In our last two studies of Romans we have been looking at the subject of spiritual gifts. In Romans 12:6-8 Paul talks about spiritual gifts and encourages the believers at Rome to use their gifts according to the proportion of their faith:
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6-8 NASB
I can't leave the subject of spiritual gifts without talking about the most controversial gift of all, which is-- speaking in tongues. Many would tell us that speaking in tongues is something that we are told to seek after, and to pray for. Speaking in tongues is so popular that there is a movement named after it, "The Tongues Movement." The importance of the Tongues Movement is magnified by the teaching that connects it with the "Baptism with the Holy Spirit."
These opening paragraphs of a message preached by Kenneth Miller illustrate my point:
Visa, it's everywhere you want to be. 'Don't leave home without it' is a slogan of the popular credit card. It reminds me of the words of Jesus in Acts 1.4-5, where our Lord commanded His followers not to leave Jerusalem without the 'Promise of the Father.' This is clearly a reference to the infilling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus went on to call the 'Baptism with the Holy Spirit' in verse 5.
Jesus' early followers obeyed, but today we have many genuine lovers of the Lord Jesus who leave 'home' constantly and venture out without the 'Promise of the Father,' and as always is the case when we disobey the Lord, they miss out on the best He has for them.
It is my intention with this study to set forth a simple and reasoned approach to the subject of 'speaking in tongues, 'and since in the Book of Acts we see that when the Holy Spirit is said to 'fill' or 'baptize' or to be 'received' or be 'poured out on' or 'fall upon,' we also see that these ones spoke in tongues.'
Do you see what he is doing? He is connecting the baptism with the Holy Spirit with tongues speaking. This is a very common teaching. Kenneth Hagan of Tulsa, Oklahoma says, "Speaking in tongues is always manifested when people are baptized in the Holy Spirit." Donald Gee says, "The distinctive doctrine of the Pentecostal Churches is that speaking with tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit."
Let me ask you a question, believers, "When does the baptism of the Holy Spirit take place in the life of the believer?":
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 NASB
All believers have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit: "...we were all baptized..." The Baptism of the Holy Spirit takes place at salvation, it is something all believers have in common.
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Romans 8:9 NASB
Even the carnal Corinthians had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is non-experiential, it is a positional work of God. It takes place at salvation. When the Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ, He puts us into Christ. He joins our life with His; He becomes our source of existence and strength; we are part of Him. To not have it, is to not be saved.
Now, as we study this subject of "speaking in tongues," we find that, first of all, there is relatively little said in Scripture about tongues. Compared with the tremendous amount of emphasis put on tongues today, it becomes very obvious that this is very much out of proportion. It is interesting to note that there is very little relative emphasis upon tongues in the New Testament. The word occurs only once in all four of the Gospels. There are only three incidences connected with it referred to in the Book of Acts. In all of Paul's letters, it is only referred to in one letter, and that is in the letter of 1 Corinthians. In many of the other letters to churches dealing with many other problems and attitudes, Paul never mentions tongues. There is no reference to tongues by any of the other New Testament writers or in the Book of Revelation. So you see, there is relatively little emphasis on tongues in the New Testament.
What Is the biblical Meaning of speaking in tongues? Let's see if we can answer that question by examining the Scripture. The subject of tongues is found in three books of the Bible. It is found in Mark 16:17; Acts 2, 10, 19; and in 1 Corinthians 12-14:
"These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." Mark 16:17-18 NASB
Almost all translations of Mark 16, if you look closely, will have brackets around verses 9 through 20; they'll put it in italics; they'll have some sort of a footnote that tells you there is some question about whether or not this was originally a part of Mark's Gospel. The majority of New Testament scholars believe that verses 9-20 are not original.
How many of you have believed? How many of you are willing to drink some poison, or handle a poisonous snake? Why not? It says, "If they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them." What's interesting to me is that these verses are seldom if ever expounded from the pulpit and almost never appealed to in didactic circumstances. These verses seem to say that these signs will accompany everyone who believes the Gospel. Unfortunately, the text makes it appear this way, and this is how this passage has been understood by many. As you go about preaching the Gospel, these signs will immediately confirm that the faith of those who believe is genuine. But the amazing fact is that for twenty centuries millions of people have been converted and have believed the Gospel, and none of these signs have appeared. These verses are to me strong reason to reject these last twelve verses as not original. No other text in Scripture provides a promise for the handling of snakes and imbibing deadly poison without adverse repercussions.
This past May, Mark Wolford, 44, a West Virginia preacher who handled snakes to prove his faith in God died after being bitten during an outdoor service involving the reptiles. He died after witnesses say a timber rattler bit him on the thigh. Wolford was trying to revitalize a strong tradition that doesn't make a distinction between beliefs and practices. Wolford and his followers have a literal belief in Mark 16:17-18. How sad to give his life because of a misunderstanding of Scripture.
