The Tongues Conundrum (Part 2)

I recently began a series on the gift of tongues, but started with some thoughts on the larger scope of Spirit-inspired speech. But let’s move on specifically to the gift of tongues.

The first instance that we read about tongues is at the Pentecost event of Acts 2:1-4:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The word normally translated as ‘tongues’ in our English versions comes from the Greek glossa or glossia (plural). It could also be translated as ‘languages’, which seems an acceptable translation when considering the biblical teaching on this gift. Though some might argue it sounds like babble (or babel), it actually comes as some sort of intelligible language, even if that language is not personally known to the speaker.

As a kind of side excursus, many theologians see this act of the initial outpouring of the Spirit as a reversal of the curse at the Tower of Babel where there was a confusion of languages (Genesis 11:1-9). Because of Pentecost, tongues now stands as a sign of unity in the body of Christ, God using people to speak in languages they have not learned to be a blessing to the body of Christ.

Of course, one of the main purposes of tongues in Acts 2 was that of an evangelistic drawing of people to Christ. But, a sort of theological deduction from considering tongues across both Acts and 1 Corinthians (and possibly a few other passages) is that such was given as a unifying sign of edification to the body of Christ, thus, reversing the curse of Babel for God’s covenant people. And, I can only suppose that the first Christians that witnessed the amazing and paradigmatic event of Acts 2 would have been blessed and edified by the outcome.

Now, in the account of Acts 2, the people spoke in languages that were recognised by those gathered around (see Acts 2:5-12). This is really the only biblical account in which we see tongues being utilised evangelistically. But that does not mean it was never again utilised in such a way in the New Testament record, especially if an interpretation comes forth, which we will consider later on from looking at 1 Corinthians 14.

We see other specific examples of tongues in Acts, specifically with Cornelius’ household in 10:46 and the Ephesian disciples in 19:6. But neither of these accounts point to an evangelistic use. Rather they were a response to the baptism/initial filling of God’s Spirit.

Still, though tongues might come forth in a language recognised by those present (and I can think of a couple examples off hand from ministry friends in the present day), we must also bear in mind that tongues might not always be spoken in a language that is recognised by those present. I think such is acceptable when we consider words like there from Paul:

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

But it is through the interpretation of the tongue that understanding is brought to the body of Christ for edification, or even utilised in drawing people to Christ. And, I suppose the need for the gift of interpretation would only point to the fact that tongues are not always understood by those present.

There is much discussion about another aspect of tongues, as highlighted by these words of Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Some will claim that this reference to ‘tongues of angels’ is a hypothetical situation and one should not expect to find themselves speaking in such a manner. But remember the first words of Paul’s statement: ‘If I speak in the tongues of men.’ Now, we know this is an actual certainty – speaking in the tongues of men that we have not learned. Thus, it seems highly unlikely that Paul would refer to one situation that is a reality and one situation that is hypothetical. And, noting that tongues is a Spirit-enabled language, it’s possible that one might speak in a heavenly tongue.

Nothing could be ‘proved’ in regards to this, since tongues can regularly come forth in languages one has never learned, and especially since there are thousands of languages and dialects in the world. But I would propose that, since it is possible to speak in tongues (languages) or men, then the same could be true with regards to tongues of angels.

As an encouraging personal side story on the gift of tongues, I share an account of a specific local church where a friend of mine is an elder-pastor. This happened about a year and a half ago.

My friend specifically works with a church that officially relates to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But, while they maintain that relationship of accountability, the church does not always practically function in regards to every specific of the SBC. For example, they have a plurality of eldership, which is not the norm for SBC churches.

Also, as you might imagine, historically, the SBC has not been an advocate for the practise of the more ‘charismatic’ giftings of the Spirit, i.e., those in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. My friend’s church never preached against such, and they actually were quite open in allowing people to openly share what God was stirring in them during their corporate gatherings, even some things that could be classified as prophecies and revelations. But, with tongues, there was not much knowledge or practise of this gift.

