September 1, 2011

Two Types of Tongues?

by Nathan Busenitz

(In the comments of today’s initial post, I was asked whether or not there are two types of tongues in the New Testament. My response was too long for the comment thread, so I’m posting it here instead.)

* The following comes from a lecture I gave on this topic. The audio can be accessed here.

I want to respond to the idea that the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 is somehow qualitatively different than in Acts or even than in 1 Corinthians 12.

* * * * *

Is the gift of tongues in Acts the same as in 1 Corinthians?

Some Observations:

1. Acts – 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).

1 Corinthians – 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).

2. Acts – Along those lines, in Acts 11:15–17, Peter implies that the tongue-speaking of Acts 10 was the same as that of Acts 2, even noting that Cornelius and his household had received the same gift (dorea) as the apostles on the Day of Pentecost. This indicates that the tongues of the Apostles (in Acts 2) was not limited just to the Apostles, but was also experienced (at least) by both Cornelius’s household (Acts 10) and the disciples of Apollos (Acts 19).

1 Corinthians – Paul, as an Apostle, possessed the gift of tongues (14:18). Yet he recognized that there were those in the Corinthian church who also possessed the gift.

3. Acts – The miraculous ability, as it is described in Acts 2, is the supernatural ability to speak in other tongues (meaning foreign languages) (2:4, 9–11).

1 Corinthians – As in Acts, the gift of tongues is described as a speaking gift (12:30; 14:2, 5). The fact that it can be interpreted/translated (12:10; 14:5, 13) indicates that it consisted of an authentic foreign language, similar to the tongues of Acts 2. (Paul’s direct association of tongue-speaking with foreign languages in 14:10–11 and also his reference to Isaiah 28:11, 12 strengthens this claim.)

4. Acts – The primary word for tongues in Acts is “glossa” (2:4, 11; 10:46; 19:6), although it is also described with the word “dialekto” on two occasions (2:6, 8).

1 Corinthians –As in Acts, the primary word for tongues in 1 Corinthians 12–14 is “glossa” (12:10, 28; 13:1, 8; 14:2, 4, 5, 9, 13, 18, 19, 22, 23, 26, 27, 39), though Paul also uses the term “phoneo” twice (in 14:10–11).

5. Acts – It was a sign for unbelieving Jews (2:5, 12, 14, 19).

1 Corinthians – As in Acts, the gift of tongues was a sign for unbelieving Jews (14:21–22; cf. Is. 28:11). Note that the gift is even called a “sign” in 14:22 (the word “sign” is from the same Greek word as “sign” in Acts 2:22). Thus, the Corinthian use of tongues was a sign just as the Apostles use of tongues was a sign.

6. Acts – It is closely connected with prophecy (2:16–18; 19:6) and with other signs that the Apostles were performing (2:43)

1 Corinthians – As in Acts, the gift of tongues is closely connected with prophecy (all throughout 12–14).

7. Acts – Some of the unbelieving Jews at Pentecost accused the apostles of being drunk when they heard them speaking in other tongues (languages which those Jews did not understand).

1 Corinthians – Similar to Acts, Paul says that unbelievers will accuse the Corinthians of being mad [not unlike “drunk”] if their tongues go uninterpreted (14:23), and are therefore not understood by the hearer.

The biblical evidence (from the correlating observations above) supports the conclusion that the gift of tongues described in 1 Corinthians consists of the same phenomenon as the miraculous sign of tongues depicted in Acts.

Added to this is the fact that Luke (the author of Acts) was a close associate of Paul (the writer of 1 Corinthians). Moreover, the book of Acts was written after the epistle to the 1 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 (especially since such could lead to even greater confusion about the gifts — a confusion which plagued the Corinthian church).

Added to this, the church fathers understood the gift of tongues in Acts to be the same as the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians.

* * * * *

But what about 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 … are there two different gifts discussed in these chapters?

I’m convinced the answer is no. Here are some reasons why:

1. 1 Corinthians 12 – In 12:7, 14–26, Paul emphasizes that the intended purpose of all the spiritual gifts (including tongues) is the edification of the church. (This is reemphasized in chapter 13, where Paul notes that even the most magnificent display of any gift is useless unless it is marked by selfless love.)

1 Corinthians 14 – As in chapter 12, Paul emphasizes that the intended purpose of tongues (that which is ideal and should be pursued) is the edification of the church (14:5, 6, 12, 13, 17, 26).

2. 1 Corinthians 12 – In 12:1, in order to introduce the topic of “spiritual gifts,” Paul uses a form of the Greek word pneumatikos.

1 Corinthians 14 – In 14:1, as Paul returns to the topic of “spiritual gifts,” he again uses a form of the Greek word pneumatikos. (This comes after his parenthetical comments in chapter 13 on the superiority of love to any gift.) By using the same term, Paul indicates that he is returning to the same topic (and the same set of gifts) that he left at the end of chapter 12.

3. 1 Corinthians 12 – In 12:31, Paul instructs the Corinthians to seek the greater gifts (“greater” from the Greek word meizon).

1 Corinthians 14 – In 14:5, Paul indicates that the gift of prophecy is greater (“meizon”) than the gift of tongues and therefore it is to be sought by the Corinthians. This builds off of Paul’s thought in 12:31, indicating that he is still speaking of the same set of gifts as those discussed in chapter 12.

4. 1 Corinthians 12 – In chapter 12, the word for tongues comes from the Greek word glossa. It’s the same word that is primarily used in Acts to describe the gift of tongues.

