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SPEAKING IN TONGUES

by Jacques More

. . . these signs will follow those who believe . . .
. . . they will speak in new tongues . . .

Mark 16:17

What are 'tongues'?

It is the ability to speak in a language you have not learned and do not understand. It is given to a believer by the Holy Spirit and can be a language of men or of angels. We know this for when Paul compared the use of it with the act of loving he said:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

1 Corinthians 13:1

Paul, having discussed a range of abilities received by the Holy Spirit wishes the reader to be aware that to love is of greater value. In the process, he is eluding here to the fact that the ability to speak in tongues comprises both languages of men and of angels. He then goes on to discuss the operation of some of these abilities in the assembly of believers. All this is contained in chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians and I shall be returning to this section of scripture.

The first mention of the ability is in Mark 16:17, but the first use of it was on the first day of the feast of Pentecost after Jesus had ascended. Jesus had instructed the believers to wait in Jerusalem after He left until they had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is what they did. They were gathered together in a room of a house in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came in a manner they had not known before. I say this because the Holy Spirit as God, is also omnipresent - present everywhere and the disciples knew Him in their lives, but He had not come to them in this fulness before (I have written a separate document entitled What is Baptism in the Holy Spirit?). This is what happened next:

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:4

They began to speak in other languages. We know this is what is meant by reading on. In Jerusalem at this Feast of Pentecost many devout Jews would come from all over the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was not long established and had been preceded by the Greek empire, initially of Alexander the Great and then split between 4 of his generals. This Greek domination meant that all the known world was fluent in Greek such that the Bible Jesus quoted from was the Greek Version. The New Testament was also written in this language and it explains why the inscription on the cross was in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (John 19:19-20), the 3 main 'official' languages in Jerusalem at that time. This is helpful to know in order to understand the unfolding events of Acts 2.

We saw that when they were filled with the Holy Spirit the disciples began to speak in tongues. Since there were crowds of people in Jerusalem for the Feast from many different places, when the sound of a mighty wind came and the tongues were spoken, the folks gathered to see what was going on. What they heard astonished them and they were able to communicate together about this surprising event because of their common knowledge of Greek. These pilgrims had come from many different regions of the empire and they spoke the languages of their own areas as well as Greek, but they did not expect Jerusalem people, let alone Galileans to speak in the native tongues of all the regions from which they had come. This is what they exclaimed:

Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs - we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.

Acts 2:7-11

So, here is between 12 to 15 separate languages which were identified by the hearers and these were spoken by Galileans. Languages which they had not learned. The things spoken were the wonderful works of God.

We also know from this passage that 'tongues' is not an emotional manifestation in itself since they had control over whether they spoke or not. We can see this because as soon as some tried to mock the events unfolding before them, Peter was able to straightaway put things right by speaking to them all in their common language: Greek, and that very eloquently. Paul also shows us that the speakers in tongues have control over whether they speak or not. He says:

If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

1 Corinthians 14:27-28

Someone who speaks in tongues is able to stop and start at will. Speak loudly or softly. The act of speaking in tongues is not an emotional activity.

What Paul does allude to however is to two separate uses of tongues. This is something that has caused some misunderstanding. Speaking in tongues is shown us in scripture as having 2 separate manifestations. 2 types of use or activity. Paul says:

I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.

1 Corinthians 14:5

Here he is talking about the use of tongues in a public gathering which required interpretation. Note he is not saying translation, but interpretation. This use of the 'gift' with 'interpretation' is equivalent to a 'word of prophecy' in the assembly. And Paul defined the purpose of that.

. . . he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.

1 Corinthians 14:3

The other use is the private practise of the 'tongue'.

. . . I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

1 Corinthians 14:18-19

Paul used his 'tongue' to edify himself.

He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself . . .

1 Corinthians 14:4

It is a prayer language.

For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God . . .

1 Corinthians 14:2

It is used in worship.

. . . I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.

1 Corinthians 14:15

It is not a normal tool for evangelism to communicate as shown by the events in Acts 2. It was in Greek the communication occurred. It was in 'tongues' that there was a sign of something different and special going on. So, when Paul says:

. . . tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers . . .

1 Corinthians 14:22

He is not saying it is a tool of communication to evangelise. He is saying it is a sign as it was in Acts 2 whereby curiosity and interest can prepare for proper communication. To understand the 'gift' as more than that as regards unbelievers is to make nonsense of the next Verse:

. . . if . . . all speak with tongues, and there come in . . . unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

1 Corinthians 14:23

Of course Paul is talking about everybody doing it at once in a meeting, but it is clear that communication is not meant by him when he said it is a sign for unbelievers as confirmed by the next Verse:

. . . if all prophesy, and an unbeliever . . . comes in, he is convinced by all, he is judged by all.

1 Corinthians 14:24

Real communication occurs when your own language is used. Tongues as a sign to unbelievers is only a side effect of the use. The primary use as shown by Paul is to edify yourself and carry out effective contact with God in prayer or praise. With interpretation it is equivalent in use to prophecy and that is the 'public' use Paul recommended. Prophecy is another topic in itself, but it is worth saying that prophecy is not preaching or teaching since Paul clearly mentions the 'office' of a prophet as disctinct from a teacher (Ephesians 4:11).

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul mentions when the use of these tools from the Holy Spirit cease in activity. The 'gifts' as they are commonly known. He said:

. . . we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

1 Corinthians 13:9-10

In context Paul is referring to when the kingdom comes in fulness as the time when that which is perfect is come. That is, at our Lord's return. We know this because he clarifies it by saying:

. . . now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as also I am known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

It is when we see Him face to face that we shall know even as we are known. That, is the time when the 'gifts' of the Holy spirit will cease to be needed. Others have said 'that which is perfect' refers to the completed scripture. The compiling of it however did not occur until after the death of all the first apostles, which, if tongues ceased at that point, then that which is perfect was not there yet. And, can anyone say that they know as they are known now they have the Bible?

It appears to me that some teaching on 'tongues' is so negative it seems to rely on experience for doctrine and not the scripture. The experience of not knowing the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues for themselves. This is sad when as shown such positive stuff is written in the Bible and, as Paul put it:

I wish you all spoke with tongues . . .

1 Corinthians 14:5


Unless otherwise stated Bible quotes are from the New King James Version

© copyright Thomas Nelson Inc. 1979,1980,1982.

© copyright Jacques More 2001. All Rights Reserved.

 

 


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