The Gift of Tongues
Chapter 3: Modern “Tongues” Vs. Real Languages
When we say that very rarely has a modern "tongues" utterance been identified as real speech, as distinct from gibberish, we imagine some will object that not all of the 3,000 or more languages in use are known by linguists, and for this reason the utterances may not have been recognized.
Dr. William E. Welmers, Professor of African Languages at the University of California, Los Angeles, writes:
"We do know something about representative languages of every known language family in the world. I am by no means unique among descriptive linguists in having had direct, personal contact with well over a hundred languages representing a majority of the world's language families, and in having studied descriptions of languages of virtually every reported type. If a glossolalic were speaking in any of the thousand languages of Africa, there is a 90% chance that I would know it in a minute."
Dr. Welmers and others explain that if any "glossolalic" utterance is in a foreign language, certain translation characteristics will be present. For instance, there should be a certain amount of correspondency between the length of the text of the "tongues" utterance and the text of the interpretation—but this is seldom the case.
Additionally, there is in any real language some intelligent structure that identifies it as true speech. In most "tongues" utterances today this is wholly lacking. There are usually no more than two contrasting vowel sounds, and there is usually much repetition and alliteration. Often the same word or sound is used in several different applications in the same utterance. In short, the usual present-day "tongues-speaking" does not sound like any earthly language, and therefore it fails to qualify as tongues speaking of the New Testament kind.
"TONGUES OF ANGELS"
But what of the claim that "tongues-speaking" is not earthly but heavenly, celestial—the language of angels? In support of this thought, proponents of "glossolalia" cite 1 Cor. 13:1: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. …" It is claimed that the "tongues of men" refers to earthly languages, those known among men; and that the tongues "of angels" refers to heavenly, celestial languages—ecstatic utterances unknown to mankind.
But note carefully Paul's plan of argument. He is supposing that if he were to speak with the tongues (glossais, languages—see Diaglott translation) of men and of angels, if he had a superlative "gift" of prophecy, if he understood all mysteries, if he bestowed all his goods to feed the poor, if he gave his body to be burned — if he had all these abilities and did all these things (which was not the case), and had not unselfish love, then it would be of no profit to him as far as his eternal salvation was concerned.
With reference to tongues, Paul says that even if he were to "speak with the tongues [languages] of men and of angels," i.e., with the richest rhetoric and greatest eloquence imagined, superior to all (which he did not claim to do)—if this were done without the motive of unselfish, disinterested — agape — love, then it would be of no avail.
Paul in this chapter was emphasizing love and showing how vitally important it is to have this "fruit of the spirit" irrespective of how eloquent, capable or outwardly generous one may be. The reference to the "tongues of angels" was a superlative, just as in Gal. 1:8 where he said, "Though [even if] we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." Paul was not saying that an angel from heaven would preach another gospel, but he was using this figure of speech to emphasize that what he had already preached to them was the only true gospel and should be stoutly defended (Jude 3).
Likewise, when the manna in the wilderness was called "angels' food" (Psa. 78:25), the thought was not that it was the food which angels themselves ate, but that it was a most excellent food. (In Psa. 139:8-12, David uses a language technique similar to that used by Paul.)
Thus we can see that, in harmony with Biblical teachings elsewhere on speaking in tongues, Paul was speaking hypothetically in order to emphasize the very great importance of charity—unselfish, disinterested love. He was not at all teaching that God gave him or other Christians the ability to speak in the languages of the spirit-being angels—in celestial tongues.
There is no real Biblical evidence that warrants the present-day "tongues-speaking," which for the most part is unintelligible to any hearer. But those who advocate it put forth certain Scriptures that they think support their views. We will examine these passages pro and con.
THE APOSTLE PETER'S USE OF JOEL 2:28, 29
Joel 2:28, 29: "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit."
On the basis of Peter's use of this passage on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-18), it is claimed that God's Spirit was then poured out for all flesh and that the manifestation of this was, among other things, the "gift" of tongues.
It is evident from the context of Joel 2 that it refers to the Christian dispensation, or Gospel Age, with the Time of Trouble at the end of the Age. Thus "in those days" would mean during the Gospel Age. This is indicated by the fact that v. 28 shows that "afterward," i.e., after the Gospel Age (including the Time of Trouble), in the Millennial Age, God's Kingdom will come on earth (Matt. 6:10), and His Spirit will be poured out for all flesh (Isa. 32:13-18).
