24. The Miracle of Pentecost and the Birthday of the Christian Church. a.d. 30
Καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου, καὶ ἤρξαντο λαλεῖν ἑτέραις γλώσσαις καθὼς τὸ πνεῦμα ἐδίδου ἀποφθέγγεσθαι αὐτοῖς — Act_2:4
“The first Pentecost which the disciples celebrated after the ascension of our Saviour, is, next to the appearance of the Son of God on earth, the most significant event. It is the starting-point of the apostolic church and of that new spiritual life in humanity which proceeded from Him, and which since has been spreading and working, and will continue to work until the whole humanity is transformed into the image of Christ.” — Neander (Geschichte der Pflanzung und Leitung der christlichen Kirche durch die Apostel., I. 3, 4).
Act_2:1-47. Comp. 1Co_12:1-31 and 1Co_14:1-40. See Commentaries on the Acts by Olshausen, De Wette, Meyer, Lechler, Hackett, Alexander, Gloag, Alford, Wordsworth, Plumptre Jacobson, Howson and Spence, etc., and on the Corinthians by Billroth, Kling, Stanley, Heinrici, Edwards, Godet, Ellicott.
II. Special treatises
On the Pentecostal Miracle and the Gift of Tongues (glossolalia) by Herder (Die Gabe der Sprachen, Riga, 1794) Hase (in Winer’s “Zeitschrift für wissenschaftl. Theol.” 1827), Bleek in “Studien und Kritiken” for 1829 and 1830), Baur in the “Tübinger Zeitschrift für Theol.” for 1830 and 1831, and in the “Studien und Krit.” 1838), Schneckenburger (in his Beiträge zur Einleitung in das N. T. 1832), Bäumlein (1834), Dav. Schulz (1836), Zinsler (1847), Zeller (Acts of the Apostles, I. 171, of the E. translation by J. Dare), Böhm (Irvingite, Reden mit Zungen und Weissagen, Berlin, 1848), Rossteuscher (Irvingite, Gabe der Sprachen im apost. Zeitalter, Marburg, 1855), Ad. Hilgenfeld (Glossolalie, Leipz. 1850), Maier (Glossolalie des apost. Zeitalters, 1855), Wieseler (in “Stud. u. Krit.” 1838 and 1860), Schenkel (art. Zungenreden in his “Bibel-Lex.” V. 732), Van Hengel (De gave der talen, Leiden, 1864), Plumptre (art. Gift of Tongues in Smith’s, “B. D.” IV. 3305, Am. ed.), Delitzsch (art. Pfingsten in Riehm’s “H. B. A.” 1880, p. 1184); K. Schmidt (in Herzog, 2d ed., xvii., 570 sqq.).
Comp. also Neander (I. 1), Lange (II. 13), Ewald (VI. 106), Thiersch (p. 65, 3d ed.), Schaff (191 and 469), Farrar (St. Paul, ch. V. vol. I. 83).
The Miracle of Pentecost
The ascension of Christ to heaven was followed ten days afterwards by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon earth and the birth of the Christian Church. The Pentecostal event was the necessary result of the Passover event. It could never have taken place without the preceding resurrection and ascension. It was the first act of the mediatorial reign of the exalted Redeemer in heaven, and the beginning of an unbroken series of manifestations in fulfilment of his promise to be with his people “alway, even unto the end of the world.” For his ascension was only a withdrawal of his visible local presence, and the beginning of his spiritual omnipresence in the church which is “his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” The Easter miracle and the Pentecostal miracle are continued and verified by the daily moral miracles of regeneration and sanctification throughout Christendom.
We have but one authentic account of that epoch-making event, in the second chapter of Acts, but in the parting addresses of our Lord to his disciples the promise of the Paraclete who should lead them into the whole truth is very prominent, and the entire history of the apostolic church is illuminated and heated by the Pentecostal fire.
Pentecost, i.e. the fiftieth day after the Passover-Sabbath, was a feast of joy and gladness, in the loveliest season of the year, and attracted a very large number of visitors to Jerusalem from foreign lands. It was one of the three great annual festivals of the Jews in which all the males were required to appear before the Lord. Passover was the first, and the feast of Tabernacles the third. Pentecost lasted one day, but the foreign Jews, after the period of the captivity, prolonged it to two days. It was the “feast of harvest,” or “of the first fruits,” and also (according to rabbinical tradition) the anniversary celebration of the Sinaitic legislation, which is supposed to have taken place on the fiftieth day after the Exodus from the land of bondage.
This festival was admirably adapted for the opening event in the history of the apostolic church. It pointed typically to the first Christian harvest, and the establishment of the new theocracy in Christ; as the sacrifice of the paschal lamb and the exodus from Egypt foreshadowed the redemption of the world by the crucifixion of the Lamb of God. On no other day could the effusion of the Spirit of the exalted Redeemer produce such rich results and become at once so widely known. We may trace to this day not only the origin of the mother church at Jerusalem, but also the conversion of visitors from other cities, as Damascus, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, who on their return would carry the glad tidings to their distant homes. For the strangers enumerated by Luke as witnesses of the great event, represented nearly all the countries in which Christianity was planted by the labors of the apostles.
The Pentecost in the year of the Resurrection was the last Jewish (i.e. typical) and the first Christian Pentecost. It became the spiritual harvest feast of redemption from sin, and the birthday of the visible kingdom of Christ on earth. It marks the beginning of the dispensation of the Spirit, the third era in the history of the revelation of the triune God. On this day the Holy Spirit, who had hitherto wrought only sporadically and transiently, took up his permanent abode in mankind as the Spirit of truth and holiness, with the fulness of saving grace, to apply that grace thenceforth to believers, and to reveal and glorify Christ in their hearts, as Christ had revealed and glorified the Father.
