Babel Reversed: Acts 2:9–12

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c) Acts 2:9–12: After recounting the event at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–8), Luke listed three people-groups followed by nine regions of the world and then another two people-groups.

He reported the crowd’s words as, “[We are] Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and those residing [in] Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phyrgia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, and those visiting from Rome—Jewish people and proselytes—Cretans and Nabataeans. We hear them speaking in our tongues of the greatness of God.”

Overall, this series of locations begins in the east and moves counterclockwise,[1] with Judea appearing in the middle (Cf. Ezek 5:5).[2]

When the Jewish historian Josephus (37–100 AD) wrote his Table of Nations based upon Gen 10, he gave Judea a similar placement.[3]

A German map from 1581 illustrates this concept of Jerusalem as the center of the world.[4]

Luke mentioned Rome far to the west before returning close to the point of origin in Jordan.[5]

All these nations contained significant Jewish populations.[6]



In the eighth and seventh centuries BC, Assyria exiled Israelis across the Euphrates River to Parthia, Media, Elam, and Mesopotamia (2 Ki 17:6, 22–23).[7]

Babylon added to their numbers in the sixth century BC (2 Ki 24:10–16). Although Cyrus of Persia authorized the exiles’ return to Judah in 539 BC, many Jewish people remained in their new lands (Ezra 1:1–6; Ezra 2:64–65; Esth 3:6).[8]



Cappadocia, Pontus, Phyrgia, and Pamphylia all fall within modern Turkey. Paul covered much of this territory during his first missionary journey (Acts 13–14).[9]

In ca. 213 BC, the Seleucid king Antiochus III wrote this letter:[10]

Having been informed that a sedition is arisen in Lydia and Phrygia, I thought that matter required great care; and upon advising with my friends what was fit to be done, it hath been thought proper to remove two thousand families of Jews, with their effects, out of Mesopotamia and Babylon, unto the castles and places that lie most convenient; for I am persuaded that they will be well-disposed guardians of our possessions, because of their piety towards God, and because I know that my predecessors have borne witness to them, that they are faithful, and with alacrity do what they are desired to do.

I will, therefore, though it be a laborious work, that thou remove these Jews, under a promise, that they shall be permitted to use their own laws.

And when thou shalt have brought them to the places fore-mentioned, thou shalt give everyone of their families a place for building their houses, and a portion of the land for their husbandry, and for the plantation of their vines; and thou shalt discharge them from paying taxes of the fruits of the earth for ten years; and let them have a proper quantity of wheat for the maintenance of their servants, until they receive bread corn out of the earth; also let a sufficient share be given to such as minister to them in the necessaries of life, that by enjoying the effects of our humanity, they may show themselves the more willing and ready about our affairs.

Take care likewise of that nation, as far as thou art able, that they may not have any disturbance given them by anyone.[11]



Egypt had hosted a Jewish population since the early sixth century BC (Jer 44:1). Their numbers swelled after Alexander the Great conquered that country and founded Alexandria in 331 BC.[12]

Philo (20 BC–40 AD), a native of Alexandria, reported, “Jews who inhabited Alexandria and the rest of the country from the Catabathmos on the side of Libya to the boundaries of Ethiopia were not less than a million of men.”[13]



Cyrene served as the capital of a Roman province in modern Libya.[14]

Josephus (37–100 AD) wrote this about Ptolemy I (ca. 367–282 BC), “When he was desirous to secure the government of Cyrene, and the other cities of Libya, to himself, he sent a party of Jews to inhabit in them.”[15]

Luke mentioned Jewish people from Cyrene fairly often (Luke 23:26; Acts 6:9; Acts 11:19–20; Acts 13:1).[16]



The visitors from Rome likely consisted of Jews born in there.[17] A Jewish colony began in the empire’s capital in the second century BC.[18]

By the time of Christ, 10,000–60,000 Jews resided in Rome.[19] They worshiped in at least eleven synagogues.[20]

At the end of Luke’s report in Acts, Paul reached the capital (Acts 28:16, 30–31).[21]

Some of these visitors at Pentecost may have returned to Rome testifying to Christ’s resurrection, as the Jews there heard the news prior to Paul’s arrival (Acts 28:17–22).[22]

Suetonius (ca. 69–130/140), a Roman historian, noted that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 AD because they “were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.”[23]

Most likely, this refers to the preaching of the gospel by Christians from a Jewish background.[24]

The emperor’s death five years later automatically repealed the edict (Acts 18:2; Rom 16:3).[25]



Luke added a note that these Romans included “both Jews and proselytes.”