So, my friend and the wider eldership of the church decided to take up preaching and teaching through the book of 1 Corinthians. Wow, what a challenge to say the least! And, of course, many months down the road, they took up a close study of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Not too long after they finished the teaching on those chapters, God brought a surprise into their midst. God was making sure that their spirituality was not just doctrinal teaching, but also a practical reality. In one of the Sunday gatherings of the congregation, a person gave the first ever public message in tongues. In recalling the story to me, my friend shared how he kind of sat back in his chair and went on to let God know that he trusted Him. This was something that had never happened before. But my friend was not going to ‘nip it in the bud’, as they say.

And when the message in tongues was finished, the interpretation came forth by the one who spoke in the tongue.

But here is the beautiful part – After the gathering ended, a young man came forth to speak with my friend who is one of the elder-pastors. This young man did not usually attend their gatherings. Rather, he happened to be there as he was in a close relationship with one of the members of my friend’s church. I guess he was the boyfriend of one of the young adults of the church. He shared with my friend that he was of Jewish background and the tongue that had come forth in the gathering was in Hebrew (obviously more modern Hebrew than ancient-biblical Hebrew). And the young man preceded to share that the interpretation that came forth was correct.

A fantastic story of God’s grace and gifting amongst His people. A testimony to the reality of the gift of tongues being utilised, and utilised properly, in the corporate gathering of God’s people.

Thus, here are some summary points from this first post on tongues:

  • Tongues is most likely a God-statement that He was reversing the curse of Babel for His body.
  • Tongues can be utilised evangelistically (as in Acts 2) or in edifying the body (1 Corinthians 14).
  • Tongues can be spoken in actual human languages or in the languages of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).

I hope this has begun to give somewhat of a solid introduction into the gift of tongues. Stay tuned for more articles in which I will discuss other important aspects of the gift.

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “The Tongues Conundrum (Part 2)

  1. I am on the fence with regards to tongues. Although I a member of the United Methodist church, I have quite a few friends who are Charismatic and I don’t doubt their belief in the gifts of the Spirit.

    I have heard stories like the one that you related here from Christians who are from non-Charismatic church backgrounds and have a hard time discrediting them and scripturally I can’t make a case for cessationism.

    However, I have also attended Charismatic churches where everyone in the church (seemingly) was babbling away in tongues, including the preacher, with nary a translation to be had. This seems to me to be either an “abuse” of the gifts of the Spirit or “emotionalism”.

    About twelve years ago, while I was attending a Charismatic church like the one that I just described, I “spoke in tongues” just one time. This was after a period of several months of praying that I would receive the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” like the other members of the this church.

    Not long after this (a few weeks) it was made public that the pastor of the church was involved in illegal dealings and was also romancing female members of the church. My wife and I left and in fact did not attend any church for a couple of years until we joined the United Methodist church.

    Over time, I have convinced myself that the one time that I “spoke in tongues” that it must have been “emotionalism.” I feel that I wanted the gifts of the Spirit so badly that my brain just took over and “made it happen.”

    However, I now (for the last ten years) attend a Methodist church where that just doesn’t happen with any regularity (tongues) so I wonder if God perhaps represses those sort of things in non-Charismatic churches?

    So I guess my question would be twofold.

    First, how much of the “speaking of tongues” that goes on is not really Holy Spirit directed and is instead just emotionalism, folks who want it so bad that their brain makes it happen?

    And secondly, if tongues are still in use today, then why aren’t there more instances of tongues in the churches that don’t “approve” of glossolalia in their doctrinal statements, i.e. Baptists, Methodists and the like? Why aren’t there more stories like the one that you relate here with your friends SBC church?

  2. Randy –

    However, I have also attended Charismatic churches where everyone in the church (seemingly) was babbling away in tongues, including the preacher, with nary a translation to be had. This seems to me to be either an “abuse” of the gifts of the Spirit or “emotionalism”.

