Archives For Hermeneutics

night skyReverend Robert Evans is a retired pastor who lives in Australia. Many ministers these days claim to have various supernatural gifts. But unlike the usual suspects of contemporary charismania, the Rev Evans actually does posses an ability that is closer to supernatural than any claim I’ve seen on TBN. It’s practically a superpower–though Evans neither acts nor (thankfully) dresses, anything like a superhero. As far as superpowers go, it’s not the most flashy one would pick; nevertheless it has proven very useful to cosmologists and astronomers. You see, if Rev Evans fixes his gaze on an array of particles (of any magnitude), then the next time he looks at them he can instantly tell if one is missing, or has been added.

Like I said, it’s not exactly leaping over tall buildings in a single bound.

But to impress you with how remarkable this gift really is, I want you to imagine a pool table with a fistful of salt grains causally strewn over its surface. These ruinous white specks on the felt backdrop represent stars. Now imagine 1,500 more such tables arranged in the world’s biggest pool hall, each displaying thousands of salt grains randomly spread over them. After Rev Evans has walked around and inspected each table, you could then surreptitiously sneak one grain of salt off any table and toss it on any other table. Upon his next stroll through the dining hall, Evans would be able to pinpoint exactly which spot the ambulant grain used to occupy, and where it now resides.

It might not help curtailing crime in Gotham, but it’s more impressive than Benny Hinn’s ability to make old ladies fall over with a wave of his Armani-clad arm, or banishing back pain for long enough to pass a collection plate.

With characteristic modesty, Evans explained to one interviewer, “I just seem to have a knack for memorizing star fields. I’m not particularly good at other things. I don’t remember names well.”

—“Or where he’s put things,” added his wife Elaine.

How is this party trick helpful in the real world?

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angelThis post is part 5 in our series on the gift of tongues. (To access previous posts, please click here.)

In particular, we are considering the continuationist claim that tongues in the New Testament were not necessarily real human foreign languages. One leading evangelical proponent of this position is Sam Storms, who articulates his views in The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts. In this series, we have been responding to the arguments presented by Storms in that book.

In today’s post, we will consider one of the most common arguments for a type of tongues-speech that is non-earthly and non-human in character.

Continuationist Argument 4: The reference to “tongues of angels” in 1 Cor. 13:1 demands the possibility of heavenly (non-earthly) languages.

Sam Storms articulates this argument as follows:

Paul referred to ‘tongues of men and of angels’ (1 Cor. 13:1). While he may have been using hyperbole, he just as likely may have been referring to heavenly or angelic dialects for which the Holy Spirit gives utterance.

I am thankful that Storms (as well as other continuationists like D. A. Carson) allow for the possibility of hyperbole in 1 Corinthians 13:1, because I am convinced from the context that that is exactly how the phrase ought to be understood. Why?

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Today’s post is Part 4 of a series focusing on the gift of tongues. (Click here to view Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.)

Tongues_Newspaper

In particular, we are considering the continuationist claim that tongues in the New Testament did not always consist of real human foreign languages. Wayne Grudem, in Making Sense of the Church, represents the continuationist position when he writes:

“Are tongues known human languages then? Sometimes this gift may result in speaking in a human language that the speaker has not learned, but ordinarily it seems that it will involve speech in a language that no one understands, whether that be a human language or not” (emphasis added).

In his book, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, continuationist author Sam Storms echoes that same thesis, insisting that “Acts 2 is the only text in the New Testament where tongues-speech consists of foreign languages not previously known by the speaker.” Storms’ assumption is that, even in the New Testament, the majority of tongues speech consisted of something other than human language.

Storms marshals nine arguments to defend that assumption. We have already considered his first two arguments (in the previous two posts). Today we will consider a third.

Continuationist Argument 3: First Corinthians 12:10 states that there are different kinds of tongues, therefore not all tongues are human languages.

In 1 Corinthians 12:8–10 Paul writes,

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

Because Paul says that there are “various kinds of tongues,” continuationists assert that this means there are at least two categories of tongues speech: human (earthly) languages and non-human (heavenly) languages. Storms articulates the argument like this:

Note also that Paul describes various kinds [or 'species'] of tongues (gene glosson) in 1 Corinthians 12:10. It is unlikely that he means a variety of different human languages, for who would ever have argued that all tongues were only one human language, such as Greek or Hebrew or German? His words suggest that there are different categories of tongues-speech, perhaps human languages and heavenly languages.

