February 25, 2014

Sam Storms and Two Types of Tongues

by Nathan Busenitz

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).

The evidence, or lack thereof, leaves continuationists like Sam Storms in the necessary position of contending that modern tongues-speaking is legitimate, even if it does not consist of genuine human languages. According to Storms, the gift of tongues in New Testament times did not always express itself in human language either. In his 2012 book, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, Storms gives nine reasons why tongues were not necessarily human languages. His arguments are typical of other continuationist authors, and as such provide a representative sampling of the continuationist position.

Storms’ chapter on tongues (chapter 9 in the book) begins by asking the very question we are asking in this blog series. He writes, “Are tongues human languages? This is a key question for those who say the gift of tongues has ceased for today” (p. 179). After distinguishing the cessationist position from that of the continuationist, Storms reiterates the heart of the issue: “Is it true that ‘all tongues in the New Testament were human language’?” (ibid.).

Storms, of course, answers that question in the negative, which brings us to his first reason for concluding that tongues in the New Testament were not necessarily human languages.

Continuationist Argument 1: The manifestation of tongues described in Acts 2 is not the only kind of tongues described in the New Testament.

There is no question that the tongues in Acts 2 consisted of authentic foreign languages. Luke states, in Acts 2:4, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Luke continues in vv. 9–11 to list some 16 different languages and dialects that were spoken.

Storms readily admits that the tongues described in Acts 2 were human foreign languages. But he proceeds to argue that this is the only place in the New Testament where that was true. To quote Storms:

Acts 2 is the only text in the New Testament where tongues-speech consists of foreign languages not previously known by the speaker. This is an important text, yet there is no reason to think Acts 2, rather than, say, 1 Corinthians 14, is the standard by which all occurrences of tongues-speech must be judged (p. 180).

Storms’ view—that there are two types of tongues in the New Testament (only one of which consisted of human languages)—is fairly common among continuationists. As Adrian Warnock once explained on his blog: “One thing that most of us [continuationists] agree on is that there are different kinds of tongues. . . . I think it is fair to say that the tongues of 1 Corinthians are different from those of Acts 2.”

But does the biblical evidence allow for this distinction? More specifically, is the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians categorically different than the gift described in Acts? I certainly don’t believe so.

Here are seven observations from the biblical text that indicate the gift of tongues is the same in both Acts and 1 Corinthians:

1. Same Terminology: In both Acts and 1 Corinthians 12–14, the same words are used to describe the gift of tongues. Both Luke and Paul repeatedly describe the phenomena using the combination of laleo (“to speak”) and glossa (“languages”) (Acts 2:4, 11; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28; 13:1, 8; 14:2, 4, 5, 9, 13, 18, 19, 22, 23, 26, 27, 39).

2. Same Description (as languages): In both Acts and 1 Corinthians 12–14, the gift of tongues is directly associated with foreign languages. In Acts 2, foreign languages are clearly in view, and Luke lists a number of them in vv. 9–11. In 1 Corinthians 14:10–11, Paul associates tongues with the “many kinds of languages in the world.” Moreover, Paul’s reference to Isaiah 28:11–12 in 1 Cor. 14:21 supports the notion that he has foreign languages in mind.

We might add that the gift of interpretation confirms that the nature of tongues in 1 Corinthians consisted of authentic foreign languages (cf. 1 Cor. 12:10; 14:5, 13). On the day of Pentecost, Jewish pilgrims from various parts of the world did not need an interpreter to understand the languages that were being spoken. But in the congregation in Corinth, an interpreter was needed so that anyone who did not understand the language being spoken could be edified. As Norman Geisler explains: “The fact that the tongues of which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians could be ‘interpreted’ shows that it was a meaningful language. Otherwise it would not be an ‘interpretation’ but a creation of the meaning. So the gift of ‘interpretation’ (1 Corinthians 12:30; 14:5, 13) supports the fact that tongues were a real language that could be translated for the benefit of all by this special gift of interpretation.”

3. Same Source (the Holy Spirit): In both Acts and 1 Corinthians 12–14, the gift of tongues was given by the Holy Spirit. The miraculous tongues in Acts were directly related to the working of the Holy Spirit (2:4, 18; 10:44–46; 19:6). In fact, tongue-speaking is evidence of having received the “gift” (dorea) of the Holy Spirit (10:45). As in Acts, the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians was directly related to the working of the Holy Spirit (12:1, 7, 11, etc.). Similarly, the gift of tongues is an evidence (or “manifestation”) of having received the Holy Spirit (12:7).

