Part 2 focuses on the biblical meaning of the Gift of Tongues, as well as its purpose in ministry.
The Meaning of Speaking in Tongues
In my travels many persons have approached me with questions about tongues. Some of them ask about its meaning. The term that is used to identify the tongues movement is "glossolalia," made up of two Greek words, glossa (language or tongue) and lalia (speech). It therefore means speaking in languages or tongues. Glossology is that department of anthropology which has to do with the study and classification of languages and dialects.
The word glossa appears in the Greek New Testament not less than fifty times. It is used to refer to the physical organ of the tongue as in James 3:5; once in reference to the flames of fire shaped like tongues (Acts 2:3); at least once in a metaphorical sense when referring to speech as in the statement, "my tongue (speech) was glad (joyous)" (Acts 2:26). As far as I understand the remaining usages of the word it always means a language.
When our Lord predicted the gift of tongues (the only mention of tongues in the four Gospel records) He said, "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues" (Mark 16:17). The adjective "new" (Gr. kainos) can only mean they were going to speak in languages new to them, that is, languages they had not learned or used until that time. If I say the Russian language is "new" to me, I do not mean that I never knew there was such a language, but rather its use by me is new to me because I can neither speak it nor understand it when I hear others speak it. On the other hand the German language is not altogether "new" to me because I can both read and speak it with a small degree of understanding.
In Acts 2:4 Luke uses a different adjective when he says, "they began to speak with other tongues." The word "other" (Gr. heteros) simply means that they spoke in languages different from the normal language they were used to. The context substantiates this. Notice the surprised reaction on the part of the hearers--"And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" (Acts 2:7,8). Every man heard them speak in his own language (Acts 2:6). Here the word "language" is the translation of dialekto from which our word "dialect" comes. The two words glossa (tongue) and dialektos (language) are used synonymously, making it obvious that the disciples were speaking in known languages other than the language native to them. In verses 9-11 the languages are then identified. It was a miraculous phenomenon which enabled the disciples to speak in languages which they had never learned. Here in this Acts passage we have tongues-speaking in its pure and unperverted form as God gave it.
The following verses in the Book of the Revelation should be examined carefully (Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). In each passage where the word "tongue" is mentioned it means one of the languages associated with the various nationalities and races. I see no reason why anyone should raise a question as to the tongues in those passages in Mark, Acts and Revelation meaning languages.
So far, I have no disagreements with Dr. Strauss' descriptions of what speaking in tongues is.
But the more serious problems arise in the interpretation of the twenty-one references to tongues in First Corinthians chapters 12-14. There are those who tell us that the tongues in First Corinthians are ecstatic utterances not known in any country on earth. They base their conclusion on the term "unknown" which appears in I Corinthians 14:2, 4, 13, 14, 19, and 27. But the reader of this chapter in God's Word must not fail to observe that the word "unknown" in every place where it appears is in italicized letters, which means that it does not occur in any Greek manuscript but was inserted by translators. The Holy Spirit did not direct Paul to write that the tongue is unknown.
The only suggestion biblically that the tongue might not be an earthly language is St. Paul's statement, "Though I command languages both human and angelic--if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. Thus, if we take Paul as not being hyperbolic, it would suggest that at least one of the languages that God bestows upon those who speak in tongues is that of the angels. However, this is not certain, since Paul could be speaking poetically here. Moreover, those who believe in and practice speaking in tongues would not claim that their utterances are merely "ecstatic" or gibberish. Even if it was a heavenly language, it would still be a language nonetheless.
I find no warrant for changing the meaning of tongues in First Corinthians. In every other place where the word is used it means languages. Why then should the meaning be changed in First Corinthians? I know of no textual license that will warrant changing the meaning of the word. All the usages of tongues in Paul's treatment of the subject refer to foreign languages. "So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into air" (I Corinthians 14:9).
There is no reason for anyone to speak except to converse intelligibly. The Greek word laleo means "I speak." The word is never used for mere sound or noise. Nor is it used for a mere mumbling or muttering of unintelligible gibberish. The tongues-speaking in the New Testament was in the native languages of hearing people. The supernatural phenomenon which took place at Pentecost was the exercise of a gift whereby many people from many countries, gathered at Jerusalem, heard God's message in their own language. This was indeed a miracle of God.
