This is Part 4 in our study on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and the Speaking in Tongues. Now, let’s get into our subject on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Speaking in Tongues. Today we want to discuss some issues regarding tongues, some misconceptions, politely defend our position from some attacks on the subject.
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Let's begin with Acts 2:5-8:
“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:5-8, NKJV)
From this Scripture, several misconceptions have been presented
One of them is, “Real tongues are not unintelligible words, but real known languages”, and another is “The purpose of tongues is to preach the Gospel to people in their own languages, so that they can understand the Gospel”. Let’s discuss these suggestions separately:
Are the tongues in Acts 2 real known languages?
The tongues of Acts 2 could have been real known languages, but it is not a closed, shut case. I think it is probable that they could have been real known languages, but even if this is true, we must look at the broader teaching of Scripture to make our case. It says in 1 Corinthians 14:2,
“For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries” (1 Corinthians 14:2, NKJV).
This verse is clear reference that tongues are not understood by man. So what then happened in Acts 2, where it says, “…because everyone heard them speak in his own language…”.
Let me give a couple of suggestions:
- Tongues may indeed be real known languages
But this does not mean that all tongues are real known languages. If someone does sincerely believe this, I would think that they would demonstrate how it is done. Typically nobody would demonstrate this, and either say, “Well, tongues ceased after the apostles died” or “Well, since we have the complete Bible now, we don’t need tongues or any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. On another day we will discuss cessationalism (that the gifts of the Holy Spirit supposedly “ceased”, but we will prove from Scripture that they have not ceased, and are in full operation today. However, for now this is beyond the scope of our teaching today.
But as already implied, yes, tongues may indeed be known languages, but not always. The clear Scriptural reference to that is 1 Corinthians 14:2, “…he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him…”
- The miracle may have been in the hearing of the tongue
When the Jews and proselytes heard the believers speak in tongues, there is much emphasis on the word “hear”. Verse 6 says everyone heard them speak in his own language. Verse 8 says, “we hear, each in our own language”. Verse 11 says, “…we hear them speaking in our own tongues…”
Although it is probable that they did indeed speak in the tongues that the hearers understood, it is also possible that the miracle was not as much in the speaking of the tongues, but in the hearing of the onlookers.
I personally had a very curious experience, when once I spoke in tongues while praying in Malawi. With some difficulty, a brother there tried to explain it to me the best he knew how. He said that even though he did not understand the words, he still strangely understood that I was praying for the choir, the translator, etc. Now of course he did not hear this in his mother tongue Chichewa, but it is an example of how God can do things in different ways.
So, could it be that the apostles spoke in tongues as totally unknown languages, but that the hearers heard it in their languages? It is indeed possible, but also not a certain.
- Is the purpose of tongues to preach the Gospel to people in tongues so that they can understand it in their own language?
No, the purpose of tongues is not to preach the Gospel in the hearers’ native languages. I will prove it in a minute, but let’s first see where those who present this idea get it from. It says,
“And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God…” (Acts 2:8-10, NKJV).
So those who present this suggestion say that the tongues the apostles spoke in were to preach the Gospel to the , Medes, Elamites and everyone present up to the Cretans and Arabs.
Well, could the Gospel indeed be preached to them in tongues? Yes it could.
But does the Bible say this happened? No it doesn’t.
Did Peter speak in tongues when he preached the Gospel to them? No!
Let’s see what the Bible itself says:
“But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words…” (Acts 2:14, NKJV).
There is our answer! When Peter preached the Gospel, he switched from tongues to the lingua franca (i.e. a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different). What that language was, we don’t know. We know that Peter and Jesus spoke Aramaic, for this was the language of the Jews at the time. Perhaps it was in Hebrew, or perhaps in Greek. Whatever language it was, it was the language that everyone could hear in the natural. It was not in tongues.
There is no place in the Scripture where the Bible tells us that they preached the Gospel in tongues, and the only Scripture people reference as an example, does not teach this at all. Rather, it teaches the opposite, that Peter preached to them in the language which he himself spoke, and which most if not all the hearers could also understand.
Of course, it is also entirely possible that someone could preach to people in tongues and that they would understand it. But there is no Scriptural example of it, and there are no such confirmed documented cases in church history. However, there are many testimonies that it actually has happened. For example, my uncle told me that he once sang in tongues, and was later confronted by a lady from Zambia who told him that she understood the song in her own language. As already noted, this is entirely possible, but ultimately, the Bible does not give us an example of where tongues were used to preach the Gospel in. And in addition to that fact, tongues are spoken to God, not man (1 Corinthians 14:2).
This concludes our teaching for today, but we still have a couple more teaching left on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Speaking in Tongues. So please continue to press into this teaching. And may the Holy Spirit give us revelation and illumination. And may He not only give us understanding, but may He give us the mighty experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Speaking in tongues, for head-knowledge without experience is worthless, but intellectual knowledge combined with supernatural experience is glorious!
Let us hunger and thirst for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Speaking in Tongues!