And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Exodus 19:1) seems to leave the matter in some uncertainty—the Israelites had encamped round Sinai, and there had been thunders and darkness and voices, and the great Laws had been proclaimed. It was, that is, an epoch-making day in the religious history of Israel. It was fit that it should be chosen for another great epoch-making day, which, seeming at first to be meant for Israel only, was intended ultimately for mankind.
Was fully come.—Literally, was being accomplished. The word seems chosen to express the fact that the meeting of the disciples was either on the vigil of the Feast-day, or in the early dawn. Assuming the Passover to have occurred on the night of the Last Supper, the Day of Pentecost would fall on the first day of the week, beginning, of course, at the sunset of the Sabbath. So the Churches of East and West have commemorated the day as on the eighth Sunday after Easter. In the Latin nations the name of Pentecost remains scarcely altered. The Pfingst of the Germans shows it still surviving in a very contracted form. Some eminent scholars have thought that our Whitsun-day represents it after a still more altered form, and that this is a more probable etymology of the word than those which connect it with the white garments worn on that day by newly-baptised converts, or with the gift of “wit, or wisdom.”
With one accord in one place.—Probably in the same large upper room as in Acts 1:13. We may reasonably think of the same persons as being present. The hour, we may infer from Acts 2:15, was early in the morning, and probably followed on a night of prayer. It is said, indeed, that devout Jews used to solemnise the vigil of Pentecost by a special thanksgiving to God for giving His Law to Israel; and this may well have been the occasion that brought the disciples together (Schöttgen, Hor. Hebr. in Acts 2:1). It was, in the mystic language of the Rabbis, the night on which the Law, as the Bride, was espoused to Israel, as the Bridegroom. The frequent occurrence of the Greek word for “with one accord” (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:46; Acts 4:24; Acts 5:12) is significant as showing the impression made on the writer by the exceptional unity of the new society. Outside the Acts it is found only in Romans 15:16.
(3) There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire.—Better, and tongues as of fire were seen by them, parted among them. The word translated “cloven” cannot possibly have that meaning. It is not uncommon (e.g., Acts 2:45; Matthew 27:35; Luke 22:17; and John 19:24), and is always used in the sense of dividing or distributing. What the disciples saw would, perhaps, be best described in modern phrase as a shower of fiery tongues, coming they knew not whence, lighting for a moment on each head, and then vanishing. The verb “it (sc., a tongue of fire) sat upon” is in the tense which expresses momentary, not continuous, action.
Tongues - γλῶσσαι glōssai. The word "tongue" occurs often in the Scriptures to denote the member which is the instrument of taste and speech, and also to denote "language" or "speech" itself. It is also used, as with us, to denote what in shape resembles the tongue. Thus, Joshua 7:21, Joshua 7:24 (in Hebrew), "a tongue of gold," that is, a wedge of gold; Joshua 15:5; Joshua 18:19; Isaiah 11:15, "The tongue of the sea," that is, a bay or gulf. Thus also we say "a tongue of land." The phrase "tongue of fire" occurs once, and once only, in the Old Testament Isaiah 5:24, "Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble (Hebrew: tongue of fire), and the flame consumeth," etc. In this place the name tongue is given from the resemblance of a pointed flame to the human tongue. Anything long, narrow, and tending to a point is thus in the Hebrew called "a tongue." The word here means, therefore, "slender and pointed appearances" of flame, perhaps at first moving irregularly around the room.
cloven - Divided, separated - διαμεριζόμεναι diamerizomenai - from the verb διαμερίζω diamerizō, "to divide, or distribute into parts." Matthew 27:35, "they parted his garments"; Luke 22:17, "Take this (the cup) and divide it among yourselves." Probably the common opinion is, that these tongues or flames were, each one of them split, or forked, or cloven. But this is not the meaning of the expression. The idea is that they were separated or divided one from another; it was not one great flame, but was broken up, or cloven into many parts, and probably these parts were moving without order in the room. In the Syriac it is, "And there appeared unto them tongues which divided themselves like fire, and sat upon each of them." The old Ethiopic version reads it, "And fire, as it were, appeared to them and sat on them."
