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Tongues of Angels: Really… Angels? (pt 3)

August 7, 2008 Leave a comment
1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14 deals with speaking in tongues extensively, especially how it should be used within the church. Many read 1 Corinthians as containing the primary passages explaining the nature of what the gift of tongues is like. I do think that it does say some important things about the spiritual gift and does help us to understand more what the purpose of its use is; however, Acts 2, being the first use of the spiritual gift, is still the lens that I am going to use as I look at what 1 Corinthians 12-14 has to say. This does not mean I force Corinthians to fit the Acts mold, but work to developing a cogent, interconnect, and somewhat holistic perspective on the spiritual gift of languages where there is harmony between the stories of Acts and Paul’s theology in 1 Corinthians.

There are a few places in the text of 1 Corinthians that, to some, seem to indicate that the gift of languages is about speaking unknown languages from the Spirit rather than speaking languages by the power of the Spirit that the speaker has never before learned. As I have already outlined improper uses of the gift of languages Paul discusses, I will be primarily only be explicating portions of text relating to the belief that the gift of tongues is a language unknown on earth.

The first place where the word is mentioned in chapter 12 is in verse 11 , which discusses that all the spiritual gifts are from the same Spirit (an attempt to remove any spiritual gift-based hierarchies). The translation here is a little tricky. NIV says “different kinds of tongues,” a more literal Greek translation says “various kinds of tongues.” Some argue here that “different kinds of tongues” means something unique, something other than the usual type of language. First of all, it’s a stretch of those words to assume it means speaking in a language unknown on earth. Speaking in different kinds of languages could just as easily mean speaking in languages that are different or foreign to the speaker, but are languages known by people in the world. Second, the word used prior to glosson (“of tongues,” or “of languages”) is genae. The meaning of the word in this context is “kinds.” There is no word here for “various” or “different,” those words were merely inserted in an attempt to make the translation more sensible to English ears, but there isn’t an indication in the Greek text that those words need to be or should be inserted. Thus, the interpretation that these two words, genae glosson, mean speaking in a language that does not actually exist on earth is, at best, a large stretch.

1 Corinthians 13:1 is what the title of this and the last two blog posts was based on. Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.” Oh, there it is, speaking the languages of angels. That sounds a lot like speaking in a heavenly language or a language that is unknown on earth. What are you going to do with that Jeremiah? You’re finished. Indeed, this is a slightly more difficult passage to demonstrate how it fits into my interpretation of the spiritual gift of languages, but I hope I can show that it does not in any way negatively impact my interpretation. I think that the biggest issue with this passage, the same issue that plagues the Scriptural interpretation of the gift of languages, is that people that speak in tongues or have close friends that speak in tongues cling hard to the passage as a proof text about what the nature of the gift of tongues is. It’s the language of angels, obviously.

There are two problems (maybe more) with jumping straight to this conclusion. One, the purpose of this passage was to talk about love, not the nature of the gift of tongues. If we are to develop a theology of the spiritual gift, shouldn’t we look more closely at the places where Scripture is focused on that gift rather than a place where it mentions it in order to talk about something else? Certainly, this verse contains truth about the gift of tongues, but there would have to be more texts confirming that the gift of languages is indeed referring to speaking in angelic languages. My argument is that there s not. Two, the three verses forming the intro to Paul’s brief love discourse are full of hyperbolic language. In verse 2 Paul also talks about knowing all mysteries, having all knowledge, and removing mountains – things we know to be impossible for a human. Paul talks in verse 3 about dying in flames and giving everything that he has away. The essential point of these verses is not about having the most amazing spiritual abilities, doing the impossible, or sacrificing to the extreme, but about everything being pointless if the motivation is not love. There’s a lot more going through my head, but for brevity’s sake, I will merely say this: It fits the interpretation well to infer that Paul was not talking about speaking in the tongues of angels as something that is actually performed by believers, but he uses hyperbole to emphasize the pointlessness of all spiritual abilities if one lack’s love.

On to 1 Corinthians 14, our thickest chapter yet. I’ll try to move through without loquacity. First point I want to make is about the King James Version. Many people use this version to formulate theology as it is generally regarded as a highly literal translation and has been around for so long. At points where the Greek talks about speaking in tongues, the KJV in 1 Corinthians 14 inserts the word “unknown” before tongues. This word is not present in the Greek, nor does it need to be to make sense of it. The insertion of this word is an example of reading theology into Scripture, instead of forming theology from Scripture. So, any arguments relying upon the word “unknown” in the KJV are void. We must interpret the original text and refrain from interpreting the interpretations of that text.

