Misunderstandings: Speaking in tongues

A sign to Israel.
In 1 Corinthians 14:27 and 28 the apostle wrote about speaking in tongues: “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two or at the most by three, and then in turn, and let one interpret. 
28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge” With those words the apostle tried to restrict or at least to regulate the frequent use of tongues in the church at Corinth. It is striking, that about speaking in tongues he said: “let it be by two or at the most by three”, whereas with regard to prophesy he said: “Let two or three prophets speak”. That corresponds with his words in 14:1 “Follow after charity and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy”. 

There is much misunderstanding re speaking in tongues, which justifies a more extensive exposition. We therefore have to go back to the first occasion on which Christians did speak in tongues by a gift of the Holy Spirit. That happened on the day of Pentecost when God had given the Holy Ghost to the disciples of Christ. 

An unusual day of Pentecost.
A remarkable and eventful day that day of Pentecost! God fulfilled his promise and poured out his Spirit on them that had believed. They thereby received the power Christ had promised them before his ascension (Acts 1:8). And by that Spirit they were baptized into one body, the body of Christ, as Paul has written in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Moreover they were sealed by God through the Spirit. Much could be said of the blessing God gave with his Spirit to the saints. 

But in order to bring clearness into our subject I intend to approach it from an unusual side, from the side of Israel. It has been a day of great blessing for the disciples of the Lord to receive the Holy Ghost. But has that day of Pentecost been a blessing for unbelieving Israel as well? 

Unprecedented and alarming.
It was the day of Pentecost, one of the feasts on which the Jews according to the law had to go to the sanctuary. Consequently many Jews were gathered there when the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth began to speak in various tongues the wonderful works of God. Just realize: in the holy city, on the feast of the Jews, languages of foreigners, of the heathen! An unheard thing, very unusual. Speaking the wonderful works of the God of Israel in languages of the heathen, and that in Jerusalem! For centuries God had given his word in the Hebrew language. Could it be true, that God let those men speak in other tongues? It was unthinkable. 

Over fourteen languages of heathen could be heard. 
Tongues of heathen to speak about the God of Israel? 
It was nearly sacrilege. 
Hebrew was the language of the Scriptures and of Gods revelations tot the prophets. 
True, Daniel had used the language of the Chaldeans. But it had been in a period in which God chastised his people because of their sins, the period of the captivity. In this case however the wonderful works of God were spoken in heathen languages in Jerusalem, Jerusalem of all cities! Making a mistake was excluded, for the languages were recognized by the Jews who lived in the countries of those tongues, where they were the national languages. 

The hearers were confounded, amazed and they marvelled. It is clear that they were upset. 
And no wonder. Was the Lord changing his working-method, would He no longer speak through Israel and in the Hebrew language? Did He prefer the tongues of the heathen? That would be nothing less than a judgment for Israel, a sign of Gods disapproval and wrath. 

A sign of Gods wrath indeed. He started to do what the Lord had said in Matthew 21: “When therefore the lord of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?" 

41 They said unto Him, "He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons." 
42 Jesus said unto them, "Did ye never read in the Scriptures? ‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’ 
43 Therefore say I unto you, the Kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (verses 40-43). 

No longer Israel, but another people, the church, would henceforth be Gods witness on earth. Israel was put aside (for a time). In the year 70 it became an accomplished fact with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. 
The people God wanted to use was the church. That is not Israel. It is the building of which Jesus Christ is the corner stone, consisting of Jews and heathen. 
To Israel one is added by natural birth. 
To the church one will be added by conversion and faith, that is by rebirth exclusively. 

The sign God had predicted.
O yes, it was a judgment of God for Israel, foretold centuries ago by Isaiah: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people, 
12 to whom He said, "This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest," and, "This is the refreshing" —yet they would not hear”. (28:11 en 12). 
Those threatening words became reality on that feast of Pentecost, for: “the multitude came together and were confounded, because every man heard them speaking in his own language. 
7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, "Behold, are not all these who speak Galileans? 
8 And how then do we each hear them speaking in our own tongue wherein we were born? 
9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 
10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 
11 Cretans and Arabians—we hear them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." 
12 And they were all amazed and were in doubt, saying one to another, "What meaneth this?" (Acts 2:6-12). 