Proselytes (proselytos) consisted of gentiles who fully converted to Judaism.[26]

The final steps to become a proselyte included circumcision for men, ritual purification in a bath, and the offering of a sacrifice at the temple.[27]

Not surprisingly, more women chose to join the Jewish faith. Men tended to remain at the lesser rank of “God-fearers.”[28]

Jews in Rome seem to have sought converts more fervently than those living elsewhere.[29]

Concerning adult converts, the satirist Juvenal (ca. 55–127 AD) complained:

Then there are those that, blessed with a father who reveres the Sabbath, worship only the clouds in the sky and its spirit, who draw no distinction between the pork from which their father had to abstain, and human flesh, and who swiftly rid themselves of even their foreskins.

It’s their custom to ignore the laws of Rome, the Judaic Code being that which they study, adhere to, and revere; the Pentateuch, the mystic scroll handed down by Moses.[30]



The rationale behind Luke’s pairing of Cretans (Caphtorim) and Nabataeans, a subset of Arabs, appears to come from the Greek translation of the name of Ishmael’s oldest son Nabaioth (Gen 25:12–13).[31]

That would make both nations descendants of Mitsraim (Egypt) (Gen 10:13–14). Consequently, people regarded them as related nations in Jesus’s day,[32] although current linguistic evidence indicates otherwise.[33]

Nabataeans lived in an area from the Red Sea to the Euphrates River, with Petra as their capital.[34]

They played an enormous role in the intertestamental history of Palestine by supporting the Maccabean Revolt.[35]

In Jesus’s era, Herod Antipas divorced the daughter of a powerful Nabataean king to marry Herodias (Mark 6:17–18).[36]



By the time of Christ, Jewish people had spread throughout the known world. According to Philo, Herod Agrippa I (41–44 AD) wrote this:

Concerning the holy city…[it] is my native country, and the metropolis, not only of the one country of Judaea, but also of many, by reason of the colonies which it has sent out from time to time into the bordering districts of Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria in general, and especially that part of it which is called Coelo-Syria, and also with those more distant regions of Pamphylia, Cilicia, the greater part of Asia Minor as far as Bithynia, and the furthermost corners of Pontus.

And in the same manner into Europe, into Thessaly, and Boeotia, and Macedonia, and Aetolia, and Attica, and Argos, and Corinth and all the most fertile and wealthiest districts of Peloponnesus.

And not only are the continents full of Jewish colonies, but also all the most celebrated islands are so too; such as Euboea, and Cyprus, and Crete.

I say nothing of the countries beyond the Euphrates, for all of them except a very small portion, and Babylon, and all the satrapies around, which have any advantages whatever of soil or climate, have Jews settled in them.[37]



When considering Luke’s rationale for including these names, some scholars point solely to the return of Jews to Israel (Cf. Isa 11:11).[38]

Many experts note the similarity between this list in Acts 2 and the Table of Nations (Gen 10).[39] The Lord gathered individuals from the scattered nations of Gen 10–11:9 and enabled them to hear the gospel in their own languages.[40]

In a sense, God fulfilled Acts 1:8 at Pentecost.[41]

Soon the good news would spread even further, reaching even the gentiles (Acts 10).[42]

They, too, received the message of Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father (Acts 13:44–49; Acts 15:12–18; Phil 2:5–11).[43]



Given the close literary connection between the Table of Nations, the events of Babel, and God’s promise to bless all people-groups through Abraham (Gen 10:1–12:3), Luke’s incorporation of all three themes in Acts 2:1–11 seems deliberate.[44]

On that day in 30 AD, the Lord reversed his act of judgment which fell upon Noah’s descendants in Babel.[45]

Through the Spirit’s power, the language barrier dividing humanity fell (Acts 2:37–47).[46]

The Lord began to assemble one body of people from a multiplicity of nations, races, and tongues: the church of God (Eph 3:1–11; Rev 5:6–10; Rev 7:9–12).[47]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Acts 2:9–11. Who was in Jerusalem during Pentecost? Why were these people astonished to hear people from Galilee speaking in their languages? How did Luke incorporate the themes of Gen 10–12:3 into his account? Why do you think he did this? What does Acts 2 teach us about relationships among those who are living by the Spirit?







