The Study of the Holy Spirit
"Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away." 1 Corinthians 13:8
Part L: Evaluation and
Part L: Evaluation and Conclusion
L. Evaluation and Conclusion
1. How do we evaluate the modern-day emphasis upon speaking in tongues? There are a number of considerations that give me pause. In the first place, why is there such an emphasis upon speaking in tongues, anyway? Have we not listened to what the Apostle Paul instructed us? If there is anything at all to be gained from 1 Corinthians 14, it is that prophecy is superior to tongues. Why do segments of the church in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries insist on making speaking in tongues the “holy grail” of spirituality? The very fact that we can speak of a “tongues movement” at all is a sad testimonial to aberrant theology. Why should it not be known as a “prophecy movement?” Is that not what Paul said? Is not the gift of prophecy far more valuable than speaking in tongues? So why have we as a larger church placed such an emphasis on speaking in tongues? That fact alone makes me question the validity of the tongues movement altogether. I am forced to conclude that there is something sadly unbiblical about the whole tongues movement today. Practitioners and adherents of speaking in tongues apparently do not understand the significance of the Biblical gift of speaking in tongues.
2. What is the history of speaking in tongues? It is not the purpose of this article to investigate the history of the movement. George Dollar has done so. I will leave the reader to peruse his article, “Church History and the Tongues Movement.”
3. Are the speaking in tongues and the prophecy of today the same things that occurred back in the first century church? I personally am extremely skeptical. I doubt that they are.
a. I must make an honest disclaimer. I have attended only one service in my life where speaking in tongues occurred. I attended an Assembly of God church in a small midwestern city many years ago. I wanted to observe first-hand what went on. I found that the church broke the rules that Paul laid out in 1 Corinthians 14. At a certain point in the service there was an audible buzz of people “speaking in tongues” – all at the same time. They had taken to heart nothing about Paul’s rules of utterance delivered 1800 years earlier! During that service a man got up and gave a “prophecy.” I was intrigued that he delivered it in King James English. Why? Is the Holy Spirit stuck in language dating to 1611? I do not think so. Did Paul write his prophecies in a language 350 years out of date? Did Jeremiah and Elijah and Ezekiel prophesy and write in out of date languages? No they did not. I can only assume that this gentleman felt that somehow his “prophecy” would seem more authentic if he uttered it in King James English. His reasoning had the opposite effect on me. I do not believe he actually prophesied. I believe he invented that prophecy in his own mind and passed it off as a prophecy from God. Was he sincere? I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Was it a Biblical prophecy? I am extremely skeptical.
b. As I understand the Biblical gift of speaking in a tongue, it was a miracle. And it was a language. I have heard stories second hand (not first-hand) of people practicing to “speak in tongues.” If speaking in tongues is a miracle, why on earth would one have to practice it? That tells me that much of what passes for “speaking in tongues” is a learned behavior.
c. I have not personally heard much modern day “speaking in tongues.” But I have heard some. All legitimate language has grammar and syntax. Whether one is speaking English or Spanish, Russian or Swahili, there are certain rules of the road that each speaker intuitively knows and follows, some better, some not as well. A trained linguist can take a language he has never heard before, reduce it to writing, and detect grammar and syntax. I remain skeptical that tongues-speaking today has grammar and syntax. I am fearful that what passes for speaking in tongues is the sincere but emotional and incoherent babbling of someone desperately trying to be “spiritual.” Does tongues-speaking today incorporate repetitious sounds? – Yes. Does speaking in tongues today incorporate real language? – Probably not. Is what passes for “speaking in tongues” today the same as what the early church experienced? I admit that I could be wrong, but personally, I remain skeptical that it is. Generally speaking, modern day practitioners of glossolalia deny that speaking in tongues today employs languages recognizable anywhere in the world today. I believe they are sincere, but sincerely wrong. In the only passage where a full-fledged description of speaking in tongues occurs (Acts 2:1-11), clearly the tongues are recognizable languages. The burden of the proof is upon practitioners of glossolalia to demonstrate that other references to tongues in Acts 10:44-48 and 19:1-7 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 are anything other than real languages. In my opinion, they have failed to do so.
