‘Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”’
– Acts 2:5-13, New International Version
When the disciples were filled with the Spirit, a crowd gathered and heard them speaking in tongues. It is important to observe who made up the audience on this occasion. As this passage indicates, it consisted of resident Jews with roots in many nations, visitors or sojourners, and both Jews and Gentile proselytes or converts.
Luke says, Now there were Jews living (katoikountes) in Jerusalem. Some scholars omit the word Jews, but most translations include it. The Greek word katoikountes usually refers to residing in a place, but whether the word should be restricted here to permanent residents is much discussed. It may be that Luke intended the term to include temporary as well as permanent residents.
Whether or not temporary residents should be included, the Jews were devout (eulabeis) men from every nation under heaven. They were religious, pious, and full of reverence. Moreover, a key point is that they were from every nation under heaven. According to Horton ‘Every nation (people) under heaven’ was a common idiom used to speak primarily of those in the known world or even in the Roman Empire (p. 33).
If the word living, above, includes temporary residents, then people visiting from many lands may be included. On the other hand, if those living in Jerusalem are restricted to permanent residents, then Luke refers, in verse 1, to foreign-born Jews who had come to the homeland to live. Even so, the foreign-born Jews living in Jerusalem would be representative of the countries of their birth. The news of this event, through their families and friends, would reach many lands.
Also, it was the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Pentecost. No matter how we interpret the meaning of living, people came from all over the world to celebrate this Feast. Two verses support this. Acts 2:9 specifically says that residents (katoikountes) of Mesopotamia were there. Then, in Acts 2:10, Luke says that visitors from Rome were there. Here Luke uses the word, epidemountes, which, according to Robertson (vol. 6, p. 79) means strangers sojourning for a while in a particular place. Thus, the crowd was not restricted to permanent residents of Jerusalem.
The visitors from Rome (and perhaps other countries) included Gentile converts. The Jews had two kinds of Gentile proselytes:
- Proselytes of the gate.
- Proselytes of righteousness.
The former were commonly called God-fearers and had not submitted to circumcision. The latter had become complete Jews.
Miracle of Speech
When this sound (phones) occurred, the crowd came together (verse 6). Here, Luke uses phones rather than echos (sound) as in Acts 2:2. In verse 6, according to Bruce, the sound of speaking in tongues is intended (p. 59). The crowd was bewildered and amazed because they were witnessing a miracle. They were hearing the disciples speak in their own languages.
Was this a miracle of hearing or of speech? Two reasons argue for speech. First, that is what the text actually says. They heard them speak in their own languages. If this was a miracle of hearing, then what the disciples said and what the crowd heard was not the same. Second, it was the disciples, not the crowd, that were filled with the Spirit. They are the more likely people to be the instruments of a miracle.
Assuming the crowd witnessed a miracle of speech, the disciples must have spoken each language in turn. Several points support this conclusion. One, the people in the crowd heard the disicples speak in their own languages. Two, we have no evidence that the crowd was divided into segments by languages. Three, assuming they were not divided into segments, any other approach would have resulted in confusion.
The Mighty Deeds of God
The crowd said, we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds (ta megaleia) of God. Menzies maintains that the disciples addressed their comments to the people (p. 177). He says that ta megaleia, in the Septuagint, is usually connected with verbs of proclamation. However, Turner argues that invasive charismatic praise, not proclamation, is intended by Luke (p. 272). In his view what the disciples said was addressed to God.
Actually, there is very little difference between these two views. Praise is addressed to God, while proclamation is addressed to man. However, praise can serve as proclamation, and proclamation can serve as praise. You cannot praise God for His great deeds without spreading the knowledge of those deeds. In addition any true proclamation of God’s great deeds will exalt His name.
Naturally, the crowd reacted to the miracle they were witnessing. According to Luke (verse 12) they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ The entire crowd was amazed. As we might expect, they wanted to know the meaning of this event. No doubt many were open to what God was doing, but they did not understand it.
Some of the crowd, however, went beyond amazement and curiosity. They were not open to the miracle that was taking place. Luke says, “But others were mocking and saying, ‘They have had too much (gleukous) wine.'” Obviously, these people thought the disciples were intoxicated with this wine. This element of the crowd dismissed the miracle by saying the disciples were drunk.
In Acts 1:4-8 Jesus declared that He would baptism the disciples in the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and that they would receive power to be witnesses. Now, the baptism in the Spirit has taken place. The results match the prediction. The disciples were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other tongues. These other tongues, whether praise or proclamation, were a powerful witness to all who were in Jerusalem.
The outpouring of the Spirit has a potential worldwide impact. The disciples have become witnesses. The relatives and friends of the foreign-born Jews living in Jerusalem will no doubt hear about this great event. The visitors from other lands will go home and tell the story. The fulfillment of Acts 1:8 has begun! May it never cease!
Arndt, William F. and Gingrich, F. Wilbur. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Cambridge The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Arrington, French L. The Acts of the Apostles. Peabody Hendrikson Publishers, 1988.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness. Sheffield Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Rea, John. Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit. Orlando Creation House, 1998.
Turner, Max. Power from On High. Sheffield Sheffield Academic Press. 1996.
Copyright © 2001. GMF