June 20, 2013
Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #II: The Church in Jerusalem, Acts 2.1-8.3
Subtopic A: The Church is Born (Acts 2.1-2.41)
Secondary Topic 1: Pentecost (Acts 2.1-2.13)
Lesson II.A.1.b: The Sign: Tongues
Scripture: Acts 2.4b-2.11
Acts 2.4b-2.11 (KJV)
4b and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
4b and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
and began to speak with other tongues,
Although glossolalia [Def.—incomprehensible speech in an imaginary language, sometimes occurring in a trance state, an episode of religious ecstasy, or schizophrenia.] is not always a proof of the presence of the Spirit of God, because many pagans practiced speaking in other tongues, nevertheless, in this incident, these men at Pentecost were given an unnatural ability to speak in tongues that were not their own, as the Spirit gave them utterance. The word translated tongue is the Greek word dialektos, and it can mean language as well as dialect. The various languages being spoken corresponded to the nationalities of those present.
They “began to speak with other tongues,” which was not their native language, though they had never learned any other. They did not speak about things that were commonly being discussed around old Jerusalem at that time. They spoke the word of God, and they praised his name, as the Spirit gave them utterance; significant and important sayings that were gladly received and committed to memory. The situation was probably not that one person was enabled to speak one language, and another person another language (which was the condition of the families that were dispersed from Babel), but that everyone was enabled to speak various languages, whenever he would have an occasion to use them. And we may be correct if we suppose that they themselves understood as well as those to whom they spoke, which the builders of Babel did not—“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech” (Gen 11:7; NKJV).
They did not speak an occasional word in another language, or hesitantly speak in broken sentences, but rather, they spoke what to them was a new language and they spoke it as readily, properly, and elegantly, as they would have if it had been their mother-tongue; because whatever God produced by a miracle was the best of the kind. They did not speak from a script, from any previous thought or meditation, but as the Spirit gave them utterance; he furnished them with the words as well as the language. Now this was:
1. A very great miracle; it took place in the mind, where words were revealed by the Holy Spirit. They had never learned these languages before, and they had never learned any foreign language, which might have made it easier to learn these. It is probably the case that they had never so much as heard these languages spoken, or had any idea what they were. What's more, they were neither scholars nor travelers, and they had never had any opportunity to learn languages either by books or conversation. Peter was bold enough to speak in his own tongue, but the rest of them were no spokesmen; instead, they were common men, uneducated, and most were fishermen. They were not quick learners; but now they are changed and it could be said of them, not only “the heart of the rash understands knowledge, but the tongue of the stammerers is ready to speak eloquently” (Isa. 32:4). When Moses complained, “I am slow of speech,” God said, “I will be with thy mouth,” and “Aaron shall be thy spokesman.” But He did more for these messengers of his: He that made man’s mouth—made theirs new.
2. A very appropriate, necessary, and useful miracle. The language the disciples spoke was Syriac, a dialect spoken by the Hebrews; so it was necessary that they be endowed with the gift, for understanding both the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, in which it was written, and the original Greek of the New Testament, in which it was to be written. But this was not all; they were commissioned to preach the gospel to every creature, to disciple all nations. But how are these twelve men to accomplish such a vast mission? How would they master the various languages in order to speak intelligibly to all nations? It would take a man a lifetime to learn their languages. And therefore, to prove that Christ could give authority to preach to the nations, he gives ability to the apostles to preach to them in their own language. And it seems that this was the accomplishment of that promise which Christ made to his disciples—“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12; KJV). After all things have been considered, it may be supposed that the successful preaching of the gospel by these men was a greater work than the miraculous cures Christ wrought. Christ himself did not speak with other tongues, nor did he enable his disciples to do so while he was with them: but it was the first effect of the pouring out of the Spirit upon them.
After they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” These “other tongues” are not unknown tongues. There were many tongues spoken by Jews throughout the Roman Empire. These worshipers had come from the different areas of the Roman Empire for the Feast of Pentecost. Remember that all male Jews were required to come to Jerusalem for three of the feasts. They were in Jerusalem because of that, and many of them couldn’t speak Hebrew. That is not unusual. There are many Jews in our country today who cannot speak Hebrew. For years it was a dead language. In Israel today, Hebrew is being spoken again. These apostles were from Galilee. They couldn’t speak all these other languages. But they are speaking them now. The Spirit gave them utterance.
TONGUES, GIFT OF—the Spirit-given ability to speak in languages not known to the speaker or in an ecstatic language that could not normally be understood by the speaker or the hearers.
Apparently the only possibly direct reference in the Old Testament to speaking in another tongue or language is found in Isaiah 28:11: “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.” This seems to be a reference to an invasion of the Assyrians. They apparently would speak in another language, one probably unknown to the people of Israel. The apostle Paul later applied this verse to speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:21). The apostle Peter considered the phenomenon of speaking in tongues that occurred on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Joel 2:28–32).
In an appearance to His disciples after His resurrection, Jesus declared, “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17).
On the Day of Pentecost, the followers of Christ “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The people assembled in Jerusalem for this feast came from various Roman provinces representing a variety of languages. They were astonished to hear the disciples speaking of God’s works in their own languages. Some have suggested that the miracle was in the hearing rather than in the speaking. This explanation, however, would transfer the miraculous from the believing disciples to the multitude who may not have been believers.
