Tongues of Contention
Settling a Difficult Issue in the Body of Christ
"I have read your literature on the issue of tongue-speaking which at times I have found a little hard to grasp. As I read my New Testament and assemble all the Scriptures on the subject together, this is what I get:
(1) Speaking in tongues was ordained for the Church (1 Cor.12:28);
(2) Speaking in tongues is a specific fulfilment of prophecy (Isa.28:11; 1 Cor.14:21; Joel 2:28; Ac.2:16);
(3) Speaking in tongues is a sign OF the believer (Mark 16:17);
(4) Speaking in tongues is a sign TO the unbeliever (1 Cor.14:22);
(5) Speaking in tongues is an evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit (Ac.2:4; 10:45-46; 19:6);
(6) Speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift for self-edification (1 Cor.14:4);
(7) The apostle Paul desired that all would speak in tongues (1 Cor.14:5) and that speaking in tongues should not be forbidden (1 Cor.14:39).
"I also understand that tongue-speaking is common in pagan religions. How then can one tell the genuine from the false? What IS tongue-speaking?"
Two Types of Tongues
The very fact that speaking in tongues has divided the Body of Christ ought, I think, to be a warning to us to approach this topic with great caution. For this reason, I am going to deal with your questions in reverse by first looking at tongue-speaking outside of Christianity.
The New Testament divides tongues into two categories:
(a) glossolalia, supposedly speaking in an unknown tongue which is usually thought to be of heavenly rather than human origin; and
(b) xenoglossia, the supernatural ability to speak in an ordinary human language unknown personally to the speaker.
A complexifying factor in this matter lies in the fact that when no distinction is made between these two types of speech, both types are collectively referred to as glossolalia, the key concept traditionally being understood to mean that the tongue spoken is unintelligible to the tongue-speaker.
Pentecost was Xenoglossia, not Glossolalia
When this gift was first manifested to the infant Christian Church on the Day of Pentecost, from which day the Pentecostal denomination derives its name, it was quite clear that the disciples were speaking in xenoglossia, known human languages and dialects, because spectators there recognised them as uniquely their own (Ac.2:4-6). The irony of this is that Pentecostals and other charismatics hardly ever, if at all, speak in xenoglossia. I have met many, many charismatics over the years and discussed this phenomenon with them, as well as reading the biographies of famous charismatic ministers, and the number of times I have heard mention of speaking in a known modern human language (xenoglossia) would be less than a dozen. From this I deduce that the experience of the Day of Pentecost, whilst it still occurs sporadically, is very, very rare indeed. On this basis alone the claim by the Pentecostals that their movement built on the experience of the Day of Pentecost is tentative to say the least.
Were Tongues Limited to the Apostolic Era?
That the phenomenon of glossolalia exists amongst charismatic Christians can hardly be denied. Equally, to insist that this and other gifts like prophecy and seership were "done away with" after the apostles as Baptists and other denominations claim is historically untenable and Scripturally without precedent. Indeed, the New Testament bears eloquent witness to the fact that all the gifts are needed until the Body of Christ has come to maturity and unity in the Spirit, something which anyone with any common sense can see has not yet occurred. Accordingly, New Covenant Christians cannot accept the non-charismatic claims but at the same time, for reasons which I hope will be apparent, must reject most of the charismata coming out of pentecostal and other charismatic churches. Our position on this has never changed.
Granted, then, that the biblical charismata are as much a part of the modern day Body of Christ as of the ancient, how then are we to know what is genuine and what is false? Is it wise to accept any kind of supernatural glossolalia as being from God just because the tongue-speaker is a believer? And is the gift limited to believers?
Not a Uniquely Christian Phenomenon
Glossolalia and xenoglossia is not a uniquely Christian phenomenon but is almost universal in time and space. This fact should immediately invite us to caution and to not assume that all manifestations of this phenomenon are from God. Glossolalia occurs frequently among the Eskimos (Inuits) of the Hudson Bay area of Canada. The priestesses of North Borneo speak incantations in a language known only to the spirits (demons) and themselves. The tribal doctors of the modern Quillancinga and Pasto groups of the Andes recite unintelligible prayers as they heal their patients. Glossolalia occurs during seances on the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. Even Herodus and Virgil wrote of priests speaking strange languages while possessed (L. Carlyle May, "A Survey of Glossolalia and Related Phenomena in Non-Christian Religions", American Anthropologist 58, May 1956, pp.75-96). And as I have pointed out in my many articles on this subject, the pagan priestess near Corinth, where the problem of glossolalia first manifested itself in the Chrtistian Church, spoke in tongues at the shrine of the Delphic Oracle.
