The Sign: Tongues Part 4
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
“His own language” means his own dialect and his own language, whether it was a foreign language, or whether it was a modification of the Hebrew language. It may mean either, but it is probable that the foreign Jews would greatly modify the Hebrew, or conform almost entirely to the language spoken in the country where they lived. We may comment here, that this effect which occurred on the first descent of the Holy Ghost was not peculiar to that time. A work of grace in the hearts of men during a revival will always be noised abroad. A multitude will come together, and God often, as he did here, makes use of this motive of simple curiosity to bring them under the influence of religion. Curiosity was the motive here, and it was the source of their being brought under the influence of the truth, and of their conversion. This has occurred in thousands of cases, since Pentecost. What they saw and heard at Pentecost amazed and confused them. They did not immediately complain about the abnormality of what was done but were all amazed and overwhelmed. A religious revival often has the same effect, to convince the multitude that it is indeed a work of the Holy Spirit; to amaze them by the display of His power, and to silence opposition and complaints by the manifest presence and power of God. Afterwards a few men began to quibble—“Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13; KJV), as some will always do in a revival; but the mass was convinced that this was a mighty display of the power of God, which will always be the case.
Now there is another aspect which I must mention. Some Bible scholars believe that what is meant here is that the apostles were not speaking in other languages at all but were speaking in their own Galilean dialect, and the miracle was in the hearing because it says that every man heard them speak in his own dialect. Was the miracle that broke down the language barrier in the speaking or in the hearing? What do you think?
7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
“They were all amazed and marveled,” because it was not immediately evident how these Galilean Jews could be speaking in the languages of each of the listeners. Galilee was a poor area and the People who lived there were looked down on by those in the neighboring regions. They would not be expected to know any other dialect, except that of their own country. They were mostly persons who were known to be uneducated, and, consequently, naturally ignorant of those languages which they now speak so fluently. A lengthy and impressive list of the nationalities of those present is given in verses 9-11. They were all there: Parthians to Phrygians; Cretans to Cappadocians; Elamites to Egyptians. Most of the disciples at this time were “Galilaeans.” The Galileans were not generally cultured men, but, in spite of that, everyone there now hears the disciples speaking in his own tongue. It was remarkable that they could speak in this manner, because:
1. They were generally acknowledged to be ignorant, rude, and uncivilized—“But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?...” (John 1:46: NABWRNT). Hence the term Galilaeans was used as an expression of the deepest disrespect and contempt—“They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52; KJV). The Judaeans detected a Galilean accent in Peter’s words perhaps like a Georgian could recognize a New Englander.
2. Their dialect was considered barbarous and corrupt—“And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto” (Mark 14:70; KJV). They were regarded as a bizarre people since they were unacquainted with other nations and languages, and that's the reason for the amazement; that they could address them in the refined language of other people. Their inherent ignorance was the thing that made the miracle more striking. The inherent weakness and inability of Christian ministers make the grace and glory of God more remarkable in the success of the gospel. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:7; KJV). The success which God often grants to those who have few gifts and little learning, though blessed with a humble and devout heart, is often amazing to the men of the world. "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise" (1 Corinthians 1:27). This should teach us that no talent or achievement is too humble to be employed for mighty purposes, in its proper sphere, in the kingdom of Christ, and that pious effort may accomplish much; it may even awe and amaze the world, and then burn in heaven with increasing luster for ever; while pride, and learning, and talent may blaze uselessly among men, or kindle up the worst passions of our nature, and then be extinguished in eternal night.
GALILEE GAL ih lee (circle or circuit) — a Roman province of Palestine during the time of Jesus. Measuring roughly 80 kilometers (50 miles) north to south and about 58 kilometers (30 miles) east to west, Galilee was the most northerly of the three provinces of Palestine—Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Covering more than a third of Palestine’s territory, Galilee extended from the base of Mount Hermon in the north to the Carmel and Gilboa ranges in the south. The Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River valley were its western and eastern borders, respectively.
Originally a district in the hill country of Naphtali (2 Kin. 15:29; 1 Chr. 6:76), Galilee was inhabited by a “mixed race” of Jews and heathen. The Canaanites continued to dominate Galilee for many years after Joshua’s invasion (Judg. 1:30–33; 4:2). It was historically known among the Jews as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Is. 9:1; Matt. 4:15).
Galilee had such a mixed population that Solomon could award unashamedly to Hiram, king of Tyre, 20 of its cities in payment for timber from Lebanon (1 Kin. 9:11). After conquest by Tiglath–Pileser, king of Assyria (about 732 B.C.), Galilee was repopulated by a colony of heathen immigrants (2 Kin. 15:29; 17:24). Thus the Galilean accent and dialect were very distinct (Matt. 26:69, 73). For this and other reasons, the pure-blooded Jews of Judea, who were more orthodox in tradition, despised the Galileans (John 7:52). Rather contemptuously Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Galilee consisted essentially of an upland area of forests and farmlands. An imaginary line from the plain of Acco (Acre) to the north end of the Sea of Galilee divided the country into Upper and Lower Galilee. Since this area was actually the foothills of the Lebanon mountains, Upper and Lower Galilee had two different elevations.
The higher of the elevations, Upper Galilee, was more than 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) above sea level; and in the days of the New Testament, it was densely forested and thinly inhabited. The lower elevation, Lower Galilee, averaged between 500 to 700 meters (1,500 to 2,000 feet) above sea level; it was less hilly and enjoyed a milder climate than Upper Galilee. This area included the rich plain of Esdraelon and was a “pleasant” land (Gen. 49:15). Chief exports of the region were olive oil, grains, and fish.
Galilee was the boyhood home of Jesus Christ. He was a lad of Nazareth, as it was prophesied: “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23). Here He attempted to begin His public ministry but was rejected by His own people (Luke 4:16–30).
All the disciples of Jesus, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, came from Galilee (Matt. 4:18; John 1:43–44; Acts 1:11; 2:7). In Cana of Galilee He performed His first miracle (John 2:11); in fact, most of His 33 great miracles were performed in Galilee. Capernaum in Galilee became the headquarters of His ministry (Matt. 4:13; 9:1). Of His 32 parables, 19 were spoken in Galilee. The first three gospels concern themselves largely with Christ’s Galilean ministry. Most of the events of our Lord’s life and ministry are set against the backdrop of the Galilean hills.
When Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., Galilee fell to the authority of ANTIPAS; HEROD, who governed until A.D. 39. He built his capital city at Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and was succeeded by HEROD I who took the title of “king.” After Agrippa’s death in A.D. 44 (Acts 12:23), Galilee became a ZEALOT stronghold until the Romans crushed Jewish resistance in Palestine between A.D. 66 and 73.
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
And how hear we every man in our own tongue,
They heard them praise God for “the wonderful works of God” and give instruction to the people concerning those things, in their own language. We may speculate that, perhaps, after dwelling for some time at Jerusalem, they were able to master enough of the Jewish language that they could have understood the meaning of the disciples if they had spoken in that language, however:
1. This was more strange; that these common men could speak so many languages; and that helped to convince their judgment as much as anything, that this doctrine was of God; because “tongues are for a sign to them that believe not…” (1 Cor 14:22; KJV).
2. It was kinder and helped to connect with their affections since it was a clear indication of the love and goodwill that would be shown the Gentiles, and that the knowledge and worship of God would no longer be confined to the Jews, and that the partition-wall was now broken down. And this is for us a clear indication of the mind and will of God that the sacred records of God’s wonderful works would be preserved by all nations in their own tongue; that the scriptures would be read, and public worship performed, in the common languages of the nations.