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The Gift of Tongues and Interpretation
Posted by Rev, Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister, Covenant Community Church on Apr 6, 2005, 16:25

The Gift of Tongues and Interpretation

(Plus a few notes on miracles and healing)


An amazing religious phenomenon of the day is speaking in tongues. The apostle Paul speaks of the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28, 30). So what is this gift? What is the purpose of the gift? Is it valid today? Is it a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Is it a way to Christian maturity or a reflection of spirituality? How important is this gift?


These are some of the questions we will tackle over the course of this particular personal study. So grab your Bible, get ready, and lets get started…..


What is it?


This is a great place to start! Tongues are referred to three different times in Acts and also in a section of 1 Corinthians (12-14). In Acts, tongues seem to refer to a foreign language. The word Pentecostal derives from the experience on the Day of Pentecost when 120 spoke in dialects, not their native tongues and not learned through the normal education process, so that people from many nations heard the message, each in his own language. Go back and read the account for yourself in Acts 2:1-13.


The tongues speaking in the home of Cornelius found in Acts 10:44-47 also likely involved definite foreign languages. The reason we can know this is because Peter called it “the like gift” as came on Pentecost (11:15-18). When the disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus came into knowledge about Christ and spoke in tongues, it would seem to be the same miracle of speaking in foreign dialects. (19:1-7)


Many who would agree that the tongues in the three episodes in Acts refers to definite languages, hold that the tongues speaking in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is of a different nature. These tongues are thought to be ecstatic utterances, which do not correspond to any known language. Some call these a “spirit language.”


Now it must be noted at this point that commentators will disagree on the type of tongues that were referred to in 1 Corinthians. After reading what they have argued on both sides of the issue….let me make the following summation. If the tongues at Corinth were ecstatic utterances, this type of tongues speaking should not be considered Pentecostal, for at Pentecost the speaking was clearly and definitely in foreign languages. At Pentecost instead of erecting new language barriers, the existing linguistic barriers were removed as each heard in his own tongue.


Much of the modern day tongues speaking (the ecstatic utterance type) does just the opposite be erecting a linguistic barrier, which without interpretation cannot be overcome. The gift of interpretation, when the tongue was in a foreign language, would be the ability to translate by someone who did not know the language. In the case of ecstatic utterance, the gift would be to interpret the nonlinguistic sounds.


What is the Purpose of the Gift?


The major purpose of speaking in tongues in Acts seems to be evidential.


That means that the gift authenticated the messengers of the Gospel.


At Pentecost, tongue speaking attracted a crowd, provided a springboard for the sermon of Simon Peter, and helped gain 3000 converts to Christianity!


In the case of what happened in the home of Cornelius the gift of tongues was used to convince skeptical Jewish believers that the Gospel was for Gentiles too


Again at Ephesus when the followers of John the Baptist heard of the work of Christ, the gift of tongues offered evidence of the reality and validity of Paul’s message. Tongues, “a sign not them that believe, but to them that believe not” (1 Corinthians 14:22) gave divine endorsement to this new work. Tongues are a sign gift as clearly seen in Scripture.


However…tongues at Corinth, if they were ecstatic speech, had a value that was directed inward, toward the speaker, for others did not know what was being said. To qualify as a gift, a Spirit-driven ability must be directed outward for building up and edifying the church.


So, read this closely, uninterpreted tongues speaking, though some sort of spiritual exercise, falls short of being a gift, for it edifies only the speaker. If the utterances are interpreted then we move into an arena of spoken prophecy, and that by definition edifies the body of Christ.


Hold Your Tongue!


Some Southern Baptists hold that the gift of tongues is a sign gift that is no longer valid. This gift ended with the early apostolic leaders. I as a teacher do not embrace that position because I can’t find it to be Biblically based. To state that all tongues speaking today is spurious somehow seems to deny the right of the Holy Spirit to endow His servants with whatever gift He pleases….


But before you get to reactive to that last paragraph…lets remember clearly the following…


Tongues are not the sign of the baptism in the Spirit


Some hold that unless a person speaks in tongues he has not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This surely serves to stir up pride and division in a church by creating an elite class of those who speak in tongues looking down at those who don’t. As a matter of reference consider the way that this question is often asked among those when inquiring whether or not a person speaks in tongues.