While the apostles and disciples, about one hundred and twenty (ten times twelve) in number, no doubt mostly Galilaeans, were assembled before the morning devotions of the festal day, and were waiting in prayer for the fulfilment of the promise, the exalted Saviour sent from his heavenly throne the Holy Spirit upon them, and founded his church upon earth. The Sinaitic legislation was accompanied by “thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, and all the people that was in the camp trembled.” (Exo_19:16; comp. Heb_12:18, Heb_12:19) The church of the new covenant war, ushered into existence with startling signs which filled the spectators with wonder and fear. It is quite natural, as Neander remarks, that “the greatest miracle in the inner life of mankind should have been accompanied by extraordinary outward phenomena as sensible indications of its presence.” A supernatural sound resembling that of a rushing mighty wind, came down from heaven and filled the whole house in which they were assembled; and tongues like flames of fire, distributed themselves among them, alighting for a while on each head. It is not said that these phenomena were really wind and fire, they are only compared to these elements, as the form which the Holy Spirit assumed at the baptism of Christ is compared to a dove. The tongues of flame were gleaming, but neither burning nor consuming; they appeared and disappeared like electric sparks or meteoric flashes. But these audible and visible signs were appropriate symbols of the purifying, enlightening, and quickening power of the Divine Spirit, and announced a new spiritual creation. The form of tongues referred to the glossolalia, and the apostolic eloquence as a gift of inspiration.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is the real inward miracle, the main fact, the central idea of the Pentecostal narrative. To the apostles it was their baptism, confirmation, and ordination, all in one, for they received no other. To them it was the great inspiration which enabled them hereafter to be authoritative teachers of the gospel by tongue and pen. Not that it superseded subsequent growth in knowledge, or special revelations on particular points (as Peter receive at Joppa, and Paul on several occasions); but they were endowed with such an understanding of Christ’s words and plan of salvation as they never had before. What was dark and mysterious became now clear and full of meaning to them. The Spirit revealed to them the person and work of the Redeemer in the light of his resurrection and exaltation, and took full possession of their mind and heart. They were raised, as it were, to the mount of transfiguration, and saw Moses and Elijah and Jesus above them, face to face, swimming in heavenly light. They had now but one desire to gratify, but one object to live for, namely, to be witnesses of Christ and instruments of the salvation of their fellow-men, that they too might become partakers of their “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven.” (1Pe_1:3, 1Pe_1:4)
But the communication of the Holy Spirit was not confined to the Twelve. It extended to the brethren of the Lord, the mother of Jesus, the pious women who had attended his ministry, and the whole brotherhood of a hundred and twenty souls who were assembled in that chamber. (Comp. Act_1:13, Act_1:14) They were “all” filled with the Spirit, and all spoke with tongues; and Peter saw in the event the promised outpouring of the Spirit upon “all flesh,” sons and daughters, young men and old men, servants and handmaidens. (Act_2:3, Act_2:4,Act_2:17, Act_2:18) It is characteristic that in this spring season of the church the women were sitting with the men, not in a separate court as in the temple, nor divided by a partition as in the synagogue and the decayed churches of the East to this day, but in the same room as equal sharers in the spiritual blessings. The beginning was a prophetic anticipation of the end, and a manifestation of the universal priesthood and brotherhood of believers in Christ, in whom all are one, whether Jew or Greek, bond or free, male or female. (Gal_3:28)
This new spiritual life, illuminated, controlled, and directed by the Holy Spirit, manifested itself first in the speaking with tongues towards God, and then in the prophetic testimony towards the people. The former consisted of rapturous prayers and anthems of praise, the latter of sober teaching and exhortation. From the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples, like their Master, descended to the valley below to heal the sick and to call sinners to repentance.
The mysterious gift of tongues, or glossolalia, appears here for the first time, but became, with other extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, a frequent phenomenon in the apostolic churches, especially at Corinth, and is fully described by Paul. The distribution of the flaming tongues to each of the disciples caused the speaking with tongues. A new experience expresses itself always in appropriate language. The supernatural experience of the disciples broke through the confines of ordinary speech and burst out in ecstatic language of praise and thanksgiving to God for the great works he did among them. It was the Spirit himself who gave them utterance and played on their tongues, as on new tuned harps, unearthly melodies of praise. The glossolalia was here, as in all cases where it is mentioned, an act of worship and adoration, not an act of teaching and instruction, which followed afterwards in the sermon of Peter. It was the first Te Deum of the new-born church. It expressed itself in unusual, poetic, dithyrambic style and with a peculiar musical intonation. It was intelligible only to those who were in sympathy with the speaker; while unbelievers scoffingly ascribed it to madness or excess of wine. Nevertheless it served as a significant sign to all and arrested their attention to the presence of a supernatural power. (Comp. 1Co_14:22)
So far we may say that the Pentecostal glossolalia was the same as that in the household of Cornelius in Caesarea after his conversion, which may be called a Gentile Pentecost, (Act_10:46) as that of the twelve disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus, where it appears in connection with prophesying, (Act_19:6) and as that in the Christian congregation at Corinth. (1Co_12:1-31 and 1Co_14:1-40)
But at its first appearance the speaking with tongues differed in its effect upon the hearers by coming home to them at once in their own mother-tongues; while in Corinth it required an interpretation to be understood. The foreign spectators, at least a number of them, believed that the unlettered Galilaeans spoke intelligibly in the different dialects represented on the occasion. We must therefore suppose either that the speakers themselves, were endowed, at least temporarily, and for the particular purpose of proving their divine mission, with the gift of foreign languages not learned by them before, or that the Holy Spirit who distributed the tongues acted also as interpreter of the tongues, and applied the utterances of the speakers to the susceptible among the hearers.
