Kingdom.14 Speaking in tongues. (con’t)

May 8, 2008 at 1:26 pm 3 comments

With a desire to be faithful to the whole of the Biblical text related to the sign gift of “speaking in tongues” I am attempting to look at most every mention of the subject in the Scriptures.  Unfortunately, this subject remains almost as controversial and polarizing in the Family as it ever has been, and I am painfully aware that what I do here will not change many minds on this subject.  However for those who seek a balanced Biblical discussion of the subject, I think you will find it here.  In Kingdom.13 I used eight verses from Acts and 1Corinthians, with brief commentary and I will do 13 more verses from 1Corinthians in this post.  In a later posting I will try to write why I think speaking in tongues matters in the advancing of the Kingdom.

If you have not been reading these Kingdom posts you may benefit from the whole of the argument presented in the entire series.  You will find the archives for this series here.

9. 1Corinthians 13:1: If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Whether one speaks in a known language or in the language of angels, (which I assume is a reference to speaking in tongues) and does so in an unloving way it is a waste of good air. This is not an injunction against speaking in an unknown language any more than it is an injunction against speaking in a known language. It is a simple statement that says, when you speak let it be covered in love.

10. 1Corinthians 13:8: Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

So much of the cessessionist argument falls and rises on this verse and the way they interpret the meaning of “perfect”.  Those who believe the gifts have ceased, of course, think “the perfect” is a reference to the closing of the “canon,”  that is the completion of the list of 66 books that comprise the Scriptures as we know them.  That has always been a huge reach for me.  Would it not make more sense to see the “perfect” or “perfection” as a reference to Jesus and His return to rule and reign on the earth?  That seems more consistent with the other gifts mentioned in this verse and with the context of the entire section?   Consistency in interpretation would require knowledge and prophesy to cease as well, which seems silly since Paul later in this chapter encourages everyone to prophesy. 

I don’t disagree that tongues is a temporary gift, needed only under the imperfect conditions, prevalent on earth today. This also explains why Jesus never needed the gift of tongues (an argument used against speaking in tongues) since His mind was perfectly pure and because He lived in perfect communion with His Father at all times.  I am not Jesus and I need a lot of help to stay in full time intimacy with my Father.

11. 1Corinthians 14:2: One who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.

Those who seek to make a case for the ceasing of tongues often say that there is no need to speak with words people cannot understand.  That makes sense in this context.  When you are talking to people, don’t speak with the tongues of angels.  But are we not to speak to God?  I would suggest that tongues is a higher form of communication than any human language, since it is a language the Father has designed so we can be intimate with Him and only Him.

12. 1Corinthians 14:4: One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself…

This verse is another used to suggest tongues is no longer needed because it is a sin to edify oneself.  But that is not the point here.  This is not an issue of pride or self edification in an improper or public way.  The gift of tongues enables a believer to build himself up spiritually, which seems to me to be a good thing.  It doesn’t negate the need to build each other up, it is simply another means for us to grow up into Christ, which is the goal.

13. 1Corinthians 14:5: I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what shall it profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?

Is the Apostle Paul’s wishing that all could or would speak in tongues an indication that this is a gift that not every one receives? Since I do not believe that speaking in tongues is the one and only, sign of having received the Holy Spirit, it must follow that all do not receive this gift.  But at the same time Paul’s desire for all to experience this blessing makes me think it is a normative experience for most, maybe even all.  (See Kingdom.12 for a fuller treatment of the place experience plays in the coming in fullness of the Spirit)

14. 1Corinthians 14:9,13: Unless you speak with the tongue speech that is clear (understandable), how will anyone know what you are saying?…Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.

In 1Corinthians 12-14 there are at least two “kinds” of tongues speaking going on.  Speaking an unknown language as part of an intimate communication with the Father and secondly a way to speak prophetically to an assembly of people when the unknown language is interpreted.  This is not an injunction against speaking in tongues privately where there is obviously no interpreter, it is instruction related to the use of tongues in a group.

15. 1Corinthians. 14:14: If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind. I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind.

Here we have the use of a prayer language (praying with the Spirit-tongues) along side praying in a way that can be understand by all who hear (praying with the mind). When praying and or singing in tongues, a person cannot understand what he is praying/singing but the Apostle is not negating the practice, in fact he encourages it.

16. 1Corinthians 14:18: I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all.

Paul was thankful to God for this gift. Apparently the Apostle was grateful he could speak in tongues so it seems fair to assume, since he is so grateful, he must have used the prayer language often and dirived benefit from it.  So, why would we be less blessed?

17. 1Corinthians 14:19: However, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.

No one doubts that using a language that people readily understand, while instructing a group is the best method, but the Apostle is not telling us to refrain from speaking in an unknown language.  He is making a point: don’t confuse people by using your prayer language to teach people but in this context he is also saying, use your prayer language to increase intimacy with your Father.

