Wednesday, January 10, 2007



Let's start with Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 14:2: "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit."(NIV) Speaking only to God. Not to man. Keep that in mind, then read on.

Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, has been working on a "Unified Theory" .. a theory that describes everything. Sort of the universe and contents. That's quite a task, and it reminds me of what I've been trying to do about the gift of tongues. It seems that all the explanations, many and varied though they may be, have differing tasks for various manifestations of the gift. And I don't buy that. I think there's a simple principle we've been missing .. a sort of "unified theory" .. that nobody's come up with yet. I'd like to give it a try, and I think the answer is a lot simpler than we've been taught.

I'm reminded of the big stone pillars that Samson pushed on, to bring down the entire temple in Judges 16. He received the strength he'd previously lost, because there was a task which required it. If the pillars hadn't been there, God would have given him something else.

That's the thought that hit me on the way to the auto parts store, Saturday afternoon. When God manifests a gift, there's a purpose for it. The stage is set for its manifestation .. I doubt seriously He'd give the gift of healing to someone who was never, ever going to be around anyone who needed healing.

The same thought led to the fact that the gift of tongues, if given by itself, would be useless and of no purpose, unless He also manifested the gift of interpretation! Also, that would be extremely confusing where there had been no prior manifestation; the folks could hardly have connected Jesus' prior reference to snakes & poison & new tongues, with that. And God does not author confusion.

So the big deal: IMO, the gift of tongues in Acts Chapter 2 was accompanied by the gift of interpretation in some, but not all, hearers.

We can get a bit of the flavor of the moment and the hearers by reading what happened:

"When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language ... we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine." (Acts 2:6 & ff., NIV)

Did you catch all that? Some heard them declaring the wonders of God in their own language. Actually dialect, which might be even more diverse. Each (singular) heard them (plural) declaring the wonders of God in his own (singular) language. I can only assume they were seekers .. believers .. folks open to the truth. None seemed to have made insulting remarks about "their God", etc.

On the other hand, those who didn't understand, did not simply say they didn't understand. They made fun of the Spirit-filled believers.

Taken together, I think we get a picture of the hearers outside, and the manifestation of the gift of interpretation makes perfect sense.

OK .. was that some sort of evangelistic message? Might be, but an evangelistic message to unbelievers would more likely, IMO, be a message of salvation, sin, etc, and not just declaring God's wonders. It makes much more sense to me to believe that they were praising God in a language they did not understand, and God let some hearers understand it. And what is interpretation, but the ability to hear another language in your own language?

Given all this, is it logical to assume that Acts 2 corresponded with Paul's statement to the Corinthians? It is, to me. In fact, it sounds , to me, like they were praising God!

Ah but how about this:

1 Corinthians 14:22: Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. NIV)

I agree, but let me ask: what sort of sign? Is someone speaking an unknown language, and someone else interpreting it (when it's not a language anyone has learned) a sign? It sure seems to me that would be a big sign for someone who did not believe! I can tell you if someone did that in front of me, I'd be a lot more impressed than someone simply saying "Thus sayeth the Lord..", and sure would have been before I was saved.

Add to that the fact that unknown tongues are interpreted via a Spiritual gift, which means unbelievers would not be able to interpret it.

I conclude that 1 Corinthians 14:22 and Acts 2 are consistent with Paul's statement that if you're talking in tongues, you're talking to God.

My carpal tunnel is yelling at me so I'll continue this next time.


At 5:53 PM, January 10, 2007, Blogger Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Bob,

I'm going to give what you wrote some serious thought.

Love in Christ,


At 8:31 PM, January 10, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Thanks, Jeff. The old teacher in me really perks up when you say that.

God bless. Hope things are going well in your re-directioning.

At 6:48 PM, January 11, 2007, Blogger Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bob,

I ask that you think of that verse in Acts 2. Does the verse say those speaking were speaking in their languages or does it say they heard it in their language? I submit these verses refer to a gift that was a gift of hearing instead of a gift of speaking. Now where does it say there was an interpertation here. Paul gives in Corinth an instruction there must be an interpretation.

Also, speaking of the 1 Corinthian passage, have you considered the cultural setting the Church of Corinth is located? What Paul was addressing in Corinth was the "estatic" utterances, commonly known in the pagan religious practices. In Acts the toungues referred to there is an actual language.

Just my take on this.


At 9:01 PM, January 11, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Thanks for your thoughts. I'll toss them into my brain-hopper.

See you in Jackson!

