December 5, 2011

10 Darts that Burst the ‘Tongues’ Bubble

by Clint Archer

Most people don’t forge their opinions in the fires of close exegesis. Often we pick up our view the same way many of us learn karate—we see it dexterously performed by Chuck Norris and figure, “Hey, that’s cool, I bet I can do that.”

Looks easy enough.


If someone told you that what you do is not karate, you’d say “It’s what Chuck does.” If they told you what Chuck does is also not karate, you’d say “Sure it is. He says it’s karate. It looks like karate to me. And when I do those same moves, many people say, ‘Wow, you know karate!’”

The same can be said of how most people learn their view of tongues.

When a white guy says, “I’m no racist, some of my best friends are Black,” I gag. But some of my closest, warmest, relationships really are with Charismatic Christians who believe that the miraculous gift of tongues is still operating today exactly as it did in the New Testament (Continuationists; a fancy term, mostly useless except in this intramural debate and when playing Scrabble).

These friends and I have tongue-in-cheek jabs at each other’s position, but we never get nasty.

On occasion, I’ve been asked to explain why I don’t believe that the gift is still operating today (Cessationism, another Scrabble word).

To a seminoid this stimulates a Pavlovian salivation to make a meal of the question. I am tempted to


brandish a Greek Glock .45 and empty a clip of pre-loaded exegetical ammunition at semi-automatic speed into the Continuationist argument (though never at the Continuationist himself, mind you).

But is this really necessary?  In my experience many who assume tongues are for today simply imbibed that from seeing a type of tongues in action at their church (a la Chuck Norris karate classes). There is no real need for a condescending Greek lesson on the tense of “will cease” in 1 Cor 13:8. There is little call for a word study on “glossa” versus “glossolalia,” nor cross-referencing Acts 2’s proof that tongues was a known human language, nor the contextual significance of “when the perfect comes.”

If it is your intention to pop the tongues balloon, you don’t need a Glock .45 when a well-aimed dart will do the job nicely.

Here’s a simple, gracious response to the challenge, “Why don’t you believe tongues are for today?”

This will do.

In 1 Cor 14 Paul explains that the gift of tongues must operate under these strict conditions…

  1. No more than two or three people may speak in tongues per service (vs 27).
  2. Only one speaker at a time (vs 27).
  3. Not without an interpreter present, so everyone can know what is being said (vs 16, 28).
  4. No women (vs. 34).
  5. Not in private, as all gifts are done for the good of the church (vs 2-5, 26).
  6. Never if the tongues speaker doesn’t understand what he is saying himself (14-15).
  7. No one should be confused as to what is happening (vs 23, 33).
  8. Must bring new revelation (vs 6).
  9. No unintellible babbling (vs 9).
  10. Must benefit unbelievers who are present (vs 21-22).

Then I simply ask, “Is this how your church practices tongues?”


Your goal in the discussion is always to get the person to go read the biblical passages, in context. I usually challenge my Charismatic friends to read 1 Cor 12-14 in one sitting, from start to finish.

This is often enough to show that their favorite proof texts for tongues, are actually rebukes from Paul against the very species of tongues-speaking we encounter today.

Again, this is not the full-fledged exegetical argument (Glock). But this array of darts will bust 9 out of 10 tongues balloons. Remember, don’t throw darts at brothers and sisters, just their inflated assumptions.


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Buks

    It is unfortunate when one assumes that your own position is well grounded in exegesis while the opponent are assumed to just accept everything by experience, unable or unwilling to think the argument through as well as you have done yourself. Consider the possibility that your opponent may have also gone through the same intellectual process than you have, but came up with a differing understanding.

    I probably lean very far to the cessationist position (I also don’t believe that what we see in many charismatic churches today is the tongues that Paul was talking about), but I don’t think tongues can be dismissed as easily and as completely as you have with the list above.