4. Same Recipients (both apostles and non-apostles): In both Acts and 1 Corinthians 12–14, the gift of tongues was experienced by both apostles and non-apostles. On the Day of Pentecost it involved all of those gathered in the Upper Room. In Acts 11:15–17 (and 15:8), Peter explains that the experience of Acts 10 was the same as that of Acts 2, even noting that Cornelius and his household had received the same gift as the apostles on the Day of Pentecost. In 1 Corinthians, Paul, as an apostle, possessed the gift of tongues (14:18). Yet he recognized that there were non-apostles in the Corinthian church who also possessed the gift.

5. Same Sign (to unbelievers): In both Acts and 1 Corinthians 12–14, the gift of tongues was given as a sign to the nation of Israel that God was now working through the Jew-Gentile church. In Acts, it is presented as a sign for unbelieving Jews (2:5, 12, 14, 19). In 1 Corinthians, as in Acts, the gift of tongues was a sign for unbelieving Jews (14:21–22; cf. Is. 28:11). Thus, the Corinthian use of tongues was a sign just as the apostles’ use of tongues was a sign on the day of Pentecost.

6. Same Connection (to prophecy): In the book of Acts, the gift of tongues is closely connected with prophecy (2:16–18; 19:6) and with other signs that the apostles were performing (2:43). In 1 Corinthians, as in Acts, the gift of tongues is closely connected with prophecy (all throughout 12–14). Interestingly, continuationists contend that the gift of prophecy in Acts is the same as the gift of prophecy in 1 Corinthians. Only the gift of tongues gets redefined.

7. Same Reaction (from unbelievers): In Acts 2, some of the unbelieving Jews at Pentecost accused the apostles of being drunk when they heard them speaking in other tongues (foreign languages which those particular Jews did not understand). Similar to Acts, in 1 Corinthians, Paul states that unbelievers will accuse the Corinthians of being mad [not unlike “drunk”] if their tongues are not interpreted (14:23), and are therefore not understood by the hearer.

Also: Added to this is the fact that Luke (the author of Acts) was a close associate of Paul (the writer of 1 Corinthians), and wrote under Paul’s apostolic authority. Moreover, the book of Acts was written after the first epistle to the Corinthians. It is unlikely, then, that Luke would have used the exact same terminology as Paul if he understood there to be an essential difference between the two gifts (especially since such could lead to even greater confusion about the gifts — a confusion which plagued the Corinthian church).

And: There is also the issue of sound hermeneutics: In interpreting the Bible, we use the clearer passage to help us understand the less-clear passage. In this case Acts 2 is the clearer passage. So it is appropriate to allow our understanding of Acts to inform our interpretation of 1 Corinthians. Author Gerhard Hasel put it this way:

There is but one clear and definitive passage in the New Testament which unambiguously defines “speaking in tongues” and that is Acts 2. If Acts 2 is allowed to stand as it reads, then “tongues” are known, intelligible languages, spoken by those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit and understood by people who came from the various areas of the ancient world to Jerusalem.  We may raise a question of sound interpretation. Would it not be sound methodologically to go from the known definition and the clear passage in the New Testament to the less clear and more difficult passage in interpretation? Should an interpreter in this situation attempt to interpret the more difficult passage of 1 Cor 12–14 in light of the clearer passage of Acts 2? Is this not a sound approach?

And, as we noted in last week’s post, the church historically equated the tongues of Acts with the tongues of Corinth.

Conclusion: The biblical (and historical) evidence leads us to conclude that there is only one gift of tongues, and (based on its description in Acts 2) it consisted of authentic foreign languages that the speaker had not previously learned (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4, 8–11; 10:47; 11:17). Storms’ claim that the tongues of Acts 2 were categorically different than the tongues of 1 Corinthians falls short.

To quote again from D. A. Carson:

If [Paul] knew of the details of Pentecost (a currently unpopular opinion in the scholarly world, but in my view eminently defensible), his understanding of tongues must have been shaped to some extent by that event. Certainly tongues in Acts exercise some different functions from those in 1 Corinthians; but there is no substantial evidence that suggests Paul thought the two were essentially different. We have established high probability, I think, that Paul believed the tongues about which he wrote in 1 Corinthians were cognitive. (Showing the Spirit, 83).

Such a conclusion has significant ramifications for contemporary charismatics: when they acknowledge that the modern form of tongues-speaking does not involve actual foreign languages, they are simultaneously acknowledging that their contemporary experience does not have any New Testament precedent.

