What Really Happened On The Day Of Pentecost?
By Robert J. Stewart
Article taken from Dr. John R. Rice's excellent book, "The Charismatic Movement"; chapter three, pg. 36-43.
The most important Scripture, the definitive basic Scripture on the miraculous speaking in tongues in all the Bible is in the second chapter of Acts, the account of what happened at Pentecost.
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God." -Acts 2:1-11.
It will be simpler and more true to the Scriptures and the plain intent of the Bible if, when we speak of tongues, we mean simply foreign languages. That is what they meant in the Bible in all the Scriptures referring to a gift of tongues.
Sometimes the Bible speaks of tongues of languages that were miraculously given. That was clearly the case in Acts 2:4 when they spake every man "as the Spirit gave them utterance." That is not expressively said in Acts, chapter 10, in the case of Cornelius and his family, not in Acts 19 with the dozen men filled with the Spirit there. So they might have been foreign languages which they already knew. The Scripture never indicates that the languages which they used in Corinth and rebuked so soundly in chapter 14 were miraculous languages. No, they were foreign languages, evidently the languages people used in human pride, these carnal Christians at Corinth, but not miraculously given.
So when Paul said, "I would that ye all spake with tongues" (1st Cor. 14:5), he was saying , and it would be an exact translation, "I wish you all spoke in foreign languages." When Paul said, "I speak with tongues more than ye all" (1st Cor. 14:18), he simply meant, "I speak more in foreign languages than any of you." When Paul said, "Forbid not to speak with tongues," it would be an exact translation to say, "Don't forbid people to speak in foreign languages." Only, if they did it before others in church, they should have somebody to translate it.
The word "tongues" in all these scriptures refers to foreign languages. So at Pentecost they were natural, foreign languages, given miraculously so people could preach the Gospel in those languages.
1. We Are Told Exactly What Happened At Pentecost
1. The disciples had waited to be endured with power from on High with a promise that they should have power to witness and win souls. The Holy Ghost came upon them (Luke 23:46-49; Acts 1:8). They were to obey the Great Commission. They were to get people saved, get them baptized, then to win souls. Everything else in the whole passage and as for as that is concerned, in the whole book of Acts, is around carrying out the Great Commission, getting people saved.
2. The so-called "tongues" were natural languages of the Partians, Medes, Elamites,, those in Mesopotamia, in Judea, Cappadocia, in Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in Libya, and of Rome and the Cretes and Arabians. Nothing here is said about some heavenly language, about some language not known and used regulary. They were simply foreign languages.
And the purpose is clear. God gave the Christians power to speak to those in their own language so they could hear the Gospel and be saved.
3. It is clear that the disciples were not waiting for any gift of tongues, had not prayed for the gift of tongues, and these languages were given them miraculously, only as an incidental way of getting out the Gospel.
4. And the great theme of Pentecost is that now that the power of God is come, three thousand people were won to Christ in that day! The scriptural emphasis is on getting people saved, not on languages.
5. The essential thing is that these people "prophesied," that is, witnessed for God in the power of the Holy Spirit, in whatever language was needed. It was made clear in Joel's prophecy which was plainly referred to this time as part of the whole New Testament age, "the last days."
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Acts 2:17-21.
The speaking in tongues was incidental. The important this is that they were witnessing for God in the power of the Holy Spirit and all those present could say, "We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
Note here that the speaking in tongues was not something separate and different from witnessing or prophesying. Joel foretold that the disciples would "prophesy," and they did in whatever language was used. Those who spoke to their own Jerusalem Jews in the Aramaic language, witnessing about their language, were all witnessing for Christ and it resulted in many being saved.
Some have thought that those who walked in tongues were simply having some spiritual enjoyment of praise but that only Peter preached the Gospel. No, Peter's message was addressed to, "Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem" (Acts 2:14). But those who spoke in other languages spoke to "devout men, of every nation under heaven (vs. 5). The tongues were languages and those who spoke "prophesied" we are told, that is, they witnessed, in the power of God and got people saved.
2. The Bible Gift Of Tongues--Miraculous Power To Speak To Others In Their Own Known Language In Order To Get
Them The Gospel
Someone asks, "Is the gift of tongues for our today?" I answer very plainly. First if you mean what the Bible means, then God could and would give this gift to some as He did at Pentecost. It was a very rare and unusual thing in Bible times and very rarely needed/ It would be rare now. It never was for anybody except as an occasion like this demanded it and people had faith for it, to get out the Gospel.
But if you mean the gift of tongues in modern sense of a jabber that nobody understands and which people do for their own enjoyment, or claim that they thus have evidence of the "baptism of the Holy Ghost," then that not only is not for today, but it was not even in Bible times. That is wholly human invention and not the Bible gift of tongues.
If someone finds a Chinaman or someone from a heathen tribe in Borneo who cannot speak English and doesn't understand it, and if one cannot understand his language and begs God for some way to speak to the man in his own language and tell him how to be saved, and if God does it, then that is miraculous and is the Bible gift of tongues. And if you bring him to me, I will be glad to help see that he gets baptized and recognized as a Christian.
There is logic and reason in everything God does. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., said, "If it hasn't any sense to it, then God isn't in it." God had a reason, very clearly shown, for giving some people at Pentecost the power to speak to others in their own language in which they were born so they might be saved.
G. Campbell Morgan of England, following some of the ancient church fathers, says that speaking in tongues is "a language of ecstasy." He didn't get that from the Bible. There is nothing like that in the Word of God. He got it, as did Dr. Schaff in History of the Christian Church, from heathen religions that talk in a jabber. Latin, as these people at Pentecost spoke to the people from Rome, is not a "language of ecstasy." Arabic, which they spoke to others from Arabia, is not a "language of ecstasy." These were natural languages and that is the kind the Holy Spirit used then and might use now if necessary.
