Acts 2:4-11 (The Spirit, Tongues, Mighty Works)

(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.

Consider —

(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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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13 Responses to Acts 2:4-11 (The Spirit, Tongues, Mighty Works)

  1. laymond says:

    Jhn 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
    Jhn 14:17 [even] the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
    Jhn 14:26 But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

    Jhn 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

    Jhn 13 gives us the setting, and to whom Jesus is speaking. It is really not that confusing. It has been confused by those who wish to say they have the powers of the apostles, given by God at the request of Jesus.

  2. rich constant says:

    i was taught that a prophet of god as defined :
    “old test.
    a spokesman of god”

    Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
    “Tell me this isn’t speaking of some sort of ecstatic behavior.”

    at what point of the story, do you consider this evil spirit to have left Saul?

    1Sa 18:10 And it came to pass on the morrow, that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as he did day by day: and Saul had his spear in his hand.


  3. Charles McLean says:

    So, Laymond, if the setting in John 13 limits the applicability of Jesus’ recorded discourse to the Eleven, are you prepared to tell folks in your church that John 14:3 was ONLY applicable to the Eleven?

    This, if your interpretive model is to be followed, is going to take some rethinking of Jesus’ words. Perhaps, more accurately, it should read:
    “In my Father’s house are at least a dozen rooms…”

    “I go to prepare a place for you guys, and nobody else… that where I am, there you and ONLY you may be also.”

    When you buy one end of the horse, you get the other end as well, whether you like it or not. And if one end is dead, so’s the other.

  4. Jerry says:

    Jay wrote:

    Some argue that the miracle is not in the speaking but in the hearing, as more than 12 languages were spoken.

    The text of Acts does not identify more than 12 languages, but more than 12 regions. It is quite possible that languages were spoken in more than 1 region. Hence, 12 speakers could have (not necessarily did) speak in the native languages of all the national groups assembled.

    Whether Acts 2 uses they of the 12 or of the 120 is not absolutely clear, at least not to me. I can see legitimate argument for either position. On balance, I believe Peter’s reference to daughters and maid servants prophesying would favor the 120 as those speaking in tongues and proclaiming the magnificence of God.

    I do not understand how Laymond arrives at his conclusion by applying a conversation from another time and place into what the text of Acts actually says. In effect, he argues that Acts cannot mean what it says because of his interpretation of John’s account of Jesus’ words to those with him in the upper room the night He was betrayed.


  5. Charles McLean says:

    I appreciate Jay’s cautious terminology in noting that some of our current assumptions about speaking in tongues simply cannot be attributed to this introduction to the phemomenon.

    If I may, I would suggest that the NT makes references to three distinct expressions of this gift: [a] Human languages acquired by spiritual dispensation used to communicate with human hearers (as in Acts); [b] spiritual language unknown to the speaker but used in communication with God (sometimes called “prayer language”) and [c] a language not learned naturally which serves as a sign to unbelievers. (Both these are identified in I Cor 14.) This last example has been testified of to me personally on two occasions, one in which the speaker spoke clear Spanish and one where the speaker spoke clear Bantu. Neither speaker knew either language, and both were compelling evidence to those present who did not believe.

    It is wise that we not try to base our understanding of this gift strictly on our observations of men. Paul corrected the misuse of the gift at Corinth; that problem still exists. The existence of the problem is not evidence that the gift is invalid today, just as it did not suggest that to Paul. We also have a modern problem with believers who speak in tongues referring to themselves as “Spirit-filled” to the exclusion of those who do not evidence this gift. Their construct is flawed, but no more so that the one I find when a brother speaks of “members of the church” and in so doing excludes me… or Billy Graham… or the Pope. Human error is not a good basis for doctrine.

    I like also Jay’s turn of phrase here, regarding being 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.” This is not definitive, but seems to me to be a good basis for reading such language in the scripture.

  6. Price says:

    The moment we start putting limitations on God we are beginning to mess up… Any number of the scenarios could have happened and it would not have changed the message…which is the important part, right ? I mean, the God that could crumble a city at the sound of trumpets, make an ax head float to the top of the water, allow a donkey to speak, let a man walk on water….can do what He wants when He wants regardless of our personal interpretation…

    I’ve got the same reaction as Moses I guess…Come on God..empower everybody to make a difference !!

  7. rich constant says:

    there is a few questions that need to be answered …

    just by way of reminder
    i am sure you all know the questions. yes ?

    before we run off into the ecstasy of speaking in the tongues of angles thus sounding like people that need to buy medication some where other than the web or their next door neighbor.

