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Research Paper Tongues

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Liberty University

Speaking in Tongues: an evaluation of the corporate use of tongues through the book of acts

A research paper submitted to Dr. paul brewster
In Partial Fulfillment of the requirements For

Liberty University Online

Michael Douglas

Lynchburg, Virginia
August 16th, 2013 Table of Contents
Introduction 2
The Meaning of Speaking in Tongues in the Church Today--------------------------------------2
The Use of Tongues in Acts 3
The Precedent and Purpose of Tongues as Established in Acts----------------------------6
Conclusion 7

The debate over tongues is one that will not be settled in one session of writing or discussion; men will be having their say on the subject until the day we meet Christ face to face in heaven. In the modern sense, this spiritual phenomenon is closely associated with the Pentecostal movement which originated in the Azusa St. Revival of 1906 and has caused a severe split in the church. This division has been caused, primarily, by an incorrect interpretation of the gift of tongues in the New Testament through the exclusion of studying the gift through the Biblical precedent of the gift established by Luke in the book of Acts. In order to properly interpret and comprehend the references to speaking in tongues in the corporate setting of the New Testament church, one must understand the purpose and characteristics of tongues in the book of Acts. This paper will argue that the experience of tongues in Acts is normative for understanding tongues in the rest of the New Testament epistles and the church today.
The Meaning of Speaking in Tongues in the Church Today
In the modern context, the reference to speaking in tongues refers the individual extolling God or praying emphatically under the power of the Holy Spirit in an incoherent, heavenly tongue. The term used to refer to the gift of tongues is the word “glossolalia”, which is a combination of the Greek words glosse (Gr. γλοσσα, language or tongue) and lalia (Gr. λαλια, speech); meaning literally, “speaking in tongues or languages”. The issue at hand here is that this “language” or “tongue” is considered, by many in the church today, as unintelligible to man and known only by God. To assume this is a grievous error not only on the part of the individual but also the church body. The Scriptures paint a portrait of not only the purpose of this gift, but also the characteristics of it. When one attempts to draw conclusions about tongues, it is imperative that they view the gift of tongues through its introduction to the early church in the book of Acts and therefore allow the criteria established become the normative for the gift elsewhere in the New Testament.
The Use of Tongues in Acts
Acts 2:1-8
The first mention of the gift of tongues in Acts (and the New Testament) comes at Pentecost, following the ascension of Christ into heaven. After waiting for fifty days, the Spirit fills the apostles and provides them with the ability to, “speak in other tongues” (2:4). The obvious question that arises for a critical reader of the text is, “what kind of tongues were they speaking in?” To find an explanation, one must investigate into the original language the text was written in. The adjective Luke uses to describe the types of tongues the apostles were speaking in is the term ἑτεραις γλοσσαις (heterais glossais) which simply means that the men spoke in different languages. If left to this simple description, it would be easy for one to draw a conclusion based upon an assumption of what these different languages were. In verse 6, however one sees that these languages were actually known dialects (διαλεκτο) of those present. The crowd marvels at the ability of these simple men from Galilee articulate the truth of the gospel in a language that was otherwise foreign to him. At no point in this passage, is there sufficient evidence presented for the corporate use of tongues being anything more than the ability to speak in a language otherwise unknown to the messenger.
Acts 10:44-48, 11:13-17
In chapter 10 of Acts the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and his family, causing them to speak in tongues and extol God (10:46). First and foremost, one must understand that this passage was never intended by Luke to be used in a theological explanation of the gift of tongues. Rather, the purpose of this passage is to emphasize the Gentile acquisition of the Holy Spirit and to parallel the events of Pentecost. Bock notes that, “the significance of this scene is that what began as a Jewish movement struggling for acceptance within Judaism has now expanded to become a movement to reach all people.” To draw a theological conclusion about a spiritual gift from a passage that is not intended to teach on spiritual gifts, is quite speculative and must be done with caution. None the less, the mentioning of tongues is present here and must be addressed.
There seems to be evidence that what is being proclaimed in tongues is coherent and understandable to those present. First, Luke states that they were “extolling God” (10:46). In order for one to recognize that another is praising the Lord, they would have to understand what is being said. Yet, if they are speaking gibberish, there would be a larger disconnect between what is being said and what is being done. Now, one may refute this by stating the mannerism or state of mind in which the Gentiles are in points to praise and therefore one would not need to understand their words but could merely assume what they were saying extolled God. While this hypothesis is plausible based upon verse 46, it is tarnished when one sees the speech by Peter in chapter 11. In verse 15 of this chapter 11, Peter describes what happened to the Gentiles as, “just as on us at the beginning”. In referring to the beginning, Peter is speaking of Pentecost. As already examined, the tongues spoken at Pentecost were known languages. Therefore, the occurrence of tongues here in Acts is nothing more than the divine ability to speak in known, human languages.
