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I have a few questions about tongues during the Pentecost event in acts. Here is the main verse :

And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speaking in his own language. (Greek, Biblehub) [ESV]

Continuing Context :

And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” [ESV]

I have always been told that the speaker speaking is speaking in other languages, but whenever I read it as translated here in ESV, and given the continuing context of those speaking all being Galileans, it sounds like any particular person that was speaking was heard to be speaking in Aramaic by one and Egyptian by another.

So for example if Peter got up and said "X", one person would have heard Peter say "X" in Aramaic and another would have heard Peter say "X" in Hebrew. Given some experienced it and some didn't it seems a lot like John 12:29 where some heard an angel speak while others simply heard thunder. What does the grammar support? Also, when the mockers say "they" are filled with new wine, are they referring to the speakers, or the hearers?

Thank you.

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    I have edited only to show you how quotations are usually handled on site and also to break up the text into paragraphs for easier assimilation. Welcome to BH. Good question : up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 1, 2020 at 18:46
  • 1
    Excellent question that is quite confusing. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 1, 2020 at 21:13
  • Did you mean So for example if Peter got up and said "X", one person would have heard Paul say "X" in Aramaic and another would have heard Paul say "X" in Hebrew. to read So for example if Peter got up and said "X", one person would have heard Peter say "X" in Aramaic and another would have heard Peter say "X" in Hebrew.? Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 2:49
  • @RenéNyffenegger Did you mean to say Paul or Peter?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 15:50
  • Almost the same question as hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/28597/…. Both the speaking & the hearing were miraculous.
    – Gina
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 16:03

4 Answers 4

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The important and critical verse is Acts 2:6 in this passage of v1 - 13.

Acts 2:6 - And when this sound happened, the assembled multitude was bewildered because they were hearing them speaking, each one, in his own dialect. (My translation)

But first some background.

Three times in this passage, Luke uses a variant of the same verb, πληρόω (pléroó) in several cognate forms:

  1. V1, "fulfilled" συμπληροῦσθαι (symplērousthai)
  2. V2, ""it filled" ἐπλήρωσεν (eplērōsen)
  3. V4, "were filled" ἐπλήσθησαν (eplēsthēsan)

Three times the Holy Spirit is recorded as performing a remarkable, supernatural miracle on the assembled group of people:

  1. V3, Tongues of fire "appeared"
  2. V4, They began to "speak" in other languages
  3. V6, They were "hearing" - each in his own dialect (and V8)

Note the important word (unique to Luke) in V6 & V8 "dialect" διαλέκτῳ (dialektō) as distinct from the word for "language" γλῶσσα (glóssa) in V4. "Dialect" here is not just the language group but the particular form of the language unique to each area. As Meyer's commentary observes:

διαλέκτῳ is here also not national language, but dialect (see on Acts 1:19), language in its provincial peculiarity.

Thus, while V9-11 lists 16 language groups, there were probably hundreds of provincial dialects - more than the number of disciples preaching at Pentecost.

Now, the important question is this: Is the "gift of tongues" as recorded in Acts 2:1-13 a miracle of the speaker, or the miracle of the hearer, or both? Based on the above evidence, I would suggest it is BOTH. I am sure (based in 1 Cor 14, etc) that the disciples miraculously spoke other languages, see V4, V11. Equally, the hearers then heard the message proclaimed in their own provincial language dialect, V6, V8.

So Luke is quite precise in his terminology here: The speakers spoke other languages while the hearers heard their own dialects. That is, a miracle of both the speakers and the hearers.

There is a similar miracle, performed by the Holy Spirit, recorded in Rom 8:26 where He (the Holy Spirit) translates the language that a Christian petitioner asks of God:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;

Thus, the miracle of Pentecost is not unique; nor is it beyond the power of omnipotence.

