N.T. Wright on speaking in tongues

May 17, 2012

We’ve had a fruitful conversation this week on speaking in tongues. (See this post, including the comments section.) I’d like to reproduce, in its entirety, N.T. Wright’s entry on “speaking in tongues” from the glossary section of his Acts for Everyone commentary. I include it as a succinct overview of the issue, not because it settles the questions we’ve discussed since Monday.

Since speaking in tongues is, for many Methodists and other non-Pentecostal (or “charismatic”) Christians, an exotic, esoteric, and slightly threatening phenomenon—not to mention that it will come up again in this Sunday’s sermon on Acts 2—I thought this overview might prove helpful.

If you’ve read my blog for more than a couple of weeks, you already know that I trust the Rt. Rev. Wright as a reliable, credible, and faithful contemporary Bible scholar and theologian. He is simultaneously evangelical and high church, having recently served as a bishop in the Church of England.

In many religious traditions, people who experience certain types of ecstasy have sometimes found themselves speaking, praying or even singing in what seem to them to be languages which they do not themselves understand. Sometimes these turn out to be actual languages which are understood by one or more listeners: this is what is described in Acts 2, and there are many examples from subsequent periods including our own. Sometimes they appear to be a kind of babbling semi-language corresponding to no known human tongue. Sometimes the speaker may be unable to decide which it is. Paul was well aware (1 Corinthians 12.1-3) that phenomena like this could occur in non-Christian contexts, but for him, and for millions since (not least in today’s pentecostal and charismatic movements, though much more widely as well), such prayer was and is powerful in evoking the presence of Jesus, celebrating the energy of the spirit, and interceding for people and situations, particularly when it isn’t clear what exactly to pray for (see, perhaps, Romans 8.26-27). There is however no good reason, within early Christian teaching, to suppose that ‘speaking in tongues’ is either a necessary or a sufficient sign the thte holy spirit is at work in and through someone’s life, still less that they have attained, as has sometimes been claimed, a new and more elevated level of spirituality than those who have not received this gift. To be sure, in Acts 2, and also in Acts 8.1 (by implication at least), 11.46 and 19.6, ‘tongues’ is a sign that the spirit has been poured out on people who weren’t expected to be included in God’s people. But there are plenty of other times when the spirit is powerfully at work without any mention of ‘tongues’, and equally every indication (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12 and 14) that praying in tongues is, for some, a regular practice and not merely an initiatory sign.[†]

N.T. Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part One (Louisville: WJK, 2008), 210-211.

38 Responses to “N.T. Wright on speaking in tongues”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, from all your posts where your reference statements by the Rt. Rev. Wright, I have considerable respect for him as well. Nevertheless, I think the fact remains that you have to consider what someone’s point of reference is as to thinking that some aspect of speaking tongues is “valid” (i.e., consistent with scripture as properly construed; and, of lesser weight but not irrelevant, how the subject matter has played out through the course of Church history–the Body of Christ, indwelt by the Spirit). Primarily I mean (a) actual experience someone has had, as compared to (b) “what they’ve heard.” If you just go by, “What a ton of modern people have said on the subject,” then it behooves one to “consider the source.” I recognize that ad hominem assessments are not the highest form of reaching the truth on an issue, but they are also not totally irrelevant. Thus, I simply am more inclined to give serious consideration to someone’s account to me of his PERSONAL experience with the “miraculous” (overriding natural laws) if I have carefully observed the person over a substantial period of time and found that person “trustworthy” than I am to someone else’s account whose “practice” and “theology” as a general matter appears “questionable.”

    So, whom has Rev. Wright as a “historian” interviewed in order to reach his assessments? I don’t know. As a result, I don’t know how strongly I should be inclined to give weight to his conclusions on this troubling issue.

    I don’t think it can be ignored that the historical records we have of noted Churchmen (read, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, the Wesleys, Spurgeon, etc., etc.) don’t seem to reference speaking in tongues, up until the Pentecostal movement. And we know the Pentecostal movement to be virtually completely off-base in how they say tongues works, who should be able to speak in tongues, what tongues signify, etc. And, we also know that “leading” charismatics in the public arena have absurd accounts of miracles and healings and are totally untrustworthy. Yet, these are the stalwarts and bastions of the “tongues” movement (and also “signs and wonders,” the “latter rain,” etc.). Am I really supposed to be impressed with a point of theology with such a questionable origin?