The former is the most natural interpretation of Luke’s language. Nevertheless I suggest the other alternative as preferable, for the following reasons: 1. The temporary endowment with a supernatural knowledge of foreign languages involves nearly all the difficulties of a permanent endowment, which is now generally abandoned, as going far beyond the data of the New Testament and known facts of the early spread of the gospel. 2. The speaking with tongues began before the spectators arrived, that is before there was any motive for the employment of foreign languages. (Comp. Act_2:4 and Act_2:6) 3. The intervening agency of the Spirit harmonizes the three accounts of Luke, and Luke and Paul, or the Pentecostal and the Corinthian glossolalia; the only difference remaining is that in Corinth the interpretation of tongues was made by men in audible speech, (1Co_14:5, 1Co_14:13, 1Co_14:27, 1Co_14:28; comp. 1Co_12:10, 1Co_12:30) in Jerusalem by the Holy Spirit in inward illumination and application. 4. The Holy Spirit was certainly at work among the hearers as well as the speakers, and brought about the conversion of three thousand on that memorable day. If he applied and made effective the sermon of Peter, why not also the preceding doxologies and benedictions? 5. Peter makes no allusion to foreign languages, nor does the prophecy of Joel which he quotes. 6. This view best explains the opposite effect upon the spectators. They did by no means all understand the miracle, but the mockers, like those at Corinth, (Comp. 1Co_14:23) thought the disciples were out of their right mind and talked not intelligible words in their native dialects, but unintelligible nonsense. The speaking in a foreign language could not have been a proof of drunkenness. It may be objected to this view that it implies a mistake on the part of the hearers who traced the use of their mother-tongues directly to the speakers; but the mistake referred not to the fact itself, but only to the mode. It was the same Spirit who inspired the tongues of the speakers and the hearts of the susceptible hearers, and raised both above the ordinary level of consciousness.
Whichever view we take of this peculiar feature of the Pentecostal glossolalia, in this diversified application to the cosmopolitan multitude of spectators, it was a symbolical anticipation and prophetic announcement of the universalness of the Christian religion, which was to be proclaimed in all the languages of the earth and to unite all nations in one kingdom of Christ. The humility and love of the church united what the pride and hatred of Babel had scattered. In this sense we may say that the Pentecostal harmony of tongues was the counterpart of the Babylonian confusion of tongues.
The speaking with tongues was followed by the sermon of Peter; the act of devotion, by an act of teaching; the rapturous language of the soul in converse with God, by the sober words of ordinary self-possession for the benefit of the people.
While the assembled multitude wondered at this miracle with widely various emotions, St. Peter, the Rock-man, appeared in the name of all the disciples, and addressed them with remarkable clearness and force, probably in his own vernacular Aramaic, which would be most familiar to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, possibly in Greek, which would be better understood by the foreign visitors. He humbly condescended to refute the charge of intoxication by reminding them of the early hour of the day, when even drunkards are sober, and explained from the prophecies of Joel and the sixteenth Psalm of David the meaning of the supernatural phenomenon, as the work of that Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Jews had crucified, but who was by word and deed, by his resurrection from the dead, his exaltation to the right hand of God, and the effusion of the Holy Ghost, accredited as the promised Messiah, according to the express prediction of the Scripture. Then he called upon his hearers to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus, as the founder and head of the heavenly kingdom, that even they, though they had crucified him, the Lord and the Messiah, might receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost, whose wonderful workings they saw and heard in the disciples.
This was the first independent testimony of the apostles, the first Christian sermon: simple, unadorned, but full of Scripture truth, natural, suitable, pointed, and more effective than any other sermon has been since, though fraught with learning and burning with eloquence. It resulted in the conversion and baptism of three thousand persons, gathered as first-fruits into the garners of the church.
In these first-fruits of the glorified Redeemer, and in this founding of the new economy of Spirit and gospel, instead of the old theocracy of letter and law, the typical meaning of the Jewish Pentecost was gloriously fulfilled. But this birth-day of the Christian church is in its turn only the beginning, the type and pledge, of a still greater spiritual harvest and a universal feast of thanksgiving, when, in the full sense of the prophecy of Joel, the Holy Spirit shall be poured out on all flesh, when all the sons and daughters of men shall walk in his light, and God shall be praised with new tongues of fire for the completion of his wonderful work of redeeming love.
The Gift of Tongues is the most difficult feature of the Pentecostal miracle. Our only direct source of information is in Act_2:1-47, but the gift itself is mentioned in two other passages, Act_10:46 and Act_19:6, in the concluding section of Mar_16:1-20 (of disputed genuineness), and fully described by Paul in 1Co_12:1-31 and 1Co_14:1-40. There can be no doubt as to the existence of that gift in the apostolic age, and if we had only either the account of Pentecost, or only the account of Paul, we would not hesitate to decide as to its nature, but the difficulty is in harmonizing the two.
