Today’s blog is the final in a series that I’ve called, “The Anatomy of the Biblical Church”. The intent of this series has been to look at what the Bible reveals as normal, biblical operation of the Holy Spirit within the modern day or “any day” church.
We understand that within the great family of God there are disagreements as to what the Bible is saying about the norm regarding the operation of the Holy Spirit in church. Now, I would say that the vast majority of the family of God believes that the Holy Spirit is the agent of change, power, sanctification, and ministry within the Body of Christ. But, how the Spirit does that work is the source of some disagreement among Christians.
We’ve looked at some of these disagreements from a biblical standpoint. We’ve studied the existence of miracles, the question as to whether apostles and prophets exist in the modern day church – and now, we will study the disagreement over the use and existence of tongues in today’s church.
Those in the Body of Christ who do not believe in the modern day existence and use of tongues believe that way primarily because of the prophecy found in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13:
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
In previous blogs, we have looked at this scripture from several angles. There is no doubt that this scripture is speaking of a day when tongues, along with prophecy, and knowledge will no longer be needed. These will not be needed when the “perfect” is come. Many of our family members believe that the “perfect” spoken of here is the revelation that has become canonized and is our Bible. For reasons I don’t have time to go back through today, it doesn’t appear that the “perfect” being spoken of here is a recognized and gathered revelation but the fulfillment found when we stand before the Lord Himself. For more on why I say this, you can check out the prior blogs in this series.
The best way to address the issue regarding tongues is to return to the day in which this gift first appeared.
Let’s join the crowd that is witnessing this phenomenon on the first Pentecost Sunday. As the Holy Spirit fell that day, there was a miracle happening in three realms: the hearing, the seeing, and the speaking.
First, the believers in the room heard a sound that was like a gale force wind, so there was a revelation in the realm of hearing. Secondly, there appeared to them fire which divided and sat upon each one of them. This is a revelation in the seeing realm. Then, they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. This was a revelation in the speaking realm.
A crowd heard the sound and gathered together to see what was happening. Apparently, the crowd didn’t see the fire – the revelation in the seeing realm was hidden from them. It doesn’t appear that they heard the wind either. So, the fire and the wind are not known by bystanders – they are only known by the filled. But, upon gathering, the crowd does witness the miracle in the speaking realm.
The bystanders marvel because each one of them hears those filled speaking in the bystanders native tongue – there are sixteen different dialects listed as being spoken.
These bystanders hear the believers speaking the wonderful works of God, so it doesn’t appear that the filled gave a short speech. The bystanders are amazed and perplexed because everyone filled in the room is a Galilean – they speak Aramaic or Hebrew, not the dialects they are hearing.
Let me ask you some questions:
How many believers are in this room being filled with the Spirit? There were 120 when Peter moved for someone to replace Judas. How big is the house they are in? Are the bystanders standing outside or are they in the house with the believers? Here’s what I’m getting at:
If these believers are speaking in languages that were native to the bystanders that the believers had never learned –
How did this work?
No wonder the bystanders were amazed and perplexed! How did a guy standing at one place hear the dude way across the room speak in his native language when it appears everyone was speaking at the same time? If they weren’t speaking at the same time, the sound wouldn’t have been loud enough to hear from outside the house! I can imagine one bystander saying, “Hey, these Galileans are speaking in Arabic!” The bystander next to him says, “No they aren’t, they are speaking in Swahili!”
Were they all speaking in a different known language?
Maybe…..but how did each bystander hear a speech about the works of God clearly while possibly as many as 120 people are speaking at the same time in differing dialects! There had to be some type of miracle in the hearing no matter what you believe!
The Greek word used here for tongues/language is the word:
Glossolalia: “tongues” or “languages”
If the believers were speaking in languages that are common to specific people groups that they didn’t naturally learn, why didn’t the writer of Acts use the word:
Xenoglossia: an ability to speak a language in which you are unfamiliar
Some believe that every instance of speaking in tongues found in Scripture reveals the believers speaking in a known language or a “xenoglossia” phenomenon.
Don’t see how that can be the case when no interpreter is needed on the day of Pentecost, yet Paul says an interpreter must be present in the use of tongues in the corporate service. When God puts such a premium on understanding in the corporate worship gathering (1 Corinthians 14:12-13), why would He speak German or English or Arabic in Corinth where they speak Greek? That’s not the biblical pattern in Acts 2 or the teaching emphasis of the apostles.
I believe that the use of tongues as a spiritual gift has not ceased. We’ve discussed 1 Corinthians 13:8. Now, look at how Peter explained what the bystanders where hearing on that first Pentecost morning:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour our of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit i those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Acts 2:17-21
No distinction is made concerning these last days events, but some have happened and some are yet to happen. How many believe we are in the last days? Tongues are as much of a last day event as the rest of the cataclysmic events mentioned and no conclusive biblical evidence exists to prove otherwise.