    Paul is clearly referring to some gift of tongues that is to be practiced in private (he speaks to God not to men and utters mysteries in the Spirit). Speaking in tongues does build up the believer and hence is best done in private. Paul wants them all to speak in tongues – it is just the public abuse of the gift that he seems to be speaking against here. Paul claims to speak in tongues more than all of his audience.

    The perfect – can it refer to the coming of the Messiah? No He already came at this time and the gift where still operating. Could it refer to Scripture? Well, in that case knowledge has also passed away. Could it refer to the second coming of Christ – that’s the only one that makes sense to me.

    Could tongues refer to simply speaking in another language that others could understand? Then why do it in private? I don’t understand what this gift of tongues is, and I don’t think I have seen or experienced what he talks of here so it seems to me that it may be a gift that no longer operates? But to claim from scriptural exegesis that it has ceased is possibly reading more into Scripture than is meant to be there (possible a little eish added?)

    This all said cessationism / continuationism is not a hill that I want to die on 🙂

    • Hi Bucks, thanks for your response. I’m really glad to hear this isn’t a hill you want to die on; me neither. The debate can easily be swollen beyond importance in light of other gospel-critical debates going on today.

    • Anonymous

      Beautiful reply Buks. But Clint’s position is pretty bulletproof. I don’t think he will die on that hill – what with it being bulletproof and all. ;D

      • i chuckled at that. Thanks for the support.

    • Noah Hartmetz

      I don’t want to take this thread off-topic and draw attention away from an excellent post, so Clint or one of the other “Gaters” should delete this if that is the case.
      With that said…

      Hi Buks,
      There is something that I don’t understand about the use of tongues in private. Maybe you can help me out.

      If the context of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12-14 concerns the practice of those gifts for the good of the body and not for the edification of the individual, how can it be said that Paul is affirming the use of those gifts for private benefit in chapter 14 when chapter 12 is all about the gifts being for the common good? And if he is affirming the use of private tongues, then why does he use tongues as a foil to show the superiority of prophecy for the common good of the body in 14, which, again, he seems to insist is the purpose for the giving of the spiritual gifts throughout the context of 12-14?

      I fail to grasp how there is a legitimate use of private tongues because I am not understanding how Paul can contradict himself in the scope of a page (in my Bible, at least) from 12:7 to 14:2-4, which it seems must be the case (the contradiction, that is) in order for the position to stay afloat, especially when noting that in 14:12 he goes back to his position that he originally stated in 12:7. If he is not contradicting himself and is saying that there is a place for private tongues, then I need to know why so as to adjust my faulty understanding of Paul’s intention in writing what he wrote and repent of any and all sin that has borne because of believing something that the Bible does not teach when in fact it teaches the opposite. This is where my comment needs a voice because it could be interpreted as snarky or sarcastic, but in all sincerity, I appreciate any help you can give me.

      Thank you for your time.

      • Buks

        Hi Noah,

        Look, there’s much here that I don’t understand. I don’t think Paul is saying anything specific for or against tongues in private. He seems to assume that it is a common practice and clearly states that he speaks in tongues himself (1Cor 14:18) or am I missing something? He is specifically admonishing the Corinthians about the misuse of tongues in a public setting. Saying that tongues used in public is not edifying does not imply that the use of tongues in private to “build oneself up” is wrong.

        About 12:7 – saying that each receives a gift for the common good – does that exclude the possibility that we are given certain gifts that up-builds the believer? (Seems to me clearly implied in 14:4).

        I do not really want to argue for tongues – I usually end up arguing against the current phenomena called tongues! 🙂

        All I meant is that we need to be humble enough to see that what may be clear and obvious to us (10 points popping the bubble?) may not be as simple if we listen properly and understand the other’s point of view. Godly men like DA Carson and Wayne Grudem may show how a dart can fly through a soup bubble without causing even to much of a wobble 🙂

        I do appreciate the call for discernment and study though. We should be as diligent as the Bereans where Scripture is concerned. What a bottomless treasure and what a great privilege we have to be able to have such free access to it. Only let us understand that while Scripture is inerrant, our understanding of it is sometimes less than perfect.