    Once a snowball starts rolling down the hill, however, it picks up steam and size. Once people have been told enough times that tongues are legitimate, the more susceptible they are to believing that if they start “babbling” in their prayer closet (or in public worship), they are experiencing the “real thing.” I thought so myself, a point you don’t give much weight to. Why did I stop believing? For very much the line of reasoning I have given above, as well as my understanding of scripture. More later.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks for your spirited defense, Tom. I was skeptical about your words regarding the Wesleys. It’s a fascinating subject that I need to investigate further (when I’m studying for a D.Min. sometime?). Robert Tuttle, who is a real Wesley scholar, wrote the following article: http://ucmpage.org/articles/rtuttle1.html. I haven’t checked his sources. (I don’t yet have Wesley’s massive multi-volume Works, but I have an anthology of them. It excerpts portions of the Wesley’s letter to a clergyman named Middleton, who was essentially a Deist who denied anything supernatural.)

      Tuttle argues that Wesley defends all the supernatural gifts as at least potentially ongoing. He denies that the Spirit took them away because they were no longer needed. Indeed, the Spirit took them away for lack of faith on the part of the church. (I forgot what a big theme that was for Wesley.) If Tuttle is right, Wesley’s view of tongues seems similar to mine: he hadn’t experienced them firsthand, but he didn’t deny that others had or could. And, again, if Tuttle is quoting accurately, it sounds like Wesley (and even his adversary, Middleton) were aware in their day of claims of speaking in tongues.

      I wish I could go back to seminary! I have many more questions now than I did when I was there. I was overly focused on getting out at the time, you know? Plowing through it so I could get on with my career.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    So, I can only go by (a) how do MOST of the accounts of the “miraculous” (including tongues) sound, (b) what has been MY experience on the subject, (c) what does CHURCH HISTORY suggest, and, last but first in importance, (d) what does scripture have to say. (a)-(c) strongly argue to me that tongues are not valid. So, I take that into account when I read the passages that address the subject, though of course that does not CONTROL. And we can’t read one passage (1 Corinthians 14) and get our whole theology on the subject from that passage (a point as to which I know you would concur). Therefore, it is legitimate to consider whether there was a specific time, place, and reason for “signs and wonders,” and whether, if so, tongues falls into such a category. I already mentioned that the mere fact that scripture does not say, “This is of limited duration,” is proof positive that it is eternally the case. Circumcision being a major instance. You sometimes have to make deductions on the point.

    So, are there OTHER “gifts” which have “phased out”? What about Apostleship? Are there really any people around nowadays who have that gift? I’ve hears some charismatics claim to be apostles, and I have to say that their saying so is a major reason to disbelieve that. What about prophets? Some people try to avoid the real issue by saying, “Well, it is forth-telling, not foretelling.” That seems extra-biblical to me, wouldn’t you agree? And even if forth-telling is a legitimate aspect, why don’t we have SOME foretellers, since plainly there have been such in the past? Again, I have heard some charismatics claim to be such prophets, but their miserable records clearly prove they are not. Hopefully you see my point. God has purposes for whatever types of giftedness he has decided to bestow, but there is no reason to “limit” him to saying, “If a gift was at one time valid, it must always be so.” Not so.

    I just see tongues as being in the “needed in the past, but not needed now, and therefore not present now.” You discounted my point about tongues being a sign to those who do not believe, but if tongues in fact constitute “other languages,” then it is easy to see how they could be such (as at Pentecost), and perhaps almost equally easy to see why such “signs” are not needed today, when we have scripture and the Church universal to rely upon.

    Okay, I have about argued this point into the ground, I recognize. But I really believe that gullibility is a problem, perhaps equally as much as skepticism. Proverbs would suggest that. Also, “Test the spirits, whether they be from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Also, there are wolves who come in with sheep’s clothing, of whom we are supposed to be wary. So, I think I am right to question such claims, and esp. given the source.

  3. Brian Sassaman Says:

    So here is a question for you, just to get this topic going some more, haha.

    In today’s world, is there any relationship or connection between the great number of biblical translations, and the concept of speaking in tongues? I have several English “tongues” of the bible.

    Many of these translations have their own “slant of light” on the truth they expose. Is it related to the tongues thing?