What is Glossolalia?
Because glossolalia is unintelligible, posssing no structure or grammer whatsoever, it is impossible to scientifically test it other than to say that it is not a genuine language with syntax or vocabulary. We are therefore left with several possibilities:
(a) It is aberrant human behaviour having no supernatural origin at all. In the 1920's, psychologist Alexander Mackie concluded that glossalists exhibit such symptoms as unstable nervous systems, disturbed sex lives, perversions and exhibitionism. He claimed that speaking in tongues is a symptom of an emotionalism or a pathological dissociative process (Watson E. Mills, ed. Speaking in Tongues: A Guide to Research on Glossolalia, Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986, pp.20-21). George Cutten, author of psychological and religious books, whose 1927 writings defined the standard view of glossolalia for many years, suggested that glossalists experience a state of personal disintegration in which the verbo-motive centres of the brain become obedient to subconscious impulses. He linked glossolalia to hysteria, catalepsy, ecstasy, schizophrenia, and an under-developed capacity for rational thought (George B. Cutten, Speaking with Tongues: Historically and Psychologically Considered, New Haven, Yale, 1927);
(b) It is dissociated speech caused by contact with the invisible, supernatural realm of either (i) divine or (ii) demonic origin. Because the contact with this realm is so intense and transcendant of human abililty to express it in words, gibberish results, much as one might weep at being happy or sad;
(c) It is a genuine heavenly language of either (i) divine or (ii) demonic origin. In view of the fact that detailed scientific studies show conclusively that there is no structure of any kind beyond the infantile ga-ga gurglings of tiny children (the vowel "a" tends to predominate) this possibility must be discounted. All language by definition must have structure, and since it has a structure it must be possible to study and interpret it. Glossolalia manifestly fails this test and cannot therefore be a bona fide language.
Conclusion: Glossolalia is dissociated human speech and is not a language whether heavenly or earthly. It can have three sources: (a) Divine; (b) Satanic; and (c) human-pathological.
What is Xenoglossia?
Xenoglossia is, fortunately, much simpler to study since it claims to be a bona fide language. As such, then, it is easy to identify. One of our members reported how on one occasion he visited a Pentecostal Church in Oslo, Norway, and heard the Pastor speak one of the Chinese dialects fluently. A Chinese lady identified it and reported the content of what he said which exactly corresponded with the sermon he had earlier begun preaching, and which he subsequently finished, in Norwegian. The Pastor did not know a word of Chinese. The woman, who was not a believer, was converted to Christ. This is a genuine example of biblical tongues and falls into your category #4, being a sign to an unbeliever.
But because someone speaks supernaturally in a foreign language does not automatically mean that the origin is God. The devil and his demons are fluent in all forms of earthly languages. Thus the origin of tongues could be demonic too. One thing it cannot be is a pathological condition of purely human origin since no man could possibly speak a complex language with a large vocuabulary which he has never been taught. I have heard glossolalia spoken in a tent meeting in England in which the man mixed smatterings of schoolboy Latin, Spanish and French with an assorted cocktail of gibberish, but this was in no way xenoglossia.
Xenoglossia as a phenomenon is also widespread in the non-Christian world. During the Later Han Dynasty in China (ca. 200 A.D.), the wife of Ting-in would suddenly become ill and speak in foreign languages she could not speak when normal. Today's Haida shamans of Alaska can speak Tlingit when inspired by demons. East Africans who neither understand nor speak Swahili or English speak these languages when possessed by demonic spirits (May, ibid.). Virginia Hine, another researcher of speaking in tongues, concluded: "Quite clearly, available evidence requires that an explanation of glossolalia [in the general sense - she specifically means xenoglossia here] as pathological must be discarded" ("Penetcostal Glossolalia: Toward a Functional Interpretation", The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol.8 (1969), pp.211-225).
In virtually all cases where xenoglossia are spoken in a non-Christian context, the demonic origin is clearly shown in terms of spirit-possession and the like. From my own experience in deliverance ministry, I am aware that satanists employ glossolalia and even delight in attending Pentecostal meetings where they praise Satan in their own tongues without being detected.
