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, to answer this without an argument.. Read 1 Cor., and make sure God gives you the true understanding of the Gifts. Speaking in tounges isn’t jibberish. That’s what the devil would like you to believe bro. Bogdan. It is said to be a heavenly language. Read the whole epistle before making comments.

  2. It is a miricale to understand God’s Word in the spiritual realm. This is done when one is born of God and baptized in the Holy Spirit who gives His fruit as he wills. For to the world the word of God is foolishness. They can not understand except someone interprets the word for them by the power of the Holy Spirit. If I speak in a foreign un-learned language it is so the people can hear in their own tongue that one might interpret the word of God for them. We have need to speak the word of God so that a child would understand and be saved. Not using $50 words that have to be interpreted. Paul was highly educated but would rather speak 5 words that they would understand so that some would be saved including children. Praise and Glory to Almighty God forever!

  3. Could we have an interpreter for this please

  4. I always believed that speaking in tongues was a type of prayer? A method of praying for something with the assistance of the Holy Spirit as Romans 8 encourages. I also assumed that whilst the Corinthians misused the gift of tongues, when Paul rocked up on the scene he didn’t tell them to desist or refrain from utilising this gift. Instead he seemed to encourage them to continue using it in their private devotions whilst public ministry should lean more toward prophecy (unless the tongues were interpreted). Paul actually says that we shouldn’t discourage people from utilising this God-given gift. I have read some people’s opinions who say that 1 Corinthians 14:39 is no longer valid Scripture and should be disregarded – this sends a chill down my spine (Rev 22:19).

    Were the tongues of Acts 2 different to the tongues of Acts 8, Acts 10, Acts 19 and 1 Corinthians – being that they were ‘interpreted’ by those who could understand and therefore drifted more into the category of prophetic praise? Just a thought.

  5. Darren,
    You might find Lori Ferrell’s new book ‘The Bible and the People’ interesting. I have also mentioned previously Kathleen Boone’s ‘The Bible Tells them So’ (1990). Neither will ease your spinal shivers. Sorry I don’t have photographs of them!

  6. robert conn says

    i personaly think that the gift of tongues is being abused in certain churches today and has been for many years now, our lifelong commitment as christians is to bring people to christ and to bring non christians into a knowledge of their saviour but were not we are scaring people away, paul warned the corinthians about the dangers of speaking in tongues openly when there is no one to interperet. i beleive fully in the gift of tongues as i have received this gift myself, but it is for edifying ones self unless there is an interpereter and in my time i have never came accross an interpereter, any young christian or an observer visiting my church for the first time would think they had just entered an insane asylum, people need to stop seeking self glorification and start putting the needs of others before there own selfish dramatics because it realy is starting to get out of hand now, what is the outcome going to be if this behaviour continues?

  7. Robert. Thanks for the post. The centrality of Christ is certainly the main issue to focus on – but you can’t say that if a new Christian or non-believer heard a Christian speaking in tongues, that they’d think they were in an insane asylum – for your comment must then also apply to the work of Christ. You have to remember that Jesus Christ died for us as our substitute – His blood makes us clean. Any worldly person would have no intention of accepting ‘blood sacrifice’…and a human sacrifice at that. Without revelation, any of the things of God will confound everyday people. My experience with numerous unbelievers is that whilst they think speaking in tongues is weird, they are certainly interested in it. I get asked questions about it all the time. I find lots of people who think water baptism is weird – but that doesn’t stop me encouraging it.

    Lastly, reading Acts 10 this week, it says that Cornelius’ dedication to God saw him ‘rewarded’ in two ways – receiving the Gospel of Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit with outword manifestations. Even the Jews were perplexed – but the evidence was clear and that was the conclusion they came to.

    I place no weight on your comments about ‘self-glorification’ or ‘selfish dramatics’ as these fleshly attributes can be clearly evident in any personal Christian action – like false humility. I just always assumed speaking in tongues was a more intimate style of prayer – between me & God – that was all about intimacy and not maturity – brand new believers spoke in tongues and prophesied – but brand new believers couldn’t become leaders & elders. If someone hears me praying in the Spirit to God that isn’t an issue – however if I were to get up and give my salvation testimony in tongues before a crowd of people and then take my seat – that is an issue and what’s the point?

  8. darren,
    but do you understand what you’re praying when u pray in tongues?

  9. Hey dmendez

    Good question. The answer depends on the type of prayer I am praying. In my morning walks I start by simply praying in tongues as a form of worship. It gets me OUT of the flesh zone and IN to the Spirit zone. I am communing with God in a faith action.

    Once I shift toward praying for specific things – then I go to English but can intermingle this with tongues if I run out of English words. When I don’t know how else to pray for an issue – I pray in the Spirit – in faith believing that God’s Spirit is praying with me.

    Lastly, when truly interceding for an issue – usually a healing breakthrough or community/souls breakthrough – I can pray out in a tongue that I might never have heard before. It is almost like a warfare prayer. I know in faith that this is a fresh unction of the Spirit – battling princes & powers of the air. I also pray with understanding at these times as a form of interpretation.

    Please note that these prayer times are in private – not from the front of any church in a leading capacity. I have an idea of what I am praying for – but am always praying in faith. Faith is the country that God lives in. 🙂

  10. oh..erm, i hope you don’t find this offensive but i just want to know… how about the words? do u know what you’re actually saying in that prayer?