Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tongue Tied

The other day I was inviting men from my church to a prayer time. Along the way, as I was inviting them, the subject of tongues came up. My church doesn’t see many instances of people praying in that way, but I have witnessed folks in other congregations stand up and begin praying in what appeared to me to be meaningless babbling without any particular structure that might indicate a language. Nevertheless, I had no particular ingrained opinion about tongues. My feeling has always been that God knows what is in a person's heart even if no one can understand what's coming out of his mouth. However, the conversation sparked my interest and I made a little study of the subject which I present here for your consideration.

When studying a subject in the Bible I like to go back to the meaning of the words in the original language or tongue if you will. So, I dug out the old study Bible and away I went.

The word that is translated as tongues or tongue in the English Bible is the Greek word Glossa. Its definition as presented in the New Testament Lexical Aid of the Key Word Study Bible is as follows:

  • A language, manner of speaking, way of expression or articulation (Ac 2:4,11; 10:46); people of different languages (Rev 5:9; 7:9; 14:6).
    1. The Lexical Aid then goes on to explain as follows:

    2. The historic events of speaking in foreign tongues or dialects involved the Jews at Pentecost (Ac 2:4,11), the Gentiles at Caesarea (Ac 10:46), and the disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus (Ac 19:6). These were all real, foreign, human languages unknown to the speakers at that time. These are the same languages demonstrated as charismata (pl. of charisma, endowment), and mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:10,30; 14:5,6,18,22,39.
      1. The Greek word Charisma mentioned above is defined in the following way as it relates to 1 Corinthians:

      2. Charisma is the instantaneous enablement of the Holy Spirit in the life of any believer to exercise a gift for the edification of others.
        1. Armed with this new knowledge I decide to read every scripture I could find that related to tongues. Here’s what I learned:

          1. The word tongue is used throughout the bible to refer to languages of various peoples.
          2. Jesus predicted events in which believers would miraculously speak in different languages in Mark 16:17 (17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues…)
          3. The first recorded instance of someone speaking in a foreign language that was previously unknown to him happened at Pentecost (Ac 2:4-11). These “tongues” were real, foreign, human languages. Acts 2:5-11 reads “5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism) Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
          4. The next instance appears in Acts 10:44-46 “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”
          5. And the last time it was recorded was in Acts 19:6 “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.”
          6. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes about tongues at some length. Particularly in Chapter 14. It appears that his main point is the necessity for someone to interpret for a person speaking in tongues so that the church may be edified. Without someone to interpret what is said, Paul tell us 1 Cor 14:2 “anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” And in vs 13 “For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.”
          7. Paul comes to the following conclusion in 1 Cor 14:22-24 “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"

          So here’s my conclusion thus far (and I would love to hear from you if you think differently or have more insight into this matter than I):

          1. The Bible does not appear to record any instance of a person praying by the use of unintelligible babbling. This type of prayer is often what I hear referred to as “tongues”. However, the Bible refers to tongues as real, human languages and the miraculous speaking of tongues as a gift of the Holy Spirit. According to the Bible it is a sign of the power of God in which a person speaks in a language he did not previously know for the edification of those around him who speak that tongue.
          2. Paul makes it clear that if I speak in a foreign tongue which is not understood by those around me, regardless of how great the miracle, only God understands and those around me receive no benefit.

          So, I know that the next time I’m in church and I feel the urge to pray by babbling, I’ll hear the words of the Apostle Paul ringing in my ears “Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.” (1 Cor 14:9). As a result, I'm just going to pray in English. That way, if God desires to do so, I will have presented a clear opportunity for Him to use me to edify others.