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  • You suggest that divine intercession is the equivalent of translation, of a believer's original or ignorant prayer? And God's interaction within the Triune God is....'miraculous'? (Would that make God Himself 'a miracle'?) Do you feel that many or most of the 120 were Galileans? Or that only the 12 must've preached publicly? Thank you
    – Walter S
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 4:03
  • By definition, anything that God does is miraculous because it is outside our understanding - God is sovereign! The comment in Acts 2:7 suggests that those speaking were all Galileans. Whether this was only the 12 or all 120 we are not told. However, when Peter spoke they all understood, possibly by the same mechanism(??).
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 4:29
  • Is it possible that the mention that they were hearing in their own dialect was included to show how amazed and how amazing this event was? I'd be shocked enough to hear someone who I know isn't an English speaker suddenly start speaking English, but even more shocked if they matched my exact dialect. Is it possible that that's why the hearing was mentioned, rather than to imply that the hearing part was a miracle? Just wondering. I know Paul says tongues are a sign for unbelievers, and that seems to fit the scene at Pentecost.
    – bob
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 16:20
  • Is there anything in the grammar of verse 8 ("And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?") that would let us know if they were simultaneously hearing different languages rather than successively? Is there anything in the grammar that could let us know if those that appear drunk are the hearers or the speakers? I'm wondering if the speakers are babbling, because the mockers should recognize another language. If they are speaking in some "meta" language which only works on hearers it might sound drunk outside of that ability.
    – acc abb
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 16:47
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    I am not sure we can stretch Luke language that far. All we can say is disciples spoke "languages" and the hearers heard "dialects".
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 21:53
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I'd like to suggest that there is a cultural aspect to the Acts 2 Pentecost event that we often overlook that has to do with speaking and hearing. This answer cannot be deduced from the text alone. You would have to understand the culture into which the event happened and what the greater message is.

The message, in part, is that through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the word of God is expanding around the world and ALL people can understand when God speaks. You don't have to read the Bible in either Hebrew or Greek to "hear" the word of God.

God is able to communicate across language boundaries that human beings cannot.

There is some cultural background to this event:

Pentecost is the Greek word for "50 Days" and is the Greek name of the Biblical holiday called the Feast of Weeks. In Hebrew, it is called Shavuot. Leviticus 23:15-16 says

15 “‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. 16 Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.

The Jewish tradition (and I mean tradition because it does not specifically say it in the Bible) is that on the holiday of Shavuot / Pentecost you celebrate God delivering his Torah at Mount Sinai. Tradition says that on Shavuot/Pentecost God re-gives his Torah to the people.

Coincidentally (?), on this very holiday in approximately 30 AD, God delivered a "new Torah" - through the giving of the Holy Spirit to his people.

Continuing on with this Jewish tradition is that when God spoke at Mt. Sinai his voice could be heard in each of the "seventy languages" that represent the "seventy nations" of the world based on Genesis 10. From Shemot Rabbah 5:9

"And all the people saw the sounds (literally, voices)" - it is not written, "sound," here, but rather, "sounds." Rabbi Yochanan said, "The voice would go out and divide into seventy voices for the seventy languages, so that all the nations would hear. And each and every nation would hear in the language of the nation

The debate scholars have is whether this Rabbinic thinking or interpretation was accepted in Jesus' day. Some traditions can be seen as being quite early and are clearly echoed in either the Gospels, Paul, Peter, etc. Other traditions are clearly later. The debate continues but it seems here that the Pentecost event of Acts 2 reflects the Rabbinic tradition of God coming down on Mount Sinai on the holiday of Shavuot in "fire" and his words being heard by all nations.

I agree with the answer above that the "miracle" is happening on both sides: speakers and hearers.

To your question about being "filled with wine" is an accusation directed at the speakers. Peter and the other eleven disciples stand up to defend the speakers in verse 15:

These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!