    • brentwhite Says:

      I think it is related, Brian. The first act of God at Pentecost is an act of translation: putting the words of the gospel in a language that people will understand. At their best, this is what Bible translations accomplish. This is the ongoing project of the church. I hope, in a way, I do that every Sunday when I preach.

  4. Brian Sassaman Says:

    And for me personally, each “slant of light” is an addition to the others, resulting in more light and a clearer picture. Kinda like a solar mirror array where the light ends up being focused.

    Somewhat Pentacostal I guess?

  5. Geoff Richardson Says:

    Does Dennis J. Bennett’s book entitled ‘Nine o’clock in the morning’ provide Tom Harkins with sufficient illumination on this subject of the practical use of the Gift of Speaking in other languages? Of course sanctification and the process of the Holy Spirit within a life being transformed within the community of Christ’s Body here on earth is of prior importance!

  6. Geoff Richardson Says:

    Further comment to Tom Harkins: I thoroughly endorse his comments concerning the qualification required concerning the modern usage of the words Apostle and Prophet. Care needs to be taken to avoid these words taking on a too significant a Rank of importance. Acts chapter one contains qualification for capital ‘A’ Apostles…Jesus came to fulfil the Law and the Capital ‘P’ Prophets. Thus apostle can now only be legitimately understood as someone sent out by a community of believers to fulfil a task …etc?

    And surely someone fulfilling a prophetic ministry must be understood within the context of it being subservient to Christ and the Old Testament Prophets?

    Michael Harper in his book That we may be One pointed to such British writers as HG Wells and Charles Dickens as exercising a prophetic edge to their writing and within a church context often para church organisations move the church in a new direction so have a prophetic function in a small ‘p’ sense!

    However, I can understand subjectively how he is moved to feel this then undermines other associated charismatic emphasise But is that just an avoidance of a disciplined objective view of those modern expressions he might be seeking to escape…for whatever reason.
    In Christ,
    Geoff


  7. New Testament scholars N. T. Wright and the late Krister Stendahl both have writings that address glossolalia (the NT Greek word that most translations render, tongues).

    Wright, one of the few NT scholars that is able to gain traction in bookstores other than those devoted to bibles, writes,

    “‘Tongues’ refers to the gift of speech which, through making sounds, and using apparent or even actual languages, somehow bypasses the speaker’s conscious mind. Such speech is experienced as a stream of praise in which, though the speaker may not be able to articulate precisely what is being said (a point to which Paul will draw attention later on), a sense of love for God, of adoration and gratitude, wells up and overflows. It is like a private language of love.” – in Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (Westminster John Knox Press), pp. 181-182.

    I believe Tom Wright is charismatic….

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks for pointing me to that, Andrea. I have that volume of his For Everyone series as well.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Not knowing Wright or having his commentary, I would wonder if the definition of “Tongues” is true, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t “go” anymore. In other words, that may be a correct definition of what tongues were in scripture, but that nonetheless does not prove we speak in tongues today. See my discussion above as to practices proper in their time but then becoming obsolete, like circumcision, animal sacrifices, etc.

        However, I am even skeptical as to the correctness of the definition in the first instance. It appears to me to more be the case that speaking in tongues was speaking in foreign languages that the speaker did not know. Certainly that appears to be the case in the first manifestation at Pentecost. Paul also says not to speak in tongues in church services unless someone can translate. This certainly seems to be a “language,” as opposed to “a stream of praise” which one “may not be able to articulate precisely what is being said.” The speaker himself may not be able to articulate, but somebody needs to be able to do so. Consequently, it does not appear to me to be the case that tongues is “like a private language of love.”

      • brentwhite Says:

        I usually read that “speaking in tongues” is two things: both speaking human languages that are known, as in Acts 2, and speaking in ecstatic utterances, which is what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 13:1 (“tongues of angels”). Wright would be referring to the second definition. I’ve spoken in neither, so I feel like an outsider looking in when it comes to this discussion. Unlike you, Tom, I’m open-minded about it, even as I am aware of its potential for abuse. I’ll never forget my first encounter as a teenage Southern Baptist with a Pentecostal Christian. He handed me a booklet written by Kenneth Hagin (I think) telling me that I was not “fully” Christian because I hadn’t had that experience of glossolalia. It really troubled me at the time.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Your initial reaction to the Pentecostal was the correct one. Having “spoken in tongues” and visited charismatic fellowships myself, I don’t feel I am an “outsider” but someone who has “been there, done that,” and learned from the experience. Do you think Angels speak “incoherently,” as opposed to in intelligible speech? Paul wasn’t talking about “ecstatic utterances” with tongues of angels.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Well, granting Pentecostals maximum benefit of the doubt, this angelic language would be incomprehensible to us. But I hear you…