(We plan to continue this series next week.)

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Philip

    Another great article. It should also be remembered that Paul and Luke were traveling companions and Paul wrote 1 Corinthians at least 7 years prior to Luke writing Acts. Luke was very careful and thorough historian. If his description of Pentecost, which was obviously real languages previously unlearned, was fundamentally different than what Paul was addressing in Corinth, such as the language of angels or other non-human languages, it is almost unthinkable that Luke would use the same words Paul had used a decade earlier.

    • george canady

      According to John Piper, what are “the tongues of angles”?

      • Lyndon Unger

        Pythagorean tongues rather than Corinthian.

        • george canady

          Thank you Pastor Unger for your response. I lean toward cessationist position myself. However, I can not ignore the work of serious men of integrity that are recognized church historians and Bible scholars ,such as Piper, in sarcastic tones so as to discount their efforts to help many understand all sides of this ongoing discussion. We who have friends and relatives caught up in the mess of confusion related to this issue long for serious men to consider whether or not they come off as seeming to ignoring parts of 1 Cor 13 when upholding an orthodox position.

          • Lyndon Unger

            Woah there. Sarcasm? What sarcasm?

            It sure looked like you were making fun of a spelling error in Nathan’s article. I was only answering in jest regarding the word “angles”.

            You are a little too high strung partner.

          • george canady

            Oh…. sorry. I didn’t even notice the misspelling of his or mine. I guess I could blame it on A.D.D. but it just lazy on my part. However, the question about “the tongues of angels” is a fair one and legitimate. Nice dodge though. If you will look right below you may find the sarcasm I am referring to.

          • Lyndon Unger

            Sorry. What am I dodging? Do you want me to answer the question you posed to Philip?

            I’ll just toss an answer out there anyway.

            I Cor. 13:1 has “tongues of men and angels”, which is called a hendiadys (lit. “one through two”) which is a fairly common figure of speech. It’s not saying that there actually are angellic languages that a person can speak, but rather it’s a figure of speech meaning “every possible language”.

          • george canady

            Man, this is why I trust you guys so much. Such word smiths. I know when you all say this is what scripture says, I can trust you have hit the study from all angles. Unfortunately, I am just a simple welder with limited education, some scripture knowledge and to much time on my hands; hopefully not like the blacksmith in Paul’s life. Perhaps some contextualization is in order? I am attempting to used 1 Cor 13 in the sense of how we, Christians, disagree with each other. Do we come off as rude or insensitive to those who have been kind and patient in presenting their view ,even if in error? Or, are we perceived as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal? I did spank my 3 year old son for going in a busy street 25 years ago, not in anger, just a reminder until he could reason for himself; and that was gentle and kind. So, I think there is a time for firmness that doesn’t look kind to all. But is that how we are carrying on this debate? Are we really seen as loving by those who know the difference? I’m just saying.

          • Lyndon Unger

            Thanks for the kind words George. Sorry about our misunderstanding before. I thought you were making a joke and responded in joking fashion.

            I’m glad that us Cripplegators have credibility with you, but I’d encourage you to always test what we say against scripture and don’t be afraid to ask hard (but honest) questions. Truth will stand up to the worst scrutiny you can throw at it.

            As for the “loving” question, I’d wonder if you may have fallen into a common “thinking trap” where we think that “loving” is primarily aimed at other people and means “refusing to actually suggest someone is actually wrong”. I am called to love God first, and love for God doesn’t soft peddle either sin or error.

            I definitely agree that far too many folks seem to think that the opposite of “soft peddling sin” is “being an obnoxious jerk”, but I’m personally working out the ever-difficult balance of accurately discussing matters without overstepping thr boundaries of civility or graciousness.

            If you see me do this, please alert me to my behavior; that is one of the ways we need one another.

          • george canady

            Thanks pastor for your time here. I hope I love God first, others second and as for myself….well according to scripture; no trouble there. I know love looks hard sometimes but as with my son, enemy or neighbor, after warning, correction or separation, I hope those who know what 1Cor 13 says would say I did my best to love in the order set out in that passage while loving with the true love; truth.

      • Philip


        (I hope it’s okay if I answered in tongues)

      • Giraffe Monsoon

        I hope you mean ‘angels’. Angles would be pointed tongues, or tongues geometrically understood. Spelling matters.

        • george canady

          Thanks man. I have to be more careful. I get pastor Unger’s joke now on the Pythagorean tongues. I am surprised any educated person would mix it up with an under educated man like me anyway; rebellious in my youth, slept through high school, saved in jail. Thank God for the Holy Spirit, there is hope for people like me. I am grateful for your correction.