We are reminded again of 1st Corinthians 14:10, "There are, it may be, so many kinds voices in the world, and none of them is without signification." So all the languages spoken were natural, foreign languages, for the purpose of "prophesying" or witnessing, as Acts 1:8 had foretold.
First Corinthians 13:1 says, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal." Then is the gift of tongues some special angelic language? No. When angels talk to men they always talk in the natural language of these men. The Bible never hints that angels have some special kind of heavenly language. "Tongues of angels" simply means that angels know all languages, and if a man knew all the languages in the world as really nobody but an angel would know them, it still would be without value unless he had Christian love. So the word "tongue" means "language," and always means the natural language, a foreign language.
In 1st Corinthians 14, we find the term "an unknown tongue" in verses 4, 13, and 19, but in every case "unknown" is in italics, which means that it is not in the original manuscript but was inserted by the translators, hoping to make the meaning clearer. The languages mentioned will be unknown to those who do not know that language, but the Scripture does not mean that there is any languages unknown to everybody.
The languages and the gift of tongues are always natural, foreign languages given for a purpose, to help people get out the Gospel to those who otherwise could not understand the speaker.
3. Miraculous Languages At Pentecost Only One Of The Three Incidental Miracles Acts 2:1-4 Tells Us
At Pentecost there was the sound of "a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house." There were "tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each" of the people. Speakers were given the power to speak miraculously in foreign languages they did not know, in order to get out the Gospel.
None of these miracles were promised. They were incidental. They were not what the disciples waited and prayed for. They tarried to be "endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). They waited for the power so they might be witnesses and win souls and carry out the Great Commission.
No one has a right to put a special meaning in the cyclonic wind beyond what is naturally inferred. The truth is, one Greek word pneuma, for wind and for Spirit, is the same an one Hebrew word ruach sometimes may mean either. So symbolically we suppose that kind of incidental miracle was fitting with the mighty pouring out of the Holy Spirit. But it was incidental.
Tongues like as a fire sitting on the people may be a symbol of the mighty power of God in the Gospel. Of the Gospel when preached in Holy Spirit power, it is said, "Is not my word like as a fire?...and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:29). It is said of John the Baptist that he "he was a burning and shinning light..." (John 5:35). So we think it perfectly fitting that at such a wondrous occasion of preaching the Gospel in power, there should be some colorful and sweet picture of it in the accompanying miracles. But it was incidental. The purpose of Pentecost was to preach the Gospel and get people saved.
But the gift of foreign tongues here is also incidental. It was given for a purpose. It was not promised. No one was taught to pray for it. These incidental miracles were never mentioned as the evidence of Holy Spirit baptism or power.
A man said to me, "Brother Rice, have you been filled with the Holy Ghost like at Pentecost?"
I replied that in God's loving mercy there had been some sweet enduement of power enabling me to win thousands of souls, and if he meant that, then I had been filled with the Spirit like those at Pentecost.
But he asked, "Well, did you speak in tongues like they did at Pentecost?"
I told him, "No, I spoke in an English tongue so people could hear me and understand, just as back there they spoke in regular languages so people would hear and understand and be saved."
"Ah," he said, "but you didn't get it like at Pentecost. You didn't speak in tongues."
I asked him, "Were you filled with the Holy Spirit just like at Pentecost?"
"Oh yes!" he said proudly. "I was filled with the Spirit. I spoke in tongues."
"But was there a sign of a rushing mighty wind that filled all the house like at Pentecost?"
He answered somewhat surprised, "No I didn't hear any."
"Were the tongues like as of fire on people's head and shoulders, visible to all?"
He was in more trouble. "No. I didn't see any anything like that," he answered.
I declared, "You didn't get it like at Pentecost if you are talking about incidental surroundings. You may have been filled with the Spirit if you got the power to win souls. You did not get the outward incidentals as they did at Pentecost."
No one has a right to make an issue of the tongues where it is not needed, anymore than make an issue of a rushing might wind, or the visible tongues like as of fire.
If one must speak in tongues the first time he is filled with the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost, must he have an earthquake the second time he is filled, as the disciples had at their second filling in Acts 4:31? Why manufacture a doctrine when God does not?
If God had meant the tongues to have a special universal meaning He would have said so. He did not. Then no one else has a right to put that meaning to it.
4. Miraculous Foreign Languages Not "Initial Evidence Of Baptism Of Holy Spirit," As Some Claim
In a following chapter I feel we should go into the whole matter of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and misunderstandings and false claims about it. But here, as we consider the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, we see there is not a shred of evidence that the disciples regarded speaking in foreign tongues as the "initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost." It was never promised; it was never described that way on the occasion itself. Paul said nothing like that when he discussed the tongues later with the people at Corinth. That is a human, unjustified fabrication.
Someone asked me, "Then how did Peter know they were filled with the Holy Spirit, if they did not know because they spoke in tongues?
I answered perhaps a little facetiously, but I think nevertheless it is an adequate answer: "When they lined up the converts and found there were 2,995; 2,996; 2,997; 2,998; 2,999; 3,000! I think Peter may have said, 'Glory to God! this is it!'"
One who has the anointing of the power of God and sees people wonderfully saved and changed will know that it is the power of God. When many are saved through Holy Spirit power, then why seek some sign? Soul winning is itself the evidence of Holy Spirit power, and disciples in Bible times needed no further evidence, nor do we. In fact, it is a kind of perversion, a carnal mind seeking for fleshly things, not to want to primarily win souls and not to be satisfied when God gives soul-winning power.