The Gift of Tongues
Chapter 1: The History Of Tongues-Speaking
SPEAKING in tongues, also called glossolalia—from the Greek words glossa (tongue) and lalia (speech)—was a common practice in the early Church. The teaching and practice of modern "speaking in tongues," or "glossolalia" (we will use quotation marks to distinguish modern "tongues" from the manifestations in the early Church), has had a considerable and very controversial impact on Christendom in recent years. Even "orthodox" clergymen of "straight-line" denominations (Catholic as well as Protestant), many of whom carefully avoided and discouraged "tongues-speaking" in the past, have been seeking for themselves and their church members to get and exercise it freely, probably in many cases seeing in it a helpful means of retaining or winning back many of their rapidly dwindling numbers, as well as attracting new adherents.
As Truth-seekers, inquiring to know the will of God in all things that affect our proper relationship with Him, and desiring earnestly to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15), that we may thus know "sound doctrine" (Titus 1:9) and practice, we need to understand correctly this subject.
We may well ask: Is modern "tongues-speaking" of God? Is it taught in the Bible? Of what value is it? Should we seek to have it?
We will seek to answer these questions by examining the tongues-speaking in the early Church, how it and other "gifts" of the Spirit were obtained, its purposes, uses and abuses, and the history of modern "tongues-speaking," its sources, the kind of utterances, arguments in favor of and against it, etc.
With this, as with any other teaching or practice that has to do with God and the outworking of His purposes and plans, a true judgment can be formed only by carefully examining how closely the teaching and practice conforms (1) to His infallible Word, the Bible, which is able to make us "wise unto salvation," and is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:15-17); (2) to God-given and properly used reason, "the spirit of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7); and (3) to facts—for what is contrary to facts obviously is not true.
TONGUES-SPEAKING IN THE EARLY CHURCH
The power to speak in other tongues was by God bestowed upon the early Church. The New Testament contains a number of accounts of various ones receiving and using this "gift" (we will use quotation marks also when referring to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit). In 1 Cor. 12, 13 and 14 the Apostle Paul's treatment of speaking in tongues indicates that the possession and use of this particular "gift" was considered very important in the early Church.
Many sincere Christian believers place great emphasis on present-day "speaking in tongues," claiming that their and others' experiencing it is a sure proof that they have received the holy Spirit and are children of God. Some of them are inclined to esteem lightly other Christians who have not had such an experience, and to awaken in them serious doubts that they have ever really become children of God and have ever received His holy Spirit.
In the New Testament record, the first marked miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues occurred at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus' ascension, when the waiting disciples were baptized with the holy Spirit. It resulted in Jews of many lands hearing in their own languages the preaching of the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:1-11). This was the obvious purpose of this tongue-speaking—to spread the Gospel more widely among the people of various languages.
A supplementary baptism with the holy Spirit upon the Church, with a similar marked miraculous manifestation of speaking with tongues, occurred 3½ years later in Caesarea, when the first Gentiles—Cornelius and his household—were received into the Body of Christ (Acts 10:44-47; 11:15).
Other manifestations of speaking with tongues came upon the early Church only through the laying on of hands by one or more of the twelve Apostles (Acts 8:14-18; 19:6; as to Acts 9:17, 18, see Appendix). There is no hint in the Scriptures or otherwise of the use by the early Church of repetitious lively music to induce the Spirit's coming upon believers, as is done in many "tongues-speaking" meetings today.
The "gift" of tongues is listed with other "gifts" of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:4-11 (compare vs. 28-30) and is referred to also in 1 Cor. 13 and 14, where the Apostle Paul explains quite thoroughly its inferiority to the grace of charity (Greek, agape, unselfish, disinterested love) and to the "gift" of prophecy (in some cases, the miraculous ability to foretell, or forecast, future events, as, e.g., in the case of Agabus—Acts 11:28; 21:10, 11—but especially the miraculous ability to teach, to publicly expound, various features of God's Word—past, present and future.
We are to distinguish sharply between the holy Spirit itself and the miraculous "gifts," or manifestations, granted to the early Church. As the Apostle explained, "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord" (1 Cor. 12:4, 5).
It is a matter of history that the "gifts" of the Spirit died out in the early Church shortly after the last of the Apostles—who alone could bestow the "gifts"—fell asleep. Some who uphold the current practice of "speaking in tongues" allege that this dying out occurred because the Church became lukewarm, and that Rev. 2:4 supports this claim.
