Did 12 or 120 Speak in ‘Spirit-Inspired Languages’ (‘Tongues’) at Pentecost?

A teaching on Acts 2 has been circulating among certain (restrictive) Bible interpreters, which says that only the twelve apostles received the fullness or the baptism with the Spirit at Pentecost with the gift of speaking in Spirit-inspired languages (commonly called ‘tongues’). True?

The thesis here, however, is that the biblical data say that 120 received the promise of the Father and spoke in their God-inspired languages.

All (tentative) translations are mine. If you would like to see others, please click on biblegateway.com.

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Let’s begin.

First, Jesus promised (key word) the fullness of the Spirit to Cleopas and his traveling companion and the eleven, in one room:

49 Now be attentive. I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But you settle in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:49, emphasis added)

So the promise is for more than the twelve.

Second, Jesus repeats the truth that the promise is the baptism in the Spirit:

… but to wait for the promise of the Father, “which you heard from me; 5 John baptized you with water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit, not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4b-5, emphasis added)

We just saw in the first point that Cleopas and his companion were promised to receive the power and baptism of the Spirit. And in Acts 2, at least, the promise involved Spirit-inspired languages, as we shall see.

Third, Galileans, in addition to the eleven, devoted themselves to prayer, including women (Luke 8:2-3).

14 They [the eleven] were all persistently devoted and attached to prayer with one, single-purposed heart and spirit and mind, with women too, and including Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:14)

Fourth, some time later the 120 disciples (it says about 120, but for the sake of convenience, let’s use the precise number of 120) were witnesses to the replacement of Judas.

15 In those days Peter stood up among his brothers and sisters (the gathering of persons was about 120 there together) and said, 16 “Men and women, brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit had spoken beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus … (Acts 1:15).

It is safe to assume that most of these 120 were from Galilee since a large contingent of them followed him to Jerusalem. (Jesus did not seem to know many people in Jerusalem, but only a few.) Matt. 27:55-56 and Luke 23:39, 55 speak of women, and it is further safe to assume that a large contingency of Galilean men was there, as well. Also, Jesus commissioned 72 disciples in Galilee, so they too were probably Galilean (Luke 10:1). Therefore, many of these Galileans should surely be counted among the 120.

Fifth, they prayed in an “upper room” (Acts 1:13). This fact will be important because Acts 2:1 says “in the same place.” Most likely this “same place” is the upper room.

1 And when the Feast of Pentecost had fully come, all of them were together in the same place. (Acts 2:1)

Sixth, in Acts 2:1 the Greek literally reads “all” (pantes, pronounced pahn-tehs) “were together in the same place.” And to carry the theme of “all” from the entire chapter 1, in Acts 1:14, where the other “all” appears, it includes the women and some men. In 2:1, “all” refers to the 120 who witnessed the replacement procedure (Acts 1:21-26), not just to the twelve. It is not as if the 108 suddenly and unexpectantly disbanded before the replacement proceedings (Acts 1 ends at v. 26). Luke’s narrative style is not as careless as that. Yet Luke may not be as precise as Thucydides, but “all” is the theme carried on from 1:15, so let’s not be overly demanding on Luke’s narrative style. Thus “all” encompasses everyone in Acts 1:15 (the 120). And thus the 120 received the Spirit in Acts 2:1-4, particularly when the original manuscripts did not have chapter headings but flowed continuously.

Seventh, in Acts 2:7, the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for Pentecost from all over their known world heard the Galileans speaking in the pilgrims’ own languages.

5 There were staying in Jerusalem devout Jews, men and women from every nation under heaven. 6 When this sound happened, the crowd came together and were amazed because each one heard them speaking in their own language. 7 They were beside themselves with amazement and marveled, saying, “Look! Aren’t all of them Galileans who are speaking? 8 So how do we each hear them in our own language, to which we were born? (Acts 2:5-8, emphasis added)

As noted, these Galileans made up most of the 120, who witnessed the replacement of Judas in the previous chapter. It is true that the noun “Galileans” is in the masculine plural, but this is how Greek was written in a mixed group of men and women–masculine plural. Therefore, the Galileans were not only the twelve.

The miracle was in the speaking, not the hearing, because the pilgrims were amazed at the 120 speaking foreign languages. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them inspiration to speak out” (Acts 2:4).

Let’s imagine that a Chinese Christian cannot speak English. He is praying in the Spirit, in ‘tongues.’ I hear him and say to him by a translator, “I didn’t know you spoke English! It was perfect!” He informs me through the translator that he does not speak English. He was talking in ‘tongues.’ So where was the miracle? In my hearing him speak my own language or in his speaking? Obviously the miracle is in his speaking. It does not take a miracle for me to understand my own native language.

Points 4-7 are dispositive for showing that the 120 received their Spirit-inspired languages, and not just the twelve. But let’s keep going to show that the promise (the Spirit baptism) of the Father is for everyone.

Eighth, in Acts 2:16-21, Peter stood up and proclaimed that Joel’s prophecy applied to sons and daughters and young men and old men, so the demographics was broad. The promised Holy Spirit is for everyone, and the 120 were speaking in their God-inspired Spirit language.

