“And the LORD said….let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech….Therefore is the name of it called Babel” (Genesis 11:6-9, KJV).
After the great flood in the time of Noah, people once again became wicked in the sight of God. Out of the pride of their hearts, they began to build a tower to heaven which became known as “Babel.” To prevent their prideful idolatry, God caused them to speak in different languages. Previously, “The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech” (Genesis 11:1). Without a common language, unity was disrupted and people were scattered upon the face of the earth. This was the origin of the different languages in the world.
Over 2000 years later, on the day of Pentecost, 120 followers of Jesus Christ were at Jerusalem in an upper room seeking the Father in unity. “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind….And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4).
A great crowd, including Jews from every nation under heaven, congregated to observe this miraculous sight. Not understanding what was occurring, some accused the disciples of being drunk. God had poured out His Spirit on the believers in Jesus Christ and witnessed of the gospel through signs and wonders as the disciples spoke in “other tongues.”
Much is said in the religious world about “speaking in tongues” as on the day of Pentecost. What really happened? What were the disciples speaking? Were these “other tongues” a spiritual, heavenly, angelic language? It need not be left to theologians nor to emotional or personal experiences to define the truth of the gift of tongues. The Word of God reveals the reality and truth of this gift.
“Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6). This account is simple and clear. The disciples were not speaking unintelligibly in some ecstatic, angelic language. These men of Galilee (many of whom were uneducated fishermen) were speaking in over a dozen tongues, or languages, of the people who were gathered. “And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:8). People from Asia to Africa to Rome (Acts 2:9-11) were amazed and marveled as they listened.
The disciples had not learned these languages; but as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance, they were able to communicate in a foreign language so people of other lands could understand. They were prophesying, or preaching, of Jesus Christ the Son of the living God. “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11b). The gift was to the speakers not to the hearers. For example, Peter may have been preaching to a group in one of the languages of Asia. Across the road, John might have been preaching to the people in the language of the Arabians, etc.
The people at Babel were divided by the confusion of everyone speaking different languages. On Pentecost, they were all able to hear the unifying message of Jesus Christ through the divine gift of tongues. If the disciples were jabbering, muttering, and groaning as many professing “tongues speakers” do today, people would have been left in confusion. Rather, men of all nations heard the message of salvation in their native language.
Praise be to the Lord who enabled the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, to witness to foreigners in their own language: from Babel to Pentecost, from division to unity, from confusion to clarity, from sin to salvation.