(1) The terms employed for the strange tongues are “new tongues” (καιναὶ γλῶσσαι, Mar_16:17, where Christ promises the gift), “other tongues,” differing from ordinary tongues (ἕτεραι γλ. Act_2:4, but nowhere else), “kinds” or “diversities of tongues” (γένη γλωσσῶν, 1Co_12:28), or simply, “tongues” (γλῶσσαι, 1Co_14:22), and in the singular, “tongue” (γλῶσσα, 1Co_14:2, 1Co_14:13, 1Co_14:19, 1Co_14:27, in which passages the E. V. inserts the interpolation “unknown tongue”). To speak in tongues is called γλώσσαις or γλώσσῃ λαλεῖν (Act_2:4; Act_10:46; Act_19:6; 1Co_14:2, 1Co_14:4,1Co_14:13, 1Co_14:14, 1Co_14:19, 1Co_14:27). Paul uses also the phrase to “pray with the tongue” (προσεύχεσθαι γλώσσῃ), as equivalent to “praying and singing with the spirit” (προσεύχεσθαι and ψάλλειν τῷ πνεύματι, and as distinct from προσεύχεσθαι and ψάλλειν τῷ νοΐ́, 1Co_14:14, 1Co_14:15). The plural and the term “diversities” of tongues, as well as the distinction between tongues of “angels” and tongues of “men” (1Co_13:1) point to different manifestations (speaking, praying, singing), according to the individuality, education, and mood of the speaker, but not to various foreign languages, which are excluded by Paul’s description.
The term tongue has been differently explained.
(a) Wieseler (and Van Hengel): the organ of speech, used as a passive instrument; speaking with the tongue alone, inarticulately, and in a low whisper. But this does not explain the plural, nor the terms “new” and “other” tongues; the organ of speech remaining the same.
(b) Bleek: rare, provincial, archaic, poetic words, or glosses (whence our “glossary”). But this technical meaning of γλῶσσαι occurs only in classical writers (as Aristotle, Plutarch, etc.) and among grammarians, not in Hellenistic Greek, and the interpretation does not suit the singular γλῶσσα and γλώσσῃ λαλεῖν, as γλῶσσα could only mean a single gloss.
(c) Most commentators: language or dialect (διάλεκτος, comp. Act_1:19; Act_2:6, Act_2:8; Act_21:40; Act_26:14). This is the correct view. “Tongue” is an abridgment for “new tongue” (which was the original term, Mar_16:17). It does not necessarily mean one of the known languages of the earth, but may mean a peculiar handling of the vernacular dialect of the speaker, or a new spiritual language never known before, a language of immediate inspiration in a state of ecstasy. The “tongues” were individual varieties of this language of inspiration.
(2) The glossolalia in the Corinthian church, with which that at Caesarea in Act_10:46, and that at Ephesus, Act_19:6, are evidently identical, we know very well from the description of Paul. It occurred in the first glow of enthusiasm after conversion and continued for some time. It was not a speaking in foreign languages, which would have been entirely useless in a devotional meeting of converts, but a speaking in a language differing from all known languages, and required an interpreter to be intelligible to foreigners. It had nothing to do with the spread of the gospel, although it may, like other devotional acts, have become a means of conversion to susceptible unbelievers if such were present. It was an act of self-devotion, an act of thanksgiving, praying, and singing, within the Christian congregation, by individuals who were wholly absorbed in communion with God, and gave utterance to their rapturous feelings in broken, abrupt, rhapsodic, unintelligible words. It was emotional rather than intellectual, the language of the excited imagination, not of cool reflection. It was the language of the spirit (πνεῦμα) or of ecstasy, as distinct from the language of the understanding (νοῦς). We might almost illustrate the difference by a comparison of the style of the Apocalypse which was conceived ἐν πνεύματι (Rev_1:10) with that of the Gospel of John, which was written ἐν νοΐ́. The speaker in tongues was in a state of spiritual intoxication, if we may use this term, analogous to the poetic “frenzy” described by Shakespeare and Goethe. His tongue was a lyre on which the divine Spirit played celestial tunes. He was unconscious or only half conscious, and scarcely knew whether he was, “in the body or out of the body.” No one could understand this unpremeditated religious rhapsody unless he was in a similar trance. To an unbelieving outsider it sounded like a barbarous tongue, like the uncertain sound of a trumpet, like the raving of a maniac (1Co_14:23), or the incoherent talk of a drunken man (Act_2:13, Act_2:15). “He that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not to men, but to God; for no one understandeth; and in the spirit he speaketh mysteries; but he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and encouragement, and comfort. He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church” (1Co_14:2-4; comp. 1Co_14:26-33).
The Corinthians evidently overrated the glossolalia, as a showy display of divine power; but it was more ornamental than useful, and vanished away with the bridal season of the church. It is a mark of the great wisdom of Paul who was himself a master in the glossolalia (1Co_14:18), that he assigned to it a subordinate and transient position, restrained its exercise, demanded an interpretation of it, and gave the preference to the gifts of permanent usefulness in which God displays his goodness and love for the general benefit. Speaking with tongues is good, but prophesying and teaching in intelligible speech for the edification of the congregation is better, and love to God and men in active exercise is best of all (1Co_13:1-13).
We do not know how long the glossolalia, as thus described by Paul, continued. It passed away gradually with the other extraordinary or strictly supernatural gifts of the apostolic age. It is not mentioned in the Pastoral, nor in the Catholic Epistles. We have but a few allusions to it at the close of the second century. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. l. V. c. 6, § 1) speaks of “many brethren” whom he heard in the church having the gift of prophecy and of speaking in “diverse tongues” (παντοδαπαῖς γλώσσαις), bringing the hidden things of men (τὰ κρύφια τῶν ἀνθρώπων) to light and expounding the mysteries of God (τά μυστήρια τοῦ θεοῦ). It is not clear whether by the term “diverse,” which does not elsewhere occur, he means a speaking in foreign languages, or in diversities of tongues altogether peculiar, like those meant by Paul. The latter is more probable. Irenaeus himself had to learn the language of Gaul. Tertullian (Adv. Marc. V. 8; comp. De Anima, c. 9) obscurely speaks of the spiritual gifts, including the gift of tongues, as being still manifest among the Montanists to whom he belonged. At the time of Chrysostom it had entirely disappeared; at least he accounts for the obscurity of the gift from our ignorance of the fact. From that time on the glossolalia was usually misunderstood as a miraculous and permanent gift of foreign languages for missionary purposes. But the whole history of missions furnishes no clear example of such a gift for such a purpose.