Tongues as a gift of the Spirit is especially prominent in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. In 1 Corinthians 12 the phenomenon of tongues is listed with other gifts of the Spirit. As one of the several gifts given to believers as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, tongues is intended, with the other gifts, to be exercised for the building up of the church and the mutual profit of its members. In 1 Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul puts the gift of tongues in perspective by affirming that though we “speak with the tongues of men and of angels” (v. 1), if we do not have love, the gift of tongues has no value.
In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul deals more specifically with the gift of tongues and its exercise in the church. In this chapter the tongue is not an intelligible language, for it cannot be understood by the listeners. Therefore, a parallel to the gift of tongues is the gift of interpretation. The gift of tongues was used as a means of worship, thanksgiving, and prayer. While exercising this gift, individuals address God, not people; and the result is to edify themselves and not the church (1 Cor. 14:2, 4). This gift is never intended for self-exaltation but for the praise and glorification of God. Paul does not prohibit speaking in tongues in a public service (14:39). But he seems to assign it to a lesser place than the gift of prophecy. Paul claims for himself the gift of tongues-speaking, but apparently he exercised this gift in private and not in public (14:18–19).
The gift of tongues is to be exercised with restraint and in an orderly way. The regulations for its public use are simple and straightforward. People who speak in an unknown tongue are to pray that they may interpret (1 Cor. 14:13). Or, someone else is to interpret what is said. Only two or three persons are to speak, with each having an interpretation of what is said. Each is also to speak in turn. If these criteria are not met, they are to remain silent (1 Cor. 14:27–28). The gifts of speaking in tongues and their interpretation are to be Spirit-inspired. Paul also points out that tongues are a sign to unbelievers. If these guidelines are not observed, unbelievers who are present will conclude that the people of the church are out of their minds.
The phenomenon of speaking in tongues in the New Testament is not some psychological arousal of human emotions that results in strange sounds. This is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit.
There is not, in the New Testament, a definition of the immersion in the Holy Spirit, but we have here what is possibly better, a living instance of its occurrence. The apostle gives us a distinct view of men in the act of being immersed in the Spirit, so that, in order to understand it, we have to look on, and tell what we see and hear. We see, then, flaming tongues, like flames of fire, distributed so that one rests upon each of the twelve apostles. In the clause, “it sat upon each of them,” the singular pronoun it is used after the plural tongues, to indicate that not all, but only one of the tongues sat upon each apostle, the term distributed having already suggested the contemplation of them singly. We see this, and we hear all twelve at once speaking in languages to them unknown. We see a divine power present with these men, since we cannot attribute these tongues to any other power. We hear the unmistakable effects of a divine power acting upon their minds; for no other power could give them an instantaneous knowledge of language which they had never studied. The immersion, therefore, consists in their being so filled with the Holy Spirit that they are enabled to exercise a miraculous intellectual power. If there is any other endowment conferred upon them, the apostle is silent about it, and we have no right to assume it. Their ability to speak in other languages is not an effect upon their speech directly, but merely a result of the knowledge imparted to them. Neither are we to regard the nature of the sentiments uttered by them as proof of any miraculous moral endowment; for the reason that pious sentiments are the only kind which the Spirit of God would dictate, and they are the kind of words these men, who had been for some time “continually in the temple, praising and blessing God,” and “continuing with one consent in prayer and supplication,” would be expected to utter, if they spoke in public at all.
as the Spirit gave them utterance.
What seems to be implied here is a kind of speech that comes from the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who gave them the power to communicate prophetic messages through speaking languages which they had not spoke before. Their native tongue was that spoken in Galilee, a rather barbarous dialect of the common language used in Judea, the Syro-Chaldaic. It is possible that some of them might have been somewhat familiar with the Greek and Latin, since both of them were spoken a little among the Jews; but there is not the slightest evidence that they were acquainted with the languages of the different nations where they went to preach the gospel . Various attempts have been made to account for this remarkable phenomenon, without assuming it to be a miracle. But the natural and obvious meaning of the verse, which comes from understanding the context of the passage in which it has been placed, is that they were endowed by the miraculous power of the Holy Ghost with ability to speak foreign languages, and languages they had not known before. It does not appear that each one of them had the power of speaking all the languages which were required—“We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God” (Acts 2:9-11; NABWRNT); but that this ability was present among them, and that together they could speak all these languages; probably they were enabled to speak the language they needed at a particular time. The following remarks may perhaps throw some light on this remarkable occurrence:
1. This ability was predicted in the Old Testament, "With another tongue will he speak to this people." (Isaiah 28:11). And in 1 Corinthians 14:21, it is expressly applied to the power of speaking the gospel in foreign languages—“In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.”
2. The Lord Jesus predicted that they would have this power—"These signs shall follow them that believe-they shall speak with new tongues" (Mark 16:17).
3. The ability to speak in tongues was widespread and continued for a long time in the church.
a. "To another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:10, 11).
b. "God hath set in the church—diversities of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28).
c. Also see 1 Corinthians 12:30, 14:2 , 4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 18, 19, 22, 23, 1 Corinthians 14:27, 39.
4. From this it appears that the power was well known in the church, and was not confined to the apostles, but was conferred on other members of the church as well as the apostles.