At 9:27 AM, January 13, 2007, Blogger Scotte Hodel said...

Hi Bob,

I've let your thoughts simmer in my head for a few days.

First, you're not alone in your analysis. Last spring my pastor asked a seminary professor to meet with a few of the charismatics in our church (two engineering professors, another engineering PhD, and a medical doctor). The seminary professor said that his exegetical analysis led him to conclude that all tongues must be interpreted, whether given in public or in "prayer in the Spirit." (The rest of us disagree, but said nothing because we don't speak greek.)

There are a lot of reasons to consider tongues as something more than an evangelistic proclamation; I'll not go into them here since Wade Burleson's recent blog that references two experts who are for and to who are "agin" does a good job hashing that.

I've memorized Acts 1-2 in the last couple months, and so am regularly rehearsing the passage. Acts 2:4 says "They spoke in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." Later, Peter says, "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel..." (or, in the KJV, "This is that ..."). The point here is that speaking in tongues is NOT mentioned in the lengthy Joel passage (nor in the Psalm later on). "In the last days I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." etc.

Speaking in an unknown or interpreted language? Not there.

One may choose to say "It's prophecy, proclaiming God's wonderful works" but this ignores an important point in the event: the issue is that the Holy Spirit came and that he really didn't care what boundaries the leadership placed on him on what he can and can't do.

In this sense, I read the list of gives in 1 Cor 12 not as a set of tools in my box, but as Paul saying, "The Spirit does what he wants. For example, here's nine things I've seen him do ..." and then he spends the bulk of his time on the WHY rather than the WHAT.

The WHY? Because it helps, whether an individual (tongues) or a group of people (prophecy). It's all good, taken in balance. That is, the spiritual gifts, frankly, are not terribly well defined. That's why it's so easy to argue different positions based on nuance and verb mood. It's also why I don't hold a lot of stock in anyone's view on exactly what is or is not a legitimate exercise of speaking in tongues. Do we see benefit? Good. Yep, that's an argument from experience, but that's because Jesus said "you know them by their fruit."

Food for thought. (No pun intended.)

At 11:18 AM, January 13, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Scotte: Your comment, which is excellent, reminds me of a poem I wrote, which contained 21 words, while the Title contained 25 words. But the teacher in me loves it.

First, Joel: I think we see what he predicted, happening (of course folks might have said that for 100's of years). But he didn't mention the other fruit of the Spirit, or other gifts (helps, etc) so that list isn't all-inclusive. Additionally, the gifts listed in the NT were given at the time it was written, so tongues would be unremarkable if it'd always been around since OT times.

Second, Joseph Garlington remarked in a sermon, 10 years ago, that "God can to anything He wants, any time He wants, any way He wants, anywhere He wants, to anybody He wants". I agree wholeheartedly and in fact, my heart's desire is to see Him do stuff that baffles the experts today.

Incidentally I heard 45 years ago this definition of an "expert". The speaker said "An "ex" is a has-been, and a "spurt" is a drip under pressure". Even I could do THAT math....

I'll deal with the thought that tongues is an "evangelistic message" in Part Two, so I don't want to kill it here. Needless to say, I don't think it is.

I'll leave the rest of comments to the next post, but I will pick up on what you said about gifts not being terribly well defined. I think that's for a reason. If you've never seen Ken Hemphill's course "Serving God .. Discovering and Using Your Spiritual Gifts", it'd be worth a look. I've taught it several times and it is just excellent. But it's comprehensive, and I think most folks want to be a little bit pregnant and not get THAT deep into it. And it doesn't really spell out stuff like prophecy and tongues.

Thanks for the comment. I am always enlightened when you do.

At 6:03 PM, January 13, 2007, Blogger Scotte Hodel said...

Thanks for the encouragement!

By the way, I clicked several times on the first paragraph above trying to find a link to that 21 word poem. It's totally unfair to pique my curiosity and then omit your work of art!




At 7:09 PM, January 13, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Scotte: OK, you shamed me into it. Try here.

At 6:05 PM, January 14, 2007, Anonymous Lee said...

Obviously, there were some in Acts 2 who were hearing the languages and not understanding what was being said, because they accused those speaking of being drunk.

I've not exactly heard that particular interpretation of this before, but I think your conclusion would fit the definition of being both reasonable and biblically consistent.

At 7:36 PM, January 14, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Lee: Thanks so much. I agree with me, too. :)

I'm working on the second half of the whole post now. Be warned there may be three halves.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home