Hermeneutical Study of Tongues
The gift of tongues is a biblical concept starting in the book of Acts. Many Christians believe it is misunderstood and given the diversity of contradicting opinions there are, it must be misunderstood. In order to help some fellow believers I did a bible study on the gift. This post will be an attempt at transforming my outline into a readable intro to the topic. The goal is to show whether the gift of tongues is evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit or if it is a gift given to some believers and not others. For this study of the gift of tongues I recommend look at the following passages:
Scriptures: Acts 2:4-11, Acts 8:17, Acts 10:44-47 Acts 19:6, 1 Cor 12:10, 1 Cor 12:27-14:25, 1 Cor 14:27, 1 Cor 14:39-40, Mark 16:16-18 (Non-exhaustive list)
In order to asses whether the gift of tongues is the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit we need to make some assumptions explicit. For the gift of tongues is not one controversy but a few controversies. The prominent ones are:
- Cessationism vs. Continuationism
Cessationism is the belief the gifts of the Spirit are no longer active, ending when the apostles died or when the bible was completed. (1 Cor 13:8-10)
Continuationism is the belief the gifts of the Spirit continue on today. These beliefs referred to the gifts of prophecy, tongues, healings, etc… (Proponents claim there are no scriptures indicating they will stop.)
- Angelic Tongue vs. Foreign Human Language
There are two different interpretations of what speaking in tongues means: (1) speaking in a human language the speaker does not know or speaking in one’s own language but the listener hears it in their own language and/or 2. Speaking in a non-human possibly angelic language. These are not mutually exclusive so they both could be true.
Acts 2:4-11 supports definition number 1. 1 Cor 13:1 supports definition 2.
- Tongues, a Universal Gift?
Pentecostals and some others have traditionally held the belief the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. Under this view if a person does not speak in tongues they are either not filled with the Holy Spirit or not a Christian. People advocating this view that tongues are for every Christian are using definition 2.
The opposing belief is the gift of tongues is only for those God wishes to give it to. So, tongues is a sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit but not the only sign. A Christian may be filled with the Spirit even if they do not speak in tongues.
The scriptures for these competing views will be examined more fully later one. I wish to note that my assumption is that gift of the Spirit has not stop. Secondly, I believe tongues if probably both other human languages and an angelic language, depending on how God blesses the believer for the given circumstance. Before going further it may be good to look at this post on how to read the bible: https://estrangewanderings.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/how-to-read-the-bible/
Tongues, a Universal Gift?
For this topic there we are assuming that continuationism is correct and assuming that the gift of tongues is both human and/or non-human languages given supernaturally by God.
Historical Precedent Argument for Tongues Being a Universal Gift
The argument states that the book of acts describes of normative pattern of tongues when the gift of the Holy Spirit is received. The passages Acts 2:1-4, 10:44-47, and 19:1-7 are used in support of this.
The Argument of Narrative Purpose in Luke-Acts
Proponents of tongues being the evidence of being filled with the Spirit sometimes use Acts. They argue there is a normative pattern in acts where every time a person receives the Holy Spirit they also receive the the gift of tongues. Since, this happens every time then it should still happen when we receive the Holy Spirit.
In response, I believe we should remember that the book of Acts was written with the intention of showing the history of the church. While it is true that every passage that refers to being filled with the Holy Spirit includes also the gift of tongues, these passages never says this is what will always happen.
The gift of tongues would had been particularly useful to the early church. There were many people who spoke a variety of languages and when the gift of tongues was given it was to speak to these other people. This is an important note. Christians who advocate that tongues is the evidence are using definition (2), but these passages refer to definition (1). This means that speaking in a language that is not understandable cannot be found as a normative pattern in Acts. Lastly, Paul says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in various tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Cor 12:7-10) Paul clearly states that every believe receives different manifestation of the Spirit. Not every believer works miracles and not every believer speaks in tongues.
In conclusion, the arguments in favor of tongues being the universal gift of the Spirit are found to be lacking. The arguments in favor of tongues being a gift to specific believers is much stronger given 1 Corinthians 12:7-10. Therefore, if we believe the gifts continue we should not worry about not receiving the gift of tongues. Of course we may still pray for it if it would be particularly beneficial to us or someone else.