googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Acts 2:4, Speaking in Tongues

Friday, November 7, 2008

Acts 2:4, Speaking in Tongues

The event at Pentecost has been much discussed and much argued. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon believers marked the beginning of the New Testament Church and was the fulfillment of Christ’s promise that He would not leave us alone but would send the παράκλητος, the “called beside” One Who would be our Advocate, Helper, and Comforter. (John 14:16-18). The most notable sign associated with the event is the disciples speaking in tongues.

καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ ἤρξαντο λαλεῖν ἑτέραις γλώσσαις καθὼς τὸ πνεῦμα ἐδίδου ἀποφθέγγεσθαι αὐτοῖς.

and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, according as the Spirit was giving them to declare. (Acts 2:4, Young’s Literal)

The word “tongues” is this verse is the Greek word γλῶσσα, which can mean the organ in the mouth or a language. γλῶσσα is modified by the adjective ἕτερος which is commonly understood to mean, “another of a different kind.” It was not simply “another” language – as in ἄλλος.

The verb ἐδίδου is in the imperfect tense. The imperfect, of course, suggests a continuous act. It further suggests that they spoke only as long it was being given to them. Thus, they kept on speaking while the Holy Spirit was continuously giving to them.

But what did the language sound like?

καὶ πῶς ἡμεῖς ἀκούομεν ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ ἡμῶν ἐν ἐγεννήθημεν;

and how do we hear, each in our proper dialect, in which we were born? (Acts 2:8)

Some translations, such as the KJV, have the word “tongues” here again. We can see though that it is the word, διάλεκτος from which we derive the English word, “dialect.” The men hearing the disciples were “from every nation of those which were under heaven” (ἀπὸ παντὸς ἔθνους τῶν ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν), yet they heard the disciples not only in their own language (γλῶσσα) but even their own dialect (διάλεκτος). To the men who heard them, the disciples (who were all Galileans) were heard in the language of the hearer. And they not only knew the language, the disciples sounded like natives of all these other countries!

Obviously this was a miraculous language. But I suggest that the tongues spoken at Pentecost were heard as an ordinary language and did not sound like the "babbling" we sometimes hear modern speakers of tongues speaking today.

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