It is significant that a major section dealing with gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14) features Paul showing that all believers have been baptized in the Spirit (12:13), not just those who have one particular gift of the Spirit! Since all Christians have been baptized in the Spirit, but not all speak in tongues, tongues could not be the sign of the baptism in the Spirit.


Apart from the verse above the only other references to the baptism in the Holy Spirit, six in number, are virtually one in that they are a quotation of the words of John the Baptist spoken prophetically, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 3:11, see also…Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:4-5, Acts 11:15-16) Fulfillment of John’s words came on the Day of Pentecost, a once and for all historical event, when the exalted Jesus Christ at the right hand of the Father gave the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father and in the fulfillment of the promise (Acts 1:4, 2:33). The baptism in the spirit is not mentioned outside these references mentioned here.


There is not a single place in Scripture that believers are commanded to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This immediately calls into question the theology and Biblical understanding of any individual or denomination that places an emphasis on doing so. The reason that Scripture does not command believer seek this baptism of the Spirit is because there is not point in seeking what has already occurred. This baptism of the Spirit occurs at the moment of salvation. The filling of the Spirit is what some may be referring to…and even this becomes a confusing topic. Since the Spirit of God dwells within the believers you don’t ever need or get more of the Spirit. It is probably helpful to think of the “filling of the Spirit” as those moments in your life when you are so obedient and in touch with what God has called you to do or be that the Spirit of God is surging through you, in your obedience and willingness to be obedient you have in some ways unleashed more of what was already within….in most believers untapped and not active. I am not sure I have explained that as well as I would like, but that is not the focus of this discussion.


Notice that Paul says clearly in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that ALL believers have been baptized into one body. The he goes on to point out that not all speak in tongues. So Biblically tongues cannot be the sign of baptism.


Tongues are not a valid or Biblical method of growth


Earlier I said that I would not go as far as to say that the gift of tongues was no longer valid. I will go as far as to say that tongues are not a Biblically valid method of growth.


Many people today get attracted to a brand of faith that contends that the tongues movement gives a renewed devotion to Christ, a deeper prayer life, and a more intimate communion with God. These are things that are offered as evidence by many who argue for the importance of speaking in tongues.


First, all the benefits mentioned above are experienced by believers by the working of the Spirit in their lives apart from speaking in tongues.


Second, the Bible does not indicate that tongues are the way to grow deeper in the Christian life.


On the contrary, tongues speaking is never once mentioned after Acts with the exception of 1 Corinthians. In all explanations of life in the Spirit in all the New Testament epistles, tongues speaking is completely ignored. If speaking in tongues was an important or even necessary part of spiritual growth they would surely be mentioned. So for many what is argued and advocated as necessary for spiritual maturity is not that at all.


Third, tongues are not the exclusive domain of Christianity.


Even those who fiercely hold onto the necessity of speaking tongues will also admit that much of it spurious and counterfeit. Tongues-speaking has been reported from the days of Plato, known among the Zulus, and practiced as a part of Hinduism. Tongue speaking has been heard and is embraced by Muslims, Mormons, and spiritualist mediums, not to mention other quasi-religious groups. This also is evidence that one’s faith or the baptism of the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with the speaking in tongues that some would suggest.


Fourth, tongues are not a sign of maturity or spirituality


The church in Corinth where this gift was most distinguishable was also distinguished by marked immaturity. Paul made this abundantly clear in his letter to the church in Corinth. He clearly states that spirituality is not about tongue speaking but instead about fruit bearing. Isn’t it odd that many people place so much emphasis on what was most often known as a sign of the immature?


Fifth, tongues are not a church building gift


Not only must gifts be exercised in love but also must build up the saints. Because ecstatic speech in the context of a church service is incomprehensible and thus unhelpful and uninterpreted that is a sure sign that what is happening is not Biblical and not a part of the building up of the family of God.


Go back and reread 1 Corinthians 14:2-3. We are reminded that gifts are not given for psychological value, subjective spiritual exercise, nor self-agrandizement, but for the strengthening of other believers. The criteria to use is this….does the use of this gift build up and equip the church?


