Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. And when the day of Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all with one accord gathered together: 2. And there was made from heaven suddenly a sound, as it were when a violent wind breaketh in, and it filled all the house where they sat: 3. And they saw cloven tongues, as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them. 4. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with strange tongues, even as the Spirit gave them to speak.
1. And when. To be fulfilled is taken in this place for to come. For Luke beareth record again of their perseverance, when he saith that they stood all in one place until the time which was set them. Hereunto serveth the adverb, with one accord Furthermore, we have before declared why the Lord did defer the sending of his Spirit a whole month and a half. But the question is, why he sent him upon that day chiefly. I will not refute that high and subtle interpretation of Augustine, that like as the law was given to the old people fifty days after Easter, being written in tables of stone by the hand of God, so the Spirit, whose office it is to write the same in our hearts, did fulfill that which was figured in the giving of the law as many days after the resurrection of Christ, who is the true Passover. Notwithstanding, whereas he urgeth this his subtle interpretation as necessary, in his book of Questions upon Exodus, and in his Second Epistle unto Januarius, I would wish him to be more sober and modest therein. Notwithstanding, let him keep his own interpretation to himself. In the mean season, I will embrace that which is more sound.
Upon the feast day, wherein a great multitude was wont to resort to Jerusalem, was this miracle wrought, that it might be more famous. And truly by means hereof was it spread abroad, even unto the uttermost parts and borders of the earth. 77 For the same purpose did Christ oftentimes go up to Jerusalem upon the holy days, 78 (John 2:0, John 5:0, John 7:0, John 10:0, John 12:0,) to the end those miracles which he wrought might be known to many, and that in the greater assembly of people there might be the greater fruit of his doctrine. For so will Luke afterward declare, that Paul made haste that he might come to Jerusalem before the day of Pentecost, not for any religion’s sake, but because of the greater assembly, that he might profit the more, (Ac 20:16.) Therefore, in making choice of the day, the profit of the miracle was respected: First, that it might be the more extolled at Jerusalem, because the Jews were then more bent to consider the works of God; and, secondly, that it might be bruited abroad, even in far countries. They called it the fiftieth day, beginning to reckon at the first-fruits.
2. And there was made It was requisite that the gift should be visible, that the bodily sense might the more stir up the disciples. For such is our slothfulness to consider the gifts of God, that unless he awake all our senses, his power shall pass away unknown. This was, therefore, a preparation that they might the better know that the Spirit was now come which Christ had promised. Although it was not so much for their sake as for ours, even as in that the cloven and fiery tongues appeared, there was rather respect had of us, and of all the whole Church in that, than of them. For God was able to have furnished them with necessary ability to preach the gospel, although he should use no sign. They themselves might have known that it came to pass neither by chance, neither yet through their own industry, that they were so suddenly changed; but those signs which are here set down were about to be profitable for all ages; as we perceive at this day that they profit us. And we must briefly note the proportion of the signs. The violence of the wind did serve to make them afraid; for we are never rightly prepared to receive the grace of God, unless the confidence (and boldness) of the flesh be tamed. For as we have access unto him by faith, so humility and fear setteth open the gate, that he may come in unto us. He hath nothing to do with proud and careless men. It is a common thing for the Spirit to be signified by wind, (or a blast,) (Joh 20:22.) For both Christ himself, when he was about to give the Spirit to his apostles, did breathe upon them; and in Ezekiel’s vision there was a whirlwind and wind, (Eze 1:4.) Yea, the word Spirit itself is a translated word; for, because that hypostasis, or person of the Divine essence, which is called the Spirit, is of itself incomprehensible, the Scripture doth borrow the word of the wind or blast, because it is the power of God which God doth pour into all creatures as it were by breathing. The shape of tongues is restrained unto the present circumstance. For as the figure and shape of a dove which came down upon Christ, (Joh 1:32,) had a signification agreeable to the office and nature of Christ, so God did now make choice of a sign which might be agreeable to the thing signified, namely, that it might show such effect and working of the Holy Ghost in the apostles as followed afterward.
The diversity of tongues did hinder the gospel from being spread abroad any farther; so that, if the preachers of the gospel had spoken one language only, all men would have thought that Christ had been shut up in the small corner of Jewry. But God invented a way whereby it might break out, when he divided and clove the tongues of the apostles, that they might spread that abroad amongst all people which was delivered to them. Wherein appeareth the manifold goodness of God, because a plague and punishment of man’s pride was turned into matter of blessing. For whence came the diversity of tongues, save only that the wicked and ungodly counsels of men might be brought to naught? (Ge 11:7.) But God doth furnish the apostles with the diversity of tongues now, that he may bring and call home, into a blessed unity, men which wander here and there. These cloven tongues made all men to speak the language of Canaan, as Isaiah foretold, (Isa 19:18.) For what language soever they speak, yet do they call upon one Father, which is in heaven, with one mouth and one spirit, (Ro 15:6.) I said that that was done for our sake, not only because the fruit came unto us, but because we know that the gospel came unto us not by chance, but by the appointment of God, who to this end gave the apostles cloven tongues, lest any nation should want that doctrine which was committed unto them; whereby is proved the calling of the Gentiles; and, secondly, hereby their doctrine doth purchase credit, which we know was not forged by man, seeing that we hear that the Spirit did dwell in their tongues.
