Wednesday, October 17, 2007


The way modern "tongues" are used today by many Christians is not really analogous to the function of glossalalia in the Apostolic church. The Apostolic gift of tongues has no revelance in the church today. The reason is that the Spirit is no longer gifting people to speak in non-Hebraic languages in order to instruct the ethnoi (Acts 2), confirm his gifts to them (Acts 10, etc.), or manifest his judgment against the Jews by confronting them with foreign tongues/languages (Deut. 28:49; 32:19-22; Isa. 28:11, 12; 66:18; 1 Cor. 14:20-25). Carefully consider that string of texts, beginning with Deut. 28. These are the passages that make sense of what is happening in the Apostolic age as God deals with unbelieving Jews. He speaks to them in foreign, non-Hebrew "tongues." It's a judgment and a means of provoking them to jealousy.

But today the Jew-Gentile division is gone. The Bible has been completed and written in tongues (Greek). The Apostolic phenomenon of tongues have ceased. The need for the gift to speak miraculously in non-Hebrew tongues is not needed. There may be an anology between tongues and other forms of ministerial communication (preaching, teaching), but the analogy between what is called modern "tongues" and the NT gift is tenuous at best.

One has to come to grips with the purpose of tongues at the inauguration of the New Covenant era. Tongues are languages, more precisely, non-Hebrew languages. They were miraculously given to provoke the unbelieving Jews to jealously, according to explicit Old Testament prophesies (1 Cor. 14:20ff.; Deut. 28:49; 32:19-22; Isa. 28:11, 12; 66:18). One again, that list of passages.

Have you ever asked: Why were tongues so prominent in the church at Corinth? They seem to be the only community that has such an interest in tongues, where tongues have broken out with such publicity. It's because the church met right next door to the synagogue (Acts 18:7)! The "unbelievers" in 1 Cor. 14:22 are the stiff-necked Jews, not simply generic non-Christians. The context of Isa. 28, which Paul quotes in 1 Cor. 14, makes that pretty clear. Lot's of provocation going on there in Corinth! If that is the case, then perhaps one can see how tongues (=miraculously given non-Hebrew utterances) serve no purpose today. During the transition period (mainly from 30-70 AD, but also a bit beyond that) when God was forming a new international church and the unbelieving Jews were resisting that (as they did all through the Apostolic age), God provoked them to jealousy with these foreign tongues/languages. Every time anyone spoke in tongues in the book of Acts, for example, the Jews are in view somehow.


Bobber said...

Aren't most Jews still resisting today?

Unknown said...

Where can I read more in detail on this explanation?

Anonymous said...

I think your article is good, as far as it goes. I don't necessarily expect to see tongues (in the Acts 2 sense) today (though I have heard of such things happening on the front lines of the mission field in foreign countries). If your article was confined to Acts 2, then I would possibly give it a thumbs up.

But something else seems to be going on in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul tells us explicitly what these tongues are for, and it has nothing to do with making the Jews jealous. In fact, unless there is interpretation, these tongues are not for the church body (as a whole) at all (1 Cor. 14:28), nor are they for unbelieving Jews (1 Cor. 14:23).

Paul tells us that these tongues are for self-edificiation (1 Cor. 14:4). With these tongues, a person does not speak to men, but rather speaks directly to God (1 Cor. 14:2). So listening in on these tongues is "eavesdropping", if you will. These tongues are for private prayer, and are not for public consumption.

This is the way I see 1 Corinthians 14. However, I admit that the gift of tongues still seems "fuzzy" to me. I personally don't speak in tongues, and it is difficult for me to know what to make of the "untie my bowtie who stolla my honda" utterances that I hear from other charismatics, be they Reformed Charismatics or not. I do not put them down, by any means. But that still does not mean that I understand it.

Even if you could somehow prove Scripturally that all tongues are totally a thing of the past, it still would not negate the presence other Spiritual gifts in the church today. In any case, I am not sure you have effectively demonstrated the total cessation of tongues, according to Scripture. You are assuming that the tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14 are identical in every respect to those in Acts 2, and I do not think that is accurate.

That's just my 2 cents. I'm a member of the Association of Charismatic Reformed Churches (ACRC), but I do not claim to be an expert by any stretch. I just read 1 Corinthians 12-14 differently than you do.

Your brother in Christ,

Anonymous said...

1 Cor 14: 20-22: Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord." Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.

That quote in the midst of chp 14 is from Is 28:11.

Richard H.

Jeff Meyers said...

Joseph: Thanks for the note. I'll make a quick response that I hope will not be offensive.