        I do enjoy this blog though, keep up the good work!

        • Noah Hartmetz

          Thanks for your reply. Since you acknowledge there is much you do not understand and that it is good to study, I encourage you to do that good and necessary work to grapple with Paul for his intention and meaning. Much of what you have written and addressed can be answered by the text itself.

          For example, the context of 14:18 is not private speaking but public speaking, so it is legitimate to interpret Paul as saying that he speaks in tongues more than them all–to the praise of God–in a public setting rather than privately. This is especially the case since he is coming down very hard on the Corinthians for using the gifts selfishly, specifically the good, but inferior gift of tongues.

          Thank you for restating your point that we need humility in this. Truly, one should comment on the weaknesses of a position that is not his own only after he is able to restate said position to the satisfaction of those who hold it. That takes humility to do because then the straw men begin to fall down on their own because an accurate representation won’t let them stand.

          It’s because of that courtesy and respect that one can pop the bubble of even Carson or Grudem concerning this topic, that is as long as the dart comes from the hard-fought study of the text!

          Thank you again for your time.

        • Buks I want to commend you on your attitude. I really love it when people challenge my thinking; and you have done it graciously. Thanks.

      • Noah, I don’t think this is off topic at all. As long as we all play nicely. You make some great points.

  • Excellent, Clint!

  • thanks for this. its short to the point and very loving. a lot of times things can get un-godly quickly, especially when discussing differences as you’ve already mentioned. both sides are passionate and that passion can sometimes become an obstacle if aimed wrongly.

    • Thanks for your comment Lexx. I try to remind myself that I am wrong in places too– I just don’t know where, or I’d change it!

  • Eric Davis

    This is an exemplary demonstration of speaking the truth in love. Thanks, Clint.

    • Kind of you to say, Eric. Tx bro.

  • Noah Hartmetz

    Thank you, Clint. This and Nathan’s posts over the summer on this issue are very helpful concerning this topic. The team at Cripplegate continues to exemplify how a blog can be used to edify the church by speaking the truth in love.

    • Thank you Noah. Soli Deo Gloria.

  • Davis

    When I read “Continuationists; a fancy term, mostly useless except in this intramural debate and when playing Scrabble”, I took that to mean playing scrabble in tongues. I think I like that better. p.s. continuationist has 15 letters, pretty much impossible for trying to play in scrabble.

    • Albert

      Since I’m a Scrabble buff … the word “continua” is a legitimate word (being the plural of continuum). If you were able to play a bingo using an existing tile on the board, it is possible to play this eight-letter word. A subsequent play, with another bingo, could add the necessary letters for “continuationist.”

      Clint, great article!

      • Noah Hartmetz

        LOL! Love it, Albert!

      • I’d love to play scrabble with this guy (though I’d certainly lose).

  • Anonymous

    Clint, Good post. I am with “Buks” when he (or she) says,

    “I probably lean very far to the cessationist position (I also don’t believe that what we see in many charismatic churches today is the tongues that Paul was talking about)”

    But this topic makes me cringe. I love your last line of “Remember, don’t throw darts at brothers and sisters, just their inflated assumptions.” but that is the problem for me. Most folks in the hyper-cessationist camp don’t have the grace (pun intended) or discernment to do just that. They hear their pastor drive his points against the gifts home with a proud distain for anyone who believes differently and they adopt that view and arrogance. I also agree with Burks point that:

    “It is unfortunate when one assumes that your own position is well grounded in exegesis while the opponent are assumed to just accept everything by experience, unable or unwilling to think the argument through as well as you have done yourself.”

    When one puts their position under the banner of “truth” they are saying that anyone that comes to a different conclusion from that scripture is basically an idiot that hates truth. And when it comes to non-essential issues, this ends up being divisive and not productive. People draw the “line in the sand” so close to themselves that there is no room for an “open handed” issue.
    So even though I probably agree with your position, this is a frustrating topic for me.

