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What is Speaking in Tongues? A Biblical Analysis


Tongues: A Sign for Unbelievers

Biblical scholars agree that in Acts 19:1-7 and elsewhere that these verses clearly indicate that tongues were intended “to overcome unbelief” (Walvoord and Zuck 1984, 409).  They were specifically for unbelievers and to validate Paul’s message and to overcome the listener’s unbelief (Walvoord and Zuck 1984, 408, 409).

Even at the risk of offending some, this reminds me of snake handlers.  Some churches take one text out of context and make it a pretext and sadly, the worship is more centered on the gift of tongues or the handling of snakes than it is with Christ being the center of worship.  Jesus Christ should always be the center of all worship services and never any gift since Paul tells us not to exalt in any gifts of the Spirit since they come from God anyway.

Taking Text out of Context

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Here is a personal note on the gift of tongues and the twisting of scriptures.  Sadly, many denominations or churches do not take problematic scriptures and place them against all  the scriptures relating to a particular subject to discover the proper context to see whether it is biblically sound or not.  This is what is meant by “ rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15) and “ no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20). A sound principle is that if there is a problematic scripture or verse; take all the other scriptures that relate to this subject and place them all against the one scripture or scriptures to bring clarity to the subject.  If we still can not decide its meaning, then this might be God’s prerogative alone to know about and we have no business trying to inject or infer meaning when God is not clear on the subject.  If God has not plainly revealed its meaning in scripture or it is not clarified by other scripture, then this is not revelation from God intended for us and should not be taken as such.  Revelation from men is highly questionable and not like the inerrant Word which is infallible.   If God had wanted us to fully understand it, He would have revealed it. Some things that are not clear must be for Him alone to know and we have no business trying to decode such enigmatic scriptures into a meaning that we were never intended to know in the first place.

It is apparent that there is sufficient evidence about tongues that they are clearly a sign for unbelievers, Jews or otherwise.  They are also a sign that God is at work.  The earliest church historians never mention that speaking in tongues continued to occur in the church after all the apostles were gone.  Speaking in tongues is a rather recent movement in the 19th century.  I speak Spanish and I feel that some people are gifted at learning other languages.  My former pastor picked up several African languages at the time he was on mission trips.  He had a gift for it.  But it was a known language.  I can speak in “other” tongues, like English, Spanish, and even some Greek but what sounds like gibberish to those who don’t know them, it is a known language.  But these are known languages and I am not just “letting myself go”.

I have been told that I have never been “filled by the Holy Spirit” or been “truly baptized into the Holy Spirit” unless I have spoken in tongues.   That is not biblical nor should someone feel less “spiritual” if they don’t speak in tongues.   By the way, tongues are the last gift mentioned of all the gifts of the Spirit and love is over and above all other things.  In my humble opinion, charismatic’s too often take it to the extreme and belittle those who do not speak in tongues and incorrectly associate their not being filled with the Spirit when this is actually a one-time event at the moment a believer receives the Holy Spirit at conversion.  You can not have any more of the Holy Spirit, nor can you have any less of Him.  You either have the Holy Spirit or you don’t.

Sources:

1.       John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, trans., The Bible Knowledge Commentary – New Testament.  (Colorado Springs, CO.: David C Cook, Publisher, 1984).

 

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