17 ‘It shall be in the last days, says God,

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,

And your sons and daughters shall prophesy,

And your young people shall see visions,

And your elderly people shall dream dreams

18 Even on my male servants and female servants in the last days

I shall pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

However, in 2:14 Peter stood up with the eleven, so does this indicate that only they were out in Jerusalem speaking in the Spirit? Not necessarily, because in Acts 5:29 Peter and the other apostles stood and spoke to the Sanhedrin; thus, Peter took the lead. In that context, the twelve were alone, but here, the twelve plus the other 108 are encompassed in the “all” in 2:1. Peter and the eleven represented all the other recipients of the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Spirit.

Ninth, Peter again connects the promise of the Father with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and, as noted, in Acts 2 at least the promise involved Spirit-inspired languages (Acts 2:33).

33 Therefore he was exalted to the right hand of God; receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he poured out even what you see and hear. (Acts 2:33)

Once again, the 120 people, mostly Galileans, were speaking in languages unknown to themselves, and the pilgrims heard them in pilgrims’ own languages. As noted under the seventh point, the miracle was in the speaking, not the hearing. It did not require a miracle for the pilgrims to understand the 120 disciples speaking in the pilgrims’ own language. But it did take a miracle for the 120 to speak in languages they never learned or knew.

Tenth, Peter expands even farther the candidates who can receive the promise of the Spirit (fullness and baptism of the Spirit) to everyone who is “far off,” which means both geographically and generationally, even for us, 2000 years later: “for you and your descendants” (Acts 2:38b-39).

… you shall receive the free gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your descendants and all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call. (Acts 2:38b-39)

Eleventh, in Caesarea, Cornelius and his household, who were Gentiles (or Cornelius was), needed their own Pentecost (10:44-48) and spoke in Spirit-inspired languages.

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone listening to the message. 45 And the circumcised believers who went with Peter were amazed that even upon the Gentiles the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, 47 Who can refuse water to baptize these who have received the Holy Spirit, as we also have?” 48 He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for some days. (Acts 10:44-48)

Therefore the gift of ‘tongues’ is not only for the twelve, but for everyone. And the miracle happened in their speaking, not in Peter’s hearing.

Twelfth, about twelve men who were baptized under John the Baptist received the baptism or fullness of the Spirit, including their Spirit-languages (Acts 19:6), so this gift is not just for the twelve apostles.

5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul put his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. 7 They were about twelve men in total. (Acts 19:5-7, emphasis added)

Once again, the speaking in tongues was the miracle.

Thirteenth, Paul enjoyed his prayer language (1 Cor. 14:18), so this gift is not just for the twelve. “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Cor. 14:18, NIV).

Fourteenth, many Corinthian Christians also enjoyed their prayer languages (1 Cor. 14), so this gift is not just for the twelve.


Adding up all these biblical data, especially points 1-7, the 120, and not just the twelve, received the fullness and baptism with the Holy Spirit with prayer languages (‘tongues’). This promise of the Father is for everyone, even for you and me (points 8-14).

I hope that this exegesis puts to rest the notion that only the twelve spoke in Spirit-inspired languages. In Acts 2:1 “all” were together in the same place, and in the previous chapter “all” must include the 120 who witnessed the replacement proceedings. Therefore, all spoke in tongues. And then many converts to Jesus spoke in their Spirit-inspired languages, throughout Acts and in 1 Cor. 12-14.


Are ‘Tongues’ the Sign of Baptism with Spirit in Acts?

Baptized, Filled, and Full of the Spirit: What Does It All Mean?

Questions and Answers about Spirit-Inspired Languages

The Purpose and Importance of Spiritual Languages

Should We Call It ‘Tongues’?

8. Gifts of the Spirit: Spirit-Inspired Languages (‘Tongues’)

9. Gifts of the Spirit: Interpretation of Spirit-Inspired Languages

What Are Signs and Wonders and Miracles?

2 thoughts on “Did 12 or 120 Speak in ‘Spirit-Inspired Languages’ (‘Tongues’) at Pentecost?

  1. Hi. Thanks for the article. The pronoun “all” should refer to the most recent noun(s) which is the 12 apostles in the previous verse. It appears you skipped over that noun to get back to the 120. They were all together on Pentecost. When the people supposed they were drunk, it says Peter was standing with the 11. Also, any other time someone received miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, it was by an apostle laying hands on them. The one exception would be Cornelius and his family to show the inclusion of the Gentiles and to prove to Peter and the Jews that they were included. Thanks again.


    • Receiving the Spirit: Acts 9:17. Also possibly Acts 18:24-26, modeled on Acts 19:1-7 and the common link with the “baptism of John” being insufficient. In my work on Acts, Luke is elliptical. He expects us to fill in the gaps. Example: in Paul’s and Barnabas’s first missionary journey, Luke does not record one water baptism, not one, though any converted. Evidently Luke expects us to assume that water baptism happened since it was standard practice.
      As to your “all” point, I added to my sixth point, in the post.


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