RESTOUT Jean II Pentecost 300When we are asked by leaders in our congregations to do something or to believe something in regards to Scripture, we should always be like the Bereans and test everything against Scripture itself (Acts 17:11)... the whole of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If a person feels "led by the spirit" to speak, behave, or believe a certain way, they should test that spirit (1 John 4:1) and see whether what that spirit is telling them to do is in agreement or disagreement with Scripture.

Let us take a journey together through Scripture and see what it says about the matter of speaking in tongues... a "walk in the Word" so to speak. As we take this walk, may we say, believe, and do what is right, be merciful in our speech and actions, and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).

The topic of speaking in tongues is as controversial as it is misunderstood. It is the intent of this article to examine Scripture as it relates to speaking in tongues and develop an understanding based upon Scripture in its historical and cultural context.

Scriptural quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted. Bolded text or other emphases in the Scriptural references are the author's.

There are 20 verses in the writings of the Apostles that have some statement to make regarding "speaking in tongues". We will examine those and build a list of facts that will guide our understanding of the topic. The most common place in Scripture where believers go when asked about the first mention of "speaking in tongues" is the second chapter of the book of Acts. Let's begin there...

Pentecost

Acts 2 opens with the day of Pentecost. Our English word Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentecoste which is formed by the words pente which means "fifty" and coste which means "count". Pentecost literally means "count fifty".

Count fifty what? Chickens? Socks? Fingers?

Pentecoste is the Greek word for the moed that falls at the end of seven weeks: the fiftieth day is the moed of Shavuot. In Deuteronomy 16:9 G-d commands that all the people of Isra'el count 7 weeks and have a holy convocation on the fiftieth day. Shavuot literally means "weeks". It's the same thing... just with Hebrew and Greek names.

Shavuot is the moed that commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai and (as Acts 2 reveals) also commemorates the day when the Spirit of G-d was poured out upon the early believers. Shavuot is special in that every major movement of the Spirit of G-d described in Scripture (after Creation) occurs on Shavuot.


Gathered at the Temple

Acts 2:1 tells us that the believers were gathered together on Shavuot in one place. Where is the one place where Jewish men are commanded to be on that day? "In the place where the LORD your G-d chooses to establish His name" (Deuteronomy 16:11)... the Temple. For the Jewish men who were Yeshua's talmidim the one place for them to be on Shavuot was in the same place they had been with their Master Yeshua on Shavuot for the previous three years.

a noise like a violent rushing wind...filled the whole house where they were sitting...

It also makes sense that they were in the Temple given the wide variety of nations mentioned in Acts 2:5, 2:9-11 for Jewish men from every nation we be there on Shavuot as G-d commanded. Acts 2:41 notes that about 3,000 souls were added to the group of believers on that day. The only single place in Yerushalayim large enough to hold 3,000+ people as a group would be the Temple Mount.

Acts 2:2 says the "noise like a violent rushing wind...filled the whole house where they were sitting". Some teach that this was the same house where the talmidim ate the last supper with Yeshua. The Master himself, however, refers to the Temple as "the House of G-d" in Matthew 12:4. It was (and is) a common Hebrew idiom to refer to the Temple as "The House" or "The House of G-d".

It is in this context that we find "speaking in tongues" as a result of Jews being "filled of the Holy Spirit". It was not for the personal benefit of those speaking nor is it described in Scripture as "evidence" of the presence of the Spirit. It appears to simply be a mechanism by which G-d worked through the believers in that specific time to reach the Jews who were from foreign lands and spoke foreign languages.

This is evidenced in Acts 2:6-11:

Acts 2:6-11

And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of G-d."

 

...that day there were added about three thousand souls...

The Jews from these countries heard the Spirit-filled believers speak in the native languages of these different countries. To others nearby it sounded like gibberish and so they mocked the believers saying "they are full of sweet wine" (verse 13). Peter goes on to correct the misunderstanding and testify regarding the Messiah. As a result "that day there were added about three thousand souls" (verse 41).