And it sat upon each of them - Or "rested," in the form of a lambent or gentle flame, upon the head of each one. This showed that the prodigy was directed to them, and was a very significant emblem of the promised descent of the Holy Spirit. After the rushing sound and the appearance of the flames, they could not doubt that here was some remarkable interposition of God. The appearance of fire, or flame, has always been regarded as a most striking emblem of the Divinity. Thus, Exodus 3:2-3, God is said to have manifested himself to Moses in a bush which was burning, yet not consumed. Thus, Exodus 19:16-20, God descended on Mount Sinai in the midst of thunders, and lightnings, and smoke, and fire, striking emblems of his presence and power. See also Genesis 15:17. Thus, Deuteronomy 4:24, God is said to be "a consuming fire." Compare Hebrews 12:29. See Ezekiel 1:4; Psalm 18:12-14. The Classic reader will also instantly recall the beautiful description in Virgil (Aeneid, b. 2:680-691). Other instances of a similar prodigy are also recorded in profane writers (Pliny, H. N., 2:37; Livy, 1:39). These appearances to the apostles were emblematic, doubtless:
(1) Of the promised Holy Spirit, as a Spirit of purity and of power. The prediction of John the Immerser, "He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire" Matthew 3:11 would probably be recalled at once to their memory.
(2) The unique appearance, that of tongues, was an emblem of the diversity of languages which they were about to be able to utter. Any form of fire would have denoted the presence and power of God; but a form was adopted expressive of "what was to occur." Thus, "any divine appearance" or "manifestation" at the baptism of Jesus might have denoted the presence and approbation of God; but the form chosen was that of a dove descending - expressive of the mild and gentle virtues with which he was to be imbued. So in Ezekiel 1:4, any form of flame might have denoted the presence of God; but the appearance actually chosen was one that was strikingly emblematical of his providence. In the same way, the appearance here symbolized their special endowments for entering on their great work - the ability to speak with new tongues.Cloven tongs; to signify the variety of languages which the apostles should be enabled to speak, to qualify them to preach the gospel unto all nations, and to remove the obstacle which the confusion of tongues caused.
Like as of fire; which represented,
1. The light that the apostles should impart;
2. The fervent heat and zeal which they should be endowed with;
3. The gospel’s spreading in the world, and carrying all before it, prevailing over all errors;
4. The purity and holiness which they and all that preach the gospel ought to appear withal.
And it sat upon each of them; remained, as far as was necessary for the founding of the Christian religion; and was not, as the gift of prophecy, bestowed only occasionally, as on Nathan, Samuel. Isaiah 5:24 hence the Apostle James compares a tongue to fire, James 3:6 this was the baptism with fire, John the Baptist speaks of; see Gill on Matthew 3:11; and the Jews say (t),
"the holy blessed God baptizeth with fire, and the wise shall understand.
Through this baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, the apostles became more knowing, and had a greater understanding of the mysteries of the Gospel, and were more qualified to preach it to people of all nations and languages. The Holy Spirit, in his gifts and graces, is compared to fire, because of its purity, light, and heat, as well as consuming nature; the Spirit sanctifies, and makes men pure and holy, purges from the dross of sin, error and superstition; and enlightens the minds of men, and gives them knowledge of divine and spiritual things; and fills them with zeal and fervour for the glory of God and Christ, and the good of his church and interest, and for the doctrines and ordinances of the Gospel; as well as fortifies them against their enemies, whom he consumes, according to Zechariah 2:5 a passage of Scripture the Jews make use of in an uncommon sense; for they say (u), that as
"Jerusalem was destroyed by fire, "by fire it shall be built again"; as it is said, Zechariah 2:5 "For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about".