"TONGUES … SHALL CEASE"
But the Apostle Paul indicated clearly that the "gifts" of the Spirit would pass away—not because of lukewarmness on the part of the Church, but because the purpose for the bestowal and use of these "gifts" would be fully accomplished and they would therefore no longer be needed. He pointed out in 1 Cor. 14:22 that speaking in tongues was given "for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not," that the attention of unbelievers might be drawn to the Church and her methods. In other words, this "gift" was adapted less to the development of the Church than to witnessing to the unregenerate world, and thus to enable the Church to obtain a proper footing and recognition in the world.
In harmony with this, the Apostle said (1 Cor. 13:8): "Charity [love] never faileth [never will cease]: but whether there be prophecies [obviously he did not mean Bible prophecies—which surely would not fail but would all be fulfilled—rather, he meant the special 'gift' by God's power to publicly expound the Truth and, subordinately, to forecast future events—v. 2; 1 Cor. 12:10], they shall fail [cease to be exercised as one of the Spirit's 'gifts'; the Greek verb katargeo, used here, means to be rendered entirely idle or useless, to bring to an end]; whether there be tongues [the special 'gift' by God's power of speaking in other languages—v. 1; 1 Cor. 12:10], they shall cease; whether there be knowledge [surely not all knowledge, but the special 'gift' by God's power to know things—v. 2; 1 Cor. 12:8], it shall vanish away [katargeo is used here again]."
Why would these "gifts" (and by implication all the other "gifts" of the Spirit—the three mentioned standing for the others also) cease to operate? For two reasons: (1) Once the early Church would be established and would have gained a proper footing and recognition in the world, thus bringing it to the attention of the world, especially those whom the Lord was calling "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9) from among Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 1:16), these "gifts" no longer would be needed; (2) When the New Testament writings would be complete and added to the Old Testament, the Church would have no need of the "gifts," since the Scriptures are themselves sufficient to make "wise unto salvation," and to make the man of God "perfect [Greek, artios, complete in accomplishment, fully qualified], thoroughly furnished unto all good works [including the primarily essential and vital work of developing Christlikeness]" (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
"THAT WHICH IS PERFECT"
This latter thought especially is supported by Paul's words in 1 Cor. 13:9-13. After stating in v. 8 that various "gifts" of the Spirit would fail, cease, vanish away, he explained:
V. 9: "For [i.e., because—he now gives the reason for his words in v. 8] we know in [Greek, ek, from, out of, and therefore, because of, on account of, a] part [the Old Testament was the only part of the Bible that had yet been given], and we prophesy in part [Christians in the beginning of the Gospel Age had these 'gifts' because the Bible had not yet been fully given; so the 'gifts' were given to supplement—temporarily—the Old Testament, the incomplete revelation for the Church]."
V. 10: "But when that which is perfect [Greek, to teleion, the complete, the entire, as opposed to that which is in part—in other words, the completed Bible] is come, then that [the 'gifts' of the Spirit] which is [i.e., exists] in [from, because of, a] part [only the Old Testament portion of the Bible having yet been given] shall be done away [Greek, katargeo; the 'gifts' were to be brought to an end—to fail, cease, vanish away—after the Bible's completion]."
Contrary to this prophecy's fulfillment, some who support the practice of present-day "tongues-speaking" claim that "that which is perfect" refers, not to the completed Bible, but to (1) the completed, perfected Church. Some others insist that it refers to (2) the perfect Age—the period of Christ's Second Advent and His Kingdom. That the Apostle was not referring to either of these two things by "that which is perfect," is shown by vs. 11-13. For the purposes of his argument, he personifies the Church in himself (compare v. 12, "we")
V. 11: "When I was a child, I spake [alluding to tongues] as a child [compare 1 Cor. 3:1; 14:20], I understood [alluding to prophecy] as a child, I thought [reasoned, judged, alluding to knowledge] as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things [alluding to the 'gifts' of the Spirit, which pertained only to the early Church—the Church's childhood—the Greek word for child in this verse is nepios, meaning babe, infant]."