That leaves us only two books in the Bible that mention tongues. When we read Acts 10 or 19, or 1 Corinthians 12-14 and read the word "tongues," we have no description in these passages of what "tongues" is. So we need to go somewhere else in the Bible, if we can, and find a description, or definition, or synonym which will define the meaning of "tongues." Or we can develop a meaning of tongues by what others tell us it is. This seems to be the norm today; most people have developed their definition of tongues from what others have said about it. There are three predominate views of what tongues are: 1)They are a known human language. 2)They are ecstatic speech, an unknown angelic language, a private prayer language. 3) They can be either of the first two.
What do the Scriptures say? That is what is really important. We have a description of tongues at their first occurrence in Acts 2, which seems to be a logical place to describe what this gift is:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? "And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Acts 2:1-8 NASB
Verse four says: "and began to speak with other tongues." The Greek word that is translated "tongues" is glossa, which refers to the organ in your mouth or the use of that organ, a language. The Greek word for "other" is heteros, it means: "another of a different kind." We could translate this: "They spoke with different languages."
In verses 4 & 11 we have the term glossa, and in verses 9 -11 we have a clear explanation of what glossa is:
"And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." Acts 2:8-11 NASB
We see from these verses that tongues was a known human language. Verse 6 & 8 use the Greek word dialektos, translated here as: "languages." Dialektos is the language or dialect of a country or district. It can be more specific than the general language and refers to inflection and tone. On the day of Pentecost the people heard not only in their own language, but more technically in their own dialect.
In verses 9-11 of Acts 2 Luke lists 16 nations. What is the significance of these nations? Why list all of these? Luke is telling us that this is the start of the Second Exodus predicted by the prophets:
Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people, who will remain, From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, And from the islands of the sea. And He will lift up a standard for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth. Isaiah 11:11-12 NASB
These nations listed here are the same that are listed in our text in Acts 2. By naming all these nations Luke is telling us that Pentecost is the beginning of the Second Exodus. God is "recovering the second time" His people from bondage. This time the bondage is that of sin and death.
Both glossa and dialektos refer to language, known human language. So from Acts 2 we have a clear explanation of what this new thing "tongues" was.
Verse 11 tells us that they began to speak in languages which they had never learned and were preaching the wonderful works of God. This was the ability to communicate in a language not previously learned. Biblically, the gift of tongues is the ability to speak a language that you have never learned. It is not uttering some ecstatic utterance which makes no sense, it is not gibberish, it is not a jargon, it is a known language that is spoken somewhere on earth and can be reduced to writing. It is a known language, that is the point.
As you read the account in Acts 2, there is no question about this, because there were sixteen languages mentioned there and people who spoke those languages were present. They heard these men speaking in tongues, that is, speaking in languages as the Spirit gave them utterance; and they said to each other, "How is this? Why, these men are Galileans; we can tell by their dress that they are just ignorant fishermen. How is it that all of us have heard them speak in our own tongue--in our own language?"Then the Spirit of God lists the languages, and there are sixteen of them from all parts of the earth. This was during the time when the feasts were being celebrated, so there were thousands of strangers in Jerusalem at that time, and these men heard these languages. The amazing thing to me is that the people today who claim to have this gift of languages when preaching to a foreign audience use a translator. Does that make any sense to you? It's okay to be a Christian and think!
Now, If the Bible explains something, then we should be very careful not to put a different explanation on what is obviously the same thing. All the uses of "tongues" in the New Testament (50 of them) refer either to the physical organ in our mouth or to the use of that organ in speaking known human languages:
and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:10 NASB
In the phrase "various kinds of tongues..." the word "various" is the Greek word genos, which means: "a family, or group or a race, or nation." Linguistics uses the term "language families." The reference is to different kinds of languages. Are there families of gibberish?
The word "interpretation" is the Greek word hermeneia, which means: "translation." Translate means: "to take something in one language and put it into its equivalent in another known language."
Since the word "tongues (gloss)," is the same word used in Acts, our conclusion should be that it is the same-known human language. The gibberish and ecstatic utterance that we are seeing today is not the biblical "tongues."
Someone is bound to ask: "What about angel talk?":
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1 NASB
Some say that this is a reference to angel tongues. Search the Scriptures; every time an angel talks it's in a known human language. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah understood the angel's speech. Look at Luke 1:11, 28; 24:4, angels always spoke in a known human language. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul is using hyperbole. He is exaggerating his point and saying even if I could do these things, it wouldn't matter without love.