As a quick side note: it is interesting to note that the phrasing is "there were added about three thousand souls". Does that just mean there were 3,000 new believers or is there something more? In Exodus 32:28 we see that there were "three thousand men of the people fell that day". That was the day that Moshe instructed the Levi'im to go through the people and strike down the idolaters involved in the worship of the golden calf. 3,000 were lost at the giving of the covenant at Sinai. 3,000 were "added" (restored?) at the initiation of the covenant in Yerushalayim.

Back to the topic at hand... what facts can we derive from this passage?

  1. Acts 2
    1. (Acts 2:1) [when]-
      Speaking in tongues occurred at the first festival of Shavuot after Messiah's ascension
    2. (Acts 2:14) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues was done by men who were Jews (the eleven)
    3. (Acts 2:13) [how]-
      Speaking in tongues sounded to others like the men speaking were drunk but...
    4. (Acts 2:8-11) [what]-
      Speaking in tongues was just speaking the foreign languages of the Jews assembled for Shavuot

 

Other References to Speaking in Tongues

Where else does Scripture refer to speaking in tongues?


Mark 16

Mark 16:16-18

He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.

 

we speak with new tongues, see with new eyes, hear with new ears, walk with new feet

Some consider the words of the Master in Mark 16:17 ("they will speak with new tongues") to refer to speaking in tongues, however, since we are "new creations in Messiah" (2 Corinthians 5:17) then not only will we speak with new tongues but see with new eyes, hear with new ears, walk with new feet, etc. Everything we do will be new because we are new creations. That does not suggest that we will speak a language that nobody knows.

  1. Mark 16
    1. (Mark 16:17) [what]-
      "Speaking with new tongues" refers to the new creation we are Messiah and not a new language

 

Acts 10

Acts 10:44-47

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting G-d. Then Peter answered, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?"

 

Reading Acts 10:46 we find gentile believers also "speaking with tongues and exalting G-d".

  1. Acts 10
    1. (Acts 10:46) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues was done by gentiles (non-Jews) during Peter's visit to Cornelius' home.
      [This is after G-d's vision to Peter in which He tells Peter not to call any man unholy or unclean (Acts 10:28)]

 

Acts 19

Acts 19:6

And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.

 

Sha'ul, in Acts 19:6 lays hands on twelve (Acts 19:7) Jewish men [who had received Yochanan's immersion (Acts 19:3). After Paul laid his hands upon them they began to speak in tongues and prophesy. Nothing is given in this verse to imply some unique and unidentifiable language.

  1. Acts 19
    1. (Acts 19:6) [how, when]-
      The Ruach came upon some believers after hands were laid upon them by Shaul and they began to speak in tongues.

 

1 Corinthians 12

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. And G-d has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

"All do not speak with tongues, do they?"

 
Sha'ul
, in his first letter to the Corinthian believers (1 Corinthians 12:30) reminds them that not everyone is given the same gifts of the Spirit. He reminds them "All do not speak with tongues, do they?" Not everyone speaks in tongues. We should not condemn or be critical of those who do not speak in tongues because not everyone is given that gift.

Sha'ul also identifies that there are various kinds of tongues.

  1. 1 Corinthians 12
    1. (1 Corinthians 12:28) [what]-
      There are various kinds of tongues
    2. (1 Corinithians 12:30) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues is not done by everyone

 

Sha'ul also notes that there is a gift of interpretation as well as a gift of speaking in tongues. This does not, in an of itself, mean that what is spoken in a tongue would require interpretation (e.g. if a person was present who spoke the language Sha'ul or others were speaking).