It would be an arbitrary and strange interpretation of Scripture that would make tongues-speaking in the New Testament anything other than known languages. There is no trace of Scriptural evidence that tongues were ever heard by anyone as incoherent, incomprehensible babbling.
This segment seems to be a touch unneeded, as no one that I am aware of would teach contrary to this. It is certainly neither the teaching of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, nor the Catholic Church.
The Ministry of Speaking in Tongues
At this point in our study we shall pursue an examination of the reasons why God gave the gift of speaking in tongues.
First, to communicate the Gospel message. With unmistakable clarity Paul says, "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not..." (I Corinthians 14:22). The word "sign" (Gr. semeion) in the New Testament is often associated with the conveying of a Divinely-given message to unbelievers. This is the emphasis in John 20:30, 31 where we read, "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name." The signs (miracles) were never performed without purpose, but because of the message they communicated.
The true function of the gift of tongues is "for a sign...to them that believe not." To exercise the gift when unbelievers were not present would be exercising the gift above the purpose for which it was given. The gifts were never given for the self-satisfaction or self-glory of the recipients. The one upon whom the gift was bestowed was merely an instrument through whom God wanted to communicate His message.
Because of the abuse and misuse of tongues in the Corinthian Assembly Paul states its purpose. The spiritual immaturity of the saints in Corinth called for instruction, so in the middle of his discourse on tongues he writes, "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men" (I Corinthians 14:20). The Greek word for "men" (teleios) means mature. In their misuse of speaking in tongues they were showing their immaturity, a behaviour pattern which characterized the believers at Corinth. The Apostle reminded them that they remained "babes in Christ" (3:1).
Their failure to grow up spiritually resulted from their neglected study of the Scriptures. The Epistle to the Hebrews stresses this point. "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5: 12-14). Peter wrote, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby" (I Peter 2:2). One will find confusion and license where the study of God's Word is neglected.
It is a bit of a logical fallacy to equate the Word of God specifically with the Bible, and moreso, it is a fallacy to equate the Corinthians' immaturity with a failure to study the Bible (especially since it had not been finished yet).
Now let us return to I Corinthians 14:20. Immediately upon rebuking them with the words, "Brethren, be not children in understanding," Paul adds, "In the law it is written..." (Vs. 21), thereby pointing out their weakness, namely, their failure to acquaint themselves with that which was written in the Old Testament Scriptures. They had failed to study God's Word, therefore they had become victims of arrested development.
Simply because St. Paul turns to a quotation from the Old Testament does not lead to the conclusion that the Corinthian church was lax in their study of the Bible. This assumes that A) the church was not celebrating a proper liturgy (not having church, in that case), or B) that each person should have on their own been studying the Word (which they may or may not have owned, nor been able to read). It is a modern Protestant ideal that every person should own and personally study the Word of God. It simply would not have been a possibility in the ancient world. To attribute their spiritual immaturity to something that was impossible for them to accomplish is obvious special pleading. Rather, St. Paul's appealing to the Scriptures as his basis for teaching was not to tell them to "shape up in their Bible reading", but to appeal and explain the meaning behind a commonly held authority, much like Dr. Strauss' quoting the Bible in his essay. Or does Dr. Strauss uncharitably assume that all who read his essay (particularly those who disagree with him) are immature and should study their Bibles more, and he wants to convey that message to his readers by citing Scripture?
Speaking in tongues was a gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit, but it, or any other gift, can be misused. Speaking in tongues was no mark of spirituality, because the Corinthian church was unspiritual, having manifested carnality (3:1-3) and even gross sin (5:1). And so Paul points them to a Scripture they should have known, saying, "In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord" (14:21).
Paul is here referring to a prophecy God had given through Isaiah. The nation of Israel had failed to heed God's message which He gave through their own prophets, so the Lord told them that at a future time they will hear His message through tongues (languages) other than their own. "For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people" (Isaiah 28: 12). Thus Paul sees in this Isaiah prophecy the gift of tongues as a sign to Israel. The words "this people" in Isaiah 28:11, in its context, can refer only to Israel. The abuse of tongues-speaking in Corinth did not arise from the belief in speaking in tongues, but rather in the neglect of the Scriptures which teach its proper use.
