Hardly had the paper "When Did 'What is Mature' Come?" been printed when a request was received for help over the matter of "tongues," referred to on p. 162. This has always been a difficult and contentious matter, so this reference gives a good opening for considering what Scripture really says about it.
The first occurrence of tongues in the plural, glossai, is in Mark 16:17; and here at once arises the question, are these the same "tongues" as Paul speaks of in 1. Corinthians? Careful reading shows that the answer must be in the negative. Never yet have the terms set out in vv. 15, 16 been carried out literally and precisely. The emphatic forms "the world all" and "proclaim the evangel to every the creation," to render them very literally, leave no room for doubt about this. Mark and Matthew are the only Gospels to use the word evangel, and Mark has it eight times to Matthew's four. This peculiarity of Mark's Gospel makes it the one that is pre-eminently "the Gospel" in the common though mistaken, usage of the term. It begins as, "Beginning of the evangel of Jesus Christ, Son of God." It is, in fact, the good news of Him, first and foremost; not of Him in any particular context of time or of calling, but of Him as He is in Himself. And in Mark 1:14, 15 the Lord Jesus presents it also as the Evangel of the kingdom of God. He says, "on account of Me and of the Evangel" in 8:35 and "on account of Me and on account of the Evangel" in 10:29. Both these are addressed to and have sole reference to His disciples. They belong to the kingdom as proclaimed by Him to Israel and are inapplicable outside this context. There exists a tradition that Mark wrote down the teaching of the Apostle Peter; and certainly this Gospel is in complete harmony with Peter's own teaching as set out in Acts and his Epistles. Anyhow, we can safely conclude that the "new tongues" in Mark 16:17 have nothing to do with what Paul wrote about in l.Corinthians 12-14.
The word tongues as simply plural of tongue, the member in one's mouth, occurs in Rom. 3:13, Rev. 16:10; and used in the collective sense it occurs in Rev. 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 17:15. For our present purpose, all these can be set aside, leaving the way clear for the special sense we wish to study. In this sense, tongues first appear at Pentecost. Their initial manifestation (Acts 2:3} is visual, in the form of cloven tongues, as King James' Version puts it. Rotherham (2nd Edition) has, "and there appeared to them—parting asunder—tongues as of fire." The verb here, diamerizO, divide, is in the Middle Voice. Exactly the same form occurs in Luke 23:34, where they divide the Lord's garments among themselves. So the best rendering seems to be Rotherham's, but for parting asunder we might read cleaving. The only occurrence of this verb in the Active Voice is in Acts 2:45, where the dividing up was not carried out by the believers for their own benefit, but "to all."
These tongues as of fire were seated on each one of the Twelve, "and they were all filled with holy spirit, and they began to be talking in different tongues, according as the Spirit gave them to be declaiming." We are not left long in doubt as to what these different languages were, for vv. 5-11 tell us plainly that each of the company there present heard the apostles speaking in his own vernacular. The multitude marvelled at this because all those who were speaking were Galileans; and yet, as the multitude of hearers put it, "we are hearing them talking in these tongues of ours about the greatness of God"—or in more accurate language, "of the greatnesses of the things of God."
If we take this at its face value, the marvellous thing that occurred was that each speaker could, as directed by the Spirit, speak to every man there in his own vernacular.
In answer to taunts, "Peter, standing with the Eleven, lifts up his voice and declaims to them." Then he points out that "this is the thing declared through the Prophet Joel"— not the whole thing but the start of it, the foretaste of the great fulfilment that will eventually come about. The 1930 C.V. Note on v. 16 is very misleading, for vv. 17, 18 are not the complete fulfilment of Joel's prophecy, but the start of it. At Pentecost God began pouring out His Spirit on all flesh, later (10:44-48), the Holy Spirit fell on those Gentiles who were hearing the word uttered by Peter. Something altogether grand started with the first event and continued with the second; its glory and grandeur will spread and spread until God has poured out His Spirit on all flesh. That time lies in the far future; nevertheless, the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy has begun, and nothing can stop its progress to ultimate perfection.