But what are we to conclude when, for example, heretics speak in tongues? In early 19th century Mormonism glossolalia practice was widespread but eventually fizzled out. Modern Mormons do not speak in glossolalia at all today. Xenoglossia appears infrequently among them and is even rarer than in the charismatic Christian movement. I know of one Mormon prophet (I believe it was David O. Mackay) who once spoke in fluent Dutch and I have a fundamentalist Mormon friend who claims that whilst on his mission he was supernaturally given the ability to speak Indonesian fluently. Given, then, that both orthodox Christians, heretics, as well as pagans are able to speak in both glossolalia and xenoglossia, how reliable a barometer is tongue-speaking in establishing a person's spiritual credentials given that Pentecostals and other charismatics require tongue-speaking as evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit? Quite clearly speaking in tongues could as easily be from God, the devil, or be a mentally illness and is therefore no criterion for establishing whether a person is born again and/or Spirit-baptised or not. And I have met all three types in these churches.
What, then, does the New Testament have to teach us about tongues? I will now consider your seven categories.
#1. Speaking in Tongues was Ordained for the Church
You here cite 1 Cor. 12:28 - "And God has appointed in the church first apostles, next prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers (lit. "powers"), then gifts of healing (lit. "cures"), helping (lit. "assistants", KJV "helps"), administering (lit. "directors", KJV "governments"), speaking in tongues (lit. "languages") (RBV). The Greek for "tongues" is here is glossa which translates as "languages" and is used 50 times throughout the New Testament in its standard form and does not have to represent a supernatural use thereof. This scripture may be interpreted to mean either natural speech or supernatural speech in glossolalia or xenoglossia. To be completely honest we must therefore say that "glossa" ("tongues") here means any type of language both natural or supernatural.
One point I want to add here. In the famous instance where tongues/foreign languages were first spoken supernaturally in Acts chapter 2, the Greek word used is dialektos, meaning "dialects" - glossolalia and xenoglossia are not used at all. Jerusalem was a cosmopolitan city at that time with visiting Jews speaking virtually every language of the Roman Empire.
Indeed, virtually every Roman city was cosmopolitan with settlers from many different tribes of Empire. The need to speak many languages in such a world was clearly essential, inspite of the koiné Greek lingua franca, which Yahweh provided for in his list of ministries required in the local congregation. Notice that the list includes ministries of both supernatural and natural origins such as helpers, administrators, etc.. Note carefully the place tongues occupies in the list: (i) apostles (supernatural), (ii) prophets (supernatural), (iii) miracle workers (supernatural), (iv) gifts of healing (supernatural/natural), (v) helping (natural), (vi) administering (natural), (vii) speaking in tongues (natural). Note that earlier on Paul includes "the ability to interpret tongues" (v.10) and then goes on to indicate how important in the Body it is as it is composed of both "Jews" and "Greeks" (v.13). It was a multi-racial and multi-linguistic congregation which no doubt had people who spoke Latin and other languages of empire too.
When I began my ministry in Scandinavia I had translators in all our congregations to translate from English to Norwegian and vice versa until I was sufficiently fluent to speak Norwegian on my own. Today I still have interpreters to help me with difficult words. Thus I have used translators both when preaching and giving prophetic utterances.
Whatever this scripture says, it is not saying that one of the ministries was just glossolalia or xenoglossia. It is saying that the ability to converse in several languages is essential for a cosmopolitan, universal church, with interpreters. In Israel everyone spoke Hebrew or the related dialect Aramaean - in the gentile world, hundreds of languages were spoken. Whether the ability of the church to speak and interpret many different languages was a natural or a supernatural gift is not distinguished in this passage. Obviously when there was no-one who could speak a foreign language for a visitor then the supernatural ability to use xenoglossia was necessary. This, New Covenant Christians have always maintained, is the primary meaning and function of the gift, to enable the Gospel to be communicated intelligibly to every nation, kindred and tongue so that every man, woman and child might have the opportunity to choose or reject the Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus).
