The Sign: Tongues Part 5

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

At Babel the language was confused so that people could no longer understand one another; at Pentecost the linguistic miracle (“other tongues”) enabled people visiting from outside Judea, including Jews who no longer understood Hebrew or Aramaic, to understand the message of the gospel. So unusual was this occurrence that the believers were accused by others of being drunk with “new wine” (see Acts 2:13). This Spirit-gift was the fulfillment of the promise made by Jesus (see John 14–16).


Some have supposed that the clause “How hear we every man in our own tongue” suggests that the miracle was not so much imposed on the disciples as it was on their hearers: supposing that, although the disciples spoke in their own language, still every man understood what was spoken as if it had been spoken in the language in which he was born. Although this is by no means as likely as the opinion which states that the disciples themselves spoke all these different languages, yet the miracle is the same, whatever way it is taken; since it must require as much of the miraculous power of God to enable an Arab to understand a Galilean, as to enable a Galilean to speak Arabic. But since the gift of tongues was actually given to the apostles, we have all the proof we need when we find particular ordinances laid down by those very apostles for the regulation of the exercise of this gift—“How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Cor 14:26; KJV).

wherein we were born?
That is, as we say, in our native language; that which is spoken where we were born.

9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
To show the surprising extent and power of this miracle, Luke enumerates the different nations that were represented then at Jerusalem. In this way, the number of languages which the apostles spoke, and the extent of the miracle, can be ascertained. The enumeration of these nations begins at the east and proceeds to the west. This long list of nations embraces the various races included in the "we" of verse 8.

Parthians,
PARTHIANS PAHR thih uhns — a tribal group from Parthia, a region southeast of the Caspian Sea in ancient Persia (Iran). Parthians are mentioned here as one of the many national and language groups gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.

Parthia was one of the original Persian administrative districts established by Darius I (Dan. 6:1). Late in the fourth century B.C., the Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great and his successors, the Macedonian emperors known as the SELEUCIDS. In the middle of the third century B.C., the Parthians revolted from the Seleucids under the leadership of King Arsaces. The kings who followed Arsaces gradually built a great empire; it extended from the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia to the Indus River in (modern) Pakistan. Fierce warriors, the Parthians were formidable in battle; their archers fought while mounted on horseback. Even the Roman armies were largely unsuccessful against the Parthians.

The Babylonians settled some citizens of the nation of Judah in Parthia after their deportation from Judah in 586 B.C. (2 Chr. 36:20). The Jewish historian Josephus reported that some of the Jews who settled in Parthia continued to practice the Israelite faith, apparently without harassment from the natives. Thus the “Parthians” in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:9) may have included remnants of these deported Jewish people as well as converts to Judaism from among native Parthians.

and Medes,
Medes. Inhabitants of Media. This country was situated north of Parthis, and south of the Caspian Sea. It was about the size of Spain and was one of the richest parts of Asia. In the Scriptures, it is called Madai, Genesis 10:2. The Medes are often mentioned, frequently in connection with the Persians, with whom they were often connected under the same government, 2 Kings 17:6, 18:11; Esther 1:3,14,18,19, Jeremiah 25:25, Daniel 5:28, 6:8, 8:20, 9:1. The language spoken here was also that of Persia. In his whole region, many Jews remained after the Babylonish captivity, who chose not to return with their brethren to the land of their fathers. From the descendants of these probably were those who were now assembled from those places at Jerusalem.

and Elamites,
ELAM EE lum (highland) — A geographical region east of the Tigris River. It was bounded on the north by Media and Assyria, on the east and southeast by Persia, and on the south by the Persian Gulf. In the time of Abraham, “Chedorlaomer, king of Elam” is described as the overlord of three other Mesopotamian kings (Gen. 14:1–17). The prophet Isaiah lists Elam as one of the places to which the Israelites were exiled (Is. 11:11). Elam is described as a people who “bore the quiver” (bow and arrow) and who had “chariots of men and horsemen” (Is. 22:6). Jeremiah lists Elam as one of the peoples who would be forced to drink from the cup of God’s fury (Jer. 25:15, 25).

