Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 2:1-11

1. And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place:

The days of the Pentecost. The word days is singular in the Greek. Taken in the plural, as in the Vulgate, it means the period of fifty days from the Pasch to Pentecost; in the singular it signifies the fiftieth day after the Pasch, or the day of Pentecost itself. Pentecost means fiftieth (day ) . It was one of the three great feasts which all males among the Jews were obliged to celebrate in Jerusalem. It lasted but one day, on which they offered to God bread made from the grain of the new harvest and some sacrifices. Cf. Ex 23:16; Lev 23:15; Num33:26; Deut 16:9.

In one place; i.e., in the Cenacle, where they were gathered together (Acts 1:13).

2. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them

A mighty wind. Our Lord had compared the action of the Holy Ghost to a wind (John 3:8), and in the Old Testament wind often symbolized the presence of God (2 Sam 5:24; 1 Kings 19:11). At our Lord’s baptism the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove; at the Transfiguration, in the form of a bright cloud; and here, as a fire, to purify, warm, and enlighten the Apostles. The Apostles were moved, therefore, not only by the sound, but also by the appearance, under the form of fire, of God’s Holy Spirit; and this fire had the semblance of tongues, like a candle flame, which settled down on each one of them. The tongues appeared parted, perhaps because each tongue had the appearance of being split as it rested on the head of the Apostles; or because, while the fire was whole in itself, it separated into different shafts or rays of light, as it rested on each of the Apostles.

4. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.

They were all filled with the Holy Ghost. This signifies the abundance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which the Apostles received. Among these gifts was that of tongues, which enabled the Apostles at the time to speak all languages, and which signified that the Gospel was to be preached in the whole world. The Apostles, however, did not possess this power of speaking different languages as a permanent gift.

Diverse tongues; i.e., other, or different languages from their own, as appears from the Greek. As the Holy Ghost gave them, etc. This shows that the power to speak these strange languages, of which they were before ignorant, was a gift of the Holy Ghost, and not a personal acquisition. The gift of tongues had already been promised the Apostles by our Lord (Mark 16:17), and was not infrequently possessed in the early Church (Acts 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor 14).

Some authorities, e.g., Dionysius the Carthusian, Cornelius a Lapide, and Estius, beHeve that the miracle of the gift of tongues was rather in the hearing of the listeners than in the speech of the Apostles, that the latter spoke their native languages, but were variously understood by those who heard them. But this opinion seems out of harmony with the account of St. Luke here given, and with the promise of Christ in Mark 16:17.

5. Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.

The Jews here spoken of were of the Dispersion, not natives of Palestine. They were religious and devout, and had come to Jerusalem to take part in the religious festival of Pentecost. It is no exaggeration to say they were men from every nation under heaven, for the Jews were in truth scattered throughout the then known world. Of this we are assured also by such authors as Josephus, Philo, and Strabo; and indeed it is not at all surprising when we remember the Babylonian and Assyrian captivities together with the many persecutions the Jews endured.

6. And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue.

When this was noised abroad. Some understand this phrase to refer to the rushing wind which was heard, not only in the Cenacle, but throughout the city; others think it refers to the news of the miracle of the gift of tongues.

In his own tongue,—rather, “in his own peculiar dialect” (τη ιδια διαλεκτω). The disciples were, therefore, able to speak the different dialects of the nations then represented in Jerusalem, namely, of the Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, etc.

7. And they were all amazed, and wondered, saying: Behold, are not all these that speak, Galileans?
8. And how have we heard, every man our own tongue wherein we were born?

How have we heard? The Greek has the present tense, “how do we hear?”

9. Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
10. Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome,
11. Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians: we have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.

St. Luke enumerates fifteen different regions from which the dwellers or visitors then in Jerusalem had come; they were all witnesses of the miracle of Pentecost. The enumeration begins with the Parthians, from the Far East, who lived in what is now Afghanistan, Beloochistan, Chorasan, and Turkistan. The Medes were inhabitants of Media, bounded on the north by the Caspian Sea, on the south by Persia, on the east by Parthia, and on the west by Syria and Armenia. The Elamites occupied a territory south of the Medes and near the Persian Gulf. The Parthians, the Medes, and the Elamites spoke a dialect of the Persian language. Mesopotamia was the country lying between the Tigris on the east and the Euphrates on the west. The inhabitants of Mesopotamia spoke an Aramaic dialect. Cappadocia was a Roman province of eastern Asia Minor. Pontus was north of Cappadocia. Asia was a Roman province comprising a great part of western Asia Minor. Phrygia and Pamphylia were two central provinces of Asia Minor. Different Greek dialects were the languages of Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia. Egypt, i.e., lower Egypt, especially around Alexandria, where the Jews were very numerous. Libya, the present Tripoli west of Egypt. Cyrene was the principal city of Libya, where there were many Jews. The Greeks had brought their language into Egypt, but the people there doubtless continued to speak their Egyptian tongue as well as Greek. Strangers of Rome were Jews who lived in Rome, but were then visitors in Jerusalem. They spoke Greek and Latin. These Romans were either Jews by birth, or proselytes, i.e., converts to Judaism. The Cretes were inhabitants of the island of Crete; they spoke a Greek dialect.

We have heard, etc. (verse 11). The Greek has the present tense, “we hear.”

It seems beyond doubt that the gift of tongues, received by the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, was the same as that often spoken of in different places in the New Testament (Acts 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor 12:10; 14:2, 5, 6, 13, 22, 29); the same words are used in each instance. Moreover, St. Peter (Acts 11:15) expressly says that there was given to Cornelius and his family the same gift of tongues which the Apostles had received.

The purpose of the gift of tongues is disputed. Some interpreters hold that it was for the sake of preaching, to enable the Apostles to preach the Gospel in every language and to every people. The majority, however, of commentators and all modern exegetes maintain that the gift was simply ordained to the praise and glory of God. This latter opinion seems the more probable for the following reasons: (a) St. Paul (1 Cor 14:2) expressly says that he who has the gift of tongues possesses it, not for the sake of speaking to men, but in order to speak to God, and that he ought not to use it in church unless there be present an interpreter; (b) the gift of tongues was communicated first in the Cenacle, and to others besides the Apostles who were not to be preachers of the Gospel; (c) we know from the Fathers that St. Mark was the interpreter of St. Peter and that consequently Peter could not speak the language of his hearers in Rome; (d) the incorrect way in which some of the Apostles used the Greek language shows clearly that their knowledge of it was not infused, but rather acquired by practice.

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4 Responses to Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 2:1-11

  1. Pingback: May 19, 2013~Resources for Pentecost Sunday | stjoeofoblog

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  3. Pingback: Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 2 | stjoeofoblog

  4. Pingback: Father Callan’s Commentary on 2 Cor 3:15-4:1, 3-6 | stjoeofoblog

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