The pouring forth of the Spirit upon the apostles, in this form of cloven tongues, as of fire, was indeed the means of rebuilding Jerusalem, in a spiritual sense; or of founding the Gospel church state in the world:
and it sat upon each of them; the fire, or the Holy Ghost in the appearance of fire. The Syriac and Arabic versions read, "and they sat upon each of them"; and so Beza's most ancient copy; that is, the cloven tongues sat on them; either one upon one of them and another upon another, or many upon each of them: where they sat, whether on their lips, or on their heads, it not certain, probably on the latter; nor how long they sat; however, their sitting upon them may denote the continuance of the gifts and graces of the Spirit with them. These cloven tongues cannot but bring to mind the division and confusion of the tongues or languages at Babel; which gave rise to different nations, and different religions; but these divided tongues gave rise to the spreading of the Gospel, and settling the true religion among the nations of the world. The Jews (w) seem to have respect to this account, when they tell us of.
"lights from above, that came forth and dwelt in the synagogues, "on the heads" of those that prayed, and the lights "were divided" upon their heads.And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Acts 2:3. After the audible σημεῖον immediately follows the visible. Incorrectly Luther: “there were seen on them the tongues divided as if they were of fire.” The words mean: There appeared to them, i.e. there were seen by them, tongues becoming distributed, fire-like, i.e. tongues which appeared like little flames of fire, and were distributed (Acts 2:45; Luke 22:17; Luke 23:34) upon those present (see the following ἐκάθισε κ.τ.λ.). They were thus appearances of tongues, which were luminous, but did not burn; not really consisting of fire, but only ὡσεὶ πυρός; and not confluent into one, but distributing themselves severally on the assembled. As only similar to fire, they bore an analogy to electric phenomena; their tongue-shape referred as a σημεῖον to that miraculous λαλεῖν which ensued immediately after, and the fire-like form to the divine presence (comp. Exodus 3:2), which was here operative in a manner so entirely peculiar. The whole phenomenon is to be understood as a miraculous operation of God manifesting Himself in the Spirit, by which, as by the preceding sound from heaven, the effusion of the Spirit was made known as divine, and His efficacy on the minds of those who were to receive Him was enhanced. A more special physiological definition of the ΣΗΜΕῖΑ, Acts 2:2-3, is impossible. Lange, Apost. Zeitalt. II. p. 19, fancifully supposes that the noise of the wind was a streaming of the heavenly powers from above, audible to the opened visionary sense, and that the tongues of fire were a disengaging of the solar fire-power of the earth and its atmosphere (?). The attempts, also, to convert this appearance of fire-like tongues into an accidental electric natural occurrence (Paulus, Thiess, and others) are in vain; for these flames, which make their appearance, during an accumulation of electric matter, on towers, masts, and even on men, present far too weak resemblances; and besides, the room of a house, where the phenomenon exclusively occurred, was altogether unsuited for any such natural development. The representation of the text is monstrously altered by Heinrichs: Fulgura cellam vere pervadebant, sed in inusitatas imagines ea effinxit apostolorum commota mens; as also by Heumann: that they believed that they saw the fiery tongues merely in the ecstatic state; and not less so by Eichhorn, who says that “they saw flames” signifies in rabbinical usus loquendi: they were transported into ecstatic excitement. The passages adduced by Eichhorn from Schoettgen contain no merely figurative modes of expression, but fancies of the later Rabbins to be understood literally in imitation of the phenomena at Sinai,—of which phenomena, we may add, a real historical analogue is to be recognised in our passage.
ἐκάθισέ τε] namely, not an indefinite subject, something (Hildebrand, comp. Buttm. neut. Gr. p. 118 [E. T. 134]), but such a γλῶσσα ὡσεὶ πυρός. If Luke had written ἘΚΆΘΙΣΑΝ (see the critical remarks), the notion that one ΓΛῶΣΣΑ sat upon each would not have been definitely expressed. Comp. Winer, p. 481 [E. T. 648]. Oecumenius, Beza, Castalio, Schoettgen, Kuinoel, incorrectly take ΠῦΡ as the subject, since, in fact, there was no fire at all, but only something resembling fire; ὩΣΕῚ ΠΥΡΌς serves only for comparison, and consequently ΠῦΡ cannot be the subject of the continued narrative. Others, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, Luther, Calvin, Wolf, Bengel, Heinrichs et al., consider the πνεῦμα ἅγιον as subject. In that case it would have to be interpreted, with Fritzsche (Conject. I. p. 13): ΚΑΘΊΣΑΝΤΟς ἘΦʼ ἝΝΑ ἝΚΑΣΤΟΝ ΑὐΤῶΝ ἘΠΛΉΣΘΗΣΑΝ ἍΠΑΝΤΕς ΠΝΕΎΜΑΤΟς ἉΓΊΟΥ, and Matthew 17:18 would be similar. Very harsh, seeing that the ΠΝΕῦΜΑ ἍΓΙΟΥ, in so far as it sat on the assembled, would appear as identical with its symbol, the fiery tongues; but in so far as it filled the assembled, as the ΠΝΕῦΜΑ itself, different from the symbol.
