On the Other Hand

The Spirit at Pentecost

When the holy spirit came upon the assembled disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, they were able to witness brilliantly to the truth to "devout men out of every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5) who spoke languages other than the Aramaic of Jerusalem. Most people think this "speaking in tongues" means these disciples spoke languages they did not know. Certainly there are instances in the New Testament when that kind of miracle happened and Paul cautions when it does happen, there be someone to interpret what is said (1 Corinthians 14:27). However, the internal evidence of Acts 2 strongly implies that on that day the miracle was one of hearing. The people themselves described it that way in three places:

 Vs. 6: They were confounded because every man heard them speak in his own language.

 Vs. 8: How hear we every man in our own tongue?

 Vs. 11: We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.

 In Acts 2:14 Peter stands up and speaks. In verse 41 at the end of his remarks we read that "those who accepted his message were baptized and about three thousand were added to their number that day." What language did Peter speak? If it is some language he did not know, a large fraction of his audience would not understand his words. Yet these "devout men" do understand and they are baptized.

 And what a miracle this would be to those people. If any of us were in a European crowd where all languages were being spoken, none of us would be surprised if someone on a street corner began to speak in English. Presumably he learned the language in school. But if this same person spoke what was clearly not English, yet we understood his words as though we were wearing earphones delivering a translation in our own language, that surely would make us excited, so much that others would be attracted and join with enthusiasm.

 But if hearing was the miracle, how are we to understand the words of verse 4 where those filled with the holy spirit "began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them"? It was a fulfillment of Jesus' words said to his disciples in Luke 12:11,12: "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers, and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say" (NIV).

 The holy spirit inspired the disciples to go forth and speak different truths based on recent events as prophesied in the Bible. As those in the crowd circulated from one disciple to another, they heard in their own language what the NIV calls "the wonders of God." We sometimes say a person is "silver-tongued" meaning he "has or exhibits the power of fluent and persuasive speech; eloquent." On that Pentecostal day these disciples were "silver-tongued."

 But whether the miracle was one of speaking or one of hearing, we rejoice that God speaks to all who seek him regardless of their native language. He speaks through his word, the Bible, which has been translated into all the major languages of this planet, and most of the minor ones as well. And no matter which language we use to pray to him, "he hears" them all.

Michael Nekora