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A primary target of the cessationists in this film is the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. As is true of virtually all cessationists, they insist that all tongues speech is a human language spoken somewhere in the world but unknown to the one who has received this gift. Of course, this is undoubtedly what we find in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. But why must we assume that Acts 2 sets the standard for what all tongues speech should be? Is there evidence elsewhere in the NT that tongues could be something other than ordinary human languages? Yes.

On two occasions in the film the argument is made that since no tongues speech today is an actual human language, we charismatics “changed” the nature of tongues. Nathan Busenitz specifically says, “the modern charismatic movement has invented a new kind of tongues because the tongues they speak don’t match the tongues in Scripture.” Is this true? Have we “invented” a new kind of tongues speech? No. It is Scripture itself that teaches us that not all tongues are human languages.

There is no discernible reason why we should believe that all tongues speech, wherever else it may appear in the NT, must be identical with that at Pentecost. It is an assumption without an argument. Perhaps it would be an argument that carries a bit more weight if there were no evidence elsewhere in the NT that tongues may come in a variety of species or expressions, both known human languages and heavenly speech that is crafted by the Holy Spirit for those believers to whom the gift is given. Furthermore, if the cessationist argument is to hold up we would need to be shown that the other occurrences of tongues in Acts (and in 1 Corinthians) are parallel to Acts 2 and display the same characteristics. But this is precisely what is lacking. We now turn to the evidence that tongues outside of Acts 2 is not known human languages but rather another linguistic expression crafted by the Spirit or perhaps even one of the possible numerous dialects spoken by the angelic hosts.

First, if tongues speech is always in a foreign language intended as a sign for unbelievers or as an evangelistic tool, why are the tongues in Acts 10 and Acts 19 spoken in the presence of only believers? Again, if tongues is always in an actual human language so that it might serve to communicate the gospel to unbelievers, why is it that in Acts 10 and Acts 19 there are no unbelievers present? Why would the Spirit energize or lead believers to speak in tongues in the absence of the very folk for whom this alleged evangelistic tool is designed?

Second, Paul describes various “kinds” or “species” of tongues" in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and 12:28. His words suggest that there are differing categories of tongues-speech, perhaps human languages, angelic dialects, and heavenly languages that are uniquely formed by the Spirit for each person to whom the gift is granted.

Those who insist that all tongues speech is necessarily a human language of some sort push back and argue that in saying that tongues come in a variety of kinds or species Paul means that there are a variety of human languages such as English and French and Japanese and Mandarin, etc. But who would ever have suggested that all tongues speech was only one specific human language? In other words, we already know from Acts 2 that when tongues appeared at Pentecost they came in the form of differing human dialects. It seems highly unlikely, then, that Paul would have labored to point out that tongues are never just one human language but a multiplicity of such.

It is true, of course, that the countless dialects or languages that humans around the world speak when communicating with one another constitutes at least one “kind” or “species” of tongues, namely, human languages. But another kind or species would be non-human languages, such as the variety of ways in which angels might communicate with one another or with God. I find it almost impossible to believe that among the myriads and myriads of angels they all speak only a single language. But how ever many different languages the angels employ, they would all be subsumed under the rubric of one “species” or “kind,” namely, angelic speech.

What I’m contending for is that yet another “species” or “kind” of tongues is the sort that the Holy Spirit constructs or enables a human being to speak in the course of his/her prayer and praise to God. Each of these expressions of tongues would be unique to each individual, all of which, however, would together constitute yet another “kind” or “species” of tongues.

Third, perhaps the most persuasive argument against tongues being known human languages is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:2. There he asserts that whoever speaks in a tongue “speaks not to men but to God.” Now, ask yourself this question: “What is a human language, whether it be Russian or German or Norwegian? Is it not a means by which one human being communicates with or speaks to another human being?” The answer of course is Yes. But Paul very clearly denies that this is what is happening when a person speaks in tongues. This person is most decidedly not doing what human language typically does. To speak in tongues is not to speak to other humans. Rather it is a way of speaking directly to God. Therefore, the “species” or “kind” of tongues that Paul has in view in 1 Corinthians 12-14, unlike the species that Luke describes in Acts 2, is not a human language.

