Acts 2:5-13

5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.
6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.
7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
8 "And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?
9 "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretans and Arabs -- we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God."
12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
13 But others were mocking and saying, "They are full of sweet wine." NASU

The Audience

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 (p. 33) "'All nations (peoples) under heaven' was a common idiom used to speak primarily of those in the known world or even in the Roman Empire."

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: (1) "proselytes of the gate" and (2) "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" (verse 6), the crowd came together. Here, Luke uses phones rather than echos (sound) as in Acts 2:2. In verse 6, according to Bruce (p. 59), the sound of speaking in tongues is intended. 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 (p. 177) maintains that the disciples addressed their comments to the people. He says that ta megaleia, in the Septuagint, is usually connected with verbs of proclamation. However, Turner (p. 272) argues that invasive charismatic praise, not proclamation, is intended by Luke. 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.

Crowd Reactions

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 are full of sweet (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.

Witnesses

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!

George M. Flattery

Sources

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