But not all reacted in the same way. There were Jews who did not recognize those languages. “Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." (Acts 2:13) Obviously the sign worked only when the hearers knew one or more of the spoken tongues. Their astonishment was still greater, knowing that the men that were speaking that way were Galileans and not well known lettered men. 

The sign is for Israel still in operation. Till now the message of God is not spread abroad in Hebrew, but in several languages of the heathen. And whereas the Old Testament has for the greater part been written in Hebrew, the New Testament has been written in Greek, the language of the heathen. Moreover people usually speak of Christ and not of the Messiah. We see that even the expression Israel used to point to Him Israel was longing for, has been replaced by a Greek expression. It ought to make the Jews wonder how God could accept that. They ought to understand the sign, that God even did no longer want to use their language and that they were lying under Gods wrath. 

It is a pity that most Jews do not understand that. 
And obviously many Christians do not understand that either. People speak of speaking in tongues, but Luke let us know that the languages that were heard on the day of Pentecost were normal languages, understandable for everyone who lived in the country where that language was the national one. Neither is said that the speakers praised God in those languages; no, they were speaking the wonderful works of God to those present. Believers who wrongly suppose that tongues are to praise God do well to pay attention to that. 

The beginning of the church.
On that day several were deeply impressed. In his sermon Peter emphatically stressed their guilt in the rejection and death of Christ, for there is a direct relation between that guilt and the sign of speaking in various tongues (Acts 2:23 and 36). Many of them were pricked in their heart and “said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 
38 Then Peter said unto them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, 
39 for the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." (Acts 2:37-39). 

They had to repent and to be baptized. 
They were Israelites, children of the covenant with Abraham. They surely had been circumcised. Yet they had to repent, for no Jew will be saved because belonging tot the people of the covenant. And they had to be baptized, for circumcision was a sign of the covenant with Abraham, but baptism is the sign that one has chosen for Christ and that was necessary. Peter even said "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." 
From what generation? 
From rebellious Israel. By faith and baptism they were taken out of Israel and added to the church. They could not be added to Israel or made partakers of the covenant, for they had been born Israelites and children of the covenant. 
Verse 41 says: “Then those who gladly received his words were baptized, and that same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” 
Added to what? To the church. Not to Israel. 

The church is not Israel and Israel is not the church. The church, the body of Christ, also the house of God, has been built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:2o), what not can be said of Israel. Moreover Jesus Christ is the corner stone that has been rejected by Israel. 
As the Rejected One He cannot be the corner stone of Israel because Israel existed centuries before his rejection. No, on the day of Pentecost, when God gave his Spirit to all who believed, not Israel, but the church came into existence. 

The gift of speaking in tongues in heathen believers.
God not only gave that gift to Jewish believers. We know that Cornelius, the Roman centurion, and his kinsmen, after having heard and believed received the Holy Ghost, which was obvious because they started to speak in foreign tongues (Acts 10:45-46). The same thing happened with twelve Jewish disciples in Ephesus who had been baptized by John the Baptist but knew nothing of Jesus. After having heard of Christ and being baptized in his name, they too spoke in foreign languages. 

Those two are the only cases that have been mentioned. Of the many others who believed and received the Holy Ghost it is not said, that they spoke in foreign tongues. Paulus even emphatically pointed out, that not all Christians receive that gift: 28 And God hath set some in the church: first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracle workers, then those with gifts of healing, helpers, administrators, and those with diversity of tongues. 
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 
30 Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30). 

The view that speaking in tongues is proof that someone has received he Holy Ghost is not generally right. It only has been so in the two mentioned exceptional cases. 
In the case of Cornelius it is very clear why the Spirit gave that gift. The Jewish Christians did not yet understand, “that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35). In order to let the Jewish visitors know that “God also to the Gentiles had granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18), the Spirit gave them the gift to speak in foreign tongues, just as on the day of Pentecost. So no Jewish believer could doubt that God would accept a believing heathen. 

The purpose of the gift of speaking in tongues.
On the day of Pentecost speaking in tongues was a sign for unbelieving Jews. In the above mentioned cases it was a sign as well, of the fact that God accepted non-Jewish believers as well. In 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 Paul has written that foreign tongues are meant as a sign for them that do not believe: “In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that they will not hear Me," saith the Lord. 
22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to those who believe not; but prophesying serveth not those who believe not, but those who believe.” 