The C.V. Note on v. 18 would have been altogether excellent if it had said "began to be" instead of "was," as follows: "Peter, not Joel, speaks of prophesying. It is an inspired break between that part of Joel's prophecy which began to be fulfilled at Pentecost and that which is still future." For, in fact, the part quoted in v. 17 does say "shall be prophesying"; but it is the part that Peter separates off (vv. 19-21 that the actual prophesying is found. So it is altogether wrong to speak of Pentecost as "the prelude to the era of judgment"—that is, without any qualification at all. In a sense, it was for Israel perhaps part of such a prelude; but at most only part of a sequence of events; for the real prelude is set out in the Gospels: in fact, it would be far nearer the truth to call it the prelude to the full manifestation of the grace which came through Jesus Christ, both to Gentiles now and to Israel in the future. This is where extreme dispensationalism has led us all astray, to some extent even the most enlightened of us. It is true in a sense that during the period covered by Acts judgment was impending on Israel. Some soon came, some is yet to come, so is still impending; but Acts is not the record either of the impending process or of the judgment itself. The word krima, judgment, occurs in Acts only in 24:25. and krisis, judging, only in 8:33; but charis, grace, occurs sixteen times. Furthermore, Israel also occurs sixteen times, more than in any other book of the Greek Scriptures, and it cannot be said that either carries a note of condemnation.
The aim of the series of papers on Acts that I am presenting is to encourage us all to read Acts again with fresh eyes, free from the mass of misleading ideas that has encrusted the book during the last fifty six years. Although this paper is not designed as part of the series, it has a bearing on it and should be read with it as if it were. For the fact has become axiomatic that only when we set the historical books of the Greek Scriptures in proper perspective can we see the doctrinal books in a proper light.
So Joel's prophecy is about the pouring out of God's Spirit on all flesh, and Pentecost records the start of that pouring out. The first manifestation was visible, the tongues as if of fire; the second aural, each man hearing speech in his own mother tongue. It must have been an astonishing experience, each apostle addressing group after group one after another in each particular group's own language—a miracle without precedent, a sudden reversal of the confusion of tongues at Babel. Such was the first result of the pouring out of God's Spirit, a sudden outburst of God's illumination, no longer on one nation, but disclosed in every tongue of mankind.
That is all regarding tongues at Pentecost itself, but at the completion for the present of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit—on the Gentiles—in Acts 10:46, they appear again: "For as many of the faithful Circumcisionists as came together with Peter were amazed that on the Gentiles also the free gift of the Holy Spirit has poured out; for they heard them talking with tongues and magnifying God." So, here, the illumination of the Holy Spirit began to be talked by Gentiles to all who would hear. Paul himself confirms this (19:5), for, after having instructed "about twelve men" at Ephesus concerning baptism, he places his hands on them "and came the Holy Spirit on them and they talked with tongues and prophesied."
Now the way is clear for consideration of the extensive teaching regarding "tongues" in 1. Corinthians 12, 13 and 14.
Attention was drawn (p. 158) to the fact that the only grace-effect explicitly named as such in the expansion of Rom. 12:3-8 in 1. Corinthians 12-14 is "health." The other things given are described as "the manifestation of the Spirit" (12:7). These are, including, the one grace-effect, nine in number, and among them are "species of tongues" and "translation of tongues" (12:1O). All this is in line with what we learn at Pentecost. So far, there is nothing new in them.
Therefore we can move on to 1. Cor. 12:28-30, to "you" who are "Christ's body. . . and whom God, indeed, placed in the church, first apostles. .." This seems to say that every person of the Corinthians had one of these things. However that may be, talking with tongues or languages was one of them; so here again the effects of the pouring out of God's Spirit was the same as before.
"If ever with the tongues of the men I should be talking and of the angels, yet no love I am having, I have become a sounding copper or clanging cymbal." This is, very literally rendered, the way Paul begins to show to the Corinthians a path suited to transcendence. So "tongues" are still in the "forefront, but no indication is given that they differ in any way from the "tongues" displayed at Pentecost. Only, instead, Paul is beginning to demonstrate their obsolescence. In v. 8 he comes to a plain statement that they will cease. On this account, the rendering languages, though much more pleasing to read, must be rejected as misleading. "Languages," in the usual sense of the word, have never ceased and are never likely to. There are many hundreds of them among humanity, and any attempt to treat the minor ones as obsolete is strenuously resisted. The very ancient Cornish language is now being encouraged in its home, to mention one only. What had to cease was the special sense of glossai that appeared at Pentecost, a miraculous ability to talk at will to anyone in his own vernacular, which no longer exists on earth. Apparently from 1. Cor. 13:1, this included ability to speak thus to angels; but nothing further is disclosed about that, so we would do well not to try to make up the deficiency from our own ideas. Paul turns attention away from this ability, immensely attractive though it be—I wish I could talk fluently in even one other language besides my own!—to something immensely more important, and to the spiritual person immensely more attractive: love. Yet how few truly cultivate this!