  • Jeff Rauf

    As a new believer in a Calvary Chapel fellowship, we were taught that current day tongue speaking was a ‘personal prayer language’ or that the language was ‘angelic’ and therefore unknowable.

  • Scott Welch

    Seriously, continuationists argue this way? Speaking in tongues is the gift of speaking other human languages, or mimicking baby babble? Yes, the second one is cute, but usually when the person’s lifespan is measured in months and weight is under 20 pounds.

  • JacobAbshire

    Very helpful article and series. Great clarity. Thanks a lot, Nathan.

  • NCHammer

    Nathan, Have you ever been present in a church when “modern tongues-speech” has occurred and then was followed by a public, understood “interpretation” of the original message? If so, I’m wondering how you explain such occurrences? Thx.

    • What would the interpretation offer that the Bible doesn’t already say?

      • NCHammer

        Part of my response from above which addresses this question.

        What I can say, anecdotally, is that the Spirit uses tongues and
        interpretation to bring specific Scripture to light to very specific
        circumstances that may or may not have been public knowledge and may be very individualized. Often times in a way the sermon from that week wouldn’t necessarily address. Not that there isn’t a sermon that would, but by the Spirit the secrets of his heart made manifest.” (v. 25) This would be borne out by the interpretation (which most Pentecostals would call prophecy). And, thus the Spirit brings the exact needed Bible answers.

        The Spirit ALWAYS points us back to Scripture. That is a hallmark of
        “proper” tongues and interpretation practice in the churches I’m
        familiar with. IOW, it’s not anything extra-Biblical. But the Spirit knows what is needed and when.

    • Fred Butler

      I have. So, what exactly? There was never any “interpretation” when I encountered them.

      BTW, I don’t recall you answering this in our previous back and forth, but do you believe, along with pretty much every AoG and Pentecostal denominational doctrinal statement, that tongues are evidence of the so-called “baptism of the spirit?” Or “second baptism?” When a person is water baptized, will they speak in tongues after coming out of the water? All the Pentecostals I encountered in Arkansas were of this view of the gift. A lack of speaking in tongues demonstrated no holy spirit power and often the person was left wondering if he or she was really saved.

      • NCHammer

        Fred, You can see some of my other responses for the interpretation thoughts I shared.

        I’m working through your other questions in my own prayer and study of the topic. Pentecostal history in America has had questions along the lines of yours since the early 1900s. The AofG actually came out of the Church of God (ie started as a distinct organization) because of disagreement on these types of questions. (I think the same is true for sanctification–process, event, or both).

        I cannot (though someone more experienced in Scripture than me may be able to) reference any Scripture that says you must speak in tongues to exhibit the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I would say, if you speak in tongues, that is certainly an indication throughout the NT. My reading of 1 Corinthians 12 v. 27-31 has me leaning to the belief that it is not a prerequisite, as many/most Pentecostals teach. But I’m not willing to stake that claim fully.

        Some denominations believe you automatically receive the Holy Spirit at salvation, but Acts 19:2 seems to contradict this, “He said unto them, Have
        ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We
        have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” This clearly seems to point to some deeper experience that is available and not automatic to salvation. This verse also seems to clarify that not speaking in tongues does not means you are not already saved.

        From an overall point of view, I see nothing in Scripture prepping the Church for the end of usefulness of any of the Gifts, up until the 2nd Coming. This is the biggest weakness, IMO, of the cessationists, even if you set aside my own experiences with those speaking in tongues and interpreting.

  • Nehemiah Ryan

    I think the best argument is from the Lord Jesus Himself in Matthew 6:7. “And when you pray, do not use vain repetition [literally, “babbling gibberish”] like pagans.”
    Notice that Jesus said “like pagans.” The word “like” denotes comparison, not equality. So Jesus is literally saying, do not pray using anything similar to gibberish like the pagans, only pray using comprehensible human words.
    The emphasis of Christ’s statement is not on longwindedness, as it is usually interpreted. The emphasis is on comprehensibility. Thus, here is principle of the verse: No amount of babbling in gibberish will make God hear our prayers.

    Here’s the final blow:
    If the Holy Spirit were to give a gift that was similar to gibberish on a human level (I.e. words we ourselves cannot understand), then He would be in direct opposition to the commandment of the Lord.

    • Truth Unites… and Divides

      Thank you, Nehemiah Ryan. Never seen that line of argument before.

