Sunday, February 12, 2006

Speaking in tongues, pt. II

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

1 Corinthians 12-14 give us an in-depth look at spiritual gifts, the good and the bad. Paul had just finished rebuking the Corinthians for turning the Lord's Table celebration into a drunken party. He then starts chapter 12 by saying "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant." There are some things that need to be set straight. First, there is a diversity of gifts but one Spirit who distributes them to each one as He wills. Not everyone will have everything. the rest of the chapter is a development of that idea. "Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way." (1 Cor. 12:30-31) Now wait a minute, Paul. We aren't supposed to pursue the gifts, but the Giver. We need to seek His face, not His hand. At least that's what the latest revival websites tell me. Not everybody is going to have everything, but we are encouraged to desire the gifts nonetheless. Both times that tongues are mentioned here interpretation is right afterwards.

Paul tells us to earnestly desire the best gifts, and in 1 Corinthians 13 he tells us about the greatest gift- that of love. You've heard it at every wedding you've ever been to. Chapter 13 continues the theme of doing things in order to benefit one another.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

"Ah ha!" the cessationist will declare. "Where there are tongues, they will pass away, when the perfect has come. We now have the perfect, the Bible, the Word of God." In the words of the ancient prophets, "Context, people, context!" In verse 9 Paul says "For now we know in part and we prophesy in part." In verse 12 he mentions knowing in part again. "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known." He is contrasting. Before and after. Now we see dimly- then we'll see face to face. Now I know in part- then I shall know just as I am known. Has anyone here seen Jesus face to face? Sit down, Benny Hinn. The perfect isn't the Bible, it is the second coming of Christ. This chapter can't be used to "prove" the cessation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 14: 1-5

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. (emphasis mine)

Paul is not downplaying the gift of tongues two chapters after he just said that God gives the gift to people as He wills. I emphasized two portions to make a point. He is talking about gatherings of the church here. The person who speaks in tongues speaks not to men but to God. Huh? Wait a minute. If the gift of tongues is merely for the establishing of the church, and it means a definite known language in every instance, then why is Paul telling us that the tongues-speaker is talking to God? Doesn't God understand every language? Does God need the gospel preached to Him? Because that's why the gift of tongues was given, according to the anti-charismatic. No, Paul is saying that in the church we need to speak words of exhortation to each other. Tongues mean nothing if no one interprets.

Let's go on.

1 Corinthians 14:9-11

So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.

Why would Paul say that unless I know the meaning of the language I shall be a foreigner to him and he shall be a foreigner to me? The whole point of the gift, according to those who rail against the gift today, is that the speaker will be understood by the hearer. Just like the 2nd chapter of Acts. Unless... there are two types of the gift of tongues that are being spoken of in these passages- one unknown that is being spoken to God, and one along the lines of the beginning of the church, where people spoke in tongues to further the gospel.

1 Corinthians 14:13-19

Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (emphasis mine)

Paul isn't teaching either/or, he teaching both/and, with the caveat that if you are in the church you had better be understood. Paul said that he speaks in tongues more than all of the Corinthians believers he was writing to, but in the church he would rather speak words he understands. So if he is speaking words of understanding in the church, where is he speaking in tongues? He uses the phrase "pray in a tongue." If the gift of tongues was a special miracle for the preaching of the gospel in known languages, why would people be praying in tongues. And yet here is Paul telling the Corinthians to pray in the spirit and pray with the understanding.

So let's mop up here. I think I've made a good case that the Bible talks about two different types of tongues- prayer tongues and Book-of-Acts preaching tongues. Yet even the person who is following me up to this point might say "Sure, they had tongues back then, but they passed away with the last apostle." Really? How do you draw that conclusion? Because the Scripture was completed then and the "perfect" had come? I shot that down earlier in the essay. Because they radically faded off in importance as church history progressed? Things have faded and regained prominence in church history that people don't say need to be buried. How many people had Bibles and read them for 1500 years of church history? Tongues may have been slim to none and slim has left town, but that doesn't mean that they have passed away. That's letting experience dictate your interpretation of the Scripture. Hmm... where have I heard that argument before? From the cessationist's very own lips. They will say that the charismatic/Pentecostal believer is interpreting Scripture by their own experience when that person prays in tongues and says it's God; but aren't they doing the very same thing when they see someone obviously faking tongues and they say none of it is from God?

Listen. I have been around the block and seen some wacky things. Just read the archives to find out more. I know that there are people out there who are not praying in tongues but trying to ascend the ladder of prominence in their church. But even if there isn't one genuine instance of speaking in tongues to be found in the world today, that doesn't mean that the gift has passed away. Now your theological system may say that they have; but Scripture says no such thing.

At the same time, if someone isn't interested in speaking in tongues, that's cool. They just have another gift is all. So Phil Johnson, John MacArthur, Dallas Theological Seminary- lighten up. I like your writings, you obviously are intelligent and well-educated, but in this area you need to relax.


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