5. It was very important for them to be endowed with this power in their great work. They were going to preach to all nations; and though the Greek and Roman languages were spoken extensively, their use was not universal; and there is no evidence to indicate that the apostles were skilled in those languages. If they were to preach to all nations, it was crucial for them to understand their language. And it was necessary for them to be endowed with the ability to speak to them without having to go through the slow process of having to learn their language.
6. One method was to establish the gospel by means of miracles. However no miracle could be more striking than the power of transmitting the gospel at once into all the languages of the earth. When it is considered what a slow and difficult process it is to learn a foreign language, this would be regarded by the heathen as one of the most striking miracles which was ever performed in the establishment of the Christian faith—“Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe…But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (1 Corinthians 14:22, 24, 25).
7. The truth and certainty of this miracle is strongly confirmed by the early triumphs of the gospel. That the gospel was rapidly spread over the entire world by the apostles of Jesus Christ is the clear testimony of all history. They preached it in Arabia, Greece, Syria, Asia, Persia, Africa, and Rome. But how could this have ever happened without the miraculous power of speaking the languages used in all those places? Since it requires many years to learn foreign languages, the recorded success of the gospel is one of the most remarkable evidences of the miracle that could be conceived.
It should be noted that they were not allowed to preach the Great Commission until now, in order that every word spoken on this day might be the word of the Spirit, not of man.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews,
Jews came from far-flung lands and they spoke many languages. By “Jews” is meant Jews by birth; of Jewish descent and religion. Some made their permanent residence in Jerusalem, while others came to celebrate the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) in Jerusalem, because only at the Jerusalem Temple could they attend the special sacrificial services—“Also on the day of the firstfruits, when you bring a new grain offering to the Lord at your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work” (Num 28:26; NKJV). News of the strange events taking place on Pentecost quickly spread throughout the city. And we are given here an account of the public notice that was taken of this extraordinary gift with which the disciples were suddenly endowed. It seems that more than the usual number of people had come to Jerusalem for this feast of Pentecost; so that the public spaces were filled and overflowing with pilgrims. “There were dwelling” or abiding “at Jerusalem Jews” that were “devout men,” devoted to the religion of the Jews, and they feared God. Some of them were proselytes of righteousness that were circumcised, and admitted to membership in the Jewish church, others were only proselytes of the gate, that forsook idolatry, and now worshipped the true God, but did not participate in the ceremonial law. Some of those that were at Jerusalem now, had come out of every nation under heaven, where the Jews were dispersed. There were people there from most of the then known parts of the world; they had come from everywhere because of the Feast of Pentecost. This was their reason for being in Jerusalem. It is not surprising that many wealthy foreign Jews had a permanent residence in Jerusalem for the convenience of being near the temple.
“Devout men,” meaning literally, men who lived in a cautious and prudent manner. The term is applied to men, who were cautious about offending God; who were careful to observe His commandments. Therefore, it is a general expression to denote pious or religious men—“And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2: KJV); "And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him” (Luke 2:25; KJV). The word “devout” means, "yielding a solemn and reverential attention to God in religious exercises, particularly in prayer; pious, sincere, and solemn prayer" (Webster). These “devout men” were “out of every nation,” which implies they were not permanent residents of Jerusalem, although the language seems to imply more than a temporary visit to keep this one feast.
out of every nation under heaven.
This is a general expression, meaning from all parts of the earth. The countries from which they came are more specifically specified in Acts 2:9-11. The Jews at that time were scattered into almost all nations, and they had built synagogues in most of those places—“Then said the Jews among themselves, Whither will he go, that we shall not find him? will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?” (John 7:35; KJV). Still they would naturally desire to be present as often as possible at the great feasts of the nation in Jerusalem. Many would seek a residence there for the convenience of being present at the religious festivities. Others who came to the feast of the Passover would remain for the feast of the Pentecost. And the consequence was that on such occasions the city would be full of strangers. We are told that when Titus besieged Jerusalem at about the feast of the Passover, there were no less than three million people in the city, and this vast multitude greatly increased the calamities arising from the siege. Since they are said to be devout men, I cannot imagine they were anything but Jews who were born in different countries, or proselytes to Judaism.
At this time there was scarcely a nation under heaven where the Jews had not been scattered, and from all these nations, there were persons now present at Jerusalem. The circumstances then were completely suited to this wonderful display of divine power, the like of which had never been witnessed, even in the astonishing miracles of Moses and of Jesus.
“Under heaven” means from all parts of the world. Jews, in foreign lands, attended Pentecost in larger numbers than the other feasts, because the time of year favored travel.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
Now when this was noised abroad,
A better translation of “when this was noised abroad” is “when this sound occurred, and had been talked about throughout Jerusalem.” If we assume that there was a great boom of thunder, which followed the escape of a vast amount of electric fluid, and produced the mighty rushing wind that had already been noticed and the sound that had never been heard before—“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2; KJV), then the whole city must have been alarmed; and, since the circumstances might direct their attention to the temple, and having arrived there they were farther astonished and confounded to hear the disciples of Christ addressing the mixed multitude in the languages of the different countries from which these people had come. Probably all 120 believers were there—“During this time, when about 120 believers were together in one place, Peter stood up and addressed them” (Acts 1:15; NLT).
the multitude came together,
They gathered together at the place where this unusual sound could be heard, and where the marvelous events were taking place.