    • Noah Hartmetz

      “When one puts their position under the banner of “truth” they are saying that anyone that comes to a different conclusion from that scripture is basically an idiot that hates truth.”

      Who says this? Or basically says this in so many words? I’m sure you didn’t get that from Clint or the others at this blog.

      • Anonymous

        Noah, I guess I should have been more clear. I don’t mean their position on inalienable truths of our faith. I am talking about issues that respected, well studied men of God have differing onions about. Open handed issues that we should be able to agree to disagree and move on. And of course no one comes out and says this. But it is inferred from time to time in my opinion. I felt it a bit in Jesses post about Calvary Chapel. (But being a Calvary guy, I know I’m a bit sensitive.) Don’t get me wrong. I love to debate these things with my brothers in Christ as well. But just as long as we can maintain respect and love for one another. And when I hear people in “the church” talk about this (and others) issue, the respect is not maintained. This leads (again, in my opinion) to “the church” clawing and scratching to prove why they are right on this grey issue or that non-essential issue and why their church is the best church. It becomes church competition and a distraction from the main focus which should be Jesus Christ.
        Clint did a great job on this post and he even reiterated several times that we should not “shoot at our brothers”. But It just sparked a bit of frustration in me when I hear folks start in on this topic. Sorry if I seemed harsh or bitter. I don’t mean to come across that way. I love this blog and get a ton from it. Thank you for having this presences on the web.

    • I feel your pain, Billy. I wish we didn’t have to debate this stuff either, but it is necessary. More and more people consider what happens in churches today to be the legitimate gift of tongues, when it really isn’t. This post is meant to help lay people reason with their Charismatic friends. Thanks for your input.

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  • Clint – I am on your side in this debate and I laud your excellent balloon popping exegesis. Here’s the thing: I have several pastors, elders and other mature Christian friends who say that they speak in tongues in privately. Are they lying? Or do they just think they are speaking in tongues based on how they were trained in the church they attended? How do you respond to one of your “continuationist” friends with whom you exchange loving jabs when they tell you that they do indeed speak in tongues? Do you say “I’m sure you believe you are speaking in tongues, but…” (Feel free to refer me to an article that answers this if it cannot be done in the comments section).

    • Great question Jeff. Honestly it is a tough thing. I used to “speak in tongues” for a short stint a few months before I got saved. I honestly believed I was speaking in tongues because I had been taught that “anything goes” since it’s “your private language.’ So no one could convince me otherwise. It was after I got saved and started reading the Bible that I saw the gift in the NT was a known human language. I asked myself the tough question “Is what I am doing real, or am I faking it?” Until then it hadn’t occurred to me that I had been faking it, because my babbling was considered genuine by those who I trusted as in authority. So what do I tell my friends, “I don’t know what you do in private, but I’d encourage you to also pray in English so you can see when God answers and so that you can learn to articulate truth about Him to Him, which is good for you and gives honor to Him.” Hope this helps.

  • Buks van Ellewee

    Very interesting friendly discussion of the “Spiritual Gifts” issue that may give much insight on the thinking on both sides of the debate can be found here:

    • Thanks for the link. Pyromanicas has a discussion category called “Da Gifts” in which they apply their unique angle and incisive discernment to the debate.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    I wish these darts were more effective. I’ve heard that “tongue-speaking” pentecostalism is the fastest growing form of Christianity in the 3rd World. Or even in America too.

    • True. Darts only work if they get used.

  • Greg

    How do we know what tongues actually is? The only place where the practice is defined in anyway is Acts 2. But Paul never actually defines what tongues is, nor the gifts of faith, healing, etc.
    In discussions on tongues we assume that the modern practice is it, without knowing exactly what Paul was referring to.
    So when someone speaks in tongues, how do we know they are doing what Paul was talking about?

    • Noah Hartmetz

      Paul clarifies himself in 1 Corinthians 14:10 saying that tongues are foreign languages spoken without the speaker learning them beforehand. This is confirmed when looking at Acts 2, as you referenced.

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