Speaking in Tongues
The Greek word glossa means "tongue" (as in the organ in your mouth) but also by extension, "language" (the thing your tongue speaks). Paul mentions the "tongues of humans and angels" in 1 Corinthians 13:1, and the fact that the Testament of Job tells of Job's daughters speaking in angelic tongues leads us to take "angels" seriously in this verse (although some argue it is a later Christian addition to the text). In other words, when certain non-Christian Jews spoke in "tongues," they apparently believed they were speaking in angelic languages.
Were they? Were the Corinthians possibly speaking in angelic languages? I personally doubt it, but must remain open to the possibility. Paul speaks of the "third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2) and likely alludes to the dead "under the earth" (Phil. 2:10), but I see such language as God incarnating truth in their ancient worldview. Of course don't take me to believe the sun goes around the earth just because I might occasionally say something about the "sun setting." So we have at least three possibilities: 1) sometimes people do speak in angelic languages, 2) Paul never really understood the phrase "angelic languages" literally in the first place, and 3) while he may have thought of them literally, this is an instance of God revealing something through their ancient worldview.
We actually get mixed signals on whether tongues are human languages (xenoglossia) or not in the biblical texts. In Acts 2, the most obvious interpretation is that the disciples are speaking in human languages. Jews hear the gospel proclaimed in their own tongues from all around the
So the Bible implies that tongues might be human languages or they might be something else that Paul alludes to in one way or another as "tongues of angels."
I might point out that in something like its 1 Corinthians 14 variety, tongues seems to be a pan-religious phenomenon. I have already mentioned non-Christian Jews above who apparently spoke in tongues. I do not feel it necessary to say that such individuals were demon possessed or that Satan was in these instances counterfeiting the genuine article. The most logical explanation to me is that certain brains are just wired to have these kinds of experiences. And in the case of Christians, God sanctifies the experience as a means of grace. This is just my personal hunch as to what is going on in the vast majority of cases where tongues is spoken today. I am open to other possibilities.
So the Bible refers to two different kinds of activity as speaking in tongues. First, in Acts 2 individuals speak in tongues in a way that serves as a witness to unbelievers. Second, in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul speaks of tongues that shouldn't be done around unbelievers (glossolalia). But the biblical text refers to both as tongues. You cannot tell by the word "tongues" itself which the Bible refers to apart from context.
Tongues in Acts
Most Pentecostals understandably make their home in Acts 2 (thus, Pentecost-als ;-). Acts 2 provides for many a direct association between being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Thus for the original Pentecostals (who had their roots in the holiness movement), speaking in tongues was a second or even third "work of grace" for a Christian after conversion. For those like the
There are a number of problems here.
For one thing, the book of Acts does not say anywhere that tongues are always involved when the Holy Spirit fills a person. There are of course three incidents in Acts where tongues are mentioned when the Holy Spirit comes (Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6). But there are other places where the Spirit comes and tongues are not mentioned (Acts 4:31; 8:17-19; 9:17-19; and the rest of Acts).
A person who argues you have to speak in tongues to have the Spirit is arguing from the silence of the text. I think Acts does indicate that tongues of its sort are an indication that you have the Spirit (e.g., 10:46). But Acts never says the opposite is true: that you will speak in tongues if you have the Holy Spirit. It never says this.
I might also add that 1 Corinthians 12:30 gives me the final answer on the issue of whether all Christians will speak in tongues: "All don't speak in tongues, do they?" In Greek this is a question introduced by me, thus a question expecting a no answer: "Do all speak in tongues? No" is a legitimate translation. And for those UPCers out there, Paul doesn't say, "Do all have the gift of tongues?" He simply says that all do not speak (laleo) in tongues, the same word that Acts 2:4 uses when it says the apostles spoke (laleo) in different tongues.
As a matter of argument, tongues are rarely mentioned in the New Testament as a whole. They feature prominently in 1 Corinthians where Paul is addressing a problem in the Corinthian church. But he doesn't even mention them in his list of spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8 (see their absence also in Ephesians 4:7-13). Indeed, they are last on his list even in 1 Corinthians 12:10. In short, a Pentecostal would not have written the New Testament this way--it would not look this way if their emphases were that of the NT authors.
