Speaking in Tongues

Many Christians have been troubled by the difference of views on this matter. It is a great shame that it has marked a parting of the ways between disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, for it seems there is little room for middle ground; either the practice of speaking in tongues ( as we find it today) is right or it is wrong. But it is not inconsequential!

Hopefully there is no dispute that God used this miraculous working of the Holy Spirit in New Testament times. So we may reasonably ask, why should we not see it displayed today? Or again, are we sure that what people do when they say today they are speaking in tongues is the same as we read about in the Bible? We must examine the Scriptures about this in order to reach a decision.

It is not a new issue. Almost a century ago the subject was causing a stir, and in the Churches of God the elders debated it carefully. The result was a firm view that speaking in tongues is not something expected to still be seen in the churches today, and what is seen around us is not what the Scriptures described. A prominent teacher of the time, John Miller, was asked to write on the subject, and did so with careful use of the relevant Scriptures. His comments, originally published as a booklet are provided below. He references the English Revised Version in his Scripture quotations, which is generally acknowledged as a version with admirable literal accuracy. He is forthright in his statements, but that should not detract from a review of what is written, because it was lovingly written in the spirit of Prov.27:5,6.

Comments are invited!

No one can say with certainty what the language of Adam was. It may be that he learned to speak from hearing God speaking to him, as a child learns from its mother. But what was the language in which God spoke? Some may say that it was the Hebrew language, the tongue in which God spoke from Sinai, the characters of which He traced with His Finger on the Tables of the Law. It may be so, but who can prove it?

All mankind spoke the same language until the days of Peleg, who was born 1,758 years after the creation of Adam. In Peleg’s days man was engaged in the gigantic enterprise of building a city and a tower whose top was to reach to heaven. The whole project was human in its plan and execution. God was to have no place in this centre of human activity. It was to be the rallying point of mankind. In the city would be the realisation of man’s ideals. Men will run a world without God! “Let us build” was their cry; “Let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Gen.11:4).

Men go in herds, mostly like dumb, driven cattle; the playthings of a dominant will, or of a few superior minds which bend the rest to their mode of thought. As is the world now, so was it then. There was a superior intellect behind Babel, as man’s city came to be known. “Nimrod…began to be a mighty one in the earth.” Babel was the beginning of his kingdom, and his kingdom is the first to be mentioned inthe Scriptures. His prowess in the field became notorious; it became a worldly byword; “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen.10:8,9).

Nimrod’s activities, which probably began in the chase, were turned into the more serious channel of pursuing and driving men in the way that he decided to pursue. He insinuated his high ideals into weaker minds and bent their wills to his. The end of this course was to filch away human liberty to serve God, and to supplant in the place of freedom, obedience to his will, the purpose of which was to thwart the divine will, for God was not in all his thoughts. How soon man turned from God after such a manifestation of His displeasure as had been experienced by the world in the Flood in Noah’s time! Perhaps a still more surprising thing is the fact that Noah himself was alive at the time of the building of Babel. It was in the days of Peleg that God scattered the inhabitants of the earth, and Noah outlived Peleg by some ten years.

It was upon such a scene that the judgment of the Holy Trinity fell. “Go to,” said Jehovah, “let Us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city” (Gen.11:7, 8). God might have punished mankind in another way, but He said that nothing would be withholden from them, which they purposed to do (verse 6). He would not even alter men’s thoughts, but would simply con­found their language. They could go on with, their projects of building and shutting God. out, but this would be done by segregated; mankind and not by mankind as a whole.

Here then was the commencement of diverse languages. A marvellous miracle was wrought by God. Men were caused to speak, new languages. New nouns and pronouns, new verbs and adverbs, new adjectives, preposi­tions, conjunctions, and so forth, sprang involuntarily from the lips of men. Their old original language which had been spoken for the better part of two millenniums was uprooted and in its place a new one was planted. The thing was not gradual, but instantaneous. Not only was the power of expression given, the power to articulate new sounds, but the speakers thought in their new languages as though they were the tongues in which they had thought before. They knew their new language as though it were their mother tongue. There was no babbling here, no speaking without the faintest idea of what they were saying. They knew what they were saying themselves, though they could not make themselves intelligible to their fellow-workmen.

