WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

THE TONGUES ISSUE: PART THREE

      In Part One of this series I provided a historical overview of tongues speaking from what is recorded in the NT to our present day.  We also looked at the independent research that has been done in an effort to identify exactly what is going on in the modern day tongues speaking community.  In Part Two we took an in-depth look at the events that took place on Pentecost in A.D. 31 with emphasis on the phenomenon of speaking in tongues.  In Part Three of this series we will study three other occurrences of tongues speaking recorded in the Book of Acts.  We will look at these occurrences in the chapter order they appear.  

Tongues and the Samaritans:

       Speaking in tongues is not specifically mentioned here but because of the events that occurred, there is a strong implication that tongues were spoken by these Samaritans.

       Acts 8:8-19: Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria.  He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.  When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

       Here we see a number of Samaritans responding to the Gospel and being baptized but not receiving the Holy Spirit until Peter and John lay hands on them sometime later. We then see the sorcerer Simon trying to buy the ability to lay hands on people so that they receive the Holy Spirit. How did Simon know the Samaritans had received the Holy Spirit?  Simon, being the sorcerer he was, must have seen some outward manifestation of these Samaritans receiving the Spirit to make him want the power to duplicate what Peter and John did.  Since we see speaking in tongues as the outward witness of receiving the Spirit on Pentecost, there is good reason to believe Simon heard these Samaritans speaking in tongues.  If indeed they were speaking in tongues, why did they do so and was it the same kind of tongues spoken on Pentecost?

       We have seen that the tongues spoken on Pentecost were real languages and the miracle of speaking in tongues gave witness to the giving of the Holy Spirit.   If indeed the Samaritans did speak in tongues as the context of Acts 8 indicates, what purpose was served? 

       The Samaritans were a hybrid group of people.  They were the descendants of the Israelites who had intermarried with the Assyrians and other nationality groups during the Assyrian captivity.  They had their own temple and their own worship system. They had developed a hybrid form of Judaism wherein they combined Mosaic regulations with various practices of pagan worship. 

       There was great animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, more so than between Jews and Gentiles. We see this in Christ's parable of the "Good Samaritan." So when the Samaritans accepted the Christian message it was another giant step forward in the growth and development of the Christian Church.  If tongues speaking did indeed occur at the laying on of hands by Peter and John, it would have served as confirmation of the fact that even these despised Samaritans were accepted by God and were to be included in the community of Christians.

       The receiving of the Holy Spirit by the Samaritans may have been purposely delayed by God so that leadership from the Jerusalem church would have the opportunity to make a connection with them and see first hand that God was indeed giving His gift of salvation to the Samaritans and not only to the Jews. Later we see the conversion of the Gentle Cornelius confirmed by Cornelius and his family speaking in tongues which showed the Jews that Gentles would be included as well.

       It must be remembered that starting with the events that took place at Pentecost, a great deal of change was taking place as to how one relates to God.  Covenantal transition was taking place were the Mosaic System was being slowly phased out and replaced by the New Covenant System, a system open to all of mankind. It wasn’t easy for the Jewish Christians and their leadership to move from a system based on ethnicity and exclusiveness to a system of inclusiveness where all peoples could be included in the Israel of God. So if the Samaritans did speak in tongues, it probably was for the express purpose of demonstrating that all peoples were being accepted by God, even those despised Samaritans. 

       Another possible reason for the giving of the Holy Spirit being delayed for the Samaritan's is that God wanted to put an end to Simon's notoriety as a man having divine power. Simon was looked upon as "the Great Power."  It is apparent that Peter put an end to this perception as seen in the following passage of Scripture.

       Acts 8: 18-24:  When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money  and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin." Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me."      

       While there isn't explicit evidence these Samaritans spoke in tongues, the implicit evidence is very strong.  If tongues speaking did take place at this event, there is no reason to believe it was a different kind of tongues speaking than what took place at Pentecost.  Peter and John would have recognized Samaritan tongue speaking as confirming the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans just as it confirmed the giving of the Spirit to them on Pentecost.  As has been shown, the tongues speaking at Pentecost was the speaking of known languages.

Tongues at the house of Cornelius:

       In Acts 10 it is recorded that an angel appeared to the Roman Centurion Cornelius and directed him to send a delegation of men to Joppa to bring Peter back to the house of Cornelius and his family.   Cornelius sent three men.  While they were traveling to where Peter was staying, Peter went up to the roof top to pray and while there he became hungry.