So what of those Pentecostals who would distinguish between tongues as evidence of the Holy Spirit and tongues as a gift, as in 1 Corinthians 12-14? First, this is not a distinction we find the Bible ever making. That's a tell tale sign of a Christian tradition taking over, when the heart of a doctrine is nowhere stated. It's an ingenious way of splicing Acts to 1 Corinthians--just not one the Bible ever says. And I've already mentioned that 1 Corinthians 12:30 argues against this line of interpretation.
Again, if tongues were the evidence of the Holy Spirit, then we would expect it to go hand in hand with any discussion of the Holy Spirit. We would expect John to say the Holy Spirit leads into all truth (John 16:13), convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), and you will know it because you will speak in tongues. We would expect Romans to say that the Spirit bears witness with our Spirit as we speak in tongues and tells us we are a child of God (Romans 8:16). We would expect Paul to say that the Holy Spirit is a down payment that guarantees our inheritance (2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:14), God's seal of ownership on us (2 Cor. 1:22), made clear as we speak in tongues. And it would sure be great if Hebrews 6:4 would be a little clearer in telling us that the heavenly gift it has in mind is speaking in tongues--it does relate it to partaking of the Holy Spirit, after all.
A Pentecostal would have told us these things in these passages. The New Testament authors did not. The most logical reason they don't is because they do not think of tongues every time they think of the Holy Spirit.
A second thing to think about is the fact that the tongues in Acts 2 are human languages, at least that is the most natural way to take it. I think Charles Carter used to suggest that they were speaking the same thing as 1 Corinthians 14, but that the people were given the gift of interpretation to where they heard it in their own languages. Ingenious! But of course Acts says nothing like this. It is another reading into the text to iron out an issue in our theology.
"They began to speak in different languages [tongues] as the Spirit was giving to them to speak out" (Acts 2:4) ... "... each one was hearing them speak in his own dialect (2:6) ... we hear them speaking in our languages [tongues] the great things of God (2:11)."
It seems to me that the most natural way to take this is that they spoke in different languages and the people heard them in those different languages.
I suspect strongly that the tongues of those who claim that their tongues are the evidence of the Holy Spirit would not pass a foreign language test. Yet this seems to be the tongues of Acts 2.
And while Acts 10 and 19 do not tell us if the tongues are foreign languages or not, the book of Acts itself gives us no basis to consider it anything different from the tongues of Acts 2. That is, Acts never informs us of the 1 Corinthians 14 type of tongues. In the story world of Acts, they do not clearly exist. The burden of proof is thus on anyone who would argue that the tongues in Acts 10 and 19 are angelic languages or prayer languages or ecstatic languages or anything other than the different human languages of Acts 2.
So why does Luke mention tongues these three times?
It is interesting to me that the interpretation Peter gives of the tongues in Acts 2 is a Scripture from Joel that sees prophecy as a primary feature of the coming of the Spirit. This fits with the fact that the tongues in Acts 2 are used for missionary purposes--not for personal edification as the "evidence" of the Spirit turns out to be in the UPC. One of Luke's special emphasis is that the gospel is for the whole world and to the ends of the earth. How appropriate that the prophetic message be given to people from all over the world through the ability to speak in their languages!
I believe Luke mentions the tongues in Acts 10 to make it clear that the experience of the Gentiles wasn't different in any way from the experience of Jews on the Day of Pentecost. This was a very important point so that Jewish Christians could not claim any superiority over Gentile Christians. Again, tongues in Acts 10 serve an important corporate purpose.
Similarly, I believe that Acts 19 mentions tongues to make it doubly clear that being baptized by John the Baptist was not the same thing as being baptized by the Spirit. The tongues emphasize this point. Again, tongues serve to make a theological point here.
A final note. The text of Acts 2, presenting us with events on the Day of Pentecost, has proved to be extremely important as a sacrament of revelation both to Wesleyan and Pentecostal communities of faith. Indeed, this text is more important to us than to most other Christian communities. A good deal of our past identity is tied up with a particular reading of this text. Without closing the doors to these sacramental means of theological grace, we might also keep in mind an original meaning concern in the process.
While we have four gospels, we have only one Acts. Those gospels are often quite unique from each other and can differ both in arrangement and emphasis. Indeed, in some instances we might be quite misled if we had only one of them.
For example, we would not know that Mary and Joseph came from
Here's the warning: if we had second volumes to Matthew, Mark, or John, they would likely differ as much from Acts as Luke differs from Matthew, Mark, and John. Unfortunately, we don't know exactly how they would differ.