V. 12: "For now [in the Apostle's day] we [the Church in its infancy] see through [Greek, dia, through] a glass [through a dim window—Rotherham; not our modern clear glass, but thin plates of horn, transparent stone crystals, etc.; compare Rev. 4:6; 21:11; 22:1], darkly [Greek, en ainigmati, enigmatically, dimly, obscurely—see Emphatic Diaglott footnote; God's revelation, the Bible, not being yet completed and only a part of that already fully given being clearly understood, gave but an obscure vision, so that the early Church could not know fully, as they were known by God, and could not understand clearly]; but then [when the written revelation, the Bible, would be completed, by having the New Testament added] face to face [they would then have a clear understanding; and since the glass represented incomplete knowledge, the expression 'face to face' by contrast obviously is metaphorical for the state of completed knowledge, as far as God's written and revealed will is concerned; the face sometimes typifies or symbolizes knowledge—see Rev. 1:16; 20:11; thus when God 'spake unto Moses face to face'—Ex. 33:11—Moses did not see Him face to face—Ex. 33:20—'face to face' here means clearly; for God spoke to Moses, not in visions and dreams, as to other prophets, but in perfectly clear communications: 'mouth to mouth, even apparently (manifestly—ASV), and not in dark speeches' (ainigmaton—Septuagint)—Num. 12:6-8; Deut. 34:10]: now I [the Church] know in part [from a part, from only that portion of God's Word—the Old Testament—that was already given, thus incompletely—compare vs. 9, 10]; but then [when the written revelation would be completed] shall I know [fully—so the Greek] even as also I am [have been fully—so the Greek] known [by God; not that Paul or any others of the Church would be given omniscience, but that the unclear glass condition—the supplementation of the Old Testament by the 'gifts' of the Spirit—ceasing with the completion of the New Testament, they would through the completed Bible—the 'face to face' condition of clear knowledge—know in full, or clearly, the character, plan and works of God as He reveals them to His Church in His completed Bible]."
V. 13: "And [Greek, but—in contrast to the 'gifts' of the Spirit, which were soon to pass away] now [during the entire Gospel Age, when especially needed] abideth [a triad (three) of the graces, in contrast with the triad (three) of the temporary 'gifts' of the Spirit, which were soon to pass away—v. 8] faith, hope, charity [love], these three [which stand for all the other graces of the Spirit as well, even as in v. 8 the three 'gifts' of the Spirit mentioned stand for all the other 'gifts' of the Spirit as well]; but the greatest of these [abiding graces] is charity [love]."
The expression "that which is perfect" (to teleion, the complete, the entire) cannot refer, as some claim, to the completed, perfected Church, or to the perfect Age—the Millennial Age, or Kingdom Age, with the Christ, Head and Body, reigning in Truth and righteousness—for either one of these suppositions would force us to the unreasonable, unfactual and unscriptural conclusion that the Church was in an infantile, childish condition throughout the entire Gospel Age and never grew up to maturity. How contrary this would be to such Scriptures as Acts 20:32; Eph. 2:20-22; 4:11-16; Col. 2:6, 7, 19; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Heb. 5:11-14; 6:1-3; 1 Pet. 2:2, 5; 2 Pet. 1:1-11; 3:18!
The Apostle's argument was that the Church's childish things, the "gifts" of the Spirit, so much needed in her infancy, would be put away, brought to an end (not at the time of her perfection, or resurrection, nor at the time of her Millennial-Age reign with her Lord and Head, but) "when that which is perfect is come"—when the Scriptures, including the New Testament, would be perfect, entire and complete.
Then, and not at the time of her completed perfection, nor at the time of her Millennial reign in glory, the Church would put away the childish things, the no longer-needed "gifts" of the Spirit. Then with the completed Word of God and the graces of the Spirit, represented in the abiding triad of faith, hope and love—her needs of head and heart thus fully supplied—she would continue in her growth in knowledge and grace unto perfection.
But the early Church, in the days of the Apostles, was as a whole infantile, immature, not yet in an adult stage—hence God gave to them the "gifts" of the Spirit until "that which is perfect" (the complete revelation) was given and they could "put away childish things."
EARLY CHURCH TESTIMONIES ON "TONGUES"
Since therefore the "gift" of tongues, in common with the other "gifts" of the Spirit, ceased shortly after the New Testament was given to the Church (thus making "perfect," complete, the Bible, the inspired Word of God), a few decades after the Apostles fell asleep, how do we explain the manifestations of this "gift" and other "gifts" during the first two centuries A.D.?
It must be borne in mind that some on whom the Apostles conferred "gifts," including the "gift" of tongues, outlived John, the last one of the Apostles to die, and therefore we would naturally expect to find evidence of some of the "gifts" in use not only during the first century but also during much of the second century. Irenaeus (115-202) and Tertullian (115-224) wrote of tongues-speaking as being practiced in their day. But Chrysostom (347-407) leaves no doubt that in his day tongues-speaking had ceased completely.
Concerning 1 Cor. 12, in his "Homilies on the First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians," he wrote:
"This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur, but now no longer take place."
And Augustine (354-430) was equally definite. In his "Homilies on the First Epistle of John," he wrote:
"In the earliest times, 'The holy Spirit fell upon them that believed: and they spake with tongues,' which they had not learned, 'as the Spirit gave them utterance.' These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the holy Spirit in all tongues, to show that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away."