    I will address this at some point about what might be going on in a gathering of a more Pentecostal or charismatic church where everyone is speaking-praying-singing in tongues but there is no interpretation. In the end, I think we will have to recognise there is a distinguishing factor between a public message in tongues and the people of God privately worshiping/praying to God. I think this is sustainable by reading 1 Cor 14 and also recognising that 1 Cor 14 is not a how-to car manual on everything. Yes, Paul does say that if there is no interpreter, then one is to keep silent and speak to himself and God (1 Cor 14:28). I believe these people are praying-worshiping God in a tongue, though it is still audible, as any audible prayer in English would be audible. But the fact is they are not trying to speak to the congregation a public message for edification. If they were, they would probably make it known by raising their voice, or in a larger setting today one would utilise a microphone. But before a public tongue came to my congregation, I, as elder of my church, would ask the people to come and share with me first.

    So I think we can distinguish between a public message in tongues for the whole body and personally praying-worshiping-singing in a tongue to God. And if many are doing this, it can sound like confusion. But it doesn’t have to sound like confusion. We don’t have to get extremely uptight about it. Let people worship. And, interestingly enough in our church, we have 12 different mother tongues. So, if it happens with our church, we wouldn’t always be aware if it is a Spirit-tongue or a learned-tongue. 🙂

    First, how much of the “speaking of tongues” that goes on is not really Holy Spirit directed and is instead just emotionalism, folks who want it so bad that their brain makes it happen?

    Truly this happens. We can get emotional, though emotions are not bad. God is emotional, thank goodness! But there is emotionalism in all camps. I remember my days in the Baptist church and how so many youth always re-dedicated their lives to Jesus at the winter or summer camps. Most of it was emotional. Some was a real work of God (including emotions being involved), some was purely emotion. But God was at work always. So we should not let emotionalism steer us from this gift of God.

    And secondly, if tongues are still in use today, then why aren’t there more instances of tongues in the churches that don’t “approve” of glossolalia in their doctrinal statements, i.e. Baptists, Methodists and the like? Why aren’t there more stories like the one that you relate here with your friends SBC church?

    There are a few things to consider.

    1) God is sovereign (though I don’t want to use it as an excuse not to seek Him). Why did God choose mainly some uneducated, African-Americans in the Azusa Street revival in the early 1900’s? Maybe because they were humble enough and knew they didn’t have it all figured out. I don’t know. But God is definitely at work in the more mainline denominations, like in my friend’s church that is part of the SBC. Actually, I think revelations and prophecies come to some of these people. But their theology might not allow them to identify it as such. Still, God is speaking and it is awesome.

    2) With seeking God, a lot of times we do not see certain things because we do not ask for such. The James passage comes to mind about not having because we do not ask (James 4:2). Now, some do seek. I seek God and don’t see myself regularly used in some of these giftings like healings, miracles, etc. But I want to keep seeking, and if I don’t ever get used in them, I know they happen as I have ministry friends being utilised in them. And I read many testimonies that are true, not all the weird stuff that is manipulated.

    Hope that helps some.

  3. An update in the article:

    Yesterday, I actually spoke with my friend, the one who is an elder-pastor in the account I shared above. He shared with me the details where I had been a little hazy. He told me that the one who gave the message in tongues was the one who gave the interpretation. But the young man of Jewish background came up to my friend after the gathering ended and shared with him that he was of Jewish background, the tongue was in Hebrew, and that the interpretation was actually correct.

    Good to confirm the details. A beautiful story. So I edited the article above to read this way:

    As an encouraging personal side story on the gift of tongues, I share an account of a specific local church where a friend of mine is an elder-pastor. This happened about a year and a half ago.

    My friend specifically works with a church that officially relates to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But, while they maintain that relationship of accountability, the church does not always practically function in regards to every specific of the SBC. For example, they have a plurality of eldership, which is not the norm for SBC churches.

    Also, as you might imagine, historically, the SBC has not been an advocate for the practise of the more ‘charismatic’ giftings of the Spirit, i.e., those in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. My friend’s church never preached against such, and they actually were quite open in allowing people to openly share what God was stirring in them during their corporate gatherings, even some things that could be classified as prophecies and revelations. But, with tongues, there was not much knowledge or practise of this gift.