Difficult verse #1: 1 Corinthians 14:2 “For anyone who speaks in a language does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” This could mean that no man understands the language and only God does because it is a heavenly language not spoken on earth; it could also mean that no one understands the language because no one is a native speaker of that language within the church at that time. Paul is in the middle of a discourse where he is primarily teaching about the use of the spiritual gifts within the church, while a formal time of worship and teaching is going on. Thus, when one is speaking in a language during this time and there is not one with the gift of interpretation present (1 Cor 14:13) or someone else who understands the language being spoken and can tell everyone else what was said (1 Cor 14:27). Certainly, even if it were given that speaking in tongues was speaking in nonsense syllables, Paul did think that there were sometimes people who understood the language being spoken, which he shows later in the chapter when he talks about one who is able to interpret being present. So, we cannot take “no one understands him” in verse 2 at face value. Practically, what this appears to be is a statement about what has been typically seen in the Corinthians church, individuals are using their gift of speaking in foreign languages when there is no one around who understands that language. Not only this, but it seems in the church that there are a number of people using their gift of languages at once, flaunting their spiritual gift in a raucous church service. It seems indeed then, in these situations, no man would understand what was being spoken even if he could interpret. The mysteries uttered to God are mysteries not because they are highly special secrets, but because the God of all languages is the only one who actually understands them.

Difficult verses #2: 1 Corinthians 14:7-13
Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or the harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. So it is with you.

For the person that believes speaking in tongues is uttering syllables that make no sense in any human language, this passage seems to be directly evidencing that. However, there is definitely another way to interpret this passage, it’s similar to many of the arguments that I have already been making. If someone stood up in church and started speaking Japanese, although the words might be true and distinctive to many Japanese speakers, the words would not be intelligible to me. I would not hear a distinction of syllables. Someone might as well be playing instruments with no regard for playing actual notes, neither the language or the song would be something that I could distinguish. A trumpet call that sounds like an animal won’t incite me for battle readiness, for I won’t know what it is. Neither will someone speaking a language I don’t understand prepare me for spiritual battle. The interpretation that Paul is talking about foreign languages here does work well. Again, like much of what we say, it does not preclude the possibility of Paul talking about heavenly languages, but we are repeatedly debunking everything that might seem like Scriptural evidence. At the end of this passage, Paul seems to be clarifying what he is saying and talking about. Indeed, he seems to be saying that as he was talking about the gift of languages, he was talking about speaking in languages that are spoken on earth all along. He says, in Jeremiah paraphrase, “Of course the languages that are being spoken by people in the congregation have meaning somewhere, because these languages are spoken all over the world, but if I don’t understand the language, the speaker might as well be speaking gibberish. Speaking foreign languages to each other only serves to distance us from one another.”

1 Corinthians 14:21-23
In the Law it is written:
“Through the men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,”
says the Lord.
Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So, if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

I recently ran into the interpretation that the gift of languages as a sign for unbelievers was actually a sign of judgment for unbelievers. This is a good interpretation, especially in light of Paul’s paraphrasic quotation of Isaiah 28. The interpretation I ran into basically said that because the unbelievers couldn’t understand the heavenly language spoken by the believers, they were doomed to destruction. It is a sign to unbelievers that they are the preterite, fated to hell. The working out of this man’s interpretation was essentially predeterministic, which is a nasty way of thinking about reality. A better way of working out the interpretation that this passage is talking about judgment is by using our Acts 2 event as a model for understanding this passage. The disciples were men of strange languages to many of the people listening, they were foreigners from different parts of the Roman empire than their hearers that spoke a different language and dialect, yet they spoke to the unbelievers in their own language and dialect. Therefore, the prophecy was fulfilled, through foreigners the unbelievers heard the gospel. Despite this, although many believed (Acts 2:41), some “made fun of them” (Acts 2:13) and did “not listen” to the Lord speaking through “men of strange tongues” (1 Cor 14:21). The gift of languages, then, is a sign for unbelievers, not so that they would know they will be destroyed but a sign for them, done on their behalf, that they might see the power of God in Messiah Jesus and then believe. The idea that tongues are a sign for unbelievers to be aware that they aren’t a part of the kingdom doesn’t work with Paul’s concern for unbelievers. Paul doesn’t say believers should avoid speaking in tongues because he fears unbelievers will hear, not understand, and be marked out as unbelievers, but that believers should be careful about making the Jesus way seem like the way of insanity. He doesn’t want unbelievers to hear believers speaking in various languages that don’t make sense to anyone because it might keep the unbelievers from coming to God. Their confusion and negative opinion that would develop of the followers would deter them from following the way of the Messiah.