HISTORY OF MODERN "TONGUES" MOVEMENT
After the first two centuries A.D. until about 1700 A.D. there were very few reports of "tongues-speaking," and these reports are very unreliable. But about 1700 A.D. manifestations occurred among the Huguenots in France. And beginning in 1830 in Scotland and in 1831 in England, there were similar manifestations; these aroused much excitement and were believed by some, including Edward Irving, a Presbyterian clergyman, in whose church many of the manifestations occurred, to be genuine evidences of the restoration of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit prevalent in the early Church. Irving and others of like persuasion soon formed the Catholic Apostolic Church, which is still active; also, there are a number of other assemblies, such as the Pentecostal Churches, some Holiness Churches, some Churches of God, the Assemblies of God, the Gospel Assemblies, the Apostolic Faith Mission, the Mormons, the Catholic Pentecostals, charismatic groups within other churches, the Jesus People, charismatic campus groups, etc., which likewise claim that their members have and exercise the miraculous power of speaking in tongues.
Modern Pentecostalism as such originated in the Pentecostal-type experience of Evangelist Charles F. Parham and his co-laborers in Topeka, Kansas, about 1900. Miss Agnes Ozman, a member of the Bible School founded by Mr. Parham, is said to have received the "gift" of the holy Spirit and to have spoken with other tongues. Shortly thereafter twelve students reportedly also were filled with the holy Spirit, and spoke with other tongues, while some in the room were said to have seen cloven tongues of fire such as appeared on the day of Pentecost. From Topeka the "tongues" manifestations spread to Los Angeles, where they resulted in the Azusa Mission, which became the center for Pentecostalism for many years.
Since these early beginnings, the modern "tongues" movement has gained much momentum, adding to its ranks many thousands of Christian believers desirous of having and exercising the miraculous "gift" of speaking in tongues. Especially since in the 1960s the "tongues" movement has come into much greater prominence and respectability.
Cases of "tongues-speaking" have occurred also during certain religious ceremonies and rites among those not even Christians, but heathen. It is reported that the Russian dictator, Joseph Stalin, often passed into a trance and spoke in tongues. And the news magazine American Opinion described how the hippies on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip would go into "freak outs" and speak "glossolalia" or "hep tongue."
Were all of these cases manifestations of genuine, God-given, speaking in tongues, such as took place at Pentecost, at Cornelius' home, etc., in the early Church? Surely not!
CONFERRING OF "GIFTS" BY APOSTLES ONLY
The Scriptures plainly teach that the privilege of bestowing the "gifts" of the Spirit through the laying on of hands was exclusively an Apostolic power. This being so, the "gift" of tongues—along with the other "gifts," conferred in the same manner—would naturally cease (1 Cor. 13:8) when the last brethren on whom any of the Apostles had laid hands died—for these brethren, not being in the Apostolic office, could not bestow the "gifts" on others. We search the Bible in vain for the record of anyone other than an Apostle conferring the "gifts" of the Spirit.
This is forcefully illustrated in Acts 8:5-24. This account makes it very clear that even Philip the Evangelist, though able to perform "miracles and signs" (vs. 6, 13), could not confer the "gifts" of the Spirit, but was obliged to wait for Apostles to do this for his converts (vs. 14-17). Simon the sorcerer "saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands," and not the hands of any others, the "gifts" were bestowed. He then selfishly and foolishly sought to buy from the Apostles this exclusive Apostolic power of conferring the "gifts" (vs. 18-24).
Furthermore, the disciples at Ephesus did not receive the "gifts" until after the Apostle Paul had laid hands on them (Acts 19:1-6).
We must conclude therefore that since the only human instruments through whom God bestowed the "gifts" of the Spirit were the twelve Apostles, these "gifts" must have ceased to exist in the second century, when the last disciple died on whom an Apostle had conferred one of these "gifts."
ONLY THE TWELVE IN THE APOSTOLIC OFFICE
It will not do to claim that there have been Apostles throughout the Gospel Age, including the present time. There have never been, nor will ever be, any others except the Twelve in the Apostolic office (Rev. 21:14). All others claiming to have this office are unauthorized by God (2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2). The choice of Matthias, supposedly as an Apostle, by about 120 disciples, during the time between our Lord's ascension and the outpouring of the holy Spirit at Pentecost (for which the Apostles had been instructed to wait—Acts 1:4, 5, 15-26), was never authorized nor recognized by God.
It was contrary to God's arrangement, for He reserved to Himself the right to choose the Apostles, having selected the original Twelve through Jesus (John 15:16; 17:6-24) and having chosen St. Paul ("a chosen vessel"—Acts 9:15; Gal. 1:15; 2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11) to take Judas' place as one of the Twelve. (For more Bible proofs that the Apostolic office was for the Twelve only, see The Bible Standard No. 325—a copy free on request.)
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