So we probably should not take Acts to be a straightforward videotape of events in the life of the early church. This fact argues against basing the core of one's theology on a specific way of reading between the lines of the specifics of Acts. And that is exactly what Pentecostals tend to do.
Mark 16:17 (Textus Receptus)
"And these signs will follow those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues..."
For some conservative Pentecostals, this verse also plays a prominent role. I say conservative because the only translations of the New Testament that consider it to have been in the original text of Mark are the King James Version and the New King James Version. Other versions only print the text because of its historical importance, but this is in deference to tradition. Their translators did not consider them original.
After I have said this, however, I have no problems with the message of this text. I believe that Mark 16:9-20 is a pastiche of post-resurrection events that some author took probably from the endings of the other gospels and Acts. When 16:18 mentions taking up snakes, for example, I picture Paul on the
Finally, 16:17 surely alludes to the Day of Pentecost. The word "new" tongues ("new" isn't even in all the manuscripts that have this ending) seems simply a reference to the fact that the languages on the Day of Pentecost were new to the apostles. I suppose it is possible that it is a reference to the tongues of 1 Corinthinans 14.
So even if the passage was original, it would not contribute anything new to our discussion of tongues. For example, the verse doesn't say that every Christian will do all these things.
I might just rehearse the reasons why there is such uniform agreement that Mark 16:9-20 was not a part of the original Mark:
There are two types of evidence that are discussed when one is trying to decide what the original reading of a text was. This is a science that can be used on any text in which we only have copies of copies that differ from one another and we are trying to decide between the various readings to figure out what the first copy said.
With regard to what we might call "the longer ending" of Mark, the external evidence is not good. I call it the longer ending because there is also a shorter one and a longer, longer one. The presence of the shorter one shows that someone else added another ending because 16:8 didn't seem like a good way to end the gospel... and thus even those manuscripts with the shorter ending are evidence that there was no ending after 16:8 in the manuscripts before them.
Jerome (400) says that he does not know many Greek manuscripts with the longer ending. Eusebius (300's) divided up the gospels into sections but made no room for verses at this point. The longer ending is not in any of the major ancient manuscripts and translations, including the two most famous, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. However, it was used by Tatian in the late 100's in his spliced together "four gospels" and Irenaeus knows of it as well (Justin Martyr has a sentence with some of the same words, but it's not a conclusive allusion).
A late Armenian manuscript says, "of Ariston" right before the longer ending. Ariston lived in the early 100's, but most textual scholars don't believe some copier in the 800's (I think) could know who came up with the ending when no other manuscripts say this. But Ariston did live at the right time for the creation of this ending.
To sum up the external evidence, we have evidence that the reading existed by the mid to late 100's, but it did not appear in most ancient Greek manuscripts, particularly those considered most weighty.
The internal evidence is, however, determinative. Verse 9 basically starts all over again with the post-resurrection. It's like 1-8 never happened. Verse 8 ends with the women telling no one. Then all of a sudden we're talking about "Now having risen on the first day" again. The women were the subject in verse 8. Then Jesus is suddenly the subject in verse 9. This fact alone militates against the verses being original.
There are at least nine words or phrases in these few short verses (including connecting phrases) that appear no where else in Mark, and the style is different. These verses are more of a summary than the narrative we have been reading up to this point. I've already mentioned that the content of this ending is a pastiche of references from other gospels. If these verses were original, they would be the most "harmonistic" track of gospel anywhere in the four gospels. That's one of the reasons why many don't notice how odd they are--because we're used to reading the gospels as a single witness to Jesus rather than four distinct witness.
In short, there are a few ultra-conservative people with PhD's who think these verses are original. But their very position on this issue demonstrates to me that they have come to the evidence with their conclusion already in hand. I consider no one a reliable textual scholar who thinks these verses were original.
As a side note, I have finally admitted to myself that Mark probably did have some other ending that is lost. It would be unprecedented for a book to end with the word "for" (which is how it ends in the Greek... I won't go into it). And the other places in Mark where the word "fear" is used in this way, someone is usually afraid of something. Witherington thinks the ending of Matthew is the best place for us to go to figure out what the original ending might have looked like. That's a fair enough suggestion, if Matthew used Mark, but given the beginning of Mark, I doubt Mark had as much at the end as Matthew does.