But why were there so many Jews and proselytes in Jerusalem at this time: not just briefly to observe the feast of Pentecost, since they are said to be “dwelling at Jerusalem.” They took lodgings there, because there was at this time a general expectation of the appearing of the Messiah; because Daniel’s weeks had just now expired, the scepter had departed from Judah, and it was then generally thought that the kingdom of God would immediately appear—“And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11; KJV). This brought those who were the most enthusiastic and devout to Jerusalem, to wait there, so that they might have an early share in the kingdom of the Messiah and the blessings of that kingdom.
and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
The dictionary gives this meaning for confounded: “to perplex or amaze, especially by a sudden disturbance or surprise; bewilder; confuse.” They were amazed, and bewildered by this remarkable occurrence. It seems the disciples spoke in various languages before the people who spoke these languages came to the house where they were at; because it is implied that the spreading of the report of this event abroad was what brought the multitude together, especially those from different countries, who seem to have been more affected with this creation of wonder than the inhabitants of Jerusalem themselves. But what did they see and hear that that was so amazing?
1. They were amazed that the speakers are all Galileans, and therefore they should know no other language than their mother tongue (see verse 7); they are reprehensible men, from whom nothing educated nor polite would be expected. God chose the weak and foolish things of the world to confound the wise and mighty. Christ was thought to be a Galilean, and his disciples definitely were; they were unlearned and ignorant men.
2. The people who rushed there were amazed and bewildered because every man heard them speak in his own dialect. It was not only that the language of their country was spoken, but each man heard his own dialect as it was spoken in his area of the country. These men were not talking gibberish. They were not talking in unknown tongues. These men were speaking the dialects of the people in the crowd.
3. They were amazed that they spoke intelligibly and easily in their own language (which they were able to competently judge), so correctly and fluently that none of their own countrymen could speak it any better: We hear every man in our own tongue wherein we were born (see verse 8), that is, we hear one or other of them speak our native language. The Parthians hear one of them speak their language, the Medes hear another of them speak theirs; and so forth. We may naturally suppose that, as soon as any person introduced himself to one of these disciples, the disciple, was immediately enabled to address him in his own language and dialect. If a Roman introduced himself, the disciple was immediately enabled to address him in Latin—if a Grecian, in Greek—an Arab, in Arabic, and so forth. The message they spoke was itself amazing; we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God (see verse 11). Their respective languages were not only unknown at Jerusalem, but probably despised and unappreciated, and therefore it was not only a surprise, but a pleasing surprise, to them to hear the language of their own country spoken, as it naturally is to those that are strangers in a foreign land.
“His own language” means his own dialect and his own language, whether it was a foreign language, or whether it was a modification of the Hebrew language. It may mean either; but it is probable that the foreign Jews would greatly modify the Hebrew, or conform almost entirely to the language spoken in the country where they lived. We may comment here, that this effect which occurred on the first descent of the Holy Ghost was not peculiar to that time. A work of grace on the hearts of men during a revival will always be noised abroad. A multitude will come together, and God often, as he did here, makes use of this motive of simple curiosity to bring them under the influence of religion. Curiosity was the motive here, and it was the source of their being brought under the influence of the truth, and of their conversion. This has occurred in thousands of cases, since Pentecost. What they saw and heard at Pentecost amazed and confused them. They did not immediately complain about the abnormality of what was done, but were all amazed and overwhelmed. A religious revival often has the same effect, to convince the multitude that it is indeed a work of the Holy Spirit; to amaze them by the display of His power; and to silence opposition and complaints by the manifest presence and power of God. Afterwards a few men began to quibble—“Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13; KJV), as some will always do in a revival; but the mass were convinced that this was a mighty display of the power of God, which will always be the case.
Now there is another aspect which I must mention. Some Bible scholars believe that what is meant here is that the apostles were not speaking in other languages at all, but were speaking in their own Galilean dialect, and the miracle was in the hearing because it says that every man heard them speak in his own dialect. Was the miracle that broke down the language barrier in the speaking or in the hearing? What do you think?
7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
“They were all amazed and marveled,” because it was not immediately evident how these Galilean Jews could be speaking in the languages of each of the listeners. Galilee was a poor area and the People who lived there were looked down on by those in the neighboring regions. They would not be expected to know any other dialect, except that of their own country. They were mostly persons who were known to be uneducated, and, consequently, naturally ignorant of those languages which they now speak so fluently. A lengthy and impressive list of the nationalities of those present is given in verses 9-11. They were all there: Parthians to Phrygians; Cretans to Cappadocians; Elamites to Egyptians. Most of the disciples at this time were “Galilaeans.” The Galileans were not generally cultured men, but, in spite of that, everyone there now hears the disciples speaking in his own tongue. It was remarkable that they could speak in this manner, because:
1. They were generally acknowledged to be ignorant, rude, and uncivilized—“But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?...” (John 1:46: NABWRNT). Hence the term Galilaeans was used as an expression of the deepest disrespect and contempt—“They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52; KJV). The Judaeans detected a Galilean accent in Peter’s words perhaps like a Georgian could recognize a New Englander.