Another point that invalidates the idea that speaking in tongues is speaking a single heavenly language is that 1 Corinthians 14 talks about speaking in a language or about speaking in languages. If the gift of speaking in a tongue meant speaking in one, singular language that is used in heaven, then we would find the Greek definite article (English “the”) present before the word glossa. Scripture talks about the gift of languages as if it meant multiple language and not a single one. If this were the case, we would find Scripture talking about “the language,” but we don’t see the definite article before glossa which would affirm it as a singular; rather we see Scripture talking about “languages” or “a language” (which implies that there are more languages). This doesn’t exclude the possibility that Scripture is talking about having multiple angelic languages, but typically the gift of tongues is interpreted by people as describing a single language from the Spirit. This is because tongues is sometimes seen as the redemption of what happened with the tower of Babel – a single language turned into many. Now, with the coming of Christ, many languages have become one and the original language, the one used in heaven, is now back on earth by the power of the Spirit. It is clear Paul is not talking about this because the grammar he uses requires us to interpret that he is talking about multiple languages.

In my Scripture based opinion, the gift of languages is the ability of a person to speak in languages they have not actually learned in order to communicate the message of Jesus Christ to unbelievers in a way that demonstrates the power of God and so verifies the message. I think it’s a stretch to interpret that the gift of tongues is the ability of people to speak in languages that are from heaven or that are unknown on earth. Like anything that stretches, interpretations of the words of Scripture can only be stretched so far before they break. I think rubber band of the Pentecostal interpretation has been stretched beyond the breaking point.

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Tongues of Angels: Really… Angels? (pt. 2)

August 1, 2008 Leave a comment
Two other passages in Acts discuss speaking in languages as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. These passages both are points where small groups of people move across the line demarcating belief in the Jewish God, and belief that the full revelation of that Jewish God and the Messiah is Jesus. When they shift, or perhaps a better word, expand, their beliefs, there is a breaking of the chains of the law of sin and death that allows the powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Both of these groups in some way expand their beliefs in a way that frees them and blesses them with God in them. The gift of languages is bestowed upon these new believers (or, old believers in YHWH who have in turn believed in the Messiah as they acquired knowledge of who He was) as they put their faith in Christ for the purpose of validating with the power of the Spirit the reality of their conversion.

Passage #1 is Acts 10:44-46:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit come on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in languages and praising God.

The immediate initial presence of the gift of languages in passage #1 is almost certainly for validation purposes. This moment in Acts 10 where Cornelius, a Gentile Centurion, and his household come to believe marks and foundationalizes a shift in the theology of the early church. Up until this point Peter and the other very Jewish disciples of Jesus Christ were very pro-Jews following Christ, but not really excited or deliberate about going after the Gentile community. Like the Jewish faith prior to Christ, the Jewish faith after the Messiah only let in a handful of Gentiles. Acts 10 is the story of God speaking in clear ways to Peter about what He thinks about the Gentiles and how He wants Peter, the leader of the church, to see Gentiles as people who are just as welcome into the Messiah Kingdom as the Jews. It required clear visions from God and clear proofs in order for Peter’s theological Weltanschauung to expand enough to include Gentiles. Hopefully that brief treatment of a much larger issue was enough. The point that I want to be clear is that this is a very difficult mental transition for Peter to make.

So, God (in addition to visions and His clear hand in bringing these two people together) showed Peter a sign that Peter could not deny was evidence of the power of God, the spiritual gift of languages. God here used the gift as a way of evidencing that Cornelius truly had become a member of the kingdom of God, that indeed Gentiles were not only welcome to come to Christ, but were allowed to become full participators in that Spirit-filled kingdom. This gift was used by God to validate to Peter that God’s way has been opened to all – proved by the “signs” that accompanied “those that believe:” in the name of Jesus they spoke in “new languages” (Mk. 16:17). After they were speaking in languages, Peter was convinced that these believers were a part of the kingdom and then baptized them in the name of Jesus. It was the miracle of the gift of languages that immediately led to formal baptism into the fellowship of believers and clear acknowledgement that the Holy Spirit was in them. It validated Cornelius’ and his household’s conversion.