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  • What an incredible insight into the text! I have also heard it described that divided tongues of fire is that there was a single flame that itself divided and landed on each persons head. That really fits the Sinai example given, and there seems to be something of John 12:29 with the way the Israelite's responded to the Decalogue in Exodus 20:18 when they described it as thunderings. Would it be right to consider that the mockers would be able to distinguish a foreign language from slurred speech? and that perhaps if one was not a hearer, they would merely hear Babel from the speakers?
    – acc abb
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 15:25
  • There is a natural effect of voices in a noisy crowd. If everyone is speaking English, it is difficult to understand what any one person is saying. It is easier if one is very familiar with the voice of that person (say a spouse). But if only one person is speaking English while everyone else is speaking various other languages one doesn't know, it is relatively easy to understand that one person. (The foreign language cocktail party problem). ¶ So in the two situations in this answer, the same effect could be the hearing of a single voice within a a cacophony of noise. Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 14:40
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The Miracle was that everyone understood each other. It didn't change the language of the speakers, it changed how everyone heard each other. Maybe at some time someone could invent a universal translator like the ones everyone in Star Trek uses to understand languages but at the time of Christ walking the Earth it was definately a miricle. This is not related to the "gift of tongues" as recorded in Acts 2:1-13. Speaking in tongues is a communication to God that the speaker and commonly everyone around does not understand.

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    Could you provide some more support for your statement? It feels like this needs some Bible references to back it up. In its current form this feels more like opinion.
    – bob
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 16:18
  • speaking in tongues in the model Christian meeting in 1 Cor 14 sounds like a waste of time if no one understands it. I'd guess also that any speaking in tongues which is made-up babbling isn't speaking in tongues
    – Walter S
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 19:28
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In Acts 2: 6 - Was the miracle in the speaking or the hearing at Pentecost?

On The Day of the Pentecost:

The 'spirit holy and fire' baptism took place on the Day of the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven with a ‘mighty tornado-like sound’ filling the entire place where about 120 people were sitting. Luke records - ‘tongues resembling fire’ being distributed and ‘sat down’ upon every single person and all were filled,' to the full extent with ‘spirit holy.

It depicts an “instantaneous full saturation or immersion in or coming under the ‘holy-spirit-power,” not the “evil spirit,” though. This was what Jesus said, ‘You heard from me’ and the ‘promise of My Father,’ the ‘baptism in the Spirit,’ or ‘clothed with power from on high’ to be ‘witness of Me’ (Luke 24:48-49; Acts 1:5, 8).

They Began to Speak in other 'Tongues' as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4).

When the ‘120’ came out of the upper room and began speaking in ‘other tongues’ as the Holy Spirit was giving them ‘utterance to the crowd gathered.

Those thronged includes residents of Jerusalem and devout diasporas from various regions, were utterly amazed. Their mocking conclusion was that the ‘tongue speakers’ were 'full of new wine' – essentially drunk.

In their eyes, the behaviors and speech of the 120 people mirrored that of intoxicated individuals.

Peter explained to the mocking crowds - “For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour (9 a.m.) of the day.” Then he told them it is the ‘effects of the promised Holy Spirit being poured out,’ the ‘Spirit Baptism.’

Tongues or Dialects

A Closer Look at Acts 2: 4 - In this verse, the phrase ‘and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them to speak forth’ emerges as a focal point. The phenomena of ‘speaking in other tongues’ was the consequence of the being submersed in ‘spirit holy and fire.’ It was an impromptu, instant outburst of ‘utterance of unknown’ languages when they were immersed in the ‘spiritual power.’

They were all 'beside themselves' and 'spoke new tongues,' not in their native tongue for sure. It connects to Jesus' words in Mark 16:17 – 'And these signs will accompany those who believe in my name, they will cast out demons; they will speak in 'new tongues' (γλῶσσα λαλήσουσιν καιναῖς).

In Acts 2:4-13, Luke's narrative presents a nuanced depiction. Luke, a competent historian with a keen command of Greek, renowned for his accuracy of detail and the vivid evocation of atmosphere, reveals his effort to record the 'factual occurrences' excluding his own interpretation.

