Today I’m going to be posting up the first half of my notes from the third talk I gave at the Last Days Bible Conference. That talk was about a biblical understanding of tongues, healing and prophecy. Much of the content was already available on this blog, but some of it was found in other things I’ve written (that aren’t online) or was original (or spontaneous). My main objective in addressing the subject was to try to give, from the Bible, a definition of tongues, healing and prophecy as practice by Christ, the prophets and apostles. There are always innumerable questions regarding these things, but a majority of them are adequately addressed by dealing with the issue on a definitional level.
The questions are always phrased: “well, such-and-such occurred, so how does your definition explain that?”
The proper question should always be: “The Bible says this is the definition of what we’re discussing, so how does such-and-such measure up against the Bible?”
Probably 90% of the questions on these subject come into existence because people assume a wrong definition (that conveniently fits their expectations or experience) and then twist the biblical data to conform to their assumed definition.
Today, I’m sharing my notes (with a bit of commentary) on the subject of tongues.
Here we go!
The definition of tongues can be built in walking through every occurrence of glossa (the Greek term for “tongues”) in the book of Acts.
1. Acts 2:4-12
– vs. 4 tells us that the speaking in tongues (though we don’t know what that means yet) was a work of the Spirit; the Spirit was the one doing the speaking through them.
– vs. 5 tells us that the audience who heard the tongues was composed exclusively of Jews who were devout and from all throughout the nations.
– vs. 6 tells us that as these devout Jews heard the sound of the “speaking in other tongues”, they went to it. When they got there, they were bewildered. Why?
– Each individual Jew heard someone speaking in his own language (the Greek here is dialektos, meaning “dialect”.
– This isn’t just a generic language, but a regional dialect.
– The Spirit not only made the tongues-speakers speak another language; he made them speak it like a local.
– vs. 7-8 tell us that these Jews (from all over) who heard their own regional dialect were astonished because they knew that the people speaking to them were all from one distinct local area: Galilee.
– These Jews (from all over) all expanded their statement of wonder when they said to one another “how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” The Greek here actually says “in our own dialect, (the one) into which we were born?”
– Some say that tongues was a gift of hearing, but that’s wrong. Tongues was a gift of speaking.
-These Jews could talk to one another about the matter since they were at least functionally bilingual, if not trilingual (as most people had to be back then).
– They all heard the tongues speakers speaking (what seemed to be) gibberish, but as they talked with one another they realized that the gibberish was the individual languages of the people standing around them.
– If tongues were a gift of hearing, they would have each heard only one Galilean speaking in their own dialect and the rest of them would have sounded like they were speaking Galilean. Nobody would have thought people talking normally were drunk.
– In case someone would suggest that each listener heard every tongues speaker speaking in their own dialect, again nobody would have thought people talking normally (in their dialect) were drunk.
– vs. 9-11 tells us where all these Jews (from all over) were from, and it tells what exactly they were hearing: “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God”.
– The phrase “mighty works” carries the idea of “great things”, meaning these tongues speakers were talking about all the great things that God had done (though the text doesn’t say what these “mighty works” were…but these Galileans weren’t preaching the gospel. That came from Peter a few verses later).
– It’s also worth noting that in vs. 7-8 the listeners refer to “dialects” (the Greek being dialektos) and in vs. 11 they now refer to “tongues (the Greek being glossa). There’s no hint that they’re using the two terms in anything but a synonymous way.
– vs. 12 tells us (again) that they were “amazed”, but then also says that they were “perplexed” (the Greek being diaporeo, meaning “entirely at a loss”).
– Flowing from their perplexity, they asked each other “what does this mean”? They recognized it as a divine sign, but they didn’t know what the sign meant (i.e. what it was pointing to).
– In vs. 13, some of the listeners propose an answer to the question of meaning: these Galileans are drunk.
– In vs. 14-36, Peter proposes another answer to the question of meaning: this is the fulfillment of prophecy before your eyes and divine attestation to the fact that Jesus Christ, the one whom you crucified, was the messiah!
Now, this leads to a few questions.
Now in Acts 2, is there any idea of ecstatic speech?
Was there any idea of a private prayer language?
Was their even a missionary gift that involved preaching the gospel in an unknown language to foreigners?
No. The gospel came from Peter preaching, not the tongues speaking.
– People may want to argue that the “mighty works of God” was the gospel, but that begs the question as to why Peter needed to then re-state the gospel.
– If the tongues speakers preached the gospel, why did the Holy Spirit not cut the listeners to the heart (as mentioned in vs. 37) the first time?
– Why did it take him two tries to convict the audience?
Acts 2 tells me, repeatedly, that tongues were distinct and real earthly languages.