Let us observe, also, that in 1. Cor. 13:14 Paul is already writing-off all these things of immaturity; for he concludes this most beautiful chapter with the summary: "Yet now is remaining faith, expectation, love-these the three. Yet greatest of these is love. Be pursuing that love." His delicacy is truly wonderful! He shows the way to maturity and commands his readers to pursue it; yet he recognizes that not all are ready for that pursuit, so to these he gives instructions concerning the best course to follow pending that readiness. Here, then, is no question of choice between right and wrong, but between best and second-best, having regard to the fact that not all are ready to pursue the best.
Upon his advice to be pursuing that love of which he has been writing, he superimposes counsel for those who choose the second-best so long as the choice remains open, thus demonstrating in practise and therefore in the most convincing manner possible that he himself is following his own advice and pursuing that love. Inevitably he expands the doctrine about "tongues"; and here, too, he refers to talking some particular tongue, and, moreover, talking it in the assembly, amid the company called-out by and for God. So here we come to the heart of the matter and the mainspring about all that has been said, written and done about "tongues" by Christians from the start.
The purpose of "tongues" at Pentecost, to hearers in general then as distinct from the "church" in this chapter, was communication, not only in itself but also as carried out in a miraculous manner; so that one man commanded perfect speech in many languages who previously had not had more than one or two. But here, in the church or called-out assembly, this was evidently not necessary. The implication is stated in 1. Cor. 14:2: "For the one talking with tongue, not with humans is talking, but with God. For no one is listening, yet with spirit he is talking secrets." Here it is "tongue" only, one of the many "tongues" and surely a reference to a tongue of angels in 13:1. Otherwise it is not possible to imagine how it can make any difference to God whether a person talks to Him in his own vernacular or in some other human language. Yet, obviously, it matters a great deal to people who are listening to him. The contrast in 14:2, 3 is plainly between talking privately to God or publicly for other people besides the talker to hear as well, considering one's own edification or seeking to edify the church. So (14:5) Paul wishes that they all should be talking with tongues provided that it is with a view to prophesying. This means, in practise, that talking with tongues should be done for the sake of others and not self, out of love and not for private advantage. Again Paul is pointing out the way of love. If the prophesying were to be given first place, the talking with tongues would soon become superfluous. The same point is made in v. 6 in a different way. So also in v. 7: it is not simply sound that makes a musical instrument give out music, but the meaning behind the notes. Much modern music seems just noise to many musical people, because they cannot detect any musical meaning in it. Whether this is the fault of the modern music itself or whether it results from insensitiveness and lack of perception in the listener is an open question; but in so far as some honestly feel that way, the notes have failed in their ostensible purpose as music. In v. 8 is another illustration: the essential require ment in a bugle or trumpet call is that it should be distinct from other calls.
Paul draws the conclusion from all this in vv. 9-17; and he puts his point so clearly that it is superfluous to say any thing by way of explanation; except that the translation of v. 10 is unsatisfactory in the C.V. unless the conjectural emendation of soundless to senseless be accepted. This is undesirable, and Rotherham's rendering (second edition) seems preferable: "There may happen to be as many kinds of languages in (the) world, and not one unspoken."
At this point we cannot do better than transcribe part of the 1930 C.V. Note to v. 12, which is here so sound and good that it is hard to imagine how it can be improved on, though it is necessary to point out that in the quotation "the gifts" refers to "the spirituals" of v. 1: "The gifts were given for mutual edification, not for entertainment or vain display. The misuse of the gift of languages was a clear indication of the childish immaturity of the Corinthians, for they were eager to display the possession of the gift without any regard for the edification of others. A foreign language is a mere babel of sounds to those who do not understand it. And even if it should be interpreted, of what real gain is it to use such a circuitous method when the same things could be told just as well without the need of interpretation? Such was not the divine intention in giving this gift. . . . Surely it is far better to speak five instructive words in the vernacular than any number in an unknown language, even if it be the exhibition of a spiritual endowment. The same argument applies with even more force to the use of a foreign language, which no one understands, in a church ritual." The point about childishness is set out by Paul in vv. 20-22, in the last of which he goes back to Acts 2:7 by pointing out that "the tongues are for a sign not to those who are believing, but to the unbelieving." Yet, even so, he proceeds to show how limited was their value beyond that, and how they could have confused and hindered the unbeliever even to the point of making him think the assembly was mad. Considering that this was true even while genuine talking with tongues still existed, how much the more did it apply when the mature had come and that which was out of part had passed away!
