This post has been a long time coming. But before we get to it, allow me to say that I am full aware of the ripple effect it may spark, some of you may direct hatred towards me, I would only implore you by God’s mercies to examine scriptures objectively and see if these things are so. Please resist the temptation to fight what I am going to say without using scriptures because you may in the end find yourself fighting God’s word.
As you may guess, we are going to engage the very widely misunderstood and misused gift of “Speaking in Tongues” (Drum rolls please… 😀 )
Now, the Greek word γλῶσσα translated “tongue” in the New Testament is not only used to mean the physical tongue in our mouths but also “language”. Unfortunately, English translations have continued to use the phrase “Speaking in tongues”, which somehow gives the impression of a strange experience as opposed to the use of “Speaking in a language”. That said, I will still use the word “tongues” because of its widespread acceptability.
In Genesis, at least chapters 1-10, people spoke one language. See Genesis 11:1 “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.”
After the fall (Genesis 3), people united in rebellion towards God. Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. “
This rebellion climaxed with the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). This is where different languages began, Genesis 11:6-9 “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one each others speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”
I will keep reminding us to engage scriptures in an open minded way, contextually and objectively. And I pray that the Holy Spirit would lead us to all truth.
Please notice that Jesus had soon before left earth having promised to send a helper, the Holy Spirit. See also, Acts 1:8.
Now the apostles gather together in one place (In Jerusalem as v5 of Acts 2 reveals), they are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other tongues as the spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1). Allow me to at this point remind you that salvation was for the Jews and the gentiles got it by grafting (Romans 11). So up until this point, the apostles were full aware that their mission was only to the Jews. Remember Peter’s experience with Cornelius in Acts 10? And his response in verse 44-48 of Acts 10?
Anyway, back to Acts 2, there were in Jerusalem many people from different nations, now they come and are literally shocked to hear the apostles speak their own language.
Acts 2:7-13 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Please notice that these were actual languages. For instance, I’d guess the visitors from Rome heard Italian been spoken, the guys from Asia, maybe Hindu, or Russian, the Arabians most likely heard Arab being spoken etc. I say this to submit to us that tongues spoken at least at the Pentecost were actual languages that were spoken elsewhere in the world at the time.
I am convinced dear friends that the Pentecost was among other things, an indication that the gospel was to be spread to all nations (remember what I said earlier about salvation, Jews and gentiles?). You see, God here did an amazing thing to the apostles (Who were Jews) i.e. causing them to speak in a language they didn’t understand, a language of the gentiles and to allow the gentiles to hear them speak hence the question, “Are not all these Galileans?” (v7).
What then are Tongues?
• Words spoken to God and not understood by the speaker
1 Corinthians 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. Tongues would therefore be characterized by being spoken to God not men. I would therefore say that tongues are words of prayer or praise spoken to God and not understood by the speaker.
• Prayer with the spirit, not with the mind
1 Corinthians 14:13-14 13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. It can therefore be said that tongues are prayer with the spirit, apart from the mind.
A question may therefore arise, why would God give the church a gift that operates in the unseen, spiritual realm, not understood by our minds?
Well, I believe it is to remind us that HE is greater than our understanding and He works in ways that transcend our understanding. And also, to keep us humble and protect us from intellectual pride.
This is actually not the only thing that we do not understand. There are several things that we do not see or fully understand but believe they are effective because scriptures tell us they are. We however, see their result in our lives e.g. Regeneration (Ephesians 2, 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins… Verse 5, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ… How can dead people come alive? It takes a miracle, literally!), Laying up treasures in heaven, genuine prayer among many more.
Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication… This covers all prayers made at all times, it refers to prayer in conformity to the character of the Holy Spirit and sensitive to His leading. Praying in the spirit is NOT RESTRICTED TO TONGUES.
• Not ecstatic but self-controlled
Ecstatic basically means feeling or expressing overwhelming happiness or joyful excitement. Involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence.
i) Tongues can be controlled.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, they were able to stop speaking in tongues when Peter lifted his voice and addressed the people.
Actually, God, through Paul gives guidelines on their use. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.
The impression, usually, is tongues are uncontrollable. Well, I beg to differ. I am not saying God can be prevented from ‘moving’, all am saying is, tongues are not mystical like people try to present them. Paul, didn’t think tongues were an ecstatic speech of any kind. Remember Paul spoke in tongues more than all of them, 1 Corinthians 14:18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.
ii) Tongues without interpretation
Now this is where the rubber says, “Hey road, nice to meet you” 😀
Here’s the thing huh, Tongues should NEVER be spoken in church (or public if you may), without an interpreter.
1 Corinthians 14:9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.
1 Corinthians 14:28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.
Speaking in tongues in church without interpretation can be associated with acting like children. 1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
Tongues are actually a sign of judgement for unbelievers. 1 Corinthians 14:21-23 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?
Isaiah 28:11-13 11 For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people, 12 to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not ear. 13 And the word of the Lord will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
Tongues with interpretation build up the church. 1 Corinthians 14:5 5 “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” (I will let you decipher what tongues without interpretation may do to the church)
iii) Not all speak in tongues
Just like not all Christians are gifted in teaching etc. Not all are to speak in tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
These questions are actually what my English teacher termed as rhetorical, i.e. Questions not expecting answers, or with an obvious answer as in this case. The Greek particle μή preceding this question expects the answer “no” from the reader. Actually, the NASB translation writes, All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
The view that all Christians must speak in tongues is erroneous and not scriptural because “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” 1 Corinthians 12:11 This view is somehow influenced by a prior understanding that baptism in the Holy Spirit is a subsequent experience that comes after conversion and that speaking in tongues is an initial “sign” of the filling of the Holy Spirit. (For the record, I do not support this view)
iv) Demonic Counterfeits
In case you may be wondering if demons can also counterfeit tongues, I submit to you that this wasn’t a concern to Paul despite the fact that many of the Corinthians were coming from pagan worship/idolatry (1 Corinthians 10). He doesn’t give any warning regarding this subject but is totally convinced that the Holy Spirit is fully at work in all believers. 1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
• Romans 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
The verb “help” used here doesn’t refer to something the spirit does on our behalf or apart from us but does together with us. It is the same verb used on Luke 10:40 where Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to “help” her. This doesn’t mean that Mary was to serve on Martha’s behalf. They were to do it together. She was to “help” her.
Wayne Grudem, in his book, Systematic Theology, which has been a great tool for me here, says “Paul does not mention speaking in tongues explicitly here, and the statement is a general one concerning the life of all Christians, so it does not seem correct to say that Paul here is referring to speaking in tongues. He is referring to a more general experience that occurs in the prayer life of every Christian.”
Finally, brothers and sisters, I would ask us not to let experiences inform our theology. Rather, it is our knowledge of God, through His word that should inform our experiences. Whichever experience you may have had, and it is not informed or verifiable by scriptures, I would ask you to go back to the word of God and study it for many have been deceived by the so called “Men of God,” some of whom teach and even have schools that teach people to speak in tongues. Surely I say unto you, “…Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” – 2 Peter 2:3
Remember, 1 Corinthians 14:37-38, 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
Dear friends, I pray it disturbs you that God through Paul says that if you do not recognize what we have discussed here as seen in scripture, YOU also will NOT be recognized. Make no mistake, I am not forbidding the speaking of tongues (If they are genuine), but I encourage that all things should be done decently and in order.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.