  • NCHammer

    In 1 Corinthians 14 (KJV), v. 13 & 27 use the term “unknown tongue”. Does the original Greek for “unknown” point us to any clearer understanding? In modern english, we would say “foreign” to denote an actual human language from another race or country. “Unknown” would open up more possibilities, i.e. non-human. Does this hold in the original Greek?

    In v. 13, why would the individual who spoke in tongues need to “pray that he may interpret” if the tongue was a known human tongue of someone present?

    • Philip

      v. 13 in Greek – Διὸ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ προσευχέσθω ἵνα διερμηνεύῃ

      Translation: Therefore the one who speaks in a tongue is to pray that he may interpret.

      The word unknown does not appear in this verse or verse 27.

      προσευχέσθω (to pray) is in the imperative mood, meaning it is a command. Anyone who speaks in tongues, assuming they are actually speaking in tongues, without praying for the ability to interpret is actually in violation of Paul’s instruction on the proper exercise of the gift. The context of this passage is that it is better not to speak in tongues, but to speak what you know of God’s truth in a language that is understood by you and others than to speak in tongues that are not understood by you or others.

      • NCHammer

        Thanks, Phillip. My question becomes, why would there ever need to be an interpretation? If the tongue was given of the Spirit, there would necessarily be someone there who understood it, right? Otherwise what is the point of speaking in an unknown tongue? By extension, why would Paul direct them to pray to be able to interpret, if they shouldn’t be speaking in tongues when no “foreign” speaking people were present?

        • Philip

          If the tongue was truly given by the Spirit there would be someone present to interpret. Just keep in mind that in the modern context just because someone thinks they have an interpretation doesn’t mean that the genuine gifts of tongues and interpretation are being exercised.

          And again, keep in mind that Paul’s overarching message related to tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 is that it’s better, much better, to speak what you know about God in the language that you understand and the hearers understand. In an American church where everybody speaks English and the Bible is present there really is no Biblical argument for speaking in tongues. How charismatics/continuationists come away from 1 Corinthians 12-14 thinking they have an encouragement to speak in tongues baffles me.

          • NCHammer

            1 Corinthians 14, v 39 “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.”

            I do not speak in tongues, but most of my church life has been spent in Pentecostal churches where tongues and interpretations were as frequent as hymns. While I have some questions about the ways the Gift is taught, I have never questioned the validity of the practice itself.

            What I can say, anecdotally, is that the Spirit uses tongues and interpretation to bring specific Scripture to light to very specific circumstances that may or may not have been public knowledge and may be very individualized. Often times in a way the sermon from that week wouldn’t necessarily address. Not that there isn’t a sermon that would, but by the Spirit the secrets of his heart made manifest.” (v. 25) This would be borne out by the interpretation (which most Pentecostals would call prophecy). And, thus the Spirit brings the exact needed Bible answers.

            The Spirit ALWAYS points us back to Scripture. That is a hallmark of “proper” tongues and interpretation practice in the churches I’m familiar with. IOW, it’s not anything extra-Biblical.

            If you haven’t seen this in practice it’s hard to conceptualize. But if you’ve been spoken over in tongues and then received an interpretation that undeniably fit your unique circumstances, then it’s hard to discount.

            And, I’m reading all of the posts and responses with a goal of more understanding my own beliefs.

  • Very good and helpful summary on tongues.

  • Doc B (J B Boren)

    Extremely helpful. These are going directly into my Logos Notes files (with full attribution, of course).

  • jon

    This is Gold! Would you please do this thorough of a treatment on all the gifts, and then publish it? That would be such a blessing to the church and young men, like myself, that are preparing to enter the ministry. Thank you for your labor. I will be praying that our Lord would bless it. Thanks again brother.

  • Rob Anthony

    I would also argue that the other references in Acts are shown to be understandable human languages. Peter in Acts 10:46 heard them speaking with tongues and exalting God. If he didn’t understand what they were saying, how could he know they were exalting God. Perhaps Cornelius was even speaking Hebrew.

  • Jared Compton

    Just to be clear, Nathan, when Carson says the tongues in both places were “cognitive” he’s not saying they were (or are, for that matter) always known human languages, as some might think from the way you use his quote in your conclusion. In the sentence just before your citation, e.g., Carson says, “On balance, then, the evidence favors the view that Paul thought the gift of tongues was a gift of real languages, that is, languages that were cognitive, whether or men or of angels” (83; cf., in fact, pp. 83-88).