#2. Tongues is a Fulfilment of Prophecy
You quote a number of passages:
(1) "For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people" (Isa.28:11, KJV). This has, of course, nothing directly to do with New Testament glossolalia. Because the Israelites would not hear Yahweh's will, He would speak to them in another language, that of the oppressive Babylonians, who would soon be carrying invasion survivors into captivity in a strange land. This verse is, as you have noticed, quoted in 1 Cor.14:21 in support of Paul's teaching that the gift of tongues - the ability to speak in a language one has never learned - was a sign or miracle to unbelievers, not for the personal edification of the one speaking it. Just as the Israelites had required another tongue to convince them of their responsibility before Yahweh, so Yahweh gave the gift of languages at Pentecost, so that all foreigners there could supernaturally hear the Gospel in their own tongues and be convinced of the truth when it was preached to them (Ac.2:7-11). Isaiah's words were not a prophecy of what would happen in the New Testament Church, but was used by Paul as an illustration of the lengths God must go to reach stubborn, carnally-minded souls. Some of the most attention-grabbing moments for me personally have been when the Lord has spoken to me directly in Norwegian instead of my mother-tongue, English! Once He even spoke to me in Spanish so that when I got it translated I would know I had not imagined what I had heard or created it subconsciously.
(2) "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28, KJV). It is interesting, is it not, that whilst Peter does indeed quote Joel 2:28 as coming to fulfilment right after the supernatural speaking in tongues (dialektos), that he uses it in a more general application to all the spiritual gifts, not even naming tongues as one of those gifts. Rather, he points to prophecy, visions, and dreams (Ac.2:14ff). Whilst the onlookers were amazed at the fact that the disciples were speaking foreign languages and dialects supernaturaly, they seem at first to have missed the CONTENT of those "tongues", namely PROPHECY. Joel doesn't speak about the ability to speak languages supernaturally, only the ability to prophesy, dream inspired dreams, and seership (seeing visions). The point is v.21: "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (KJV) and then goes on to preach about Christ. The tongue-speaking got their attention but it was the message of salvation in Yah'shua (Jesus) that caused them to be "pricked in their heart" (v.37, KJV) and to receive Christ as Lord and Saviour. Thus Joel is not specifically a fulfuillment of the gift of tongues because he doesn't even mention it - rather, prophecy, dreaming and seeing visions is the point, because these are essentially of the spirit. The first reaction of the people was carnal - many thought the disciples were drunk (v.13).
Whatever the gift of tongues may be, it is not a primary gift, and exists either to break down barriers of hard-heartedness or to enable the simple message of salvation to be communicated intelligibly.
So I would not say that tongues is direct fulfilment of prophecy - indeed, is it not interesting how the Lord seems to ignore it altogether in Joel? Might it be that He is concerned that it might become an inordinate pre-occupation with some Christians?
#3. Tongues is a Sign OF the Believer
Charismatics, of course, would modify this to read: "Speaking in tongues is THE sign of the TRUE Believer". Mark records: "And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will expel demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything fatal it will not injure them in the least. They will lay hands on the sick and they will become well" (Mk.16:17, RBV).
If we are to believe that a Christian must speak in tongues as evidence of salvation and baptism of the Holy Spirit as charismatics insist then by the same token any charismatic who is unsuccessful in expelling demons, or who dies from poisonous snake bites or from drinking posion, or fails to heal someone by the laying on of hands, cannot be saved or born of the Spirit either. However, nowhere do the scriptures teach that every believer must possess all of the spiritual gifts as evidence of the baptism of Spirit. To the contrary, we are told by Paul that the gifts are distributed amongst the believers so that some possess one gift, and some possess another (Rom.12:6; 1 Cor.12:8ff).
Finally, I do not read in Mark 16:17 that tongues is a sign FOR believers, that is, to build them up, but is for others alone (see #4 below).
Therefore I would modify your statement to read as follows: "Speaking in tongues is given to some believers, specifically those called to receive it when it is required".
And then I would qualify this by saying that this is not necessarily a permanent gift but a circumstantial one, given by the Spirit as and when it is needed. We don't need to speak Chinese every day of the week.
#4. Tongues is a Sign to the Unbeliever
You cite this passage: "So then tongues are for a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers" (1 Cor.14:22, RBV).
I quite agree with Paul - tongues is a sign for unbelievers. Note, however, how this passage contradicts your prosposition #3. You can't have it both ways. Either it is a sign for everyone or it is only for unbelievers. Paul gives his apostolic verdict - it is only a sign for unbelievers. Thus if anybody claims tongues is a sign for believers they are liars.
Now I think we must, to be fair, read further on in the passage you quote. The apostle writes: "Suppose an assembly of the whole church should all speak with tongues, and uninstructed or unbelieving persons came in, would they not say that you are demented?" (v.23). He goes on to explain that there must be a prophetic content to tongues (i.e. it doesn't exist for its own sake), that no more than two or three should speak in a meeting, and there must be a translation or an interpretation (v.27). If no-one can translate, they should shut up because obviously the tongue is false and useless! What would be the point of my speaking Chinese in the gift of tongues if no-one was there who could understand Chinese!