Based on that interpretation, Storms believes 1 Corinthians 12:10 provides exegetical support for the notion that tongues can be something other than human languages.

So what are we to make of the phrase “various kinds of tongues”? Is Paul differentiating between two fundamentally different categories of tongues (as Storms and other continuationists contend)? Does this verse really distinguish between earthly (human) languages on the one hand, and heavenly (non-human) languages on the other? Continue Reading…

What are believers today to think about the gift of tongues?

D. A. Carson asks that question in his book, Showing the Spirit. On pages 84–85, he writes:

How … may tongues be perceived? There are three possibilities: [1] disconnected sounds, ejaculations, and the like that are not confused with human language; [2] connected sequences of sounds that appear to be real languages unknown to the hearer not trained in linguistics, even though they are not; [3] and real language known by one or more of the potential hearers, even if unknown to the speaker. . . . Our problem so far is that the biblical descriptions of tongues seem to demand the third category, but the contemporary phenomena seem to fit better in the second category; and never the twain shall meet.

Storms_GuideAs Carson helpfully articulates, contemporary tongues “appear to be real languages . . . even though they are not.” By contrast, biblical tongues consisted of “real language known by one or more of the potential hearers, even if unknown to the speaker.”

But if biblical tongues consisted of real human languages (i.e. a real language known by one or more of the potential hearers), then how can modern continuationists advocate tongues-speech that produces nothing more than the appearance of language? (Those interested in Carson’s unique solution to this dilemma can find it here.)

In his book The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, author Sam Storms — like most continuationists — attempts to answer that dilemma by giving a list of reasons why he believes the New Testament gift of tongues did not necessarily produce real human languages. If he can show that biblical tongues were not always actual languages, he can demonstrate a precedent for the modern gift of tongues. We addressed his first reason in last week’s post. Today we will consider his second argument. Continue Reading…

In last week’s post, we introduced a series about the gift of tongues. Cessationists generally define the gift of tongues as the supernatural ability to speak authentic foreign languages that the speaker had not previously learned. Continuationists, by contrast, generally allow for the possibility that the gift produces speech that does not correspond to any human language. The question we are asking in this series is whether or not that possibility is biblically warranted.Pentecost_Acts_2

Does the Gift of Tongues Produce Non-Human Languages?

Most continuationists acknowledge that modern tongues-speech predominately consists of something other than human foreign languages.

Of course, some continuationists point to anecdotal evidence to claim that modern glossolalia (tongues-speaking) can sometimes consist of human languages. But even supporters of modern tongues, like George P. Wood of the Assemblies of God, admit the infrequency of such reported occurrences. After commenting on alleged accounts “where one person spoke in a tongue that a second person recognized as a human language,” Wood is quick to state: “Admittedly, such occurrences are rare” (from his review of Strange Fire, published Jan. 13, 2014).

Such occurrences are so rare, in fact, that continuationist claims about modern glossolalia producing real human languages remain unconvincing to everyone outside the charismatic movement (including both Christians and non-Christians). As we saw in the previous post, professional linguists (like William Samarin of the University of Toronto) who study glossolalia have concluded that it “fundamentally is not language.” D. A. Carson, himself a non-cessationist, represents an objective assessment of the evidence when he writes: “Modern tongues are lexically uncommunicative and the few instances of reported modern xenoglossia [speaking foreign languages] are so poorly attested that no weight can be laid on them” (Showing the Spirit, 84). Continue Reading…

Authentic_FireIn his new book, Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, charismatic radio show host Michael Brown points to his commitment to sola scriptura as the main reason he is a continuationist. Not only does Brown reject cessationism “because of the definite and clear testimony of the Word” (AF, 166), but he also finds the position “exegetically impossible” (AF, 165).

In chapter six of Authentic Fire, Brown presents the primary biblical arguments for the continuation of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In one of these arguments, Brown appeals to the words of Jesus in John 14:12. In this verse, Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).

According to Brown, John 14:12a — “he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also” — contains a universal promise to the church of Jesus Christ that “whoever believes in the Son will also perform miraculous signs” (AF, 189). To support his conclusion, Brown notes that the immediate context emphasizes miracles as the works done by Jesus and that the phrase “he who believes in Me” (ho pisteuon eis eme) is universal in its scope when used elsewhere in the Gospel of John (6:35; 7:38; 11:25; 12:44, 46) (AF, 189). According to Brown, then, everyone who believes in Christ will perform miraculous signs. Continue Reading…