Can we say that God's Kingdom is here now and that He through Christ is blessing "all flesh," i.e., all mankind, and giving them His Spirit now (Gal. 3:8, 16, 29; Num. 14:21; Hab. 2:14)? Surely not! The world's great Time of Trouble (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21, 22; etc.), has been with us since 1914 and will continue for some time, before God's Kingdom will be established on earth. The nations must first be humbled through the Great Tribulation. Then, "afterward" (and not before), God "will make wars to cease," and He "will be exalted in the earth" (Psa. 46:8-10); He will "then"—after this Great Tribulation has done its work—"make the storm a calm" and bring "all nations" "unto their desired haven"—His Kingdom on earth (Psa. 107:23-30; Hag. 2:7); "then" He will "turn to the people a pure language [the unadulterated Truth]," that they may "serve him with one consent" (Zeph. 3:8, 9); then "shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings" (Mal. 4:1, 2).
But some claim that Peter's quoting of Joel's prophecy in Acts 2 proves that it applies only to the time in which he was speaking—the Gospel Age. We reply that his quoting it was not for the purpose of interpreting it, nor to show to what Age or Ages it applies, but to refute the accusation of drunkenness made by the Jews against him and his fellow Apostles (Acts 2:13). He denied that the phenomenon the Jews witnessed was drunkenness (v. 15), and asserted that it was instead an outpouring of the holy Spirit—not a sinful but a Divinely approved thing, prophesied by Joel (v. 16). He then quoted the entire section of Joel treating of the outpourings of the Spirit, but made no interpretation or application of the passage further than to use it to prove that the Jews were not witnessing drunkenness, but an outpouring of the Spirit.
If Peter's purpose in making the quotation from Joel's prophecy and his use of it are kept in mind, it will at once be recognized that there is nothing in his use of it to limit its application to the Gospel Age, as some contend. Similarly, if in the Millennial Age the outpouring of the Spirit would be represented as drunkenness, Joel's prophecy could with equal propriety be quoted to disprove the charge; but such a use of the passage then would not limit its prophetic application to the Millennium, for v. 29 applies to the Gospel Age—"in those days."
Thus there is no sound basis for claiming that Joel 2:28, 29 together with Acts 2:16-18 prove that God is even now pouring out His holy Spirit for "all flesh," for v. 28, as just seen, applies only to the Millennial Age — "afterward." God's Spirit is poured out now for believers; but this does not mean that the modern "speaking in tongues" is an evidence of this outpouring, as will be shown later.
"STAMMERING LIPS AND ANOTHER TONGUE"
Isa. 28:11 is said to refer to speaking in tongues, especially because the Apostle Paul quoted and used it in 1 Cor. 14:21. However, neither passage teaches that the "gift" of tongues is for our day, or that it was a miraculous power of making unintelligible utterances.
In the context in Isa. 28, the prophet warns God's people Israel of impending judgment at the hands of their enemies. Since the people of Israel would not heed the Lord, they were to be taught their lesson by aliens, heathen—those who spoke a foreign language (Deut. 28:49; compare Jer. 5:15, where the same Hebrew word is translated "language"). It is significant that the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 14:20-22 applies Isa. 28:11, 12, with its reference to a foreign language, to the tongues problem at Corinth. It strongly indicates that the Corinth tongues-speaking was also in foreign languages.
The words "with [in or by] other tongues" (v. 21) are from the Greek en heteroglossois. Glossois is a plural form of glossa ("tongue") which is employed elsewhere in 1 Cor. 14 to refer to the "gift" of tongues. As Paul does not distinguish between this use of the word "tongues" and its other uses in the chapter, all evidently refer to the same thing, namely, foreign languages (see 1 Cor. 14:21-23, Diaglott, etc.).
Note that the two component parts of heteroglossois occur separately in the account concerning the "gift" of tongues at Pentecost (Acts 2:4): "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues [heterais glossais], as the Spirit gave them utterance." As already shown, evidently the Pentecost experience was one of speaking in foreign (earthly) languages that had not been learned by the speakers. Therefore the tongues of 1 Cor. 14 evidently were of the same nature as the tongues of Acts 2.
Paul's use of Isa. 28:11 does not at all suggest that the tongues-speaking in the early Church was to persist from then on to our day, or even that it would die out and then recur in our day. Rather, his words show that tongues (and the other "gifts" of the Spirit) were given to the early Church so that the message they were preaching — Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23) — would claim the attention of those to whom it was chiefly directed—the Jews—but who were unbelievers, generally speaking (1 Cor. 14:22).
In 1 Cor. 14:20, Paul exhorts the Corinthian brethren to "be not children in understanding [i.e., be not as nominal Fleshly Israel, who failed to understand God's simple, initial instructions as given by the Law, its types and His holy prophets; but who instead, in their stubbornness, despised and derided them as being too elementary, and made them of no effect through their traditions (Matt. 15:6), adding so many complexities that the true spirit and essence of the Law's original simplicity was lost in a jungle of confusion]: howbeit in malice [ill will] be ye children [guileless, pure-minded and of a loving disposition], but in understanding [especially in the understanding of the main purpose for God's bestowal of the 'gift' of tongues, namely, to witness spectacularly to the unbelieving nation of Fleshly Israel, in addition to preaching the Gospel message to people of other nations] be men [mature, not infatuated with the mistaken idea that the 'gift' of speaking in tongues was to be used selfishly, for purely personal reasons, or that tongues-speaking should be considered of paramount importance]."