       Peter then has this vision wherein he is presented with a sheet containing an array of animals that were considered unclean under the Old Covenant system and he is told to kill and eat.  Peter recoils at this, knowing that the covenant under which he still lived prohibited him from eating certain foods that were deemed to be unclean. He says He couldn’t eat these animals because they are unclean.  He then hears a voice saying “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."   Apparently Peter hears this same instruction tree times and then the sheet of animals is taken up into heaven.

       While Peter is thinking about what he had just experienced and what it might mean, the three men Cornelius had sent to fetch Peter were rapping on the door.  In the mean time the Holy Spirit impresses upon Peter that he should go with the three men and the next day he does just that and takes along some of the Christian brothers who were at Joppa along with him.  When he got to the house of Cornelius, there was a large gathering there to meet him.

       Acts 10:27-28: Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.  He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.

       Peter had come to understand what the vision he had was all about.  God had shown Peter that Gentile’s, who did not live according to the Mosaic regulations, and yet fear God and behave righteously, were accepted by God.  We see this in what Peter said to those gathered at the house of Cornelius.

       Acts 10:34-35: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

       Peter then went on to tell those gathered before him all about Christ and while he was yet speaking something very interesting happened.

       Acts 10:44-47:  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.   For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."

       While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the message.  How did they know the Holy Spirit came upon this Gentile audience? These Gentiles began to speak in tongues and praise God.  Peter heard them speaking in tongues just as He and his associates had done at the Pentecost gathering.  The evidence that these Gentiles were receiving the Holy Spirit was their speaking in tongues.

       We saw that at Pentecost, the speaking in tongues was the speaking in known languages that could be understood by the many ethnic groups represented at the Pentecost event. Now we see these Gentiles speaking in tongues and for Peter and those that came with him from Joppa, this is evidence that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit.  Peter says “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."  How did Peter and others receive the Holy Spirit, they spoke in languages they had not spoken before.  Now these Gentiles were doing the same thing. 

       On Pentecost, the speaking in tongues occurrence was to demonstrate to the Apostles that the promise of the Holy Spirit had now been given and to get the attention of the mixed cultural group residing in Jerusalem who spoke a variety of languages. In the case of the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius, speaking in tongues was to get the attention of the Jews and demonstrate to them that God was accepting the Gentiles to equally participate with Israel in the New Covenant that was being established.  We see this by the reaction of the Jews who had accompanied Peter to the house of Cornelius. 

       The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. It must be understood that Gentiles and Jews did not interact with each other at this point in history.  Remember what Peter said to the Cornelius group:  "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him."   The Jews of the first century were very ethnocentric.  They believed they were a special people because of their ethnicity. 

       Under the Old Covenant, God related to Israel on the basis of ethnicity and strict obedience to the covenant He made with them at Sinai.  God chose the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob to be a special people.  Gentiles could become a part of the community of Israel only if they were circumcised and adhered to the Mosaic regulations. However, God’s ultimate purpose was to have an indwelling spiritual relationship with all of mankind based not on law keeping and physical circumcision but based on the death and resurrection of the promised savior Christ Jesus.  Now that Christ had come, the dynamics of how one relates to God had changed.  A relationship with God was no longer based on physical decent from Abraham and obedience to the Old Covenant regulations.

       The Cornelius event was facilitated by God to demonstrate to the Jewish converts to Christianity that the pathway to a relationship with God was no longer through circumcision and the keeping of the Mosaic regulations. The pathway to a relationship with God was now based on faith in the Christ event and was open to all humans regardless of their race or ethnic background.  The Holy Spirit was now available to everyone as it was through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that one became born again as Christ had explained to the Pharisee Nicodemus.

       Speaking in tongues was the sign that the Gentiles were recipients of the Holy Spirit equally with the Jews and therefore should be accepted as equals in the developing Christian community.  Peter and the Jews that were with him immediately recognized the significance of what they had just witnessed and went ahead and baptized Cornelius and the Gentiles that were present with him.

       The Cornelius event was a major turning point in the developing Christian community.  Up to this point, the Jewish converts to Christianity had continued to keep the Mosaic regulations and simply added Christ to the Old Covenant system.  Now they were faced with the reality that one did not have to keep the Mosaic regulations in order to be accepted by God.  This caused no small stir in the Christian community.