Paul closed the matter thus (vv. 39, 40): "So that, my brethren, be zealous as regards the prophesying, yet the talking in tongues do not forbid. Yet let all occur respectably and in order." This is truly the crux of the matter. While prophesying and talking in tongues remained, they were to be carried on in a respectable and orderly manner. That was the test; and by that test must any attempt to revive these things be judged. For, as a matter of general experience, all attempts to revive them have been particularly distinguished by confusion and sometimes rowdiness and disorder. As Paul himself had just written (v. 33), "For God is not (a God) of turbulence, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints."
Genuine talking in tongues soon ceased; for even in 1. Corinthians 14 there are unmistakable indications that it nearly served Its purpose and was about to cease as promised 1. Cor. 13:8. The real problem is not how and why it started—for the history in Acts 2 is altogether clear if read as it is, without injecting extraneous ideas—but why it lasted till Paul wrote 1. Corinthians and why he found himself forced to write so much about it.
Questions like these seem superficially reasonable enough, particularly to people who have come into contact with the false "tongues movements" that have plagued some Christian. churches from early days. The harm done by such false theories is very great; but it should not be permitted to blind us to the truth of which they are a wicked parody. For the filling with holy spirit can be, and is, in this eon counterfeited with filling with unholy spirit—as, indeed, Paul warns the Corinthians at the very outset of what he has to say "concerning the spirituals" (1. Cor. 12:1). He had already given solemn warning against idolatry (1. Cor. 10:14), against idol sacrifices and idols (Chapters 8 and 10), to have nothing to do with idolaters (Chapters 5, 6 and 10) or the idol's temple (8:10). These things appear no less than eighteen times in this epistle against sixteen altogether in the rest of the Greek Scriptures. Yet, too, spirit, pneuma, occurs forty-one times, more than in any other epistle, to thirty-five in Romans; and spiritual fifteen times, to eleven in the whole of the rest of the Greek Scriptures. Acts alone exceeds it in the number (70) of occurrences of spirit. 1£ we hold all these together in the mind and then turn to the supreme revelation of Ephesians, their significance at once becomes plain: "Put on the panoply of God, with a view to you being enabled to stand against the stratagems of the Slanderer; seeing that it is not ours to wrestle against blood and flesh, but against the sovereignties, against the authorities, against the world-powers of this the darkness, against the spirituals of the wickedness in the celestials." (Eph. 6:11, 12).
All through 1. Corinthians (and in 2. Corinthians), Paul is endeavouring to turn the minds of his readers away from what is of flesh to what is of spirit; but at that stage of the spiritual development of his readers they were insufficiently mature to appreciate properly the spiritual character of the forces that were opposing them. They were so carnal that he had to struggle to persuade them that idols were but the external signs of spiritual forces, and evil ones at that. But, at that stage, he was not yet able to persuade them concerning the more subtle fact that evil spiritual forces might even counterfeit all "the spirituals." So he had to confine himself to teaching the positive and personal side of the spirituals, trying to lead his readers to maturity. When they reached maturity, the would no longer need these fleshly spirituals— speaking with tongues, prophesying, because they would have God's Word complete. Nevertheless, while they remained soulish men they did not receive that which is of the Spirit of God, seeing that spiritually it is holding itself up for examination. (This Middle form of the verb anakrinO occurs only in Acts 4:9; 1. Cor. 2:14, 15; 14:24). Yet it remains true that with the mature can come the full appreciation of the truth that our warfare is spiritual. With the one comes the other. We have every spiritual blessing among the celestials; but, also, we wrestle against the spirituals of the wickedness in the celestials.
God has told us this tremendous, and terrible, fact. History tells us how it has all worked out so far on earth. Prophecy tells us of our eventual triumph. Meanwhile the struggle continues, with all real Christians plagued by the spirituals of the wickedness among the celestials. So it is that false prophets, false apostles, false teachers, have arisen; evil men who alter the truth of God into the lie (Rom. 1:25); all working up to the consummation of the lie foretold in 2. Thess. 2:8-12.
