Reflections on what the Bible says about speaking in tongues
"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim their message." – Acts 2:4, The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips
From time to time I receive emails with questions centered around what our charismatic Pentecostal friends call "speaking in tongues." Here are those questions and my answers to questions about glossolalia.
Question: Does the Nazarene Church believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
My answer:IsChurch of the Nazarenersit is one of the fruits of the 18th century Wesleyan revival. The Holy Spirit led the leaders of this revival to emphasize God's call to holiness and His willingness to enable us to respond to that call through the cleansing and fulfilling work of the Holy Spirit.
Along with biblical words like"sanctified"and "perfected in love," the Nazarenes used the phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit" to describe God's work in a believer to restore the holiness that was part of His original plan for the human race.
So yes, Nazarenes believe in being baptized by the Holy Spirit. We believe in being filled with the Spirit and empowered by the Spirit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that enables us to live the life of holiness to which God has called us.
Question: Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit? Did you speak in another language when it was full? If yes, do you still use this gift? Do you believe in tongues and interpretation and is this gift of the Holy Spirit actively practiced in the Church of the Nazarene?
My answer:There was a long time in my spiritual life when I was in the conflict described in Romans 7. But I gave myself completely to God and asked Him to fill me with His Holy Spirit, and now I find my spiritual life best described by the Victory of Romans 8. My need was inner transformation and that's what God did for me. It was not a moment that included a visible external display.
As for "tongues and interpretations," I saw missionaries who could preach far beyond their humanly acquired language skills. I think these missionaries manifested the true Pentecostal gift of tongues. As an aside, I've always been a bit perplexed by fellow Pentecostal missionaries who testified that they had the "gift of tongues" and yet struggled to learn the language of the people to whom they were sent. Their difficulties in learning the language made me feel like they were witnessing something they really weren't.
As for the gift of interpreting, I have seen American Nazarene leaders visit other countries and listen to people speaking a language that church leaders do not understand. However, they were able to understand and fully understand what was said. I believe these Nazarene leaders revealed a Holy Spirit gift of interpretation.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is actively at work in the Church of the Nazarene, although that gift takes different forms than our Pentecostal friends believe it should.
Question: How do you know you were baptized in the Holy Spirit if you don't speak in tongues?
My answer:The best sign that a person is enjoying the fulness of the Holy Spirit is the appearance of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul explains in Galatians 5:22-23. In this passage Paul contrasts the life ruled by the sin nature with the life ruled by the Spirit. There is nothing about "speaking in tongues" in this list of what the fruit of the Spirit entails. Isn't that significant? If ecstatic expressions are the telltale sign that someone has been baptized in the Holy Spirit, shouldn't that be on the Galatian list?
For this and other reasons, I doubt asking for a physical sign of God's work in us. When the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a "sign from heaven," he replied:"A wicked and adulterous generation seeks a marvelous sign"(Matthew 12:39). One of the reasons I'm not in the movement that sees "tongues" as a miracle sign is that I don't want to be identified as part of a perverted and adulterous generation.
Question: Paul said he prayed in tongues more than any other believer. If Paul prayed in tongues, shouldn't we also be looking for that gift?
My answer:Consider the context in which Paul boasts of speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18-19). His point is that he would rather speak five words and be understood than speak ten thousand that no one around him understands.
How many languages did Apostle Pul speak? Well, it turns out he was a talented linguist. Raised in Tarsus, he may have spoken a now-extinct language used by the locals "on the streets" (as well as in modern Italy where everyone speaks Italian, as well as a localized regional language of the area they grew up in). As an educated Roman citizen, Paul also spoke Greek. He studied in Jerusalem with Gamaliel, so he also spoke Hebrew (Acts 22:3). As Paul traveled the Mediterranean, he probably learned a few more local languages (since he lived in several cities for months). I believe he prayed and preached in several languages. Me too (we were cross-cultural missionaries for 15 years) [biographical draft].
I pray (and have preached) in Italian, French, Haitian Creole and Spanish. Each time I preach, whether in English or any of these other languages, I pray that God will allow me to speak with more clarity and power than my own human understanding of that language would inherently allow. When the Holy Spirit helps in this way, it is probably the genuine gift of tongues or tongues.