I get my argument from 1 Cor. 14 and it's connection to everything about tongues in the book of Acts.

But note also that Paul is arguing against the misuse and the misevaluation of the gift by the Corinthians. They think it's some sort of mark of Spirituality. They are "seeking" these "higher gifts" like tongues (1 Cor. 12:31). That's sarcasm. "You all are seeking [earnestly desiring] the 'higher' gifts; but [alla is a strong adversative] I will show you a more excellent way."

Then Paul talks about love. Love which serves and edifies others.

Then at the beginning of 1 Cor. 14 he devalues tongues" in relation to prophesy. And he is critiquing the misuse of tongues, as if it were given to the private edification of the individual. He'll smash this all through the chapter. They are a sign for unbelievers (spec. Jews). In the church they must be interpreted so others can be benefit. If not, then the person must keep quiet.

Tongues are not for private prayer. But that's the way they are functioning in the twisted practices at Corinth.

But keep in mind that in whatever way that tongues function in the church they are always public and therefore signs to the unbelieving Jews (v. 22).

These verses do not indicate that tongues are some private prayer language, but that they are being misused as such by the church at Corinth. They are non-Hebrew languages. Paul seeks to correct their self-centered piety and restore tongues to their proper function both in and outside of the church.

sh said...

So then Paul proceeds to practice what he "smashes"???

(1 Cor 14:14-15) For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. {15} What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

JDS said...

Four reasons that “the unbelievers” in 1 Corinthians 14:22ff denotes specifically and exclusively the unbelieving Jews.

1. Unbelievers & Outsiders.

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul distinguishes two different categories of non-Christian: the “outsider” and the “unbeliever.” In 14:16, Paul introduces the term “outsider” by itself. Then in 14:22 Paul concludes that tongues are a sign against “the unbelievers,” but he does not mention “outsiders.” At this point in the text, one might conclude that Paul is simply using these two terms synonymously. But 14:23-24 dispel this conclusion, for twice Paul uses these two terms together, connected by the conjunction “or” (“If … outsiders or unbelievers enter”; “If … an unbeliever or an outsider enters”), thus differentiating two categories of people.

One tempting alternative is to say that “unbelievers” denotes all unbelievers, while “outsiders” denotes everyone (Christian or not) who is not a part of the Corinthian congregation. The problem with this, though, is that in v. 24 the “outsider” is clearly a non-Christian, for like the “unbeliever,” if the “outsider” enters the assembly of prophesying, he is “convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed.” So “unbeliever” and “outsider” are most naturally two distinct categories of non-Christian.

2. Inter-textual echoes.

Deut 28 is the background text for tongues, as Jeff noted. The LXX renders Deut 28.46a ("They shall be a sign ... against you") this way: estai en soi shmeia (“they shall be signs ... against you"), with the dative of disadvantage (cf. Young’s Literal Translation of the MT, “on thee for a sign”). Paul echoes the LXX's translation of Deut 28.46 in grammar and in word choice in his conclusion about the purpose of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.22: hwste ai glwssai eis shmeion eisin ou tois pisteuousin alla tois apistois (literally, “Thus tongues are for a sign not against the ones believing but against the ones not believing").

And in Deuteronomy 28:49, one of these potential “signs” of covenantal curse against unbelieving/rebellious Israel is, of course, a foreign “nation whose language you do not understand.”

3. Peter's strikingly similar usage (and more inter-textual echoes).

1 Peter 2 makes explicit reference to Isaiah 28:16 in identifying Jesus as the cornerstone of honor “for the ones believing,” but a stumbling block “against the ones [Jews] not believing … who are stumbling by the word, being unbelieving, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:7-8 -- my translation).

Note Peter’s contrast between tois pisteuousin (“for the ones believing,” dative of advantage) and apistousin (“against the ones not believing,” dative of disadvantage) in 2:7 -- and note the citation from Isaiah 28:16 (!) in the previous verse.

In the context of 1 Peter 2:6-8, the “ones not believing” are specifically the Jews, for whom the gospel is a stumbling block (1 Peter 2:8; cf. Rom 9.32ff; 1 Corinthians 1:23, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews").

Further, in 1 Peter 2:7, after quoting Isaiah 28:16 (same chapter Paul quotes in 1 Cor 14), Peter infers, “Thus the honor is for the ones believing” (tois pisteuousin), but the “stone of stumbling” is “against the ones not believing” (apistousin). Peter echoes the language of the Septuagint’s translation of Isaiah 28:16b, “the one believing [ho pisteuwn] in him shall not be put to shame” (1 Pet 2:6). That Peter is denoting specifically Jewish unbelievers in 2:7 is unquestionable when we consider that Peter identifies the “unbelievers” as the ones for whom the cornerstone of Jesus is a stumbling block, for Jesus is indisputably the stumbling block precisely to the Jews (cf. Romans 9:32f and 1 Corinthians 1:23).