18. 1Corinthians 14:22: Tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers…

The day of Pentecost is the classic example of tongues being a sign to unbelievers.  The disciples break out in tongues because they had just received the Holy Spirit and these folks from all over the world heard them exalting God in a language the hearers understood.  The disciples couldn’t understand it but the ones listening sure could and they were drawn to Jesus because of it.  That is what the verse says.  What it doesn’t say, though many try to make it so, is that it is only a sign for unbelievers.

19. 1Corinthians 14:23: If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and some who do not understand or do not believe enter, will they not say that you are mad?

I can’t imagine being in, much less desiring to be in a setting where a bunch of people go off, speaking randomly and boisterously in tongues.  I’m a believer and I would think the place was full of nuts, so one who is yet to believe would really be blown up by it.  The apostle Paul seems to be reaffirming what he said earlier; don’t use the gift in a public place in a disruptive way, isn’t that why he puts some rules on the public use of tongues?  But don’t “throw the baby out with the bath water”.  Just because some misuse the gift it is no reason to not be blessed and edified by it yourself.

20. 1Corinthians 14:26, 27: What is the conclusion then, people? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and let one interpret;

Here are the rules, use them! Not more than two or three should speak in tongues in a meeting of the church (that is don’t dominate gatherings of the Family with the use of this one gift), and when there is a “tongue” then wait for the interpretation.  By the way interpretation is not the same as translation. Translation is “word for word” while interpretation is “expressing the thought or idea in ones own words”.

21. 1Corinthians 14:39: Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.

This conclusion of the Apostle Paul seems pretty clear. We are not to forbid the exercise of the gift of tongues, but if you are desiring a gift, seek for the gift of prophecy more than for the gift of tongues.  Why?  Because the gift of prophesy benefits others and most of 1Corinthians is instruction about what to do and not do when gathering together. But Paul also clearly says, don’t forbid the gift of tongues! 

When you study the plain and simple meaning of these verses it is difficult to make a case that tongues, or any of the other sign gifts, have ceased.  The most honest argument against the gift is probably I am uncomfortable with the whole idea, so I am not going to do it or be around it.  At least it’s honest even if it makes no sense, given the massive argument the Apostle Paul makes, for the value and joy derived from the use of the gift(s).

These 21 statements are the bulk of the Biblical teaching about the manifestation gifts and in particular the gift of tongues.  I am confident that the gift is for today, has value for the believer and is necessary for Kingdom advancement.  It seems foolish to try and make something go away through “interpretive gymnastics” that is intended to enhance and advance the Kingdom of God and Its citizens.


Entry filed under: Authority, Belief, Charismatic, Christianity, Church, Faith, Holy Spirit, Institutional church, Jesus, King Jesus, Kingdom, Kingdom Gospel, Kingdom Life, Miracles, Prayer, Revelation, Supernatural, The Father, Theology, Thoughts.

Kingdom.13 Speaking in tongues. Monday morning meanderings. Vol.44

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  May 9, 2008 at 11:19 am

    The following was sent by email from my friend Dennis. I asked him if I could post his comments here.


    Just read your latest: good stuff- some comments:

    1. You nailed it – love is the foundation of everything. I call it a hotdog with no meat:
    1 Cor. 12 with no 13 plus 14.
    Love is the substance.

    2. 1 Cor, 13:8 some make the argument that perfection here could not
    refer to the Scripture because of gender in the Greek.
    What do you think?

    3. 14:4 Contemporary version – He that speaks in an unknown tongue charges his own battery. Gives an interesting meaning to Jude 20 bulid up your most holy faith
    praying in the Spirit. Eph. 6:18 praying always with all prayer and suppilcation in the Spirit as part of the armour. Rom. 8:26-27 The Spirit helps my infirmities, lack of results, weakness by praying through me.

    4. 14:18 Paul told a a bunch of tongue talkers he prayed more than all of them. Was he bragging or did he really mean it? Did the fact that he endured through terrible things and wrote a great deal of our N.T. have anything to do with his prayer life in the Spirit and in the understandable language?

    5. 14:22-23 tongues for unbelievers, think you are mad?
    In other countries most people, believer or not, just think you are speaking in another foreign language!
    My experience – unbelievers are often more curious than freaked out about tongues. The most offended: evangelicals and fighting fundies. Everything we
    do is suspect.

    6. 14:27-33 I don’t think Paul would limit tongues or prophecy to a certain number. He was attempting to bring order. Why would he say “that all may prophesy one by one”

    Your Friend, Dennis

  • 2. Doug Wright  |  May 9, 2008 at 7:44 am

    I have earnestly sought what God has for me and feel somewhat frustrated that tongues have never been one of the blessings. Frustration is not from the father however because He instructs us, as human parents, to not frustrate our own earthly children. Instead it seems that God has other gifts for me at this time.
    There is always concern that the way we were taught will influence our present. I pray for release of the past and Gods will in the present and future.

  • 3. The Seeking Disciple  |  May 8, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Good job presenting biblical arguments for speaking in tongues and prophecy. Too often this debate gets buried in the midst of personal feelings and experience rather than the inspired Scriptures.

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