Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Gifts of the Spirit: The Gift of Tongues (part 1)

[continued from here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here]


As we look at the various Charismata, the one which people are most devided on and caused the most controversy is the Gifts of tongues. Closely related to that is of course the Interpretation of Tongues, but without the Gift of Tongues, the Gift of Interpretation is meaningless. This is of course due to the highly visible manifestation of this gift, and the fact that most times nobody can understand the words/sounds made confounds the problem.

As I have mentioned earlier, Scriptures must take priority and precedence over our experiences. This is what believing in the doctrine of the Suffciency of Scripture means practically. Therefore, especially in this highly visible manifestation, such an experience MUST be evaluated based on Scripture and Scripture alone as final authority. It is of course hard for those in the Pentecostal/Charismatic camp to do just that, because they tend to more experiential focused, though of course there are always exceptions. And yes, those in the Cessationist camp also ought to evaluate their stance according to Scripture also, for for too many 'conservatives', they evalute this doctrine based on Tradition rather than Scripture. We must be reformed and always reforming, and BOTH reformed AND always reforming too.

Now, one good reason why experience cannot guide us in this is that there are true counterfeits of this gift, as anyone who has seen Chinese temple mediums in action can attest to. In fact, I wouldn't be surpised that Satan truly gives his followers the 'Gift of Tongues' also. So even the experience and fact of true tongues does not necessarily mean that it is of God, what more can we say if they are psychologically self-induced, which is indeed another possible reason for them? Or perhaps they may be faked — after all, how hard is it to speak in gibberish, really? I myself can fake tongues.

It must be stated here that I am not implying that anyone with the appearance of the Gift of Tongues must fall into one of the categories — demon-possessed, self-willed, or faking it. Nevertheless, this goes to show that having an appearance of the Gift of Tongues, even if truly sincerely believed, proves nothing about whether they are truly the bilical Gift of Tongues. Neither does the "heavenly" circumstances surrounding the reception of this gift counts for anything. In fact, knowing that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9), why should even experiencing the Gift of Tongues itself counts in deciding whether the experience is valid?

Going over to the other side, the argument that 'It was not believed by the great men of God like the Reformers and Puritans' cuts no ice here. After all, they are not omniscient and do not claim that they are infallible. Similarly, although church history is important, it is no point trying to set up parallelism with heresies of the Montanists or the Anabaptist Zwickau Prophets. For although both groups were heretical and both shared the same view as the Charismatics regarding God speaking personally to Man among other doctrines, both of these groups do have a lot of other doctrines they believe in which are REALLY heretical. However, it is right to be extra-cautious over the Charismatic doctrines from the record of church history, but not to automatically dismiss it fiat based on it having some similarity to historically heretical sects and beliefs. (Although for those Pentecostals/Charismatics who try to argue for the Charismata from church history, these would make excellent 'examples' for them to mull over)

So what does the Scriptures mention about this gift? Well, the gift of tongues is mentioned in Acts 3 times only (Acts 2:4, 10:46, 19:6), and placed in a list together with other gifts in 1 Cor. 12:8-10, and then exposited more in 1 Cor. 13-14. In fact, from the number of times it is mentioned in Scripture, and having any bias whatsoever, it is astounding how much is made of tongues compared to the other gifts considering the comparatively few times tongues are mentioned in Scripture. Prophecy for one is mentioned many more times than tongues in the Scriptures, yet the typical Pentecostal/Charismatic focuses more on tongues than on prophecy; I've yet to hear anyone states that all Christians would be able to prophesy when they receive the "Second Baptism of the Holy Spirit", but certainly traditional Pentecostalism believes that all would be able to speak in tongues when they received the "Second Baptism".

As we engage these passages of Scripture, there are a number of questions which we should look at. The questions are with regards to what the gift of tongues specficially is, the link between Baptism in the Spirit and the gift of tongues, do all possess the gift of tongues even in apostolic times, the exercise of the biblical gifts of tongues, and the purpose of the gift of tongues. Only after we have looked at all these questions can we consider whether the gift of tongues are for today, whether they have ceased, or perhaps there is a third option which is the teaching of the Scriptures.


Ther are a few points which define this gift, which we shall look at now.

(1) The gift of tongues is the gift of speaking in another human language, not an angelic tongue

Without any disputation, the gift of tongues is the speaking in other languages, as a look at the Scriptures would show to be the case. In the first mention of tongue-speaking in Scripture, which is in the book of Acts (Acts 2), the gift of tongues caused the disciples who were gathered at Penecost to speak in other languages.

The point of contention between the Scriptures and some Pengecostals/Charismatics is whether the gift of tongues refer to speaking in non-human languages, or what is termed "angelic speech". Of course, judging that the angels in the Scripture spoke in the vernacular human languages, the angels don't seem to speak a special language as far as the Scriptures do show. God the Father Himself spoke Hebrew to Moses, while Jesus spoke Hebrew, Aramaic and perhaps Greek and Latin at the most. Now, this of course does not mean that angels do not have their own language, but whether this is so is not stated within Scripture. Therefore, since Scripture is Sufficient (2 Tim. 3:16-17), the answer is irrelevant to ressolving this issue.