The Situation at
Ah, the Corinthian church. I love this church and am thankful for their problems. Just think of what it would be like if we did not have 1 Corinthians... in other words, if they had not had so many problems! There is SOOO much we would not know about the early church if it weren't for them!
The fundamental problem they had was division (1 Cor. 1:10). In particular, two power blocks seemed to be locking horns. The "Paul group" was a group, presumably of church leaders and original church members, who remained loyal to Paul's authority. A second group, the "Apollos group," was likely prosperous and of some status. I suppose that some of them became Christians under the educated, eloquent, and probably upper class Apollos.
If I have it right, this Apollos group had enough clout to take others to court, to afford meat and serve it to others, and had enough wine to get drunk. I think this is largely the same group, a group that considered themselves "wise" (see 1 Cor. 6:5) and to have knowledge (8:1). Paul mocks them when he tells them how envious of them he is, since they are already reigning in the
It is difficult to know for certain how the "spiritual gift" conflict does or doesn't connect to these two basic groups. But my hunch is that those claiming to have spiritual gifts are probably primarily from the Apollos group. Why? Because this language of spirituality in 12-14 is similar to things Paul says in 2:14-15. In that context Paul strangely speaks of the "psychikos" (soulish) person versus the "pneumatikos" (spiritual) person. The wording is so unusual for Paul (and, indeed, for most ancient writings) that many think Paul is using the language of his Corinthian detractors themselves at this point.
If so, the Apollos group is likely the group claiming to be spiritual. Paul himself does not encourage eating meat offered to idols, but we can see some PhD like Apollos telling them that "we Jews know that there's no one home at the
But Paul then moves to his categories in chapter 3. "I wish I could call you spiritual, but you are really fleshly." They think they are spiritual. Paul says they are carnal, fleshly, babes in Christ.
So when 1 Corinthians 12 begins, "Now concerning spiritual things..." (pneumatika: the word gifts isn't actually there in this verse), it surely relates to those claiming to be spiritual. And if we use 1 Corinthians 12 to help us understand further what some of the issues of spirituality were--you guessed it--some at Corinth were claiming to be more spiritually significant than others in the church because of their spiritual gifts.
We can basically summarize Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 12 as "People are equally valuable no matter what spiritual gift they have." Some are eyes, some are ears, some are feet... But all valuable, and we should not look down on someone else because they are a hand.
Similarly, it is no coincidence that the "love chapter" is sandwiched in the middle of this discussion of spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14. Love is clearly the antidote to the Corinthian divisions and, more specifically, to their spiritual gift issues.
But what might be the focal point of the issue here? What spiritual gift does Paul focus on in 1 Corinthians 12-14? What is he leading the Corinthians away from, other than the way some are dishonoring those without their gift? What gift does Paul have in mind when he ends chapter 12 with "be zealous for the greater gifts" (now shifting from the value of persons to those gifts that are most beneficial to the body)?
We know the answer when Paul picks up his train of thought in chapter 14: "... be zealous for the spiritual things, but more (mallon) that you prophesy, for the one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to humans, but to God..."
After beginning with the general issue of spiritual gifts, Paul now gets down to business. Apparently the way tongues were being practiced at
In short, while Paul clearly believes that individuals who speak in tongues are equal in value to any Christian with any other gift, the overall trajectory of his rhetoric in the overall context of 1 Corinthians 14 is to move the Corinthians away from the way they are using tongues in their community. Further, he is likely moving a certain segment of the church from thinking they are more important than the others in the congregation because they speak in tongues. Paul is "reining in" the way tongues are used at
1 Corinthians 14
I would summarize Paul's point in this chapter as follows:
Your worship is a horrible mess. Everyone is just thinking of him or herself. Do things that build up each other, like prophecy. Tongues more often than not build up individuals but don't build up the body of Christ. What is worse, unbelievers can easily mistake them for some pagan religious experience. Don't forbid tongues, as long as someone has an interpretation. You yourself should pray to be able to interpret your tongues. Even then, only have two or at the most three speak in worship, one at a time, and again, only with interpretation.
But in the end, there are so many more churches and church groups today than Paul could have imagined. And the existence of many of them is primarily due to the exercise of tongues. Chances are, if you're going to an Assemblies of God church, you probably find tongues edifying even if they're not interpreted.