So Paul is not unique in his specialized use of “unbelievers” as a denotation of Jewish unbelievers.

Moreover, like Peter in 1 Peter 2:7, Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:21 also quotes from Isaiah 28, which means that he is certainly, like Peter, echoing the important substantive participle (ho pisteuwn -- "the one believing") in the Septuagint’s translation of Isaiah 28:16b -- except, of course, Paul is talking about "the one *not* believing" (shmeion ... ou tois pisteuousin), being the corollary of Isaiah 28.16.

The parallels between 1 Peter 2:6-7 and 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 are interesting at the very least. In addition to their both citing Isaiah 28, both also follow their quotes with adverbial conjunctions (oun in 1 Peter 2:7 and hwste in 1 Corinthians 14:22) that introduce their conclusions that follow their Isaiah 28 citations.

What’s more, both couch their explanations of their Isaiah 28 citations with strikingly similar grammar, terminology, and construction. Note the parallels.

-->1 Pet 2:7: therefore the honor is for you who are believing [tois pisteuousin], but against the ones not believing [apistousin]…

-->1 Cor 14:22: thus tongues are for a sign not against the ones who are believing [tois pisteuvousin], but against unbelievers [tois apistois].

4. Historical contextual.

Acts 18:7 confirms my contention that the “unbelievers” of 1 Cor 14:22 are Jews, for the house in which Paul started the Corinthian church “adjoined” (sunomorousa -- literally, “was contiguous with”) the synagogue. So the covenant-breaking Jews, who rejected the gospel of the Messiah that Paul had recently proclaimed to them (Acts 18:5-6), gathered just on the other side of the wall from the main Christian assembly in Corinth. No wonder the gift of tongues, the sign of covenantal curse against the Jews, was so prevalent in the Corinthian church.


Fundamentally, the New Testament gift of tongues, like the Old Testament tongues, were “for a sign [of a specific Deuteronomic curse] against the unbelieving [Jews]” (1 Cor 14:22).

Of course, we need not be reductionistic or rationalistic about this conclusion. There is no a priori reason to doubt that God occasionally gives believers in extraordinary circumstances some kind of miraculous linguistic gifting for the sake of the gospel. Nevertheless, the above considerations suggest that we recognize these post-apostolic linguistic miracles as fundamentally different from the epochal glossalalia of the apostolic era.

JDS said...

There is, of course, an ironic twist to all of this. The nation that God sent to judge Israel this time is not a pagan nation like the Babylonians or the Assyrians -- to which Isaiah is referring in Isaiah 28. This time, the foreign nation that God uses to judge Israel is the new Israel, the church.
In Galatians 6.16, Paul says that the church is “the ISRAEL of God.” And in 1 Peter 2, Peter says the church is “a holy NATION.” The church is the new holy nation, the new Israel -- and God is using this new Israel as an instrument to judge his old Israel.

Of course, it is not surprising that Old Israel was eventually replaced by the New Israel, because Jesus himself, in Matthew 21.43, tells the unbelieving Jews that it was going to happen: “The kingdom of God [that is, the kingdom of which Israel was made steward] will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit [that is, to the church].”

This judgment on Israel culminated in AD 70, which was when the Roman army sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Jesus even predicted this final judgment on Israel in Matthew 24 -- it's a pretty important event in the NT. The disobedient Jews were totally and finally judged in AD 70, which means that the judgment of tongues is no longer necessary. Their judgment is finished.

Of course, the judgment was on religious Jews, not ethnic Jews, for many ethnic Jews were saved. Those who believed in Jesus, those who accepted the Messiah, were saved. In fact, believing Jews who spoke in tongues would have been participating in the curse on their fellow unbelieving Jews.

But as of AD 70, unbelieving Jews are no longer under the curse of tongues. God consummated and ended the curse on the Jews in AD 70, when he sent the Romans to destroy their temple and scatter them abroad. Only the new Israel, the church, is left. The Jews no longer have any covenantal significance in God’s sight. Now the Jews are just like any other nation. Which means there is no need for the covenant curse of tongues. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is no more. And so tongues are no more.

JDS said...