What a frightful thing it would have been had they not understood what they said themselves! Had it been true that they went abroad like demented things uttering sounds which neither they nor any other understood what was being said; the world would have been as a vast lunatic asylum. How many languages were spoken in Babel prior to the scattering of mankind we have no means of knowing, but to-day the world’s languages and dialects run into many hundreds. In a few verses in Genesis 11 is explained to us the otherwise impenetrable mystery of how diverse languages came to be spoken by mankind.

Language is the great divider of men, and a barrier to free human intercourse. The language difficulty is a very real one. Lan­guage is the vehicle of thought. Speech is a vital necessity to man in view of the mind which God has given him, and also because that man is gregarious. Thought must have a means of expression. In ancient times Elihu said, “There is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” Again he said, “I am full of words; the spirit within me constraineth me. Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; like new bottles it is ready to burst. I will speak, that I may be refreshed; I will open my lips and answer” (Job 32:8,18-20). Such words, which describe our own experience at times, show how necessary human language is to the spirit and mind of man. A refined and. accurate language is necessary to the expression of deep and profound thought, hence the Greek tongue was the language of the world’s great philosophers. A brutish mind finds its expression in gross language.

Of the events in Gen.11,12 one has written, “Men built Babel and shut God out, so God chose Abraham and shut the World out.” The story of the Scriptures from Genesis 12 onward is that of Abraham and his seed. But whilst God had turned away in one sense from men in general. He had the blessing of the Gentiles in view. “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal.3:8).

At length the dispensation of the grace of God dawned, with the sending of the Holy Spirit from heaven (Acts 2). The message which Christ gave to His disciples was one of world-wide application. “Ye shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Men of old had common thoughts though expressed in diverse languages—they would build and shut God out wheresoever they Were scattered, which they do to this very day; but God is now giving men new thoughts which can be expressed in all languages. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa.55:8,9). Men seek to build on earth some enduring work, but the gospel points men upward to heaven and to Christ who finished the work of salvation. Men will have their treasures here, but Christ teaches men to lay up their treasures there.

On the day on which the Holy Spirit descended upon the. assembled disciples in Jerusalem He caused them to speak with other tongues, that is, other tongues than those in which they had spoken previously. They were Galileans. At the feast of Pentecost there were Jews “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). A list of the lands and nations from which they came is given in verses 9-11. They were amazed at the great miracle which the Holy Spirit had wrought, and they said, “Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we, every man in his own language, wherein we were born? “

No one can deny the greatness of the wonder. Here were men who had no previous schooling in such languages and all at once they begin to speak as natives the languages of foreign lands. At Babel God created new languages and caused men to speak them, but in Acts 2 it was the gift of already known languages to men who had never previously spoken such tongues. They spoke, it says, “with other tongues, as the Spirit gave themutterance.” This was to prove the much greater fact, that the Holy Spirit had been outpoured on men. Peter explaining the wonder said that the speakers were not drunken, as certain of the multitude said they were; “But,” he said, “this, is that which hath been spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh’ ” (Acts 2:15-17).

The same manifestation of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Jewish disciples in Jerusa­lem, in Acts 2, is seen in the case of the Gentiles in Acts 10. Of this Peter spoke in Acts 11:15). “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on all them, even as on us at the beginning.” The account of the event, as given in Acts 10 is to the effect that “while Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (Acts 10:44-46).

When David and others magnified God they spoke intelligently, knowing well what words they were using and what they were saying to God, but it is said of certain who profess to speak with tongues to-day, that they do not know what they themselves are saying. Can it be that they are so bereft of reason as to believe that an unintelligent jargon of sounds to them is a God-glorifying thing? or that it can be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit? If speech is not the vehicle of the thought of the mind of the speaker (I am not here referring to the mere quotation of the words of another) then it is contrary to the fundamental idea of language. It is no better than a blind man scribbling on a piece of paper, not knowing what he is writing. Are such unintelligent, incoherent ejaculations as pass current to-day the speaking with tongues of the New Testament? No, certainly they are not, and this we shall prove in a moment.

There is one further reference to speaking with tongues in the Acts, that of Acts 19:6, a similar occurrence to the other two.

In Acts 2:4, we are told that they “began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance,” and later we are told that they spoke of “the mighty works of God” (verse 11).

In Acts 10:46, we read that “they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.”