2. Their dialect was considered barbarous and corrupt—“And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto” (Mark 14:70; KJV). They were regarded as a bizarre people, since they were unacquainted with other nations and languages, and that's the reason for the amazement; that they could address them in the refined language of other people. Their inherent ignorance was the thing that made the miracle more striking. The inherent weakness and inability of Christian ministers makes the grace and glory of God more remarkable in the success of the gospel. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:7; KJV). The success which God often grants to those who have few gifts and little learning, though blessed with a humble and devout heart, is often amazing to the men of the world. "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise" (1 Corinthians 1:27). This should teach us that no talent or achievement is too humble to be employed for mighty purposes, in its proper sphere, in the kingdom of Christ, and that pious effort may accomplish much; it may even awe and amaze the world, and then burn in heaven with increasing luster for ever; while pride, and learning, and talent may blaze uselessly among men, or kindle up the worst passions of our nature, and then be extinguished in eternal night.
GALILEE [GAL ih lee] (circle or circuit) — a Roman province of Palestine during the time of Jesus. Measuring roughly 80 kilometers (50 miles) north to south and about 58 kilometers (30 miles) east to west, Galilee was the most northerly of the three provinces of Palestine—Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Covering more than a third of Palestine’s territory, Galilee extended from the base of Mount Hermon in the north to the Carmel and Gilboa ranges in the south. The Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River valley were its western and eastern borders, respectively.
Originally a district in the hill country of Naphtali (2 Kin. 15:29; 1 Chr. 6:76), Galilee was inhabited by a “mixed race” of Jews and heathen. The Canaanites continued to dominate Galilee for many years after Joshua’s invasion (Judg. 1:30–33; 4:2). It was historically known among the Jews as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Is. 9:1; Matt. 4:15).
Galilee had such a mixed population that Solomon could award unashamedly to Hiram, king of Tyre, 20 of its cities in payment for timber from Lebanon (1 Kin. 9:11). After conquest by Tiglath–Pileser, king of Assyria (about 732 B.C.), Galilee was repopulated by a colony of heathen immigrants (2 Kin. 15:29; 17:24). Thus the Galilean accent and dialect were very distinct (Matt. 26:69, 73). For this and other reasons, the pure-blooded Jews of Judea, who were more orthodox in tradition, despised the Galileans (John 7:52). Rather contemptuously Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Galilee consisted essentially of an upland area of forests and farmlands. An imaginary line from the plain of Acco (Acre) to the north end of the Sea of Galilee divided the country into Upper and Lower Galilee. Since this area was actually the foothills of the Lebanon mountains, Upper and Lower Galilee had two different elevations.
The higher of the elevations, Upper Galilee, was more than 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) above sea level; and in the days of the New Testament it was densely forested and thinly inhabited. The lower elevation, Lower Galilee, averaged between 500 to 700 meters (1,500 to 2,000 feet) above sea level; it was less hilly and enjoyed a milder climate than Upper Galilee. This area included the rich plain of Esdraelon and was a “pleasant” land (Gen. 49:15). Chief exports of the region were olive oil, grains, and fish.
Galilee was the boyhood home of Jesus Christ. He was a lad of Nazareth, as it was prophesied: “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23). Here He attempted to begin His public ministry, but was rejected by His own people (Luke 4:16–30).
All the disciples of Jesus, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, came from Galilee (Matt. 4:18; John 1:43–44; Acts 1:11; 2:7). In Cana of Galilee He performed His first miracle (John 2:11); in fact, most of His 33 great miracles were performed in Galilee. Capernaum in Galilee became the headquarters of His ministry (Matt. 4:13; 9:1). Of His 32 parables, 19 were spoken in Galilee. The first three gospels concern themselves largely with Christ’s Galilean ministry. Most of the events of our Lord’s life and ministry are set against the backdrop of the Galilean hills.
When Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., Galilee fell to the authority of ANTIPAS; HEROD, who governed until A.D. 39. He built his capital city at Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and was succeeded by HEROD I who took the title of “king.” After Agrippa’s death in A.D. 44 (Acts 12:23), Galilee became a ZEALOT stronghold until the Romans crushed Jewish resistance in Palestine between A.D. 66 and 73.
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
And how hear we every man in our own tongue,
They heard them praise God for “the wonderful works of God” and give instruction to the people concerning those things, in their own language. We may speculate that, perhaps, after dwelling for some time at Jerusalem, they were able to master enough of the Jewish language that they could have understood the meaning of the disciples if they had spoken in that language, however:
1. This was more strange; that these common men could speak so many languages; and that helped to convince their judgment as much as anything, that this doctrine was of God; because “tongues are for a sign to them that believe not…” (1 Cor 14:22; KJV).
2. It was kinder, and helped to connect with their affections, since it was a clear indication of the love and good-will that would be shown the Gentiles, and that the knowledge and worship of God would no longer be confined to the Jews, and that the partition-wall was now broken down. And this is for us a clear indication of the mind and will of God that the sacred records of God’s wonderful works would be preserved by all nations in their own tongue; that the scriptures would be read, and public worship performed, in the common languages of the nations.
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 [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.
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.
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.
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.
PONTUS [PONN tus] — a province in northern Asia Minor (modern Turkey) mentioned in the Book of Acts. Pontus was situated on the southern shore of the Pontus Euxinus, or the Black Sea. A mountainous area broken by fertile plains, Pontus produced olives, grain, and timber.
Pontus was made part of the Galatian–Cappadocian province of the Roman Empire by Nero in A.D. 64. It is mentioned twice in the Book of Acts. People from Pontus were in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9) and it was the birthplace of Aquila, the husband of Priscilla (Acts 18:2). The First Epistle of Peter is addressed to “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1). From this we may assume that Christians were living in Pontus.