Dr. Strauss' conclusion is overturned later on in 1 Corinthians 14, when St. Paul alludes to Isaiah 45:14, and the people declaring that God indeed is among the church, since it is what Isaiah prophesies that Egypt, Cush, and Seba will be saying. Thus, the message of 1 Corinthians 14 refers not only to Israel but to the Gentile nations as well. Tongues is not specifically a sign to Israel, but to all unbelievers.
This purpose of the gift of tongues, namely to communicate God's message to Israel, is verified in the three passages in Acts where speaking in tongues is mentioned. In Acts 2 tongues-speaking was used as a missionary or evangelistic tool in fulfillment of Isaiah 28:11. There was no need for the disciples to learn other languages before they could communicate the Gospel. God overcame the language barrier through the miracle-gift of tongues. On the day of Pentecost there were "Jews out of every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). And when the disciples "began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4), the hearers responded with the question, "And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" (Acts 2:8). Observe that they were "Jews" from other countries who spoke many languages and dialects, and yet each heard the Gospel in his own tongue. Isaiah's prophecy was being fulfilled.
This again is reading into the context of Isaiah. Isaiah's prophecy, and St. Paul's usage, is to demonstrate that tongues is a sign to unbelievers--a sign of judgement. The people's refusal to listen has led God to speak to them in a fantastic way, but in a way that they will not readily understand. Thus, St. Paul writes,
Suppose that, if the whole congregation were meeting and all of them speaking in tongues, and some uninitiated people or unbelievers were to come in, don't you think they would say that you were all raving? But if you were all prophesying when an unbeliever or someone uninitiated came in, he would find himself put to the test by all and judged by all and the secrets of his heart revealed; and so he would fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is indeed among you (1 Corinthians 14:23-25).If St. Paul had been saying what Dr. Strauss would have him be saying, then the scenarios that Paul describes would be reversed. But this is not the case. Rather, it is a case of Dr. Strauss pulling Scripture out of context in order to support his conclusions.
In Acts 10:46 the second mention of speaking in tongues occurs. The occasion again was to communicate the Gospel, this time for the purpose of effecting the conversion of Cornelius and his house. This event cannot be totally disassociated from Pentecost because Peter, when relating this experience, said, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning" (Acts 11: 15). At the house of Cornelius tongues-speaking was a sign to Jews at a time when the Gospel was being communicated (Acts 10:44-46).
It was a sign to the Jewish Christians, that the Gentiles were indeed to be included in the New Covenant, not to the unbelieving Jews, as Dr. Strauss' thesis on this point would suggest.
In Acts 19:6 there appears the third passage in Acts in which speaking in tongues is recorded. Again its purpose was missionary and evangelistic. When Paul came to Ephesus he encountered twelve disciples of John the Baptist. He asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Ghost when (not since) you believed?" (Acts 19:2, see the R.V.). These at Ephesus considered themselves to be Christians because they had heard through Apollos the message of John. You see, there is a belief unto salvation and a belief that does not result in salvation. The latter is a mere academic, intellectual belief that even Satan and the demons have (James 2:19. cf. Mark 5:7). Doubtless there are people today who have an historical faith in Jesus Christ as a man and even the Son of God, but who have not been saved. Paul suspected that such was the case with the disciples of John whom he met at Ephesus. When he learned they were not saved, he told them they must trust Christ for their salvation. We can understand the confusion they might have experienced, therefore some evidential sign was necessary. "And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came upon them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied" (Acts 19:6). Again the purpose for speaking in tongues is obvious, namely, to communicate the Gospel message.
Again, Strauss misses the point of this passage. The Ephesians were not believing with simply an abstract, intellectual faith as opposed to a heart-faith. Rather, they believed, but the Gospel had not been fully revealed to them. The full message was delivered by Paul, and this caused the spiritual change. As true as half the story may be, the whole story is needed. Notably, also, this episode at Ephesus did not involve Jews, but Gentiles (as also the letter to the Ephesians indicates, since it is written with a primarily Gentile audience in mind, elaborating on how they have become one with the Jews in the New Covenant). Thus, Dr. Strauss' opinion that the gift of tongues was a sign to the Jews only, and all occurrences of tongues in Acts bear that out, is false from the premise all the way through the proofs.