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Jared,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear from you. (I’m suddenly having flashbacks to our Faith & Practice days.) Given your time studying at TEDS, you are admittedly far more familiar with Dr. Carson’s views than I am.

      I did not intend to misrepresent Dr. Carson’s views. In the quote above, Carson noted that Paul saw Pentecost as a parallel to the Corinthian situation. Because Pentecost consisted of real languages, it follows that the tongues in Corinth did as well.

      Carson is explicit about his understanding of the tongues of Acts 2. On page 138, he writes, “It must be insisted that in Luke’s description of the utterances on the day of Pentecost we are dealing with xenoglossia — real, human, languages never learned by the speakers.”

      Regarding the “tongues of angels” in 1 Cor. 13:1, Carson earlier explained that such might refer to the cognitive dialects of angels. But Carson appeared to be equally open to the possibility that “Paul may be writing hyperbolically to draw as sharp a contrast as possible with love” (Showing the Spirit, 58). At that point in the book, at least, Carson seemed undecided as to which way he leans on that specific point. From my reading, he did not seem to advocate the idea that the “tongues of angels” suffice as a legitimate explanation of modern glossolalia. (I plan to address 1 Cor. 13:1 in a future post.)

      In the section on pages 83-88, Carson states:

      “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. . . . [T]he 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.” (84-85; emphasis added)

      Carson goes on to offer a fourth alternative (on 84-85), but it is not to appeal to the “tongues of angels.” Rather, he posits a “coded language” that bears cognitive information even if it does not sound like real human language. (I personally do not find that explanation convincing. But that discussion is perhaps best left for another time.)

      All that to say, my reading of Carson leaves him equating biblical tongues with real foreign languages. Though he leaves the door open to the possibility of “tongues of angels,” he also considers the very real possibility that Paul is speaking hyperbolically in 1 Cor. 13:1. Regarding Acts 2, Carson insists that the tongues of Pentecost were human languages.

      In light of his strong conclusions regarding Acts 2, I found it significant that he then draws a substantive parallel between Pentecost and the Corinthian situation (on page 83). I believe such parallels create major problems for the continuationist view on tongues. Hence my decision to include that citation in the article.

      • Jared Compton

        Yes. Those were the days, weren’t they:) All I meant to say was that Carson has a category of tongues that, while “cognitive,” is not equivalent to “authentic foreign languages” or “actual foreign languages” (= Carson’s “known human language,” 86 or, simply, “human languages,” 87). I wondered if your original use of him overlooked this key distinction and I still get this feeling from your comment (see, e.g., “real foreign languages”). You may be right in your argument against Storms, but I’m not sure you can appeal to Carson for as much support as you may want. (Does that help?)

  • God is not the author of confussion. I’ve sat in on many charismatic, pentecostal, services over the years. My inlaws were pentecostal. Before God made the doctrines of grace apparent to me, we followed them around from church to church. The services were dissordered, and the so-called gifts dissrupted the services even further. Nobody had ever come forward, and truly interpreted a real language. No foreigner present had ever understood their gibberish, as his own language.
    The modern charismatic tongues speakers might start out thinking they are worshipping God in truth, but they soon become captive to the sinful, pseudo-gift. It usually will lead to the doctrine of, “If you can’t do this, then you haven’t got the indwelling of the spirit, so you aren’t saved.” I have had people slap my forhead and yell, “Demons out!’ or, “Heal this man in the name of!” and so on. Guess what… No demons came out of me, I never got relief from my infirmities, and I never felt more stupid in my entire life. Thank God for good teachers, like R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd Jones, and even the likes of Mr. Todd Friel. I would say Todd Friel’s Wretched Radio was used to put me on the right track about 5 years ago.

  • Steve Hardy

    The thing that has always been impressed on me in the discussion of “tongues” in the current sense, especially as people who study languages seem to uniformly agree that what’s portrayed as “tongues” has no language form is this. Wouldn’t Satan consider it a significant victory having those who are Christians, and believe that the what they’re doing is praising and honoring God, rather expend all that time and effort in gibberish and nonsense. The thought of disconnecting my mind and hoping that I might be communicating with God (but then, maybe not) is a scary concept to me. I’d rather trust in the sufficiency and completeness of the Word, and be engaged in prayer for worship, others and myself with what He’s revealed to us in that Word.

  • Gabriel Powell

    If people are speaking the tongues of angels, then there are millions of different angelic languages, because to my knowledge, gibberish speakers all speak their own version of gibberish.

