Theology and Apologetics Roundtable: Are Tongues For Today?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Are Tongues For Today?


            The subject of tongues has always been a relevant topic that is often discussed. The question always arise, “Are tongues for today?” I believe the Bible teaches that tongues were a limited tenure along with the many sign gifts that have ceased following the completion of the New Testament canon. The Gospel of Mark makes very clear that these sign gifts, including tongues, were for the purpose of “confirming the word”.[1] They were proof to those hearing the Gospel message that the words the apostles were speaking really did come from God. When the New Testament canon was complete, direct revelation had ceased. Hence, there was no more need for sign gifts as well.
Some scholars want to equate the event at Pentecost is with the tongues of Corinth.[2] These were two different phenomena taking place. Acts was spiritual act by God and the Corinthian church was a carnal act by man. In regards to the nature of tongues, they were unknown by the fact that they were “human” languages that presently existed at the time, but no one who were native to the area these languages were being spoken understood them until Pentecost. It was clearly a sign gift from God. It is common knowledge that Greek was the trade language at the time and people also spoke the language of their native demographic. This is no different today as English is predominantly the universal language throughout most of the world while people in their own location speak their native language as well.
According to Acts 2:5-13, the Jews of the “diaspora” (dispersion; cf. James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1), were in Jerusalem for the feast. Perhaps they were bilingual, speaking both Greek and their native languages. They were dumbfounded to hear Jews from Galilee speaking the languages of peoples surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.[3] Tongues were never angelic language. Paul uses the term to make a contrast as you read the rest of 1st Corinthians 13:1; “If I speak in the tonguesa of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” [4] In other words, Paul is trying to make that point that he would only be making empty noise and it wouldn’t be useful for anyone. The church was more focused on speaking in tongues and Paul was more concerned with the believers using the gift of love. Paul was not trying to define unknown languages as angelic language.
Coming back to the issue of whether or not tongues are for today, as a strong Cessationist, I believe the gift of tongues along with the other sign gifts have ceased during the early New Testament Church period and are no longer needed. Through the study of Acts, one would find that God was actively involved in the speaking tongues while on the contrary, Corinth was not. The tongues of Acts or not the same ecstatic utterances of the Corinthian church. Paul makes clear that true “tongues” (known languages) would soon cease.[5]

DEFINITION OF TONGUES
The terms “speaking in tongues” and  “glossolalia” both arise from Gk. laleín hetérais glṓssais “to speak in other tongues [i.e., languages]” (Acts 2:4).[7] Glossolalia,’ the act of speaking in a language either unknown to the speaker or incomprehensible (in both OT and NT, the word ‘tongue’ sometimes refers to a language, frequently an alien or incomprehensible language). Apparently, the phenomenon of glossolalia played a prominent role in the life of at least some early Christian communities.
Paul addresses the matter of ‘speaking in tongues’ as a possible problem in the church at Corinth. Although he acknowledges that the ability to speak in ‘various kinds of tongues’ and the ability to interpret these tongues are ‘spiritual gifts’ (1 Cor. 12:10), he is aware not all are to speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:30), and advises his readers to seek ‘the higher gifts’ (1 Cor. 12:31).[8]

