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THE TONGUES ISSUE: PART ONE

PRESENTED ON 11-24-12

       I grew up as a youth attending a Pentecostal Church where my parents were members.  The Pentecostal Church had its beginnings in the early 1900 hundreds. This particular denomination of Christianity has its roots in events that go back to the beginning of A.D.1901 and takes its name from events that occurred at the Feast of Pentecost in the spring of A.D.31. A distinctive feature of the Pentecostal Church doctrinal system is speaking in tongues.

       The modern day tongues phenomenon began during a New Years prayer vigil in January of 1901 held at a Bible College in Topeka Kansas.  There, an attendee began to speak in tongues.  Sometime thereafter the college closed down and the president of the college took to the streets as an itinerant preacher, preaching a message that emphasized speaking in tongues.  In time, more and more people were attracted to this message and around 1906 the first Pentecostal Church was established in Los Angeles.  From this humble beginning the Pentecostal Church has grown to be a major denomination within Christendom. It is also known as the Assemblies of God.

       A major emphasis of Pentecostal Church theology is being baptized by the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of speaking in tongues.  As a youth I witnessed a great deal of this phenomenon of speaking in tongues.  Both my parent spoke in tongues.  During a typical church service, individuals at the service would begin to speak in tongues.  Sometimes others would offer an interpretation of what was presented in tongues.  I remember the head pastor of the church often providing an interpretation of what someone spoke in tongues.  These interpretations often were exhortations to live a more Godly life and often were prophecies about a coming revival or a soon to occur return of Christ. 

       As I entered college and began to take a rather agnostic position relative to religion in general and Christianity in particular, the one thing that kept me from totally dropping out of religion was this phenomenon of speaking in tongues.  It was something I couldn’t explain and therefore I kept thinking there may be supernatural dynamics involved in what I had observed during my years of attending the Pentecostal Church. 

       In the years since the development and growth of the Pentecostal Church, the speaking in tongues phenomenon has spread far beyond the Assembly of God Churches.  Tongues speakers can now be found in many Protestant denominations and also in the Catholic Church, Mormon Church and other Christian groups.  Of interest is the observation that speaking in tongues is also found in non-Christian groups such as Islam and Buddhism.  

       In view of the widespread occurrence of the tongues phenomenon and my personal observation of this phenomenon during my time attending the Pentecostal Church as a youth, I though it may be useful to provide an overview of the tongues issue in a series of sermons. Let’s begin with a brief overview and than we will get into more specifics.

Tongues in the early church:

       During the early years of the Christian Church we see tongues being manifested in a variety of ways.  In Acts, chapter two, we have recorded the events on the Day of Pentecost where speaking in tongues provided witness to the giving of the promised Holy Spirit and allowed the Apostles to speak in a way that allowed the many visitors from foreign lands who were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost to hear the message about Christ in their own language. 

       In Acts 10 we have the account of Apostle Peter bringing the Gospel message to the Gentile Centurion Cornelius and his family and friends and we see the Holy Spirit being poured out upon all those who heard and accepted Peter’s message at the house of Cornelius.  It’s recorded these Gentile converts spoke in tongues.  In Acts 19, we have the account of Paul baptizing some disciples at Ephesus and laying hands on them and they receiving the Spirit and speaking in tongues. Then in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14, we see Paul dealing with the tongues issue in the Church at Corinth.     

       After the time of the early development of the Christian Church, there is little recorded history as to speaking in tongues.  There was a group that followed a church leader named Montanus that apparently spoke in tongues but that didn’t go very far as Montanus was branded a heretic and driven out of the Church.  Church leaders such as Augustine considered tongues to no longer be operational in the Church as it was felt this was a gift given to the early Church leaders and converts for the purpose of demonstrating the validity or the Christian message. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that speaking in tongues once again became a phenomenon in the church as already covered. 

Tongues research:

       A lot of independent research has been done relative to the tongues phenomenon.  It’s been found that those who speak in tongues do not appear to be speaking any known language.  Research has shown that most known languages utilize about thirty distinct sounds.  The least amount of sounds utilized in known language is thirteen.  Most tongue speakers utilize around six different sounds in their speaking in tongues.  Therefore, researchers have been unable to associate what is spoken by tongues speakers with any known language.  This doesn’t prove that those who speak in tongues aren’t speaking a real language; it’s just that no such language has been identified as being spoken in any given human culture.

       It is interesting that those who speak in tongues will use sounds that are common to their native language.  A person who speaks English will use sounds that are germane to the pronunciation of English. A person who speaks German will produce sounds that are common to the German language.  A Spanish speaking person will produce sounds common to the Spanish language.  It is also interesting that tongues speakers do not reflect local dialects.  A southern US speaker in tongues will not speak in tongues with a southern accent.  Someone from New Jersey will not have an Eastern accent when speaking in tongues.