    I don’t know why this isn’t emphasized more. In light of the Tower of Babel, I believe it is natural to believe that angels have one heavenly language (though in the Bible they only speak human languages for obvious reasons).

    Multiple languages is a curse from God. If angelic tongue speaking is legitimate, it should be easily and objectively demonstrated that much/most/all tongue speaking is the same language (even if we can’t interpret them naturally).

  • Eric Davis

    “Interestingly, continuationists contend that the gift of prophecy in Acts is the same as the gift of prophecy in 1 Corinthians. Only the gift of tongues gets redefined.” Very helpful point, along w/ the others. Thank you for your hard work here, Nate.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    Why not settle this whole business with a simple controlled test instead of tossing this passage against that one.

    1. Record several examples of people speaking in tongues–or claiming to do so–in a church service.
    2. Take several more who believe themselves possessed of the “gift of interpretation” and play the recordings to them outside of the hearing of any of the others.
    3. Have these listeners separately transcribe the recordings, word for word into English, without any collusion between them.
    4. Compare and analyze the results.

    Either this claim is at least internally consistent, or it’s not. Even if it’s consistent (the translations agree), that still doesn’t address the question of who–or what–is behind it. Of course, if all the translations do NOT align with each other (which is where my money is), the matter can be put to bed once and for all and we can put 50 cent terms like “continuationists” and “cessationists” on ice.

    • 1redthread

      Love this comment.

    • Matthew Bryce Ervin

      But that would only speak to the veracity of people claiming to speak in tongues and interpreters. It does not speak to whether or not Scripture uses, “tongues” in more than one sense. I could not care less about people’s experience. I’m interested in what God has to say about it.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Let’s assume for a moment that the biblical examples ARE of two types, heavenly languages and earthly ones. Would that prove that those who speak today are doing so through a legitimate spiritual gift even if the tested interpretations I proposed conflicted? Suppose the biblical examples were NOT of two types? How would that change what’s happening now?

        I don’t see how the question you’re pursuing matters beyond the purely academic consideration of biblical history (not that it’s not worth asking, but does it ultimately matter?) The question at issue was, I thought, whether or not the alleged “gift of tongues”–as used today–is of God.

  • brad

    These are great arguments, but I don’t feel like they deal with Storm’s arguments in his book. I would love to see Storm’s actual arguments articulated and then rebutted point by point!

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Brad,
      Thanks for your comment. We still have 8 more arguments (from Storms) to address in the upcoming installments in this series. This article is not intended to deal with all of Storms’ arguments — but only the idea that the tongues of Acts were categorically different than the tongues of 1 Corinthians.
      All that to say, there is more to come.

      • Brad

        Thanks Nate! To be more specific, I was wondering what is the evidence that Storms gives for his argument that there are more than one type of tongues in the NT. I felt like you gave 7 great reasons for why there is only one type of tongues in the NT, but you didn’t articulate the reasons why Storms believers there are more than one type of tongues in the NT. If I am understanding everything correctly, the argument we are discussing is this:

        The manifestation of tongues described in Acts 2 is not the only kind of tongues described in the New Testament.

        I think you are saying that tongues described in Acts 2 is the same kind of tongues described throughout the entire NT. You give these 7 reasons…

        1. Same Terminology
        2. Same Description (as languages)
        3. Same Source (the Holy Spirit)
        4. Same Recipients (both apostles and non-apostles)
        5. Same Sign (to unbelievers)
        6. Same Connection (to prophecy)
        7. Same Reaction (from unbelievers)

        So, I think I get your point and it is a strong point! But I wasn’t sure what Storm’s reasons are for believing that there are more than one type of tongues in the NT. I guess I should read his book! I hope this makes sense! Take care!

        • NCHammer

          I’m hoping NB also addresses 1 Cor. 14 v. 2. and 4

          “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.”

          “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.”

          “No man” seems indicative of a non-human language otherwise it would be understood by someone. And, I’m also still unclear as to why interpretation would ever be necessary if the languages were only human and were to be understood by those who spoke those languages?

  • Harry

    Just a few thoughts.

    You would agree, that 1 Cor 14:10 is referencing verse 6-8; namely any unknown language spoken need interpretation to build the church. Verse 10 does NOT exclude a non-human language by his use of the term “all sorts.” Paul’s point in v10 is regardless of variety “meaning” is required. However Norman Geisler quote is wrong, in that you don’t need the “gift” of interpretation IF it is a known language, You need to have been “born into or learnt that language” that is different from “gift”.

