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They Spake With Tongues

They Spake With Tongues

They Spake With Other Tongues

By James L. Thornton                                       

Acts 2:4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”      

On the first Christian Pentecost, God manifested His Intervention not only by a Wind-sound and a Fire-like anointing but also by a unique “tongue speaking.” God actually spoke in human languages through the lips of the disciples.  And let it be emphasized that God spoke so that people of all races, nations, and languages could understand the message in their native languages. The disciples definitely “spoke with tongues.” 

Luke was very specific about this strange experience, all the disciples spoke “with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”  Though Luke recorded the emotional reaction by the disciples, he described the utter amazement confounding the hearers.  The hearers marveled at what they heard. Their questions revealed the cause of their confusion!

What was so mystifying about this Pentecostal “tongue speaking?” Thousands of pilgrims from many nations jammed the narrow streets of Jerusalem. Everywhere a bedlam of foreign tongues could be heard. Why, then, did this Pentecostal “tongue speaking” amaze the multi-national hearers? What caused the hearers to cry out, “What meaneth this?” Why did this language manifestation confuse and confound the multi-national hearers?

The multitude of curiosity-drawn hearers were not confused about what the disciples were saying. In spite of any emotional excitement the disciples’ the message  was clear and understandable. All the “tongue speaking” disciples were praising “the wonderful works of God.”  There was no gibberish, no double-talk, no need for interpretation, no confusion of meaning about the content of the speakers. All the disciples were extolling the glory of God and His wonderful works. The messages were joyous, intense, and earnest but also clear, plain, understandable. What the disciples spoke did not cause the amazement.

The hearers’ confusion centered about the identity of the language in which they heard the disciples speak. The curious hearers perceived all the disciples as Galileans. No interpreters were translating the disciples’ speech into other languages. Herein arose the amazing mystery that was confounding the hearers. It was because the curious hearers were hearing the “tongue speaking” disciples as though the disciples were speaking in the different hearer’s native dialect.

………“These Galileans are speaking Latin,” a Jew born in Italy declared.
………“You are mistaken,” said the man near him. “They are speaking Arabic.”
………“You are both wrong,” declared another. “They are speaking Aramaic.”
………“All of you are wrong,” said another. “I hear them speaking in Hebrew.”
And so on and on they went in their native languages, in fact 16 different languages.

It was truly an amazing experience. There were no interpreters. The hearers were not disciples of Jesus. The “tongue-speaking” disciples were communicating intelligently and perfectly naturally about the wonderful works of God in the hearer’s native dialect. The mystified hearers were each hearing the same speech but hearing it in the hearer’s own native language. What they were experiencing was impossible, yet actual.


In judging the importance of this Pentecostal “tongue-speaking” manifestation, we must consider the space allocated by the Bible to each of the three “sign” manifestations of God’s Intervention. Luke gave one verse to the ‘date’ (Pentecost), one verse to the ‘wind-sound’ (rushing mighty wind), and one verse to the ‘fire-like tongues’ (cloven tongues). The ‘tongue-speaking’ manifestation received ten verses.

Of the ten verses, one verse described the action; nine verses explained the hearers’ confusion and its cause. The nine verses emphasized the national diversity characterizing the hearers. Among the multitude that gathered Luke specifies language differences associated with sixteen separate national languages. The diverse hearers perceived all of the disciples as from Galilee. No interpreter was translating the disciples’ speech into the hearers’ native tongues.  Herein arose the amazing mystery that confounded the hearers. For the hearers were hearing the speakers as though the speakers were speaking in the different hearer’s native dialect. Completely mystified, the multi-national hearers were asking, “What does it mean?” And that is the very same question that puzzles today’s Church.

To learn the meaning of the ‘wind-sound’ and ‘fire-like tongues’ “sign” manifestations it was necessary to interpret Scripture by Scripture. Should the sincere person do less with this Pentecostal “tongue-speaking” manifestation of God’s personal Intervention?


In the entire Old Testament only one Scripture specifically relates to God’s intervention manifested by a “tongues” experience.  Before the construction of the tower of Babel, the Bible declares that “the whole earth was of one language and one speech” (Genesis 11:1). At that time God brought judgment upon the human race by confounding their language so that they could not understand one another’s speech. This Babel “tongue” confusion motivated the people to scatter abroad. The once-united human race separated into “the nations “(Genesis 11:1-9)

The next chapter of Genesis relates how God intervened again to call Abraham as the father of the Hebrew nation. From that time the Bible speaks of divided humanity as “the nations” and Israel. The once-united human race became and has remained the ever-divided human race.