In Acts 19:6, it is said that “they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”

Let it be clearly stated that the Holy Spirit now is given to believers on the ground of faith, not of prayer. In Jn 7:39, we read, “This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified.” It was quite proper to pray for the Spirit prior to the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, as we see from Lk.11:13: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” It would be as foolish for a believer to ask God to give him eternal life, he having received it through faith in Christ, as it would be for a believer now to ask the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit having been given to the believer on the ground of faith. This is clearly taught in the following passages: Jn 7:39; Acts 10:43-46; 11:15-17; Gal.3:2,14 (note that the promise of the Spirit, is the Spirit that was promised, not something that the Spirit has promised. See Acts 2:33, in proof of this); Eph.1:13.

It may be that some of our readers will, question our statement anent the ground upon which the Holy Spirit is given, that it is faith and not prayer, having in mind Acts 8:14-17. Let us try and explain what we understand to be the Holy Spirit’s mind as given here. First of all, let us remember who these people were. They were Samaritans. Then let us also remember God’s treatment of the Jews in Acts 2:37,38, and His treatment of the Gentiles in Acts 10:44-48.

In Acts 2 God required that the Jews must first be baptised before He gave to them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s words were— “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

In the case of the Gentiles in Acts 10 God gave the Holy Spirit on the ground of the faith of those who heard Peter, for it says, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.” After this they were commanded to be baptised in water,

In Acts 8 the apostles were sent down to Samaria. Multitudes had been saved and baptised there as the result of the preaching of Philip. But as yet God had not given to them the gift of the Holy Spirit. No doubt the wisdom of God is seen in this, when we remem­ber the natural antagonism of Jews and Samaritans shown in Lk.9:51-53 and Jn 4:9. This antagonism and enmity could not be allowed to continue under grace. There could not be a Jewish church and a Samaritan church. Jerusalem and Samaria must be joined in one, so Peter and John go down and pray for the believing and baptised Samaritans, lay their hands upon them and God gave to them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jerusalem and Samaria were not only joined in a living union, but were one in visible fellowship.

Such a course was not followed with Gentiles in Acts 10 where variation exists in the matter of the gift of the Holy Spirit, because of the difference in the subjects of divine grace: Jews in Acts 2; Samaritans in Acts 8; Gentiles in Acts 10; and disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19, but despite this, the principle on which the Holy Spirit was given was faith. This should be evident and ought to be clearly stated. Certain have contended that Acts 19:2, according to the reading of the Authorised Version, teaches, that the Holy Spirit is not given.at the time of believing. This is simply a perversion of the passage. The word “since” is the bone of contention in this verse. “Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?” The Revised Version makes the passage quite clear, that no such meaning may be taken from the words here, that the gift of the Holy Spirit is some time after the person has believed. The Revised Version correctly renders the passage: “Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?” The English­man’s Greek New Testament gives—”Did ye receive the Holy Spirit having believed?” Both Elabete = “did ye receive” and Pisteusantes = when ye believed,” are in the aorist tense, which describes a completed act in the past. There is not the slightest founda­tion for teaching from this verse that there is any lapse of time between the act of faith of the believer and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Of course, it will be seen from what we have previously said, that those who believed, prior to. Pentecost did not receive the Holy Spirit when they believed, and the reason for that was, because the Lord was not glorified and the Spirit was not then given. See Jn 7:39.

Not only do some teach that believers should pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, but they should also pray for baptism in the Holy Spirit, that they should receive this as a kind of a second blessing. No passage of Scripture teaches this. Certain hold that speaking with tongues is a proof that those who so speak have been baptised in the Holy. Spirit. This is utterly false, as will be seen from 1 Cor.12:13,9,10,30. In verse 13 we read, “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Note the force of the word “all.” All believers have been baptised in the Holy Spirit. But did all believers speak with tongues? No, they did not. Note verses 9 and 10: “To another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits: to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues.” Here is a variety of gifts given to persons who were all baptised in the Spirit. To conclude that speaking with tongues is any manifestation of baptism in the Holy, Spirit is plainly at variance with such a passage.

