Q196 : Foreign Tongues on the Day of Pentecost

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Q196 : Foreign Tongues on the Day of Pentecost

Hello Dr. Garland,

I'm confused about the statement in your article titled Daniel and the Times of the Gentilesa that "the Day of Pentecost when God used the tongues of foreign nations to proclaim His glory while purposefully avoiding the native tongue of the Jews of Jerusalem."

Acts 2:9 includes residents of Judea in the list of those who heard the apostles speaking in their own language. Jerusalem is in Judea, so it seems logical that those residents were not excluded. Also, according to verse 10, the hearers were all Jews and proselytes. Your statement seems to imply that God excluded the Jews of Jerusalem from the opportunity to be included in the New Covenant. Perhaps I misunderstood.

A196 : by Tony Garland

Your question is an excellent one. The passage certainly has some subtleties. Here are some things to consider concerning the passage:

Languages Foreign to Judea

I think we can safely conclude that the languages which were spoken were all foreign languages with respect to Judea (and Jerusalem). It would not have been considered remarkable for a Galilean to be understood in Judea or Jerusalem. Jesus and the apostles routinely ministered in Judea and Jerusalem without the need of supernatural tongues. Notice the response by those who heard and understood the tongues, “Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?” (Acts 1:8) It seems unlikely that some of the Galileans were speaking the native tongue of Judea or else it would not have been an occasion for remark by those in Judea.

Place of Dwelling vs. Place of Birth

Verse 8 identifies the different languages as “each in our own language in which we were born.” Verse 9 lists the places where the listeners dwelt – which includes Judea. As Lange’s commentary observes, some of those which presently dwelt in Jerusalem (and by inference, Judea) who heard the language in which they were born were not necessarily native:

These Jewish men “dwelt” (ver. 5) in Jerusalem . . . This expression has generally been understood, in recent times, (de Wette, Meyer; Chrysostom, among the early writers) as denoting a permanent abode, a settled residence; it is, further, supposed to refer exclusively to Jews who came from foreign countries, and who, influenced by strong religious attachments . . . and, specially, desirous of being near the temple and passing the evening of life in the holy city, had now established their homes in Jerusalem. . . . ver. 10, distinctly [implies] that these persons, or at least the majority of them, still resided in foreign countries at that time, and were only temporarily present in Jerusalem on the occasion of the festival: it is possible that some of the number may have established themselves permanently in the city.1

This is how I take it: they were Jews who had been born in countries with other languages. They were in Judea/Jerusalem for the feast and some of them dwelt—at least part time if not full time after having immigrated—in Judea. But the languages they heard from the Galileans were all foreign.

Gospel Not Proclaimed in Tongues

If none of the Galileans were speaking in languages known by the Jews native to Jerusalem—as I believe—this wouldn’t have any bearing on their inclusion or exclusion from the New Covenant. For one thing, tongues are never used to present the message of the gospel. So the gospel is not being proclaimed or offered by tongues in Acts 2. (It seems to be a common assumption that the purpose of tongues is to bridge the language barrier in order to proclaim the gospel. But Scripture never indicates this. Notice in Acts 10 where it is the Gentile recipients of the gospel—after hearing the message in their own language—who respond in tongues.) Here in Acts 2, a clear gospel presentation is given by Peter to both the foreign and native Jews—all who were present on the day of Pentecost at the language miracle (Acts 2:14-38). Notice that the listeners only respond to the offer of salvation after it has been presented in a native tongue (Acts 2:37). Thus, all who were present had an equal possibility of hearing and responding to the message.

A Subtle Indication of Judgment

Many of the local Jews, who were not born in lands of the Gentile tongues, were less likely to respond to what had taken place as they wouldn’t have heard anyone proclaim “the wonderful works of God.” To these, the languages were unintelligible which led to their responding, “They are full of new wine” – accusing the tongues speakers as being drunk. These Jews were at a disadvantage in that they could not personally verify the miracle. If, as it seems likely, the native tongue of Jerusalem was omitted in the miracle (for then it would not have constituted a miracle), this would also be a clear sign of the intention of God to begin the global evangelization of the nations supplanting the previous focus of being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel to offer the kingdom (Mat. 10:6; 15:24). This is also reflected in the interchange between Jesus and the apostles recorded in the previous chapter (Acts 1:6-8). This global expansion was triggered by the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish nation and serves as a form of judgment on apostate Judaism, “. . . their being cast away is the reconciling of the world . . .” (Rom. 11:15).

I hope that helps explain my reasoning more fully.


1.Ref-1304, Acts 2:5


Ref-1304John Peter Lange, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008).

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