    Your Point 5 Same sign doesn’t make sense with regards to a ‘sign to unbelieving Jews’ in the Corinth church because Paul does not qualify unbelievers only as Jews in 1 Cor 10:22.

    Your Point 7 is simply stating “interpretation” is needed it does not clarify if it is pointing to a non-human or known human language.

    Under “Also” are you inferring that Luke’s later writing was influenced by Paul and not inspired by the Holy Spirit?

    I would like to know your understanding of verses 14-17, which I noticed you didn’t mention. Surely you not going to invoke Carson’s cognitive language to verse 15?

    May Christ be exalted.

    • NCHammer

      Your point about interpretation has puzzled me, as well. This is 1 Cor 14:2

      “For he that speaketh in
      an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man
      understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.”

      Sounds like the tongues in this verse are not “human”. “Not unto men” would seem to mean, not just people who aren’t present, but men in general.

      “No man understandeth” also seems to include more than just the audience present.

      So, if no man can understand the language, wouldn’t that mean not a known human language?

  • NCHammer

    In Acts 19 v.1-7, Paul’s interaction with a group of disciples at Ephesus is clearly described. Some questions arise from this text that appear to conflict with some of NB’s post and conclusions.

    They were already believers. v. 1 calls them disciples.

    They spoke the same language, as there is no indication of a language barrier when Paul asked them about their experience. v. 2 Paul clearly speaks to them and they respond.

    After Paul prayed for them, the immediately began speaking in tongues. v. 6

    Why would they need to, if the conclusions of the original post are correct? They were believers, there is no indication unbelievers were also present. They spoke the same language, and it would seem there would be no reason for an outbreak of “tongues”. Also, Luke’s description does not include anything to hint at the language the men broke into after the prayer. He does not indicate it was clearly foreign human languages, as he clearly denoted in Acts 2.

    Finally, one of his references to “authentic language” doesn’t seem to read that way as clearly as he indicates. Acts 10:46 KJV simply reads “tongues”, not “own tongue” as described in chapter 2.

  • Matthew Bryce Ervin

    1 Cor. 14:2 simply has to be dealt with for the refutation to be solid. “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for NO ONE understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” This is far different from the Acts 2 account where each man heard the tongues in his own language. It’s true that the more clear passages speak to the less clear. But this type of hermeneutical device is abused if it is allowed to change clear meaning. 1 Cor. 14:2 is very clear when is speaks of a tongue given to God and not man.
    In addition, please note that Paul is not associating tongues in 1 Cor. 14:10-11 with human languages (at least in the way you imply). The mention from Paul is part of a narrative that public speaking in tongues (without an interpreter) was without use. Human languages were brought up as an example of how they have meaning but are nonsense to those who do not have understanding.

  • SIEP

    Having come out of the charismatic movement, I believe I have anecdotal evidence to corroborate the Scriptural teaching (not that my experience is in any way on the same level as Scripture). I was taught that glossolalia was indeed a (or the) true evidence of spiritual rebirth; until you could speak in tongues, your salvation was doubted but once you did speak in tongues, you were thought to be regenerate, regardless of any other proof of your character.

    I agree with NCHammer that the Spirit always points us back to Scripture. However, I am not willing to say what happens in the charismatic movement and is touted as interpretation is of the Holy Spirit. I know of many people who “gave interpretations” or “received a word from the Lord” who were, quite simply, blaspheming by saying, “thus sayeth the Lord.”

    Ultimately, one’s personal experience must give way to the clear teaching of Scripture. God is sovereign and can bestow these gifts on any He chooses in order to glorify Himself. The problem comes when we try to assume these gifts for ourselves to glorify ourselves (cf Acts 8:8-24).

  • Jeff Schlottmann

    i was in the pentecostal system til I was 28. I’ve been in and out of AoG, CoG, and Pentecostal CoG. they are all almost identical. all try to teach members to speak in tongues. i attempted for about 14 years to get the “baptism” with no success, while feeling worse and worse after each failed attempt. my thoughts on it changed when a woman “interpreted” a “message”. she went back and forth from first person to third person, such as “come to Me (God)”, followed by “go to God”. why would God do that? and then seeing the worship leader and piano player speak in tongues. only to find out they were having an affair for 11 years. they are now married. how can that behavior be approved of by God in any form? my family has since been saved out of the pentecostal church. i’ve since found that i didnt know much biblically. i struggled listening to macarthur for about 6 months until my eyes were finally opened. thank you for this website. its been helpful.

    • Steve

      What a great testimony of God’s faithfulness and His continual work in the lives of his children.

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