No government or leader, philosophy or religion has ever discovered the road back to racial unity for fallen humanity.  Conquerors have displaced and redistributed segments of nations but have always lacked the power to produce racial unity.

Contemporary efforts to create civil equality and racial brotherhood by social action or by political pressure have also failed. Man has never discovered any program to produce racial unity, nor any successful basis to achieve human brotherhood. 

At Pentecost God’s new Intervention provided the first and only solution to human racial and national division. The “tongue-speaking” disciples manifested this third benefit of the coming of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost God revealed that all mankind becomes one new race in Christ Jesus. Only in the Body of Christ are all racial barrier broken. Dr. Charles R. Erdman expressed this unique benefit of God’s Intervention at Pentecost, declaring, “Then too, at Pentecost the Spirit began to unite these “sons of God” into a new brotherhood, the church of Christ. Only in the redeemed family of God is racial unity a reality. 

So the redemptive message of Christ is the first and only basis by which all mankind may be redeemed and united into oneness. As the confusion of tongues at Babel manifested the division of the races so the manifestation of “other tongues” at Pentecost revealed the new potential for the racial unity of the human race in Christ Jesus.

Pentecost reversed the divisive curse of Babel. The writer of Genesis gave us an account of how different languages arose, to point a moral: it is man’s greedy ambition and self-will which causes division and misunderstanding and scatters people away from each other. Luke deliberately using some of the same words tells how on the first Christian Pentecost the curse of Babel was reversed. Where obedience to the will of God is, where the Holy Spirit is at work, there, once more, is unity and understanding.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit revealed the new “relationship” of brotherhood in Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit is to take a Jew here, a Gentile there, a male here and a female there, regenerate them and then put them, Jew, Gentile, bond, free, male, female, Scythian, barbarian, into the Body of Christ. Thus they are baptized by the Spirit into one family. But once in the Body their identity is gone; they are neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, male or female, but all one in Christ.

No government or force, personality or philosophy, agency or plan or power has offered an acceptable and adequate basis for restoring unity to the diverse and antagonistic divisions of humanity. Only Christ can offer “oneness.” The object of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 was in part to restore the unity of the long-severed fragments of the human race into one family of God. This unique and glorious benefit of God’s new Intervention at Pentecost and manifested by the disciples’ “tongue speaking” is unique to the Christian gospel.

The insights by Bible scholars that emphasize the spiritual brotherhood of all redeemed humanity manifested by the disciples’ “tongue speaking” must not be lost in a doctrinal controversy about “speaking in tongues. “  Let no denomination ignore the meaning of the wind-sound manifestation and the fire-like tongues sight manifestation and limit the disciples’ “tongue speaking” as the sole and necessary evidence of Spirit-baptism, it also includes the great manifestation that the Gospel is for all races and nations. National diversities, instead of being a barrier before which it stood still, were opportunities to display its universal adaptation. Every various tongue was made an additional witness that it had now come for ‘every people under heaven.’

God’s new Intervention formed a holy organism (The Church) empowered by the personal presence of Almighty God to proclaim to a lost and divided world the glorious gospel of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This realization is the throbbing heart of missionary endeavors. How else would the Great Commission have global outreach? How else would “to the uttermost part of the earth” send missionaries to India or to Burma or to China or to South America or to Africa? How else would black and yellow, brown and white with the same Heavenly Father accept one another as brothers and sisters? At Pentecost the Holy Spirit revealed that only in this Body of Christ relationship can all mankind be one in the redeemed family of Almighty God, our heavenly Father. All else has failed. There is no alternative to Christ!

Two thousand years of missionary thrust continues to reveal the wonderful truth that the Gospel message is foreign to no race or nation. All peoples see the relevance of the Gospel to their needs and feel the unifying reality that it brings with other people of other races and nationalities. The Christian faith is unique in its unifying power. The disciples’ “tongue speaking” manifested this glorious and unique benefit of God’s new Intervention at Pentecost.

……The Gospel knows no bound of race,

……No bound of tribe or tongue.

……The Gospel bridges earthly space

……And speaks in every tongue.

……The love of God unites all men

……In God’s own family.

……The separation sin began

……Is lost at Calvary.


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By James L. Thornton



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