What is the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues? #2

After a recent post, Nathan Busenitz has left me with a list of questions. As usual, they’re good questions, so I thought a whole new post would be better than just another comment. (I’ll try and respond in a more timely fashion in the future – things have been very busy recently!)

Who else holds your view that the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians is non-miraculous?

The honest answer is that very few people hold the position. The only one I know is Bob Zerhusen, whose has written an article called The Problem Tongues of 1 Corinthians: A Re-examination. I’d encourage you to read the article – although I don’t agree with all of it, I think the final sections are extremely helpful, particularly the one headed ‘native languages’. (Incidentally, I came to my position independently and only subsequently discovered this article.)

Wouldn’t a ‘gift’ from God would be something that He supernatural endows?

Not necessarily. God gifts us many gifts – my breakfast this morning was a gift from Him. But more seriously, most readers of scripture acknowledge that not all spiritual gifts are miraculous or supernatural. This is obviously much more apparent from Romans 12:6-8 than Corinthians, but Romans 12 is absolutely clear that not all spiritiual gifts are supernaturual. Within Corinthians it should be remembered that what we consider to be a discussion on spiritual gifts is actually a discussion on gifts, service and activities which are described together as manifestations (12:4-7, ESV). 12:28 speaks of the gift of ‘administrating’ – there’s not many who claim that is miraculous.

Since you argue that tongues (in 1 Cor.) are non-miraculous, but that with interpretation they are equivalent to prophecy, are you also suggesting that New Testament prophecy was non-miraculous?

Whether prophecy is or is not miraculous is not relevant to my point here. It’s comparing apples and elephants. We define something as prophecy because of its content and its source. Whether I speak it in my native language, or in a secondary language simply isn’t relevant. Let’s assume for a momement that prophecy is miraculous. The Apostle Paul prophesies. Later, he uses a non-native language (a very useful ability, which he views as a gift from God), and prophesies again. Which prophecy is more miraculous – the first or the second? The language used doesn’t make the prophecy more or less miraculous, does it? Similarly, the gift of interpretation need not be seen as miraculous. If I translate an apostolic word from NT Greek into English I would not claim a miracle had happened (though my Greek tutor might!!) even though the original revelation was miraculous.

How do you define prophecy?

I’m afraid that will have to wait until another post, but I accept understanding prophecy is crucial to our understanding of tongues.

I think it is important to realize that the early church fathers understood the gifts of 1 Corinthians to be equivalent to the gifts of Acts.

I accept the point, though I think you are expressing it a little over-confidently. Thistleton says:

It is usually claimed that the most widespread pre-modern view held among the Fathers, medieval writers, and Reformers perceives tongues as the miraculous power to speak unlearned foreign languages… When we examine the sources themselves, tongues, as such, often lacks this meaning. Origen’s Fragments on 1 Corinthians fails to yield any clear comment on species of tongues. The allusion in his treatise Against Celsus, 7:9, to which Allo and others refer is at best enigmatic… Chrysostom consciously places more emphasis in his comment on Acts 2 on the content of the “wonderful things” spoken at Pentecost rather than tongues in any linguistic sense, and comments on 1 Cor 12:10 or 14:2, 5 virtually ignore the subject.… How, then, can modern writers speak of the miraculous power to speak unlearned languages as the widespread or “main” patristic exegesis? (pg 974).

Responding to other points raised

As well as answering Nathan’s questions, I want to respond to some other points he raises. He’s quite right to point out that a major difference between Acts and Corinthians is that in Acts tongues were being used correctly, and in Corinthians they were not. But if speaking in tongues is a miraculous gift, and if the languages spoken are human languages, then we have to be very clear why God would give such a momentary, miraculous gift when it couldn’t be used. Or is the gift of speaking in tongues not a momentary gift, but a permanent one? In other words, why would God give someone the gift of speaking Egyptian, if there were no Egyptians to speak to?

If there’s any questions you feel I haven’t answered, please just ask. I’m keen to interact with charismatics and cessationists on this issue. Iron sharpens iron, and I appreciate the time folk are taking to help me think these things through.

Articles in this series:

  1. What is the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues?
  2. What is the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues? #2 <-- This article


  1. Well what does that mean? is the word of God a language of its own? and needs an interpreter….or does the language need to be translated and then interpreted ..Therefore is there a difference between a translator and one who interprets..or can the translator do both?

  2. The following video is very helpful in understanding the gifts of tongues, prophecy and knowledge and why they ceased.

    Speaking In Tongues Part A

    God bless,

  3. Mick – are you serious with this video? The author of the video draws an extremely long bow in claiming that tongues, prophecy & knowledge cease (and claiming that these gifts are “childish gifts”!). These are gifts of the Spirit – and the Spirit remains in & with us now…today. The claim that these gifts ceased with the last of the Apostles is very weak. The Apostles all died at various stages…with John probably dying last…leaving with us The Book of Revelation, the greatest prophetic book of the Bible. So the cessation view would mean the Holy Spirit’s operation in this area grew less and less until He became somewhat redundant (or unemployed) in them. My Bible tells me that these gifts are given at the discretion of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:11) and their purpose is for the strengthening & helping of the church (1 Cor 12:7 & 14:4). Why would spiritual gifts, specifically designed to help & strengthen the church, be removed 5 minutes after she has begun her multi-millennial journey? That idea is pure madness!

    Paul teaches the Corinthians about tongues, prophecy and knowledge – as far as I know the Corinthians weren’t Apostles and the majority of them would outlive the Apostles. Paul taught the Ephesians about Apostles & Prophets etc – He also told Timothy to “teach others what I taught you…and pass it on further” (2 Tim 2:2). Also Acts 19 has men speaking in tongues & prophesying and 21:9-10 lists Philip’s daughters and Agabus having the gift of prophecy. These people were not Apostles as far as I know it and probably outlived Paul and maybe even John.

    Paul himself says in 1 Cor 14:5 to non-Apostles who most probably outlived him: “I wish you all had the gift of speaking in tongues”.

    Lastly, Paul beseeches folks in 1 Corinthians 14:39 to be eager to prophesy and not forbid speaking in tongues. Many cessationists simply dismiss this verse.

    I think we need to be very careful that we don’t develop Pharisaical tendencies with these gifts. The opinion I hear is: “Because I can’t or don’t operate in them, they MUST be evil”!



  6. THANK U

  7. Speaking in tongues is a form of prayer – as simple as that. It is a spiritual gift that allows one to pray intimately to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit only imparts these gifts to us once we are submitted to Christ. So, if you are not a Christian, speaking in tongues and other gifts of the Holy Spirit will not be real to you. They will just be print on a page.

    1 Corinthians 12 teaches us “not to be ignorant about spiritual gifts”. I would continue your pursuit, ensuring that your intent is that you want to minister more effectively & powerfully the Gospel of Christ. Submit to a leader who has a clear understanding of these gifts and have them help you seek the Lord about them.

    Every spiritual gift is from God for the benefit of other believers – except speaking in tongues – that gift is a special prayer gift between us and the Father. I love praying in the spirit – it is like the discovery & expansion of electricity – how could I now live without it?

  8. Thanks Darren. I needed that. I’m on my way, I can feel it and I love it!!! I’m ready to get further connected!!

  9. Excellent Lisa…you go girl! 🙂