  8. NorrinRadd Says:

    Hi. I stumbled upon this page by doing a little Google search to see if there were online records of Wright having addressed the topic of “tongues.” Noting the mention of Wesley, and elsewhere on your site of Roger Olson and Ben Witherington, I infer you may be of Wesleyan inclination. Perhaps you would be interested to know that Olson says “I agree with Clark Pinnock who said that speaking in tongues is normal but not the norm” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2010/12/this-is-not-my-fathers-pentecostalism/). You may also care to know that in his commentary on 1 Cor., Witherington explicitly agrees with long-time Pentecostal Gordon Fee that “speaking in tongues” is “tongues of men and angels”; and in his commentary on Acts, (I just now gave it a quick skim, so I’m not positive I have this *completely* correct), he seems to take the view that Acts 2 was a “tongues of men” example, because of the context and the “heteros” modifier, while Acts 10 was a “tongues of angels” example.

    Sorry about that Hagin booklet experience. I have plenty of issues with Hagin’s “Word-Faith” theology, but apart from that he was pretty traditional Pentecostal, and most Pentecostals would not go so far as to say you are not “fully” Christian without speaking in tongues.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks for the helpful words! Yes, I am Wesleyan. A Methodist pastor.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Norrin, I’m a Southern Baptist, so you can know the context (though certainly not all Southern Baptists agree with me on this–or many other things!). I believe all the “tongues” references in Acts were other human languages, which is what would impress nonbelievers (you can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Paul said that tongues were a sign to unbelievers), as opposed to what nonbelievers would consider “gibberish” (though many Pentecostals consider such “sounds” to be tongues of “angels”).

      I recognize Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,” which is what people “latch on to” for the indecipherable “sounds” to be “angel talk.” First, I don’t know that Paul meant he actually could speak “angel language”–just that, EVEN IF someone could, that would still be worthless without love. Second, I would think angel talk would be MORE coherent and meaningful than human discourse, not less, and not simply “let it flow” noises that we humans make that make no sense whatsoever. Third, Paul never indicated in his comments to the Corinthians that they were speaking “angel language” in their services. So, I don’t see any real basis to conclude that the relatively few references to speaking in tongues in scripture (NT books of Acts and Corinthians) refer to anything other than other human languages. This is how someone would be able to “translate.”

      Finally, though I have been in charismatic services where “tongues” were spoken, and have even done so myself (i.e., made unintelligible sounds which I had been taught were such “tongues”), I have seen no evidence personally that these were legitimate “other languages.” Which leads me personally to believe that such “gifts” “passed away” (to use Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 13, sandwiched between 12 & 14), like other “miraculous” “gifts” (not to say that necessarily God could not work “miracles” now if he so chose–just, he does not “gift” certain people to do so).

      • NorrinRadd Says:

        I’d like to suggest a number of things to consider.

        First, and probably rather peripherally, Baptist scholars who accept and in some cases practice and advocate glossolalia include Wayne Grudem, Craig Keener, and the late Walter Martin. I don’t recall whether any of them were or are “Southern” Baptists, and I know that can make a great difference in perspective.

        Regarding Acts — We can be sure the languages in Acts 2 included over a dozen human languages. We don’t know there were not also *other* human languages, or that there were *only* human languages. To at least some extent, that depends on the “target” of the speaking: Was it the crowd, which was not in the same place as the speakers, and was only drawn to them *after* they heard the noise (either of the speaking or of the loud wind-like sound); or was it God? IMO, the other occurrences, in Acts 10-11 and 19, are relevant.

        Regarding 1 Cor. 12-14 — The very fact that “interpretation of tongues” is listed separately from “speaking in tongues” suggests at the very least that the person speaking would not normally know what he or she was saying. One could also reasonably infer that, apart from unusual circumstances, *no one* present would understand, apart from Spirit-given interpretation. That in itself suggests the languages may not be human.