4. As I perceive the tongues movement today, it rests on a shaky foundation in at least five areas – the nature of tongues, the purpose of tongues, the time of tongues, the importance of tongues, and the practice of tongues. To those of us who doubt that the genuine gift of tongues exists today, they admonish, “But I don’t want to put God in a box.” By that they imply that I, for example, am putting God in a box and tying His hands and not permitting the Holy Spirit to work freely. I, on the other hand, believe that the Charismatic / Pentecostal Christians have put God in a box that they have constructed. “God operated in a certain way in the early, transitional church, and He is obligated to operate that way now,” they argue.
a. The nature of tongues.
1) We have already defined what the Biblical gift of tongues is – it is a miraculous, Spirit-given ability to speak in a foreign language one has not learned before. To argue that Paul’s reference to the possibility of speaking “with the tongues of men and of angels” (1 Cor. 13:1) proves the existence of an ecstatic utterance that is not a language is, in my judgment, gratuitous. There is such a thing as human language and there is such a thing as angelic language. Human language has its own grammar and syntax and, I presume, so does angelic language. But language is language. And babbling is babbling, and gibberish is gibberish, no matter how spiritually-minded the utterer is.
2) It is my belief that what passes for speaking in tongues today is not the miraculous gift that appears in Acts and 1 Corinthians. I’m not certain what the current speaking in tongues is, but I’m very skeptical that it is the gift of the first century church.
3) Out of love for my Pentecostal and Charismatic brethren, I urge you to be honest. Is that which you utter a language or an emotional babbling that is self-induced when you place yourself in a semi-hypnotic state?
b. The purpose of tongues.
1) Sadly, so many Christians assume, without ever examining for themselves the data of Scripture, that speaking in tongues is a sign of spirituality. Their faulty logic, bless their hearts, goes something like this. Immediately after the ascension of our Lord, His followers were believers, but they had not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They were to “tarry” in Jerusalem until they received that baptism. Once they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit they could speak in tongues. So we Christians today must tarry and pray and wait with faith, and if we tarry long enough, pray hard enough and believe hard enough, we will receive the baptism of the Spirit, the proof of which is speaking in tongues.
2) But so many do not conduct a detailed study of the book of Acts, and they evidently ignore what Paul wrote to the church of Corinth about the baptism of the Spirit. If they were to examine Scriptures, they would discover that the early believers, prior to the day of Pentecost, were just that – believers. They were believers in Jesus but they were not yet Christians. The title “Christ” means “Anointed One.” Christ-ians are “anointed ones” (small a and small o). The believers on the day of Pentecost could not become Christians until Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower them. Since the day of Pentecost, every believer in Jesus immediately receives the Holy Spirit upon salvation and is baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ upon salvation (1 Cor. 12:13). Yes, there were a couple of exceptions, but each exception can be logically explained as being a part of this early, transitional period. The Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter arrived (Acts 8:4-17), for only to him had been given the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19) to permit the half-breed, Jewish-Gentile Samaritans to enter the Church. Since Peter was present at the home of Cornelius the Gentile, those Gentiles in his house received the Spirit immediately upon believing in Jesus (Acts 10:44-46). The disciples of John that Paul discovered in Acts 19:1-7 were only that – disciples of John. They were not believers in Jesus yet – they had never heard of the Holy Spirit, much less about Jesus. When they heard about Jesus they placed their faith in Him. The fact that they had to wait a few moments until Paul laid his hands on them merely underscored Paul’s apostolic authority to them. It is a blind and misplaced leap of faith, I believe, to infer from that passage that one must lay hands on another to enable him to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That conclusion is unsupported by the rest of Scripture. It is true that, for the early church, speaking in tongues was initially a sign of the baptism of the Spirit. But Paul, writing to the Corinthians in the late 50’s A.D. clearly revealed that though all Christians are baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) into the body of Christ, not all Christians speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:28-30). God’s primary purpose in giving the gift of speaking in tongues, as Paul eloquently pointed out in 1 Cor. 14:20-22, was to serve as a sign of judgment to Jewish people who were determined not to believe. Sadly, in my view, millions of Christians around the world seem to be ignorant of God’s purpose in giving the gift of tongues to the Church. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, God was still working with Israel, giving Jewish people opportunity to place their faith in their Messiah and escape the coming judgment. By and large, however, Israelis did not choose to believe in their Messiah. Judgment came with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple. God has not forsaken His people, but Israel remains temporarily blinded until the fullness of the Gentiles has arrived (Rom. 11:7-11; 25). When the events spoken of by Daniel the prophet arrived – the cutting off of the Messiah (A.D. 33) and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the sanctuary (A.D. 70) (Dan. 9:26), God stopped working with Israel as He had in the past. God’s clock for Israel has stopped ticking, and now his clock for the Gentiles is ticking. Let me ask a question: If the major purpose of speaking in tongues was to serve as a sign of impending judgment for Israel, and if the judgment has now arrived, what is the point of the sign? To me the answer is transparent – there is no longer any need for the sign. If there is no longer any need for the sign, why would God continue to give a needless sign to the Church? The answer that makes the most sense to me is this one – He wouldn’t.
c. The time of tongues. A biblical conclusion on the purpose of speaking in tongues leads logically to the next question, “How long will speaking in tongues last?” Just as Charismatics and Pentecostals, with the best of intentions, seem oblivious of the Biblical purpose of speaking in tongues, it seems to me they are confused as to the time of tongues. It should not surprise us, looking at Paul’s detailed letter, that speaking in tongues is a temporary gift. Paul said so, and so it must be (1 Cor. 13:8). The question that remains is “When will speaking in tongues come to an end?” An appropriate answer is this – that speaking in tongues will come to an end when its purpose has been fulfilled. That which is complete (1 Cor. 13:10) means “when God’s purposes have been fulfilled.” Paul said that speaking in tongues would cease of its own accord, whereas an external force, presumably God, would end the gift of prophecy. We have already pointed out that, at the completion of the canon of Scripture, there would no longer be any need for the gift of prophecy. Though some continue to believe that the gift of prophecy is being given today, is it really? Why have there been no Scriptures added to the New Testament in 1900 years? To me that speaks volumes. To maintain that the prophecy of the church is a different kind of prophecy from that of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles and prophets simply has no basis in fact that I can detect. Why should we be forced to believe that a gift given to the infant, transitional Church has to be given throughout the entire church age? Are there any precedents for a gift ceasing? What about the gift of apostleship? Can anyone honestly claim that the gift of apostleship is still being given? The apostles in the New Testament had distinct credentials. Apostles had to be chosen by the Lord Jesus. They had to have seen the risen Lord (Acts 1:15-22; 1 Cor. 9:1-2). They were given special abilities to perform miracles. Paul said that he possessed the signs of apostleship (2 Cor. 12:12). Does this not mean that the apostles had unique miraculous abilities? Does anyone exist today who can walk through the streets of a city and any sick person who falls under his shadow is healed (Acts 5:15)? I know of no one. Oral Roberts had the gift of healing, so he claimed, but did he? Why did he build a huge medical center in Tulsa, Oklahoma? Can you think of anything more wasteful and extravagant and counterintuitive than a man who has the gift of healing building a hospital? Can you imagine Peter and John saying to the man at the gate of the temple (Acts 3:1-10), “Silver and gold have I none, but if you give me a donation I will build you a hospital?” That seems absurd on the face of it. To claim that God must continue to give the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy throughout the Church Age sounds to me very much like putting God in a box. God will give people abilities and gifts when He chooses to give them, not when they think they need them (1 Cor. 12:11, 18). Paul did say that the Church had been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). How long has the church been in existence? Are we still today constructing the foundation of the Church? Must we still have prophets and apostles? It does not appear so. Something has changed. Not all the gifts given to the Church are still being given today. Gifts given to the New Testament church have benefitted the entire church. Today we still benefit from the speaking in tongues of the New Testament church. Today we still benefit from the gifts of healing of the New Testament church. Today we still benefit from the prophecy of the New Testament church. Today we still benefit from the Apostles of the New Testament church.