The gift of languages, if given by God for validation purposes, should not be something that people can be taught to do or something that people can copy, but should be an inimitable supernatural sign. The speaking of nonsense syllables is something that is able to be imitated well. I know of many, many cases where the gift of tongues has been imitated by people who felt intense pressure to fake it to be seen as more spiritual. It is then not much of a sign of God if it is something that can be copied. When God speaks through miraculous signs, it is unable to be replicated in a way that is convincing. Although the magicians of Pharaoh copied some of the signs of Moses, they were cheap imitations and obviously were not from the power of God. Their snakes were swallowed and their copycat miracles amounted to parlor tricks compared to the might of God. It would not make sense for God to send a sign that is readily faked in a convincing manner, that’s not how the God of Scripture has shown himself to be.

And passage #2 is Acts 19:4-6:
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe6u in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in languages and prophesied.

This passage demonstrates the inadequacy and incompleteness of the Jewish belief prior to Christ. Although the believers in Ephesus probably believed much of what Paul did, even up to the point that John was the one who was to come before the Messiah, there was much that they did not know to be true and therefore could not believe. Their knowledge was inadequate, and therefore so was their faith; thus, they had not yet entered the kingdom of God here on earth. The spiritual gifts of languages and prophecy confirmed to the believers that their belief and baptism into Christ was the ultimate, it was the entrance into the spiritual life that they had been looking for, not because it was full of lofty spiritual experiences, but because it, like the gifts given to the new believers, was undeniably real and powerful.

A few important things to note about both passages: Neither of these passages give us a hint as to the nature of the gift of languages, that is, neither passage tells us what the gift of languages actually sounded like or how it was heard by the disciples. There is an underlying assumption in the written text that the reader knows what the gift of languages is like. Why is this assumption present? Because the text has already shown us precisely what the gift of languages is like in Acts 2. There is no need in the proceeding passages about languages to explain how the gift manifested itself, for we have already read how the gift manifested and know what it is like. Neither of these passages demonstrate a sort of a second baptism into Christ – for this interpretation to work it has to be completely read into the text, and even then, it doesn’t work (I’ll exegete these passages in light of the second baptism theology in my Q & A).

Both passages show the gift of languages being used a confirmatory sign. It would seem that the sign in these passages was used as a confirmatory message of the Spirit to the church as a whole, validating the messages that the life in the Kingdom of Jesus was for all and that belief in the Jesus Messiah was the only sufficient way to come into this kingdom. 1 Corinthians (which we will dive into presently) definitely indicates clearly that tongues is not a sign for believers, but is a sign for unbelievers (1 Cor 14:22). This messes with my interpretation a little bit.

There are a few possible reconciliations to this, but here is what I deem to be the most likely and most fitting with the whole of scripture on the gift of languages. Paul is talking about the primary use of the gift, a sign for unbelievers; however, God could given the gift to the believers discussed for a dual purpose: both as a sign for unbelievers and in order to affirm to the believers that these people truly had become believers. We see a similar dual usage of the gift of prophecy in 1 Corinthians. Paul says, “prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers” (1 Cor 14:22), but says soon after that an unbeliever coming in during a prophetic message may be led to repent of their sins and worship God. So, for the gift of prophecy, we see that though Paul clearly says it is for believers and not for unbelievers, he also notes a use of prophecy that is for unbelievers. The best reconciliation of these two dichotomous statements (found within the same handful of sentences) is that Paul’s statement about prophecy being for believers was about the typical usage and primary purpose of the gift, but did not necessarily mean that the gift couldn’t have some atypical usages or secondary purposes involving unbelievers. It certainly would not be a stretch to say that the gift of languages works in the exact opposite way: it is primarily a sign for unbelievers but there are cases in which the gift has a secondary purpose or secondary purposes. One such purpose is for new believers to be confirmed as Spirit-filled participators in the kingdom.

Alrighty… this is still long… we’ll work through 1 Corinthians 12-14 in the next post…

Tongues of Angels: Really… Angels?