    2Co 12:11 I am become foolish: ye compelled me; for I ought to have been commended of you:

    for in nothing was I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I am nothing.

    2Co 12:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works.

    Heb 2:3 how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? which having at the first been spoken through the Lord,

    was confirmed unto us by them that heard;

    Heb 2:4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.

    i am not saying that Gods Spirit is not mightily working today
    although there is this little ditty also.

    2Co 11:3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ.
    2Co 11:4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if ye receive a different spirit, which ye did not receive, or a different gospel, which ye did not accept, ye do well to bear with him.
    2Co 11:5 For I reckon that I am not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.
    2Co 11:6 But though I be rude in speech, yet am I not in knowledge; nay, in everything we have made it manifest among all men to you–ward.
    2Co 11:7 Or did I commit a sin in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I preached to you the gospel of God for nought?
    2Co 11:8 I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you;
    2Co 11:9 and when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man; for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want; and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.
    2Co 11:10 As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this glorying in the regions of Achaia.
    2Co 11:11 Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth.
    2Co 11:12 But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire an occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we.
    2Co 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ.

    2Co 11:14 And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light.
    2Co 11:15 It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

    2Co 11:16 I say again, Let no man think me foolish; but if ye do, yet as foolish receive me, that I also may glory a little.
    2Co 11:17 That which I speak, I speak not after the Lord, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of glorying.
    2Co 11:18 Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also.
    2Co 11:19 For ye bear with the foolish gladly, being wise yourselves.
    2Co 11:20 For ye bear with a man, if he bringeth you into bondage, if he devoureth you, if he taketh you captive, if he exalteth himself, if he smiteth you on the face.

  8. laymond says:

    Jay said “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”

    And I agree , It seems right to me that Luke was referring to the overriding emotion at a certian time. And as Jay also said this is mostly if not only referred to by Luke in the new testament. When we compare what happends in a Christian at baptism, to what happened to Jesus, and later to Jesus apostles. There is just no proof that is what happends.
    As for the many mansions in heaven, I used to believe that is what was said, I am not so sure anymore, Yes I believe Jesus promised the apostles that, and also a ruleing position, but the new heavens and new earth have to have some purpose.

  9. laymond says:

    Jerry said, “I do not understand how Laymond arrives at his conclusion by applying a conversation from another time and place into what the text of Acts actually says.”

    Jerry, when I read something that is said by anyone except those who were in the company of Jesus and they seems to say something different from what the apostles said, I work hard to make Luke’s writings fit with what John, or any apostle said.In my opinion there is no way to make John’s writings fit with Lukes, but there is a way in my opinion to make Luke’s fit that of John.

  10. rich constant says:

    sounds like you are going to have a tough time with acts 10.

    with out uttering the words special circumstance.
    blessings there big guy
    all scripture dovetails perfectly
    ya know.
    except for and because of
    anthropological theology
    or that word again


  11. rich constant says:

    i was taught that a prophet of god as defined :
    “old test.
    a spokesman of god”

    Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
    “Tell me this isn’t speaking of some sort of ecstatic behavior.”

    or what i would call today ECSTATIC behavior

    1Sa 21:13 And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.
    1Sa 21:14 Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me?
    1Sa 21:15 Do I lack mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house


  12. rich constant says:

    of course then there is this one.
    seems to me i need a bible to read and then understand what was written.
    Eph 3:3 how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote afore in few words,
    Eph 3:4 whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ;
    Eph 3:5 which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;


  13. Charles McLean says:

    rich wrote: “…before we run off into the ecstasy of speaking in the tongues of angles thus sounding like people that need to buy medication some where other than the web or their next door neighbor.”
    No judgment there, nope. Well, maybe a little.

    But I understand, we certainly don’t want to sound like someone who needs his meds adjusted, talking about how we are going to live forever in some invisible city in the sky (with gold streets!)because we are washed with blood that came out of a Jewish guy (who we call a lamb) two thousand years ago while he was nailed to a tree. That same guy said we had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, so we do that every Sunday. We do this because this guy was really God, who invented human beings out of some mud, then later the humans killed him and then he got over it and went up into the clouds, never to be seen again. And we know it’s all true because it’s in this old book written by people we never heard of outside that book who said the book was true.

    Now, THAT does not sound at all deranged. Perfectly sensible and reasonable to any clear-thinking fellow, eh?.

    Methinks we think a bit too highly of ourselves and our smug wisdom, sometimes. We only THINK we appear more rational than that guy over there praying in a language we never heard of.

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