These are the only instances of tongues-speaking recorded in the Bible, except the passage in First Corinthians. None of the later Epistles mention speaking in tongues. The gift was used only in the transitional period between Law and Grace. The sign gifts continued through the period of the Apostles while the New Testament was in the process of being written.
Dr Strauss again is contradictory. Other than Acts and 1 Corinthians, the Gospel of Mark mentions tongues. Mark was one of the earliest Gospels, but it still postdated several of Paul's letters. Moreover, Acts most likely postdated all of Paul's letters, if not the vast majority. Thus, not only do none of the later letters of Paul mention tongues, but none of the earlier letters, either. This proves nothing except the seeming fact that the church at Corinth alone had problems with this gift. It in no way shows that the purpose of tongues was to fill some imaginary transitional period between "Law" and "Grace", or that once that transition was made, tongues ceased. This is obvious special pleading.
Second, to confirm the Gospel message. It was not merely a communicating sign but a confirmatory sign as well. When the Apostles used the gift of tongues it was because they did not have what you and I have today, the completed Word of God, God's full and final revelation to man. When they went about preaching the Gospel, their message was confirmed by the exercise of the sign gifts. Tongues-speaking vindicated both the message and the messenger. "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds" (II Corinthians 12:12). If one could find an Apostle living today who saw the bodily-resurrected Lord Jesus, he would not be exercising the sign gifts because he would have what you and I have, and what Peter, Paul and John did not have, the completed written Word of God. Now that we have the Scriptures we do not need miracles to confirm God's message.
This begs the question. The ultimate thesis of Dr. Strauss' paper is to prove that speaking in tongues ceased with the completion of the Scriptures, and here he is setting out to demonstrate the purpose of tongues by appealing to his belief that speaking in tongues ceased with the completion of Scriptures. Basically, his argument runs thus: Speaking in tongues ceased with the completion of the Scriptures. We know this because of its purpose as a confirmatory sign that the Apostles were proclaiming the true Gospel. Now that the Scriptures are completed, tongues are no longer needed to confirm the Gospel, therefore speaking in tongues ceased with the completion of Scripture.
Signs were for the Jews rather than for Gentiles. "For the Jews require a sign..." (I Corinthians 1:22). Repeatedly it was the Jews who asked for a sign. "Then certain of the Scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from Thee" (Matthew 12:38). Again, "The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired Him that He would shew them a sign from heaven" (Matthew 16 :1). "Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, What sign shewest Thou unto us, seeing that Thou doest these things?" (John 2:18). "They said therefore unto Him, What sign shewest Thou then, that we may see and believe Thee? What dost Thou work?" (John 6:30). All these who asked for a sign were Jews, and their insistence upon signs will at last be their sad undoing.
During the Tribulation the Antichrist will appear, "whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders" (II Thessalonians 2:9), and at that time many Jews will be deceived into receiving the Antichrist as their Messiah.
Dr. Strauss' point here is lost on me. Taking St. Paul's poetical generalisations and making nigh anti-semitic remarks about the Jews does not in any way bolster his claim that tongues are not for today's church. After all, the church to which Paul writes, saying that "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you," was the predominately Gentile Corinthian church.
Let us who are Christ's not be seeking signs as did the unbelieving Jews. We who are the Lord's have the Holy Scriptures, so let us "walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7).
Again, though, didn't Strauss earlier try to argue that tongues were given as a sign of proclamation to the unbeliever? It is therefore not the mature Christian who needs the sign, but the sign is still bestowed for the conversion of the peoples. As St. Francis de Sales points out above,
Well now, must not the Church ever fight with infidelity?--and why then would you take away from her this good stick which God has put into her hand? I am well aware that she has not so much need of it as at the beginning; now that the holy plant of the faith has taken firm and good root, one need not water it so often; but, all the same, to wish to have the effect altogether taken away, the necessity and cause remaining intact, is poor philosophy.Moreover, simply having the Holy Scriptures has been no guarantor of having the truth. The multitude of denominations, split along various doctrinal lines, shows that the premise of Sola Scriptura is not enough to safeguard truth. If it were, we would not even be having this discussion. Whenever there is a disagreement, according to the logic of Non-Contradiction, there is of necessity error. He and I could both be wrong, but we cannot both be right. Thus, as St. Francis again points out,
But because the sects and heresies disguise their clothing, and by false stuffs make them look like hers, she has, besides that, perfumes and odours which are her own, and these are certain signs and shinings of her sanctity, which are so peculiarly hers, that no other society can boast of having them, particularly in our age.Thus, in this world with a myriad of denominations and sects and cults and counterfeits, the miraculous serve to sift the true from the false. And within our secular, materialistic culture, where paganism has seen a revival, and which has been termed "post-Christian", it would seem that the miraculous is appropriate now as much as ever.
