Prior to Christ’s ascension to Heaven, He gave His apostles a command which has popularly become know as “the Great Commission.” This commission is contained in Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, and Acts 1:8. MacArthur notes, “The apostles’ mission of spreading the gospel was the major reason the Holy Spirit empowered them.” We see that this is evident throughout the book of Acts as we recount the missionary endeavors of the early Church. An important addition, however, is afforded us by Henry, who comments that, “They had not strength of their own for it, nor wisdom nor courage enough; they were naturally of the weak and foolish things of the world; they durst not appear as witnesses for Christ upon his trial, neither as yet were they able (emphasis in original).” So then, while it is true that Christ has given all believers a commission to share their faith with unbelievers (we are included here for two reasons: First, if only the apostles were commissioned to evangelize, the Church would have died out with them; and second, Romans 10:17 demonstrates God’s promise that faith comes through hearing the Gospel), He has also given them a means of power to accomplish this task, namely, the Holy Spirit.
What kinds of tongues were being spoken at Pentecost? Were any of them unknown (so-called “heavenly”) languages?
The context of Acts 2:1-13 demonstrates that the passage speaks of tongues as known human languages. This is evident from vv. 8-11 which list many lands with many languages whose occupants were hearing the Gospel in their own language. Although verse 13 may be used as an example of ecstatic utterance, this is not a valid argument for two reasons: First, Peter in verse 15 indicates that the assumption of those from verse 13 is inaccurate as they, as Jews, would not be drunk so early and certainly not at a time of prayer at the Temple; Second, the fact that those who heard in their own languages were “amazed and perplexed” (verse 12) demonstrates that the languages were indeed communicable to human beings. It is my determination that these scoffers were local to Jerusalem and did not experience the familiarity with language as those who were present from the Diaspora.
Concerning the nature of tongues here, MacArthur agrees by stating these were “Known languages, not ecstatic utterances. These languages given by the Spirit were a sign of judgment to unbelieving Israel. They also showed that from then on God’s people would come from all nations, and marked the transition from Israel to the church.” Further, Robertson indicates that, “Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 14:22 that ‘tongues’ were a sign to unbelievers and were not to be exercised unless one was present who understood them and could translate them. This restriction disposes at once of the modern so-called tongues which are nothing but jargon and hysteria. It so happened that here on this occasion at Pentecost there were Jews from all parts of the world, so that some one would understand one tongue and some another without an interpreter such as was needed at Corinth.” Considering these points as well as my own, it is my conclusion that the “kinds” of tongues spoken at Pentecost were again, known human languages, and the idea of possible heavenly languages is not considered here nor mentioned in Scripture until Paul’s first epistle to the church at Corinth.
MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur Study Bible. Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006.
Henry, Matthew. Complete Commentary on Acts 1. Matthew Henry Complete
Commentary on the Whole Bible. http://www.searchgodsword.org/com/mhc-
Robertson, A.T. Commentary on Acts 2:4. Robertson's Word Pictures of the New
r=002&verse=004. Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960.
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