When something happens that is impossible, unbelievable and never-happened before, we call that a “miracle”. It is understood as such, because it actually happened, still unbelievable though unexpectedly and is unexplainable. It loses it “miraculousness” the moment it becomes explainable.
A case in point is the “miracle” of telephone pioneered by Alexander Graham Bell. If someone in the 19th century sees a person speaking to another, miles apart from each other, that could have been impossible and unexplainable, a miracle. Now, we know how and do not classify that as a miracle. Bell’s patent covered “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically … by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound“(1). It was sound/vocal energy transmitted through electrical wires to be converted to sound by the hearer.
Another example is about moving vehicles that transport people from one place to another. Before this became a reality, at an era of horse-drawn carriage, for someone to see a bus, car or train, it must be amazing and miraculous. Yet now, this is so common place and explainable by switching one energy to another and conserving it(2).
Similarly, knowing and seeing how easy ships sail, planes fly, electronic gadgets respond, etc. somehow they lose their “wow-effect”. The “law of diminishing returns” also applies.
The preceding discoveries bring me to the issue of the so-called miracle of “speaking in other tongues “ at the time of Pentecost narrated in Acts Chapter 2. This event was indeed unbelievable, first-time occurrence and unexplainable as far as mechanism of how this happened. There is “ongoing debate as to whether the apostles spoke an angelic language and the miracle included the understanding of an angelic language by the crowd, or if the miracle was simply the apostles speaking in foreign languages that they themselves had never learned” (3), but was heard in the language of their foreign-birth origin by the Jewish crowd who were born and raised in different parts of the world.
But could this phenomenon be explained? Recent observations on auditory science led to social media craze on how different people hear audio recording of “yanni or laurel” (4,5). Personally, I heard “yanni” but others heard “laurel”. This difference appears to be reproducible by changes in pitch, whether low or high and depending upon prior experience of the person.
Additionally, when someone you know who is monolingual suddenly was heard bilingual, was there an infusion of the ability to speak another language? Did the apostles at Pentecost actually spoke different languages(infused in their brains as in Matrix movie phenomenon), or spoke their native tongue but the audience was enabled to hear their own respective birth languages? At that time, those who heard did not yet have “spirit-baptism” to have this capability, although afterwards some were baptized (Acts 2:38-41; Acts 10:46). Could the apostles have spoken (Acts 2:1–16) Galilean but heard/perceived differently by people in the languages of their birthplaces?
As narrated in Acts 2:5-14, there were Jews in Jerusalem for the Pentecost who came from different places where they were born and spoke also their birth-languages (bilingual). So, could the apostles have spoken actual Hebrew language but was perceived to be speaking other languages of those Jews in attendance. This appears to be so in:
Acts 2:7-8 King James Version (KJV)
“And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?”
Notice that “every man”, meaning every apostle, was “heard” by people/foreigner Jews in the “tongue, wherein (they) were born”. If the apostles, whose language was Galilean-Hebrew, actually spoke different languages suddenly, then they were not only bilingual but multi-lingual and each speaking in multiple languages at the same time. For emphasis, those who heard them understood them to be speaking their native languages all at the same time making it sound “gibberish” or “drunk”(Acts 2:13,15).
Recent observations in speech science have acknowledged, thus,
“A lot of research has shown that bilinguals are pretty good at accommodating speech variation across languages, but there’s been a debate as to how,” said lead author Kalim Gonzales, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Arizona. “There are two views: One is that bilinguals have different processing modes for their two languages — they have a mode for processing speech in one language and then a mode for processing speech in the other language. Another view is that bilinguals just adjust to speech variation by recalibrating to the unique acoustic properties of each language.“(6).
So there was a plausible explanation that the apostles did speak their own Hebrew/Galilean language (not angelic) but was perceived by the hearers (foreigners-Jews) in their own birth-country, all at the same time. With or without in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, these people may have heard the apostles from an experiential physiologic mechanism of hearing. There is therefore a mechanism involved in this phenomenon of “speaking in tongues” but not in the way most people were taught for years in churches.
The mechanism of how “speaking in tongues” can plausibly be explained, understood and therefore may not be called now as a “miracle“. However, the why, when and where it happened can still be considered a “miraculous event”. An energizing power of the Holy Spirit came about and actually caused this to happen at that particular point in time as promised and prophesied. See also 1 Cor 12:10, 30; 13:1;14:5, 13, 26–27;Joel 2:28-32;John 7:39,16:7; Acts 1:8;19:6.
1. Alexander Graham Bell. Retrieved 5/22/18 from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Graham_Bell
2. Vehicle. Retrieved 5/22/2018 from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle
3. Robert Alan King. Pentecost of Tongues. Retrieved 6/20/2018 at
4. Neuroscientist explains. Wired. Retrieved 6/20/2018 at
5. Yanny or Laurel. Retrieved 4/22/18 from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanny_or_Laurel
6. How bilinguals switch between languages. Retrieved 5/20/18 from
Original Post: June 4, 2018
Hyperlink version posted 3/12/19