Acts 2 gives me no reason to suspect that there was ecstatic speech, a private prayer language, or even a missionary gift of tongues that involved miraculously preaching the gospel in a language previously unknown. So the question then becomes “when was tongues redefined?” or maybe “when was the definition of tongues expanded to include those other things?”
Besides Acts 2:6 & 8, the term “dialect” appears in Acts 1:19, 21:40, 22:2 and 26:14. In each of those passages the term is uniformly used to refer to an earthly language.
Let’s look at the 2 other occurrences of glossa in the book of Acts: 10:46 and 19:6:
2. Acts 10:36 .
– In Acts 10:9-16 has Peter’s three visions of the unclean animals where God says “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15).
– In Acts 10:17-23 Peter is perplexed at the meaning of the vision and Cornelius’ servants came to get Peter.
– In Acts 10:23-33, Peter and several fellow believers meet Cornelius. Cornelius invites a large group to hear Peter and Peter finally makes sense of his strange vision: “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 relates the story of how he came to summon 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 and closed off with showing that the visions revealed the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church. Peter says that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43).
– This is a massive change. 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 this New Covenant by faith in the Christ. This massive change would be difficult for his companions to believe…
…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). The inclusion of the Gentiles into the church (and new covenant) was confirmed.
(b). 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 manifestation of the spirit that the apostles themselves received, fulfilling a separate purpose.
If there’s any doubt, Peter himself says this in Acts 11:1-18 when he reports the events to the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 11:15, Peter says “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.”
Peter says something similar in Acts 15:7-9:
“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.”
– 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” without making any distinction.
The manifestation of the Spirit was identical, hence their salvation was identical.
There is absolutely no redefinition of tongues is found in Acts 10.
It’s the exact same gift as was in Acts 2.
3. 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.
– 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.
It’s also worth nothing two things:
a. Acts 19 comes after Acts 18 (and 25+ years after Acts 2), where Paul spent over a year and a half establishing the church in Corinth.
b. Acts was written after 1 Corinthians was written. Acts covers the entire missionary career of Paul. It presents a more mature, post-Pauline perspective (post letters, not death) on the church than is presented in the book of 1 Corinthians.
This suggests that the tongues that the Corinthians learned were identical to the tongues that were practiced in Acts 2 & 10; namely earthly languages.
Absolutely no redefinition of tongues is found in Acts 19.
Every time tongues appears after Acts 2, it’s the same as it was in Acts 2.
If we had time, we could get into 1 Corinthians 12-14, but we don’t have the time and it’s somewhat unnecessary. If the definition of tongues in consistent throughout the book of Acts, including after Paul’s establishing of the church in Corinth, you’re faced with two questions:
a. When did the definition change?
b. If it didn’t change, where are the modern manifestations of tongues that fit the definition in Acts?
***Explanation for those who listen to the audio***
In the conference, I made a statement about being a “Leaky Cessationist” since someone challenged me about how the idea of Cessationism involves some form of Cartesian certainty (meaning, 100% with no possibility, however microscopic, of doubt). Does the bible clearly state that tongues, as defined in Scripture, have ceased forever, never once occurring after the death of the last apostle? No. Of course not. The Bible gives me good exegetical reasons to suspect such is the case, but there I don’t technically have 100% certainty. I have 99.9% certainty, so the technically appropriate statement about the Cessation of Tongues is:
“Tongues haven’t ceased, they’re just not around anymore since the majority of the ‘manifestations’ that claim to be tongues aren’t anywhere close to fitting the biblical definition of ‘tongues’ and every modern claim I’ve encountered is demonstrably fraudulent.”
Could it technically be that somewhere in church history, out in Africa (it’s always Africa, right?), there has been an authentic instance of tongues?
Yes. It’s possible.
But generally speaking, is the activity that claims to be “tongues” that we see everywhere actually the same “tongues” as occurred in the Bible?
I’m talking about the non-English speaking and singing that you hear coming out of Heidi Baker’s mouth (and out of the crowd) between 3:30 and 9:30 on this video:
There is no way that is what the Bible calls “tongues”. Not for a second.
I’ve never heard anything other than that, and all stories I’ve ever heard of that refer to “missionary tongues” (where someone, by the power of the Holy Spirit, spontaneously speaks an earthly language that they previously didn’t know) are just that; stories. I’ve never met a single person who has personally witnessed an incident of xenolalia (tongues that are earthly languages). Every account I’ve ever encountered has been at least second hand; the original witness either couldn’t be found or, when contacted, wasn’t actually sure about what happened.
Now that we’ve got that straightened out, I’ll wrap up this post before it gets too long!
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Tongues of Mennos and Angels” Unger