Paul says we should covet the greater gifts, "especially the gift of prophecy" (1 Corinthians 14:1). To say that we should "especially" desire a gift other than tongues or tongues would contradict the argument that the gift of tongues is of special importance. In fact, Paul seems to place the gift of tongues very low on the list of importance. We also need to hear Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12:11 where he points out that the Holy Spirit distributes His gifts in different ways to different people. Why would you say that if there was a specific gift that God wanted to give?everybelievers?
Question: Do you think it is morally wrong to speak in tongues? Is it against God's will that we speak in tongues? Is it against the rules of the Church of the Nazarene? Why do people speak languages?
My answer:The tongues experiences of my Pentecostal friends are meaningful worship events to them. However, what I see them doing is not what happened on the day of Pentecost. On that day, believers were empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel across language barriers. As these 120 people left the Upper Room, they miraculously spoke the native languages of several cities that had gathered in Jerusalem for a Jewish festival (Acts 2:4-11). Of course, my Pentecostal friends are not really Pentecostal if they utter sounds today that no one listening will identify as their native language.
To know if it is somorally wrongso that believers speak with ecstatic expressions: No. It is no more morally wrong than having choirs in robes (which the early church did not) or inviting people to come forward to accept Christ (an answer not used in the first century).
I do not believe that "speaking in tongues" is against God's will. However, I do not believe it is His will that we preach and teach that a person must "speak in tongues" in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Also, what I see practiced in Pentecostal and charismatic circles is not what happened at Pentecost. Nor does it appear to be what Paul was trying to control at Corinth.
It is God's will that the gospel be communicated to all peoples, as happened in an extraordinary way on the day of Pentecost. In fact, the events of Pentecost are an amazing reversal of the Tower of Babel. In Babel, speaking in tongues becomes a sign of God's judgment on sinful mankind. On the day of Pentecost, different languages were used to convey the good news of God. This is true Pentecostalism!
It is God's will that His people live in the fullness of His Spirit and manifest His presence in the manner Paul describes in Galatians 5.
The belief that the ecstatic utterances referred to as "speaking in tongues" is a divine sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit dates only to the early 20th century. If this belief and practice is truly biblical, why has it not been central to historical Christianity down the centuries (such as belief in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the inspiration of Scripture, and the salvation of Christ). ? work on the cross)?
It is notagainst the rulesof the Church of the Nazarene to seek the sanctifying fulness of the Holy Spirit of God. It is notagainst the rulesof the Church of the Nazarene to ask for the help of the Holy Spirit in preaching the gospel across language barriers. However, we believe that finding the Giver is far more important than finding a specific way to manifest a gift when that manifestation is based on a questionable interpretation of Scripture.
Question: A friend told me that God gives people the gift of tongues so that they can pray to God in the Spirit without Satan being able to understand them. What do you think of this statement?
My answer:I'm not sure where your friend got that belief from. I don't see the Bible promoting any specific prayer language as a defenseSatanApparently on the day of Pentecost the gift of tongues (or tongues as some call them) was given to preach the gospel. This is made very clear in Acts 2. There the gift was given to enable clear communication. Not only could hungry hearts hear and understand what they were saying, Satan probably could too!
The other place in Scripture where the gift of tongues is discussed at length is in 1 Corinthians, where Paul writes, among other things, “I would rather speak five understandable words to instruct others than ten thousand in one tongue. think like children.” Does that sound like encouragement for believers to speak a language they don't understand themselves?
Of course, it must also be said that the gifts of the Spirit should be used publicly to build up the church (cf. Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12). This looks very different than the magic gift type. "Protection from evil spirits" your friend is talking about.
If we need special language when praying so that Satan cannot understand us, why did Jesus say the "Our Father" in clear terms when his disciples asked him: "Teach us to pray"? In replying, why didn't Jesus warn his disciples that they must use some kind of ecstatic expression?
Question: Don't 1 Corinthians 13:1 and 14:2 indicate the existence of a heavenly language that believers can use to speak to God?
My answer:Good question. I can see how these two passages in 1 Corinthians have led some to think that there is some kind of heavenly language.
However, a few things make me suspicious of this conclusion. One is the context in which these passages appear. Corinth was a church with great spiritual problems. Paul wrote this letter to address these issues; he did not write this letter to give you an essay on prayer. To teach what prayer should be about, shouldn't we go to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and other passages where prayer is central? The Sermon on the Mount does not indicate any heavenly language. In fact, the prayer model that Jesus gives there in Matthew is in common, everyday human language.