In fact, as mentioned earlier, tongue speaking apart from interpretation does not qualify as a spiritual gift because of its failure to profit others.


The emphasis that is very clear in what Scripture says about tongues is that if it does not fit into the pattern of a God who wants to make himself known to others in a Christian gathering…then it is more than likely counterfeit.


If a person believes or has been taught to speak in tongues (which is another sure sign of the reality of it not being a spiritual gift) the use of this ability or taught talent is restricted to one’s personal life and is limited to whatever one can muster about their personal edification.



Random Tongue Waggings


Let me make a few observations to begin wrapping up our examination of this topic.


First, Don’t be discontented with God’s normal workings within us


As we have clearly seen from a solid Biblical basis…speaking in tongues is not even a blip on the radar screen of God’s working within you and the depth of your intimacy with Christ. If you are waiting for or someone has told you that you must speak in tongues you are waiting for an experience that has nothing to do with your depth of faith.


Second, Accept tongues for what they are


They are a New Testament gift and we have seen the clear definition of when tongues are a gift and when they are not a gift. In 1 Corinthians 14:39 Paul writes, “Forbid not to speak with tongues…”


It is crucial to see what the gift is and when it is used properly. Paul made the same emphasis.


Third, Beware of majoring in minors


If you once again go back and read what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12-14 we see that he never directed the Corinthians to seek this particular gift. Rather, he very clearly substituted other goals. Nor does Paul ever suggest to any other church to seek tongues. Isn’t it revealing that Paul never even mentions tongues outside the epistle to the church at Corinth, where he soft pedals it and tries to correct its abuses? In writing about the Spirit led and Spirit controlled life he completely ignores tongues. After the book of Acts only one book in the New Testament mentions tongues and mentions it as a problem.


If you look at all the teaching on the Holy Spirit and the lack of importance placed on the gift of tongues in comparison to other gifts and instruction then one must conclude that tongues is relatively minor issue.


Some will ask what about the gift of healing?

Although that is not the topic of this article, the gift of healing is the ability to intervene in a supernatural way as an instrument for the curing of illness and the restoration of health.


Again, like the gift of tongues this is a gift that has not disappeared but sadly has been misused, fabricated, and used as devisive within Christian circles. It should be understood that...The gift does not heal every illness....The gift does not depend upon the sick person's faith...The gift does not account for all healing...The gift does not exist equally in all centuries.


The gift of healing while still valid seems much more prevelant at the time of Christ and the early church. Also, the model that we have in Scripture shows that the gift was more restricted to a few than to the masses as a whole, The epistles never command us to heal people. One reason for a seperate classification of sign gifts (miracles, healing, tongues, and interpretation) is their special authenticating relationship with the apostles in Scripture.


Now that leaves one other sign gift for us to think about...Miracles. Once again that is not the focus of this article, but since we are exploring lets take a moment and at least think about this gift. A Miracle in the Scriptural sense is an event of supernatural power, palaple to the senses, accompanying the servant of the Lord to authenticate the divine commission. There are three words that most often accompany miracles in the New Testament. Power, wonder, and signs. These 3 words used to reference miracles each fit with a different aspect of the definition of a miracle. Let me show you....


Power-a miracle is an event of supernatural power

Wonder-palaple to the senses

Sign-accompanying the servant of the Lord to authenticate the divine commission.


Have you ever met anyone with the gift of working miracles? Remember, this person should be able with this gift, at his word of command or prayer suspend the laws of nature by divine power and perform some miraculous work like multiplying bread to feed thousands.


An accurate study of Biblical miracles shows them clustering, although not exclusively, at crucial points of history...they were associated with the Exodus, the prophets, Christ, and the early church. In each case they were wonders to signal or authenticate the servant of God. While today we don't see this gift manifested often we must conclude while it is still valid, it is not neccessary to validate the servants of God as it was and is not the way that God has chosen to work in this period of history.


The gift of miracles, healing, and tongues are all sign gifts found within Scripture. While valid they are rare and most often those that are properly using them are doing so with very little notice as they build up and strengthen the body of Christ.



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