Analogous phenomena, of an inferior kind, and not miraculous, yet serving as illustrations, either by approximation or as counterfeits, reappeared from time to time in seasons of special religious excitement, as among the Camisards and the prophets of the Cevennes in France, among the early Quakers and Methodists, the Mormons, the Readers (“Läsare”) in Sweden in 1841 to 1843, in the Irish revivals of 1859, and especially in the “Catholic Apostolic Church,” commonly called Irvingites, from 1831 to 1833, and even to this day. See Ed. Irving’s articles on Gifts of the Holy Ghost called Supernatural, in his “Works,” vol. V., p. 509, etc.; Mrs. Oliphant’s Life of Irving, vol. II.; the descriptions quoted in my Hist. Ap. Ch. §55, p. 198; and from friend and foe in Stanley’s Com. on Corinth., p. 252, 4th ed.; also Plumptre in Smith’s, “Bible Dict.,” IV. 3311, Am. ed. The Irvingites who have written on the subject (Thiersch, Böhm, and Rossteuscher) make a marked distinction between the Pentecostal glossolalia in foreign languages and the Corinthian glossolalia in devotional meetings; and it is the latter only which they compare to their own experience. Several years ago I witnessed this phenomenon in an Irvingite congregation in New York; the words were broken, ejaculatory and unintelligible, but uttered in abnormal, startling, impressive sounds, in a state of apparent unconsciousness and rapture, and without any control over the tongue, which was seized as it were by a foreign power. A friend and colleague (Dr. Briggs), who witnessed it in 1879 in the principal Irvingite church at London, received the same impression.
(3) The Pentecostal glossolalia cannot have been essentially different from the Corinthian: it was likewise an ecstatic act of worship, of thanksgiving and praise for the great deeds of God in Christ, a dialogue of the soul with God. It was the purest and the highest utterance of the jubilant enthusiasm of the new-born church of Christ in the possession of the Holy Spirit. It began before the spectators arrived (comp. Act_2:4 and Act_2:6), and was followed by a missionary discourse of Peter in plain, ordinary language. Luke mentions the same gift twice again (Luk_10:1-42 and Luk_19:1-48) evidently as an act of devotion, and not of teaching.
Nevertheless, according to the evident meaning of Luke’s narrative, the Pentecostal glossolalia differed from the Corinthian not only by its intensity, but also by coming home to the hearers then present in their own vernacular dialects, without the medium of a human interpreter. Hence the term “different” tongues, which Paul does not use, nor Luke in any other passage; hence the astonishment of the foreigners at hearing each his own peculiar idiom from the lips of those unlettered Galileans. It is this heteroglossolalia, as I may term it, which causes the chief difficulty. I will give the various views which either deny, or shift, or intensify, or try to explain this foreign element.
(a) The rationalistic interpretation cuts the Gordian knot by denying the miracle, as a mistake of the narrator or of the early Christian tradition. Even Meyer surrenders the heteroglossolalia, as far as it differs from the Corinthian glossolalia, as an unhistorical tradition which originated in a mistake, because he considers the sudden communication of the facility of speaking foreign languages as “logically impossible, and psychologically and morally inconceivable” (Com. on Act_2:4, 4th ed.). But Luke, the companion of Paul, must have been familiar with the glossolalia in the apostolic churches, and in the two other passages where he mentions it he evidently means the same phenomenon as that described by Paul.
(b) The heteroglossolalia was a mistake of the hearers (a Hörwunder), who in the state of extraordinary excitement and profound sympathy imagined that they heard their own language from the disciples; while Luke simply narrates their impression without correcting it. This view was mentioned (though not adopted) by Gregory of Nyssa, and held by Pseudo-Cyprian, the venerable Bede, Erasmus, Schneckenburger and others. If the pentecostal language was the Hellenistic dialect, it could, with its composite character, its Hebraisms and Latinisms, the more easily produce such an effect when spoken by persons stirred in the inmost depth of their hearts and lifted out of themselves. St. Xavier is said to have made himself understood by the Hindoos without knowing their language, and St. Bernard, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Vincent Ferrer were able, by the spiritual power of their eloquence, to kindle the enthusiasm and sway the passions of multitudes who were ignorant of their language. Olshausen and Bäumlein call to aid the phenomena of magnetism and somnambulism, by which people are brought into mysterious rapport.
(c) The glossolalia was speaking in archaic, poetic glosses, with an admixture of foreign words. This view, learnedly defended by Bleek (1829), and adopted with modifications by Baur (1838), has already been mentioned above (p. 233), as inconsistent with Hellenistic usage, and the natural meaning of Luke.