Fourth, and very much related to the previous point, if tongues-speech is always a human language, how could Paul say that when one speaks in tongues “no one understands him” (1 Cor. 14:2)? If tongues are human languages, many could potentially understand, as they did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:8-11). This would especially be true in Corinth, a multi-lingual cosmopolitan port city that was frequented by people of numerous dialects. Thus, “if Paul came speaking in tongues, in a non-Greek or non-Latin language, he surely would have been able to communicate with someone” (David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 584).

Try to imagine a scenario in which a person with the gift of tongues in Corinth stands up to speak, utilizing his Spirit-empowered ability, let’s say, to speak in the language of the Parthians (see Acts 2:9). Paul might then take advantage of the situation to teach on the subject. “What you’ve just heard,” says Paul, “is one expression of the gift of tongues. And since what he just said is mysterious and incoherent in the absence of interpretation, he obviously was not speaking to you and me but to God alone.” At this point a visitor to the service might stand up and say: “Wait a minute, Paul. With all due respect, you are wrong. What he said was not mysterious nor incoherent. I understood perfectly what he said. He was, after all, speaking my own native language!”

This hypothetical scenario is not all that hypothetical. In fact, if tongues in Corinth were always a known human language, it could conceivably happen again and again anytime a person who spoke that particular language was present. My point is simply that Paul would be repeatedly wrong in saying that “no one understands” the person speaking in tongues. Conceivably, and not hypothetically, numerous individuals would understand what was being said, just as they did on the day of Pentecost. Clearly, then, the tongues that Paul envisioned being given to Christians in Corinth (or any other city of that day and time) were not identical to the tongues given at Pentecost. They were, in fact, a different species or kind of tongues, namely, the sort that cannot be understood by any human being unless supernaturally enabled to understand by means of the spiritual gift of interpretation.

Fifth, one reason that no one understands what is being said in tongues is because “he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” Those who stand opposed to the legitimacy of tongues today contend that the word “mysteries” in 1 Corinthians 14:2 refers to what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 3:2-6 when he spoke of the “mystery of Christ,” to wit, that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” There is no mistaking the fact that the word “mystery” (singular) in Ephesians 3 is a technical term for the truth concerning Gentile salvation, something largely hidden during the time of the Old Testament but now revealed to Paul and to us. Or, as Anthony Thiselton, defines it, the word denotes “what was once hidden but has now been disclosed in the era of eschatological fulfillment” (see 1 Cor. 2:1, 7; 4:1; 15:51)” (First Corinthians, 1085). But Thiselton also goes on to point out that “every writer uses terminology in context-dependent ways that may modify a more usual meaning,” and that is evidently what Paul is doing here (1085). In other words, we must look first and foremost at how an author uses a word in a specific context to determine its meaning. And there are several reasons why Paul’s use of the word in 1 Corinthians 14:2 is different from how he uses it in Ephesians 3.

It is significant that in v. 2 the word is plural, “mysteries,” not singular as in Ephesians 3. There was a singular and deeply profound mystery that was made known to Paul concerning Gentile salvation and equality in the body of Christ. But there are multiple “mysteries” to which those who speak in tongues give utterance. This use of the word means something unintelligible, something incomprehensible, something that is not known to us unless brought into the vernacular by means of the gift of interpretation. The content of the tongues speech remains a “mystery” to all because it is a species of heavenly language evoked by the Holy Spirit and spoken back exclusively to God himself.

No such descriptive information concerning the content of the “mysteries” is given in 1 Corinthians 14. In Ephesians 3 we are told explicitly what the “mystery” was. It was the “mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4) and the manner in which his death and resurrection and the inauguration of the New Covenant have brought Gentiles into equal standing in the covenants of promise. But this is far and away different from 1 Corinthians 14:2 in which we find “mysteries” that “no one understands.” We “understand” the mystery of Christ, but “no one understands” the “mysteries” uttered by the tongues speaker. Clearly, we are dealing with two different senses in which the word “mystery” may be used. Paul is not speaking of doctrinal or ethical truths that comprise the foundation on which the Church of Jesus Christ is built but simply of utterances that are unknown to those who hear them because spoken in a tongue that “no one understands.”

