Home > Speaking in Tongues > Tongues of Angels: "Snao theunsth ntehuantheu aunhna!" Sorry, I Didn’t Get That…

Tongues of Angels: "Snao theunsth ntehuantheu aunhna!" Sorry, I Didn’t Get That…

Speaking in tongues is a really interesting phenomenon that has been around in the world of Christianity (especially particular groups) for a long time. It’s often found in movements within Christianity labeled “charismatic” or “pentecostal.” Surely there are people who speak in tongues, and have a pentecostal-like interpretation of tongues, that don’t consider themselves to be either charismatic or pentecostal. Additionally, there are likely others that would consider themselves charismatic that have a different perspective on speaking in tongues. The point isn’t the denomination or movement affiliation, but the beliefs about what speaking in tongues actually means.

To many individuals, speaking in tongues means uttering words through the power of the Holy Spirit that are from a language unknown on earth. Whether these languages are actually used in heaven or not isn’t something that tongues-speakers are generally worried about, the point is that they are from the Spirit of God. These languages are used for prayer in community and in private, as well as, more rarely, teaching and prophecy when there is an interpreter around. They are a signifier of the presence of the Spirit of God in the lives of those who are believers in the spiritual. When people speak in tongues they generally use syllables that flow well together off the tongue, but don’t actually formulate words that make sense in English (or other languages found on earth).

In theory (according to the Scriptures) these tongues would only be spoken in public worship when there was someone there to interpret the words that were said, and “if there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church.” (1 Cor 14:28), because “Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.” (1 Cor 14:9). Also, there would only be “one at a time” speaking, and at the absolute most three during any worship service (1 Cor 14:27). Within the church, those that speak in tongues would not for a second think that because the Spirit of God gave them the ability to speak in tongues they were more spiritual than those that do not speak in tongues. For the Scriptures are clear, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit” and the rhetorical questions of Paul make it quite obvious that not all speak in tongues or have a particular gift of the Spirit, but all of the gifts are “given for the common good” (1 Cor 12:4, 12:29-31, 12:7).

In practice (according to the Scriptures) these tongues are widely misused and thought of wrongly. In practice, in places where tongues are spoken, they are generally spoken by more than three people over the course of a service and they are often spoken by more than one person at a time. There is very rarely someone there that actually understands what is being said by those speaking in tongues who can interpret what is said for everyone that hears what is said in tongues. These unintelligible words without an interpreter are often spoken in services despite the lack of an interpreter and so are not only useless for the community, but have destructive effects for the community, such as causing those who do not yet believe to think that Jesus followers are out of their mind (1 Cor 14:23). Many people say that speaking in tongues is something that happens when the Holy Spirit speaks to them and is beyond their control, they must speak out; however, Scripture says that “the spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace” (1 Cor 14:32-33). If the spirit of the one with the gift of prophecy is under control of the one with that gift, does it not also make sense that the spirit of the one with the gift of tongues is also under control of that person? Sure does. The precept of Scripture for a person to hold their tongue while someone else is speaking and to keep quiet under certain circumstances implies that the individual that speaks in tongues is able to control their tongue in spite of their spirit.

The biggest way that I have seen tongues misused is in the way non-tongues speakers have been hurt, judged, ostracized, and looked down upon by those that do speak in tongues. There is this really strange attitude amongst many speakers in tongues *note, certainly not all* that if a person speaks in tongues, then they are more spiritual than the person does not speak in tongues. In many congregations a spiritual elitism clandestinely festers, one that puts those that speak in tongues above those that don’t. Some congregations, even denominations, have the idea that there is a second baptism of the Spirit out of which a person speaks in tongues. If a person doesn’t speak in tongues, then they obviously haven’t had this second spiritual baptism and so are less spiritual. These ideas lead to senses of superiority in those that do speak in tongues and hurt feelings and indignation amongst those that do not speak in tongues.

Even a cursory reading of 1 Cor 12-14 clearly demonstrates that ideas about tongues being a sign of superior spirituality or a gift of the Spirit that everyone should have are foolish ideas. They are contrabiblical ideas. They are arrogant ideas. They are lies of the evil one. Tongues is deliberately listed last in Paul’s listing of gifts. Tongues are not said to be gifts we should strive for and are lesser gifts because they do not lead to the edification of the church body. If you have been a part of a church that has taught that tongues are for the more spiritual, that speaking in tongues somehow leads to a higher spirituality, or that all should speak in tongues, then you’ve been taught lies. Irrefutably, 1 Corinthians eliminates the possibility of tongues being a spiritual gift that allows for spiritual superiority or is a necessary sign of the presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit, that which we will know Spirit filled people by, is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. We are not to know those filled with the Spirit by their spiritual gifts, but by the way they keep in step with the Spirit in their everyday lives (Galatians 5:22-25).

So, I’ve said quite a bit, but not nearly as much as I want to. What I’ve tried to address here is some of the common problems plaguing speaking in tongues today that are hurting people and keeping people from God. What I’ve said so far is pretty difficult to disagree with theologically or refute the validity of my points. You can if you want, but I guarantee that your arguments don’t hold much water. My words differ little from what God in Scripture has already said on the matter and don’t really say anything new. In my next post, my goal is not to say something new or to be contrary, but to formulate a relatively brief theology of speaking in tongues that looks at individual passages in relationship to Scripture as a whole. As a result of this, to some I will be saying something new and to many I will be saying something that goes against their experience and what they believe to be true about the gift of speaking in tongues. My purpose is merely to present an articulated theology that I believe line up best with what the inerrant Spirit-breathed Scriptures say about speaking in tongues.

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