Ezekiel prophesies of a time when a funeral dirge will be chanted over the grave of Elam; the once-mighty nation shall be consigned to the Pit (Ezek. 32:24–25). When the Assyrians transported people from the east to settle them in Samaria, the Elamites were among those resettled (Ezra 4:9). CYRUS the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire who conquered Babylon and assisted the Jews, was from Anshan (a designation that apparently refers to eastern Elam with Susa, or SHUSHAN, as its capital). The Book of Esther records events that took place in Shushan (Esth. 1:2; 8:14–15). Daniel writes, “I was in Shushan, the citadel, which is in the province of Elam” (Dan. 8:2). Among the foreigners present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost were “Parthians and Medes and Elamites” (Acts 2:9).

and the dwellers in Mesopotamia,
MESOPOTAMIA mess oh poh TAME ih uh (land between the rivers) — a region situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; the general area inhabited by the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians. In the New Testament, the word Mesopotamia refers to the areas between and around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, including ancient Syria, Accad, Babylonia, and Sumer. But in the Old Testament, Mesopotamia usually translates a phrase that means “Aram of the two rivers” and is restricted to northwest Mesopotamia.

Abraham sent his servant to Nahor in Mesopotamia to find a bride for Isaac (Gen. 24:10). If Nahor refers to a city, it may be the same city, Nahur, that is mentioned in the MARI texts. The Mari texts are over 20,000 clay tablets dating from about 1750 B.C. from the city of Mari (modern Tell Hariri) on the Euphrates River near the border between modern Syria and Iraq. Many scholars believe Nahur was situated near ancient Haran.
The pagan prophet Balaam came from Pethor of Mesopotamia (Deut. 23:4). In the days of the judges, God sent “Cushan–Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia” to afflict the rebellious Hebrew people (Judg. 3:8, 10). This king’s ethnic background has been much debated. He has been identified by various scholars with the Hittites, Mitanni, Horites (Hurrians), and the Habiru.

and in Judaea,
In Judea. This expression has greatly perplexed commentators. It has been thought difficult to see why Judaea should be mentioned as if it were a matter of surprise that they could speak in this language. Some have supposed an error in the manuscripts, and have proposed to read Armenia, or India, or Lydia, or Idumea, etc. But all this has been without any authority. Others have supposed that the language of Galilee was so different from that of the other parts of Judea, as to render it remarkable that they could speak that dialect. But this is an idle supposition. This is one of the many instances in which commentators have perplexed themselves to very little purpose. Luke recorded this as any other historian would have done. In running over the languages which they spoke, he enumerated this as a matter of course; not that it was remarkable simply that they should speak the language of Judea, but that they should speak so many, meaning about the same by it as if he had said they spoke every language in the world. Just as if a similar miracle was to occur at this time among an assembly of native Englishmen and foreigners. In describing it, nothing would be more natural than to say, they spoke French and German and Spanish and English, and Italian, etc. In this, there would be nothing remarkable, except that they spoke so many languages.

and Cappadocia,
CAPPADOCIA kap uh DOH shih uh — a large Roman province in eastern Asia Minor. It was bounded on the north by Pontus and the mountains along the Halys River, on the east by Armenia and the Euphrates River, on the south by Cilicia and the Taurus Mountains, and on the west by Lycaonia and Galatia. Visitors from Cappadocia were at Jerusalem on the Day of PENTECOST (Acts 2:1, 9), and the apostle Peter included this province in his first letter to the converts of the dispersion (1 Pet. 1:1). Christianity apparently spread northward into Cappadocia from Tarsus of Cilicia, through the Cilician Gates (a gap in the Tarsus Mountains), and then on to Pontus and Galatia.

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