d. The importance of tongues. As I have pointed out earlier, the Charismatic / Pentecostal movement today has exaggerated the importance of tongues. Assuming both the gifts of tongues and prophecy still survive today, why is this movement not known for its prophecies rather than for its tongues? At best, the movement is just as faulty as the Corinthian church in that regard. The Corinthian church placed an unbiblical emphasis on the importance of speaking in tongues. I cannot see that the present day portion of the Church which inclines itself toward speaking in tongues places a lesser value upon the gift than the misguided Corinthians did. Both the Corinthian church and present day Pentecostal / Charismatic churches, as a general rule, hold an aberrant view of the importance of speaking in tongues.
e. The practice of tongues.
1) Something that saddens me is the way speaking in tongues is often practiced today. I am sure there are churches who attempt to follow the rules Paul laid down. But clearly there are churches that do not follow those rules.
2) There are occasions when more than two or three people speak in tongues in the same church service. There are occasions when multiple people speak in tongues at the same time. There are occasions when people speak in tongues but no interpretation is given.
5. Let us assume for the moment that the gift of speaking in tongues really does exist today. Do its practitioners follow the rules Paul laid out? It would be impossible to provide a survey of every church service and answer that question definitively. But the little exposure I have had requires me to answer that question with a resounding “No, not always!”
a. There are occasions when people in church services practice bizarre behavior that is never once mentioned in the New Testament – barking like dogs or howling like coyotes or wolves; rolling in the aisles; laughing uncontrollably; losing complete control of their own bodies and faculties; falling backwards into the arms of people waiting to catch them; being “slain in the Spirit” (the poor Holy Spirit gets blamed for a lot of things never found in the New Testament).
b. In my view, it does not appear that the so-called “Toronto Blessing” that began in January of 1994 at the (then) Toronto Airport Vineyard Christian Fellowship, in which participants would laugh, shake, roll, and cry uncontrollably, is from God, for God is not the author of confusion.
c. View a clip yourself (location uncertain except as indicated) and ask yourself a couple of questions: Are these practices building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12)? If an unbeliever entered this service, would he conclude the participants are mad (1 Cor. 14:23)? Are the participants in control of themselves (1 Cor. 14:28; 14:32)? Do these things represent peace or confusion (1 Cor. 14:33)? Is everything being “done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Cor. 14:40)? Judge for yourself.
d. Here is another clip from Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship by T. R. Post, who is sympathetic to the phenomena. Ask yourself, “Is what is portrayed here in accordance with sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6; 6:3; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1)?”
6. To the charismatic / Pentecostal Christian, being a “Spirit-filled Christian” is code for speaking in tongues. But that seems to me to be an unbiblical definition, one that cannot be supported by Scripture. What does it mean to be a "Spiriti-filled Christian"?
a. Paul clearly wrote that not all Christians have the same spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:29-30). Yet he also clearly wrote that all Christians have been baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). He furthermore commanded all Christians to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Why would God command us to be filled with the Holy Spirit if He knew that He had not given all Christians the gift of speaking in tongues, and yet supposedly speaking in tongues is a mandatory sign of being filled with the Spirit? To me, to claim that speaking in tongues is a sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit makes no sense whatever. It is, in fact, a misinterpretation of Scripture by well-meaning Christians. We have already demonstrated that speaking in tongues in the book of Acts was related to a special transitional time in the early history of the Church.