(d) The mystical explanation regards the Pentecostal Gift of Tongues in some way as a counterpart of the Confusion of Tongues, either as a temporary restoration of the original language of Paradise, or as a prophetic anticipation of the language of heaven in which all languages are united. This theory, which is more deep than clear, turns the heteroglossolalia into a homoglossolalia, and puts the miracle into the language itself and its temporary restoration or anticipation. Schelling calls the Pentecostal miracle “Babel reversed” (das umgekehrte Babel), and says: “Dem Ereigniss der Sprachenverwirrung lässt sich in der ganzen Folge der religiösen Geschichte nur Eines an die Seite stellen, die momentan wiederhergestellte Spracheinheit (ὁμογλωσσία) am Pfingstfeste, mit dem das Christenthum, bestimmt das ganze Menschengeschlecht durch die Erkenntniss des Einen wahren Gottes wieder zur Einheit zu verknüpfen, seinen grossen Weg beginnt.” (Einl. in d. Philos. der Mythologie, p. 109). A similar view was defended by Billroth (in his Com. on 1Co_14:1-40, p. 177), who suggests that the primitive language combined elements of the different derived languages, so that each listener heard fragments of his own. Lange (II. 38) sees here the normal language of the inner spiritual life which unites the redeemed, and which runs through all ages of the church as the leaven of languages, regenerating, transforming, and consecrating them to sacred uses, but he assumes also, like Olshausen, a sympathetic rapport between speakers and hearers. Delitzsch (l.c. p. 1186) says: “Die apostolische Verkündigung erging damals in einer Sprache des Geistes, welche das Gegenbild der in Babel zerschellten Einen Menschheitssprache war und von allen ohne Unterschied der Sprachen gleichmässig verstanden wurde. Wie das weisse Licht alle Farben aus sich erschliesst, so fiel die geistgewirkte Apostelsprache wie in prismatischer Brechung verständlich in aller Ohren und ergreifend in aller Herzen. Es war ein Vorspiel der Einigung, in welcher die von Babel datirende Veruneinigung sich aufheben wird. Dem Sivan-Tag des steinernen Buchstabens trat ein Sivan-Tag des lebendigmachenden Geistes entgegen. Es war der Geburtstag der Kirche, der Geistesgemeinde im Unterschiede von der altestamentlichen Volksgemeinde; darum nennt Chrysostomus in einer Pfingsthomilie die Pentekoste die Metropole der Feste.” Ewald’s view (VI. 116 sqq.) is likewise mystical, but original and expressed with his usual confidence. He calls the glossolalia an “Auflallen und Aufjauchzen der Christlichen Begeisterung, ein stürmisches Hervorbrechen aller der verborgenen Gefühle und Gedanken in ihrer vollsten Unmittelbarkeit und Gewalt.” He says that on the day of Pentecost the most unusual expressions and synonyms of different languages (as ἀββά ὁ πατήρ, Gal_4:6; Rom_8:15, and μαρὰν ἀθά 1Co_16:22), with reminiscences of words of Christ as resounding from heaven, commingled in the vortex of a new language of the Spirit, and gave utterance to the exuberant joy of the young Christianity in stammering hymns of praise never heard before or since except in the weaker manifestations of the same gift in the Corinthian and other apostolic churches.
(e) The Pentecostal glossolalia was a permanent endowment of the apostles with a miraculous knowledge of all those foreign languages in which they were to preach the gospel. As they were sent to preach to all nations, they were gifted with the tongues of all nations. This theory was first clearly brought out by the fathers in the fourth and fifth centuries, long after the gift of tongues had disappeared, and was held by most of the older divines, though with different modifications, but is now abandoned by nearly all Protestant commentators except Bishop Wordsworth, who defends it with patristic quotations. Chrysostom supposed that each disciple was assigned the particular language which he needed for his evangelistic work (Hom. on Act_2:1-47). Augustine went much further, saying (De Civ. Dei, XVIII. c. 49): “Every one of them spoke in the tongues of all nations; thus signifying that the unity of the catholic church would embrace all nations, and would in like manner speak in all tongues.” Some confined the number of languages to the number of foreign nations and countries mentioned by Luke (Chrysostom), others extended it to 70 or 72 (Augustine and Epiphanius), or 75, after the number of the sons of Noah (Gen_10:1-32), or even to 120 (Pacianus), after the number of the disciples present. Baronius mentions these opinions in Annal. ad Ann. 34, vol. I. 197. The feast of languages in the Roman Propaganda perpetuates this theory, but turns the moral miracle of spiritual enthusiasm into a mechanical miracle of acquired learning in unknown tongues. Were all the speakers to speak at once, as on the day of Pentecost, it would be a more than Babylonian confusion of tongues.
Such a stupendous miracle as is here supposed might be justified by the far-reaching importance of that creative epoch, but it is without a parallel and surrounded by insuperable difficulties. The theory ignores the fact that the glossolalia began before the spectators arrived, that is, before there was any necessity of using foreign languages. It isolates the Pentecostal glossolalia and brings Luke into conflict with Paul and with himself; for in all other cases the gift of tongues appears, as already remarked, not as a missionary agency, but as an exercise of devotion. It implies that all the one hundred disciples present, including the women — for a tongue as of fire “sat upon each of them” — were called to be traveling evangelists. A miracle of that kind was superfluous (a Luxuswunder); for since the conquest of Alexander the Great the Greek language was so generally understood throughout the Roman empire that the apostles scarcely needed any other — unless it was Latin and their native Aramaean — for evangelistic purposes; and the Greek was used in fact by all the writers of the New Testament, even by James of Jerusalem, and in a way which shows that they had learnt it like other people, by early training and practice. Moreover there is no trace of such a miraculous knowledge, nor any such use of it after Pentecost. On the contrary, we must infer that Paul did not understand the Lycaonian dialect (Act_14:11-14), and we learn from early ecclesiastical tradition that Peter used Mark as an interpreter (ἑρμηνεύς or ἑρμηνευτής, interpres, according to Papias, Irenaeus, and Tertullian). God does not supersede by miracle the learning of foreign languages and other kinds of knowledge which can be attained by the ordinary use of our mental faculties and opportunities.