TONGUES DEFINED AS HUMAN LANGUAGE IN ACTS
Pentecost
Three passages in Acts treat this phenomenon. In Acts 2 the disciples are baptized in the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and, as a witness to this event, they speak with other tongues (heterais glossais—Acts 2:4). These tongues are known languages, as is clear from the following verses, where the pilgrims from Cappadocia, Phrygia, Egypt, etc., heard them speaking of the wonders of God in their own languages (dialektoi—Acts 2:8), or tongues (glossais—Acts 2:11). Here Luke uses the two words, dialektos (language) and glossa (tongue, language), interchangeably. In other NT literature the terms are likewise both used to mean “known language” (cp. Acts 1:19; 22:2; 26:14 for examples of dialektos and Rev. 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15 for examples of glossa), though the word glossa also refers to the tongue as a part of the anatomy (Acts 2:26; James 3:5; Rev. 16:10). Glossa is used as well in identifying the tongue with a person in the act of speech (metonymy): “Every tongue should confess” (Phil. 2:11 HCSB; Rom. 14:11, “will give praise”). Glossa carries the same range of meaning in other Greek literature.
Speaking in tongues in Acts 2 is evidentiary. The unique speech is demonstrable proof that something supernatural has happened to the 120 disciples of Jesus. Tongues are the sign that these people have received the promise given by Jesus in Acts 1:5, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” This sign was clear enough so that all of those present for the Feast of Weeks were able to see that an impossible event was actually happening. The language speech in this chapter has a second, though subordinate, purpose—the communication of the gospel to people of a foreign tongue. It is likely that the pilgrims present could speak Greek, but the text does indicate that the communication of the gospel in their languages was still important.[9]
Samaritans
Following all the way over to chapter 8, we come to the next group of Christians after the Jews. The Samaritans were getting saved and experiencing the same phenomena. Here Philip is preaching the Gospel. Jews already looked down on Samaritans, and God wanted to be sure that the Samaritans received the same miraculous sign when they entered into the church that the Jews had received, so there wouldn’t be any second-class citizenship.
In Acts 8:6, the people with one accord gave heed to … Philip—the way being prepared perhaps by the fruits of our Lord’s sojourn, as He Himself seems to intimate (see on Jn 4:31–38). But “we may mark the providence of God in sending a Grecian, or a Hellenistic Jew, to a people who from national antipathy would have been unlikely to attend to a native of Judea” [Webster and Wilkinson].[10]
Gentiles
As you move further to Acts 10, you find the first Gentile conversion of Cornelius household (vv.1-8). The Holy Spirit begins to prepare Peter to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles (vv. 9-22). God is moving once again in the latter part of this chapter:
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. [11]
At this point the Spirit interrupted Peter and wrought a miracle in the hearts of these Gentiles. They believed the Word! And when they believed, the Spirit was poured out upon them, the evidence being that they spoke with tongues. (See Gal. 3:2.) The Jews with Peter were astonished that God would save the Gentiles without first making them Jewish proselytes. Led by the Spirit, Peter commanded that they be baptized; and Peter and his friends stayed and ate with these new believers (11:3).[12]
            We’ve gone from Jews to Samaritans, to the Gentiles. When the Gentiles received the gospel and believed, they, too, spoke in those tongues. God is showing us that it’s all one church. Peter confirms it in verses 34-35:
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. [13]

PAUL ADDRESSES CORINTH ABOUT TONGUES
            In chapter 3 of 1st Corinthians, we get an assessment of the church’s condition from Paul’s letter in the opening passages:
But I, brothers,1 could not address you as aspiritual people, but as bpeople of the flesh, as cinfants in Christ. 2 dI fed you with milk, not solid food, for eyou were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is fjealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For gwhen one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” hare you not being merely human? [14]
The Corinthian church is in a state of carnality. It is immature and lacks godly leadership. There is division taking place among the people of the church. What has become a major problem that Paul deals with in chapters 12-14 is the issue of “speaking in tongues”. The church has become too caught up in the emphasis of the tongues-speaking experience as the one which took place Pentecost. In chapter 13, Paul makes very clear that tongues would “cease”.[15]
            In chapter 14, Paul is urging the church to pursue love and allow it to have priority over all the other spiritual gifts:
1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who cspeaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks dedification and eexhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. [16]       
A.T. Robertson put its better; “Follow after love (διωκετε την ἀγαπην [diōkete tēn agapēn]). As if a veritable chase”.[17] Now Paul is establishing the position that the sign gift of tongues is secondary to the spiritual gift of love. If we are anxious about any aspect of the Spirit’s work in our lives, it should be his fruit rather than his gifts—and in particular love. The secret of using any gift properly, and of asking God for it for the right reasons, is love.[18] Tongues would eventually cease since they are a form of divine revelation, thereby, the importance of interpretation mentioned in verse 5. The two must be used together for proper edification of the church. Unfortunately, the believers in Corinth weren’t practicing this. Now Paul is skillfully trying to fix this touchy subject with biblical orthodoxy. Paul was seeking to show not only the misuse but also that they were not speaking the same tongues of Acts. Acts were a known language. While at Corinth, it was rather ecstatic utterances that other couldn’t interpret. Paul says in verses 8-11 and 14-15: “And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. … For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.[19]
Verse 10 of this chapter gives good reason to believe that, when Paul wrote about tongues, he was referring to known languages and not some “heavenly” language. Each language is different and yet each language has its own meaning. [20] Paul urges for orderly worship as well as we arrive at verses 27-28: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God”. [21] In verse 34, women are forbidden to speak in tongues in a church service.
         Finally, in verses 37-38, Paul concludes with:
            “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored”.[22]
Paul found himself having to exercise his apostolic authority in these matters about which he had written. He did not do this as a matter of course. He was always sensitive about appearing to vaunt his authority, no doubt because of his Master’s example. To remove any doubts from the minds of those who might have questioned the counsel he has given, Paul states that what he was writing ‘is the Lord’s command’.[23]