  9. NorrinRadd Says:

    Andrea’s comments made me curious. Some of Stendahl’s words on the topic can be read here:

    http://thinkingreed.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/stendahl-on-glossolalia/

  10. Mike Says:

    I’ve read so much on this topic and have heard so many points of views. The cessationists make plenty of strong arguments regarding the gifts but leave many loose ends and lack definitive answers as to why certain gifts have ceased. I will admit that much of church history does not shed light as to how the gifts have been practiced or not practiced. And that very well can carry a lot of weight when arguing for cessation. I’m at a stage where I can not stand on the the argument that the gifts have ceased. I will say that it does concern me on how Charismatic/Pentecostals practice the gifts. I say that if the gifts are continuing today we must at least practice them in a way outlined in scripture. It just seems like things are a little out of order.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I agree. For one thing, I’ve known a few very credible Christians, whom I greatly respect, who speak in tongues.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Brent, I think we have to be careful here (as Mike seems to be doing). I have “spoken in tongues” in the past myself. That is, in my instance, I made a lot of gibberish sounds, for the reason that I gave Charismatics credence at the time and thought that was what I was supposed to be doing. The “gibberish” characterization is what I “look back” on it as, having now “escaped” from the Charismatic “stage” that I went through.

        I am not questioning the bona fides of the Christians you know; that is, I accept that they believe themselves to be speaking in tongues when they make the “noises” that they do. It really is a question of the doctrinal and historical “content” of the theology that one holds to as to how he “interprets” what he is doing, in my estimation.

        I do agree with Mike that the scriptural basis for holding to cessationism is not overwhelming–I find support for it, however, in the virtual total absence of that “phenomenon” in Church history post-scripture until the Charismatic movement of relative recent vintage arose. As to that, their accompanying teachings on the subject are highly suspect, which makes the “practice” at the least somewhat “suspect” as well, in my opinion. Speaking in tongues is not some event which accompanies either salvation or some “second blessing,” as is taught in such circles. That being the case, why should we accept their position that the “gift” continues?

        From my vantage point, I see tongues as part of the “sign gifts” (like the “gift” of miracles–regardless of one’s view of the continuation of miracles, nobody has the “gift” of performing miracles like Peter and Paul did: just look at the lives of the present-day people who claim to have that!) that “ceased” once scriptures were completed (as suggested by Hebrews 2). I do recognize Corinthians as might relate to that interpretation; however, Paul there says tongues are a sign to unbelievers (as certainly was the case at Pentecost). Also, Paul’s Corinthians teaching on tongues strongly suggests he is speaking of other languages, not unintelligible noises (a la, capable of being “interpreted”). I can testify that the “tongues” I have experienced and observed are not “foreign languages,” as they clearly were at Pentecost. So, IMO, tongues are no longer an extant “gift” (as “Apostleship” is not, for another instance).

      • brentwhite Says:

        I hear your concerns. At some point I need to read a serious defense of the practice from a Pentecostal scholar. We’ll get to tongues-speaking in my present sermon series. I’m curious about what Gordon Fee will say. He’s the Bible commentator whose commentary on 1 Corinthians has been so insightful to me. He is, I think, a Pentecostal.

      • NorrinRadd Says:

        Yes, Gordon Fee is a Pentecostal, a member of the Assemblies of God. He is, however, an unconventional one, having directly challenged some traditional Pentecostal practices and beliefs, including several of the AG’s “Foundational Truths.”

      • NorrinRadd Says:

        I understand your point about “suspect.” In my own case, I find the Scriptural support for glossolalia so clear that when I see it disputed, I have to fight the urge to dismiss the critic entirely.

        As for “sign gifts,” that’s one of those mostly made-up terms. IMO, it is mostly a dodge. Scripture never labels certain specific things as “sign gifts,” so we assign that title as part of explaining their apparent absence.

        Regarding dunamis, “miracles” — You make it sound as if Peter and Paul carried that “power” around at all times, and could dispense it at will; and certainly some contemporary “mighty men of paste and flour” encourage that notion. It is true that Scripture explicitly says that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” but that is directly in the context of *speaking*. So, if some nut busts out in tongues or prophecy in the middle of someone else giving a sermon or teaching, we would legitimately ask whether it really was the HOLY spirit that was moving them. But in regard to dunamis-power, Luke 5:17 suggests that even Jesus did not always have it “on tap,” as it were, while 8:46 suggests He did not always have direct control over dispensing it when it was on tap.