       Research has determined that tongues language represents a very simple expression of sounds as compared to known languages which by and large are much more complex.  Therefore, researches have concluded that speaking in tongues is not speaking a real language.  What has further supported this conclusion is the research done as to interpretation of tongues.  As discussed earlier, as a youth I often witnessed what appeared to be interpretations of tongues.  Someone would speak in tongues and either the same person or someone else, often the church pastor, would offer an interpretation in plain English of what was said.   

       Researchers have studied the interpretation of tongues and found it to be very problematic.  Researches have made recordings of tongues and then played such recordings for those who claimed to have the gift of interpretation. What was found is that each interpreter gave a very different interpretation of the meaning of the tongues.  Other researches have put into print what was spoken in tongues and when presented to would be interpreters, such interpreters gave different meanings to what was written.  

       When interpreters are asked about such inconsistency in their interpretations, they simply claim that God gives different interpretations to the same set of words being interpreted.  Some tongues speakers claim tongues is an angelic language not subject to the rules of earthly language and therefore God can make such language to mean anything he wants to make it mean to any given interpreter.  Therefore, it is claimed that the same set of tongues sounds can be interpreted in different ways.  Some feel that the Spirit of God gives interpretation to a specific tongues speaking at the time such tongues are spoken and such interpretation is not available when such tongues are later presented to interpreters.  If this is true, it could explain why there are differences in the interpretation of tongues presented to interpreters at a time separate from the time the tongues were originally given.  

       Some researches have attended Pentecostal Church services and spoken in an obscure foreign language that would not have been spoken by anyone in the church congregation they were attending.  The researchers, of course, knew the language and knew exactly what they were saying in that language.  When someone got up and presented an interpretation of what was said, it did not at all reflect the meaning of what the researcher knew he had said. 

       Yet despite all the research that has been done that raises questions about their being a supernatural connection to speaking in tongues, millions of Christians and some in non-Christian religions as well, have spoken in tongues and continue to do so.  Christian tongue speakers are convinced that tongues are a gift of God facilitated by the Holy Spirit and tongues are seen as a virtual divine language where God communicates His will and facilitates worship through the tongues phenomenon.  Those who speak in tongues believe that what they do is grounded in a number of events recorded in the New Testament Scripture. 

Tongues in the New Testament:

       We will now begin to look at the tongues passages in Scripture that are used to justify the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. In so doing we will attempt to answer several questions.

       #1:  Is speaking in tongues as is practiced today, the same kind of speaking in tongues practiced in the first century Church as seen in the NT Scriptures?

       #2: Are their different kinds of tongues speaking represented in the Scriptures?

       #3: If current day tongues’ speaking is not what we see spoken of in the Scriptures, what is it? 

       Shortly after Christ had ascended to the Father in heaven, his disciples were observing the annual feast of Pentecost.  The Scripture says they were all together in one place.  We can safely assume the “they” referred too included the eleven spoken of in Acts 1:13 and Matthias who was added to the group (1:26).  This does not, however, preclude others from having been part of this group called “they.”

       Acts 2:1-4: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

       What kind of tongues were these?  Where they the kind of tongues we hear spoken today in a Pentecostal Church service? 

       The English word tongue is taken from the Greek word glossa.  This Greek word means tongue or language.  Glossology is a term used to identify the study of languages and dialects.  The word glossa appears in the Greek New Testament fifty times. It is used in a variety of ways.  It is often used metaphorically to represent speech. 

       James 3:5-6: Likewise the tongue (Greek: glossa) is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue (Greek: glossa) also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

       1 Peter 3:10 For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue (Greek: glossa) from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.

       By context, we know that both James and Peter are using the word tongue to speak of expressing thoughts in language that is commonly understood by those who are in hearing distance of such language. 

       Acts 2:25-26:  David said about him: "`I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue (glossa) rejoices; my body also will live in hope.

       Here glossa is used in a figurative sense to express the thought that ones speech is one of expressing joyful language. Glossa appears eight times in the Revelation and in seven out of the eight is used to identify cultures of people who speak a particular language.  Here are a few examples:

       Revelation 5:9: And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language (glossa) and people and nation.  

       Revelation 14:6: Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth--to every nation, tribe, language (glossa) and people.

       It should be evident from the context that glossa is being used to identify groups of people who speak the same language and that such language is commonly understood by those who speak it. 

       In reviewing every single occurrence of glossa in the New Testament, we find this word is associated with the expression of language.  Is there Scriptural reason to believe that there is glossa that is generated by the Holy Spirit that is language not related to any known earthly language and can be understood only through someone gifted by God to interpret such language?  Let’s begin our investigation of this issue by discussing the events of Pentecost in A.D. 31.

Tongues at Pentecost in A.D. 31:

       We know the Apostles were gathered together on Pentecost when a very unusual thing happened.

        Acts 2:3-4: They saw what seemed to be tongues (glossa) of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (glossa) as the Spirit enabled them.

       As can be seen, the Greek glossa is used to identify what appeared as physical looking tongues made of fire that came to rest on the Apostles.  They then proceeded to speak in other tongues.  You will notice it was other tongues they spoke in.  The implication is that they spoke in languages other than their own.  This is verified by what happened next.

