Who Spoke on the Day of Pentecost?
by Mike Derewianka
The Bible gives us enough information to have a good idea of who spoke in tongues at Pentecost.
- The speakers were either the 12 apostles or the 120 disciples (Acts 1:15, 26; Acts 2:1).
- The group was small enough so that they could all sit in a house (Acts 2:2)
- The eyewitnesses thought that all who spoke in tongues were Galileans. (Acts 2:7)
- Some of the eyewitnesses were Judeans, who we would expect to know the difference between a Judean and a Galilean. (Acts 2:9)
- Jesus told the apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2-5) Then two angels spoke to the apostles and called them “men of Galilee”. (Acts 2:11)
- Joseph of Arimathea and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany were not Galileans, but were close to Jesus in His last days.
- The twelve apostles are specifically mentioned as being in the house at Pentecost, no one else is. (Acts 2:14)
- When Peter explains the tongues speaking, he is described as “standing up with the eleven” and says “these are not drunk, as you suppose”. (Acts 2:14-15)
The facts support that it was the twelve apostles who spoke in tongues, not the 120. The facts do not support the idea that women spoke in tongues in Acts 2:4 at Pentecost.
To insist that it was the 120, one would have to make a series of unreasonable claims, as below.
Unreasonable Claim #1
a. Either the eyewitnesses were wrong in thinking the speakers were all Galileans or
b. b) all of the 120 were Galileans
Since the whole point of the tongues here depends on the identity of the speakers (it was supernatural for Galileans to speak in other languages), the former, a), is unreasonable. Also, does it seem reasonable that the Holy Spirit would record that the eyewitnesses thought that all the speakers were Galileans if He did not want us reach that conclusion? It is also irresponsible to assert that none of the 120 disciples of Acts 1:15-26 were from somewhere other than Galilee. How could someone teach as truth a conclusion that is based on the claim that neither Joseph of Arimathea nor Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany nor any disciple from anywhere but Galilee was among the 120?
Improbable Claim #2
They were in a very large house where 120 people could all sit.
- This is possible, but improbable. How many houses have you seen in the modern day could seat that many? How much less so in that day?
- In Acts 2:15, when the 120 met, it does not specify where they met.
- The apostles and possibly their wives were in the upper room of Acts 2:13. There is nothing in the text that makes it clear the 120 met there.
Unreasonable Claim #3
(Acts 2:14-15) When Peter explains the tongues speaking, and he is described as “standing up with the eleven” and says “these are not drunk, as you suppose”, he is really referring to the 120 who are not mentioned, instead the eleven who are mentioned.
The Holy Spirit is a good communicator. If He wanted us to think of the 120 speaking, do you think He would have said 120 instead of eleven?
Unreasonable Claim #4 Ignore Patriarchal Culture
An important principle of Bible interpretation is to ask yourself, “What would the original audience have thought this means?”
Would the patriarchal Mid-East readers of the day have read this and understood that women spoke in public if it were not explicitly stated in the text? No.
Improbable Claim #5 Implausible to identify 120 stranges as Galileans
How likely is it that someone could see 120 strangers and conclude that they all are Galileans? Possible, but not likely. This would be a much more reasonable task with a group of 12.
Sons and daughters
Does the reference to “sons and daughters” prophesying in Acts 2:17-21 indicate that women spoke at Pentecost?
No. This passage is telling us of things that will happen during the entire church age, beginning at Pentecost and ending with the Lord’s return. Was the Spirit poured out on “all flesh” (all nations, including Gentiles) at Pentecost? Did the moon turn to blood at Pentecost? Did old men dream dreams at Pentecost? No, no, and no. Yet all these are in that same passage. The apostles spoke in tongues at Pentecost as a beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy of Joel, which Peter quoted. It does not prove that women spoke that day any more that it proves that the Spirit came upon Gentiles (“all flesh”) that day.
15 Regions, but only 12 apostles
Acts 2:8-11 says 15 different regions heard the apostles speak in their own languages, but there were only 12 apostles. It is entirely possible that a single apostle was enabled to speak in more than one language. Paul said “I speak in tongues (foreign languages) more than you all.” (1 Cor 14:18)
A possible timeline of events at Pentecost.
- Before Pentecost (Acts chapter 1), the Galilean apostles were off by themselves (seemingly alone) when the Lord appeared to them, hence they are referred to as “men of Galilee”. (Acts 1:11)
- At the end of the same day (Acts 1:12) that the Lord ascended, they returned to the place where they were staying, rejoining their wives (and children?) and Mary, the brothers of the Lord, and possibly other disciples there.
- Some days later, 120 “names”, possibly 120 men, met together to choose a successor to Judas. There might have been women present in addition to the men, but such a decision probably would have been made by men in that culture. Adam Clarke’s Commentary comments: “It is remarkable that this (120) was the number which the Jews required to form a council in any city.” The phrase “in these days” does not require that the women mentioned in Acts 1:14 be present. On the single day of Acts 1:1-14 we see a period where the apostles (“men of Galilee”) were seemingly off by themselves, then later rejoined the women.
- On the morning of Pentecost, the apostles were worshiping by themselves in a house that had enough room for them all to sit. (Acts 2:1, 14)
- When the Holy Spirit arrived (Praise God!), Jews in the city gathered to where the apostles were speaking in tongues and heard them. Quite possibly the apostles remained in the house, because in many translations in Acts 2:14, we get the impression that Peter and the eleven were moving from a sitting to a standing position after the tongues speaking event.
- 3,000 believed and were baptized that day. Possibly not all 3,000 personally heard the tongues speaking. Some of these may have been persuaded by the testimony of those Jews who were there and told their friends and families.
Mike Derewianka lives with his wife, mother-in-law, and two children in South Windsor, CT. He works as an engineer designing pavements. His family enjoys fellowship in a local house church. On Wednesday nights Mike leads a Bible study in his home. His family produces a public access TV show that airs on local cable TV channels. The main topics of the show are: Bible messages, the gospel, creation versus evolutions, and Bible prophecy. Some of videos can be viewed at www.SeekGod.TV.