Reading Acts Together #3: Acts 2:1-13

What a moment this must have been! The Holy Spirit coming to fill God’s people. From this day onwards God’s temple would no longer be bricks and stones in Jerusalem, but his church. And soon it would be on the move to fill the earth!

I shall come back to the issue of speaking in tongues at the end.

But before we get side-tracked let me offer a few of observations from this episode and particularly relating to v5-13.

1: Many have noticed the connection here with Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel. As God’s people can speak in different tongues this is a reversal of Babel. Whereas in the Babel episode people couldn’t understand and were scattered – in this episode various people from all around the world have gathered in one place* – Jerusalem and understand! Admittedly there was still ‘bewilderment’ – but it was bewilderment because the peoples could understand these ‘Galileans’ who spoke in their languages.

2: It’s interesting that before the early church spread the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), we have a mini taste of this now, with peoples of all the earth gathered together in one place. As we’ll see next time, it gives Peter the opportunity to preach the first sermon of the inaugurated church to people of every tribe, tongue and nation – modelling what the focus of the church should be afterwards.

3: The early church speaking in tongues has a mixed reception. As I said there’s an initial reaction of ‘bewilderment’ (v6) and also amazement (v7), but at the end in response to the fact that the peoples of the earth heard ‘them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ (v11), some were ‘amazed and perplexed’ (v12), and others simply mocked and made fun of them (v13). I think this will always be the case when people hear the wonders of God – some will be ‘amazed and perplexed’ and others will make fun of us. As Acts unfolds we’ll continue to see mixed responses as the ‘wonders of God’ are proclaimed.

4: Now to the issue of speaking in tongues – are they the same as 1 Corinthians 14? Some will argue 1 Corinthians 14 is speaking of an angelic language and Acts is known languages of the earth – are they different or the same? I’m not going to develop this other than to offer my opinion: ultimately (and this would need a few qualifications) I see them as one and the same thing – foreign languages, either languages of the earth or of angels that if left uninterpreted are not useful for either missionary purposes or building up the church. Keener in his huge four volume commentary on Acts is of note here, not just simply because of his exhaustive scholarship, but because he’s also a charismatic, and he states regarding the use of tongues, ‘but whereas the emphases differ, they almost certainly are interpreting the same thing’.[1] I just see it as very unlikely that the same expression in the early church would be used to mean two different and distinct phenomena.

And though (again with a few qualifications) I believe they are still in use today, I believe we need to use discernment about when they should be used and why they are used (to edify the church, e.g. 1 Cor 14; or in missionary contexts as signs to confirm or point people to the gospel, e.g. here, Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6), and only be used if an interpretation is given/somebody understands them.

For the case against speaking in tongues today (that they have ceased) – then read Thomas Schreiner’s book: Spiritual Gifts.

For the case for speaking in tongues today (that they continue) – then read Sam Storms’s book: Understanding Spiritual Gifts

* People have gathered because of the Festival of Weeks or Pentecost – a Jewish festival that starts 50 days after Passover

[1] Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary Vol 1, p. 813.

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