We should also consider other texts where “mystery” is used in the sense of something unknown, something whose meaning is difficult to decipher or comprehend, something the meaning of which is beyond us unless it is revealed. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:2 of prophecy and says that even though he may “understand all mysteries” it is useless without love. John spoke of the “mystery of the seven stars” which he then explains to his readers as being a reference to “the angels of the seven churches” (Rev. 1:20). He likewise refers to the “mystery of the woman” or the “great prostitute” who oppresses the people of God. Her identity was a “mystery” or something unknown until such time as John explains her.

Paul Gardner also points out that the gist of 1 Corinthians 14:2 “is simply that the person who speaks ‘in a tongue’ . . . cannot be understood by normal people but only by God because what he speaks is a ‘mystery’ given him by God’s Spirit” (Paul Gardner, 1 Corinthians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018], 591). But if tongues is always a known human language then countless numbers of “normal people” would be able to understand what is being spoken. Anyone who spoke the particular language being uttered by the tongues speaker would instantly recognize his own native dialect and make sense of its meaning. It would hardly be a “mystery” to him or her.

Sixth, if tongues-speech is always in a human language, then the gift of interpretation would be one for which no special work or enablement or manifestation of the Spirit would be required. Anyone who was multi-lingual, such as Paul, could interpret tongues-speech simply by virtue of his educational talent. No supernaturally energized gift of the Spirit was needed by those who were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Since the tongues in Acts 2 were human languages, any and all who spoke a particular language could instantly recognize what was being said. But Paul clearly describes the gift of interpretation of tongues as one that is sovereignly and supernaturally given to some believers (1 Cor. 12:8-10).

Again, try to envision this not unlikely scenario in first-century Corinth. At a corporate meeting of the church a person stands up and begins to speak in tongues. Upon finishing, another person stands up and provides a clear and intelligible interpretation or rendering of the meaning of what was said. One of the Elders at Corinth then might respond by saying: “Let us praise God for the way his Holy Spirit has imparted a supernatural and miraculous gift of interpretation so that we might benefit and be built up by what was said in tongues.” At that moment the man who provided the interpretation could conceivably stand up and say: “Well, not exactly. I can speak several languages. I’ve studied them intently and have lived in a variety of places. So when I heard the brother speak in a tongue, I instantly recognized what he was saying by virtue of my exceptional education.”

But is this what we read in 1 Corinthians regarding interpretation? It would appear that Paul believed this to be a miraculous gift by which a man or woman is enabled by the Holy Spirit to understand and communicate the truth of an utterance that otherwise they would not comprehend. However, if all tongues speech is some human language spoken somewhere in the world, a great many people who hear it would be capable of making sense of what is said without any help or gifting from the Spirit at all. In addition, if tongues speech is always a human language it makes no sense for Paul to suggest that interpretation should be prayed for since the ability to translate a foreign language comes through instruction and rote practice, not prayer (see 1 Cor. 14:13).

Seventh, in 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul refers to “the tongues of men and of angels.” While he may be using hyperbole, he just as likely may be referring to heavenly or angelic dialects for which the Holy Spirit gives utterance. Stop and ask yourself this question: “What language do angels speak?” Or again: “Do all angels speak the same language?” Surely you don’t believe that angels speak only English! When the angel spoke to Daniel in Daniel 10, he would have had to speak either Hebrew or Aramaic. When the angel spoke to Peter in Acts 13 it was most likely in Greek. It would appear that angels are capable of speaking in whatever human language is needed to communicate with the human they are addressing.

Now, how many angels are there? We don’t know, but several biblical texts speak of myriads upon myriads or ten thousand upon ten thousand. If each believer has a “guardian” angel (and this is by no means certain; see, however, Hebrews 1:14), and there are, as some experts say, 2.2 billion Christians in the world, that would mean there are at least 2.2 billion angels. I can’t prove that, but I suspect there are likely even more. All of us would agree that angels communicate. They hear from God, they interact with humans, and they interact with each other. Assuming that angels differ in power and rank and role, does it not seem highly likely that they communicate in a variety of different dialects suitable to their identity and station as angelic beings? So, when Paul speaks of the “tongues of angels” in 1 Corinthians 13:1 we should not be at all surprised. Could it be possible, then, that he actually envisions angelic tongues as one species or kind of tongues that the Spirit enables human beings to speak when they pray and praise God?