ASIA [AY zyuh] — a Roman province in western ASIA MINOR which included Mysia, Lydia, Caria, and the coastal islands as well as western Phrygia. The borders of this province were, for the most part, those of the earlier kingdom of Pergamos.
The kingdom of Pergamos gained its independence from the SELEUCIDS with help from the Romans. By the time of AUGUSTUS, the first Roman emperor (27 B.C.—A.D. 14), Asia had become a senatorial province (a Roman political division governed by a proconsul), with Pergamos as its capital.
Three cities continued to compete for the role of principal city: Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos—the first three cities mentioned in the Book of Revelation (see Rev. 1:11; 2:1–17). Eventually, Ephesus became the chief commercial center and was known as the most prominent city of the province. The Roman Senate granted both Ephesus and Pergamos the right to have three imperial temples for the worship of the emperors.
Although scholars disagree on the time when Ephesus became the capital, it probably occurred after the death of the apostle Paul and perhaps as late as the time of the emperor Hadrian (about A.D. 129). The fact that the martyr Antipas is mentioned in connection with Pergamos (Rev. 2:13) argues for the capital’s being at Pergamos during the time the Book of Revelation was written.
The governor of a senatorial province was called a PROCONSUL, and the proconsulship of Asia became one of the most prized among all in the Roman Empire. The wealth and culture of Asia was legendary. When the New Testament mentions the officers of Ephesus, the term used is asiarchs (local elected authorities), or “officials of Asia” (Acts 19:31).
The seven cities mentioned in the Book of Revelation follow two principal north-south roads of Asia, beginning with Ephesus, the largest city, and ending inland with Laodicea. John must have known these cities of Asia fairly well, because each of the letters (Revelation 2–3) alludes to some important fact about that city.
At the beginning of his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6). Thus, he made his way to Troas, the northwestern seaport of Asia, and entered Europe (Acts 16:6–10). On his return trip, however, he visited Ephesus (Acts 18:9). On his third missionary journey, he spent more than two years in ministry in this region. During this time, “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10).
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
PHRYGIA [FRIJ ih uh] — a large province of the mountainous region of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), visited by the apostle Paul (Acts 2:10; 16:6; 18:23). Because of its size, Phrygia was made a part of other provinces. In Roman times the region was split between two provinces. The cities of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis belonged to Asia, while Iconium and Antioch belonged to Galatia.
The apostle Paul visited Phrygia on two journeys (Acts 13:14–14:5, 21; 16:6). He apparently also passed through Phrygia on his third journey (Acts 18:22–24), although his letter to the Colossians suggests he did not found a church there (Col. 2:1). Jews who were at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost may have been the first Phrygian converts (Acts 2:10). Jews settled in Phrygia during the SELEUCID period. Some of them apparently adopted non-Jewish practices. Consequently, strict Jews became hostile to new ideas (Acts 13:44–14:6).
PAMPHYLIA [pam FIL ih uh] (a region of every tribe) — a Roman province on the southern coast of central Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The province consisted mainly of a plain about 130 kilometers (80 miles) long and up to about 32 kilometers (20 miles) wide. The capital city of Pamphylia, its largest city, was Perga (Acts 13:13–14).
Pamphylia is first mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 2:10. People from Pamphylia were among those present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. In Pamphylia Paul first entered Asia Minor (Acts 13:13) during his first missionary journey. It was at Pamphylia that John Mark left Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:38). On his voyage to Rome, Paul sailed off the coast of Pamphylia (Acts 27:5).
This was that extensive country, well known, on the south of the Mediterranean, watered by the Nile. It extends 600 miles from north to south, and from 100 to 120 east and west. The language used there was the Coptic. At present the Arabic is spoken. Vast numbers of Jews dwelt in Egypt; and many from that country would be present at the great feasts at Jerusalem. In this country the first translation of the Old Testament was made, which is now called the Septuagint.
and in the parts of Libya
LIBYA [LIB ih uh] — a country of northern Africa west of Egypt (Ezek. 27:10), also called Phut (Ezek. 27:10, KJV) or Put (NIV, NRSV). Some people who lived in “the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene” (Acts 2:10) were in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Simon, the man who carried Jesus’ cross, was from Cyrene, the New Testament name for Libya (Matt. 27:32).
CYRENE [sigh REE neh] — a city on the north coast of Africa founded by Dorian Greeks about 630 B.C. Cyrene was later the capital of the Roman province of Cyrenaica (ancient and modern Libya). Midway between Carthage and Alexandria—about 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of modern Benghazi—the city was built on a beautiful tableland nearly 610 meters (2,000 feet) above sea level.
Less than 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the sea, Cyrene attracted travelers and commerce of every kind. The city was renowned as an intellectual center; Carneades, the founder of the new Academy at Athens, and Aristippus, the Epicurean philosopher and friend of Socrates, were among its distinguished citizens. The city surrendered to Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. and passed into the hands of Rome in 96 B.C.
Although Cyrene is not mentioned in the Old Testament, it was an important city in New Testament times because of its large Jewish population. A Cyrenian named Simon was pressed into service to carry the cross of Jesus (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). Cyrenians were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:10) and were converted and subsequently scattered in the persecution that followed Stephen’s death (Acts 11:19–20).
