Tongues of Fire
TONGUES OF FIRE. One of the phenomena that occurred at the outpouring of the
TONGUES OF FIRE (γλω̂σσαι ὡσεὶ πυρός, tongues as of fire). The phrase is used in
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The reference in this topic is to the marvelous gift of the
1. Supernatural Manifestations:
When the Day of Pentecost was fully come and the disciples, no doubt by previous arrangement and with one accord, were gathered together in one place, the promise was gloriously fulfilled. On that day, the 50th after the Passover, and so the first day of the week, the Lord’s day, the Spirit of God descended upon them in marvelous copiousness and power. The gift of the Spirit was accompanied by extraordinary manifestations or phenomena. These were three and were supernatural. His coming first appealed to the ear. The disciples heard a "sound from heaven," which rushed with mighty force into the house and filled it even as the storm rushes, but there was no wind. It was the sound that filled the house, not a wind. It was an invisible cause producing audible effects. Next, the eye was arrested by the appearance of tongues of fire which rested on each of the gathered company. Our the"cloven tongues" is somewhat misleading, for it is likely to suggest that each fire-like tongue was cloven or forked, as one sometimes sees in the pictures representing the scene. But this is not at all the meaning of Luke’s expression; rather, tongues parting asunder, tongues distributed among them, each disciple sharing in the gift equally with the others. "Like as of fire," or, more exactly, "as if of fire," indicates the appearance of the tongues, not that they were actually aflame, but that they prefigured the marvelous gift with which the disciples were now endowed.
Finally, there was the impartation to them of a new strange power to speak in languages they had never learned. It was because they were filled with the Holy Spirit that this extraordinary gift was exhibited by them. Not only did the Spirit enable them thus to speak, but even the utterance of words depended on His divine influence--they spake "as the Spirit gave them utterance."
Many attempts have been made by writers on the Ac to explain the phenomenon of Pentecost so as to exclude in whole or in part the supernatural element which Luke unquestionably recognizes. Some try to account for the gift of tongues by saying that it was a new style of speaking, or new forms of expression, or new and elevated thoughts, but this is both unnatural and wholly inconsistent with the narrative where a real difference of language is implied. Others imagine that the miracle was wrought upon the ears of the hearers, each of whom supposed what he heard to be uttered in his mother-tongue. But this view contradicts the distinct statement in
2. Sinai and Pentecost:
The scenes witnessed at Pentecost were somewhat analogous to the events which occurred at the giving of the Law at Sinai, but the contrast between them is much more pronounced. We are told in
The phenomena characterize the two dispensations. That of Sinai was legal. Its substance was: Do and live; disobey and die. Law knows no mercy, extends no grace. Exact justice is its rule, perfect righteousness its requirement, and death its penalty. No wonder terrible things accompanied its proclamation, and Moses trembled with fear. No wonder it was called "a fiery law" (
3. Qualities Imparted by the Spirit:
With the advent of the Spirit came perfect grace, divine power and complete pardon for the worst of men. At Sinai God spoke in one language. At Pentecost the Spirit through the disciples spoke in many tongues (15 in all are mentioned in Ac 2). The Law was for one people alone; the gospel is for the whole race. The sound that accompanied the outpouring of the Spirit filled all the house and all the disciples likewise--token and pledge of the copiousness, the fullness of the gift. The tongues of flame signified the power of speech, boldness of utterance, and persuasiveness which from henceforth were to mark the testimony of the disciples.
The marvelous capabilities which the witnesses display after Pentecost are most noteworthy. It is common to admire their courage and zeal, to contrast their fearlessness in the presence of enemies and danger with their former timidity and cowardice. It is perhaps not so common to recognize in them the qualities that lie at the foundation of all effective work, that which gives to witness-bearing for Christ its real energy and potency. These qualities are such as: knowledge and wisdom, zeal and prudence, confidence and devotion, boldness and love. skill and tact. These and the like gifts appear in their discourses, in their behavior when difficulties arise and dangers impend, and in their conduct before the angry rulers. It is altogether remarkable with what skill and tact they defend themselves before the Sanhedrin, and with what effectiveness they preach the gospel of the grace of God to the multitude, often a scoffing and hostile multitude. In Peter’s address on the Day of Pentecost there are the marks of the highest art, the most skillful logic, and the most, persuasive argument. Professor Stifler well says of it: "It is without a peer among the products of uninspired men. And yet it is the work of a Galilean fisherman, without culture or training, and his maiden effort." The like distinguished traits are found in Peter’s address recorded in
In the management of the serious complaint made by the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews as to the neglect of their widows in the daily ministration (
4. Distinguished from 1 Corinthians 12; 14:
The tongues of fire which we have been considering appear to have differed in one important aspect from the like gift bestowed on the Corinthians (
It may not be out of place here to say that the so-called "gift of tongues," so loudly proclaimed by certain excitable persons in our day, has nothing in common with the mighty action of the Spirit of God on the day of Pentecost, and hardly anything with that which the Corinthian Christians enjoyed, and which Paul regulated with a master-hand.
See Gift of Tongues.
Stifler, Introduction to the Book of Acts; Alexander, Commentary on the Acts; Kuyper, Work of the Holy Spirit; Moorehead, Outline Studies in Acts--Ephesians.
William G. Moorehead