Monday, March 10, 2014

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues

The gifts of the Spirit are a major fixture among Pentecostal Christians, especially the gift of tongues. The term "Pentecostal" is derived from the word "Pentecost", which is the Jewish holiday on which the Holy Spirit was first poured out among believers in Acts 2, being manifested with the gift of tongues. In this particular incident, the Jewish Christians were speaking in various languages that would not have been known to them.

But there were men dwelling in Jerusalem who were worshipers of God, Jews from every nation under Heaven. And when that noise occurred, the entire populace gathered and was agitated, because each one of them heard that they were speaking in their dialects. And they were all marveling and were amazed as they were saying, each to the other, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” “How are we hearing, everyone, his own dialect in which we were born?” “Parthians and Medes and Elanites, and those who dwell in Bayth- Nahrayn, Judeans and Qapodoqians and those who are from the regions of Pontus and of Asia,” “And from the regions of Phrygia and of Pamphylia and of Egypt and of the countries of Libya which are near to Cyrene and those who came from Rome, Jews and proselytes”, “And who are from Crete, and Arabians, behold, we are hearing from those who are speaking in our own dialects, the wonders of God.”- Acts 2: 5-11

Speaking in tongues is recorded several times in the Book of Acts, almost always in conjunction with someone receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4, 10:44-46, 19:1-6). In I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul goes more into detail about speaking in tongues and how it is to be used in the church. Paul first begins to talk about the Spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12.


But about spiritual things my brethren, I want you to know, that you were pagans and you were being led without discrimination to those idols which have no voice.- I Corinthians 12:1-2

Paul's statement might sound strange, mentioning the former idolatry of the Gentile Christians before going into the spiritual gifts. The best explanation of this I heard is from a friend of mine, who believes that this was talking about not over-emphasizing the gifts of the Spirit. This is reminiscent of Israel beginning to worship the bronze serpent created by Moses at the command of God in the desert (Numbers 21:4-8), which was later destroyed because of the people worshiping it (II Kings 18:4). I believe much of Pentecostalism has come to over-emphasize the gift of tongues, but I will go into that more later.

But there are diversities of gifts, however The Spirit is One. And there are diversities of ministries, however, THE LORD JEHOVAH is One. And there is a diversity of miracles, but God is One who works all in every person. But the revelation of The Spirit is given to each man as He helps him. There is given to him by The Spirit a word of wisdom, but to another the word of knowledge by The Spirit; To another faith by The Spirit; to another the gift of healing by The Spirit; But to another, miracles and to another, prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another, kinds of languages; to another, translation of languages; But all these things, that One Spirit does and distributes to every person as he pleases.- I Corinthians 12:4-11

The gift of tongues and the other gifts all come from God, distributing these gifts through the power of His Spirit. Tongues is not placed above the other gifts, and is mentioned merely as one of the many gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the church. This translation translates the Aramaic word leshana as "languages" rather than the usual "tongues", which is more correct for modern English vernacular.

For in like manner, because the body is one and there are many members in it, while all of them are many members, they are one body; thus also is The Messiah. For we also are baptized by The One Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Aramaeans or Servants or free men, and we are all made to drink The One Spirit.- I Corinthians 12:12-13

Despite the diversity of the body, we are all united as one through the Holy Spirit.

For also the body is not one member, but many. For if a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body”, is it therefore not of the body? And if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body”, is it therefore not of the body? For if all the body were an eye, where would the hearing be? And if it all were hearing, how would there be smell? But now God has set everyone of the members in the body just as he has chosen. But if they were all one member, where is the body? But now there are many members, but the body is one. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you”; neither can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you.” But all the more, those members that are considered weak, on the contrary are needful. And those which we think are shameful in the body, we increase greater honor to these and for those that are contemptible we make greater attire. But those members which we honor do not need honor, for God unites the body and he has given greater honor to the small members, Lest there would be divisions in the body; but all the members should be caring equally one for another. So now, when one member shall suffer, all of them shall share the pain. And if one member rejoices, all the members shall rejoice.- I Corinthians 12:14-26

Just because we are not gifted in a particular way or placed in a particular position in the church, we should not feel inferior to anyone else. If everyone had the same function in the church, the church would not be effective. We should also not treat with dishonor those who seem to be less in stature than someone else, but treat them with more honor because they are lesser in stature. We should all esteem each other equally and operate with unity, compassion, and empathy.