For, first, she shines in miracles, which are a most sweet odour and perfume, and are express signs of the presence of the immortal God with her, as S. Augustine styles them.
Whenever the gift of tongues was exercised Jews were present, tongues-speaking being used either to communicate the Gospel or else to confirm to the Jews that the Gentiles were worthy of salvation and should therefore have the Gospel also. Such confirmations are seen in Acts 10:45 and 19:6. "And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen" (Mark 16:20).
Again, while I (and St. Francis) believe and confirm that tongues and other signs are to confirm the Gospel message, it is a bit of error to state so emphatically that "whenever the gift of tongues was exercised, Jews were present." Acts 19:1-7 never mentions the Jews. It was in the next episode, vv. 8-10, where Paul afterwards went, with his new converts, to the Synagogue, but was chased out of there, and set up the church in the home of the Greek Tyrannus. Tongues-speaking and the Jews are never mentioned together in Acts 19.
Moreover, as I pointed out, in Acts 10, "the Jews" aren't present, but rather the Jewish Christians, who already believe. While the earliest Christians were Jews, they cannot be equated with the unbelieving Jews in the context of tongues being a confirmatory sign.
If anyone denies the message of God's written Word today, there is no other court of appeal. In the days of the Apostles, the New Testament being yet unwritten, the Holy Spirit supported their message by accompanying it with signs. But after those holy and inspired men completed writing the New Testament, such confirmations were no longer necessary.
Considering that the Canon of the New Testament was only finally determined in the late fourth century AD, that's 300-350 years of biblical uncertainty, not knowing what was, and what wasn't, part of the Spirit-inspired Scriptures. On what grounds, then, can we conclude that the miraculous gifts were no longer needed as confirmatory signs after Scripture was written, what was the Church to do in the 350 year intermission?
And stating that miraculous, confirmatory signs ceased in AD 100 at the latest (giving a late death for the Apostle John) also ignores the abundant testimony of the early Church between and beyond the writing of Scripture and the closing of the Canon, of which again St. Francis makes mention.
The rich man in Hell asked Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead that he might witness to his five unsaved brothers, hoping that such a sign (or miracle) would lead them to repent. But Abraham replied, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16: 27-31). The Pentecostal sign ushered in a new age before the New Testament was written. But if men reject God's inspired Word now, they need not look for any supernatural signs.
That conclusion is unwarranted from that story. The fact is, many Christians have come to believe in Christ specifically because of God's miraculous intervention. Moreover, Abraham tells the rich man that if the people had "Moses and the prophets" and didn't believe, they wouldn't believe even if someone rose from the dead. "Moses and the prophets" refer to the Old Testament. If the presence of Scripture means the lack of necessity of miracles, then the lack of only the Old Testament would mean the same thing, from this passage. In that case, if the spiritual gifts aren't needed today, now that we have the Scriptures, they were never needed at all.
A significant New Testament passage which adds to the fact that the sign gifts were given to confirm the Gospel message is Hebrews 2:3,4: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost according to His own will?" If the Epistle to the Hebrews was written between 65 and 70 A.D. it would be obvious that the people to whom the message was "confirmed" with signs and gifts were that generation immediately following our Lord's death.
This is true; however, it does nothing to bolster Strauss' thesis that these gifts have now ceased. The last clause of verse 4 in the New Jerusalem Bible reads thus: "God himself confirmed their witness...by distributing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the various ways he wills." This sounds rather like He's still doing it, and that there is no end in sight. According to the Greek, God's confirming action is in the present tense, rather than the past tense. Thus, God is continuing to confirm the witness of His apostles in various ways.
(Go to Part 3)