        As for Heb. 2, I don’t see how anyone would interpret that as referring to the completion of the Scriptures without coming to the text with that idea already firmly in place.

        Regarding “other languages” in 1 Cor. 12-14, as I said in a prior post, the very fact that “interpretation” is separate, along with several explicit statements in 1 Cor. 14, suggest that the “languages” being spoken would typically NOT be understandable by any human, apart from the supernatural assistance of the Spirit.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        NorrinRadd, I think Hebrews 2 specifically says, “God also bearing them witness, with SIGNS AND WONDERS.” So this is certainly a basis for speaking of “signs” gifts.

        I don’t argue that the apostles could necessarily “heal at will.” However, that does not defeat the fact that some have some gifts and others other gifts, and miracles and healings are given as such gifts to some people (and not to all). So, not everybody can heal others, even if those so gifted cannot “do that on demand” either.

        I don’t know why you think that the mere fact of having a gift of interpretation necessitates that the tongues were “mumbo jumbo” as opposed to “other languages.” Just because they were other languages does not mean that the person with the “gift” of interpretation necessarily spoke that language, any more than the person speaking did.

        Certainly speaking in tongues was a gift of the Spirit–never argued to the contrary. Certainly some Christians in Corinth had that gift (but others not [“Do all speak in tongues?” Paul asks rhetorically]). However, the mere fact that some people may have been so gifted at some time in Church history does not necessarily mean that gift is still “active” today. For example, the gift of being an apostle only applied at the initial stage of Church formation and scripture preparation. There is no necessary reason to believe tongues is an extant gift, given its absence in Church history post-Scripture up until the “charismatic age.”


  11. NT Wright mentions in passing, as if it is no big deal, that has been known to speak in tongues, somewhere in the middle of this presentation – See more at: http://davewainscott.blogspot.com/2013/11/three-more-reasons-to-love-nt-wright.html#sthash.QxEcG0kz.dpuf

  12. NorrinRadd Says:

    As this is blog-and-comment software as opposed to discussion-board software, there is apparently an unfortunate but not surprising limit to the ability to post “direct” replies, nested immediately under the comment with which they are associated.

    This one is in response to Tom’s posting at 4:56 PM on 5/10/16 according to the time shown on my system.

    Yes, Heb. 2 mentions signs, wonders, powers/miracles, and distributions of the Spirit. My point was not that “signs” terminology was never used, nor that it was used in relation to the activity of the Spirit. My point is that I see little or no support for labeling only *some* of the charisma or merismos of the Spirit to be “signs and wonders.” (Also, that was not the reason for which you initially introduced Heb. 2 in your post of 11 months ago, 6/17/15, but that’s a relatively minor point.)

    Regarding “healings” and “powers/miracles,” and whether such abilities were intended for all believers or only certain ones, we are challenged by some vagaries and ambiguities of Scripture. In 1 Cor. 12:9, we have “works” (plural) of “powers/miracles” (plural) and “gifts” (plural) of “healings” (plural). In 12:28-30, “powers/miracles” remains plural, but the “works” part has been dropped; but “gifts” (plural) of “healings” (plural) remains the same; however, in v. 29, Paul uses the verb “are” in regard to several of the items, including powers/miracles, then in v. 30 switches to “have” for gifts of healings, and then simply to the verb form of the final two gifts themselves, speaking in tongues and interpreting. There is no way to be certain whether particular gifts are essentially “permanently” associated with certain persons, or whether the Spirit may distribute any of them to anyone and everyone as He sees fit at any time.

    Outside of 1 Cor. 12-14, there is of course John 14:12, among various others. The implication is that any believer has the potential to do anything Jesus did.

    On “tongues” — I’d appreciate it if you could try to come up with terminology a bit more polite than “mumbo jumbo” out of respect for those of us who still do use that gift as part of our walk with our Father.

    On “interpretation” — Paul is careful to instruct that “in the assembly,” glossa are not to be used audibly apart from interpretation. To me that suggests he does not expect anyone present would understand the language unless it be interpreted. That in turn suggests (to me) that, whether the languages be earthly or celestial, it would almost be an accident to have someone present who could understand them without an interpreter.