But you are the body of The Messiah and members in your places. For God has set first in his church, Apostles; after them Prophets; after them, Teachers; after them, miracle workers; after them, gifts of healing, helpers, leaders, different languages. Are they all Apostles? Are they all Prophets? Are they all Teachers? Are they all miracle workers? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all of them speak with languages, or do all of them translate? But if you are zealous for great gifts, I again shall show you a better way.- I Corinthians 12:27-31

God has set everyone in a particular place in the Body of Christ. Not everyone is gifted in the same way and not everyone will do the same thing. Notice that Paul says that not everyone speaks in tongues, just like not everyone works miracles or healings, or interprets tongues. Not everyone is called to be an apostle, prophet, or teacher also. Everyone should abide in their particular calling and gifting, as God has placed you there.

If I shall speak with every human and Angelic language and have no love in me, I shall be clanging brass or a noise-making cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and I know all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so that I may remove mountains, and I have no love in me, I would be nothing. And if I should feed everything that I have to the poor, and if I hand over my body to be burned up and I have no love in me, I gain nothing.- I Corinthians 13:1-3


Paul's statement about speaking in human languages and angelic languages seems to show that not every "tongue" is a human language on earth as in Acts 2, but sometimes unknown languages. Paul's real point is not this about the different kinds of tongues, but about the fact that no matter what you do, if it is not done in love it is meaningless and vain. 


Love is patient and sweet; love does not envy; love is not upset neither puffed up. Love does not commit what is shameful, neither does it seek its own; it is not provoked, neither does it entertain evil thoughts, Rejoices not in evil, but rejoices in the truth, Endures all things, believes all things, hopes all, bears all.- I Corinthians 13:4-7


This is true love. This isn't romantic love like between a husband and wife, but godly love. Godly love leads to righteousness.



Love never fails; for prophecies shall cease, tongues shall be silenced and knowledge will be nothing; For we know partially and we prophesy partially, But when perfection shall come, then that which is partial shall be nothing. When I was a child, I was speaking as a child, I was led as a child, I was thinking as a child, but when I became a man, I ceased these childish things. Now we see as in a mirror, in an allegory, but then face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I shall know as I am known. For there are these three things that endure: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love.- I Corinthians 13:8-13

Paul is saying that there will be a time prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will be meaningless. This is at the coming of Christ, when we will receive an understanding of everything from our Lord Jesus Christ. Love is greater than all spiritual gifts, and as such, it will endure throughout eternity.


Run after love and be zealous for the gifts of The Spirit, but especially that you may prophesy. For whoever speaks in languages does not speak to men, but he is speaking to God, for no man understands what he speaks, but by The Spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification, encouragement and comfort to children of men. He who speaks in languages builds himself up, and he who prophesies builds the church up. I wish that all of you might speak in languages, but all the more that you may prophesy, for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in languages, unless he translates; but if he translates, he edifies the church.- I Corinthians 14:1-5


Contrary to popular belief, tongues is not the most important spiritual gift a Christian could have. Love is greater than all, but prophecy is better than tongues. If tongues was the initial evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then why would Paul state that he would rather the Corinthian church prophesy than speak in tongues?  Paul clearly states that the tongue does no good to the church at large (it does edify the individual) unless it is interpreted. 


And now my brethren, if I come to you and speak languages with you, what do I benefit you, unless I shall speak with you either by revelation or knowledge or by prophecy or by teaching? For even inanimate things which give sound, whether a flute or harp, if they make no distinction between one tone and another, how will anything that is played or anything that is harped be known? For if a trumpet make a sound which is not distinct, who will be prepared for battle? So you also, if you will say words in languages and you will not translate, how will anything be known that you say, for you yourselves will be as one who is speaking to the air. For behold, there are many kinds of languages in the world, and there is not one of them without sound. And if I do not know the import of the sound, I am a foreigner to him who speaks, and also he who speaks is a foreigner to me. So also you, because you are zealous of the gifts of The Spirit, seek to excel for the edification of the church.- I Corinthians 14:6-12


Again, tongues do not good to the body unless they are interpreted. When addressing a crowd, it is obviously imperative to be understood, and you will not be understood when speaking in tongues unless it is interpreted into the language of the church. Paul says to to seek to edify the entire church, and not just yourself.