Acts 19:6
This is the final mentioning of tongues in the book of Acts. Though there is no explicit explanation for the type of tongues used in this passage, it is implied that it is no different from what occurred with the Gentiles in chapter 10 and on Pentecost in chapter 2. Wiersbe comments on this idea, stating, “In Acts 19:6, we have the last instance of the gift of tongues in the book of Acts. The believers spoke in tongues at Pentecost and praised God, and their listeners recognized these tongues as known languages (Acts 2:4-11) and not some “heavenly speech.” The Gentile believers in the house of Cornelius also spoke in tongues (Acts 10:44-46), and their experience was identical to that of the Jews in Acts 2 (see Acts 11:15).” Furthermore, the use of the Greek phrase λαλεο in Acts 19:6 literally means “I speak”, pointing to the believers speaking intelligibly. Of its 271 uses in the New Testament, never once does it refer to a sound or noise, but is always connected with intelligible speech.
Following this experience, tongues are no longer mentioned in the book of Acts. Nowhere does there seem to be evidence for the gift of tongues being anything more than speech in a known, human language. Because Acts is the first time this spiritual phenomenon is mentioned, one must understand the precedent it establishes as normative for the rest of the New Testament.
The Precedent and Purpose of Tongues as Established in Acts
The early history of the Christian church is recorded in Acts. During this hostile time, the apostles were in need of not only communicating the message of the Gospel to all men but also confirming it. Primarily, in this book, the corporate gift of tongues is intended to communicate the gospel. In Acts, this gift is an evangelistic tool; the gift of tongues allowed the Apostles to preach the gospel without taking time to learn a different language. Tongues also confirmed that the message of the gospel. Until 325 A.D. there was not complete canonization of the Word of God, therefore signs were needed to accompany the claims made by these ordinary men. In the same way that Christ’s ministry was accompanied with signs to confirm his messianic claims so too were the Apostles’ ministry when they claimed that they preached the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The gift of tongues allowed the Apostles to confirm that the message they were preaching was in fact divine and greater than them; it vindicated both the message and the messenger.
The subsequent writings of the Apostles in the New Testament, trace back to their experiences in Acts. As previously analyzed, tongues in Acts are nothing more than a gift in which the Holy Spirit empowered the church to spread the gospel through the supernatural ability to speak in languages otherwise unknown to them. Never once does Luke allude to the idea that they are unintelligible or heavenly. There is no evidence of incoherent tongues speech in Acts and the ministries of the writers of the New Testament epistles, which include the gift, are mentioned in Acts. Therefore, it is imperative that one view the appearance of tongues in the New Testament epistles through the precedent established in Acts. Lehman Strauss comments on this hypothesis stating, “These are the only instances of people speaking in tongues in the Bible, except in 1 Corinthians where Paul gives guidelines on how to use this gift within the church. None of the later Epistles mention speaking in tongue." Based on what is seen in Acts, it would be strange to interpret the New Testament in any way that would make the gift of speaking in tongues anything other than known languages.
In one’s Christian life, they must be careful not to equate experience to Scripture. While many times experience may seem sufficient, the Word of God should always have the final say in theological matters. After a close examination of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts, once can see that this was a gift that involved people speaking in known languages to both communicate and confirm the Gospel. Nowhere is there evidence of this phenomenon being incoherent speech. Because Acts records not only the very beginning of the Christian church but also speaking in tongues, one must interpret all other references to this gift through the information provided in Acts. Due to the compilation of the experiences of New Testament authors in Acts, it is vital that one see that the experience of tongues in Acts is normative for understanding tongues in the rest of the New Testament and the church today. Bibliography
Aland, Kurt, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, and Allen Wikgren, eds. The
Greek New Testament, 4th Revised Edition. 4 Revised ed. Germany: American Bible
Society, 2000.
Barrett, C.K. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Vol. 1. The
International Critical Commentary series. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Acts of the Apostles (the Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries). New Haven
and London: Yale University Press, 1998.
Jacobsen, Douglas G. 2003. Thinking in the Spirit : Theologies of the Early Pentecostal
Movement. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003. eBook Collection
(EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed July 27, 2013)
Lawson, Steven J. "The Priority of Biblical Preaching: An Expository Study of Acts
2:42-47." Bibliotheca Sacra 158:630 (April-June 2001)
Leeming, David A., Kathryn Madden, and Stanton Marlan, eds. “Glossolalia”: Encyclopedia of
Psychology and Religion. New York: Springer, 2010: 348-349.
Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, Philip Schaff, and Henry Wace, eds. The Ante-Nicene
Fathers (10 Volume Set).Vol 3. Buffalo, NY: Hendrickson Pub, 1996.
Stephenson, Christopher A. Types of Pentecostal Theology: Method, System, Spirit (aar
Academy). New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Wiersbe Bible Commentary Nt (wiersbe Bible Commentaries). New ed.
Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007.

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