       Acts 11:1-3:  The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."

       In Acts 11:4-14 we see Peter explaining to the circumcised believers all that happened in leading Peter and other Jews to go visit uncircumcised men.  He related to them the vision he had and how he was told to go with the three men sent by Cornelius to fetch him.  Then Peter says this:

       Acts 11:15-17: "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'  So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" 

        As can be seen, Peter doesn’t directly mention that the Gentiles spoke in tongues. He simple says the Holy Spirit came on them as it had come upon the Apostles.  We know from the account in Acts 2 that the Spirit came on Peter and the Apostles with the visible signs of the sound of a might rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on the Apostles and the Apostles speaking in languages thy had not spoken before. 

       There is no evidence that these Gentiles experienced the sound of a mighty rushing wind or tongues of fire resting on them.  They did experience speaking in tongues.  It would appear that these Gentiles speaking in tongues was the same kind of speaking in tongues the Apostles experienced on Pentecost. Speaking in tongues on Pentecost provided evidence to the Apostles that the promised Holy Spirit had arrived.  The Gentiles speaking in tongues provided evidence that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit. That is how Peter and the Jews with him were able to know that the Spirit of God had been given to the Gentiles.

       In order for the Gentiles tongues speaking to be evidence of receiving the Spirit, such tongues speaking would have had to have been the same kind of tongues speaking experienced by the Apostles.  We saw in our discussion of the tongues speaking recorded in Acts 2 that the tongues spoken by the Apostles were actual known languages that were spoken and understood by those in attendance at the Feast of Pentecost. Therefore, it is evident that the tongue speaking experienced by both the Apostles and the Gentiles was the speaking of known languages. 

       As previously discussed, the tongues speaking found in the Christian community of today has not been found to be associated with any known language. As previously discussed, 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.  

       It is evident that the Pentecost, Samaritan and Cornelius tongues speaking was for the specific purpose of providing evidence to the giving of the Holy Spirit to three specific groups of people.  At Pentecost, tongues speaking gave witness to the Apostles receiving the Spirit in fulfillment of what Christ had promised and fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel.  With the Samaritans, tongues speaking was for the purpose of showing that even the despised Samaritans were accepted under the new order of things. At  the House of Cornelius, tongues speaking gave witness to the Gentiles also being accepted by God and becoming a part of the new order of things.

       Modern day tongues speakers claim that speaking in tongues gives witness to their being baptized with the Holy Spirit and some believe that unless you speak in tongues there is no evidence you have the Holy Spirit.  This conclusion is problematic for several reasons. 

       As already pointed out, modern day tongues is not the kind of tongues speaking we see in the Book of Acts.  If it is true that speaking in tongues is a necessary witness to having received the Holy Spirit, one would expect such speaking to be in known languages.  Yet this is not what we see in the tongues speaking community. 

       Modern tongue speaking is the speaking of unknown languages if such speaking can be defined as language at all.  Even where interpretations are presented of the tongues spoken, such interpretations have been shown to differ among interpreters who are provided the exact same tongues speaking.  Furthermore, there is no evidence that tongues spoken at Pentecost, presumably by the Samaritans or at the Cornelius event required interpretation. 

       It is instructive that when Jesus spoke of sending the Spirit as the comforter after His ascension to the Father, he said nothing about tongues occurring to give witness to the receiving of the Spirit.  In John, Chapter 3, when Jesus discusses being born of the spirit with the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus says nothing about such rebirth being witnessed by speaking in tongues.  Even in references to the Spirit being given at Pentecost, Jesus said nothing about speaking in tongues being a witness to the giving of the Spirit. 

       Acts 1:4-5: On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

       It appears that the occurrence of tongues at Pentecost and on several other occasions was to provide evidence that the Spirit had indeed been given.  It does not appear such witness of the Spirit being given was to be an ongoing occurrence throughout Church history.  Peter, in his sermon on Pentecost, says nothing about speaking in tongues accompanying the receiving of the Spirit at the time of baptism.  He simply says that upon repentance and baptism, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

       Acts 2:38: 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.

       This appears to be the protocol.  Repent and be baptized and you will receive the Holy Spirit. There is nothing here to suggest that in addition to baptism, one must seek the Spirit through much prayer and participation in what are called “Terry Meetings”  where people gather together to wait on God to grant them the Spirit, a practice that is common in charismatic groups.