This is further emphasised by verses 29 and 30. Were all apostles? Surely the answer to this is—No! Were all prophets? No! Did all speak with tongues? The answer to this is plainly—No! Yet it was stated that they were all baptised in one Spirit. Many were baptised in the Spirit who had not the gift of speaking with tongues. This ought to be quite clear. By baptism in the Spirit believers become members of the Body of Christ, and, alas for that Body, if only those are members who speak with tongues! How­ever, the Scriptures clearly teach that all believers are members of Christ’s Body by baptism in the Spirit, and also all believers are made to drink of one Spirit, and so are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Coming now to 1 Cor.14, a chapter in which Paul gives instructions on the matter of the edification of the church, we have the matters of prophecy and speaking with tongues dealt with at some length. Instruction is to be given in words easy to be understood. The word “unknown” before “tongue” in the Authorised Version will be seen to be in italics; that means that there is no equivalent word in the Greek. The word “unknown” is properly left out in the Revised Version. A tongue is simply a language, as is clearly seen from Acts 2., where the Jews heard the disciples speaking in the languages of the countries wherein they were born.

When the Spirit of God gave to a believer the miraculous gift of speaking with tongues, did He not also give the competence to know what he said? Yes, beyond question that was so, otherwise the speaker would have been a barbarian to himself as well as to others (verse 11). That the speaker knew what he himself was saying is clearly shown in verse 4, where it is said, “He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself.” How could it be possible for any one to edify himself if he did not know what he was saying? It would be impossible, and utter folly to think so. In the same sense, “He that prophesieth edifieth the church,” that is, the person who is prophesying is speaking to the church in a way that can be understood by all. Even so the man who spoke in a tongue must have had. a mental grasp of the language in which he was speaking; in a word, he was able to think in the language as well as to speak in it.

If one sought to speak in a tongue which was unknown to the church, then, unless he could interpret what he said or had some one to interpret it to the church, he was to keep silence in the church. There was no such thing as one getting up and ejaculating some words unknown to himself, and trying out his audience to see if there was someone present who could interpret what he had said. The apostolic command was—” If there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church.” This required some prior arrange­ment between the speaker and the interpreter. The interpreter- must know two languages, (1) the language in which the speaker would speak, (2) and the tongue known to the church. But if there were no interpreter the speaker was to keep silence in the church, “and,” said the apostle, “let him speak to himself, and to God.” How is it possible for any one to speak to himself if he does not know what he himself is saying inwardly in his own heart? It is impossible! Since he cannot speak to himself, he cannot speak to God. It is evident from verses 2 and 28, that though men in the church could not understand the language in which one might speak, who spoke with tongues, he could speak to God as well as to himself, both God and himself understanding the words of his heart. It seems so unnecessary for me to say as much as this, but in order to endeavour to clear away the errors current about this matter of speaking with tongues, one has to descend to repeating things that ought to be self-evident to the simplest mind.

What is said about prophesying for the edification of the church is also true about prayer. Paul says, “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful” (1 Cor.14:14). That is, the one who speaks in a tongue clearly under­stands what he is saying, but his understanding is bearing no fruit in the case of those who hear him, for they do not understand what he says. They cannot say “the Amen,” because it is all a hopeless medley of sounds. The one who is praying is truly praying in his spirit and may be exceedingly fervent, but it is barren of fruit in others, and it is this matter of bearing fruit in others that all public ministry and prayer are for, otherwise we might just as well speak in our own heart to God, and to ourselves also.

The modern speaking with tongues is far removed from the clear and simple truth that the apostle declares in 1 Cor.14. When God gave the gift of tongues, He gave not only the ability to articulate the sounds proper to the language, but He also gave a clear understanding of the language. The speaker knew it in its nouns and pronouns, its verbs and adverbs, and so forth. ‘What was true in Gen.11, where men spoke and understood new languages in a miraculous manner, was true also of those who spoke the tongues that the Spirit of God caused them to speak in the early days of this dispensation, they understood the tongues in which they spoke. Paul himself spoke with tongues, as he said, “I thank God, I speak with tongues more than you all: howbeit in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct” others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (verses 18 and 19). What is the value of speech if it is not for the purpose of conveying thought from one mind to another? Language is the means of intercourse, of fellowship. But for men to speak without either speaking from themselves to God or to men, or even to them­selves, is the height of human folly.