Most of what you hear in the charismatic churches is, on the evidence of Scripture, either demonic or pathological. If more than one person speaks in tongues at a time, if more than two or three people speak in tongues in a meeting, and if there is no interpretation, and if an unbeliever is not converted, then the whole business is UTTERLY FALSE.
Tongues is a sign for unbelievers, and ONLY unbelievers.
#5. Tongues is Evidence of Baptism with the Holy Spirit
"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign languages as the Spirit granted them expression" (Ac.2:4, RBV).
All we can say here is that all those who were present on that occasion were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in foreign languages. They were also accompanied by tongues of flame resting upon their heads, something that has not since been repeated. Nowhere else do we hear of everybody speaking in tongues or of a tongues-of-flame manifestation. This particular occasion was prophetically unique.
"And the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Gentiles also, for they heard them speaking in tongues and declaring the greatness of God" (Ac.10:45-46, RBV).
As we can see from this passage the purpose of the Gentiles speaking in glossalalia (which ever form it may have been) was to change the unbelief of the circumcised Jews, namely, to show them that the uncircumcised Gentiles were joint heirs of salvation too and acceptable to Yahweh. This this was therefore a sign to the circumcised, many of whom had doubtless been present on the Day of Pentecost and had done the same thing, but who were yet convinced that the Gospel was a Jews-only affair. Since the gentiles declared the greatness of Yahweh-God, doubtless it was enough for the Jews to hear uncircumcised Greeks or Romans speaking their Hebrew or Aramaic tongues fluently as well as praising the Lord God of Israel, Yahweh-Elohim.
"And as Paul laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them and they talked in tongues and prophesied" (Ac.19:6, RBV).
This manifestation was given to disciples of John the Baptist who did not know what the gift of the Holy Spirit was. Noticed that they prophesied simultaneously. Since they were in Ephesus (v.1) it is likely they prophesied in many different languages including Greek and Latin, since they were Jews.
So, yes, I would agree, that in these instances the speaking of tongues was evidence of baptism of the Spirit, noting though that these new disciples unboubtedly were speaking in foreign languages and not specifically the meaningless variety of modern-day glossolalia, but I would dispute that this is a general sign for all Christians. (The term for "tongues" here is from the 50 glôssa nouns which, as I have mentioned earlier, are used generally of all kinds of language).
#6. Tongues is a Spiritual Gift for Self-Edification
"He who speaks in a tongue improves (builds up, edifies) himself, but he who prophesies builds up (edifies, improves) the church" (1 Cor.14:4, RBV).
The King James version inserts the word "unknown" ("He that speaketh in an unknown tongue...", KJV) into the text, though it is not in the original, for the purpose of emphasising that the language being used was not known to the rest of the congregation, and so if the message had any inspired content it would be useless to the congregation.
This has nothing to do with someone speaking gibbersh and "feeling good" about it. Paul is not endorsing speaking glossalalia in order to minister to oneself. What he is saying is that if God gives a Chinese believer a prophecy in Chinese whilst he is visiting an American congregation and no-one else in the congregation speaks Chinese, then the prophecy is only of value to the Chinaman. It is not saying that the actual act of speaking in tongues is edifying, but the prophetic content. Thus the church is not benefited without a translator. It is the profitable message that is edifying, not the chanting or babbling of some gibberish glossolalia.
So tongues is absolutely NOT a spiritual gift for self-edification. Such a thought runs contrary to the whole gospel imperative of building up the Body. Thus the modern notion that talking in dissociated speech is for personal spiritual edification is nonsense. This smacks of New Age occultic chanting leading to trace-like states, which most glossalalia in the churches in fact has now become. Again the true meaning is missed, namely, that tongues is supposed to convey a prophetic Word leading either to the conversion of unbelievers or to enable those of different languages to communicate God's Word to one another.
What of verse 2: "He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God" (KJV)? Well, of course he is. If the Chinaman is talking Chinese to an American congregation, who else but God (v.2) and himself (v.4) can understand what he is saying? Paul is not saying that talking gibberish is a private, secret language between the tongue-talker and God. We have already seen that glossolalia (as opposed to xenoglossia) is not a true language and is utterly meaningless. If a person is talking to God in his spirit, then he doesn't need to jabber nonsense which neither he nor anybody else understands!
