The Tongues Conundrum (Part 1)

After three week’s of teaching on the gift of prophecy at Cornerstone, which you can listen to or download the messages on our podcast (part 1, part 2, part 3), I was looking forward to moving into a three-part series on the gift of tongues.

You can listen to the message below from this past Sunday, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.

One of the more perplexing gifts of the Spirit to discuss has to be the gift of tongues. Of course, there are enough opinions out there about every other spiritual gift found in 1 Corinthians 12 – healings, miracles, prophecy, etc – that we could spend the rest of our lives conversing over the in’s and out’s of just those.

But tongues might just be in a class all by itself, causing confusion, and even much worse, for some non-continuationists. So I thought it would be good to post a series about tongues here (maybe 5 or 6 posts), hoping it brings some clarity about the nature of tongues, at least from my study of Scripture.

Over the series, I want to address some major points in regards to understanding the gift of tongues. But, in this post itself, I will simply give a kind of introduction to the nature of the gifts.

For many Pentecostals and charismatics, the gift of tongues is part and parcel to the practise of their faith. For others, the practise of this gift has been the cause for steering clear of more Pentecostal and charismatic churches. And even in decades past, the use of tongues could have been regarded as demonic a small portion of believers. But thankfully, such a belief has pretty much faded to the background.

But what I began with in my message this past Sunday was a brief overview not only to tongues, but to the reality of Spirit-inspired speech amongst the Spirit-empowered people of God. I had three specific points.

1) A new age by God’s Spirit

I’ve written on this plenty of times, but suffice it to say that, with the Pentecost of Acts 2, we entered the fulness of the new covenant age in which the baptism, filling and empowering of God’s Spirit would now be available to all God’s people – men and women, young and old. EVERYONE!

This allows for the continuation of all that Christ began to do (see Acts 1:1), this being through the Holy Spirit via the Spirit-empowered ekklesia-church.

2) A new gift by God’s Spirit

All manifestations of God’s Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 were all witnessed and evidence before Pentecost – in the Old Testament and in the life of Jesus. But this is the first time we see the manifestation of God’s Spirit through the gift of tongues.

Many theologians believe that this was a direct statement pointing to the reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel (see Gen 11:1-9). There, God confused the languages of a rebellious humanity. Here, God does a unifying work amongst the body of Christ via this special demonstration of God’s power.

Interestingly enough, tongues actually functions in a prophetic sense. How? As we know, after the outpouring of the Spirit of God, the people spoke in other languages they had not learned. But, when Peter quotes Joel in Acts 2:17-18, the emphasis of those words was that prophecy would be the fruit of the outpouring of God’s Spirit. But here, they are speaking in tongues.

What’s going on?

Well, though the specifically spoke in tongues, this gift functions prophetically when 1) people speak languages they do not know but the listeners do understand what is being spoken or 2) the gift of tongues is followed by the gift of interpretation. And I know examples of both in various situations, as well as an example of both at the same time.

3) A new proclamation by God’s Spirit

For those who have studied the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and his gifts, many will be aware of the Pentecostal argument that tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. The five usual instances in Acts that are pointed to are found in 2:1-4 (Pentecost), 8:12-19 (the Samaritans), 9:17-18 (Paul), 10:44-48 (Cornelius and household), and 19:1-7 (Ephesian disciples). I won’t go into detailed reasons why Pentecostals usually argue for this, but I, personally, believe this is too strict a statement – that tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit.

But what I would argue is that a Spirit-baptised, filled and empowered people are a people who are to be utilised in Spirit-inspired speech of all forms. Why would I claim such? There are five major accounts of people being filled with the Spirit in Acts that I believe point out that the people of God are regularly used in such Spirit-directed and empowered speech: 2:1-4; 4:27-31; 8:12-17; 10:44-48; 19:1-7 (not to mention 4:8ff).

Now the only example where we don’t see any speech come forth from the mouths of those baptised-filled with the Spirit is that of the Samaritans in 8:12-17. The usual argument by Pentecostals for the gift of tongues being the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit is that something must have been happening for Simon the sorcerer to want to buy the ability to impart the Spirit of God through the laying on of hands (see 8:18-19). While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it must have been tongues, I will venture to say that some kind of Spirit-inspired speech probably did come forth from their mouths noting the four other examples I pointed out: 2:1-4; 4:27-31; 10:44-48; 19:1-7.

But what I will note is not all instances records tongues, i.e., 4:27-30 and the ever-debated passage of 8:12-17. But, again, what I do note is that various Spirit-inspired speech does come forth from a Spirit-baptised, filled and empowered people: prophecy, tongues, praise, the word of God.

And so, if anything, the people of God are to be a Spirit-empowered people speaking forth Spirit-inspired speech in all of its various forms. This also includes things like words of knowledge, words of wisdom (look back at 1 Cor 12:8-10), or what Paul notes as revelation (see 1 Cor 14:26).

Thus, while I believe it is a bit too strict to say that the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit is tongues and tongues alone, I would argue that the Spirit-empowered people of God are to be a people speaking forth Spirit-inspired speech in all its various kinds.

If you want more details, feel free to listen to the message.


New Series on Gifts of the Spirit at Scot McKnight’s Blog

Over at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, a new series has just begun by guest blogger, T. He begins his first article with these words:

As many regulars here know, I (“T”) believe God still heals (in every sense), still speaks to us and through us in a variety of ways, and generally does all the amazing things we see Jesus and his followers doing in the New Testament.  In a nutshell, I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are still being given as part of God’s continuing gospel work and mission. There are a lot of ways we could discuss the topic here, but for this series, I’m going to share stories—personal stories—and then discuss them.

He, then, goes on to share how God had given one lady a public tongue and another lady the interpretation of the tongue. The interpretation was, ‘I’m leading you into my freedom, and it’s through honesty.’

This message in tongues and interpretation was followed by one particular man praying for another specific man, the prayer being deeply emotional with lots of tears from the pray-er.

In the end, the message in tongues (with interpretation) and the time of prayer for the one particular man led to the man’s confession later that evening of leading an affair-filled, double life. Through deep repentance and counsel, the man repented before fully after being reminded in counsel that he had to be completely honest with her.

Remember the tongue and interpretation that had come – ‘I’m leading you into my freedom, and it’s through honesty.’ You can see how God weaved that whole account together to free this man through honesty.

A beautiful, edifying and God-glorifying story of the gift of tongues and interpretation.

You can read the full article here.