Tongues, They Shall Cease ....
Jerry F. Bassett
Cottage Grove, Oregon
Before His ascension to heaven Jesus promised the apostles ability to perform certain miraculous signs. Among these signs was the gift of speaking in tongues (Mark 16:1720). Later, after the apostles had begun to preach the gospel, this gift was also conferred by them on some whom they converted to Christ (Acts 19:16, 1 Corinthians 12: 8-11).
Although the true nature of speaking in tongues has often been confused and distorted in the minds of many, the idea itself has nonetheless and perhaps because of this distortion, held great fascination for them. Traditionally, this has always been true of the various Holiness churches.
However, in the past few years even the more sedate, convention-bound denominations have experienced those in their number who claim to speak in tongues. And now this fascination for "glossolalia" has infatuated some within the church of Christ. Increasingly reports are heard of brethren in influential places teaching that the gift of tongues yet exists and should be practiced in the assemblies of the local church. Generally, these reports come from those who for several years have been trying to tell us that there is no divine pattern for the work and organization of the church which by implication also assumes a "no Bible pattern" for the worship of the church. In fact these brethren have often said that the church can do many things without Bible authority. With more than a decade of this kind of teaching it is no wonder that we are now beholding a generation that not only feels no need for compliance with Bible teaching in the work and organization of the church, but in itsworship as well. And why not? At least these younger liberals are more consistent in their application of such teaching than are some of their now alarmed elders who did the teaching but are afraid to go the whole route.
If one common tie is discernible between the very different groups mentioned above, it is their rejection of the Bible as a binding, all-sufficient guide in religious matters. The Holiness groups manifest this attitude in their insistence on a special operation of the Spirit in guiding men separately and apart from the Bible. The conventional denominational groups manifest it in their reliance upon creeds and manuals of human authorship in addition to the Bible. And liberal members within the church of Christ manifest the same attitude when they say that the church can, and must, do many things without Bible authorization. To be sure, there are overlaps among some of the groups within these categories, but they all share the same basic attitude toward the Bible. Consequently, they are seeking some means of communication with God beyond the Bible and speaking in tongues seem to appeal to them as one such means.
With due respect to the apparent sincerity of these modern day tongue-speakers, such distortion of truth nonetheless points to an urgent need to study what the word of God says about the use of this gift. It is also well to remember that the truth of God's word is the point at which a sincerely mistaken person surrenders one of two things; either his error or his sincerity.
Established National Languages
The so-called tongues heard today are in reality only an ecstatic flow of unintelligible sounds. In a plainer term they are simply jibberish.
In the New Testament there are two words which are translated "tongues" or "tongue" with reference to the miraculous gift. A definition of these words is a great help in gaining an understanding of the nature of this gift. The first is "glossa." Its meaning according to Wim. E. Vine, is threefold as follows: "(1) the 'tongues . . . like as of fire' which appeared at Pentecost: (2) the tongue, as an organ of speech . . . : (3) (a) a language: (b) the supernatural gift of speaking in another language without its having been learnt . . . ." The second word is "dialektos" which according to the same authority means "language." Therefore, the gift of tongues in the New Testament was simply the divinely given ability to speak a language unknown by natural learning to the speaker but which was .native, or at least understandable, to the hearer. In other words a tongue was not a mere ecstatic flow of sounds, but an established national language.
Please notice the following texts which stand in proof of this conclusion.
1. Acts 2:1-11. The setting of this text is the Jewish feast day known as Pentecost. On this day the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles as Jesus had promised. Consequently, " they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (v. 4). According to verse 5 there were Jews from every nation present in Jerusalem who, came together to see the manifestation of the Spirit's coming upon the apostles and to hear them speak in tongues. What did these Jews hear? Mere gibberish? Or unintelligible mumbling? Or hysterical shrieking? Certainly not! Verse 6 says ". . . that every man heard them speak in his own language." In verse 8 these marveling Jews asked, "And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" And verse 11, after an enumeration of all the national dialects represented, says ". . . we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God." Clearly, the tongues of the New Testament were established national languages.
2. 1 Corinthians 12:10. This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that the tongues used in the assemblies of the early churches were capable of interpretation. The text says the Spirit gave to some the gift of various kinds of tongues and to others the interpretation of tongues. The use of this gift, then, was not an emotional catharsis nor an exhibition of spiritual ecstasy, but a verbal expression of God's word in a language known to some of the hearers and interpretable to those who did not know it.
3. 1 Corinthians 14:1-19, 28. In verses 1-5 of this reading Paul shows the superiority of the gift of prophecy to that of speaking in tongues. He said, "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him " (v. 1-2). Since such a man would be speaking in a tongue unknown to his hearers he would edify no one but himself and there would be no purpose to his speaking out. However, the gift of prophecy served to edify all (v. 4) which caused Paul to say ". . . greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying" (v. 5).
In fact Paul points out that speaking in an unknown tongue was absolutely futile unless interpreted. He asked the Corinthians, "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?" (v. 6) In verse 7 he says that even the sounds of the pipe or harp are unintelligible unless the meaning of the sounds are made clear to the hearers. (No one in this generation of rock and roll singing should need convincing on this point.) He illustrates this by the trumpet which is sounded to instruct soldiers as to what is expected of them, but which is useless and confusing if the sound is uncertain (v. 8). Then he says, "So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air" (v. 9).
Not only was speaking in tongues futile without interpretation, it was also prohibited. In verse 10, Paul says there are many kinds of voices in the world all of which have their own significance. Nonetheless, the man who speaks in a voice (tongue) which is unknown to his hearer speaks as to a barbarian and is as a barbarian to him (v. 11). "Wherefore," he commanded the Corinthian church, "let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret" (v. 13). The necessity of interpretation is seen in the fact that the man who prayed or sang in an unknown tongue involved his own spirit but provided no understanding to those who heard him thus failing to edify them (v.1419). Consequently, those who were gifted with tongues were explicitly commanded to keep silent in the church unless one who could interpret was present (v. 28).
Thus it is abundantly clear that the tongues of the New Testament were established national languages capable of instructing those who understood them in the word of God, and capable of interpretation for the benefit of those who did not.
(to be continued)
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 7, pp. 17-19