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THE TONGUES ISSUE: PART ONE

       I grew up as a youth attending a Pentecostal Church where my parents were members.  This particular denomination of Christianity traces its roots to events that go back to AD 1901 and takes its name from events that occurred at the Feast of Pentecost in the spring of AD 31. A distinctive feature of the Pentecostal Church doctrinal system is speaking in tongues as a witness to having been baptized by the Holy Spirit. While most Pentecostals acknowledge that one receives the Spirit of God at the time of conversion and water baptism, baptism of the Holy Spirit witnessed by speaking in tongues is seen as a second baptism that enables a Christian to live a more sanctified life and more effectively witness to others. 

       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 followed by the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 to 1909.  This event generated worldwide interest in what became known as Pentecostalism.  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.

       As already mentioned, 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 parents 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.       

       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. Tongues speaking as practiced today (also referred to as ecstatic speech), has been seen historically to have occurred in various ancient Egyptian and Greek religious systems as well.      

Tongues throughout church history:

       During the early years of the Christian Church we see tongues being manifested in a variety of ways.  The second chapter of the Book of Acts records supernatural events on the Day of Pentecost in AD 31 which gave witness to the giving of the promised Holy Spirit. These events included the phenomenon of speaking in unlearned languages.

       In Acts 10 we have the account of Apostle Peter bringing the Gospel message to the Gentile Centurion Cornelius and his family and friends.  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 that when this happened, 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 which resulted in them receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Then in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14, we see Paul teaching that speaking in tongues is one of the gifts of the Spirit. He then instructs how this gift is to be used.     

       Subsequent to the time of the first century Church, there is little recorded as to speaking in tongues. Where tongues speaking is shown to have occurred, we can't be sure of the nature of such tongues. Was it the speaking of recognizable extant human languages as appears to be the case in the NT Church or was it the kind of ecstatic speech we see in modern times? 

       The early Church leader Irenaeus, writing in AD 150, speaks of Christian’s speaking in tongues. The nature of such tongues is not identified. Around AD 172, a church leader named Montanus made speaking in tongues a core doctrine of his theology which also included strict asceticism. The nature of the tongues speaking is not known.  His movement 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.

       After the time of Montanus, there is little historical record of tongues speaking until the end of the seventeenth century when tongues speaking broke out in southern France among a Christian group called Huguenots. From what can be determined, the tongue speaking among the Huguenots was not the speaking of known human language but was the kind of ecstatic speech we see among tongues speakers today. In the early eighteenth century, tongues speaking occurred among a group of Catholic priests called Jansenists.

       In the 1830's tongues speaking became prominent in England under the ministry of a man named Edward Irving who taught that tongues signified an outpouring of the Spirit signaling a soon to occur return of Christ. The tongues speaking movement that began in the early 1900's was believed to be evidence of a restored Apostolic Church which in turn was believed to signal an imminent return of Christ. 

       It is to be noted that when the Pentecostal movement first began in the early 1900’s, speaking in tongues was looked upon as the pathway for Christians to take the Gospel message to foreign countries where this message could be given in the vernacular of the people and thus prepare them for the anticipated imminent return of Christ. It was quickly realized, however, that the tongues being experienced was not actual human language.  Therefore, it was concluded that the tongues being experienced was a divine language and became known as "praying in the Spirit." It was seen as a witness to being baptized by the Holy Spirit.

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 only shows that no such language has been identified as being spoken by any extant human culture.

       It’s been demonstrated 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 cannot be associated with the sounds of a language that is foreign to them.

       It has also been demonstrated 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 of 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. However, if this is truly the case, it raises serious questions as to the integrity of such after the fact interpreters.

       Some researches have attended Pentecostal Church services and spoken in an obscure foreign language that would not have been spoken or understood 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 modern day speaking in tongues, multiple thousands 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 tongues speaking events recorded in the New Testament Scripture. 

       Having provided the foregoing background on the issue of tongues, let's now look at the tongues passages in Scripture that are used to justify the modern day 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?  If it is not, what is it and how is it generated?

       #2: Is there a different between the tongues speaking seen at Pentecost, the house of Cornelius, and the disciples at Ephesus and the tongues speaking discussed by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14.    

       #3: Where tongues, along with other spiritual gifts discussed by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12-14, meant for only the early Church or were they meant to continue throughout Church history and are evident in the Church today?

       We will begin to answer these questions in part two of this series where we will discuss the events that occurred at Pentecost in AD 31.

PART TWO