and tongues as of fire, being distributed, appeared to them, and it sat on each of them. Acts 2:3
Tongues As Of Fire – The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost. We all know that. But have you ever asked why this is described as tongues of fire? After all, when the Spirit is revealed at Jesus’ baptism, the imagery is a dove, not a flame. Why does the Spirit come as fire? When you see the reason, you will be even more amazed at the intricacy of God’s Word.
On the day of Pentecost, the disciples gathered to celebrate the memorial when God gave the Law at Sinai. Something happened that no one expected. The Holy Spirit appeared in the form of tongues of fire (Greek – glossai osei puros), causing a stir that touched thousands of men and women. There’s more here than we think. In order to see just how the tongues of fire are evidence of a blessing, we need to look at the first form of the Hebrew alphabet, the pictographs.
The Hebrew word for bless is ashre. It consists of the consonants A S R. In pictographic representation, this word is made up of the image of a man’s head (R) and the idea of fire (the combination of A (strong) and S (devourer)). Therefore, in pictographic imagery, a blessing is the picture of fire on the head. When the Spirit arrives as tongues of fire, the image itself announces that the Spirit has come to bless. Fire on the head is the physical manifestation of meaning of the word “blessing”.
Notice that the verse does not use the plural in the description of the distribution (“it sat”, not “they sat”). There were many tongues of fire but only one Spirit. The blessings were distributed, but there was only one giver. Correct translation must follow the grammar of the original, even if it doesn’t follow the rules of grammar in the translation.
What do we learn from this peek into the past? First, we see that God’s choice of Hebrew is not accidental. There are elements of Hebrew that reveal things about God that cannot be captured in any other language. We only see these when we dig deep into the Hebrew language itself.
Secondly, we discover that phrases and thoughts that we could not understand in translated languages begin to make sense. For example, when Paul says that treating your enemy with kindness heaped coals of fire on his head, we see this same idea of blessing buried in Paul’s language. By being kind to my enemy, I bless him. And blessing is the picture of fire on the head. Now you know that Paul used the imagery of the ancient pictographs to communicate his message. Now it makes perfect sense.
The Bible is rich in images, much richer than we have ever imagined. If you want to know this God that you serve, dig into His chosen language. You will discover so much more about Him. It is the quest of a lifetime. Hopefully, this tiny glimpse will encourage you to get out your mental trowel and begin a spiritual excavation of your own.
Topical Index: Translation