Once a very populous city, Cyrene declined for several reasons. In a Jewish revolt in A.D. 115–116, over 200,000 inhabitants of the city were killed in the rioting. A disastrous earthquake in A.D. 365 contributed to its further decline. With the Arab invasion of A.D. 642, the city came to an end. The site is now a wasteland occupied by Bedouins.
and strangers of Rome,
This literally means, "Romans dwelling, or tarrying;" i.e., at Jerusalem. It may mean either that they were permanently fixed, or only tarrying at Jerusalem. They were doubtless Jews who had taken up their residence in Italy, and had come to Jerusalem to attend the great feasts. The language which they spoke was the Latin. Great numbers of Jews were at that time dwelling at Rome. Josephus says, that there were eight synagogues there. The Jews are often mentioned by the Roman writers. There was a Jewish colony across the Tiber from Rome. When Judea was conquered, about sixty years before Christ, vast numbers of Jews were taken captive and carried to Rome. But they had much difficulty in managing them as slaves. They pertinaciously adhered to their religion, observed the Sabbath, and refused to join in the idolatrous rites of the Romans. Hence they were freed, and lived by themselves across the Tiber.
Native born Jews, or descendants of Jewish families.
PROSELYTE [PROS eh lite] — a convert from one religious belief or party to another. In the New Testament (Matt. 23:15; Acts 2:10), the term is used in a specific sense to designate Gentile converts who had committed themselves to the teachings of the Jewish faith or who were attracted to the teachings of Judaism. A full-fledged proselyte, or convert, to Judaism underwent circumcision and worshiped in the Jewish temple or synagogue. They also observed all rituals and regulations concerning the Sabbath, clean and unclean foods, and all other matters of Jewish custom.
By the New Testament period, when communities of Jews were widely scattered over the Gentile world, many Gentiles came into contact with Judaism. They found worship of one God and its wholesome ethical teaching attractive. Tired of pagan gods and heathen immorality, the Gentiles came to the synagogues to learn of the one true God and of His call to holiness, justice, and mercy. Many of them accepted the religion, morality, and life-style of the Jews. Not all Gentile sympathizers went so far as to be circumcised, but by New Testament times proselytes were nevertheless a significant part of Judaism, as the references to them in the Book of Acts (2:10; 6:5; 13:43) make clear.
These “halfway proselytes” proved to be a rich mission field for the early church. Unable to accept the binding requirements of the Jewish law, many of them turned to Christianity. This new faith welcomed all people, regardless of their background, culture, or religious tradition.
This universal appeal of Christianity was largely the result of the pioneering work of the apostle Paul. He taught that Gentiles did not have to become Jews—or submit to circumcision—in order to embrace the truths of the gospel. With this barrier removed, many proselytes who were attracted to Judaism turned instead to the Christian faith.
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
CRETE [kreet] — an island in the Mediterranean Sea where a ship on which the apostle Paul was sailing was struck by a storm. Crete is about 258 kilometers (160 miles) long and varies between 11 and 49 kilometers (7 and 30 miles) wide (Acts 27:7, 12–13, 21). It is probably to be identified with CAPHTOR (Deut. 2:23; Amos 9:7), the place from which the Philistines (Caphtorim) originated. A number of legends are associated with Crete, particularly those involving King Minos and the Minotaur (the half-bull, half-man monster).
The island was captured by the Romans in 68–66 B.C. and made a Roman province.
During his voyage to Rome, Paul’s ship touched at Fair Havens, a harbor on the south coast of Crete (Acts 27:8). Not heeding Paul’s advice about the weather, the Roman soldier who held Paul in custody agreed with the captain and set sail for Crete’s large harbor at Phoenix. The result was a shipwreck at Malta (Acts 27:9–28:1).
ARABIA [uh RAY bih uh] — the large peninsula east of Egypt, between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf (see Map 1, C–3). About 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) wide and 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) long, Arabia is nearly one-third the size of the United States. It has almost no rainfall except along the coast, where it measures about 51 centimeters (20 inches) per year. There is only one river and one lake in the entire peninsula. Although a sudden shower may create a short-lived stream, most of the water in Arabia comes from deep wells or desert oases. Consequently, there is little agricultural activity on the peninsula.
The Arabian peninsula is a sandy, rocky desert with high mountain ranges on the western and southern coasts. The western mountains reach a height of 3,660 meters (12,000 feet) and show some evidence of past volcanic activity. Because of this volcanic activity, a few scholars have suggested that Mount Sinai was located in the western region of this mountain range. However, the traditional site at the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula is much more likely. Much of the sandy interior of Arabia is uninhabited, although there is barely enough grass on the lower mountain slopes to support its nomadic population. In addition to its lack of water, the desert was known for its sandstorms driven by violent winds (Job 1:19; 27:20–21).
The queen of Sheba came from Arabia, bringing gold, spices, and precious stones to Solomon (1 Kin. 10:2, 10, 14; 2 Chr. 9:1, 9, 14). Solomon and other kings sent their ships to Ophir in Arabia to bring back gold (1 Kin. 9:28; 2 Chr. 9:10). Ophir, Raamah, and Sheba were famous for their gold, silver, and precious stones (Job 22:24; Is. 13:12; Ezek. 27:22).
