Saturday, 30 October 2021
Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Acts 2:9
The list of various dialects (even within various languages) is now presented. This list is probably not all inclusive, but it gives a sense of the scope of what was heard by those gathered in Jerusalem. Hence, it gives the scope of the miracle itself. As these are Galileans speaking forth, and as there are such an expansive number of individual languages and dialects, it reveals the knowledge and understanding of the Spirit who caused these people to speak.
The languages, as they are presented, generally follow from east to west in their geographic locations. Albert Barnes gives a detailed description of these people groups and his work will be cited here.
The list begins with “Parthians.” Of them, Barnes says, “Parthians mean those Jews or proselytes who dwelt in Parthia. This country was a part of Persia, and was situated between the Persian Gulf and the Tigris on the west, and the Indus River on the east. The term ‘Parthia’ originally referred to a small mountainous district lying to the northeast of Media. Afterward it came to be applied to the great Parthian kingdom into which this province expanded. Parthia proper, or Ancient Parthia, lying between Asia and Hyrcania, the residence of a rude and poor tribe, and traversed by bare mountains, woods, and sandy steppes, formed a part of the great Persian monarchy. Its inhabitants were of Scythian origin. About 256 years before Christ, Arsaces rose against the Syro-Macedonian power, and commenced a new dynasty in her own person, designated by the title of Arsacidae. This was the beginning of the great Parthian empire, which extended itself in the early days of Christianity over all the provinces of what had been the Persian kingdom, having the Euphrates for its western boundary, by which it was separated from the dominions of Rome (Kitto's Encyclop.). Their empire lasted about 400 years. The Parthians were much distinguished for their manner of fighting. They usually fought on horseback, and when appearing to retreat, discharged their arrows with great execution behind them. They disputed the empire of the East with the Romans for a long time. The language spoken there was that of Persia, and in ancient writers Parthia and Persia often mean the same country.”
Next, Luke says, “and Medes.” Of them, Barnes says, “Inhabitants of Media. This country was situated westward and southward of the Caspian Sea, between 35 degrees and 40 degrees of north latitude. It had Persia on the south and Armenia on the west. It was about the size of Spain, and was one of the richest parts of Asia. In the Scriptures it is called Madai, Genesis 10:2. The Medes are often mentioned, frequently in connection with the Persians, with whom they were often connected under the same government, 2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11; Esther 1:3, Esther 1:14, Esther 1:18-19; Jeremiah 25:25; Daniel 5:28; Daniel 6:8; Daniel 8:20; Daniel 9:1. The language spoken here was also that of Persia.”
After them come the “Elamites.” Barnes states, “The nation was descended from Elam, the son of Shem, Genesis 10:22. It is mentioned as being in alliance with Amraphel, the king of Shinar, and Arioch, king of Ellasar, and Tidal, king of nations, Genesis 14:1. Of these nations in alliance, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, was the chief, Genesis 14:4. See also Ezra 2:7; Ezra 8:7; Nehemiah 7:12, Nehemiah 7:34; Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 22:6, etc. They are mentioned as a part of the Persian empire, and Daniel is said to have resided at Shushan, which is in the province of Elam, Daniel 8:2. The Greeks and Romans gave to this country the name of Elymais. It is now called Kusistan. It was bounded by Persia on the east, by Media on the north, by Babylonia on the west, and by the Persian Gulf on the south. The Elamites were a warlike people, and celebrated for the use of the bow, Isaiah 22:6; Jeremiah 49:35. The language of this people was of course the Persian. Its capital, Shusan, called by the Greeks Susa, was much celebrated. It is said to have been fifteen miles in circumference, and was adorned with the celebrated palace of Ahasuerus. The inhabitants still pretend to show there the tomb of the prophet Daniel.”
Luke next turns to “those dwelling in Mesopotamia.” Barnes details them, saying, “This name, which is Greek, signifies between the rivers; that is, the region lying between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. In Hebrew it was called Aram-Naharaim; that is, Aram, or Syria, of the two rivers. It was also called Padan Aram, the plain of Syria. In this region were situated some important places mentioned in the Bible: "Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham Genesis 11:27-28; Haran, where Terah stopped on his journey and died Genesis 11:31-32; Charchemish 2 Chronicles 35:20; Hena 2 Kings 19:13; Sepharvaim 2 Kings 17:24. This region, known as Mesopotamia, extended between the two rivers from their sources to Babylon on the south. It had on the north Armenia, on the west Syria, on the east Persia, and on the south Babylonia. It was an extensive, level, and fertile country. The language spoken here was probably the Syriac, with perhaps a mixture of the Chaldee.”
