STEPHEN HAWKING, BIG STONE PILLARS, & ME
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.