Understanding Tongues: Was Tongues Redefined in Acts?

Tongue of Fire(Source)

I’ve previously posted on the initial definition of the apostolic sign gift of tongues (namely the gift of tongues as practiced by the apostles and the believers in their era) as it was defined in its initial occurrence in the New Testament: Acts 2:4-12.  The two terms there are dialektos and glossa, and the first term (dialektos) only occurs in the NT in the book of Acts.  Besides Acts 2:6 & 8, it appears in Acts 1:19, 21:40, 22:2 and 26:14.  One can look at those passages and clearly see that, outside of Acts 2, it’s uniformly used as a term for an earthly language.  The second term glossa is the one used for “tongues” in New Testament (outside of Acts 2:6 & 8), so as we trace that term throughout scripture, we can look at how where it appears, how it’s used, and whether or not it’s redefined from it’s usage in Acts 2:4-12 where dialektos and glossa are paralleled.  For the sake of making this a Bible Bite (and not a lengthy post), we’ll simply look at the 2 other occurrences of glossa in the book of Acts: 10:46 and 19:6:

Acts 10:46

– in Acts 10: 1-8 Cornelius (a Roman centurion described as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” – Acts 10:2) was told that “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.” (Acts 10:4b-5).  Cornelius then sent his some of his underlings to get Peter (Acts 10:7-8).

– In Acts 10:9-16, Peter had a vision (three times – Acts 10:16, the repetition of which is clearly emphatic) in which God commanded Peter to eat unclean animals, Peter objected, and God responded “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15).

– In Acts 10:17-23, as Peter was still perplexed at the meaning of the vision (Acts 10:17, 19), Cornelius’ underlings came to get Peter.  They explained why they had come (Acts 10:22) and stayed the night at Peter’s house (Acts 10:23).

– In Acts 10:23-33, Peter and several fellow believers from Joppa (Acts 10:23) went to meet Cornelius.  Cornelius had invited a large group to hear Peter (Acts 10:24, 27), and he initially worshiped Peter (Acts 10:25) but Peter would not accept it (Acts 10:26).  Peter then showed that he had finally made sense of his strange vision when he said “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” (Acts 10:28-29).  Cornelius then related the story of his prayers, the angelic messenger, and his sending for Peter (Acts 10:30-33).

– In Acts 10:34-43, Peter delivered a gospel proclamation to Cornelius and the rest of those who had gathered there.  Peter began that proclamation with a re-statement of the meaning of his vision.  Peter said “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).  Peter went on to describe the events surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 10:36-41), and closed off by saying “And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43).

One dare not miss the astonishing nature of both Peter’s preceding vision and words.  Peter is, in response to direct revelation from Yahweh, overturning thousands of years of Jewish religious tradition by announcing that the Gentiles will be partakers in the New Covenant by faith in the Christ.  Surely his companions were not exactly sure what to think of this new “divine program”…

– …So, in Acts 10:44-48, God bore direct witness to the truth of Peter’s words:

“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, ‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.”

So the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and the crowd and we notice several things:

(a).  Peter’s revelation about the worldwide offer of the gospel was verified.

(b).  The inclusion of the Gentiles into the church (and new covenant) was confirmed.

(c).  The Gentiles received the Holy Spirit with exactly the same manifestation of tongues as the Jews did.  This last point (from vs. 47) certainly seems to declare, quite clearly, that the nature of the tongues hadn’t changed since Acts 2.  It was exactly the same gift, fulfilling 2 separate purposes.

Absolutely no redefinition of tongues is found in Acts 10.

Acts 19:6

– In Acts 19:1, Paul was traveling in Ephesus and found some disciples.

– In Acts 19:2-4, Paul learned that these believers had only received John’s baptism and weren’t even aware of the giving of the Holy Spirit.  Paul told them that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance that pointed to Christ.

– In Acts 19:5-6, Paul then baptized the disciples in the name of Christ, laid his hands on them, and the Holy Spirit entered them and produced the signs of both tongues and prophesy.

So this was a relatively short and passing reference to tongues, but it seems fairly clear that there was no redefinition of the gift of tongues here (nor prophecy).  It’s also worth nothing that Acts 19 comes after Acts 18, where Paul Paul spent over a year and a half establishing the church in Corinth.  This suggests that the tongues that the Corinthians learned were identical to the tongues that were practiced in Acts 2; namely earthly languages.

Absolutely no redefinition of tongues is found in Acts 19.

Here’s one other passage where the term “tongues” does not directly appear, but is still mentioned; Acts 15:7-9.

– In Acts 15 the Jerusalem council is meeting to decide what to do with regards to the problem of the growing Gentile presence in the church as several of the Jewish Christians wanted the Gentiles to get circumcised and keep the law (Acts 15:1-6).  Then, Peter spoke up and said:

“Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” – Acts 15:7-9

– It’s worth noting that Peter’s main argument was 2 fold:

(a). God chose the Gentiles to be saved by faith (like us Jews).

(b). God bore witness to this fact by giving them the Holy Spirit “just as he did to us”.

One could argue that the “just as he did to us” was simply an outpouring that was equal in magnitude, but Acts 2 & 9 suggest that the proof of the outpouring was the confirming sign of tongues (and prophecy).

– The thing to get from this passage is that after Acts 2, the gift of tongues re-appears (amazingly rarely over the course of the 25+ years between Acts 2 and Acts 19), but in the book of Acts it is never redefined after the second chapter.

So the only other mention of tongues in the entire New Testament comes in 1 Corinthians 12-14.  The next Bible Bite I do will tackle 1 Corinthians 12 & 13, and I’ll probably spend two posts dealing with 1 Corinthians 14.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Sola Glossolalia” Unger

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3 thoughts on “Understanding Tongues: Was Tongues Redefined in Acts?

  1. Sola Glossolalia? What mockery of the Holy Spirit.

    Why should anyone listen to you if you are willing to actually mock the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? This reveals the heart. Even if you think tongues are not for today, what would justify you making fun of a Gift of the Holy Spirit?

    What is the matter with you people?

    • I’m not mocking the gifts. I’m mocking the ramifications of the doctrine of subsequence, as they are “on the street”.

      You know my heart as much as I know yours.

      Don’t listen to me, as if you showed up to give me any sort of fair hearing…

      Feel free to whoever tickles your ears. I won’t attempt to confuse you with scripture and reason.

  2. Pingback: What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely…

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