      Acts 2:5-8: Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?

       It should be quite apparent the Apostles were speaking known languages that were clearly understood by those in the audience who spoke those languages.  There was no need to have someone interpret what was being said. God worked a miracle in providing the Apostles with the ability to speak in languages they had never spoken before.  Some believe that the miracle was in the hearing.  The text, however, plainly says they spoke in other tongues.  All indications are the Apostles spoke in languages they never spoke before.  God performed a miracle to inform Israel that the man the Jewish religious leaders had crucified was the promised Messiah to Israel and this Messiah whom they crucified had been raised from the dead.        

       This event involved the speaking and hearing of existing languages spoken and understood by the many different ethnic groups that were in attendance at this feast of Pentecost in A.D. 31.  Acts 2 shows there were "Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.  All heard the Apostles (and possibly others) declaring the wonders of God in their own tongues."  The Scripture says "they were all amazed and perplexed and they asked one another, "What does this mean?"   Some accused the Apostles of being drunk.  Peter then answered them then in this manner:

       Acts 2:14-21: Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  "`In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

       Peter addressed the crowd and directed his answer to fellow Jews and all those living in Jerusalem.  The indication is that he was addressing both the visiting Jews and those who lived in Jerusalem.  Since it is just Peter speaking at this point, how was he being understood by the Jews who had come from different countries and who spoke languages other than what Peter spoke?  Was Peter understood because the foreign Jews were hearing Peter in their native languages?  If this was the case, then the miracle of tongues was in the hearing and not only in the speaking?   It is unlikely Peter would have been speaking several languages at the same time. 

       Peter is stating that what the assembly gathered in Jerusalem is seeing is the fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by Joel.  What they are witnessing is the prophesied pouring out of the Spirit of God on all people.  Peter makes this very clear in saying the following:

       Acts 2:32-33: God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

       What they were now seeing and hearing was Peter and the other Apostles speaking to them in their own languages and this speaking and hearing of different languages was what gave witness to the Holy Spirit being poured out.  The Apostles speaking in languages they never spoke before was for the express purpose of giving evidence to the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel and Christ Jesus had promised would occur. It also provided Peter and the other Apostles to proclaim the gospel message. Peter provided a  synopsis of the Christ event. 

       Acts 2:22-24:  "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

       Peter brings to their attention that Jesus was a man accredited by God.  To accredit someone is to authorize and sanction them.  God did this by providing Jesus the power to perform miracles, signs and wonders, all things Peter says they knew.  Peter reveals to them that it was within God’s will and foreknowledge that Jesus was handed over to them and they proceeded to crucify him even though they knew the good that He had done.  Peter then states that God raised Jesus from the dead.

       Acts 2:36-38: Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

       Acts 2:41: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

       Peter’s message and the message of the other Apostles had a powerful impact on those being addressed.  The Apostles message would not have had this impact if it wasn’t for the tongues event.  It was the ability of the Apostles to communicate with them in their native languages that really got their attention.  This combined with the sound of a rushing wind and the appearance of tongues of fire was enough to cut them to the heart. 

       Peter told them to repent and be baptized and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  While it is generally believed that one receives the Holy Spirit when repenting and being baptized, it is a teaching within Pentecostal theology that following water baptism it is important to experience another baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Baptism of the Holy, Spirit, while not seen as a requirement for salvation, is believed to empower one to live a more Godly life and witness to other.  Speaking in tongues is believed to be confirmation that one has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and it is believed such baptism of the Spirit is what we see the Apostles experiencing as recorded in Acts, chapter two. 

       The problem with associating the present day tongues phenomenon with what we see recorded in Acts chapter two is that what we see today has no resemblance to what we see in Acts 2.  What we see in Acts 2 are the Apostles speaking in known languages and the hearing of languages that were clearly understood by those who spoke those languages.  What we see in charismatic circles where speaking in tongues is practiced, is the utterance of sounds that are not associated with any known language as research has shown. 

       Furthermore, when the Apostles spoke in tongues their tongues did not have to be interpreted by someone in order to be understood.  Those hearing the Apostles tongues understood exactly what they were saying because it was their native languages they were hearing from the Apostles.  Scripture records that those who accepted the message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.  Peter had told them that when being baptized, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Nothing is recorded as to any of the three thousand who were baptized speaking in tongues as a demonstration of having received the Holy Spirit.

       When you look at what happened at Pentecost in A.D. 31, it is obvious that the tongues spoken were known languages and were spoken by the Apostles to bring the message of Christ to a wide audience.  What happened on Pentecost, A.D. 31 is not what we see being practiced today.  Therefore, the events recorded in Acts two, should not be used as a template for what we see in the tongues speaking movement of the past hundred years.  Some Pentecostal Church theologians admit this but feel that other examples of speaking in tongues recorded in the New Testament give credence to present day speaking in tongues.  It is to those examples we will go in Part Two of this series. 

PART TWO