A second problem with accepting the idea of a heavenly language is that there are very few passages on which to base this idea. Shouldn't such an important thought appear repeatedly in Scripture, along with other important teachings? There is no mention of a heavenly language in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve walking and speaking with God. In the encounters that Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and others had with God, the heavenly language is not mentioned.
A third problem is that none of Jesus' prayers actually recorded in Scripture mention the heavenly language. These prayers are recorded by the writers of the Gospels in the vernacular spoken on that day. Jesus seems to have managed to express everything that he needed to express in the language of his contemporaries in prayer to the Father.
Another problem I have with saying that there is a "heavenly language" is the studies some linguists have done on expressions in "other languages". After recording and analyzing sentences and idioms from people who claim to speak "other languages," linguists say that these other languages are collections of sounds unique to each speaker's native language.1That is, Spanish speakers use the sounds of the Spanish language when supposedly speaking in "tongues". The Japanese use the sounds of their language when they are supposed to be speaking this heavenly language, while the Germans use an entirely different set of sounds when they are supposed to be speaking in "tongues". They are not the same sounds spoken with different accents; They use different soundsets. Doesn't this mean that these ecstatic expressions do not represent another language?
Agree that there are times when it is difficult to express emotions and deep feelings. Sometimes this is true of people who are deeply in love, just sitting or walking together holding hands or putting their arms around each other. Much is communicated, even if no words are spoken. The same applies to the loss of a loved one. Friends, stand up and put an arm around our shoulders. You don't have to talk a lot to communicate a lot. Isn't that also the case in our relationship with the Lord? Aren't there times when we share many things with you even though we don't speak words?
So what do I do with these phrases in 1 Corinthians? Well I think in chapter 13 he just uses an exaggeration to say "Even if he could talk in the most wonderful way...". Chapter 14 I think he's probably talking about someone in the church who speaks a human language that no one else in that church understands. For example, we have some Vietnamese children who occasionally attend our church. Suppose your parents converted to the faith and went to church. So one day, conquered in worship and praise, they get up and start praying or witnessing in Vietnamese. Nobody would understand her. . . except god.
Question: How would you explain Jude 20: “Build upon your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit2"? I was told that this refers to a language of prayer that is an unknown language.
My answer:We all have our own lenses through which we read passages of Scripture. Sometimes this can lead us to say things that don't exist. Nothing in this verse or the surrounding context speaks of an unknown language.
If we understand Jude 20 to mean that there is a special language for prayer, what about Galatians 5:16 and 5:25, which speak of "walking in the Spirit"? If "praying in the spirit" means using language no one else knows, does "walking in the spirit" mean there's a weird way of walking (on your head, on one foot, on all fours?)? I don't know anyone who interprets the passages in Galatians to mean that there is a strange mode of locomotion, which is "walking in the Spirit." "In the Spirit" in Galatians means to live our lives boldly, with purity, and gentleness.
So by “prayer in the Holy Spirit” I would mean a prayer that is fervent, unwavering, sensitive, humble, loving, full of faith and wisdom. Look at the context of Jude 20. Doesn't an explanation based on parallel words in Galatians fit the context better than saying that Judas speaks in unknown tongues?
1Numerous linguistic studies on the phenomenon of speaking in tongues have been conducted over the years. These are reported in publications such as Robert Mapes Anderson'sLook at the disinherited(Oxford University Press, S. 16-19 Parabéns D. Goodman'sSpeaking in Tongues: A Cross-Cultural Study in Glossolalia(University of Chicago Press) and John P. KildahlsThe psychology of speaking in tongues(HarperCollins). Explanations of such studies can also be found in two works by William Samarin:Tongues of Men and Angels: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism(MacMillan Publishing Company) and “Variation and Variables in Religious Glossolalia,” next chapterlanguage in society, Ed. Dell Haymes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) pages. 121-130.
2"Holy Spirit" was the title used for the third person of the Trinity in the classic King James Version of the English Bible. It's just an older way of saying "Holy Ghost" that modern English versions use.
- Howard Culbertson
“His explanation of Nazarenes and tongues was the best general explanation I have ever read. She was simple and to the point. I will pass it on.” -- a shepherd in Oregon
The Gentile Pentecost
Atos 10:44As Peter spoke, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the message.45Some Jewish believers had come with Peter. They were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles as well.46They heard her speak in languages they had not known before. They also heard them praising God.
Then Peter said:47“Certainly no one can prevent these people from being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just like we have."-- New international version for readers
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