This is one of the worst mistranslated of all scriptures. Just see how the different translators have fumbled for meaning:
"For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries" (KJV).
"For whoever speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; no one catches the meaning; he is uttering secret matters in the Spirit" (RBV).
"For he who is speaking in a foreign language, is not speaking to men, but to God; for no one listens; but by the Spirit he is speaking mysterious things" (Benjamin Wilson).
"For anyone who speaks ecstatically is speaking not to men but to God, for no one can understand him, though by the Spirit he is uttering secret truths" (Smith & Godspeed).
"For he that speaks in a tongue speaks, not to men, but to God, for no one listens, but he speaks sacred secrets by the spirit" (NWT).
"For someone speaking in a tongue is not speaking to people but to God, because no one can understand, since he is uttering mysteries in the power of the Spirit" (JNT).
"But if your gift is that of being able to "speak in tongues", that is, to speak in languages you haven't learned, you will be talking to God but not to others, since they won't be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit but it will all be a secret" (GNB).
I could cite many more. The Greek syntax is as follows: "The for one speaking with a tongue, not to men speaks, but to the God; no one for hears, in spirit but he speaks mysteries".
Please note that in v.1 Paul downgrades tongues and emphasises prophecy: "Make love your great quest; then desire spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy" (RBV). Love gives, it does not serve self. The Corinthians were abusing the gifts, influenced by the pagan tradition of tongues at the nearby Delphic Oracle which was known throughout the Roman Empire. Tongues had got out of control - the people were either gibbering nonsense in the flesh or were under the control of demons. The whole tone of the epistle to these semi-pagan converts was to change their focus from self to the Body of Believers.
I am going to give my own rendition of this passage to convey what I believe to be the meaning which generally harmonises with everything else Paul says:
"He who [prophetically] speaks in a foreign language can't communicate with others but only with God [and himself] - no one understands what he is saying. The prophecy remains a secret between him and God" (v.2) "He who speaks [prophetically] in a foreign language edifies himself, but he who prophesies [in a language they can understand] edifies the Church" (v.4).
#7. Paul Wants Everyone to Speak in Tongues, and Tongues Should not be Forbidden
"I wish you might all speak in tongues, but I would rather have you all prophesy" (1 Cor.14:5, RBV).
"To conclude, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, but do not hinder the speaking with tongues" (v.39, RBV).
It is indeed a blessed thing to be able to communicate the Gospel or a prophecy in a foreign language. But why would some people want to prevent tongues, as Paul seems to be suggesting in v.39, if the gift was clearly understood? Obviously it was causing confusion because it was being abused, just as it is being abused amongst the modern day Corinthians, the charismatics. Paul is saying: don't quench the gift because it's being abused, but rather learn to use it correctly: two or at most three people in one meeting speaking separately, a translation or interpretation which edifies the Church or as a sign to unbelievers - no unintelligible gibberish à l'Oracle Delphique. Tongues must edify everyone by having content. Without it, it's selfish, and - if it's a bona fide language - is between God and yourself. At the very least do this at home in private, though what use is that if you keep it all to yourself? "Yet in church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue". You may think it wonderful preaching in Chinese for half-an-hour to an English-speaking congregation, but what's the point without a translation? Only you benefit.
If alot of gibberish comes to you and you haven't a clue what's being said, then you're on the wrong path, even if it feels good. "The person, therefore, who speaks in a tongue should pray for the ability to interpret" (v.13), otherwise the message is useless to the rest of the congregation and possibly harmful. The Greek for "interpret" is diermeneuo, meaning "explain" or "expound" or "translate", as one would explain, expound or translate a known language supernaturally. This is NOT the same as in 1 Corinthians 12:10 - "...to yet another the ability to interpret tongues" (RBV) which is the Greek hermeneia from which we get the word "hermeneutics" or "interpretation", implying natural ability involving reasoning processes.
In the case of the Pentecostal Pastor in Oslo who suddenly preached in Chinese, after he had thus spoken, he resumed his sermon in Norwegian, saying the same thing in Norwegian as he had said in Chinese. This is diermeneuo for though the congregation hadn't understood a word of the sermon in Chinese, they got the translation in Norwegian afterwards! That is genuine supernatural tongues!