b. The deportment of the church at Corinth belies the assumption that speaking in tongues is a sign of spirituality. Clearly there were Christians, perhaps many of them, in Corinth who spoke in tongues. Paul in fact thanks God concerning them that they were enriched by Christ “in all speech and all knowledge” so that they were “not lacking in any gift” (1 Cor. 1:4-7). Yet if one observes how these Christians lived, it would be hard to classify the church as a “Spirit-filled church!” Perhaps no other church was so filled with theological, moral, spiritual, and relational defects as the church at Corinth! Observe the flaws in this church and ask yourself honestly if the church at Corinth can be classified as a “Spirit-filled” church:
1) The Corinthian church was divided over human leadership (1 Cor. 1:10-17). Their quarrelsome divisions included those who were of the Paul party, others the Apollos party, others the Peter party, and still others, the Christ party.
2) Paul characterized the Corinthian church as fleshly (KJV, carnal), infantile; they were unable to absorb the “solid food” of the Word of God. There was jealousy and strife among them, and they were walking like mere men. They were factious, some belonging to the Apollos party, others the Paul party (1 Cor. 3:1-4).
3) The church at Corinth was characterized by the related evils of gross immorality and toleration of gross immorality. A man in the assembly was sleeping with his step-mother. The church in its arrogance did not even mourn something so terrible it was unmentioned among the pagan Gentiles (1 Cor. 5:1-2). Paul urged them to remove the wicked man from among themselves (1 Cor. 5:13).
4) People of the church at Corinth were so disunified some of them were taking one another to court (1 Cor. 6:1-11). Paul wrote them to find a wise man in their church who could adjudicate their affairs outside of court. As the situation remained, both sides in the court of law adjudicated by unbelievers had suffered a defeat and were defrauding their Christian brothers.
5) There were evidently some among the Corinthian believers who were living immoral lives. Some among them even dared visit prostitutes. Paul exhorted them to flee immorality, which both dragged Christ into the act and sinned against one’s own body in a way that no other sin did (1 Cor. 6:12-20).
6) There were Corinthian Christians who adopted unbiblical positions in regard to marriage and divorce. There erroneous practices needed to be rectified (1 Cor. 7).
7) Some of the Corinthians adopted self-centered practices in regard to eating meat that had been offered to idols. Paul had to urge them to avoid wounding other Christians (1 Cor. 8).
8) There were “liberated” Christian women in the church at Corinth who adopted policies in public worship that dishonored the men in the church (1 Cor. 11:1-16).
9) There was disunity and dysfunction in the Corinthian church that fractured the wealthy and the poor. This had to do with their faulty observance of the Lord’s Table. Their conduct had been so egregious that a number of them had been judged with physical sickness and others had been judged by premature death (1 Cor. 11:17-34)!
10) The Corinthian church was guilty of an abuse of the gift of speaking in tongues and, to a lesser extent, the gift of prophecy. This is evidenced in that Paul felt it necessary to devote three whole chapters to the subject. Specific evidences include the following:
a) He felt it necessary to warn them to distinguish between true and false utterances (1 Cor. 12:1-3).
b) He had to inform them of the diversity and yet interdependence of the members of Christ’s Body. (1 Cor. 12:12-26). Some of them evidently felt that they were unimportant because they did not have a certain gift. Perhaps those who had a certain gift looked down upon those who did not have that gift
c) Paul actually had to rank the spiritual gifts in order of priority (1 Cor. 12:27-31). Then he felt it necessary to inform them through a series of rhetorical questions expecting a “No” answer that only a limited number of believers possessed each gift he listed.
d) Next, Paul informed the Corinthians that love was more important than even revelational gifts. Love is eternal, while they are temporary (1 Cor. 13).
e) Next, Paul felt compelled to illustrate graphically the superiority of the gift of prophecy over the gift of speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:1-25). It is clear from what Paul states that the Corinthians had an unhealthy obsession with the gift of speaking in tongues.
i Prophecy was superior to tongues in that prophecy built up the church, but tongues did not (1 Cor. 14:1-19).