This is the final post in Redemptive History: Genesis 4–11

[Related posts include The Spirit Descends (Acts 2:1–3); Speaking Other Tongues (Acts 2:4); A Bewildered Crowd (Acts 2:5–8); The Descendants of Noah (Gen 10:1); The Descendants of Japheth (Gen 10:2–5); The Descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6–14); The Descendants of Canaan (Gen 10:15–20); The Descendants of Shem (Gen 10:21–31); Seventy Nations (Gen 10:32); A Plain in Shinar (Gen 11:1–2); Let Us Bake Bricks (Gen 11:3); A Stairway to Heaven (Gen 11:4); A Deity Descends (Gen 11:5–7); Dispersed over the Face of the Earth (Gen 11:8–9); Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6); A Summary of Trinitarian Creeds (Appendix to Phil 2:5–6); Taking the Form of a Slave (Phil 2:7); Obedient to the Point of Death (Phil 2:8); The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11); Ancient Literature; Author and Date of Genesis; Greek Translation of the Old Testament; and Intertestamental History]

[Click here to go to Chapter 12: Scattered to the Ends of the Earth (Gen 11:1–9)]


[1]Larkin, Acts, Acts 2:5.

[2]Schnabel, Acts, Acts 2:8.

[3]Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 1.122–39,

[4]University of Southern Maine, “Die Ganze Welt in ein Kleberblat Welches in der Stadt Hannover Meines Lieben Vaterlandes Wapen,”

[5]Schnabel, Acts, Acts 2:8.

[6]Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 136.

[7]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 55–6.

[8]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 55–6.

[9]John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters (Nashville: B & H, 1999), 100.

[10]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 57.

[11]Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 12.3.4,

[12]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 57.

[13]Philo, “Against Flaccus,” in The Works of Philo Judaeus (trans. Charles Duke Yonge; London: H. G. Bohn, 1854–90), 6.43,

[14]W. Ward Gasque, “Cyrene (Place),” ABD 1:1230–1, 1230.

[15]Josephus, Against Apion, 2.44,

[16]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 57.

[17]Schnabel, Acts, Acts 2:9–10.

[18]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 57.

[19]Schnabel, Acts, Acts 2:9–10.

[20]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 58.

[21]Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 136–7.

[22]Schnabel, Acts, Acts 2:9–10.

[23]Suetonius, “Divus Claudius,” 25.4,

[24] Dunn, “Romans, Letter to the,” DPL, 852–3.

[25] Keener, “Romans Situation,” IVPBBCNT, Rom.

[26]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 58.

[27]Paul F. Stuehrenberg, “Proselyte,” ABD 5:503–5, 504.

[28]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 58.

[29]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 58.

[30]Juvenal, The Satires (trans. A. S. Kline; 2011), 14:96–103,

[31]Brannan, et al., The Lexham English Septuagint, Gen 25:13.

[32]Schnabel, Acts, Acts 2:11.

[33]David F. Graf, “Nabateans,” ABD 4:970–3, 970.

[34]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 58.

[35]Graf, “Nabateans,” ABD 4:970.

[36]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 58–9.

[37]Philo, “On the Embassy to Gaius,” in The Works of Philo Judaeus (trans. Charles Duke Yonge; London: H. G. Bohn, 1854–90), 36.281–2,

[38]Schnabel, Acts, Acts 2:8.

[39]Schnabel, Acts, Acts 2:8.

[40]Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 202.

[41]Larkin, Acts, Acts 2:1.

[42]Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, 164.

[43]Schnabel, Acts, Acts 2:11.

[44]Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, 165.

[45]Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 59.

[46]Fernando, Acts, 91.

[47]Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, 165.