Tongues is a gift for particular circumstances when it is needed. If God wants to speak to an exlusively English-speaking congregation He doesn't give a prophecy in Chinese or gibberish and have it translated afterwards. What on earth would be the point? What a waste of time and effort!
There is no evidence that the Spirit causes anyone to speak in non-intelligible sounds or gibberish in the New Testament. Once we bring all the Scriptures together we get a very clear picture of the purpose of tongues. There's nothing secret or mysterious about it - it only appears that way when no translation is forthcoming, and it thus begins attracts the superstitious element which leads to occultism and to trance-like states when it is abused.
Glossolalia is a general term meaning "languages", as we have seen, but its supernatural element is xenoglossia, the ability to speak in a language one hasn't learned. Xenoglossia has two purposes: (a) to convince unbelievers; and (b) to enable a multi-language congregation to be edified with God's Word, whether by means of a sermon or a prophecy. It does not exist for itself, nor is it supposed to create occultic moods or trances to make you feel good inside. Its purpose is to bring a knowledge of God and His Christ to a world that speaks many languages. It is to be distinguised from pagan glossolalia and xenoglossia in that it always (a) glorfies the Lord God of Israel; (b) leads souls to Christ and salvation; and (c) teaches and expounds the apostolic, biblical doctrine. If it teaches other doctrines it is counterfeit.
That it is manifested so little is sad testimony of the spiritual condition of the Church generally. False tongues keep people away from the biblical Christ and leads them into false security. It deludes them into thinking that they have been baptised in the Spirit when they may not have. Satan has gained a major foothold in the charismatic churches through false glossolalia on whose heels have come all kinds of pernicious and spiritually-destructive doctrines. Tongue-speaking has degerenated at best into mere carnal entertainment, and at worse into a satanic farse. It is judged as being good because it makes people feel free and happy inside, when instead the criterion for judging the truth must be the Word. Let us not forget that rock music makes people feel free and happy but it most certainly quences the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit).
As New Covenant Christians we therefore find ourselves in the rather unusual position of supporting the Pentecostal claim that the gifts are necessary whilst supporting the Baptists when they deride the charismania that is sweeping the Church into a New Age oblivion. False tongues are but one symptom, however, and whilst they were the door through which most of the other false teachings came, they were but a door and are not the whole problem. There is the wider problem of a lack of sound biblical knowledge which lazy Christians are compensating for by swallowing wholesale the teachings of famous charismatic evangelists instead of getting their hands out and digging into the Bible themselves.
Our counsel is to stay entirely clear of glossolalia and to seek for xenoglossia so that the Gospel may be taught to every nation, kindred and tongue. When you do hear xenoglossia, make sure the doctrinal content is biblical. If you hear an English-speaker preaching Mormonism or some other false system of religion in Indonesian, Dutch or some other modern language, beware!
A final word about "tongues of angels" (1 Cor.13:1, KJV) which charismatics claim is the same as glossolalia: we know nothing about angel language at all. Indeed, throughout the Bible, angels speak in the recipient's own mother tongue. Of course they would. Paul isn't making an academic statement about angel- or men-talk. He wants it known that love is the most important language there is no matter whether we fumble with words like men or speak eloquently and with authority like angels. Angels do not babble in glossolalia.
It is unfortunate, indeed, that the word "tongues" in Christian parlance has become so much associated with ecstatic gibberish. Even the Greek word glossolalia has been twisted into this exclusive usage. Here we have another example of the erosion of our language to suit an errant doctrinal viewpoint. Glossa means LANGUAGE and nothing more. "Tongue" means LANGUAGE and nothing more. It's time we returned to original meanings.
But inspite of the gibberish God still works through all kinds of Christians, Pentecostal and Baptist alike. But what a restrainer false gifts or their denial are to the full operation of the Spirit! It isn't good enough to simply let things be as they are. It is necessary to speak out the truth with a clear voice. Revival is meaningless unless the vessel is pure, otherwise it will just peter out as it always has done.
Yahweh is now moving out of the denominations and their false doctrinal constructs and into the house churches where people are more open and teachable and not constrained by denominationally-imposed dogmas. How refreshing it was this summer to meet a Baptist from a House Church declare that he believed in xenoglossia whilst rejecting glossolalia! The truth is getting through little by little. And when enough has got through, Yahweh will ignite the House Church Movement. That is something I eagerly await.
This page was created on 24 January 2001
Last updated on 24 January 2001
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