(f) It was a temporary speaking in foreign languages confined to the day of Pentecost and passing away with the flame-like tongues. The exception was justified by the object, namely, to attest the divine mission of the apostles and to foreshadow the universalness of the gospel. This view is taken by most modern commentators who accept the account of Luke, as Olshausen (who combines with it the theory b), Baumgarten, Thiersch, Rossteuscher, Lechler, Hackett, Gloag, Plumptre (in his Com. on Acts), and myself (in H. Ap. Ch.), and accords best with the plain sense of the narrative. But it likewise makes an essential distinction between the Pentecostal and the Corinthian glossolalia, which is extremely improbable. A temporary endowment with the knowledge of foreign languages unknown before is as great if not a greater miracle than a permanent endowment, and was just as superfluous at that time in Jerusalem as afterwards at Corinth; for the missionary sermon of Peter, which was in one language only, was intelligible to all.
(g) The Pentecostal glossolalia was essentially the same as the Corinthian glossolalia, namely, an act of worship, and not of teaching; with only a slight difference in the medium of interpretation: it was at once internally interpreted and applied by the Holy Spirit himself to those hearers who believed and were converted, to each in his own vernacular dialect; while in Corinth the interpretation was made either by the speaker in tongues, or by one endowed with the gift of interpretation.
I can find no authority for this theory, and therefore suggest it with modesty, but it seems to me to avoid most of the difficulties of the other theories, and it brings Luke into harmony with himself and with Paul. It is certain that the Holy Spirit moved the hearts of the hearers as well as the tongues of the speakers on that first day of the new creation in Christ. In a natural form the Pentecostal heteroglossolalia is continued in the preaching of the gospel in all tongues, and in more than three hundred translations of the Bible.
II. False interpretations of the Pentecostal Miracle
(1) The older rationalistic interpretation resolves the wind into a thunderstorm or a hurricane surcharged with electricity, the tongues of fire into flashes of lightning falling into the assembly, or electric sparks from a sultry atmosphere, and the glossolalia into a praying of each in his own vernacular, instead of the sacred old Hebrew, or assumes that some of the disciples knew several foreign dialects before and used them on the occasion. So Paulus, Thiess, Schulthess, Kuinöl, Schrader, Fritzsche, substantially also Renan, who dwells on the violence of Oriental thunderstorms, but explains the glossolalia differently according to analogous phenomena of later times. This view makes the wonder of the spectators and hearers at such an ordinary occurrence a miracle. It robs them of common sense, or charges dishonesty on the narrator. It is entirely inapplicable to the glossolalia in Corinth, which must certainly be admitted as an historical phenomenon of frequent occurrence in the apostolic church. It is contradicted by the comparative ὥσπερ and ὡσεί of the narrative, which distinguishes the sound from ordinary wind and the tongues of flame from ordinary fire; just as the words, “like a dove,” to which all the Gospels compare the appearance of the Holy Spirit at Christ’s baptism, indicate that no real dove is intended.
(2) The modern rationalistic or mythical theory resolves the miracle into a subjective vision which was mistaken by the early Christians for an objective external fact. The glossolalia of Pentecost (not that in Corinth, which is acknowledged as historical) symbolizes the true idea of the universalness of the gospel and the Messianic unification of languages and nationalities (εἶς λαὸς Κυρίου καὶ γλῶσσα μία as the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs expresses it). It is an imitation of the rabbinical fiction (found already in Philo) that the Sinaitic legislation was proclaimed through the bath-kol, the echo of the voice of God, to all nations in the seventy languages of the world. So Zeller (Contents and Origin of the Acts, I. 203-205), who thinks that the whole pentecostal fact, if it occurred at all. “must have been distorted beyond recognition in our record.” But his chief argument is: “the impossibility and incredibility of miracles,” which he declares (p. 175, note) to be “an axiom” of the historian; thus acknowledging the negative presupposition or philosophical prejudice which underlies his historical criticism. We hold, on the contrary, that the historian must accept the facts as he finds them, and if he cannot explain them satisfactorily from natural causes or subjective illusions, he must trace them to supernatural forces. Now the Christian church, which is certainly a most palpable and undeniable fact, must have originated in a certain place, at a certain time, and in a certain manner, and we can imagine no more appropriate and satisfactory account of its origin than that given by Luke. Baur and Zeller think it impossible that three thousand persons should have been converted in one day and in one place. They forget that the majority of the hearers were no skeptics, but believers in a supernatural revelation, and needed only to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah. Ewald says against Zeller, without naming him (VI. 119) “Nothing can be more perverse than to deny the historical truth of the event related in Act_2:1-47.” We hold with Rothe (Vorlesungen über Kirchengeschichte I. 33) that the Pentecostal event was a real miracle (“ein eigentliches Wunder”), which the Holy Spirit wrought on the disciples and which endowed them with the power to perform miracles (according to the promise, Mar_16:17, Mar_16:18). Without these miraculous powers Christianity could not have taken hold on the world as it then stood. The Christian church itself, with its daily experiences of regeneration and conversion at home and in heathen lands, is the best living and omnipresent proof of its supernatural origin.
III. Time and Place of Pentecost
Did it occur on a Lord’s Day (the eighth after Easter), or on a Jewish Sabbath? In a private house, or in the temple ? We decide for the Lord’s Day, and for a private house. But opinions are much divided, and the arguments almost equally balanced.