Luke next mentions “Judea.” In this, Barnes notably and wisely states, “This expression has greatly perplexed commentators. It has been thought difficult to see why Judea should be mentioned, as if it were a matter of surprise that they could speak in this language. Some have supposed that there is an error in the manuscripts, and have proposed to read Armenia, or India, or Lydia, or Idumea, etc. But all this has been without any authority. Others have supposed that the language of Galilee was so different from that of the other parts of Judea as to render it remarkable that they could speak that dialect. But this is an idle supposition. This is one of the many instances in which commentators have perplexed themselves to very little purpose. Luke recorded this as any other historian would have done. In running over the languages which they spoke, he enumerated this as a matter of course; not that it was remarkable simply that they should speak the language of Judea, but that they should speak so many, meaning about the same by it as if he had said they spoke every language in the world. It is as if a similar miracle were to occur at this time among an assembly of native Englishmen and foreigners. In describing it, nothing would be more natural than to say they spoke French, and German, and Spanish, and English, and Italian, etc. In this there would be nothing remarkable except that they spoke so many languages.”
Luke next turns to “Cappadocia.” Barnes diligently notes, “This was a region of Asia Minor, and was bounded on the east by the Euphrates and Armenia, on the north by Pontus, west by Phrygia and Galatia, and south by Mount Taurus, beyond which are Cilicia and Syria. The language which was spoken here is not certainly known. It was probably, however, a mixed dialect, made up of Greek and Syriac, perhaps the same as that of their neighbors, the Lycaonians, Acts 14:11. This place was formerly celebrated for iniquity, and is mentioned in Greek writers as one of the three eminently wicked places whose name began with C. The others were Crete (compare Titus 1:12) and Cilicia. After its conversion to the Christian religion, however, it produced many eminent men, among whom were Gregory Nyssen and Basil the Great. It was one of the places to which Peter directed an epistle, 1 Peter 1:1.”
After that, Luke states “Pontus.” Again, to Barnes – “This was another province of Asia Minor, and was situated north of Cappadocia, and was bounded west by Paphlagonia. Pontus and Cappadocia under the Romans constituted one province. This was one of the places to which the apostle Peter directed his epistle, 1 Peter 1:1. This was the birthplace of Aquila, one of the companions of Paul, Acts 18:2, Acts 18:18, Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19.”
The verse ends with, “and Asia.” Of this area, Barnes details the following, “Pontus and Cappadocia, etc., were parts of Asia. But the word Asia is doubtless used here to denote the regions or provinces west of these, which are not particularly enumerated. Thus, it is used Acts 6:9; Acts 16:6; Acts 20:16. It probably embraced Mysia, Aeolis, Ionia, Caria, and Lydia. "The term probably denoted not so much a definite region as a jurisdiction, the limits of which varied from time to time, according to the plan of government which the Romans adopted for their Asiatic provinces" (Prof. Hackett, in loco). The capital of this region was Ephesus. See also 1 Peter 1:1. This region was frequently called Ionia, and was afterward the seat of the seven churches in Asia, Revelation 1:4.”
Concerning the term “Asia,” Vincent’s Word Studies further clarifies the term, saying, “Not the Asiatic continent nor Asia Minor. In the time of the apostles the term was commonly understood of the proconsular province of Asia, principally of the kingdom of Pergamus left by Attalus III. to the Romans, and including Lydia, Mysia, Caria, and at times parts of Phrygia. The name Asia Minor did not come into use until the fourth century of our era.”
Life application: When reading commentaries on verses such as Acts 2:9, be sure to thank the Lord for all of the diligent work that has gone into recording information about these places by scholars of past ages. At times they provide scriptural references that will help identify who is being referred to elsewhere in the Bible. Great scholars of the past spent a lot of time in rooms lighted by lamps, pouring over maps, books, and the Bible itself to put together reliable records of what is being described.
We are those who benefit from their labors, and they have made our lives much easier as we prepare our own commentaries, Bible studies, and sermons for those in our lives to also benefit from. A big “thank you” to them is due when we meet on the fairer shores we will someday walk upon.
And above all, thank the Lord that He has given us such wonderful words through Luke and the other writers of the Bible to get us going in our journey of understanding the greatness of what God is doing in redemptive history as He arranges His word, builds up His foundations, and weaves together His church. Yes, thank God for all He has done to give us the surety of His word and thus the surety of our salvation which is so clearly presented in this word.
Lord God, thank you for the wonderful stream of instruction You have given us, both in Your word and in those who have evaluated Your word throughout the ages. We have a reliable testimony to all that is going on in the wonderful story of the redemption of man because of those things You have put together for us. Thank You, O God! Amen!