Gordon Fee cites evidence in certain ancient Jewish sources that the angels were believed to have their own heavenly languages or dialects and that by means of the Spirit one could speak them (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Revised Edition [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014], 69. See also Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians [Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997], 223). In particular, we take note of the Testament of Job 48-50, where Job's three daughters put on heavenly sashes given to them as an inheritance from their father, by which they are transformed and enabled to praise God with hymns in angelic languages.

Some have questioned this account, however, pointing out that this section of the Testament may have been the work of a later Christian author. Yet, as Christopher Forbes points out, “what the Testament does provide . . . is clear evidence that the concept of angelic languages as a mode of praise to God was an acceptable one within certain circles. As such it is our nearest parallel to glossolalia” (Prophecy and Inspired Speech: In Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997], 185-86). The fact that tongues are said to cease at the Second Coming of Christ (1 Cor. 13:8) leads Anthony Thiselton to conclude that it cannot be angelic speech, for why would a heavenly language terminate in the eschaton (1061-62). But it would not be heavenly speech per se that ends, but heavenly speech on the part of “humans” designed to compensate “now” for the limitations endemic to our fallen, pre-consummate condition.

Craig Keener cites several documents from Qumran where different angels lead the heavenly worship on successive Sabbaths making use of different languages. He suggests that since these angels are called “princes” it is possible that they are those whom God appointed to oversee the nations whose languages they employ (cf. Dan. 10:13, 20-21; 12:1) (Acts 1:808).

Eighth, some say the reference in 1 Corinthians 14:10-11 to earthly, foreign languages proves that all tongues-speech is also human languages. But Paul’s point is that tongues function like foreign languages, not that tongues are foreign languages. His point is that the hearer cannot understand uninterpreted tongues any more than he can understand the one speaking a foreign language. If tongues were a foreign language, there would be no need for an analogy.

Ninth, Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 14:18 that he “speaks in tongues more than all of you” is evidence that tongues are not foreign languages. As Wayne Grudem notes, “If they were known foreign languages that foreigners could understand, as at Pentecost, why would Paul speak more than all the Corinthians in private, where no one would understand, rather than in church where foreign visitors could understand?” (Systematic Theology, 1072).

Tenth, if tongues-speech is always a human language, Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 14:23 wouldn't necessarily hold true. His argument in this passage is that if tongues are to be used in the corporate assembly of God’s people there must be accompanying interpretation. Otherwise if “outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” My response is, not necessarily. That is to say, if the tongues being spoken are languages known throughout the world at that time, any unbeliever who would know the language being spoken would more likely conclude the person speaking was highly educated rather than “mad” or “out of your minds.”

We have seen that there are a variety or differing species of tongues. On some occasions, such as at Pentecost, they are actual human languages spoken somewhere in the world, dialects such as those employed by Parthians and Medes and Elamites and people from Cappadocia, just to mention a few (see Acts 2). On other occasions, primarily in the daily experience of local churches throughout the ancient world and in our day as well, they may be one of the many dialects spoken by the angelic hosts.

But more times than not I suspect that the tongues Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the tongues in which I regularly speak and pray today, is a heavenly language, a language that derives from the supernatural enablement of the Holy Spirit. It is not a language that anyone on earth could study in grad school or encounter while on a mission trip to a remote third-world country. It is linguistic, in the sense that it is genuine speech that communicates information.

Remember: Paul says the one speaking in tongues is speaking to God and later will contend that uninterpreted tongues is a form of giving thanks to God (1 Cor. 14:16-17). So, there is substantive content to what is being spoken. But it comes in a form uniquely and especially crafted or shaped by the Holy Spirit who is its source. Thus the only way that either I or any other human might know what is actually being said is if the same Holy Spirit provides the interpretation. Therefore, I agree with David Garland when he says that “Paul understands it [tongues] to be a language inspired by the Spirit and not a noncognitive, nonlanguage utterance. It is not simply incoherent babbling in the Spirit. . . . Tongues consist of words . . ., which, though indecipherable, are not meaningless syllables strung together” (584).

So, contrary to the assertions made in the film, we have not “changed” the nature of tongues. The NT itself justifies our conclusion that tongues are not always human languages spoken somewhere in the world.

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