(1) The choice of the day in the week depends partly on the interpretation of “the morrow after the (Passover) Sabbath” from which the fiftieth day was to be counted, according to the legislative prescription in Lev_23:11, Lev_23:15, Lev_23:16 — namely, whether it was the morrow following the first day of the Passover, i.e. the 16th of Nisan, or the day after the regular Sabbath in the Passover week; partly on the date of Christ’s crucifixion, which took place on a Friday, namely, whether this was the 14th or 15th of Nisan. If we assume that the Friday of Christ’s death was the 14th of Nisan, then the 15th was a Sabbath, and Pentecost in that year fall on a Sunday; but if the Friday of the crucifixion was the 15th of Nisan (as I hold myself, see § 16), then Pentecost fell on a Jewish Sabbath (so Wieseler, who fixes it on Saturday, May 27, a.d. 30), unless we count from the end of the 16th of Nisan (as Wordsworth and Plumptre do, who put Pentecost on a Sunday). But if we take the “Sabbath” in Lev_23:1-44 in the usual sense of the weekly Sabbath (as the Sadducees and Karaites did), then the Jewish Pentecost fell always on a Sunday. At all events the Christian church has uniformly observed Whit-Sunday on the eighth Lord’s Day after Easter, adhering in this case, as well as in the festivals of the resurrection (Sunday) and of the ascension (Thursday), to the old tradition as to the day of the week when the event occurred. This view would furnish an additional reason for the substitution of Sunday, as the day of the Lord’s resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit, for the Jewish Sabbath. Wordsworth: “Thus the first day of the week has been consecrated to all the three Persons of the ever-blessed and undivided Trinity; and the blessings of Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification are commemorated on the Christian Sunday.” Wieseler assumes, without good reason, that the ancient church deliberately changed the day from opposition to the Jewish Sabbath; but the celebration of Pentecost together with that of the Resurrection seems to be as old as the Christian church and has its precedent in the example of Paul, Act_18:21; Act_20:16. — Lightfoot (Horae Hebr. in Acta Ap. Heb_2:1; Opera II. 692) counts Pentecost from the 16th of Nisan, but nevertheless puts the first Christian Pentecost on a Sunday by an unusual and questionable interpretation of Act_2:1 ἐν τῷ συνπληροῦσθαι τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς Πεντηκοστῆς, which he makes to mean “when the day of Pentecost was fully gone,” instead of “was fully come.” But whether Pentecost fell on a Jewish Sabbath or on a Lord’s Day, the coincidence in either case was significant.
(2) As to the place, Luke calls it simply a “house” (οἶκος, Act_2:2), which can hardly mean the temple (not mentioned till Act_2:46). It was probably the same “upper room” or chamber which he had mentioned in the preceding chapter, as the well known usual meeting place of the disciples after the ascension, τὸ ὑπερῷον … οὖ ἦσαν καταμένοντες, Act_1:13). So Neander, Meyer, Ewald, Wordsworth, Plumptre, Farrar, and others. Perhaps it was the same chamber in which our Lord partook of the Paschal Supper with them (Mar_14:14, Mar_14:15; Mat_26:28). Tradition locates both events in the “Coenaculum,” a room in an irregular building called “David’s Tomb,” which lies outside of Zion Gate some distance from Mt. Moriah. (See William M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, new ed. 1880, vol. I. p. 535 sq.). But Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech. XVI. 4) states that the apartment where the Holy Spirit descended was afterwards converted into a church. The uppermost room under the flat roof of Oriental houses. (ὑπερῷον, עֲלִיָּה)was often used as a place of devotion (comp. Act_20:8). But as a private house could not possibly hold so great a multitude, we must suppose that Peter addressed the people in the street from the roof or from the outer staircase.
Many of the older divines, as also Olshausen, Baumgarten, Wieseler, Lange, Thiersch (and myself in first ed. of Ap. Ch., p. 194), locate the Pentecostal scene in the temple, or rather in one of the thirty side buildings around it, which Josephus calls “houses” (οἴκους) in his description of Solomon’s temple (Ant. VIII. 3, 2), or in Solomon’s porch, which remained from the first temple, and where the disciples assembled afterwards (Act_5:12, comp. Act_3:11). In favor of this view may be said, that it better agrees with the custom of the apostles (Luk_24:53; Act_2:46; Act_5:12, Act_5:42), with the time of the miracle (the morning hour of prayer), and with the assembling of a large multitude of at least three thousand hearers, and also that it seems to give additional solemnity to the event when it took place in the symbolical and typical sanctuary of the old dispensation. But it is difficult to conceive that the hostile Jews should have allowed the poor disciples to occupy one of those temple buildings and not interfered with the scene. In the dispensation of the Spirit which now began, the meanest dwelling, and the body of the humblest Christian becomes a temple of God. Comp. Joh_4:24.
IV. Effects of the Day of Pentecost
From Farrar’s Life and Work of St. Paul (I. 93): “That this first Pentecost marked an eternal moment in the destiny of mankind, no reader of history will surely deny. Undoubtedly in every age since then the sons of God have, to an extent unknown before, been taught by the Spirit of God. Undoubtedly since then, to an extent unrealized before, we may know that the Spirit of Christ dwelleth in us. Undoubtedly we may enjoy a nearer sense of union with God in Christ than was accorded to the saints of the Old Dispensation, and a thankful certainty that we see the days which kings and prophets desired to see and did not see them, and hear the truths which they desired to hear and did not hear them. And this New Dispensation began henceforth in all its fulness. It was no exclusive consecration to a separated priesthood, no isolated endowment of a narrow apostolate. It was the consecration of a whole church — its men, its women, its children — to be all of them ‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people;’ it was an endowment, of which the full free offer was meant ultimately to be extended to all mankind. Each one of that hundred and twenty was not the exceptional recipient of a blessing and witness of a revelation, but the forerunner and representative of myriads more. And this miracle was not merely transient, but is continuously renewed. It is not a rushing sound and gleaming light, seen perhaps for a moment, but it is a living energy and an unceasing inspiration. It is not a visible symbol to a gathered handful of human souls in the upper room of a Jewish house, but a vivifying wind which shall henceforth breathe in all ages of the world’s history; a tide of light which is rolling, and shall roll, from shore to shore until the earth is fall of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”