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Speaking in Tongues in the Bible

What happened at Pentecost?


Megan Sauter 08/13/2016 (08/13/2016T09:17)

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015.Ed.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit
gave them ability.
Acts 2:4

What happened at Pentecost in the New Testament?

Acts 2 describes a miracle: During the festival of Pentecost, Jesus


disciples are given the Holy Spirit, and they begin speaking in
tongues (other languages). Are the disciples speaking in human
languages, or is this an instance of glossolalia in the Bible?

Glossolaliaspeaking in angelic tonguesis described as a spiritual


gift in 1 Corinthians 1214. Websters dictionary defines glossolalia
as prayer characterized chiefly by incomprehensible speech,
originating in primitive Christianity and now practiced by
Pentecostal groups in ecstatic forms of worship.

Ben Witherington III addresses what happened at Pentecost in his


Biblical Views column Speaking in the Tongues of Men or
Angels? in the July/August 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology
Review. While some believe that Acts 2 is the first instance of
SPEAKING IN TONGUES IN THE
glossolalia in the Bible, he maintains that it is not. BIBLE. This Armenian
manuscript was illustrated by
When the disciples begin speaking in tongues, Acts 2:6 says that the Zakaria Gnunetsi in 1575. It
depicts Acts 2 when Jesus
crowd of Diaspora Jews who were in Jerusalem for the festival of
disciples receive the gift of
Pentecost gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard speaking in tongues at
them speaking in the native language of each. Pentecost. Some believe this
is the first instance of
glossolalia in the Bible, but
Those who believe this is an instance of glossolalia in the Bible say others maintain that the
that two miracles took place: The disciples were speaking in angelic disciples are speaking human
tongues, and each person heard the message in his native languages.

language. However, Ben Witherington III contends that just one miracle occurred. The disciples
miraculously began speaking other human languages, which is supported by the Greek
grammar of Acts 2:6. Witherington explains:
The phrase in their native language modifies the verb speaking in verse 6, not the verb
hearing. So there is exactly one miracle of speech at Pentecosta miracle my Greek
students regularly pray for, namely, the ability to suddenly speak a foreign language
without further study! In short, the Pentecost story is not about glossolalia, despite the
name of the modern Protestant denomination. If you want to find a story about glossolalia
in a story about conversion in Acts, then you should turn to the story of Cornelius in Acts
10.

Witherington further explains that what happened at


Pentecost is the opposite of what occurred at the Tower of
Babel (Genesis 11:19). As a result of the Tower of Babel,
human language is confused, and a language barrier is
created, but at Pentecost, the language barrier is
surmounted:

At Pentecost the multiple languages problem and


language barrier is not resolved, but the Good News TOWER OF BABEL. Pieter Bruegel the
overcomes the problem by being shared in all the Elders painting Tower of Babel is on
display at the Kunsthistorisches
various languages of the persons present there. While Museum in Vienna. Ben Witherington III
Pentecost doesnt reverse the effect of Gods confusing explains that what happened at
Pentecostspeaking in tongues
the languages at Babel, it overcomes the problem for the overcame the effect of the Tower of
sake of the salvation of the nations. Babelthe confusion of language.

To see Ben Witherington IIIs full analysis of what happened at Pentecost, read his Biblical
Views column Speaking in the Tongues of Men or Angels? in the July/August 2015 issue
of BAR.

BAS Library Members: Read the full Biblical Views column Speaking in the Tongues of
Men or Angels? by Ben Witherington III in the July/August 2015 issue of Biblical
Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on July 13, 2015.

Learn more about Pentecost and read more articles by Ben Witherington III in the BAS Library:
Bargil Pixner, Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion, Biblical Archaeology Review,
May/June 1990.

Ben Witherington III, Biblical Views: Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoots Lost
Manuscripts, Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2014.
Ben Witherington III, Biblical Views: Images of Crucifixion: Fresh Evidence, Biblical
Archaeology Review, March/April 2013.

Ben Witherington III, In the Beginning: Religion at the Dawn of Civilization, Biblical
Archaeology Review, January/February 2013.

Ben Witherington III, Biblical Views: Spirited Discourse About God Language in the New
Testament, Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2012.

Ben Witherington III, Biblical Views: Making Sense of the Unlikely Easter Story, Biblical
Archaeology Review, March/April 2011.

Ben Witherington III, Biblical Views: Jesus Has the Last Word, Biblical Archaeology Review,
March/April 2010.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

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