    On the universality of the Spirit-given ability to speak in tongues — Scripture is unfortunately ambiguous on this point also. I frankly do not have an explanation that makes good sense of every verse. The traditional Pentecostal view is that there are two “versions” of tongues: A “prayer and praise” version intended for every believer, and a “message” version given only to certain individuals. To me, that seems a kludge to work around 12:30, and is not supported by any of ch. 14, or by any of the accounts in Acts. I don’t see any support for “message” tongues, and in contrast to that one verse, all the others treat speaking (read: praying and praising) in Spirit-given languages as desirable and normative.

    On apostles and prophets — I am not comfortable with the idea that these gifts persist, but I must deal honestly with Scripture. I see nothing that suggests these gifts should have ceased, unless all others — including teacher, evangelist, and shepherd — have also. And I see nothing IN Scripture that links any particular gifts with the formation and preparation OF Scripture.

    As for “Church History,” I have a very loosely “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” perspective, but with the Tradition/Church History side being smaller than the others.

  13. Tom Harkins Says:

    I think we can properly “inform” our theological understanding of scripture by looking at Church history (though never allowing the latter to simply “override” the former). Consequently, the fact that tongues “ceased” by the end of the first century and did not “rise from the dead” until the “charismatic era” certainly supports cessationism. Therefore, when I read Hebrews 2 and 1 Corinthians 13 I find some biblical support for understanding how the “history” bears on proper interpretation that “sign gifts” ceased. Paul says that tongues are a “sign” to unbelievers. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that they could “cease” once their purpose was completed. (This is another reason why I believe tongues were “other human languages–the prospective believers were “startled” that they could hear the believers at Pentecost speaking in their own languages. That is the first instance of tongues and there is no reason not to see that as normative of “what tongues are.”)

    Earlier in this comment thread, I mentioned that I “spoke in tongues” myself. That is, I attended a charismatic church briefly and understood that I was supposed to be able to do that, so I did. Only afterward from study of scripture and examination of my own experience did I conclude that I was basically just “making noise.” Sorry if that seems offensive–I am speaking of my case. Also, there is no question but that Paul was saying not all Christians speak in tongues, even talking to a congregation where tongues were being spoken. Further, I have heard whole congregations burst forth into tongues in “worship,” without any interpretation, so it is clear that the charismatic practice of tongues is not biblical, cessationism or no.

    • NorrinRadd Says:

      On the “end of the First Century” thing — I have to take the reverse view: If indeed glossolalia vanished for a time, to me that indicates that the Church was defective for many centuries. As Protestants, we should be quite open to the possibility that the bulk of the Church can go quite awry on significant matters for extended durations.

      On tongues as a “sign to unbelievers” — Yes, in 1 Cor. 14:22, Paul says that, after quoting Isa. 28:11 in 14:21. His meaning is debated. In Isa. 28, the prophet speaks to those who are immature and stiff-necked. He speaks words they should understand, but they refuse to receive them, so God will speak to them in the incomprehensible words of foreigners — when they are taken captive! And even then, according to Paul’s paraphrase, they will not listen. It’s unclear exactly how Paul intends this to apply to the situation at Corinth. What IS fairly clear is that, in the absence of interpretation, only the speaker benefits. Believers are left unedified, and infidels and ignoramuses perceive the behavior to be insane. So, in the assembly, uninterpreted glossolalia can be problematic.

      On Acts 2 being “normative” — One reason to NOT take the aspect you mention as “normative” is that it is present ONLY in THAT account, and NOT in the other two glossolalia accounts in Acts.

      On your personal experience — Sorry, mine was and is unlike yours.

      On the notion that there is “no question” that Paul said that not all speak with tongues — I agree that is the impression of that one isolated verse (1 Cor. 12:30). It is difficult to resolve with 14:4-5, where Paul acknowledges that the tongues-speaker is “edified” in the process (which is desirable), and that he wishes “all” the Corinthians would speak in tongues. It is hard to resolve with 14:1, where Paul exhorts the already-gifted Corinthian church to “eagerly desire” spiritual gifts — especially (but not exclusively) prophecy. It is hard to resolve with Acts, where the “coming upon” of the Spirit was treated as normative, and was consistently evidenced by glossolalia; 2:39 certainly seems to imply that the experience was intended to be universal.

