How do you feel about tongues and its relevency today?

Dear Ralph,

How do you feel about tongues? And I don't mean any denomination or individual churches, I mean tongues. What do you feel the Bible has to say about its uses, and its relevency to today?

My response is in Green:

I had not addresses tongues before on my site because it is such an emotional issue. That and the fact that I am not quite finished with my study on it. What I mean by an emotional issue is that if a person says they believe in tongues those who don't immediately dismiss everything else they say. And if a person says they don't believe in tongues then those who do immediately dismiss everything else said. It is a shame but seems to hold true of most people.

As for me, I believe in Biblical tongues but not in what we see today. Many people think that tongues is 'the' sign of the Holy Spirit, but the Bible clearly disputes that in several places. (1 Corinthians 12:-31 NIV) [30] Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? [31] But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. Surly Paul was not saying that not all believers have the Holy Spirit. The most excellent way that he goes on to show us is love. We also read this: (1 John 4:7-8 NIV) [7] Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. [8] Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. That is the true sign of the Holy Spirit, godly love.

So that is one reason I reject the sign of tongues as a sign of the Holy Spirit or of salvation. However that does not address the 'messages' in tongues or the prayer language. To address them you have to do a more in-depth study of the whole issue. That is what I am in the process of doing now. I will give you what I have so far, but I warn you it might be a little disjointed in places.

Let me give you a little background first so you know where I am starting from. I grew up as a Preacher's kid in a non-Pentecostal church. I drifted away from the faith when I joined the Marine Corps. While I was trying to decide if I wanted to follow God or not, I attended a Pentecostal church (AOG) and was exposed to tongues for the first time in my life. They did not teach that it was a sign of the Holy Spirit or salvation but they did have weekly 'messages' in tongues. I noticed a couple of things, first it was always the same 3 or 4 people who gave these messages. The words sounded much the same week after week. After the 'message' in tongues it would take a few minutes then someone else (other then the one who spoke in tongues) would give an interpretation. The interpretations were almost always the same kind of thing too. It went much like this: Thus saith the Lord, I am going to do wonderful things in your midst. I am calling my people back to repentance, etc...

I must admit I always wondered if God could give the interpretation to someone, why didn't He just give the message to the person in English in the first place? I spoke to the pastor about my feelings. One of the things I told him was that I knew my father loved God and I knew that he loved God, I could see it in both of them, yet I was struggling with why one believed in tongues and the other didn't. The pastor told me that tongues was a sign of a deeper walk, that my father was just not as mature in the faith as those who spoke in tongues. I rejected that also, but did not tell him so.

The other thing that always bothered me was that Paul says if there is no interpretation the person who wants to speak in tongues should keep quiet. Well in the church I was in the person speaking in tongues would just get up and say what he had to say and then everyone would wait until someone interpreted. This did not sound like what Paul was talking about. Paul made it sound as if you would know before hand whether there was an interpretation or not. These people had no idea, they just claimed that they trusted God to give someone the interpretation. But again that is not what Paul is saying.

This all lead me to be skeptical of modern day tongues as seen in most churches.

I have also heard people talk about a prayer language, but I have had my doubts about this too. My problems with it are on a more logical basis. People claim that they pray in a prayer language that they don't understand. Now my question is how do you pray if you don't know what you are praying? People will say things like it is the Holy Spirit praying for us. I think they get that idea from this passage: (Romans 8:26-27 NIV) [26] In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. [27] And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. Notice that it says the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans that words cannot express. It does not say that human language can't express but that words can't express, so I reject the notion that this is a prayer language.

I do however, believe that some very godly, Christ centered people think they are praying in a prayer language. I would explain that by saying it is more of a meditation than an actual conversation they are having with God. I personally think they have been misguided and mistaken.

Now that I have pretty much said what I don't think tongues is or was I guess I should tackle what I do think. This is the area that I am still working on and therefore might be a bit disjointed.

I warn you this may be somewhat long also. Let me start by going back into the Old Testament where the idea of tongues first was spoken about by God.

(Isaiah 6:8-9 NIV) [8] Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
[9] He said, "Go and tell this people:
     "'Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
     be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'

The important part of this passage is the part about being ever hearing, but never understanding. I don't want to over quote, so I will try to just set this up for you. God is pretty fed up with His people. He speaks to them but they refuse to listen to Him. They refuse to listen to His prophets. Here is another quote this time from Ezekiel:

(Ezekiel 3:4-9 NIV) [4] He then said to me: "Son of man, go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them. [5] You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel-[6] not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. [7] But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate. [8] But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. [9] I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house." God told Ezekiel to go talk to the people even though He knew they would not listen.

(Ezekiel 20:45-49 NIV) [45] The word of the LORD came to me: [46] "Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach against the south and prophesy against the forest of the southland. [47] Say to the southern forest: 'Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. [48] Everyone will see that I the LORD have kindled it; it will not be quenched.'"
[49] Then I said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD! They are saying of me, 'Isn't he just telling parables?'"

We see here that the people claimed Ezekiel was speaking in parables. In other words they claimed that God was not speaking to them clearly so that they could understand. They were rebellious and blamed God for their lack of hearing and understanding. So back to Isaiah, God is saying tell the people that they will be forever hearing but never understanding. He continues:

(Isaiah 28:9-14 NIV)
[9]  "Who is it he is trying to teach?
      To whom is he explaining his message?
      To children weaned from their milk,
      to those just taken from the breast?
[10] For it is:
      Do and do, do and do,
      rule on rule, rule on rule;
      a little here, a little there."
[11] Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
      God will speak to this people,
[12] to whom he said,
      "This is the resting place, let the weary rest";
      and, "This is the place of repose"-
      but they would not listen.
[13] So then, the word of the LORD to them will become:
      Do and do, do and do,
      rule on rule, rule on rule;
      a little here, a little there-
      so that they will go and fall backward,
      be injured and snared and captured.
[14] Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers
      who rule this people in Jerusalem.