July 30, 2008 Leave a comment
So, let’s just get it out clearly here so you know where I’m at with this. I don’t believe that the speaking in tongues of the charismatic and pentecostal worlds is what Scripture talks about when it discusses speaking in tongues. I don’t think that speaking nonsense syllables in a way that seems uncontrolled and random is something that comes from the Spirit, nor would I think that a systematic speaking of nonsense syllables is from God. I don’t believe that speaking in tongues refers to the speaking of a heavenly language here on earth. I don’t believe the mysterious things of the Spirit are unintelligible.

What do I believe about speaking in tongues? Well, I believe that the best translation of the Greek word, glōssa, is actually “languages.” I believe that we should be talking about speaking in different languages and not in tongues. Because of all of the experiential background and what people have been taught, it’s easy to see Scripture talking about “tongues” and automatically see the usage of the terminology as a validation of the widespread contemporary practice of speaking in tongues. When we look at the whole of Scripture, it makes a lot more sense to use the term “languages” instead of “tongues” to translate glōssa. The word does literally mean tongue, but it is simplistic and illogical to read passages about speaking in “unknown tongues” or “hear every man in our own tongue” while visualizing a physical tongue as what is being talked about. It is also important to note that in Scripture there is not a distinguishing between the words used to describe different languages and the words to describe the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues; both concepts are described using the word glōssa. An example of the use of this word to describe languages is found in Revelation 5:9: “… and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” The word here only makes sense when we interpret “tongue” as meaning “language.” Thus I will be using “language(s)” to translate the Biblical word glōssa throughout this post. When I talk about the charismatic tongues speaking, I will use the term “tongues.”

I believe that the spiritual gift of speaking in languages enables Spirit-filled believers who have the gift to speak the languages of the people around them. The believer never actually goes through the process of learning the language of the people that they are speaking to, but they speak to those people about Jesus Christ, and it comes out of their mouths in the language, even the very dialect, of the people that are listening. It’s an incredible manifestation of the Spirit in the lives of the believers, with a purpose that is in line with all the gifts in the church, it is used to grow the kingdom of God.

This is what we see clearly portrayed in the very first manifestation of this gift of the Spirit. In Acts 2:3 something that looked like tongues of fire seemed to sit on each of the believers, then the believers began to speak in heterais(other, different) glossais(tongues or languages). They were obviously not speaking in unintelligible languages, but in languages that made sense. Those that heard the disciples speaking the message of Jesus, heard them in their own language and dialect even though they all had very different native tongues. If they had heard them speaking in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, that’s unimpressive. If they heard them speaking in syllables that have do not have correlates in an actual language, that’s just useless. The gift of tongues as portrayed here is used to preach the message of Jesus Christ in a way that both dissolves language barriers and is a miraculous sign for those who do not yet believe (1 Cor. 14:22), leaving them “amazed and perplexed.”

The initial use of the spiritual gift of languages is a precedent for evaluating the gift in other texts because it was the earliest usage setting the groundwork for the gift, the passage includes a detailed description of the gift actually in use, and the Acts 2 passage shows better than any other passage the potential power of the gift. In no other passage do we find such a fastidious description of the gift being used. Thus, Acts 2 should provide our foundational materials for framing a theology of the gift of languages. We should interpret other passages in light of the Acts 2 event, instead of interpreting Acts 2 in light of other Acts passages or 1 Corinthians 12-14. I hope to look at the other passages that mention the spiritual gift through the lens of Acts 2, but in such a way that the lens enhances the picture, without blinding me from seeing what the other passages are actually saying.

Jesus prophesies about the disciples’ future ministry saying, “And these signs will accompany those that believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages” (Mk 16:17). Many use this verse as a proof text of speaking in tongues. The argument is that the word new, kainais, necessarily means that the languages spoken are those that are not yet created or those that no one has ever heard before. This is a sensible interpretation, but kainais here could very well mean that the languages are new to the speakers, that the speakers have never previously known the languages that they were speaking. Chinese is unknown to me, and if I suddenly learned it, I would certainly call it a new language in my linguistic repertoire. For something to be new, it doesn’t have to be new to everyone, but new to an individual. To read this passage as talking about languages that are completely novel is reading into the text something that it might mean, but doesn’t necessarily imply. The passage in question does not suffice to supplant the typical view of speaking in tongues, but neither does it evidence the theology of heavenly nonsense syllables.

This is getting really long. We’ll call this part 1, and I’ll deal with two other passages in Acts and 1 Corinthians 12-14 in the next post, and after that answer some questions.

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

July 21, 2008 Leave a comment
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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