Next we come to the oft quoted 1 Corinthians 13:1:

1 Corinthians 13:1

1 Corinthians 13:1

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

 

There are some who subscribe to the theory that people can speak in a language known only to the angels (the "tongue of angels"). The error of this theory is exposed by examining the background of the author of the letter to the Corinthians: Sha'ul. What did he mean when he penned the words of this letter? Sha'ul (like all the disciples of Yeshua) was a Jew. Sha'ul also had extensive rabbinic training under the highly respected teacher Gamli'el (Acts 22:3, 5:34). What did Sha'ul mean by "tongues of men and of angels"?

It has been the consistent understanding among Hebrews since ages past that the "hidden tongue of angels"1 or the "language of the angels"2 (as it is sometimes referred to) is the Lashon HaKodesh, Ivrit: the Holy Tongue, Hebrew.

There are numerous second-hand references on the web to a quote from the Talmud, tractate Shabbat 40b:

Secular matters may be uttered in the Holy Language [Hebrew], but sacred matters must not be uttered in a secular language.

We have not been able to validate this directly as we have been unable to find this reference, however we have found reference to "the holy tongue" in tractate Avoda Zara:

Has not Abayi said that indifferent matters may be spoken of in the holy tongue and be it in the bath or toilet room, while holy subjects must not be discussed in these places, not even in another tongue (than the holy one)?3

These and other similar references indicate the "tongue [language] of angels" is Hebrew. The common language (the "language of men" from the verse) was either koine Greek or (more likely) Aramaic.

  1. 1 Corinthians 13
    1. (1 Corinthians 13:1) [what]-
      The "tongue of angels" is Hebrew (1 Corinthians13:1)

 

1 Corinthians 14

Chapter 14 of Sha'ul's first letter to the believers at Corinth is probably the single most informative passage of Scripture when it comes to speaking in tongues:

1 Corinthians 14:1-33, 39-40

Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to G-d; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.

There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?

For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank G-d, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, "BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME," says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship G-d, declaring that G-d is certainly among you. What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to G-d. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for G-d is not a G-d of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.

 

In verse 2 we see that speaking in tongues is not to men [i.e. unbelievers] but to G-d. We can understand this to mean that we are speaking G-d's Word. In Isaiah 55:11 it is written that G-d's says His Word "will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it."

This is born out by the remainder of the verse where it says "in spirit he speaks mysteries". There are a number of mysteries spoken of in Scripture including the "mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19) which refers to the grafting in of the gentiles into G-d's people Isra'el. These are the mysteries of which Sha'ul speaks... the mysteries of G-d's Word.

In verse 6 Sha'ul indicates that there is no profit in speaking in tongues to others unless the person speaking speaks by way of revelation (revealing a truth), knowledge (providing knowledge), prophecy (speaking G-d's Word), or teaching (providing instruction).

In the next few verses Sha'ul makes the point that making a sound is pointless unless the sound conveys a message. He points out a musical instrument producing indistinct notes will not tell the person what song is being played. A shofar that has an indistinct sound will not alert a soldier to prepare himself for battle.

In verse 9 Sha'ul says that unless the speech is clear then the person speaking "will be speaking into the air" (i.e. without purpose). When we speak we should speak "into the ear" of the person to whom we are speaking for their benefit.

It is the context of "speaking in tongues" that Sha'ul says there are a great many kinds of languages in the word (verse 10). This should cement our understanding of speaking in tongues with the "languages of the world". He goes on to note in verse 11 that if there is no understanding we will just be making noises at each other ("the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me").

In verse 15 Sha'ul indicates that he will pray "with the spirit" and "with the mind also". By this we can understand that we should pray with the spirit (with power) and with the mind (with meaning) also.