The ΤΈ joining on to the preceding (Lachm. reads ΚΑΊ, following insufficient testimony) connects ἘΚΆΘΙΣΕ Κ.Τ.Λ. with ὬΦΘΗΣΑΝ Κ.Τ.Λ. into an unity, so that the description divides itself into the three acts: ὤφθησαν κ.τ.λ., ἐπλήσθησαν κ.τ.λ., and ἤρξαντο κ.τ.λ., as is marked by the thrice recurring καί.
 Therefore the expression is not to be explained from Isaiah 5:24, for there לְשׁוֹן אֵשׁ is a representation of that which consumes.Acts 2:3. διαμεριζόμ. γλῶσσαι: the audible σημεῖον is followed by a visible: γλῶσσαι the organs of speech by which the wonderful works of God were to be proclaimed, so that the expression cannot be explained from Isaiah 5:24, where the tongue of fire is represented as an organ of destruction (Wendt, note, in loco). ὡσεὶ πυρός in their appearance and brightness. The words themselves therefore forbid reference to a natural phenomenon, to say nothing of the fact of the spiritual transformation of the Apostles which followed. Fire like wind was symbolic of the divine Presence, Exodus 3:2, and of the Spirit who purifies and sanctifies, Ezekiel 1:13, Malachi 3:2-3 (see Wetstein for classical instances of fire symbolical of the presence of the deity; cf., e.g., Homer, Iliad, xviii., 214; Virgil, Æn., ii., 683). διαμεριζ., lit, dividing or parting themselves off. R.V. “tongues parting asunder,” so that originally they were one, as one mighty flame of fire. This rendering is strictly in accordance with the meaning of the verb. Vulgate dispertitæ (the word used by Blass). διαμερίζω is used once again in Acts 2:45 in the active voice, and once only by St. Matthew and St. Mark (once by St. John as a quotation) in the middle voice, but six times by St. Luke in his Gospel; frequently in the LXX.—ἐκάθισε (not -αν), sc., γλῶσσα (not πῦρ or πνεῦμα ἅγιον), although the latter is advocated by Chrysostom, Theophylact, Bengel: “it sat,” R.V. The singular best expresses the result of the tongues parting asunder, and of the distribution to each and all. So too ἐφʼ ἕνα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν, “upon each one of them,” R.V., cf. Acts 2:6 εἷς ἕκαστος (and Acts 2:8). The resting of a flame of fire upon the head as a token of the favour of Heaven may be illustrated from classical sources (see above and instances in Wetstein), but the thought here is not so much of fire as the token of divine favour, as of the tongue (as of fire) conferring a divine power to utter in speech divine things.
