WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

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 get the attention of those who had gathered to observe Pentecost so they could deliver to those gathered together the message of salvation through Christ. 

       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.  In other words, the sounds put forth by tongues speakers do not indicate that a known foreign language is being spoken.  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 the speaking a known human 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 or divine 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. 

       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? 

       Let's begin answering these questions by looking at the first recorded occurrence of tongues speaking in the Biblical Scriptures.

Tongues at Pentecost in AD 31:

       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 (Greek heteros which means other or different) tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

       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).  Were their others who made up the "they" referred to in Acts 2:1?

       In Acts, chapter one, it is recorded that when the eleven Apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives after seeing Jesus ascend into the clouds of the sky, they went up to a second floor room where they were staying. The names of the eleven Apostles are listed as being present. This listing of the eleven being present doesn't necessarily mean others could not have been staying at this location as well.  It is recorded that the eleven “all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”  It is unclear as to whether the women, Mary and Jesus’ brothers were also staying at the same location as the Apostles or staying somewhere else.  It is recorded that the number of believers at the time was about 120.

       Were the “they” that "were all together in one place" on Pentecost (Acts 2:1) only the Apostles?  Did the “they” include the women, Mary and Jesus’ brothers?  Were the “they” the nearly 120 believers? The Scriptures show that those who experienced the sound of a violent wind were setting in a house.

       Acts 2:2: Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

        The fact the "they" were sitting in a house appears to rule out the "they" being the 120.  In Acts 2:5-8 it’s recorded that the Jews who heard the sound of the blowing wind and the speaking in tongues 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 (NIV)?  It’s to be noted that the word “men” does not appear in the Greek in this passage.  Therefore, this passage can’t be used to definitively determine it was only Galilean men who are speaking in tongues.  This passage only establishes those speaking in tongues were all Galileans.

       Whether this tongues speaking was limited to only the Apostles or included other men and possibly women we can’t be certain.  However, it appears it may have been limited to the twelve male Apostles (Matthias had replaced Judas). It is recorded that some made fun of what was happening and accused the tongues speakers of being drunk with wine (Acts 2:13).  It’s then recorded that Peter stood up with the eleven and said the following: 

       Acts 2:13-15: 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 (NIV)?

       It’s again to be noted that the word “men” is not in the Greek.  Peter stands up with the eleven and says “these are not drunk.”  Who are the “these”?  The fact Peter stands up with the eleven and makes this statement appears to point to the Apostles as being the “these” who were doing the speaking in tongues. If this is the case, the tongues speaking may have been limited to the twelve Apostles.        

       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.  Greek Lexicons define glossa as the physical tongue or as 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 within their group and that such language is commonly understood by those in the group 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.      

       It is recorded, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” The Greek rendered in the NIV as “seemed” is optomai and simple means to see something and is used in this manner multiple times in the NT.  Most translations render this word as “appeared” in the passage under consideration.  The Greek word pur rendered “fire” in this passage is used both figuratively and literally of fire in the NT.   

       It’s recorded that what appeared to them were tongues of fire. Most translations render it as “like as of fire.”  The indication is that what was seen were flame-like projectiles that appeared as physical tongues.  It doesn’t appear that what was seen was actual fire.  Flames of a fire fan out in many directions. This phenomenon of fire appears to be used here to show how the observed tongues flared our and landed on the recipients. Here are several renderings that indicate this.

       And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them (New English Translation {NET}).

       They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated, and one rested on each of them (International Standard Version)

       And tongues like fire that were divided appeared to them, and they sat on each one of them (Aramaic Bible in Plain English).

       Tongues that looked like fire appeared to them. The tongues arranged themselves so that one came to rest on each believer (God’s Word Translation)

      You will notice it was other or different tongues they spoke and they were able to do this through supernatural enabling.  The implication is that they spoke in languages they had not previously spoken.  This appears validated in Acts 2:5-8.

      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 is sometimes believed and taught that the Jews from every nation under heaven were visiting Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Pentecost and that the reason for the tongues event was so the Apostles could delivery to them the Gospel message in a language they could understand.  This may not be the case.  The tongues event may have only occurred to demonstrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit. 

       While the narrative of Acts 2 shows that some of those present were visitors from outside of Judea who may not have spoken the native language of the Apostles, it appears many if not most of those present where foreigners who had taken up permanent residence in Jerusalem and can be assumed to have spoken the language of the Apostles which was probably Aramaic. Therefore, they would not have had to be spoken to in their native language in order to understand the Apostles.    

      The Greek word rendered “staying” in the NIV is katoikeo. The Greek lexicons define this word as a place of permanent residence, a place of settlement. Strong’s Lexicon defines this word as “to house permanently.”  Thayer’s Lexicon defines this word as to dwell or settle.  The Arndt/Gingrich Lexicon defines it as “cause to dwell, establish, and settle.”  

       Katoikeo appears 47 times in the NT and by context can be seen to identify an on going residency and not just someone visiting from out of town. It’s apparent the Jews being addressed were by and large residents of Jerusalem and would have spoken the same language as the Apostles spoke.  These Jews and converts to Judaism, while originally residing in a number of different countries, had at some point moved to Jerusalem and taken up residence there.

       The NET translation footnotes Acts 2:5 by stating that while there may have been Jews visiting Jerusalem to keep Pentecost, it is probable that the audience consisted of families who had taken up permanent residence in Jerusalem and that archaeological evidence from tombs in Jerusalem indicates that many families immigrated to Jerusalem permanently.

       The Scripture speaks of each one hearing them speak in their own language.  This event involved the speaking and hearing of existing languages spoken and understood by the many different ethnic groups represented in the group being addressed. 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 them 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 Greek word rendered “live” in the NIV is katoikeo. As already discussed, this Greek word describes a place of permanent residence.  The indication is that he was largely addressing those who lived in Jerusalem and was most probably addressing them in the language common to most of them which was probably Aramaic.  The tongues event may have been a short lived event that nevertheless got the attention of the crowd and caused many of them to give heed to Peter’s message.

       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 a language or languages they never spoke before was for the express purpose of giving evidence to the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had promised would occur.  It allowed Peter to proclaim the gospel message to what was now an attentive audience.  Peter goes on to provide 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 and signs and wonders, all things Peter says they knew.  This further verifies that Peter was addressing a crowd who lived in the area and was familiar with what had happened. 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 had made this man they had crucified both Lord and Christ.

       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 what seemed like 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 a supernaturally enabled language or languages and others hearing what the Apostles were speaking as their own native language. What we see in charismatic circles where speaking in tongue is practiced, is the utterance of sounds that are not associated with any known language. No one hearing these sounds hears them as their native language.

       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 in their native languages they were hearing what the Apostles were saying.  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/conformation 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 resulted in the production of known languages and all this occurred in order to demonstrate the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit and to allow 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. We will begin to address this in Part Two.

PART TWO