Friday, March 21, 2008

The Gifts of the Spirit: The Gift of Tongues (part 2)

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


Historic Pentecostalism and many modern Charismatics, especially those in non-Western parts of the world, (though not the Reformed Charismatic movement — really, can they get for themselves a better name to describe their position!?) link their doctrine of the Baptism of the Spirit to the Gift of Tongues. However, such a position is untenable. Even in the narrative book of Acts which is the "holy grail" of Charismatism, not all desciption of 'Spirit baptism' are accompanied with the speaking of tongues, most significantly the Samaritan revival in Acts 8:4-17. At Pentecost too, it can be seen that the 3000 who believed after Peter's sermon (Acts. 2:41) were promised Spirit baptism, yet it was never stated that they spoke in tongues, surely an ommission of great significance since these were the earliest converts straight after Pentecost; after all Acts 2:42 can always be written:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, and the speaking of tongues. (Bold part added)

But of course, that wasn't the case at all, showing that the speaking of tongues was not deemed to have such a significance as how the Pentecostals deemed it.

An objection might be raised as to the case of the Apostle Paul himself, who is in Acts 9:17-18 mentioned as being baptized and promised the infilling of the Spirit. Yet in Acts it was not stated that he has received the gift of tongues at all, yet we do know from 1 Cor. 14:18 that he spoke in tongues, even frequently. So therefore, since the mere absence of being given the Gift of Tongue in Acts does not necessarily mean that the person was not given the Gift of Tongues, does it therefore mean that absence of mention of the Gift of Tongues in Scripture does not necessarily mean that the Gift was not given? Yes. But it is a non-sequitur fallacy to say that therefore the absence of mention of the the Gift of Tongues means that the Gift of Tongues is indeed given. What it does say is that the absence of mentioning of the Gift of Tongues means that the Scripture in such instances is silent on whether the Gift of Tongues is given or not, and that's it. To infer anything else is fallacious and unbiblical.

With all of this being said, we can see that there does not seem to be a link between Spirit baptism and the Gift of Tongues. The narrative does not state so and is in fact overwhelmingly negative towards such a linkage, though it could be the case (cf Paul's case in Acts 9 and 1 Cor. 14:18).

As we look at the didactic passages of Scripture, it can immediately be seen that such a linkage is denied. For if there is such a linkage, then all believers who are Spirit baptized should be able to speak in tongues, but as we will see, such is not the case. And to this topic we turn to: The distribution of the Gift of Tongues in the Apostolic Age.


The distribution of the gift of tongues in apostolic times can be easily seen within the pages of Scripture, if we but take them at face value. The non-narrative teachings of Paul in 1 Cor. 12: 4-11 has already estalished that the various charismata are NOT given to all but to those whom the Spirit pleases to give. Verse 30 by the use of rhetoric denies the fact that all believers do speak in tongues, and those who claim otherwise are making nonsense of the entire flow of Paul's arguments here. Appeal to the Acts narrative proves nothing here, for there are only 3 circumstances whereby the Gift of Tongues is mentioned, and it is not mentioned in other instances of Spirit baptism (and infilling too cf Acts 4:31)

We can therefore see that the Gift of Tongues are not given to every believer even in Apostolic times. Therefore, there is no link between Spirit baptism (regeneration and conversion) and the Gift of Tongues, or any of the various gifts for that matter. Those who therefore emphasize on the Gift of Tongues as if that define whether someone is baptized by the Holy Spirit or not is therefore is serious error.


Paul in 1 Cor. 12-14 has many instructions on how to exercise the biblical Gift of Tongues, for those who have it of course. Writing to the Church at Corinth, a severely immature church (1 Cor. 3:2), Paul had to patiently teach them a lot of the basics of the Christian life, including how to use the gifts they were given. Apparently, the Corinthian Christians were behaving like a lot of the Pentecostals/Charismatics who use their supposed Gift of Tongues in public and without interpretation, and as a mark of spiritual pride and a source of boasting.

In 1 Cor. 12, Paul started the entire topic of spiritual gifts by reminding the Corinthian Christians that God gave them all for the common good (v. 7), and no gift is superior to another. He then follows up using the analogy of the body to show that no one part is superior to the other. Although we normally use this to show that each part of the Body of Christ need each other, the original context is in the manner of the spiritual gifts and Paul's intention is to tell the Corinthian Christians that because each part of the body needs each other, therefore they have no right to look down on others because they have an "inferior" gift as opposed to their "superior" gifts. All gifts therefore are equal before God, and therefore the Pentecostal/Charismatic infaturation with the Gift of Tongues and the more visible Gifts like healing and miracles is rebuked by Paul. After all, I don't think I have heard anyone emphasizing the goodness of the Gift of Service, Exhortation or Acts of Mercy the way these people do! And no, it is not right to swing to the other extreme of praising these gifts even IF the perception that they were neglected in the past is correct; Paul certainly did not argue that way — Paul did not ask them to cease speaking tongues just because the Corinthian Christians were abusing the Gift of Tongues (1 Cor. 14:39)

In 1 Cor. 13, of which we will look at in more detail later, Paul continued to remind the Corinthian Christians that they should focus on love, and faith and hope too. In other words, Paul is hereby pointing them to the first principles of Christian living, which is not to focus on the gifts to serve themselves but on the Christian walk we are supposed to live. In Paul's own words, 'If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.' (1 Cor. 13:1). Therefore, Paul's main emphasis is to refocus their priorities and not to focus on the gifts which are temporary (who need the Gift of Tongues in heaven anyway, or prophecy, or healing?), but on the life they are called to walk in Christ Jesus.

1 Cor. 14 gives us the most practical advice as to the speaking of tongues. Those who can speak in tongues are told that they should do so only if there is interpretation (v. 28) so as to achieve the intended purpose of edifying the church of God (v. 5). They should pray for the power to interpret also (v. 13), otherwise they are to keep silent and not talk. They should also not pray in tongues in public, for how can anyone else therefore say Amen to such a prayer (v. 16)? Paul further states that there shouldn't be a case whereby all speak in tongues at the same time (v. 23). Although in general Paul forbade any prohibition against speaking in tongues (v. 39), Paul regulates the speaking of tongues such that if the conditions do not present themselves, those who speak in tongues should not speak in tongues in public but rather do so privately. Above all, everything should be done decently and in order (v. 40).

As it can be seen, most of these rules and injunctions have been broken by many within the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. I have personally been to a meeting whereby the pastor decided that he should in the middle of a prayer switch to tongues, and how does he expect anyone to say Amen to such a prayer is beyond me! Similarly, how does one justify the madness of having a "tongue speaking seasion" during the service whereby the pastor just tells everbody to start praising and praying in tongues, and obviously everybody there seems have their own unique tongue so there are as many tongues as there are people, all being spoken aloud at the same time? And yes, I have been to such meetings, and it was terrible! Even if the tongues were real, there is no excuse whatsoever for such unsciptural, unruly and highly inappropriate behavior and the Apostle Paul would be horrified even if they were real tongues.

Having looked at this, let us continue to consider the question of the purpose of the Gift of Tongues.

[to be continued]

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