So the biblically defined "tongues" was the supernatural ability to speak in a language (a known human language) you had never learned. Now that we understand the biblical meaning of tongues, let's see if we can discover what the purpose of tongues was:
What Was the Purpose of the Gift of Tongues?
What was the purpose of this known human language that hadn't been learned? Was it so we could preach the Gospel to foreigners? Not primarily, look with me at 1 Corinthians 14, Paul provided here the only direct statement regarding the specific purpose of speaking in tongues:
In the Law it is written, "BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME," says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 NASB
Tongues are a sign for unbelievers. If any one today thinks he has the gift of tongues, he needs to deal with the reality of that statement, and he will be forced to reconsider just what he does have. This is the primary purpose of the gift of tongues. Verse 21 is quoting Isaiah 28:11-12. In verse 22 Paul is applying it to the time of the Corinthians and tells them that if tongues were a sign in the time of Isaiah, they were still a sign. Tongues are not for believing people, they are for unbelieving people.
In verse 21 "this people" refers to Israel. Tongues were specifically a sign for unbelieving Israel. Isaiah 28 is a warning of judgment; verse 21 refers to the Assyrians, which the people would hear if they rejected Isaiah's message. The Assyrian tongue was a sign of judgment to a generation of Israelites rejecting the Word of God. So, Paul explained that tongues are a sign of coming judgment for rejecting Yeshua the Messiah and the Gospel of grace (cf. Matt. 23:37-38).
Moses gave the following warning in Deuteronomy:
"The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, Deuteronomy 28:49 NASB
"Behold, I am bringing a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel," declares the LORD. "It is an enduring nation, It is an ancient nation, A nation whose language you do not know, Nor can you understand what they say. Jeremiah 5:15 NASB
In the Old Covenant Yahweh had clearly pointed out to the people of Israel that when they were going to be judged, there would be a sign. That sign was that they would hear a language they couldn't understand. When they began to speak those languages on the day of Pentecost, every Jew should have known that the judgment of God was eminent:
And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others were mocking and saying, "They are full of sweet wine." But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: "Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. "For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: Acts 2:12-16 NASB
Peter says, "We are not drunk, what you are seeing is the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy." Then he quotes from Joel:
'AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,' God says, 'THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS; EVEN ON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT And they shall prophesy. Acts 2:17-18 NASB
The term "last days" describes the period of time between the birth of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem. It refers to the last days of the house of Israel, the last days of the Old Covenant era. Peter didn't say that the miracles of Pentecost were "like" what Joel prophesied, he said that "this was the fulfillment." The last days were here. It was a sign of judgment upon Israel. The term "all mankind" refers to Jews and Gentiles. Israel was being judged, and the Gospel was taken to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11).
'AND I WILL GRANT WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE AND SIGNS ON THE EARTH BELOW, BLOOD, AND FIRE, AND VAPOR OF SMOKE. 'THE SUN WILL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME. 'AND IT SHALL BE THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.' Acts 2:19-21 NASB
Isn't this speaking of a future judgment of the whole world? No! This is prophetic language, speaking of the end of the Old Covenant system and the Nation of Israel. The same type of language is used in:
Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light. Isaiah 13:9-10 NASB
This is prophesying the fall of Babylon to the Medes. These events didn't literally take place. Poetically, however, these things did happen; as far as these nations were concerned, "the lights went out." This is simply figurative language predicting the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The light of Israel was extinguished, the Old Covenant era was through.
Tongues was primarily a sign of judgment to unbelieving Jews. But, secondarily, when tongues were interpreted, they edified believers:
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. 1 Corinthians 14:26-28 NASB
Verses 27 & 28 tell us that tongues uninterpreted don't edify. Therefore, if there is no interpretation, there is to be no tongues. Are these the same tongues as in Acts 2? Glossa is always used of the tongue or languages. To use the word glossa and mean ecstatic speech would be to confuse the issue.
What about Tongues Being a Private Prayer Language?:
For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 1 Corinthians 14:2 NASB
Well, it says he is speaking unto God; thus it is a private prayer language, right? No! Paul is not praising them here, he's saying only God can understand you; to men it's a mystery, because its uninterpreted. The biblical gift of tongues never occurs in private. Like all the gifts of the Spirit, it was designed for the common good. It is a public gift, and every instance of its appearance in the Bible is a public occasion where others are present. It is not a private gift, and it is not exercised anywhere in the New Testament in private. If you were to examine every prayer prayed in the Bible, and if you were to study every passage in the Bible which taught about prayer, you would not find anything, anywhere, anytime, that even suggests that prayer should ever be unintelligible:
"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. "So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Matthew 6:5-8 NASB
The word "repetition" is the Greek word battologeo, which comes from the verb, legeo, (to speak) and the prefix batta. Batta is a figure of speech that in English we call an "onomatopoeia," which is a word that sounds like what it is,(buzz, zip, zing, rip). Yeshua was literally saying, "When you pray don't say, 'Batta, batta, batta,'" the gibberish that the pagans offer to their gods.
