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. Hi

    I am aware of the speaking in tounges at the pentecost where the spectators understood the apostles in their own language. When and where did the speaking in tounges as in a pentecostal church begin? Was it after the reformation? I know of no record of this type of tounges in the Catholic Church.

  2. Robert J. Borer says


    I just happened upon your site after a google search. You’ll be pleased to know that there are others who share the same basic view on tongues (as Zerhusen). There is Renton Maclachlan from New Zealand (wwww.tonguesrevisited.com), Hudson Mackenzie from New Zealand, and myself (Nebraska). Maclachlan has written an excellent work on the subject, and recently decided to make it available on-line for free. You can find it directly here:

    http://www.tonguesrevisited.com/TR 2nd edition edited optimized.pdf

    All of us came to the same basic view independently. I personally spent 20 years in the charismatic movement, speaking/praying in “tongues” “more than ye all.” I plan to put up a website in the near future addressing the subject in exhaustive detail.

    I don’t know if Hudson Mackenzie is still around, but he wrote two excellent little books that add much to the debate. They’re entitled “Natural Tongues” and “Your God-Given Gifts.” I’ve scanned them both and have them in pdf format if you’d like to receive copies.


  3. I don’t understand how speaking in tongues is related to god i think speaking in tongues is evil and has nothing to do with god. in the beginning adam was tricked into eating the apple from satan and satan was speacking in tongues i also wonder how this is relgiously practiced. please define
    specficly what speaking in tongues is and where does it come from

  4. thankyou for reviewing my question, although it still has not been answered speaking in tongues to me once again is evil there is no commen knowledge of this gibberish and also you have no idea of what your saying or doing as to opening others doors to other worlds unknown what kindof language is this did god speak this language? if not why are people assuming that this is christianity?

  5. Victoria,

    I think you need to be careful. There is a difference between those who are wicked and seek to deceive Christians (the Bible calls these people false-teachers), and those who are sincere, believing people who happen to be wrong on a particular point.

    It is my view that what the charismatic church calls speaking in tongues is not a what the Bible calls with gift of tongues. But that doesn’t mean I think it is evil.


  6. Hi, just to get in touch with Robert J Borer,

    I just read your testimony about speaking in tongues, and I’ve put it up on my website, available here: http://jesufrelse.dk/en/content/view/34/

    If you would like to get in touch you can always write to me on my website under contact.

    Have a great day everybody,
    may Jesus Christ bless you,
    Martin Willemoes Hansen

  7. Robert J. Borer, I would be interested in the PDF’s of the book. How is it with the copyright of them?

    In Jesus,

  8. Speaking in tounges is a gift from god. It’s one of the 9 gifts to be correct. It’s an actual communication between God, and yourself. When the holy spirt is upon you; you may recieve the Holy Ghost… There is also another gift called Interpretation of Tounges. That’s when another (person) is interpreting what message God has for the church, or his people. I know God is Greatly to be praised…. I’m Glad God has shown me the truth.

  9. In the beginning of this month (August, 2008) I made a teaching in the Danish tongue expounding on the Third Way View of speaking in tongues, you can take a look at it here:

    1 Cor 11-14


    Acts, especially chapter 2

    In His awesome grace,

  10. Bogdan Unteanu says

    Yes ONE of nine that the Holy Spirit gives freely to whom HE wishes not who wants it. Not all gifts are for all. Besides the Apostels spoke in languages understood by those around them not jibberish.