For some time now, I’ve been convicted to explore the topic of “tongues.” “Speaking in tongues” is one of those controversial topics that can ignite bickering among Christians. “Pentecostals” and “charismatics” have built doctrine around tongues, with the associated catchphrases “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and “Heavenly language,” claiming that the practice, as manifested in their services, is biblical. Other evangelicals either believe the practice (as manifested in those services) is not biblical, while still others believe that it once was legitimate, but not in our present dispensation.
In this analysis, which will probably be broken down into many parts, I will trust the Spirit and the Word to clarify the subject.
There is no disputing that the Bible contains references to speaking in tongues, so if you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, as I do, then you must acknowledge that this not only took place in biblical times, but that tongues (and interpretation thereof) was listed as a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). One question I intend to explore is: Is the gift of tongues referenced in the Bible the same thing that is happening in charismatic churches? Another question branches off from that one: Assuming the modernday “gift of tongues” is the same as that described in the Bible, are those practicing it following biblical instructions?
Let’s start by defining what the translators of the Bible meant to convey when they used the word “tongue” or “tongues” in respect to a spiritual gift. The first instance of the word in the King James version is in Genesis 10:5. It is translated from the Hebrew word “lashown.” The meaning is a grouping of people identified by a common spoken language. This same word was used in the same way in Genesis 10:20; 10:31; Deuteronomy 28:49 and Ezra 4:7, for example. In Revelation John uses the word “tongue” meaning “language”–or referring to people-groupings according to language–repeatedly, starting in Chapter 5 verse 9. Here it was translated from the Greek word “glossa” (from which we get the word “glossary”). This same Greek word was the source for the translation “tongue” or “tongues” used in the letters to the Corinthians and in other New Testament scripture relating to the spiritual gift.
It is plain to see that both the Hebrew and Greek words translated “tongue,” taken in context, mean “language” in the English spoken today. That is, the English tongue, as it were.
In Mark 16:17, Jesus says one of the signs accompanying His believers is speaking in new languages (tongues). Another promise Jesus gave His disciples was the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).
Now we come to Acts Chapter 2. At Pentecost, Jesus’ promise is fulfilled when the Holy Spirit filled the disciples, who then began to speak “in other tongues.”
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”–Acts 2:5-12
Truly it is amazing, and miraculous, that people from every nation heard these Galileans speaking in their own native languages. Who but the Holy Spirit could give someone the supernatural ability to speak so that people of foreign tongues could understand them, when the speakers themselves don’t know that language?
To be continued…