    So, my friend and the wider eldership of the church decided to take up preaching and teaching through the book of 1 Corinthians. Wow, what a challenge, to say the least! And, of course, many months down the road, they took up a close study of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

    Not too long after they finished the teaching on those chapters, God brought a surprise into their midst. God was making sure that their spirituality was not just doctrinal teaching, but also a practical reality. In one of the Sunday gatherings of the congregation, a person gave the first ever public message in tongues. In recalling the story to me, my friend shared how he kind of sat back in his chair and went on to let God know that he trusted Him. This was something that had never happened before. But my friend was not going to ‘nip it in the bud’, as they say.

    And when the message in tongues was finished, the interpretation came forth by the one who spoke in the tongue.

    But here is the beautiful part – After the gathering ended, a young man came forth to speak with my friend who is one of the elder-pastors. This young man did not usually attend their gatherings. Rather, he happened to be there as he was in a close relationship with one of the members of my friend’s church. I guess he was the boyfriend of one of the young adults of the church. He shared with my friend that he was of Jewish background and the tongue that had come forth in the gathering was in Hebrew (obviously more modern Hebrew than ancient-biblical Hebrew). And the young man preceded to share that the interpretation that came forth was correct.

    A fantastic story of God’s grace and gifting amongst His people. A testimony to the reality of the gift of tongues being utilised, and utilised properly, in the corporate gathering of God’s people.

  4. Scott,

    Thanks for your reply. The James 4:2 answer might be a good way to think of why there aren’t more instances of tongues (or other gifts for that matter) in non-Charismatic churches.

    I can’t see many members of a mainline church seeking after tongues in a setting where it would be seemingly inappropriate. Additionally many members of most non-charismatic churches scoff at tongues, thinking that they have “ceased”, so therefore have no reason to “ask” for spiritual gifts such as tongues to begin with.

    I am following your series with great interest.

  5. I can’t see many members of a mainline church seeking after tongues in a setting where it would be seemingly inappropriate.

    Some keep it in the personal life or possibly allow it in small groups.

    Additionally many members of most non-charismatic churches scoff at tongues, thinking that they have “ceased”, so therefore have no reason to “ask” for spiritual gifts such as tongues to begin with.

    Some do scoff. I recently interacted with some pretty negative attitudes, not just on tongues, but the whole gamut of gifts of the Spirit. But, what I find for many as well is that they are not scoffing, but just uninformed. Like my pastor friend’s church. They weren’t anti, they just were not knowledgeable. But then they did a study through 1 Corinthians and it was very helpful in seeing God’s activity in tongues.

  6. Pingback: The Tongues Conundrum (Part 4) | The Prodigal Thought

  7. Pingback: The Tongues Conundrum (Part 3) | The Prodigal Thought

  8. Really interesting reading 🙂

    I just want to say two points

    1).
    Around 2002 I had my first tongues experience, after being in a very difficult situation which made me find God in a way I never found before in a moment of distress my heart poured out and these words just came pouring out of my mouth. Afterwards, I just felt so much peace and knew that whatever I had said that the Holy Spirit had taken that cry to God and He had received it, since that time God has proved this to me by the things which have occurred in my life re. this situation. But most interestingly, I had no experience or knowledge of tongues at that time having been brought up in a RC church! It was my only experience of tongues up until 2 weeks ago, for me there was a long gap and I know that gap occurred because I had closed myself up from that spiritual gift having seen many negative things surrounding it. The Lord laid it on my heart to actively seek the Holy Spirit and since then it has really filled out my relationship with God.

    2).
    My husband is not a language person and neither of us can really speak our mother tongue but since we were baptised a two years ago he has begun to speak Hebrew when praying and praising God. As he couldn’t speak tongues, he was very offended when people used to say to him he had not received the Holy Spirit, I believed that he had and that it was actually being manifested as Hebrew. He has also recently had a tongues experience and that may also be linked to the work that the Lord is doing for us as a couple.

    God Bless you

  9. seeker –

    Thanks for sharing these testimonies. It is good to hear what God is doing amongst His people. Let us keep seeking Him and eagerly desiring to see His gifts amongst us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s