      On group uninterpreted tongues-speaking being clearly unbiblical — No, it’s a result of different hermeneutical approaches, and the fact that it is difficult to harmonize the ambiguities of Scripture. None of the three occasions of tongues-speaking in Acts followed the “rules” of 14:26-29, and yet there was no hint that they were “out of order.” The traditional Pentecostal solution is that there are two “versions” of tongues: One is for prayer, praise, and worship, and is intended for all believers, while the other is for giving “messages,” and is only doled out to certain individuals “as the Spirit wills.” According to this view, only the latter “version” is subject to the 1 Cor. 14 “rules of order.” The newer view, which seems to be more common among “scholars” such as Fee, Keener, Wright, and Witherington, is that there is only one “version” of tongues, and it is always primarily intended for prayer and praise FROM us TO God, not for “messages.” The principles of 14:26-29 are seen as pragmatic guidelines particularly relevant to the situation at Corinth, not as binding universal rules.

  14. JP Says:

    I find it interesting that there was a time when “God…testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit ….”. but now we look for someone to testify re: the signs, wonders, miracles and gifts themselves. it seems that they should, if genuine, be self-evident. They were, among other things, evidence. Jesus’ enemies were driven to find an explanation for his inconvenient (to them) display of undeniable power. i.e., “its’ by Beelzebub….” etc. .

    • NorrinRadd Says:

      Yes, I suppose that is interesting.

      For me, the issue is whether Scripture is worthy of our time. If it is either untrustworthy or incomprehensible, then the answer is “No, it is not worthy.”

  15. Tom Harkins Says:

    NorrinRadd, it is evident you have given this subject of tongues speaking a lot of thought, study, and analysis. That is certainly commendable. Of course, I still disagree with your conclusions, but I must do so with a degree of humility and respect.

    It is, of course, entirely possible for large chunks of “Christendom” to go astray for a substantial period of time, as with the Catholicism of the Middle Ages. However, the “cessation” of tongues was not a matter of “theological error,” but simply no record of the “experience” by anybody for over 1,700 years. If speaking in tongues is something “normative” of Christian experience, as Charismatics teach, this is nothing short of remarkable.

    You mention that the Acts experiences of tongues were not “one at a time,” as stated in Corinthians, but the Acts experiences were not in worship services. So I disagree with you that “joint” tongues speaking by the “body at large” in church services is consistent with biblical practice.

    I know of no basis for “two kinds” of tongues speaking. This seems to me to be an invention of those who want to retain this practice, knowing that no foreign languages are involved, just “ecstatic utterances.”

    Finally, I appreciate that your experience with tongues-speaking is “different” from mine. I am simply saying that I am not speaking in “ignorance” of the experience. I have experienced it and participated in it. However, having also now looked at the matter from the “other side,” I conclude that the point in time in which I was in error was when I engaged in “ecstatic utterances,” as opposed to now.


  16. Brent, glad to see that this topic has continued over the past couple of years. Glad to see your helpful and even handed personal approach and as a good discussion moderator.

    Thanks, Norrin, for your insightful comments. Looks like you have personally wrestled with many of these sticky issues and have come to some valid conclusions.

    BTW is Norrin Radd your real name?? Do you have your own blog or website?

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks, Barb.

    • NorrinRadd Says:

      Sorry, I do not have a blog or Web site, and Norrin Radd is not my real name. I’m a long-time participant in online discussion fora. At first I used my real name, but noticed most people did not. I’m a sci-fi and superheroes geek, so I started using character names. For the last good while, I’ve mostly stuck with “Norrin Radd,” which is the “civilian” name of the Silver Surfer. 🙂 I can’t guarantee that every “Norrin Radd” you see online is me. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen others.


  17. Hi Brent and Norrin,

    Glad to hear from y’all.

    Yes, Norrin, I noticed that there was an array of names. 🙂

    I have already borrowed some thoughts from both of you for a forum that is talking about these things. Why reinvent the wheel?! Yes, many people have similar questions and there are similar and scholarly answers to provide people with.

    I did my doctoral studies on spiritual abuse and recovery.

    FYI My website is: http://www.ChurchExiters.com

    My contact email is: info@churchexiters.com

    if either of you or others might like to contact me.

    Keep at it!

    Barb


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