Recently an article in an Anglican (Episcopal) periodical referred to "the militancy and success of the madder sects." The writer of it appeared blissfully unaware that this militancy and success also applies to the sects within his own communion, whole groups of which busy themselves with whittling away what remains of Christianity among them. Yet what he says is generally true: the successful ones in the churches are those who reject and even deride God's gift of power and of love and of sanity. Not having the Holy Spirit and yet being conscious of a need for some spirit, they open themselves to evil and unclean spirits. It is easy to ridicule this idea as old fashioned and unscientific; but to do so is to defy the plain statements of Scripture. For proof, it is only necessary to go through the occurrences of pneuma, spirit in Wigram's Concordance for example, Matt. 8:16; 10:1; 12:43, 45; Mark 1:23, 26, 27; 3:11; 5:2, 8, 13; 6:7; 7:25; 9:17, 20, 25, to start with.
Not much is said about these spirits as substitutes for the Holy Spirit, but see Acts 16:16, 18; 19:13-16. Moreover, Scripture teaching is largely positive. It does not set out to Warn against every evil so much as to teach repeatedly what is good; for soulish men can be trusted to find out evil for themselves without being pointed the way to it. So there is little direct warning against evil spirits for, indeed, what actually is said about them ought to be sufficient. In 1. Tim. 4:1-3 the Apostle Paul writes: "Now the Spirit explicitly is saying that in subsequent eras some will be standing from what is of the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and teachings of demons in hypocrisy of false sayings, having cauterized their own conscience, forbidding to marry, abstain ing from foods. . . ."
Here are three outstanding characteristics of doctrines of demons, for insisting on celibacy and fasting as rules of life results from hypocrisy of false sayings and they are outstanding signs of adherence to demons' doctrines. Another is not stated in Scriptures: confusion. This as a fact of experience is so certain and so universal that apparently it was not deemed necessary to state it explicitly, though we can readily draw it out of the Acts account. The first result of the appearing of tongues at Pentecost was that "the multitude came together and was confused"; but Peter promptly explained matters and brought the confusion to an end. The Jews dwelling in Damascus were thrown into confusion by Saul; but they refused to allow the matter to be cleared up and planned to assassinate him (Acts 9:22-24). The idolatrous assembly at Ephesus got into a state of confusion (19:29,32) and a somewhat similar state of things occurred at Jerusalem (21:31). Thus active unbelief leads to confusion, whereas truth resolves confusion and leads to peace.
So with tongues. While genuine talking with tongues existed, it enabled people to hear the truth plainly set out in words that they could fully understand. But before long the genuine thing ceased; only the spurious remains, and from what one can discover about it, always leads ta confusion of the mast flagrant kind.
Even so, the question must arise in some minds why a more definite warning against trying to speak tongues is not to be found in Scripture?
To this the answer is, or ought to be, plain and clear. We have explicit instructions how properly to use speaking with tongues set out in 1. Corinthians 12-14. If we fail, as many do, to take note of that, how should we take note of further instructions?
Among so many of us there is a serious lack of sensitivity and imagination. Such people read these chapters—when they do bother to read them at all—as a rather superfluous and even tedious discussion of conditions now altogether obsolete. But God does not do such things! If we are not spiritually intelligent enough, mature enough, to take in the lesson they display so clearly, that is our own fault. For the general principle set out is as true and as necessary today, particularly in Chapter 14, as it ever has been. We live in a time, of appalling confusion—the very thing against which Chapter 14 so strongly warns us! Yet it is caused as much by supposedly Christian leaders as by the open enemies of Christ. How few expositors of Scripture are clear; how few, when they happen to be clear, are Scriptural? Yet most of us, apparently, love to have it so. They mistake obscurity for profundity. They refuse to recognize that truth is essentially simple; so they willingly follow the charlatan who beguiles them with man-made ideas blown out into swelling words, for self glorification.
One result of this refusal of simplicity and clarity is that young people seldom receive a sound grounding in the faith. They find it complicated and confusing. It is reasonable to complain that so often they reject it as complicated and confusing in favour of something that, at any rate, seems simple and clear? False doctrine such as is frequently exposed in these pages always has one supreme attraction for the soulish man: it gives him the illusion of profound knowledge and vast illumination, it gives him the satisfaction of feeling that he is one of a small company of special elect; whereas the truth humbles our pride and extracts all self-seeking from our service, nailing it to the cross.
False speaking in tongues makes an empty, disorderly and confusing noise; but it does stir up something, and always the false prophet is there to appear to explain and make clear. That the explanations and clarifications are false and lead to further confusion; that they lead also to control by demons and to disaster, matter not to the false prophet. That is what he is there for!
R.B.W. Last updated 26.5.2006