Why Was Everyone Bewildered by the Pentecost?

These local yokels can't know that many languages.

Acts 2:1-12 (ESV)

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”`

At first glance, this seems to say that the words spoken by the disciples had some miraculous “universal translator” feature so that one person could speak and everyone would hear it as their own language. But closer analysis shows that not to be the case.

The “they” in “they were all together in one place” presumably means all 120 brothers mentioned in Acts 1:15. Otherwise the word “all” doesn’t seem right. The one place where they were all together was a house. Yet, Peter’s sermon will be given to at least 3,000 people. They must have left the house and gone to a place that would hold that many people. A courtyard in the temple seems likely.

This is a large gathering – a multitude. The multitude is bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. But are they bewildered because of a miraculous universal translator effect, or are they bewildered because they’re hearing the brothers speak in an amazing range of languages?

Their question makes this clear. Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? This only makes sense if it’s the second option. Where they’re from doesn’t matter if this is a universal translator miracle.

These “jet setters” from all over the world are astonished that these local boys know all their languages.

This whole language thing is a surprise. No one told the disciples this would happen. When Jesus said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” they probably thought of the “leap tall buildings in a single bound” kind of power. But the Holy Spirit is full of surprises.

Are all your spiritual gifts just what you expected, or have you found some “curveball” ones? We’re always praying about what we are to do next. Today, let’s pray about what we are to be. Ask God to help you see “the new you” more clearly. How have you been surprised by yourself lately?

Don’t assume your old weaknesses are still there. Pay attention to little changes; they may be clues.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.