Speaking in Tongues

"How is it that we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own language?"

The leader opened the Scripture reading in the Pentecost service with those words from Acts 2. For a moment the church was silent. Then a man in one of the last txvo rows stood up. "I will pour out my Spirit on all people," he read. "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:17, 21). A woman near the front of the church stood up and read those same verses again—this time in Spanish. Another member read in Dutch, another in Hausa, still another in Japanese…

What this congregation was doing—reading Scripture in different languages—can be a meaningful addition to a Pentecost liturgy. Most of us don't have members who can speak the language of the Parthians and Cappadocians, but nearly every congregation has members who can speak other languages. Perhaps your group includes an older person who remembers Dutch or Welsh from her grandparents. Ask that person to participate in your service.

The mechanics of the reading are rather simple. Choose the verses from Acts 2 that you wish to use in your service and ask each person to prepare the reading. (As an example, we have printed verses 17 and 21 in four languages; see box.) Then decide where in the liturgy the readings will occur.

The positioning of your readers will be determined largely by the size and acoustics of your sanctuary. If the church is small, the readers can simply stand in the pew and read from there. However, if the size of the sanctuary prohibits such placement, ask the readers to sit in the front pew. When his or her turn arrives, each reader should stand, turn to face the congregation, and read the verse through a microphone.

Hearing part of the Pentecost story read in four or five (or more) different languages will again remind us of the miracle of Pentecost and of the universal scope of the family of God.

Excerpt

We hear them declaring the wonders of God in their own tongues!

(17) In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
(21) And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Spanish
(17) Y sera en los postreros dias, dice Dios,
Derramare de mi Espiritu sobre toda carne,
(21) Y sera que todo aquel que invocare el nombre del
Senor, sera salvo.

Navajo
(17) Diyin God haadzii", kot'ee doo, nihont'i'ji'
'ayiilkgago,
shiNilch'i nihokaa' dine'e t'aa'altso t'aadoo bidin
hoye'i baa dideesh'aal,
(21) 'Inda t'aa haiida Boholniihii bizhi' yiyifzhi'go
na'ooskan shii yisdadoolteel.

Dutch
(17) En het zal zijn in de laatste dagen, zegt God, dat
Ik zal uitstorten van mijn Geest op alle vlees;
(21) En het zal zijn, dat al wie den naam des Heren
aanroept, behouden zal worden.

Greek
(17) xcd earm ev raCg eaxaxcuc; r|[xeoat5, Keyei 6 9eog, Exxeu) ctfid toi) RVEv\\xaxog \\t,ov km Jt&aav aaoxa,
(21) xal earm nac, 6q eav kmy.aki(jr]xa.i to 6vou,a KUQion otD0f|O£xai.

Harry Boonstra (hboonstr@calvin.edu) is former theological editor of RW and emeritus theological librarian of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.