CONCLUSION
         I think it is extremely important that we understand tongues to be defined as actual human languages and not some ecstatic utterance or jibberish that the church in Corinth was practicing. Pentecost was an entirely different experience and God manifested Himself in a powerful way to the Jews.
         Paul laid down some strict guidelines about the issue of tongues and how to do it properly to edify the Corinthian church. If it was going to be practiced, it needed to be done God’s way. Paul was regulating tongues to a small minority within the church so that it would eventually die out. The Corinthians were without a doubt sincere in their hearts about wanting to experience the same phenomena at Pentecost. Unfortunately, it was not the same thing. There is much confusion concerning the issue of tongues and many evangelicals and Bible scholars make the mistake of a wanting to put both Acts and 1 Corinthians as identical occurrences. This is not the case at all. Acts 2 was a spiritual experience that involved God acting in miraculous ways by providing a two-fold sign. The first was to get the attention of people to show that God was present and secondly, to show that God could communicate in their language. The central purpose behind the event of tongues was to spread to Gospel to all nations. I think we have royal made a disaster of this event by misinterpreting its purpose, context, and trying to make it relevant for today’s theology. Corinth was the first church who made that mistake. They heard of some awesome experience that happened back in Acts 2 and they wanted to have that experience for themselves. Should wanted the Corinthians to begin speaking in a different known language, I have no doubt that He would have done so. Instead, the church of Corinth tried to move in their own carnal way, rather than allow God move, should He choose to, and they were making a mess and the church wasn’t being edified. Paul tells them to not focus on wanting to speak in tongues, but rather seek after love.[24] Love lasts forever, but the sign gifts would soon cease.
         The issue of tongues shouldn’t be a matter of discussion today. Unfortunately, it is and sadly I have to admit that it has infiltrated the evangelical circle for a long time. I personally see this as an issue of misinterpretation of the Scriptures. I don’t believe tongues in the proper, biblical understanding is still being acted today. The New Testament canon is finished and direct revelation is no longer needed because the Word of God is alive and speaking to our hearts daily. Therefore, why do we need tongues? With that said, I have to be extremely careful in trying to limit God by my own human understanding. As much as I believe that we have access to limitless resources to learn foreign languages today, God can very well enable a missionary to instantly speak a foreign language they never spoke before, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Mark 16:20
[2] 1 Cor. 13:1

[3] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Ac 2:5–13). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
a Or languages
[4] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (1 Co 13). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
[5] 1 Cor. 13:8
KJV King James Version
KJV King James Version

Gk. Greek
[6] Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (1011). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
Gk. Greek
[7] Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (1011). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
[8] Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, P., & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper's Bible dictionary (1st ed.) (1081–1082). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
[9] Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., Butler, T. C., & Latta, B. (2003). Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (1605). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
[10] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Ac 8:6). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[11] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ac 10:44–48). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[12] Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (303). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
[13] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (Ac 10:34–35). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
1 Or brothers and sisters
a ch. 2:15; Rom. 7:14
b [ch. 2:14]
c Heb. 5:13; [ch. 2:6]
d Heb. 5:12, 13; 1 Pet. 2:2
e John 16:12
f Gal. 5:19, 20; [ch. 1:11; 11:18; Rom. 13:13]
g See ch. 1:12
h [ver. 3]
[14] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (1 Co 3:1–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[15] 1 Cor. 13:8
c Acts 2:4; 10:46
d Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 2 Cor. 10:8; 12:19; Eph. 4:12, 29
e 1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9; 2:15; Heb. 3:13; 10:25
[16] The New King James Version. 1982 (1 Co 14:1–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[17] Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament (1 Co 14:1). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.
[18] Prime, D. (2005). Opening up 1 Corinthians (119). Leominister: Day One Publications.
[19] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (1 Co 14:14–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[20] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (1 Co 14:6). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
[21] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (1 Co 14:27–28). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[22] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (1 Co 14:37–38). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
[23] Prime, D. (2005). Opening up 1 Corinthians (129). Leominister: Day One Publications.
[24] 1 Cor. 13:1