Why There is Such a Thing as the Gift of Tongues (Part 2) image

Why There is Such a Thing as the Gift of Tongues (Part 2)

Yesterday, I looked at the first five arguments in Eric Davis' article, 'Why there is no such thing as the gift of tongues'. Today I look at the remaining six.

6. The similarities between Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14

Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 speak of the same gift and therefore 1 Corinthians 14 must be talking about earthly languages showing the ethnic diversity of the church as in Acts 2. 

It is pretty hard to maintain that Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 are talking about the same things - earthly languages given to indicate the ethnic mix of the church and as judgement on Israel – as Davis claims.

It’s true that both chapters use the word glōssa, but this does not prove that they are talking about the same thing. Indeed, it may be significant that Acts 2:4 speaks of heterai glōssai ‘other languages’, a term not used elsewhere when the gift of languages is being referenced (e.g. Acts 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor. 12 and 14). This may suggest a deliberate attempt to distance this speech from the usual gift. It is also the case that Acts 2 makes no attempt to link the Pentecost event to a gift of languages, despite later references to speaking in ‘languages’ (10:46; 19:6). The close connection between speaking in languages and extolling God in Acts 10:46 suggests that, in keeping with 1 Corinthians 14:16, worship and thanksgiving are at the core of the gift there, while in Acts 2:11 the speech is a recounting of the ‘mighty works of God’. These sound like different things. Thus Acts 2 is the anomaly.

It is true that Paul refers to ‘earthly foreign languages’ in 1 Corinthians 14:10-11 and 21, but the former is an illustration and the latter an Old Testament quote. Neither requires that the gift of languages be the same.

It is also hard to see why God would give the gift of languages to demonstrate the ethnic mix of the church. Surely if the church really was ethnically mixed that would be evident in languages and accents and many other things already. If God needed to give them languages to make them appear ethnically mixed was he actually pretending the church was ethnically diverse, when it actually wasn’t?

7. The meaning of ‘tongues of angels’ in 1 Corinthians 13:1

The reference to ‘tongues of angels’ does not suggest there are ‘heavenly or angelic language[s] enabled by the Holy Spirit. The passage is employing hyperbole to speak of the greatest language possible.

I agree that there is no proof that the ‘languages of angels’ is to be related to the gift of languages, though the wider context of chapters 12-14 could be said to support such a link. The phrase doesn’t quite convey hyperbole, as Davis claims, but is presumably about comprehensiveness: any language in which one might speak – ranging from human to angelic – would be pointless without love. The fact that all recorded speech from angels in the Bible is in ‘intelligible earthly languages’ is hardly surprising. They would be rather ineffective messengers if this weren’t the case, but that doesn’t prove that there aren’t angelic languages which we don’t know.

8. God’s provision of 66 books containing intelligible words by the work of the Holy Spirit

The form of the Bible and its witness to how the people of God communicate with God both suggest that our prayers should be in intelligible, earthly languages. What more spiritual prayer language could we need than those given to us in Scripture?

I can fully agree that the Bible is ‘an utterly extraordinary thing’ and a wonderful gift from God. I can also fully understand why God has chosen to communicate to us in intelligible, human languages. I can’t, however, see why that means that our communication to God must be in languages which are similarly intelligible to us. Surely the nature of the Bible is dictated by our human limitations, limitations not shared by God. I presume that he can understand any language, especially if it has been given by him.

9. The biblical scenes of heaven

The fact that there is no evidence for the use of unintelligible languages in heavenly worship suggest that such expression is not spiritually superior. 

There are, no doubt, some Christians who believe the gift of languages is for today and that speaking in languages is a ‘higher, more spiritual, or superior experience’, but I know many who don’t.

The argument from biblical scenes of heaven adds little. Speaking in languages given by the Holy Spirit does not make one spiritually superior, but it does edify the individual (1 Cor. 14:4) and was clearly believed by Paul to be a good thing to do (1 Cor. 14:5). The fact that we don’t see it in use in heaven seems pretty irrelevant given the positive witness of scripture in favour of its usage in this age.

10. Pagan religious practice

Phenomena similar to the contemporary gift of languages was common in ancient pagan religion, is still common in false religions today, and is prohibited by Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

It is true that other cultures and religions have made use of ‘non-linguistic utterances’, but this doesn’t prove that the gift of languages is not from God and for today. The claimed conflict with Matthew 6:7 has been addressed above (argument 4). It is also inaccurate to portray the gift of languages as ‘ecstatic’. This characterisation is not required by the New Testament (1 Cor. 14:28 clearly shows that the speaker has the ability to not speak; the speaker is not out of control cf.14:32).

11. The predominant position of the church

The contemporary view of the gift of languages didn’t emerge until the 1900s and many key Christian figures held to a cessationist position.

This is another strong argument. To get a fair evaluation of it you would need to talk to a church historian – and that’s not me! But I think the point is overstated. There is evidence of what may have been the gift of languages from several key figures in church history, including Irenaeus (2nd century), Tertullian (3rd) and Hildegard of Bingen (12th).

However, even if there have been very few throughout church history who have believed in the gift of languages in the form many do today, that is not, on its own, enough to make Davis’ case. If there is good biblical support, which, as we have seen, there arguably is, then we should believe in and seek the gift today.

So, it seems that there actually is such a thing as the gift of tongues, and God still wants to give it today and for us to use it today. To paraphrase Davis, we can justify the experience from Scripture, and, therefore, the practice must be sought, practiced and propagated by Christians. Or, in Paul’s words, ‘I want you all to speak in tongues’ (1 Cor. 14:5).

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