Speaking in Tongues

There are other doctrinal positions I have brought with me from a Classical Pentecostal background. Chief among these is the belief in a “spiritual” language affectionately known as “speaking in tongues” or glossolalia. My position however might differ from both classical and neo pentecostalism (charismatics).  It needs to be explained. As a pentecostal, I endorse the legitimacy of glossolalia for today in a believer’s experience in co-operation with the Holy Spirit of God.

Classical pentecostals maintain that “speaking in tongues” is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is, therefore, a second definite work of God’s grace after salvation. In other words, if one does not speak in tongues they are not Spirit-filled. This theological language might be unfamiliar to non-pentecostals. (The following is not intended as a theological treatise, however, but simply an overview of what I, personally, believe based on my understanding of scripture). I have 3 concerns, none of which should discredit glossolalia.

  • Pentecostals admit that speaking in tongues or an unknown language (unknown to the speaker) can characterize behavior not credited to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Tongues can be made-up by the speaker in an honest effort, perhaps, to appear pentecostal. Some believe that even the devil can duplicate the sound of this spiritual language, though this would be gibberish. If this be true, such speaking cannot be the initial evidence, since the presentation has a number of possible functions or raisons d’être.
    • 1 Corinthians 12:10 speaks of “discerning of spirits” which pentecostals describe as God’s gift to identify what is and what isn’t from Him. Although Paul uses the example of prophecy: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate.” 1 Corinthians 14:29
    • 1 Corinthians 13:1 references the use of angelic language spoken not in love. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
  • The few biblical references vary as to why God introduced tongues as evidentiary. Even when it is a move of the Spirit, it serves multiple possible purposes.
    • In Acts 2:11 Tongues were spoken in known dialects for the benefit of the listeners, to evangelize.  “(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!
      • The gift of tongues or the charismato are unknown in 1 Corinthians 14:4 “Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.
    • Acts 10:44-46 It was used as a sign that God’s salvation was given to non-Judeans. “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.
    • Acts 19:6 The clearest reference to “speaking in tongues” in evidence of the move of the Spirit was at Ephesian when a group of believers had been water baptized unto repentance but who had not heard of the Spirit’s ministry in the Church. The question of whether or not they were already saved (was this Paul’s question?) introduces a key pentecostal point which other Christian faiths interpret differently.  Is this a second definite work of grace after salvation? Was tongues the evidence of such?
      • But here the Spirit was in evidence not just because of tongues but also because of accompanying prophecies. “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues [other languages] and prophesied.” And, the Greek is the word τέ which, marks it as having an inner connection with what precedes.  (English ex.  raining cats and dogs. All children: boys and girls.) I want to translate the word and saying with in the sense: “They spoke in tongues with prophecy.”
        • Consider Acts 28:12 “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money,” (Not just met but planned as well, i.e.e they met in order to plan) Our text includes prophecy but nowhere in the pentecostal creed is prophecy considered in evidence of the move of the Spirit in the same capacity as tongues.
  • Acts 19:2, a major pentecostal reference, has become a grammatical enigma. Is the reception of the Spirit descriptive of salvation or is there a second “work of grace” when speaking in tongues is in evidence? “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when [after] you believed?” They answered, “No....” The grammar supports both or either. The construction shows that believing is grammatically dependent on receiving (the Spirit) but the relationship could be either when or after.
    • “Did you receive the Spirit having believed?” The majority of New Testament examples use the “after.” If this is true here, believing is said to be antecedent to receiving—and the pentecostals have a point. I must point out that no Christian maintains that the Holy Spirit is not in a believer’s life at salvation.  Salvation means the Spirit indeed indwells the believer.  That doesn’t appear to be the argument here.
      • Dana-Mantey’s grammar, popular in Baptist seminaries and colleges, says “when”
      • J Gresham Mach’s grammar popular in Catholic and Pentecostal schools supports “after”

Additional Points of Interest

I have observed in discussion with other pentecostals that there are different accepted interpretations on the role “tongues” plays in the spiritual experience of believers. Aside from the question of whether or not tongues is evidentiary of an infilling of the Holy Spirit,

  • some see glossolalia as a spoken language known somewhere in the world just unknown to them;
  • some see speaking in tongues as a daily spiritual requirement to live victoriously over sin;
  • some see tongues as their own prayer language which they can speak at will, any time, any where ..and should;
  • most understand that if one is Spirit-filled, they will speak in tongues. No other evidence is considered.

I have never put myself in a position of conflict with these views. These ideas are not inconsistent with what Pauline teaching does say about speaking in tongues or glossolalia. They are simply not my view.

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