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THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - Chapter 2 - Verse 3

Verse 3. And there appeared unto them. There were seen by them, or they saw. They were first seen by them in the room before they rested on the heads of the disciples. Perhaps the fire appeared at first as scintillations or coruscations, until it became fixed on their heads.

Tongues. glwssai. 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 that which in shape resembles the tongue. Thus Jos 7:21,24, (in Hebrew,) "a tongue of gold," i.e., a wedge of gold; Jos 10:5; 18:19; Isa 11:15, "The tongue of the sea," i.e., 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: Isa 5:24, "Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble (Heb., 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. diamerizomenai, from the verb to divide, or distribute into parts. Mt 27:35, "They parted his garments." Lu 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 sense of the expression. It means that they were separated or divided one from another; not one great flame, but broken up, or cloven into many parts; and probably 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 evinced 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, (Ex 3:2,3) God is said to have manifested himself to Moses in a bush which was burning, yet not consumed. Thus, (Ex 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 Ge 15:17. Thus, (De 4:24,) God is said to be "a consuming fire." Comp. Heb 12:29; Eze 1:4; Ps 18:12-14.

The classic reader will also instantly recall the beautiful description in Virgil.—AEniad, b. ii. 680—691. Other instances of a similar prodigy are also recorded in profane writers.—Pliny, H. N. 2, 37; Livy, i. 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 Baptist, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire," (Mt 3:11,) would probably be recalled at once to their memory.

(2.) The peculiar 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 the case. Thus, any appearance 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 Eze 1:4, any form of flame might have expressed the presence of God; but the appearance actually was emblematical of his Providence. In the same way the appearance here expressed their peculiar endowments for entering on their great work—the ability to speak powerfully with new tongues.

{*} "cloven" or, "divided"

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