Must a Prophet Speak in Tongues?
NCW 1, August 1992
Q. Is it not true that you believe that to be a prophet he must speak in tongues? And isn't King Saul the model you use for a tongue-speaking prophet?
New Covenant Christians have never said that all prophets spoke in tongues but that Saul did, as did the minor prophets in the days of the judges and the new monarchy. These "minor" prophets were unlike what I would call the "major" prophets whose scriptural record has been left to us in the Old Testament.
You must be very careful, in looking at a text like the OT, not to assume that a particular word like nabi' (prophet) means the same thing in every dispensation. There is remarkable fluctuation in the use of the term nabi'. In the days of Samuel, as in the period of the judges before that, anyone who went into a trance, or who spoke strange things, was considered a nabi'. Thus the man from Judah could say: "I too am nabi' as you are" (1 Kings 23:18). The term "prophet" and "seer" were indistinguishable at this early time though the two mean very different things, the former meaning one who receives the Word of God and the latter who sees a Vision of God. In early OT times there was no distinction between the prophecy, seership, revelation and speaking "in tongues". Similarly, the Hebrew word lev (leb), which we translate as "heart", in fact is much more than that in Hebrew, meaning "heart, mind, and moral will", indeed the whole spirit of a man. Similarly, whereas we regard the seat of the emotions to be in the heart, the Hebrews (and Jesus is a good example) regarded it as being located in the bowels, or in the guts.
I am therefore very careful myself of OT interpretation, and especially that of evangelicals who freely mix words between the old and new testaments and come up with all sorts of erroneous interpretations.
The term nabi' (to return to our original subject) was most commonly used to designate one who babbled incomprehensible things, whether in the Israelite "School of the Prophets" in confederacy and early monarchy days, or even pagans. So incomprehensible were they that non-nabi' regarded them as "mad", much as many Christian tongue-speakers are regarded today. Unlike the "major" prophets (like Samuel), nobody could understand what the "minor" prophets were saying. This, to me, perfectly fits the picture of tongues without interpretation.
The OT does not always yield a clear picture of events without some background knowledge of language and culture. We must be very careful not to read 20th century interpretations into words that had different meanings in different epochs, much as our word "love" has evolved even within the last century. Because of ambiguity like this, the Lord has blessed us with modern revelation so that we do not need to sift out tons of earth to get out a small speck of gold. But that is what the old Church chose to do and she has her reward.
Be careful in dissecting scripture -- like the biologist in the laboratory, you often end up with mutilated remains.
This page was created on 18 April 1998
Last updated on 18 April 1998
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