In verse 4, it's stated that 'they were all filled and began to speak in other tongues (γλώσσαις).' The subsequent verses—6, 8, and 11—further describe the phenomenon.

Then, Luke used phrases, such as 'we hearing them speak,' 'we hear in our native language' (διαλέκτῳ), and 'hear them telling ... tongues (γλώσσαις),' indicate that Luke's statement is based on the account from the hearer's perspective, not from the 'tongue-speakers.'

Based on Luke's records, the occurrence of 'speaking in tongues' at Pentecost is not solely centered on 'known languages' but rather on a form of 'new kind languages,' as this contextual analysis suggests.

a. The 120 disciples, filled with ‘spirit holy and fire’ and ‘speaking in tongues’ came out of the upper room and poured into the mixed crowds from various regions. They were gathered attracted by the great unusual roaring sound of wind.

The crowds were mixed, obviously not organized in separate language groups, and they were all confused and perplexed by what they witnessed. And the 120 were not obviously calling each language group to come together so that they could speak, rather, they were speaking in ‘new tongues in the mist of the crowd, and the hearers hear in their own ‘dialect’ or ‘tongues.’

Luke, a competent historian, was not there at the scene, but he investigated and recounted what he was told by some first-hand witnesses.

b. And there is the mocking comment – 'They are full of new wine,' meaning they have been drinking to the point of 'full.' This particular phraseology implies two things: first, the ecstatic mumbling speech and intoxicated appearance and behaviors. And then, perhaps under the influence of “new spirit.”

c. Incidents at Cornelius house and the church of Ephesus:

These instances provide clear examples of 'new tongues.' Remarkably, Peter and Paul, enabled by their ability to interpret these 'tongues,' distinctly comprehended individuals praising God using “new tongues.” Peter's recollection drew upon the Pentecost event and Joel's prophecy.

Notably, Luke's account records that the individuals in these incidents 'began speaking in tongues and prophesying.' Luke's deliberate choice of the phrases 'speaking in tongues and prophesying' in his narrative, coupled with Peter's recollection, not only underscores that 'tongues' were not 'known languages' but also establishes a significant connection between 'speaking in tongues' and 'prophesying.'

**c.**The ecstatic speaking in the Old Testament is also worth investigating.

It's worth delving into the phenomenon of ecstatic speaking in the Old Testament.

In 1 Samuel 19:20, Saul and his messengers encountered a group of prophets prophesying, and unexpectedly, they too began prophesying. Similarly, in Numbers 11:25-30, when the Lord bestowed His 'Spirit' upon the seventy elders, they found themselves prophesying.

The Hebrew term נָבָא (naba) -to prophesy - encompasses speech in religious ecstasy, whether accompanied by song or not, as well as the delivery of prophetic messages from God. However, upon a comprehensive examination of these situations, it becomes evident that these groups were engaged in impromptu sudden outburst utterance of incoherent expressions under divine influence, enveloped in a state of ecstasy.

However, upon a thorough examination of these situations, it becomes evident that these groups were engaged in more than mere coherent prophetic speeches. Their utterances took the form of incoherent expressions under divine influence, enveloped in a spiritual state of ecstasy. The contextual and semantic implications suggest that these occurrences can be seen as an Old Testament precursor to what we now identify as 'speaking in new tongues.'

Conclusion:

This study delves deeply into the 'speaking and hearing' aspects of the remarkable Pentecost event described in Acts 2:6. Through a close examination of the biblical narrative, subtle linguistic nuances, and historical backdrop, it unveils insights about the languages spoken and the responses of both disciples and the crowd. This work highlights the event's significance in showcasing the Holy Spirit's power and challenges the notion that the tongues spoken were solely familiar languages. By thoroughly exploring this biblical occurrence, a more profound grasp of its intricate nature emerges, inviting further contemplation about the interplay between speech and hearing in divine communication. Therefore, the miracle was in the 'hearing,' and 'speaking in tongues' was a 'miracle to the 'spirit-filled 120'.

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