Now, it remaineth that we declare what the fire meaneth. Without all doubt, it was a token of the (force and) efficacy which should be exercised in the voice of the apostles. Otherwise, although their sound had gone out into the uttermost parts of the world, they should only have beat the air, without doing any good at all. Therefore, the Lord doth show that their voice shall be fiery, that it may inflame the hearts of men; that the vanity of the world being burnt and consumed, it may purge and renew all things. Otherwise they durst never have taken upon them so hard a function, unless the Lord had assured them of the power of their preaching. Hereby it came to pass that the doctrine of the gospel did not only sound in the air, but pierce into the minds of men, and did fill them with an heavenly heat (and burning.) Neither was this force showed only in the mouth of the apostles, but it appeareth daily. And, therefore, we must beware lest, when the fire burneth, we be as stubble. Furthermore, the Lord did once give the Holy Ghost under a visible shape, that we may assure ourselves that his invisible and hidden grace shall never be wanting to the Church.
And it sat. Because the number is suddenly changed, it is to be doubted whether he speaketh of the fire. He said that there appeared tongues as it had been of fire. It followeth by and by, and it sat upon them. Notwithstanding, I refer it unto the Spirit. For the Hebrews use commonly to express the substantive of the verb in the second member, which they did omit in the former. Wherefore we have an example in this place: It sat upon them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. And we know that although Luke did write in Greek, yet is he full of those phrases which the Hebrews use. 79 Now, whereas he calleth the tongues the Holy Ghost, it is according to the custom of the Scripture. For John calleth the dove by the same name, (Joh 1:32,) because the Lord would testify and declare the presence of his Spirit by some such sign. If it were a vain sign, it should be an absurd naming (to call the sign by the name of the thing signified;) but where the thing is annexed, the name of the thing is fitly given to the sign which offereth the same unto our senses to be perceived. The fullness of the Spirit, wherewith he saith every one was replenished, doth not express the [an] equal measure of gifts in every one, but that excellence which should be meet for such a calling. 80
4. They began to speak He showeth that the effect did appear presently, and also to what use their tongues were to be framed and applied, But because Luke setteth down shortly after, that strangers out of divers countries did marvel, because that every one of them did hear the apostles speaking in their own tongue, some think that they spoke not in divers tongues, but that they did all understand that which was spoken in one tongue, as well as if they should hear their natural tongue. 81 Therefore, they think that one and the same sound of the voice was diversely distributed amongst the hearers. Another conjecture they have, because Peter made one sermon in the audience of many gathered together out of divers countries, who could not understand his speech (and language,) unless another voice should come unto their ears than that which proceeded out of his mouth. But we must first note that the disciples spoke indeed with strange tongues; otherwise the miracle had not been wrought in them, but in the hearers. So that the similitude should have been false whereof he made mention before; neither should the Spirit have been given so much to them as to others. Again, we hear how Paul giveth thanks to God, that he speaketh with divers tongues, (1Co 14:18.) Truly he challengeth to himself both the understanding, and also the use thereof. Neither did he attain to this skill by his own study and industry, but he had it by the gift of the Spirit. In the same place he affirmeth that it is an especial gift, wherewith all men are not endued. I suppose that it doth manifestly appear hereby that the apostles had the variety and understanding of tongues given them, that they might speak unto the Greeks in Greek, unto the Italians in the Italian tongue, 82 and that they might have true communication (and conference) with their hearers. Notwithstanding, I leave it indifference whether there was any second miracle wrought or no, so that the Egyptians and Elamites did understand Peter speaking in the Chaldean tongue, as if he did utter divers voices. For there be some conjectures which persuade me thus to think, and yet not so firm but that they may be refuted. For it may be that they spoke with divers tongues, as they light upon this man or that, and as occasion was offered, and as their languages were diverse. Therefore, it was a manifest miracle, when they saw them ready to speak divers languages. As touching Peter’s sermon, it might be understood of the greater part of men wheresoever they were born; for it is to be thought that many of those which came to Jerusalem were skillful in the Chaldean tongue. Again, it shall be nothing inconvenient if we say that he spoke also in other tongues. Although I will not much stand about this matter; so that this be out of doubt, that the apostles changed their speech. 83
“Ut more videbimus,” as we shall by and by see, omitted.
“Festis diebus,” on feast days, or festivals.
“Excellentiam quae obeundo muneri par futura esset.” but that excellence which might be sufficient to enable each to execute his office.
“Latine,” in Latin.
“Vere mutasse,” truly changed.