One more follow-up (and sorry for so many "of courses"):

Paul (as well as Acts 2) makes it clear that tongues and prophecy are basically synonymous, even equals. This might seem completely counterintuitive after reading 1 Cor 14; after all, doesn't Paul say several times, in several different ways, that prophecy is superior to tongues?

For example, doesn’t Paul demonstrate the supremacy of tongues once and for all in verse 5 where he concludes, “For the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues”?

No. Read the rest of the sentence: “For the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, UNLESS SOMEONE INTERPRETS, so that the church may be built up.” Paul is saying that prophesying is greater than speaking in tongues if, and only if, the tongues remained un-interpreted. In other words, when tongues WERE interpreted for the edification of the church, they BECAME, essentially, prophecy for believers.

Acts 2 establishes quite clearly that prophecy and *intelligible tongues* are synonymous. In verse 2.17, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel, applying Joel’s words to the situation at Pentecost: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall PROPHESY." Have you ever wondered why Peter applies Joel’s prediction about people PROPHESYING to a situation in which people are speaking in TONGUES? Joel’s prophecy about sons and daughters prophesying is fulfilled at Pentecost, where sons and daughters were speaking in tongues.

After all, as Paul implies in 1 Cor 14.5, when tongues were intelligible to people other than the speaker, they became more than just signs against unbelieving Jews -- they became prophecy for the edification of both believers (1 Cor 14.22b) and unbelieving Jews if they were willing to hear the message (1 Cor 14.24-25).

So tongues had a double function: they were [1] curses (or signs) against UNBELIEVING Jews (1 Cor 14.22) and they were [2] prophetic messages to be translated primarily for BELIEVERS (1 Cor 14.23) and secondarily for UNBELIEVERS and OUTSIDERS (1 Cor 14.24-25).

So when Paul talks about “prophecy” in 1 Cor 14, he’s talking about interpreted tongues -- he’s talking about tongues that were transformed from their first function (judgment against the Jews) into their second function (edification for all).

The upshot of this is that 1 Corinthians 14 is entirely a polemic against speaking in tongues *that were not interpreted* -- not against tongues in general. In 1 Cor 14, "tongues" = uninterpreted tongues and "prophecy" = interpreted tongues. That’s why Paul has so many seemingly negative things to say about "tongues" in this chapter. And it’s why he keeps encouraging them to "prophesy."

So it would be wrong to go to 1 Corinthians to find support for speaking in a private prayer language, as some do. For example, in 14.2, Paul says, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him.” When we read this verse, we need to remember to qualify it, as Paul does, with the phrase, “unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” If someone interprets, then the one who speaks in tongues speaks to God AND men, and everyone understands him and is edified -- and that’s the goal.

The same thing is going on in verse 14: “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.” The point is that an unfruitful mind is not preferable. If your spirit is the only one praying, and there is no interpretation for others of the language that your spirit is praying in, then no other believer is being edified.

Paul’s main concern in 1 Corinthians 14 is not that the Corinthians were failing to be instruments of God’s covenantal curse against the unbelieving Jews next door. They were doing that just fine. Paul’s concern, rather, is that the Corinthians were not transforming these covenantal curses into intelligible, prophetic words of edification for the church and the world. And that was really the ultimate goal. Tongues were meant to be more than simply a curse against the Jews, even if their fundamental purpose was as a sign against the Jews, since this judgment aspect is what distinguished them from simple prophecy. Tongues were meant to edify believers and call unbelievers and outsiders to repentance with their intelligible message.

That’s why Paul says in verse 13, “Therefore, he who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret.” The Corinthians were content with the miraculous gift of speaking in tongues. But as verses 24 & 25 make clear, Paul (and God) wanted tongues to be more than curses against the unbelieving Jews. They wanted tongues ultimately to be a means of *conversion* of the unbelieving Jews who met next door to the Corinthians.

Ironically, though, the Corinthians were acting a lot like the Jews, weren’t they? The Jews were being judged in part because of their self-centered, anti-missional ways.
The Jews were content being God’s sole special people rather than being priests to the nations. Likewise, the Corinthians were content simply being agents of God’s curse against the Jews rather than agents of their salvation as well.

The Corinthians had become very self-centered and individualistic in their faith, particularly in their worship. They weren’t even worried about the edification of their fellow believers, much less the conversion of unbelievers.
They were elevating the importance of their personal, private, tongues-based relationship with God over the importance of the corporate, communal relationship that God has with his church.

What we can learn from this is that while our private relationship with God is important, the Lord’s Day service is the one time each week in which you enter into God’s presence as a community of believers, as a body of baptized Christians -- not as a bunch of individuals.

Anonymous said...

Your input would be welcomed here: