Troublesome Topic: Precepts about Tongues from Acts 2:4-8

Acts 2:4


Then all of them were completely filled up by the Holy Spirit and began to utter sounds

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in other tongues

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as the Spirit was giving dignified speech

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to them.


Then all of the followers of Jesus that were present were filled with a complete supply of the Holy Spirit of God and they began to utter God-given sounds that were mysterious, and yet the Holy Spirit also made those sounds clear, meaningful, and special.


Notice that, according to Acts 2:4, their speaking came forth both as unintelligible sound and dignified speech at the same time. It was unintelligible to the Jews, but it made sense to some people and for them it carried an important message. Thus, it was dignified speech to those that understood it.

In this event God was bridging the gap created between the nations at the tower of Babel due to man’s arrogance and disobedience.

Acts 2:5


Now there were JEWS housing

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in JERUSALEM, men who receive or take well,

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from every nation of those under heaven.


At that time there were many additional people characterized by PRAISE AND CELEBRATION who were being housed in THE PLACE OF PEACEFUL FOUNDATIONS; these were cautious and pious men who had come from every nation known under heaven.


The events of Acts chapter 2 probably took place in the court of Gentiles because it was the largest area and could accommodate large crowds much better than the court of women or the court of the priests, where the sacrifices took place. Most of those who had come from a long distance were men, but some of the locals present would have been women. Everyone in the crowd was either a Jew by birth, a half-Jew, or a convert to Judaism. Those who had travelled long distances to be there were probably somewhat wealthy, at least wealthy enough to leave the work back home in the hands of others, be gone for several weeks, and have enough money to pay their expenses and those of the servants traveling with them for that period of time.

These people most likely understood koine Greek quite well and possibly Aramaic also, but if they had any servants with them, those are the people that could have been left out because very few of them would understand Aramaic and not all of them could grasp koine Greek. These servants could have included bodyguards, camel drivers, cooks, personal servants, etc. Why were the servants present at the temple? If they too had converted to Judaism, they would have wanted to be a part of this once-a-year event. If these servants were the first audience God had in mind when He spoke through the disciples in various languages, it shows that God cares about the little people, the insignificant people. The wealthy and semi-wealthy travelers would have been impressed by the tongues they heard, and they were probably the ones making the comments recorded in Acts 2. So the wealthy travelers were the second target group that God had in mind.

The third target group was local Jews. I will talk about them a bit later.

Acts 2:6


Now when this sound happened,

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a large crowd came together and was confused, for each one was hearing them speak in his own dialect.

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Now when the sound [of the followers of Jesus speaking loudly] was heard by many in the temple complex, a large crowd gathered around them, but those in the crowd soon became confused about what was going on because each visitor heard these Jews speaking the dialect that was specific to his own region.


First of all, those from other lands whose first language (mother tongue) was not the same as that spoken in Judea or Galilee would naturally be clumped together in small clusters with others who spoke their language or dialect. There may have been more than one such cluster for each language or dialect; my point here is that they were not mixed evenly throughout the crowd but were together in small clusters. When the power of the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus, each one began to find people to tell about Jesus. They quickly realized that they were not speaking in the normal language of Galilee, so they started moving away from each other, looking for people who could understand what they were saying. The people from other places would detect their language or dialect through the noise

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and begin motioning to the person who was speaking it to come to them, for it was easier for one person to move through that crowd than for a group of people to move. Other clumps of people who had the same first language would join them making a larger cluster of people who wanted to hear what this person was saying. They were drawn by the miracle because they realized this man from Galilee should not be able to speak in their language or dialect.

Thus, there were clusters of people all over the temple courts who heard a message similar to the one Peter preached. His message was the only one written down because it was not necessary to record several similar messages. His message was unique in that it addressed the accusation of drunkenness by the Jews present, and it demonstrated the dramatic change which had come over Peter.

Acts 2:7


And they were thrown out of position

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and were marveling at it, saying, “Behold, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?


They were so astonished they almost went out of their minds. They were expressing wonder at what they heard, saying, “This is amazing – what we are hearing should not be coming from this group of men who are obviously from Galilee.”

Acts 2:8


So how are we each hearing our own dialect in which we were born?”


So how is it possible that we are hearing them speak in the dialect that is unique to the area in which we were born?


“What’s happening?” “Is God doing this?” “What does this mean?” Earlier there was a question and a concern on the part of the apostles; now the question and perplexity was on the part the crowd.

For the Full Series on Tongues, the next lesson is Precepts about Tongues from Acts 2:9-15

For the Mid Length Series on Tongues, the next lesson is Precepts about Tongues from Acts 2:41

For the Shortest Series on Tongues, the next lesson is Precepts about Tongues from Acts 10:44-47


1: "sounds"

This is one of the Greek words meaning “to talk or speak” but its emphasis is different from the other major word that is used in John 1:1 and is related to speaking words with clear meaning. By contrast, this word was used in classical Greek of “idle prattle” and in the New Testament of “uttering sounds” many of which were unintelligible, including sounds made by animals and inanimate objects. The choice of this word is purposefully intended to communicate the utterance of sounds that were not clearly understood (I will explain this further in a moment).


This word means “tongues/languages.” See the comment after this verse for an introduction to the topic of tongues.


This word means “to speak forth or declare something clearly, to speak forth with dignified, elevated discourse.” It was the type of speaking one would expect from a prophet, a philosopher, or a sage. It stands in stark contrast to the word used earlier in this sentence which pointed to unintelligible sounds.

4: "housing"

This participle is usually translated “dwelling,” but I wanted to show that it comes from the word “house.” “To house” means “to dwell.”


This verb is a compound word, coming from “well, good,” and “to receive or take” (one verb is used for both “receive” and “take;” it is context that indicates which meaning is intended). The primary idea of “receive well” or “take well” is that of “being cautious,” and from that grows the concept of “being pious, God-fearing.”


This participle is from the verb meaning “to become, to occur, to happen.” In English we do not use any of these verbs when speaking about a sound, or a noise, but they did. Therefore, my translation is a bit awkward, but my paraphrase focuses on the sound being heard, which is the intended meaning. In my paraphrase I have also given my opinion about which sound I think it was. I believe the crowds heard both the sound of the wind, and the sound of the followers of Jesus speaking excitedly. The first sound made them wonder what was going on, but they did not gather in one place until they heard the speaking.


The word used here is the word from which we get our word “dialect,” although it can also mean “language.” The Meyer’s Commentary makes the case that they did not speak different languages, but different dialects of a few major languages. He gives the following examples: “the Asiatics, Phrygians, and Pamphylians, respectively spoke Greek, but in different idioms; the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, [spoke] Persian, but also in different provincial forms.” The Greek-speaking visitors in Jerusalem that day were not surprised that these Jews could speak Koine Greek, but that they could speak it with the regional peculiarities of their hometown.


A friend from Kenya told me of church services in his country where 6 interpreters who would all speak at the same time. The guest speaker would say a sentence usually in English, and then the 6 interpreters would simultaneously repeat it, each in a different tribal language represented by those present. I imagined that it would produce unintelligible chaos, but he said that people could pick out the language they understood best and filter out the others as noise.


This verb means “to displace.” It comes from a combination of the words “out” and “stand or standing,” hence, “out of place, out of position.” It was often used of being so amazed that one is thrown into a different state of mind, either “gone mad/crazy, or amazed and astonished.” Here it is obviously used of being astonished because something was going on that they could not understand or explain.