(Act 2:4 ESV) 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Filled with the Spirit
“Filled with the Holy Spirit” is a phrase that will appear a number of times in Luke-Acts —
(Luk 1:15 ESV) for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
(Luk 1:41 ESV) And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,
(Luk 1:67 ESV) And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
(Act 4:8 ESV) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,
(Act 4:31 ESV) And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
(Act 9:17 ESV) So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
(Act 13:9 ESV) But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him
(Act 13:52 ESV) And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
And then there’s —
(Eph 5:18 ESV) 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
Luke also speaks of people being “filled” with jealousy, anger, and confusion. It’s clear that ordinary Christians, at least, aren’t always filled with the Spirit. We always have the Spirit, but are only filled with the Spirit when we are filled up with the Spirit, that is, when we’ve fully yielded to the Spirit’s influence.
On the other hand, it appears that Paul (9:17) and presumably the original 12 (2:4) were continuously filled with the Spirit. That is, “filled” seems to refer to a particular intense influence of the Spirit, that is available to all but not always realized by all.
Now, we receive the Spirit today — as Peter is about to explain in Acts 2:38. Does that mean we could be “filled with the Spirit”? Is that possible in 2011?
If so, what would a person filled with the Spirit be like? Do you know anyone like that?
“Tongues” is a conventional word (idiom) in Greek for “languages.” There is nothing in Acts to suggest an ecstatic utterance. But it’s not fair to the text to reject that possibility out of hand.
(Num 11:24-30 ESV) 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. 26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” 30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
What does “prophecy” mean in this context? Were they stringing together chapters of Hebrew poetry, like Isaiah? Warning of God’s intentions, like Jeremiah? How did strangers know they were prophesying? What was it about their speech that made it obvious they were speaking for God?
(1Sa 19:20-24 ESV) 20 Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” 23 And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
Tell me this isn’t speaking of some sort of ecstatic behavior!
Therefore, it’s a mistake to categorically reject the notion that the Spirit might prompt ecstatic speech, but Old Testament term for this is “prophecy,” which obviously includes a very wide range of Spirit-directed utterance and much more than ecstatic utterance.
In the immediate context, it seems pretty clear that the apostles spoke in actual human languages, as we’ll see — but there are those who argue the point. I think they ignore the Old Testament in their argument — and forget that Luke will use Old Testament language to express God things when Old Testament language is available for that purpose. Therefore, the strong likelihood is that they were speaking actual language.
(Act 2:5-11 ESV) 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians–we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
“Every nation under heaven” would be a First Century way of saying “every nation in the Roman Empire” or more precisely “every nation to which Jews have been scattered,” which would be limited to the Empire. They were there for Passover and Pentecost, on pilgrimage.
The “sound” is most likely the sound of the men speaking in tongues. The Greek is phone (long e), meaning “sound” or “voice.” Therefore, the disciples were likely in the Temple, which is one of the few places where such a large crowd would be to hear those voices.
Most suggest that “sound” refers to the wind, but the voices are mentioned more recently. “The sound” would surely be a reference to 120 people speaking by the power of the Spirit.
Some argue that the miracle is not in the speaking but in the hearing, as more than 12 languages were spoken. But nothing in the text limits the speakers to the 12. In fact, Luke uses “they” throughout chapter 2, referring back to the 120 in Acts 1:15! That raises several intriguing possibilities.
First, 120 people speaking is much more likely to draw a crowd than 12, so it makes sense.
Second, there were women among the 120 (Acts 1:15 is explicit). Did women participate? Read the text and decide for yourselves. Look ahead to —
(Act 2:15-18 ESV) 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
The speeches at Pentecost are traditionally assumed to be by just the apostles, but you can’t actually prove that by the language of Acts, and it sure seems that Peter is referring to the fact that women have received the power to prophesy — otherwise his argument would seem fatally flawed.
The mighty works of God
We have little information on just what was being said, but clearly this part of the sermon was about “the mighty works of God.” “Mighty” is an unusual word, megaleios, found only here in the New Testament and only twice in the Old Testament. The language seems to be borrowed from —
(Deu 11:2 ESV) 2 And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the LORD your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm,
“Works” in not the Greek. “Magnificence” or “greatness” would be a better translation, but Deuteronomy 11:2 is immediately followed by a detailed listing of God’s mighty works, as a prelude to the make of a covenant with God’s people. There’s just a hint that Pentecost reflects a new covenant, a new Torah.
The recitation of God’s mighty works not only replicates Deuteronomy, but sets the stage to describe the mightiest work of all: the resurrection.