What are cloven tongues in the Bible?


By BibleAsk Team

Cloven Tongues

The term “cloven tongues” in the Bible is specifically mentioned in the context of a significant event recorded in the Book of Acts, particularly in Acts 2:3. To fully understand the significance of these tongues, it is necessary to explore the broader narrative of the event, which is commonly referred to as the Day of Pentecost.

The Day of Pentecost is a pivotal event in Christian theology, marking the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and other followers of Jesus. According to the narrative in Acts 2, the apostles were gathered in Jerusalem when suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind filled the house where they were sitting. Cloven tongues, like as of fire, appeared and rested upon each of them.

Let’s delve into the relevant passage:

“Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.”

Acts 2:3, NKJV

What Does Divided Tongues as of Fire Mean?

The term “cloven tongues” in this context refers to tongues or flames that are divided or separated. It’s a symbolic representation of the Holy Spirit manifesting in a visible and extraordinary manner. The imagery of fire is significant in biblical symbolism, often associated with purification, divine presence, and empowerment.

The concept of “cloven tongues” draws its roots from the Old Testament traditions, where fire is a common symbol of the divine. For example, in the burning bush that Moses encountered on Mount Sinai. “And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed” (Exodus 3:2). The fire symbolized the presence of God.

Additionally, in the vision of Ezekiel, a fire is mentioned, conveying a divine and supernatural manifestation. “Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire” (Ezekiel 1:4).

Cloven Tongues in the New Testament

In the New Testament, particularly in the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist alludes to the coming of Jesus, stating that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). The Day of Pentecost, as described in Acts 2, is the fulfillment of this promise. These tongues of fire symbolize the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the believers, endowing them with power and enabling them to speak in languages they did not know.

The subsequent verses in Acts 2 describe the impact of this event. The apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to speak in other languages, and people from various regions who were present in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost heard them speaking in their own languages. This miraculous ability to speak in diverse languages underscored the universality of the message of the Gospel, transcending linguistic and cultural barriers.

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Acts 2:4, NKJV

The term “other tongues” here refers to languages previously unknown to the speakers. This phenomenon astonished the crowd and laid the foundation for Peter’s sermon, where he explained the significance of the events and proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ.


In conclusion, the reference to “cloven tongues” in Acts 2:3 serves as a profound symbol of the supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. This imagery is deeply rooted in Old Testament traditions, where fire often signifies the presence of the divine, purification, and empowerment. By invoking this symbol, the text emphasizes the extraordinary nature of the event and underscores the divine origin of the spiritual manifestations witnessed by the apostles and the gathered crowd.

Moreover, the subsequent phenomenon of speaking in different languages underscores the universal scope of the Gospel message and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. This miraculous ability not only facilitates communication among diverse peoples but also serves as a tangible demonstration of the Spirit’s work in breaking down barriers and uniting believers from various backgrounds.

Thus, Acts 2:3 illuminates the multifaceted nature of the Holy Spirit’s manifestation on Pentecost: from the symbolic imagery of fire representing divine presence and purification to the practical demonstration of linguistic diversity as a testament to the universal reach of God’s message. Through these manifestations, the text portrays the Holy Spirit as an agent of profound change, empowering believers to proclaim the Gospel boldly and to participate in the ongoing work of God’s kingdom.

Common FAQs on Cloven Tongues in the Bible

What are cloven tongues in the Bible?

Cloven tongues refer to the miraculous phenomenon described in Acts 2:3, where the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost in the form of divided tongues like fire. These tongues rested upon each of them, signifying the presence and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

What is the significance of cloven tongues in Acts 2:3?

The cloven tongues symbolize the supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit and mark the beginning of the Christian church’s mission to spread the Gospel. They represent the divine presence, purification, and empowerment experienced by the apostles and the early believers.

Why are cloven tongues described as tongues of fire?

The imagery of fire is often associated with divine presence and power throughout the Bible. In this context, it symbolizes the Holy Spirit’s purifying and empowering work, as well as the fervency and zeal with which the Gospel message will be proclaimed.

What does it mean to speak with cloven tongues?

Speaking with cloven tongues refers to the apostles’ ability, granted by the Holy Spirit, to speak in languages they had not previously known. This miraculous gift enabled them to communicate the Gospel effectively to people from different regions and language groups who had gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.

Is the concept of cloven tongues found elsewhere in the Bible?

While the specific phrase “cloven tongues” is unique to Acts 2:3, the imagery of fire and language as manifestations of the Holy Spirit can be found in other biblical passages. For example, in the Old Testament, fire often represents the presence of God, and the ability to speak in tongues is mentioned in connection with the outpouring of the Spirit in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 28:11).

What is the significance of cloven tongues for Christians today?

The event of Pentecost and the manifestation of cloven tongues serve as a foundational moment in Christian history, highlighting the ongoing presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Today, Christians often look to this event as a reminder of the Spirit’s power to empower and equip them for ministry and to communicate the Gospel across cultural and linguistic barriers.

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