Outwardly moral, respectable, having a form of godliness (2 Tim. 3:5), the Jews, especially their leaders, drew nigh to God with their mouth, but their spiritual vision was darkened, their spiritual hearing was dulled and their heart was removed far from Him (Isa. 6:9, 10; 29:10-14; Matt. 13:14-17; Acts 28:26, 27).
Thus, when God sent the Jews His own Son for their salvation and presented to them the Kingdom message, they, with few exceptions, were so stupidly drunk with the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3, 8, 9, 13) and the wine of false doctrine that they could not see their Messiah and King in His true light, nor appreciate the Kingdom message; so, except for the comparatively few "Israelites indeed" (John 1:47), they received Him not (John 1:11)—they rejected and sought to get others to reject the Kingdom message (Matt. 23:13), and they crucified their King!
Therefore they were cast off from God's favor and mouthpieceship (Matt. 23:38), for they knew not the time of their visitation (Luke 19:44). Instead, God chose other mouthpieces to bear the Kingdom message, among whom were some who did not have much formal education (Acts 4:13). Their "stammering [strange, ARV; jabbering, Rotherham] lips," i.e., their manner of presentation, and their message, accompanied by the "gift" of speaking in tongues, was indeed strange to the Jews, especially their scornful rulers, as God's message was to the scornful rulers and others in Isaiah's day (Isa. 28:11-21). Like the Philistines (v. 21; 1 Chron. 14:8-15), the latter set of rulers had become enemies of God and His anointed.
Referring to Isa. 28:11-21, Paul shows (1 Cor. 14:21, 22) that the presence of the miraculous "gift" of tongues was a sign of God's visitation and approval upon the Christian believers, designed not so much for them as for unbelievers, especially nominal Fleshly Israelites. But so far as the majority of that nation were concerned, it was as God had prophesied, "and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord." "Wherefore," i.e., because of the dullness of hearing on the part of the unbelievers, tongues were "for a sign, not to them that believe [for they did not need this sign], but to them that believe not [some of whom by this miraculous 'gift' would learn that God was now doing His work through the Christians as His mouthpieces, and would thus be drawn toward the message of Truth, which previously they had not received]." But, says the Apostle, "prophesying [in some cases the foretelling of future events, but especially the teaching and expounding of the Word of God, pertaining to the past, present and future] serveth not for [is not particularly intended for] them that believe not, but for them which believe [whose hearts and minds are receptive and who accept the Truth in faith]."
"THEY SHALL SPEAK WITH NEW TONGUES"
Mark 16:17 is another text used by many to support the modern-day practice of "glossolalia." They claim that Jesus here shows that His disciples would be given, among other signs (vs. 17, 18), the miraculous ability to "speak with new tongues," i.e., languages that they had not been able to speak before.
Mark 16:9-20 is not found in the two oldest available New Testament Greek manuscripts— the Sinaitic and the Vatican. However, these verses or parts of them are quoted by nearly 100 ecclesiastical writers who wrote before the oldest Greek N.T. MSS. now in existence. And the Syriac and Latin versions, the writers of which had access to Greek N.T. MSS. older than any now extant, included Mark 16:9-20. When later on the transcribers of the Greek MSS. came to these verses, and saw no trace of such "gifts" then in existence, they may have concluded that these verses are not genuine, but had been added. Some therefore may have marked them as doubtful, and others omitted them altogether.
However, Biblical Numerics proves that Mark 16:9-20 is genuine. (For an explanation of the principles of this science—which helps us to prove the Bible's verbal inspiration, establish right readings and correct wrong ones—and its varied and valuable applications, please see our book The Bible, pp. 56, 335, 607-636.)
Although Mark 16:9-20 is genuine, we are not to believe that the signs spoken of in vs. 17, 18 would accompany believers throughout the Gospel Age. But the Lord's disciples of the early Church did have these signs to accompany them (v. 20), as is shown in the cases of Paul (Acts 28:3-6), and of the Apostles who spoke in "new tongues" at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11; see also Heb. 2:3, 4; please note that "new tongues" has nothing to do with unintelligible utterances).
If tongues as one of the signs is for our day, then why do not the believers have the other signs also, e.g., the ability to take up poisonous serpents without being harmed, or to drink poisons without suffering injury? While special signs, for example, taking up serpents without being harmed thereby, did follow believers at the beginning of the Gospel Age (see, e.g., Acts 28:3-6), it is evident that they do not do so in our day. Believers of our day do not take up poisonous serpents without danger of fatal results, as is evidenced, for example, by the fact that some believers who have handled them at certain religious meetings (usually to show off) have been bitten and have died.