At Pentecost, it can be seen that the tongues given then were human languages. The Jewish Diaspora who had came for the Feast of Weeks (Deut. 16:8-10) from many different countries, whose native languages weren't Hebrew, were amazed and bewildered when they heard the disciples praising God in their own native languages (Act. 2:6-9). Certainly, they will not act this way if they were to hear non-human languages! Acts 10 and 19 does not mention anything regarding this issue, so overall we can see that from the Scripture alone, tongues are human languages and ONLY human languages.

Appeal can probably be made to 1 Cor. 13:1 to say that the Scripture mentions angelic tongues. Not only that, Paul states that we can speak in angelic tongues, or is that truly the case? 1 Cor. 13:1 states:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Now, it can be seen that this verse is stated in the hypothetical "if-then" form (If p, then q). And this is where logical thinking would really help. The antecedent (p) in a hypothetical does not have to be possible for the hypothetical to be valid, which is a basic rule in Logic. An example of such a case would be the sentence "If I have a unicorn as my pet, ...", and most definitely that is not possible because unicorns just do not exist. The hypothetical would be true if the consequent (q) does follow from the antecedent (p), which says nothing about the possibility or truth of either the antecedent or the consequent.

Therefore, when we see Paul writes in 1 Cor. 13:1 that "If I speak in the tongues of ... angels", that does not even prove that angels speak in tongues, nevermind whether we humans can speak angelic tongues. In fact, Paul was likely using this as hyperbole, thus stating that even IF any person could reach the "ultimate level" of tongue sepaking, that would not avail themselves any good if they have not love. Verses 2 and 3 confirms that hyperbole is indeed Paul's purposes in using such metaphors, for who can say they have "understand all mysteries and all knowledge" (1 Cor. 13:2), except God that is.

As such, it can be seen that Scriptue does not support the idea of non-human, angelic tongue, and most definitely not the idea that we can speak in angelic tongues. Since we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, the fact of the Scripture remaining silent on the issue of speaking in non-human tongues shows that it is irrelevant for Christian living. Since speaking it would make it relevant for at least the speaker's Christian walk, therefore it is impossible to speak in non-human tongues (Modus Tollens). Tongues therefore are only human languages, and thus the Gift of tongues is the speaking in human languages which the individual has not learned before.

(2) The Gift of Tongues is controllable

As with all of the other gifts, the Gift of Tongues is controllable. There is no such thing as a person who cannot control himself/herself and thus cannot help it but speak in tongues. Peter in Acts 2:14-15 specifically denies that the disciples at Pentecost had lost control of themselves through drinking, and of course Peter himself stopped his tongue-speaking then to preach to the crowd. And the whole idea of being "drunk with the Spirit" is just inane. After all, Acts 2:15 does not read thus:

For these people are not drunk with wine, as you suppose, but with the Spirit.

And similarly, Eph. 5:18 does not state thus either:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be drunk with the Spirit,

But instead states:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

This is no such thing therefore as being "drunk with the Spirit", a phrase coined to attempt to cover up for example the many ridiculous antics seen in Rodney Howard Browne's "tent meetings". And just to hammer the last nail in, 1 Cor. 14:32 states that the gift of prophecy is subject (controllable) by the prophets. Similarly for tongues, the entire premise underlying Paul's discourse on the proper usage of tongues in 1 Cor. 14:1-23 is that the Gift of tongues is controllable and not spontaneous.

[3] The Gift of Tongues is not learned nor prepared for.

This need to be mentioned, for it amazes me what some charismatics I have talked to mention regarding this gift which they say they have. All those who possess the gift of tongues in the times of the Apostles DO NOT need to learn and practice their gift of tongue-speaking until perfect. They do not need to be taught how to "open their mouths, let your tongue hang loose, try speaking in tongues" or utilize such techniques to gain the gift of tongues. Neither did they need to practice their tongue-sepaking (in private most probably) until it 'sounds better'. Rather, when they receive the gift, they utilize it perfectly and immediately, without any coercion and preparation whatsoever! At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and immediately they spontaneously spoke in tongues. No practice seen here and they weren't asking for the tongue-speaking in the first place either! Ditto for the case of Cornelius (Acts 10) and John's disciples (Acts 19). In fact, if you must learn or practice your tongue-speaking, it is most defnitely not a true gift of the Spirit as defined in the Scriptures and is most probably just psychological adaptation.

Thus, we can see that the Gift of tongues is the gift of speaking in human languages as the Spirit gives utterance, that it is controllable and that it is not learned nor prepared for. With that, let us continue to see whether the gift is as ubiquitous in the apostolic church as the Pentecostals would have us believe.

[to be continued]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good intro! Looking forward to reading the rest of the series on tongues.