  1. 1 Corinthians 14
    1. (1 Corinthians 14:2a) [who, what]-
      Speaking in tongues is not to men but to G-d [speaking G-d's word]
    2. (1 Corinthians 14:4) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues edifies oneself
    3. (1 Corinthians 14:5) [who]-
      Sha'ul wishes that all the believers at Corinth spoke in tongues. This indicates not all of them did.
    4. (1 Corinthians 14:5) [who]-
      Greater is the one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues unless he interprets so that the church may be edified
    5. (1 Corinthians 14:6) [what]-
      There is no profit in speaking in tongues unless the one speaking speaks by way of revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching
    6. (1 Corinthians 14:6) [what]-
      There is no profit in speaking in tongues unless the one speaking speaks by way of revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching
    7. (1 Corinthians 14:9) [what]-
      If the speech of a tongue is not clear it will not be known what is spoken and the person speaking will be speaking into the air [without purpose]
    8. (1 Corinthians 14:10-11) [what]-
      There are many languages and the purpose of each is to convey meaning
    9. (1 Corinthians 14:12) [what]-
      If we are zealous of spiritual gifts (i.e. speaking in tongues) then seek to about for the edification of the ecclesia
    10. (1 Corinthians 14:13) [what]-
      If a person speaks in tongues he should pray that he may interpret
    11. (1 Corinthians 14:14) [what]-
      If a person prays in a tongue his spirit prays but his mind is unfruitful [the fruit of the Spirit?]
    12. (1 Corinthians 14:15) [what]-
      Sha'ul indicates that if he prays with the spirit he will pray with his mind (with meaning?) also
    13. (1 Corinthians 14:16) [what]-
      If we bless in the spirit we should do so with meaning so the "ungifted" can understand and "say the amen" (be in agreement)
    14. (1 Corinthians 14:18) [who]-
      Sha'ul spoke in tongues more than the believers at Corinth
    15. (1 Corinthians 14:19) [what]-
      When in the congregation Sha'ul found it better to speak 5 words with meaning ("with my mind") than ten thousand words "in a tongue".
    16. (1 Corinthians 14:22) [what]-
      Speaking in tongues are for a sign to unbelievers [and prophecy is a sign for those who believe]
    17. (1 Corinthians 14:23) [what]-
      If everyone in a congregation speaks in tongues then the ungifted believers and the unbelievers will say those speaking are mad (i.e. crazy).
    18. (1 Corinthians 14:26) [what]-
      All things (including speaking in tongues) should be done for edification (of the group)
    19. (1 Corinthians 14:27) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues should be done by 2 or at the most three and each in his turn
    20. (1 Corinthians 14:27) [who]-
      One should interpret those speaking in tongues
    21. (1 Corinthians 14:28) [who]-
      If there is no interpreter the person who would speak in tongues must keep silent in the congregation [emphasis mine]. Let him speak to himself and to G-d.
    22. (1 Corinthians 14:33) [Who]-
      G-d is not a G-d of confusion but of peace
    23. (1 Corinthians 14:39) [what]-
      Do NOT forbid to speak in tongues [emphasis mine]

 

Summary

Here is the summary of all the instruction we are given from Scripture regarding speaking in tongues. Let us not add to or take away from this instruction.