What is prayer? It is a declaration of our dependency. It's saying, "God I'm dependent upon You, and I need Your help." You don't pray in gibberish; if you do, you have no idea what you're saying to God. It's just noise. 1 Corinthians 14:22 says, "tongues are for a sign," not for a private prayer language.
So, we have seen the meaning of tongues; it was a known human language. And we have seen the purpose of tongues; it was a sign of judgment. Now let's deal with the duration of tongues, how long was this sign to last?:
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 NASB
Hopefully,in the last two messages on this subject I have demonstrated that all the gifts ended in the first century. Based on Paul's words in this passage, the only question as to whether or not the gift of "tongues" exists today as it did in Bible times is a question of timing. Has "that which is perfect" come? If it has, then tongues have ceased. But if "that which is perfect" has not yet come, then tongues have not ceased, and God has meant for tongues to continue on throughout the centuries as a normal practice in the Church up to our present day.
I believe that "that which is perfect" refers to the maturity of the body of Christ at the rapture of the church, which happened at the Second Coming of Christ in AD 70; bringing the destruction of Old Covenant Israel and ushering in the New Heavens and New Earth,which closed the cannon.
Tongues was a sign of judgment. Once judgment had fallen on Israel, the gift would have no significance at all. Judgment fell on Israel in AD 70; the temple was destroyed and the sacrifices came to an end.
History records that the gift of tongues ceased in the Apostolic Age. As a young Christian trying to understand "tongues," I studied the history of the church in regards to prayer and tongues and found that the first revival of tongues within the confines of the evangelical church of Yeshua Ha'Moshiach since the Apostolic Age was in 1901. Where had it been for 1800 years? 1 Corinthians 13:8 says that... "tongues will cease..." There is no indication that they would ever start up again.
The post-apostolic fathers don't discuss the gift of tongues. It is nowhere found in any of their writings. Clement, of Rome, wrote a letter to the Corinthians in AD 95 discussing all of their spiritual problems,and he didn't even mention tongues. Justin Martyr, who lived from AD 100-165, wrote much,but never mentioned tongues. He even made lists of the Spiritual gifts that do not include the gift of tongues.
Origen, who lived from AD 185-253, in his Apologetic Against Celsus, explicitly argued that the signs of the Apostolic Age were temporary, and that no contemporary Christian exercised any of the ancient prophetical gifts.
Chrysostom, AD 347-407, in his Homilies on 1 Corinthians, comments on chapter 12, "This whole place is very obscure; but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place."
Augustine, AD 354-430, comments on Acts 2:4, "In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believed, and they spoke with tongues. These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening, and it passed away."
So the greatest theologians of the ancient church considered the gift of tongues a remote practice.
To be fair, there are some supposed occurrences of tongues since the Apostolic Age: Montanus, from Phrygia, with two female priestesses, Prisca and Maximilla, spoke in ecstatic utterances. Montanus, who claimed to be the Holy Spirit, was thrown out of the church as a heretic. After Montanus the next eruptions of tongues wasn't until the late 17th century.
Now, if what I have said thus far is true, you might be asking, "How Do We Explain What Is Happening Today?" People are having an experience and speaking in ecstatic speech. Yes, they are. But it's not the biblical "speaking in tongues." Biblically, tongues was a known human language that was spoken as a sign to the generation that lived in the last days.
I am not questioning the experience of those who say that they speak in tongues, every experience is genuine. But the test of what is biblical is never experience, but Scripture. It is no good for someone to say, "This happened to me, therefore, I know it must be of the Lord." It may be valid; it may be true. Facts are always facts, and you do not need to deny what happens to someone. However, what happens is one thing; the explanation of it is quite another thing. I wouldn't question their experience,but I would question if their experience was the biblical gift of tongues.
If it's not biblical tongues, what is it? Personally, I believe that the so called "tongue speaking" that goes on in Christianity today can be explained as "learned behavior." It's not a miracle or a supernatural experience, and it's not a Spiritual gift. Tongues could also be psychological, sort of a self-hypnosis brought on by the frenzy of some of the Charismatic meetings.
I believe that speaking in ecstatic tongues is wrong doctrinally, but if those who do it have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And because of that we are to love them. They are, for the most part, a very loving, caring, kind people. Let's learn from their good points and dwell together in love. Let's not use what we know to attack and put down other believers, but by love let's serve one another.
Speaking in tongues was a known human language. The primary purpose of tongues was as a sign of God's judgment on the nation Israel. Tongues ceased when God's judgment fell on Old Covenant Israel in AD 70.
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