       As previously discussed most Christians who are tongues speakers believe one receives the Spirit of God upon repentance and accepting Christ as savior.  Seeking the baptism of Holy Spirit witnessed by speaking in tongues is considered an additional blessing enabling one to live a more profound Christian life.  The Scriptures, however, don't teach a seeking of the Spirit witnessed by speaking in tongues.  While there are exhortations in Scripture to stir up the Spirit of God, there is nothing in Scripture suggesting this is done or witnessed by speaking in tongues. 

Tongues at Ephesus:  

       While visiting Ephesus, Paul found around 12 men who are identified as disciples.  We are not told whose disciples these men were but this becomes rather evident as we read the narrative.

       Acts 19: 1-6: While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"   They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"   "John's baptism," they replied. Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

       It is apparent these men had been disciples of John the Baptist, From the narrative it appears they knew about Jesus but had little knowledge beyond that.  It is evident they knew nothing about the Pentecost event and the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  Once they learned more from Paul, they were baptized and receive the Holy Spirit witnessed by speaking in tongues and prophesying.   

       At the Pentecost event Peter told the crowd to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and upon doing this they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It’s recorded that some 3000 were baptized that very day. We must assume they received the gift of the Holy Spirit as Peter had promised. However, there is no evidence of these 3000 converts’ speaking in tongues. So why did these men that Paul baptized speak in tongues? 

      When Paul was baptized, there is no record of him speaking in tongues at the time of his baptism (see Acts 9). However, Paul obviously had received the Holy Spirit and must have been knowledgeable about both the Pentecost and the Cornelius event where speaking in tongues accompanied the giving of the Holy Spirit. Having such knowledge would have included knowing that the tongues spoken were extant, recognizable languages.

      This being the case, when Paul heard these Ephesian men speak in tongues, there is every reason to believe they spoke in extant, recognizable languages. Why the men Paul baptized at Ephesus spoke in tongues we can’t be sure. Maybe it was simply to demonstrate  to Paul and these Ephesians that the Holy Spirit was available to those who had undergone John's baptism but that now one much greater than John had come.    

Summery:

       Every event we have looked at so far were tongues were spoken was an event where tongues confirmed the giving of the Spirit under unique circumstances.  Pentecost was a unique situation.  Giving of the Spirit to the Gentiles and the Samaritans were unique situations. Even the speaking in tongues by the twelve men at Ephesus was a unique situation in that they apparently had not been baptized into Christ and consequently had not received the Holy Spirit. 

       In the four events we have thus far discussed, there is no evidence that anyone was seeking to speak in tongues or was expecting to speak in tongues. While the tongues speakers on Pentecost were expecting the coming of the Holy Spirit because it had been promised by Christ, there is no evidence they expected to experience this event by speaking in unlearned languages. It just happened that way. There is no evidence those at the house of Cornelius expected to speak in tongues. It just happened. The same could be said about the Ephesians and the Samaritan’s.   

       Modern day tongue speaking is often the result of seeking to receive the Spirit through extensive prayer and supplication with the goal being speaking in tongues as a witness to having been baptized with the Holy Spirit.  While it is maintained that the goal is seeking baptism of the Holy Spirit and not tongues per se, those who seek this baptism aren’t satisfied until and unless they experience tongues as it is believed this is the only way this baptism can be confirmed. Some spend years seeking to speak in tongues as a witness to having received the baptism of the Spirit. 

        This contrasts sharply with how we see tongues manifested in the four events we have examined so far.  In the four events we have examined, we don’t see tongue speaking being sought after.  In fact, we don’t see the Holy Spirit sought after.  At Pentecost, we see the Holy Spirit being given as prophesied.  With the Gentiles, we see the Spirit falling on them while Peter was speaking.  With the Samaritans and Ephesians, we see the Spirit given in response to the laying on of hands. 

       Furthermore, when modern day tongues are spoken, they differ sharply from the tongues we see spoken at Pentecost and seemly spoken by the Gentiles, Samaritans and the twelve Ephesians.  The tongues spoken at Pentecost and the other tongues events we have discussed all appear to be the speaking of known languages.  Modern day tongues’ speaking has not been shown to be any known language.  But, what about Paul’s discussion of tongues within the context of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

       We will address Paul's discussion of the tongues issue in Part Four of this series.

PART FOUR