  1. Acts 2
    1. (Acts 2:1) [when]-
      Speaking in tongues occurred at the first festival of Shavuot after Messiah's ascension
    2. (Acts 2:14) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues was done by men who were Jews (the eleven)
    3. (Acts 2:13) [how]-
      Speaking in tongues sounded to others like the men speaking were drunk but...
    4. (Acts 2:8-11) [what]-
      Speaking in tongues was just speaking the foreign languages of the Jews assembled for Shavuot
  2. Mark 16
    1. (Mark 16:17) [what]-
      "Speaking with new tongues" refers to the new creation we are Messiah and not a new language
  3. Acts 10
    1. (Acts 10:46) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues was done by gentiles (non-Jews) during Peter's visit to Cornelius' home.
      [This is after G-d's vision to Peter in which He tells Peter not to call any man unholy or unclean (Acts 10:28)]
  4. Acts 19
    1. (Acts 19:6) [how, when]-
      The Ruach came upon some believers after hands were laid upon them by Shaul and they began to speak in tongues.
  5. 1 Cor 12
    1. (1 Corinthians 12:28) [what]-
      There are various kinds of tongues
    2. (1 Corinthians 12:30) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues is not done by everyone
  6. 1 Cor 13
    1. (1 Corinthians 13:1) [what]-
      The "tongue of angels" is Hebrew (1 Cor 13:1)
  7. 1 Cor 14
    1. (1 Corinthians 14:2a) [who, what]-
      Speaking in tongues is not to men but to G-d [speaking G-d's word]
    2. (1 Corinthians 14:4) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues edifies oneself
    3. (1 Corinthians 14:5) [who]-
      Paul wishes that all the believers at Corinth spoke in tongues. This indicates not all of them did.
    4. (1 Corinthians 14:5) [who]-
      Greater is the one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues unless he interprets so that the church may be edified
    5. (1 Corinthians 14:6) [what]-
      There is no profit in speaking in tongues unless the one speaking speaks by way of revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching
    6. (1 Corinthians 14:6) [what]-
      There is no profit in speaking in tongues unless the one speaking speaks by way of revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching
    7. (1 Corinthians 14:9) [what]-
      If the speech of a tongue is not clear it will not be known what is spoken and the person speaking will be speaking into the air [without purpose]
    8. (1 Corinthians 14:10-11) [what]-
      There are many languages and the purpose of each is to convey meaning
    9. (1 Corinthians 14:12) [what]-
      If we are zealous of spiritual gifts (i.e. speaking in tongues) then seek to about for the edification of the ecclesia
    10. (1 Corinthians 14:13) [what]-
      If a person speaks in tongues he should pray that he may interpret
    11. (1 Corinthians 14:14) [what]-
      If a person prays in a tongue his spirit prays but his mind is unfruitful [the fruit of the Spirit?]
    12. (1 Corinthians 14:15) [what]-
      Shaul indicates that if he prays with the spirit he will pray with his mind (with meaning?) also
    13. (1 Corinthians 14:16) [what]-
      If we bless in the spirit we should do so with meaning so the "ungifted" can understand and "say the amen" (be in agreement)
    14. (1 Corinthians 14:18) [who]-
      Shaul spoke in tongues more than the believers at Corinth
    15. (1 Corinthians 14:19) [what]-
      When in the congregation Shaul found it better to speak 5 words with meaning ("with my mind") than ten thousand words "in a tongue".
    16. (1 Corinthians 14:22) [what]-
      Speaking in tongues are for a sign to unbelievers [and prophecy is a sign for those who believe]
    17. (1 Corinthians 14:23) [what]-
      If everyone in a congregation speaks in tongues then the ungifted believers and the unbelievers will say those speaking are mad (i.e. crazy).
    18. (1 Corinthians 14:26) [what]-
      All things (including speaking in tongues) should be done for edification (of the group)
    19. (1 Corinthians 14:27) [who]-
      Speaking in tongues should be done by 2 or at the most three and each in his turn
    20. (1 Corinthians 14:27) [who]-
      One should interpret those speaking in tongues
    21. (1 Corinthians 14:28) [who]-
      If there is no interpreter the person who would speak in tongues must keep silent in the congregation [emphasis mine]. Let him speak to himself and to G-d.
    22. (1 Corinthians 14:33) [Who]-
      G-d is not a G-d of confusion but of peace
    23. (1 Corinthians 14:39) [what]-
      Do not forbid to speak in tongues [emphasis mine]

 

Footnotes

1. CHASSIDUS, DERECH HaBAAL SHEM TOV, Parashah BeHaAlotcha at http://www.chassidus.net/behaloscha.htm [back]
2. Torah Attitude: Parashas Mishpatim: The secret behind the commitment at http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/kahn/archives/mishpatim67.htm [back]
3. Jewish Virtual Library: Tractate Avoda Zara Chapter III at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Talmud/avodazara3.html [back]

Torah Portion

נשׂא (Naso)

 

 

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Yom Rishon, 6 Sivan, 5778 - Shavuot

Sunday, May 20, 2018

 

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