Life-Study of Actsby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we shall consider the matter of speaking in tongues. The fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost implies tongue-speaking.
Acts 2:3 says, “And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which were divided and sat on each one of them.” Here “tongues” are a symbol of speaking, symbolizing that God’s economical Spirit of power is mostly for speaking. He is the speaking Spirit.
Verse 3 says that tongues as of fire sat on each of the one hundred and twenty. In this verse “fire” symbolizes burning power for purging and motivating in God’s economical move. The fact that the verb “sat” is singular indicates that one tongue sat on each one of them.
Acts 2:4 says, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in different tongues, even as the Spirit gave them to speak out.” Here “all” modifies only “filled” in the first clause, not “began to speak” in the second clause. The word “all” cannot be used as evidence that all the disciples who were filled with the Holy Spirit began to speak in tongues.
We need to read verse 4 carefully, paying attention to the punctuation. Notice that there is a comma after “Holy Spirit.” This verse says, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in different tongues, even as the Spirit gave them to speak out.” The comma after “Holy Spirit” may help us to see that “all” does not modify both “filled” and “began to speak.” Here we have two predicates: “were filled” and “began to speak.” We need to have the discernment to know whether the modifier “all” modifies both predicates or only the first predicate. If it modifies both predicates, then verse 4 is saying that all spoke in tongues. But if it modifies only the first predicate, then this verse is saying that all were filled with the Holy Spirit, but not all spoke in tongues. If Luke’s meaning is that all spoke in tongues, he should have used the word “all” a second time, before the word “began.”
According to grammar, verse 4 is not saying that all were filled with the Holy Spirit and that all began to speak in different tongues. For example, suppose we said, “All the saints came into the meeting, and they began to pray.” Does this mean that everyone prayed? No, this is not the meaning. Likewise, verse 4 is not saying that all those who were filled with the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues.
Those who promote today’s tongue-speaking may insist that “all” in 2:4 modifies the second predicate as well as the first. Then they may go on to use this verse as a basis for claiming that on the day of Pentecost each of the one hundred and twenty spoke in tongues. However, after spending much time in studying this verse, I have the assurance to say that “all” does not modify the second predicate. On the contrary, this word indicates only that all of the one hundred and twenty were filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, verse 4 does not indicate that they all spoke in tongues.
The “tongues” spoken in 2:4 were dialects (vv. 6, 8). The disciples were Galileans (v. 7), yet they spoke the different foreign dialects of the attendants who came from various parts of the world. This is strong proof that tongue-speaking must be an understandable language, not merely a voice or sound uttered by the tongue. The Greek word rendered “speak out” in verse 4 is “a peculiar word, and purposely chosen to denote the clear, loud utterance” (Vincent).
We have pointed out that the tongues in verse 4 were dialects. Concerning this, verses 5 through 8 say, “Now there were Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together and were confounded, because each one heard them speaking in his own dialect. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying, Look, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own dialect in which we were born?” The Jews in verse 5 were devout Jews who came from their dispersion to Jerusalem to keep the feast of Pentecost. Verse 10 speaks of proselytes, Gentiles who were converted to Judaism (6:5; 13:43). The word “dialect” in verses 6 and 8 is synonymous with “tongues” in verse 4.
According to verse 11, the people exclaimed, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the great things of God.” The Greek word for “tongues” here is glossa. In this chapter glossa is used for two things: the speaking organ (v. 3) and dialects (vv. 4, 11), referring to the dialects in verses 6 and 8. This evidence affords no ground to say that tongue-speaking may be merely a voice or sound uttered by the tongue, the speaking organ. Rather, tongue-speaking must be a dialect, because what the disciples spoke in tongues were all different dialects. In this sense, tongues and dialects are synonyms, interchangeably used in these verses.
Those who promote tongue-speaking may insist that it is not necessary for the tongue that is spoken to be an understandable human language. They may claim that to speak in tongues is simply to utter some kind of sound. Promoters of tongue-speaking need to say this because much of today’s so-called tongues are not dialects but meaningless sounds. However, the tongues spoken on the day of Pentecost were a miracle caused by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Galileans who spoke in tongues on the day of Pentecost did not speak with a Galilean accent. “Each one heard them speaking in his own dialect.” Although the tongues spoken on the day of Pentecost were dialects, it is not likely that you will hear any dialects spoken by today’s tongue-speakers in meetings held for that purpose.
One day, in 1936, I had a talk with a leading Pentecostal missionary concerning these verses in Acts 2. Holding my Greek-English Interlinear New Testament in my hand, I pointed out to him that here glossa is used in two ways: to denote the tongue, the speaking organ, and to denote a dialect. He was not able to answer me, but instead patted me on the head and said, “Your head is too big.”
Although I myself had practiced so-called tongue-speaking and had led others to do so, I dropped this practice after speaking with that missionary. I came to realize that much of what is called tongue-speaking is not the miraculous speaking of a dialect, but something humanly manufactured. The point we are emphasizing here is that the tongues spoken on the day of Pentecost were genuine dialects and not merely sounds uttered by the tongue.
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