The people who lived in Arabia included the children of Joktan (Gen. 10:26–30), Cush (Gen. 10:7), the sons of Abraham and Keturah (Gen. 25:1–6), and Esau (Gen. 36). The “country of the east” (Gen. 25:6) is probably a reference to Arabia. The early history of many of these peoples is unknown. Israel’s earliest contacts with the inhabitants of Arabia probably came through their camel caravans. Some of them oppressed the Israelites during the time of the judges, but God delivered Israel from them by raising up the judge Gideon (Judg. 6:11).
David subdued some of the Arabian tribes that were close to Israel (2 Sam. 8:3–14), and Solomon established extensive trade relations with more distant tribes in Arabia to obtain their gold for his building projects (1 Kin. 9:28; 10:2, 11). Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, received rams and goats from the Arabians as tribute (2 Chr. 17:10–12), but after his death they revolted and refused to pay tribute to his son Jehoram. Instead, they invaded Jerusalem and carried away Jehoram’s wealth, his wives, and all but his youngest son (2 Chr. 21:16–17).
Most of the tribes of southern and eastern Arabia were not well-known to Israel. Joel referred to the slave-trading Sabeans [Shebaites] as a people who lived far away (Joel 3:8). Isaiah pictured the Arabians wandering as far east as Babylon (Is. 13:19, 20. Tribes that lived closer—those at Tema, Dedan, and Kedar—were included in Isaiah’s prophecies of judgment against the foreign nations (Is. 21:13–17). Jeremiah also announced God’s judgment upon Dedan, Tema, Buz, Kedar, Hazor, and all the kings of Arabia (Jer. 25:23–24; 49:28–33).
Although most of Israel’s knowledge of the Arabians and their habits (Jer. 3:2) was due to a passing association with their caravan traders (Ezek. 27:21), some Arabians eventually settled in Palestine. While attempting to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah struggled against Geshem the Arab, who scorned and despised the Jews (Neh. 2:19). When this tactic failed to discourage the work on Jerusalem’s walls, the Arabs, Ammonites, Ashdodites, and others planned to attack the city by force (Neh. 4:7–13). When this strategy also failed, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab set a trap to lure Nehemiah out of the city and kill him (Neh. 6:1–7). Nehemiah prayed for guidance, and God delivered him from this plot.
It is likely that Job was from Arabia. Uz, the home of Job (Job 1:1), appears to be named after a descendant of Esau and the Edomites (Gen. 36:28; Lam. 4:21). Eliphaz, one of Job’s comforters, was from Teman, a city in Arabia (Job 2:11). Bands of Sabeans [Shebaites] and Chaldeans were close enough to attack Job’s cattle (Job 1:15, 17). A great desert wind destroyed the house of Job’s children (Job 1:19). The dialogue between Job and his comforters is filled with desert imagery and animals (Job 39).
we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
“In our tongues” means "Our own languages." Here were people from three continents. Certainly they spoke diverse languages and dialects. They each heard these Galileans speak in an understandable dialect. May I say, these were not unknown tongues. They were languages that were understood.
The languages spoken by the apostles could not have been less than seven or eight, besides different dialects of the same languages. It is not certain that the Jews present from foreign nations spoke those languages perfectly; but they had no doubt used them well enough to make them the common tongue in which they conversed. No miracle could be more certain than this. There was no way in which the apostles could deceive them, and make them believe they spoke foreign languages, if they really did not; because these foreigners were definitely able to determine that. It may be said, that this miracle had more important effects than that witnessed on the day of Pentecost. The gospel would be carried by those who were converted to all the places from which they had come; and the way would be prepared for the ministry of the apostles there. Accordingly, Christian churches were established afterwards in most of these places, and they became celebrated for the conversion of great multitudes to the Christian faith.
“The wonderful works of God” were things such as the incarnation of Christ; his various miracles, preaching, death, resurrection, and ascension; and the objective of God to save the world through Him. From this one circumstance we may learn that all the people named above were either Jews or proselytes; and that there was probably not any among them that could be, strictly speaking, called heathens. It may appear strange that there could be Jews found in so many different countries, some of which were very remote from Jerusalem; but there is a passage in Philo's Embassy to Caius which throws considerable light on the subject. In a letter sent to Caius by King Agrippa, he speaks of the holy city of Jerusalem, not merely as the metropolis of Judea, but of many other regions, because of the colonies of Jews which were led out of Judea at different times, not only into neighboring countries, such as Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, and Coelosyria, but also into those that are remote, such as Pamphylia, Cilicia, and the chief parts of Asia as far as Bithynia, and the innermost parts of Pontus; also in the regions of Europe, Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, and the principal parts of Peloponnesus. Not only are the continents and provinces (he says) full of Jewish colonies, but also the isles of Euboea, Cyprus, and Crete, not to mention the countries beyond the Euphrates. All these are inhabited by Jews.
It is worthwhile to note that almost all the places and provinces mentioned by St. Luke are mentioned also in this letter of King Agrippa. Since these people are all either Jews or proselytes, they could understand to some extent the wonderful works of God, of which mere heathens could have had no comprehension. It was wisely prearranged that the miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost should take place at this time, when so many from various nations were present to bear witness to what was done, and to be themselves subjects of His mighty miracle. These men, when they returned to their respective countries, would naturally make known the things they saw and heard; and by this the way was prepared for the coming of the apostles; and thus Christianity made a rapid progress over all those parts of the world in a very short time after the resurrection of our Lord.