By the same token, tongues would be incredibly divisive in your typical
Tongues would create schism in most of our communities. I have no hesitation about what I think Paul would say in such a context, mirroring things he said about the Lord's Supper, meat offered to idols, and indeed, about the use of tongues at
We can be thankful that the body of Christ has come to have whole denominations whose special emphasis is speaking in tongues and who freely allow for it in worship. And that allows for whole denominations who don't forbid a person from speaking in tongues, but only use intelligible languages in worship.
And after giving you my conclusion, let me give my understanding of the train of thought in 1 Corinthians 14.
1-5: It's better to prophecy than to speak in tongues, because prophecy builds up the church. Tongues tends more to build up the individual.
And here let me point out the obvious: Paul's point in 14:5 is not "I wish you all spoke in tongues." His point is "BUT I would rather have you prophecy." Remember, this is in the form of a break up line: "I really like you Ken, but I don't want to go out any more." The goal of the sentence is the part after the "but," not the part before. Notice that the possibility of interpreting tongues is not brought up in this paragraph.
6-25: Prophecy is better than tongues in worship, because it builds up the church. Paul uses examples of "confused sounds" to argue against the use of tongues in worship. And here I note that it is not until verse 13 that he first brings up the possibility of interpretation. And even then, he argues that the speaker him or herself pray to be able to interpret it. And of course if a person knew such an interpretation, there would be no need to speak in tongues in the first place. You would presumably just tell the church the prophecy straight out. In effect, even though Paul has brought up the possibility of interpretation, he has brought it up in a way that leads to the disuse of tongues in worship.
In 14:18-19 we have another break up line: "I thank God that I speak in more tongues than all of you, but in church I would prefer to speak five words with my mind than ten thousand words in a tongue." The first clause is again a concession on the way to the real point of the sentence--worship should be intelligible.
I think that it is more likely than not that Paul is claiming to have the same gift as some Corinthians are exercising. While it is possible that he means human languages, the contrast he sets up--"with my mind"--pushes us rather to see his tongues as something he does without his mind. In Romans 8:26, Paul mentions unspeakable groans of the Spirit in prayer, and some scholars think this might be Paul speaking of his use of tongues in private prayer. Can "unspeakable" mean "speaking," as in tongues?
On the other hand, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 seems Paul's attempt to defend himself against those who would claim to have more spectacular religious experiences than him. On balance the evidence seems to favor Paul speaking in tongues. But it is not an absolute certainty since Paul generally tries to agree with the Corinthian positions as much as possible before steering them in a more profitable direction.
For the worship context, however, look at Paul's contrast: even 5 intelligible words are better than 10,000 words in a tongue. Paul does not mention the possibility of interpretation in this verse, reflecting his emphasis in the chapter away from the use of tongues in worship.
20-25 speak of the negative effect that tongues will likely have on unbelievers, urging the congregation to lean more toward prophecy. Again, Paul does not mention the possibility of interpretation in these verses, reflecting his emphasis in the chapter away from the use of tongues in worship.
In addition to unbelievers, he also mentions the potentially negative effect tongues might have on those who do not understand (idiotes). In this sense, the
26-40 The remainder of the chapter lays down the rules by which tongues can be practiced in worship at
So Paul says not to forbid speaking in tongues at
I would summarize our discussion on tongues in four points:
1. The New Testament can speak of both the tongues of "humans and angels." In other words, the NT affirms the existence of tongues that do not involve the mind and that are not human languages. At least in Acts 2, the tongues in question seem to be what we call xenoglossia, speaking in foreign languages that have not been learned (they are a witness to unbelievers). 1 Corinthians 14 seems to be regular glossolalia (they turn off unbelievers).
2. The New Testament does not teach that you must speak in tongues to be a Christian. Paul flatly says, "Do all speak in tongues? (No)." He makes no distinction between tongues as evidence of the Spirit and tongues as a spiritual gift. The word for speak is the same in both Acts 2 and this comment in 1 Corinthians 12.
3. Some Christians have the gift of tongues, understood as non-human languages that do not involve the mind. Paul says not to forbid this gift. He means in Corinthian worship. I believe it is appropriate for some groups to apply it today as don't forbid exercise of this gift in private. Paul himself may very well have had this gift.
4. Paul does not wish tongues to be a hindrance in worship. At