Speaking in Tongues Debate - 03 - A Message for Men?


    I once came upon an interesting pamphlet. What a surprise to read from the pen of someone who wanted to be taken seriously......."the gift of tongues is no longer needed because we can learn languages in school!" (But what about the apostle Paul? Had he not been to the finest schools of his day?) Paul received this miraculous gift more than anyone else so that he could be understood by the many Gentiles of diverse tongues. For me, Paul's example immediately pointed out the weakness of this argument. During this time I had already delved into my Bible and had begun to know it a little better. How was it that Paul used the gift of tongues to teach when he himself taught that, "anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men..." (I Cor 14:2)? If speaking in tongues is limited to speaking to God and not to men, Paul would have been in flagrant contradiction with the Holy Spirit who had inspired him to write this conclusive text, "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God" (I Cor 14:2).

    This explanation seemed to me to be very weak, coupled as it was with insincerity, in the light of such clear truths. This explanation which explained nothing, made me suspicious of those who opposed speaking in tongues. Now I cannot speak to God except by praise or prayer; I cannot teach God; I cannot evangelize God. No one can exhort God and no one can prophesy to God.

There Is No Alternative

    Speaking in tongues is never a question of God speaking to men but of men speaking to God. The Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself. Taking a good look at the day of Pentecost, there was no preaching in tongues, but "the proclaiming of the wonders of God" (Acts 2: 11). This praise to Jehovah borrowed the tongues of pagan nations, and Jewish ears, accustomed to the languages of these countries from which they came, understood. Certainly this must have been a shock for all those Jews who had come to Israel, who believed that their Jewish tongue, the tongue of God's chosen people, was the only one that the "Good Lord" could understand. You see, their God was theirs alone, not everybody's God! Share Him with pagans? No way! But lo and behold, their Jehovah understood not only Arabic, Greek and thirteen other languages besides Hebrew, but, to top it all off, His Holy Spirit also spoke these tongues through the apostles and the disciples. In other words, praise coming from heaven returned there again after a dip in the sea of pagan tongues. Did this mean that the pagans with their barbaric languages were accepted by Jehovah on the same level as the Jews? And the gift of tongues, could it be a sign of this?

The First Tongues Movement

    Before going further I must tell you an anecdote in which my Bible knowledge was put to the test. I was with some devoted Christian brethren who were experienced in the faith. Each one knew his Bible well and our discussions often came around to theological subjects. The oldest asked a question, "Where do we find speaking in tongues for the first time?" The answers came spontaneously and in unison, "At Pentecost." We were so sure of ourselves! But no! It was at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:7). I was a bit perturbed. Why hadn't I thought of that? Now I was really listening. I will never forget the explanation that followed. The diversity of languages at the Tower of Babel was a judgment. Now, in the Bible there is a principle of hermeneutics called " First Mention". That is to say, a truth mentioned for the first time in the Bible will keep that same meaning to the end. Along the way, this truth can take on more meaning, can be developed and become richer, but its first emphasis will not be lost. Was it possible that speaking in tongues carried with it an idea of judgment? This is, in any case, what the text confirms. The principal passage on speaking in tongues, treated by Paul in I Corinthians 14: 21, is found in Isaiah 28:11,13. Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, quotes freely the prophet Isaiah, "Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue....that they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared, and taken captive." I then remembered that at the Day of Pentecost tongues of fire (Acts 2:3) came down on those who were present. Tongues of fire... and without a doubt, in the Scriptures, fire is a symbol of judgment. Even if fire has the effect of purifying, there is always an aspect of judgment associated with it. For an instant I held on to the idea that fire did not necessarily have to mean judgment because we often sing the beautiful hymn, "Clothe us with Thy power, and baptize us with fire ... !",quoting the exact words of John the Baptist, "He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matt 3: 10).

First Verification

    In order to have a clear conscience I looked more carefully at the texts of the Bible related to this hymn. Going through one after another I found that our hymnology is not always good theology. The Bible showed me that the baptism of fire is in opposition to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that it is synonymous with condemnation. It is true that the four Gospels record what John the Baptist said. All four Gospels speak of the baptism of the Holy Spirit but only two of them mention the baptism of fire. As I carefully read the context, I discovered that there is a reference to the baptism of fire only in Matthew and Luke precisely because John the Baptist's opponents, or the Pharisees, were present. Fire is mentioned because of them. The Pharisees were absent in Mark's account and in John's account, so the baptism of fire and the judgment are absent as well. The explanation very naturally comes in the verse that follows, "He will gather His wheat into the barn (the baptism of the Holy Spirit), but He will bum up the chaff with unquenchable fire (the baptism of fire)" (Matt 3:12).

    The first baptism, that of the Holy Spirit, is linked with the heavenly storehouse; the other, that of fire, is tied in with the idea of inextinguishable fire. A few years later the Apostle Paul, moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote the same truth in different words saying that the Gospel is "to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life" (II Cor 2:16). 1 must admit that this revelation did nothing but create more confusion. Then a new question came up. If speaking in tongues also carried the idea of judgment, then...