Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues (pt. 2)

In Acts 2 when Luke speaks of the apostles receiving tongues, it is clearly the miraculous ability to speak in other languages: “each one heard them speaking in his own language” (v. 6); “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues” (v. 11). This is not “private prayer language” tongues.
The next time Luke talks about tongues (glōssa in the original Greek) is in Acts 10, when Peter is in Caesarea. Luke reports that “they heard them [the Gentiles in Cornelius’ household] speaking in tongues and praising God” (v. 46). Peter’s response was: “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (v. 47, emphasis added). What the Jewish believers had received from the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was the ability to speak in other languages of men. Since Luke clearly stated that in Acts 2 and does not describe anything different here in Caesarea, we must assume his intent was for his readers to understand that this was the same glōssa that had been received on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Any other interpretation is reading something in to the text that is not there – a very dangerous undertaking in biblical interpretation.
We see the same use of tongues in Acts 19, in Ephesus when Paul found men who had been baptized into “John’s baptism” and had not received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19, they were baptized into “the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 5) then “Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (v. 6). Again, Luke does not report that this is something different from the glōssa he spoke of in Acts 2. Proper contextual interpretation insists that we must understand this “tongues” as “languages of men,” just like in Acts 2.
The only other books of the New Testament that use glōssa as anything other than the tongue or words that come off our tongue in our known languages, are 1 Corinthians and Revelation. I’ll explore 1 Corinthians in more depth later, but it is important to note that glōssa, which contemporary Christians usually use as “a private prayer language” is not used that way most of the time in the New Testament. In Revelation, just like in Acts, it is always used to refer to the languages of men: “...and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (v. 5:9); “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” (7:9). (See also 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15.)
So we see that in the first century church, glōssa was commonly understood as “foreign languages.” The only place in the New Testament where it was referred to as a private prayer language was in 1 Corinthians. We will explore what Paul says about glōssa, but before that, let’s carefully consider the four cases of what we call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” in Acts – in my next blog.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues

Recently I was speaking to a group of women about the Holy Spirit. My message was about the person of the Holy Spirit not about the gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit. It isn't that I don't believe the gifts and fruits are important, but because I believe we are too quick to jump to them without bothering to get to know the Holy Spirit himself. In the Q&A period after the message, I was challenged about the gift of tongues. The argument I was presented was that I needed to tell the women present that they had to get the gift of tongues. The woman who challenged me was insistent; I could provide her with no proof that tongues is not necessary for our connection to the Holy Spirit.
This bothered me on a number of levels, so I'm going to explore tongues and the Holy Spirit here in my blog.
My first argument is that tongues is overrated as evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It isn't nearly as prevalent in the New Testament as some believe.
The only three times in the entire New Testament when tongues is given as an evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit is in three of the five places in Acts when Luke specifically reported that believers showed the infilling of the Holy Spirit: Acts 2:1-4 (the day of Pentecost); 4:32 (during a praise service after Peter and John were released from prison-tongues not reported); 8:14-17 (to Samarian believers by the laying on of hands-tongues not reported); 10:44-48 (to gentile believers in Cesarea); 19:1-6 (to twelve men in Ephesus). There were at least twenty other places where Luke reports believers were added to the fold and the Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned. (Acts 2:41-47; 4:4, 31; 6:7; 8:25, 38-39; 9:17-22, 31; 11:15-17; 11:21, 24; 13:48-52; 14:1, 27, 21; 16:15, 32-34; 17:4, 12; 18: 8; 18:24-19:7)
This shows us a number of things. First, Luke's original readers assumed the infilling of the Holy Spirit happened at the moment of conversion. Second, since that infilling is only mentioned four times out of more than two dozen reports of belief, there must be something special about those four times, otherwise Luke would not have so dramatically pointed to them. Check out my next post for what I believe the evidence says about those four times.