And he who speaks in languages, let him pray to translate. For if I should pray in languages, my spirit is praying, but my understanding is unfruitful. What therefore shall I do? I shall pray with my spirit, and I shall pray also with my understanding. I shall sing with my spirit, and I shall sing also with my understanding. Otherwise, if you say a blessing in The Spirit, how will he who fills the place of the unlearned say amen for your giving of thanks, because he does not know what you said? For you bless well, but your neighbor is not edified. I thank God that I am speaking in languages more than all of you, But in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may instruct others also, than 10,000 words in languages.- I Corinthians 14:13-19


If you address a crowd in the gift of tongues, it must be translated. This is a reiteration of Paul's point that you need to edify the church, and you can't do so if you are speaking in an untranslated language unknown to the believers. Pray for the interpretation/translation of the language so that you can edify the church. 


My brethren, do not be children in your intellects, but be infants in evil and be fully mature in your intellects. It is written in the law, “With foreign speech and with another language I shall speak with this people, and not even in this way will they hear me, says THE LORD JEHOVAH.” So then languages are established for a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers, but prophecy is not for unbelievers, but for those who believe. If therefore it should happen that the whole church assembles and everyone would speak in languages, and the uninitiated or those who are unbelievers should enter, would they not say that such have gone insane? But if all of you would prophesy and the unlearned or an unbeliever should enter, he is searched out by all of you and he is reproved by all of you. And the secrets of his heart are revealed and then he will fall on his face and worship God and he will say, “Truly, God is in you.”- I Corinthians 14:14-24


This is again showing the superiority of prophecy over tongues. Tongues is used by God to confirm the Gospel message to those who don't believe, which is why the gift of tongues sometimes occurs when someone first receives the Spirit (or is saved, see Romans 8:9). Prophecy is always understood, therefore someone who comes from outside the church and sees prophecy in action will be convinced of the truth of the Gospel message. If tongues are used but not interpreted, they will walk away thinking that you are insane.


I say therefore, my brethren, that whenever you gather, whoever among you has a Psalm, let him speak, or whoever has a teaching, or whoever has a revelation, or whoever has a language, or whoever has a translation, let all things be done for edification. And if any speak in languages, let two speak, or as many as three, and let each one speak and let one translate. And if there is no translator, let him who speaks in a language be silent in the church and let him speak to himself and to God. But let two or three Prophets speak and the others discern. And if something is revealed to another while the first is sitting, let him be quiet. For you can all prophesy one by one, that each person may teach and everyone may be comforted. For the spirit of the Prophet is subject to the Prophet, Because God is not chaotic, but peaceful, as in all the assemblies of The Holy Ones.- I Corinthians 14:25-33


Paul's point is that everything should be done in order so that the church can be edified. Tongues should be interpreted when addressed to the crowd, but if the tongue is not interpreted the speaker should speak to himself. Paul says that two or three at most should address the church in tongues, one after the other in the tongue and then in the translation given to the person by God. Prophecy should also be done in order, not a whole bunch of people should speak at once. The rest of the body should remain silent and judge the prophecy to see if it is true or not. 


There is nothing in the New Testament that shows that tongues is essential for salvation or that it is the "initial evidence" of receiving the Spirit. If this was true, how would we know if someone was saved until they spoke in tongues? Even if they speak in tongues, could we be certain? Demons often manifest themselves in those possessed and mimic speaking in tongues. How do we tell if someone is truly living with the Holy Spirit abiding within? We examine their lives.


"There is not a good tree that produces bad fruit, neither a bad tree that produces good fruit,” “For every tree is known by its fruits, for they do not pick figs from thorns, neither do they gather grapes from a bush.” “A good man brings forth good from the good treasure that is in his heart and the evil man brings out evil from the evil treasure that is in his heart. For the lips speak from the fullness of the heart.”- Luke 6:43-45


Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of the flesh in the following passage:


But I say that you should be walking in The Spirit and the craving of the flesh you will never do. For the flesh craves anything that opposes The Spirit and The Spirit craves whatever opposes the flesh, and they both are contrary one to another, lest you would be doing whatever you want. But if you are led by The Spirit, you are not under The Written Law. For the works of the flesh are known, which are fornication, impurity, whoredom, The worship of idols, witchcraft, hate, contention, rivalry, rage, insolence, dissensions, divisions, Envy, murder, drunkenness, reveling and all such things; those who are committing these things, as I said to you from the first, I say now also, that they shall not inherit The Kingdom of God. But the fruits of The Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, sweetness, goodness, faith, Humility, endurance; the law is not set against these things. But those who are of The Messiah have crucified their flesh with all its weaknesses and its cravings.- Galatians 5:16-24


All scriptural quotations from The Original Aramaic New Testament in Plain English by Reverend Glenn David Bauscher.


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