 literal, literally.3. cloven tongues like as of fire] Better, tongues like as of fire parting asunder; cf. Isaiah 5:24, where the Hebrew has “tongue of fire” while the A. V. gives only “fire.” It is also to be noticed that the appearance is not called fire, but only compared unto fire. The idea conveyed by the verb is that the flamelike tongues were distributing themselves throughout the assembly, and the result is expressed by what follows; and it sat upon each of them. The intention of the writer is to describe something far more persistent than meteoric light or flashes of electricity. The sound which is heard fills the house, and the flames rest for some time on the heads of the disciples. (See Acts 2:33.)Acts 2:3. Αὐτοῖς, to them) Construe this with ὤφθησαν, there appeared, but in such a way as that the force of the pronoun may extend also to being shared, or parted [among them], διαμεριζόμεναι. And this is tantamount to distributed, but in the present: with which comp. Acts 2:45, διεμέριζον αὐτὰ πᾶσιν, “they parted them to all men.” The expression used is not σχιζόμεναι, as if the tongues in their mouths were cloven or split; nor διαιρούμεναι, divided, as if it was only a different kind of fiery eloquence or utterance that was given to different persons. An intermediate verb is used, viz. διαμεριζόμεναι.—γλῶσσαι, tongues) The word is taken here in a metaphorical sense, as לשון everywhere, and לְשׁוֹן אֵשׁ, Isaiah 5:24, the tongue of fire, that there may be denoted, as it were fiery tongues. Yet a considerable part of the literal (unfigurative) meaning remains, because speaking is the subject in hand. There were little tongue-like flames resting on the heads of the disciples individually, not coming forth out of their mouths; for there follows, and sat, viz. the Holy Spirit (see foll. ver.), which “came upon” them, ch. Acts 1:8, under the appearance of the tongues. There is not added the article αἱ, which would denote the natural tongues in the apostles’ mouths, which were now miraculously affected.—ἐκάθισέ τε, and sat) viz. ὁ καθίζων, the sitter. Comp. ἐκάθισαν, “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them,” Revelation 20:4. An appropriate ellipsis: for not immediately, but only after a little time, it was evident that the Sitter was the Holy Spirit.—ἐφʼ ἓνα ἓκαστον, upon each one) Comp. by all means ἐπὶ, upon, John 1:32-33, “The Spirit—abode—remaining—upon Him.” [This was the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire.—V. g.]Verse 3. - Tongues parting asunder for cloven tongues, A.V.; each one for each, A.V. There appeared. They had heard the sound, now they see the tongues of fire, and then they feel the Spirit working in them (see ver. 34). Tongues parting asunder. The idea of the cloven tongue, i.e. a tongue parted into two, which is thought to have been the origin of the miter, is not suggested either by the Greek or by the circumstances, and is clearly a mistaken one. Διαμεριζόμεναι means distributing themselves or being distributed. From the central apparition, or rather place of sound, they saw issuing forth many several tongues, looking like small flames of fire, and one such tongue sat upon each one of the brethren or disciples present. Each one. That Chrysostom is right ('Hom.'4.) in interpreting the each one of this verse of the hundred and twenty, and not of the twelve, and the ell in ver. 4 of all present besides the apostles, may be demonstrated. For not only must the all of ver. 1 refer to the same company as was described in the preceding chapter (vers. 15-26), but it is quite clear in ver. 15 of this chapter that Peter and the eleven (ver. 14), standing up separate from the body of the disciples, say of them, "These are not drunken, as ye suppose;" which is a demonstration that those of whom they thus spoke had been speaking with tongues (see also Acts 10:44). St. Augustine, too, says that the hundred and twenty all received the Holy Spirit. To the same effect Meyer, Wordsworth, Alford (who adds, "Not the hundred and twenty only, but all the believers in Christ then congregated at Jerusalem;" so also Lange). Farrar well remarks, "It was the consecration of a whole Church to be all of them a chosen generation, a royal priest- hood, a holy nation, a peculiar people" ('Life of St. Paul,' Acts 5.). Lange says, "Not only the apostles, but all the disciples, were filled with the Holy Ghost. There is a universal priesthood of all believers, and the Holy Ghost is the anointing which consecrates and qualifies for this priesthood" ('On the Acts,' Clark's edit., p. 67).
See on Luke 22:43.
Cloven tongues (διαμεριζόμεναι γλῶσσαι)
Many prefer to render tongues distributing themselves, or being distributed among the disciples, instead of referring it to the cloven appearance of each tongue. Rev., tongues parting asunder.
Like as of fire
Not consisting off fire, but resembliny (ὡσεὶ).
Note the singular. One of these luminous appearances sat upon each.
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