ii He actually had to admonish the Corinthians for being childish in their assessment of speaking in tongues. He had to do so because, in their ignorance, the Corinthians were oblivious of the fact that tongues actually served as a sign of judgment against the Jewish people. As such, it was really inappropriate for either evangelism or instruction (1 Cor. 14:20-25).
f) To correct the abuses of both speaking in tongues and prophesying, Paul had to lay down specific rules for the use of both gifts (1 Cor. 14:26-35).
g) Finally, Paul laid out the responses he expected from the misguided church (1 Cor. 14:36-40):
i Humble submission to His authority along with ostracism of those who did not submit (1 Cor. 14:36-38).
ii A cooperation with the Biblical priority of prophecy over speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:39).
iii Orderliness and decency in their worship services (1 Cor. 14:40).
11) Paul was forced to write an extensive chapter to the Corinthians setting straight their heresy about the doctrine of resurrection (1 Cor. 15). There were evidently a significant number among them who did not even believe that followers of Jesus would participate in any sort of resurrection!
12) I cite all these instances to point out that, with all the defects in this church, it is disingenuous to label them a “Spirit-filled” church simply because they spoke in tongues. It takes a lot more than speaking in tongues to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is no guarantee that one is Spirit-filled. Not speaking in tongues is not a sign that one is not Spirit-filled!
c. If one reads Paul’s command that all Christians be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), he looks in vain in the context for speaking in tongues as the result of being filled with the Spirit. What are the actual results we find in the context of that command?
1) You can’t be filled with the Holy Spirit and be intoxicated with wine (Eph. 5:18).
2) Being filled with the Spirit includes “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).
3) Being filled with the Spirit includes “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20).
4) Being filled with the Spirit includes being “subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:21). That subjection incorporates the following areas:
a) Spirit-filled wives will be subject to their own husbands in all things as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22-24).
b) Spirit-filled husbands will love their wives as sacrificially as Christ loves the Church (Eph. 5:25-33).
c) Spirit-filled children will obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1-3).
d) Spirit-filled fathers will not provoke their children to anger, but will “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
e) Spirit-filled slaves (today, employees) will obey their masters (lords) according to the flesh (today, employers) with fear and trembling and good will as to Christ (Eph. 6:5-8).
f) Spirit-filled masters (lords – today we would call them employers) will treat their slaves (today, employees) the same way as his Spirit-filled slaves are to treat him – with good will, sincerity, and as to Christ, without threatening, knowing that one day both Christian slave and Christian lord will stand before their mutual LORD in heaven, with whom there is no partiality (Eph. 6:9)!
d. So to me, the evidence is clear. One can be a Spirit-filled Christian without speaking in tongues. And conversely, speaking in tongues is no guarantee that one is Spirit-filled!
7. A Concluding Plea
a. Certainly I am aware that not all will accept my conclusions that gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophecy are temporary gifts for the Church. While I do not agree with them, I can at least accept the sincerity of their passion to serve Jesus.
b. At the same time, I am deeply saddened by the fact that many who pursue the gift of glossolalia and prophecy seem not to have studied carefully either the book of Acts or 1 Corinthians 12-14. They do not take into account the purposes of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts; they do not take into account the differences in the phenomena of each occurrence of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts; and judging by the way many of them carry on in services, Paul may as well never have written 1 Corinthians 12-14! Many appear to be making the same faulty assumptions about the importance of speaking in tongues, the purpose of tongues, and the time limits on both prophecy and speaking in tongues that the Corinthians did. The Corinthians were childish and immature in their approach to speaking in tongues, and so, I fear, are most tongues-speakers today. And many appear to have little or no regard for the rules and principles Paul laid down in 1 Corinthians 14:25-40.
c. To my brothers and sisters who have elevated the gift of speaking in tongues I make a final plea – if you are convinced the gift still exists today, please, please at least follow the rules Paul laid down, would you?
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
Published Online by WordExplain
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(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Used by Permission.)
Updated March 23, 2014