Notice verse 11. God is saying; fine if you won't listen then I will make it impossible for you to understand. I will speak from now on in languages you can't understand, no longer in plain words.

(Isaiah 32:3-4 NIV)
[3] Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed,
      and the ears of those who hear will listen.
[4] The mind of the rash will know and understand,
      and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.

Then just a little later God explains that this will all change in the distant future, still future to us. When God again addresses Israel He will open their ears and eyes and no longer speak to them in unknown tongues (languages) but in fluent and clear language.

Now having set that foundation, let's jump forward now to Jesus' time on earth. Hang with me because now I am going to talk about parables for a few minutes.

(Matthew 13:10-16 NIV) [10] The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"
[11] He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. [12] Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. [13] This is why I speak to them in parables:
       "Though seeing, they do not see;
       though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
[14] In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
       "'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
       you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
[15] For this people's heart has become calloused;
       they hardly hear with their ears,
       and they have closed their eyes.
       Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
       hear with their ears,
       understand with their hearts
       and turn, and I would heal them.'
[16] But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear."

Notice that Jesus quotes from Isaiah when asked why He spoke to the people in parables. God was not speaking to the people in plain language because of their harden hearts. Only those like the disciples who had faith in Jesus could understand His words. I don't think it is a stretch to say that Jesus was speaking to the people in a tongue they could not understand, even if it was their language.

Jesus stresses this same thought here: (John 8:42-47 NIV) [42] Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. [43] Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. [44] You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [45] Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! [46] Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? [47] He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

He asks why His language is not clear to them and then answers it Himself, because they do not believe and follow God but instead follow the devil. The reason they do not hear is because they do not belong to God.

(John 12:37-43 (NIV) [37] Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. [38] This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
"Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"
[39] For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
[40] "He has blinded their eyes
      and deadened their hearts,
      so they can neither see with their eyes,
      nor understand with their hearts,
      nor turn-and I would heal them."
[41] Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him.
[42] Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; [43] or they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

They refused to believe and those who did believe refused to take a stand. John says that Isaiah prophesied about this very thing because he saw their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah and he saw Christ's glory.

(Mark 4:33-34 NIV) [33] With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. [34] He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. Again this goes directly back to Isaiah.

(Acts 2:6-12 NIV) [6] When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. [7] Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? [8] Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? [9] Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, [10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome [11] (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" [12] Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"

Now we change directions a little bit and to the the idea of tongues. Notice in this first example of tongues it was actual languages and they were used to proclaim the the wonders of God. This is important because it shows that the people speaking in tongues were not speaking some heavenly language, but they were proclaiming the gospel in a language that those who were willing to hear could understand. Then look at the next verse: (Acts 2:13 NIV) Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine." What was the difference between these people and the ones who clearly understood? We are not told exactly but it implies that they were not hungry for God and therefore their ears were closed. Much like the people Jesus told the parables to.

(Acts 28:23-28 NIV) [23] They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. [24] Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. [25] They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: "The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
[26] "'Go to this people and say,
       "You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
       you will be ever seeing but never perceiving."
[27] For this people's heart has become calloused;
       they hardly hear with their ears,
       and they have closed their eyes.
       Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
       hear with their ears,
       understand with their hearts
       and turn, and I would heal them.'
[28] "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!"

Again we see the words of Isaiah used but this time Paul makes it very clear that God is no longer dealing just with the Jews. Notice that Paul says the Gentiles will listen. Much the same as God told Ezekiel.

Now for some more difficult passages. (1 Corinthians 14:2-5 NIV) [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. [3] But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. [4] He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. [5] I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. Paul tells us that anyone who speaks in a tongue is speaking to God and no man understands him, he utters mysteries with his spirit. This can be confusing, but I think it shows that tongues is a mystery and we know it is a mystery because God has judged the Jews because they refused to listen when He spoke to them plainly. On the other hand prophesies are spoken in plain language that the people can understand. So when Paul says a person speaking in a tongue is speaking to God, I think it means that only God can enable other people to understand. There must be an interpretation of the mystery. Again going back to God closing their ears so that they were ever hearing but not understanding.

(1 Corinthians 14:9-11 NIV) [9] So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. [10] Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. [11] If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. Now Paul is clearly saying that all languages can be interpreted, they are made up of words. These are not just stammering or syllables, but real words. Notice too that Paul makes the statement that if you speak a language he does not understand you are a foreigner to him. Again if you go back to Isaiah that idea is explained. "Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people..."

(1 Corinthians 14:20-21 NIV) [20] Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. [21] In the Law it is written:
"Through men of strange tongues
and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
but even then they will not listen to me,"
says the Lord.

Notice Paul says the same thing again. Tongues therefore appear to be a judgment against the people of Israel by God, who refuses to speak to them in their plain language because they refuse to listen. Although as we have seen that will change in the future.

If tongues were used because of Israel's hardness of heart then they would serve no purpose in the present day church. God has closed the cannon of Scripture and all His mysteries are already there. This is where I am in this study, but the bottom line is that at this point I don't think that tongues are a gift for today. I may change my mind as I get deeper into this but at this point this is what I think.

I am sure that was much more than you wanted to know, but I thought I would let you see where I am at.

Take care,

Update: I realized that I might have giving the wrong impression above when I said I don't believe tongues is for today. What I meant is in the context that I was speaking about. I still believe in a present day gift of tongues; meaning the God given ability to speak to a person with whom you don't share a common language. In other words the gift of speaking in a language you don't know in order to witness to the lost.


E-Mail Ralph (whose comments are in green)

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