We ask, Whence does this persuasion come? is it from above or from beneath? If it is something which finds no confirmation in the word of God, then it must be from beneath and not from above. I have for long considered this modern method of speaking with tongues, and I am persuaded that it is Satanic. It may be argued by those that practise this alleged speaking with tongues, that because they are children of God who do so, it cannot be Satanic. When we remember that so great a man as Peter, one of the chiefest of the. apostles, was addressed by the Lord thus, “Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art a stumbling block unto Me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men” (Matt.16:23), we see how Satan could even use an apostle. Satan was present at that time using the mouth of Peter to speak his own words. It is no marvel if some children of God, who seek sensation and are not satisfied with walking by faith, become tools of the Devil and bring the word of God into reproach.

What was the purpose of speaking with tongues? Paul shows its purpose in 1 Cor.14:21,22: “In the law it is written, By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers will I speak unto this people; and not even thus will they hear Me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to the unbelieving.” But now it is taken as a sign to the believing that they have received the so-called “second blessing” and have been baptised in the Holy Spirit. From the verses quoted, God was going to speak to the Jewish people in particu­lar by means of tongues miraculously given. Speaking with tongues was one of the many signs of a miraculous age, and was a proof of the work that God was doing at that time. The gift of the Son of God was attested by miracles; even as He said, “If I had not done among them the works which none other did, they had not had sin” (Jn 15:24). The gift of the Holy Spirit was also attested by miracles which He wrought through those that believed, one of which was this matter of speaking with tongues.

The work of God was proved by miracles in the beginning of the dispensation of the law, by wonders which God did by Moses in Egypt and in the wilderness; even so was it with the work of God at the beginning of this dispensa­tion of grace. This is clearly seen from Heb.2:3,4: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts (distributions) of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.” God having fully confirmed the word and work of His chosen servants, in the apostolic period at the begin­ning of the dispensation, what further need is there for the re-confirmation of a work so fully attested by miraculous evidence? None whatever! It is now the privilege of all who would follow Christ to walk by faith, not by sight. Faith and not feeling is what honours God, But some appear to need more than faith, they need sensation, and a voice other than that which is given in the Scriptures. Let us beware, and let us test the spirits by the word of God. The last days are shown in 2 Tim.3 to be times of great peril, and our only safety is to abide in the teaching of the Scriptures, for ” evil men, and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving. and being deceived” (2 Tim.3:13).

Some seem to think that the age of miracles should never have come to an end, and that miracles ceased because of the unfaithfulness of God’s saints. I do not share this view. Miracles were not wrought, because of the godliness of those who wrought them; for then if men were but godly now the power to work miracles would necessarily follow; a godly man would become a miracle-worker. Peter shows that godliness was not the principle on which miracles were wrought. “Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this man? or why fasten ye your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him to walk?” Godliness was not the factor in the healing of the sick, it was faith in the name of Jesus Christ, in whose name Peter commanded the lame man to arise and walk (Acts 3:6,8,12). Miracles were wrought so that the power of the name of Jesus Christ might be made known, and that men might be led to exercise faith in that name so that they might be healed in their souls as others had been in their bodies. Peter had the gift of healing (1 Cor.12:9), and that gift he used in the name of Jesus Christ; and with that gift went the necessary discernment to see that the sufferer had the faith to be made whole (see Acts 14:9). Note the force of the words, “Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said, Look on us” (Acts 3:4). “Paul…fastening his eyes upon him, and seeing that he had faith to be made whole, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped up and walked” (Acts 14:9,10). Those who wrought miracles had clear discernment as to the will of God in the cases which they healed. Where failure takes place in modern healing campaigns, the blame is placed upon the poor sufferer because of his lack of faith, and not upon the professed healer for his lack of discernment.

Let it be clearly understood that healing was not wrought in the days of the apostles because of the godliness of the worker of miracles. The age of miracles came to an end because miracles were no longer needed to prove the divine character of the work of the apostles and others in New Testament times, the divine record of which is given to us in the New Covenant Scriptures.

No miracles were wrought in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, at the time of the revival and return of the remnant from Babylon, such as were wrought at the time of Israel’s deliver­ance from Egypt. The remnant had God’s word and it was their responsibility to carry out the word of God which was given by Moses. Even so we who have the complete word of God are under the obligation of carrying out the word of God in faith, and we know that without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto God (Hebrews 11:6).


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