – user42723
    Sep 13 '18 at 1:11
  • Thanks Nigel & 42723 I appreciate the input. However, I am leaning toward the split-in-two understanding. Reason: James chapter 3 where James says that out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursings. You might then ask, why the negative connotation to a wonderful manifestation of the Holy Spirit. As I prepare for a sermon, I'm studying the bigger picture of the relationship between the event at Babel and the Day of Pentecost. Diversity is the main idea, where God used tongues to divide at Babel and to unify at Pentecost. Partiality plays a role in both as well as the context of James 3.
    – alb
    Sep 13 '18 at 19:26
  • @ Nigel; I just reread your personal thoughts again; I think you and I are on the same page as I too believe that two things are being communicated. I think that it's more than significant that Pentecost in the OT is the time when the law was given and in the NT when the Spirit was given. Supernatural symbol of what is a daily truth; ie, in our daily lives which covenant are you going to yield yourself to? The OT with it's law oriented judgments and condemnation (cursings) or the NT covenant of grace (blessings). Spot on!!!!
    – alb
    Sep 13 '18 at 21:20

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