Therefore it is evident that Mark 16:17, including the sign of speaking with "new tongues" (languages they could not speak before), could apply only to that time of the Church's history when the "gifts" of the Spirit were with the Church, namely, the first two centuries, even as shown earlier in this treatise. (For further details, please see our "Faith Healing" booklet—a copy free on request.)
"GROANINGS WHICH CANNOT BE UTTERED"
Many claim that Rom. 8:26 refers to the "gift" of tongues and demonstrates that speaking in tongues need not always be speech intelligible to the human ear, but that it frequently consists of sounds and disconnected and jumbled words which are unintelligible to the average person. The so-called ecstatic experience of "tongues," it is claimed, is such that the "glossolalic" cannot properly convey the utterances of the holy Spirit because they are emotional "groanings which cannot be uttered."
An examination of this text and its context will make the Apostle Paul's meaning plain. He had just been writing of sin-burdened humanity groaning in its fetters under the Adamic curse of sin and death. He assures us that it shall be granted liberty from this bondage when the Church, the "sons of God" (v. 19), in glory with their Lord, shall bless the world in God's promised Kingdom on earth (Matt. 6:10). He then passes from the groanings of the world to the earthly condition of the Church, in which he says that even they, being burdened by the flesh, groan within themselves (v. 23), waiting for "the redemption [deliverance] of our body [the Church, the Body of Christ—1 Cor. 12:12-27]" in the First Resurrection (Rev. 20:6).
Rom. 8:26 states that "the Spirit [God's holy mind, or disposition, in the Church] also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." The Greek word alaletos, from which the expression "cannot be uttered" is translated, means "unspeakable." Now, if the groanings of the Church cannot be uttered, how can they refer to utterances, such as speaking in tongues? How could anyone utter the unutterable groans of the Spirit? Furthermore, the groanings are "within" ourselves. The Apostolic tongues could be uttered and could be interpreted (1 Cor. 14:13, 28), but who can interpret groanings which cannot even be uttered?
Also, no miracle or "gift" of the Spirit is necessary in order to groan, since the unregenerate world of mankind, out of harmony with God, also groan. Again, to claim that the groanings of v. 26 refer to speaking in tongues must lead one to the logical conclusion, based on this argument, that all Christians speak in tongues; for the Apostle says of the Church in general, "ourselves also … even we ourselves groan within ourselves" (v. 23). It would be foolish to claim that Paul was here referring only to those who had the "gifts" of tongues, since it is true of all Christians that the "Spirit maketh intercession" (v. 26) for them, and it was not true that all Apostolic-day Christians spoke with tongues (1 Cor. 12:30).
Hence the "groanings" of Rom. 8:26 cannot refer to speaking in tongues, either as unintelligible utterances or as genuine foreign languages. Rather, the thought of the text is that the spirit, or disposition, of the believer makes intercession through Christ with God, supplicating Him. And, because of being burdened by the flesh, it often fails to express itself adequately and figuratively groans, longing for the promised deliverance in the resurrection. (See The At-one-ment Between God and Man, pp. 288, 289.)
"KINDS OF TONGUES"
Some claim that in 1 Cor. 12:10 the Apostle Paul referred to tongues-speaking which consisted of unintelligible utterances. Here, dealing with the various "gifts" of the Spirit in use in the early Church, he mentions that some of the Church members were given "kinds of tongues [the word divers is in italics, to indicate that there is no corresponding word in the Greek text]." The Greek word for "kinds" in this verse is the plural of genos, which means an aggregate of many persons or things of the same nature, kin, kind or sort—as in Matt. 13:47; 17:21; Mark 9:29; Acts 4:6; 7:13, 19; 1 Cor. 12:28. (diversities [margin, kinds] of tongues [languages]—exactly the same Greek words as in v. 10); 14:10; etc.
And just as there are many kinds of birds, but they all still are birds, and many kinds of fish, but they all still are fish; so the Apostle explains in 1 Cor. 14:10 that there are "many kinds of voices [earthly languages] in the world, and none of them is without signification [meaning]"—they all are of the same general nature, in its various kinds or sorts, having definite vocabularies, grammatical constructions and meanings as languages (see also vs. 9 and 11) .
Paul was a masterful logician and could not have reasonably and consistently combined the many kinds of known and intelligible earthly foreign languages with unknown and unintelligible utterances, for the two do not come under the same classification. They are entirely different—not of the same general nature, in its various kinds or sorts. Hence, from 1 Cor. 12:10 we see that the "gift" of tongues given to the early Church was one whereby some of its members were enabled, through God's holy Spirit, to speak in other earthly languages, and we see also that unintelligible utterances are not of the "kinds of tongues" taught in this passage.
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