Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What Was Tongues?

Nathan Busenitz @ continues with his series on the Charismatic gifts. He notes:

By Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872)


1. The What Question: [The “what” question refers to what the gifts were as described in the New Testament. It differs from the “when” question, which refers to when the gifts ceased in church history.]

[Contention:] The miraculous gifts of the Spirit as described in 1 Corinthians 12–14 are the same in kind as the miraculous phenomena displayed in the book of Acts.


A. The Charismatic Definition:

B. The Cessationist Response:

I want to take just a moment to respond to the idea that the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 is somehow qualitatively different than in Acts or even than in 1 Corinthians 12.

The Miraculous Sign of Tongues Described in Acts

In summary:
"The biblical evidence (from the correlating observations above) supports the conclusion that the gift of tongues described in 1-2 Corinthians consists of the same phenomenon as the miraculous sign of tongues depicted in Acts.

Added to this is the fact that Luke (the author of Acts) was a close associate of Paul (the writer of 1 Corinthians). Moreover, the book of Acts was probably written after the epistle to the 1 Corinthians. It is unlikely, then, that Luke would have used the exact same terminology as Paul if he understood there to be an essential difference between the two (especially since such could lead to even greater confusion about the gifts–a confusion which plagued the Corinthian church)".

But what about 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 … are there two different gifts discussed in these chapters?

In summery: "Contextually, chapters 12–14 form one unit within the first epistle to the Corinthians. It is difficult to imagine that Paul would use the same terminology in the same context to refer to two categorically different phenomena".

What’s the point of all this?

Simply to make the case for the following:

1) The manifestation of tongues in Acts 2 was clearly the ability of the apostles to speak in authentic foreign languages which they previously had not learned.

2) The manifestation of tongues in Acts 10 (and by implication Acts 19) is said, by Peter, to have been the same as what occurred in Acts 2.

3) The exegetical and historical evidence indicates that the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians consisted of the same phenomena as that described in Acts. (As we will see.)

4) The exegetical and contextual evidence further indicates that, at least in its essence (or nature), there is only one gift of tongues being described in 1 Corinthians 12–14.

5) Thus, I conclude that the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12–14 was (as in Acts 2) the ability of select believers to speak in authentic foreign languages which they previously had not learned. To assert that the gift in 1 Corinthians 14 is something categorically other than that (as in a non-rational spiritual prayer “language” which can be learned, and should be sought by every believer) is exegetically and contextually untenable.

6) Because the purpose was to edify the body—a purpose which, in order to be fulfilled, demanded that the foreign language be translated so that those in the congregation could understand it, Paul emphasizes the importance of interpretation (translation) in 1 Corinthians 14.

In part two @ Nathan Busenitz continues: his
Azusa Street Headline

Additional Thoughts Regarding Tongues:

1. The gift of tongues is closely associated with evangelism [in the NT]. It authenticates the message of the evangelist (Mark 16:17, 20; Acts 2; 1 Cor. 14:20–22; cf. Heb. 2:2–3). According to Acts, the content of tongue-speech was “the mighty deeds of God.”

2. The gift of tongues consisted of authentic foreign languages which the speaker had not previously learned (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4, 8–11). According to Acts 10:47 and 11:17, the tongues of Acts 10 were the same as the tongues of Acts 2. By implication, the tongues of Acts 19 are also the same.

3. 1 Corinthians 12:8–11 and 27–31 make it unmistakably clear that not everyone is given the gift of tongues (cf. 14:26). (Note that there is no contextual or grammatical warrant for seeing 1 Cor. 12 as one type of tongues [that only a few receive] and 1 Cor. 14 as a different type [that everyone is to receive]. Paul’s statement in 14:5 [“Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues”] is almost identical to his earlier statement in 7:7 regarding singleness [“Yet I wish that all men were even as myself”]. Thus, Paul’s wish does not indicate that which is possible, and in fact makes it clear that not everyone in the Corinthian congregation actually did speak in tongues. Moreover, in the verse, Paul is actually emphasizing the priority of prophecy over tongues. He is not promoting tongues, in the context, but rather prophecy.)

4. The “tongues of angels” in 1 Corinthians 13:1 is probably hyperbolic in keeping with the context. Paul seems to be using hyperbole here (as his subsequent examples make clear). It may even be a figure of speech meaning, “to speak very eloquently.” Even if it is taken literally, there are two things to consider: (1) It is the exception and not the rule (as evidenced by the rest of the NT teaching on tongues and as evidenced by Paul’s hyperbolic list); (2) Every time angels spoke in the Bible they spoke in a real language that people could understand (cf. Gen. 19; Exod. 33; Joshua 5; Judges 13) (cf. Geisler, Signs and Wonders, 166).

5. Paul makes it clear that the gift of tongues was never intended to be the hallmark of the church or its most prestigious spiritual gift. Rather, the gift of prophecy is preferable because it does not require interpretation or translation in order to edify the church (1 Cor. 14:1–5)

6. Paul’s defines what he means by speaking to God and not to men when he says that “no one understands” (v. 2). This would be true of a foreign language which someone spoke but no one else in the congregation knew. They would not be edified because they would not understand what was being said.

7. Geisler, Signs and Wonders, 167: “The fact that the tongues of which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians could be ‘interpreted’ shows that it was a meaningful language. Otherwise it would not be an ‘interpretation’ but a creation of the meaning. So the gift of ‘interpretation’ (1 Corinthians 12:30; 14:5, 13) supports the fact that tongues were a real language that could be translated for the benefit of all by this special gift of interpretation.”

8. The purpose of the gifts (within the church) is to edify the body (12:7; the whole point of “love” overrides the gifts in chp. 13; cf. 1 Pet. 4:10–11). The intended use of tongues, therefore, is when the gift is interpreted (translated) so that fellow believers are edified. Tongues (languages) that are not interpreted (translated) do not profit the body because the message cannot be understood (14:6–11). The intended use of the gifts is the edification of the church (v. 12). Tongues that are not interpreted do not edify the church (and are therefore do not fulfill their intended purpose). (The private use of tongues is not ideal since the ideal usage edifies others—c.f 14:12–19)

9. The context implies that Paul’s prayer in 14:14–15 is a public prayer, not a private prayer, since the entire discussion regards the use of the gift in the church, and since verse 16 mentions that the ungifted person (who does not understand the language being spoken) will not be able to affirm a public prayer which he does not understand.

10. The madness of 14:23 seems to be similar to the supposed drunkenness of Acts 2:13. This, of course, would be a fitting response from those who heard others speaking in an authentic foreign language that they did not know.

11. Paul defines what he means by “let him speak to himself and to God” in verse 28 with the preceding phrase, “he must keep silent in the church.” This again does not preclude authentic foreign languages as the essence of tongue-speech.

12. Verses 10–11 directly mention foreign languages. Paul’s reference to Isaiah 28:11, 12 is a reference to foreign languages. These bolster the interpretation that tongues are languages, as the normal interpretation of glossa would suggest.

13. The gift of tongues was to be used in an orderly manner in the church (14:27–28, 39–40).

Note: There are no other passages that specifically teach about the gift of tongues. Some charismatics try to find tongues in Romans 8:26 and 2 Corinthians 5:13…but the context in those passages makes it clear that the gift of tongues is not in view.

Viewing tongues as authentic foreign languages best fits the clearer passage (of Acts 2) and has the least number of problems in interpreting 1 Cor. 14.

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