1 Corinthians 14 – As in chapter 12, the word for tongues (with the exception of vv. 10–11) comes from the Greek word glossa. Lexically, either refers to the physical organ (of the tongue) or an authentic foreign language. The context here points to the latter understanding.

5. 1 Corinthians 12 – To “speak” with tongues in 12:30 comes from the Greek verb laleo.

1 Corinthians 14 – To “speak” with tongues in 14:2, 4, 5, 6, 13, 18, 23 comes from the Greek verb laleo. Thus the combination of laleo with glossa (“to speak in tongues”) is lexically equivalent in both chapters.

6. 1 Corinthians 12 – In 12:28–30, as noted earlier, Paul is explicit that not everyone speaks in tongues.

1 Corinthians 14 – a) In 14:5 Paul says that he “wishes” (thelo) that all the Corinthians spoke in tongues. The implication, then, is that not all of them did. Moreover, Paul’s wish does not necessitate that such was a potential reality. (Paul earlier used the exact same construction in 1 Cor. 7:7 to “wish” that all Christian men were single [unmarried]. Yet, obviously, such was not a potential reality, since many of his readers were already married.) Also, Paul’s wish was not intended as a motivation for the Corinthian readers to pursue tongues. Instead, as the rest of verse 5 makes clear, Paul’s real point was that they pursue prophecy (the greater gift — cf. 14:39).

b) In 14:23, Paul’s use of “all” simply means “all who have the gift of tongues,” just as “all” in verse 24 refers to “all who have the gift of prophecy.” Nowhere, then, in chapter 14 does Paul undermine what he has already made clear in 12:8–11, 28–30 (that not every believer speaks in tongues).

7. 1 Corinthians 12 – Throughout chapter 12, the gift of tongues is closely associated with other gifts including the gift of prophecy and the gift of the interpretation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 14 – The gift of prophecy in chapter 12 (vv. 10, 28–29) is the same as the gift of prophecy described in chapter 14 (vv. 1, 3–5, etc). Also the gift of interpretation (or translation) of tongues in chapter 12 is the same as that in chapter 14. It follows, then, that the gift of tongues in chapter 12 is also the same as the gift of tongues in chapter 14.

Contextually, chapters 12–14 form one unit within the first epistle to the Corinthians. It is difficult to imagine that Paul would use the same terminology in the same context to refer to two categorically different phenomena.

* * * * *

What’s the point of all this?

Simply to make the case for the following:

1) The manifestation of tongues in Acts 2 was clearly the ability of the apostles to speak in authentic foreign languages which they previously had not learned.

2) The manifestation of tongues in Acts 10 (and by implication Acts 19) is said, by Peter, to have been the same as what occurred in Acts 2.

3) The exegetical and historical evidence indicates that the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians consisted of the same phenomena as that described in Acts.

4) The exegetical and contextual evidence further indicates that, at least in its essence (or nature), there is only one gift of tongues being described in 1 Corinthians 12–14.

5) Thus, I conclude that the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12–14 was (as in Acts 2) the ability of select believers to speak in authentic foreign languages which they previously had not learned. To assert that the gift in 1 Corinthians 14 is something categorically other than that (as in a non-rational spiritual prayer “language” which can be learned, and should be sought by every believer) is exegetically and contextually untenable.

6) Because the purpose was to edify the body—a purpose which, in order to be fulfilled, demanded that the foreign language be translated so that those in the congregation could understand it, Paul emphasizes the importance of interpretation (translation) in 1 Corinthians 14.

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.
  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “What’s the point of all this?

    Simply to make the case for the following:”

    Hi Pastor Nate,

    I assume your biblical arguments are not new to “Tongue” speaking Charismatics. I further assume, perhaps erroneously, that you have presented these arguments to Charismatics or that you have seen this argument presented to Charismatics before from someone else (perhaps by John MacArthur or Phil Johnson).

    My question: What do they say when confronted by your biblical argument which is based upon sound exegesis and clear logic?

  • Anonymous

    Dude. Bold on the double post. I appreciate it.

  • Mandy

    Hello Pastor Nate,

    When Paul speaks of the “Tongues of Angels”, is it possible that Paul was speaking of the Hebrew tongue? The reason I ask is, that the Messengers ( aggelos – ang’-el-os – angels) to the synagogues were forbidden to bring the message in anything other than the Hebrew language (Holy tongue). This would also explain why Paul said he spoke with the tongues of Angels and men.

    Is it also possible that the problem in the church at Corinth was that the learned Jewish men in the congregation were speaking in Hebrew? I ask this as, to a Jew, things of God were only to be spoken of in the Holy language. This was the same in the synagogues but there was always an interpreter there to render in the mother-tongue, verse by verse, that which was spoken in the Hebrew tongue.

    As the church in Corinth met in a home that adjoined the synagogue, I believe Paul would be very concerned that the church follow the same order. They were to be an example to the unbelieving Jews.

    It seems to fit very well into what was happening at the Corinthian church and brings clarity to Paul’s words (well, for me at least).

  • Tim

    Thanks for laying all this out Nate. It’s a great summary and the conclusions you draw from it are very helpful. I see that you state at one point that the gift was a sign for unbelieving Jews, and in another point that it was for the edification of the Church. Is that both/and, or is there some distinction from the text between the two uses?

    Thanks,
    Tim

  • Cliff

    Of course the purpose of having the gift of tongues was because they did not have a written New Testament and not one that had been translated into various languages, so if they came across an Egyptian or African etc they could tell them about Jesus and the gospel otherwise how could they go into all the world and preach the gospel. And when that which is perfect is come namely the written New Testament all these gifts would cease.

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