1 Corinthians 14 is the only passage in the Bible in which speaking in tongues has been discussed doctrinally.
In that chapter verse 22 is the only verse in which the purpose of speaking in tongues is mentioned.
(In verses 1-5 of that chapter the purpose is not mentioned.) The purpose is A sign for them that do not believe.
We have seen that speaking in foreign tongues on the day of Pentecost has been a sign for them that did not believe indeed. 

An admonition.
In the preceding verse in 1 Corinthians 14, verse 20, the apostle gave the following admonition: “Brethren, be not children in understanding. Nonetheless, in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” 
Why that admonition? What has it to do with speaking in tongues? 
This: The Corinthians did not understand for what purpose the Lord had given the gift of speaking in foreign tongues. They therefore were children in understanding. And they consequently did not use that gift as a sign for them that do not believe, but to speak in the church (which does not consist of unbelievers). 
Their misunderstanding was not inevitably malicious, but would be so if they used the gift in order to boast, what some in their carnal and haughty disposition obviously did (3:3 and 5:3). 
In 14 :18 and 19 Paul has written: “I thank my God that I speak with tongues more than ye all. 
19 Yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” 
So it is clear that the apostle did not want to speak in tongues in the church. 
Why not? 
Because he wanted to use that gift exclusively for the purpose for which the Spirit had given that gift: a sign for them that do not believe. He therefore let follow his admonition “be not children in understanding etc.”, in order they too might know the purpose and use the gift accordingly. 

The big misunderstanding.
Though Paul let us know in 1 Corinthians 14:22 that foreign .tongues are for a sign to them that do not believe and are not meant for believers, many keep to a wrong interpretation of verses 2-4. They think that the tongues are for speaking to God, for speaking mysteries and for edifying oneself: “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God, for no man understandeth him, however it may be that in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. 
3 But he that prophesieth, speaketh unto men for edification and exhortation and comfort. 
4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself, but he that prophesieth edifieth the church”. 
Their view is totally wrong. 
Do those verses say what the purpose of the gift is? 
No. They say what would be the case when using the gift in the church. 

Consider the following: 
1 The purpose has been mentioned in verse 22: a sign for them that do not believe. Is it possible that nevertheless the purpose can be: “speaking to God and edifying oneself”? No that is not possible. 
2 For what purpose did the Lord give his gifts generally? For what purpose is my eye able to see? Is it for the use of profit of the eye itself or for the profit of the body? The last of course. 
For what purpose is my foot able to make steps? Is it for the profit or the pleasure of the foot? Of course not. It is for the profit of the body or the whole person. The same is true for all members of the body. 
The church is the body of Christ. The gift a member received from the Lord never is for its own profit, but always for the profit of the body. A gift for edifying itself is fully contrary to that principle and cannot be true. 
3 Is it thinkable that one can praise God better in a foreign tongue? Is one language more acceptable to God than another one? Impossible! Has my praise more value if given in another language than my own? Is the tongue of greater value for the Lord than the heart? Certainly not. 

Even if I could praise God in a language of angels, praise in my own language would be more acceptable if I could bring that with more warmth and more love. In short, it is of no importance with what language I pray, praise or thank God. God does not need foreign languages nor does a believer. God does not bestow gifts in order we be able to praise Him better. The gifts are for the benefit of the whole body and for nothing else. 
4 Preceding the words “in the spirit he speaketh mysteries”, we read “for no man understandeth him”. The believers who spoke in tongues did not tell mysteries or new truths. The matter was, that one will always speak mysteries when speaking a language that is unknown, though telling the most well known things. Moreover, what is the use of speaking mysteries if nobody understands those mysteries? God has no need of mysteries, for Him nothing is mysterious. The hearers received no blessing by it, nor the speaker. 

But God has revealed his mysteries and we cannot await new revelations. The Word of God has been completed when Paul added the mystery of the church. So we are entitled to reject any new revelation or prophecy (See Colossians 1:25). 

Why then did Paul write 1 Corinthians 14:2-4? 
In order to make clear to the Corinthian believers that speaking in tongues was not edifying for the church and that is was better to speak the Word of God in the well known language (Prophecy). The words “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God, for no man understandeth him” do not tell what the purpose of the gift is, but what is the meagre and poor result when one is speaking in a foreign language where nobody will understand him. Only God will understand, but He would understand the own language as well. The words “he speaketh mysteries” do not mention the purpose of the gift. They only say, that what is said, is hidden for the hearers, for they do not understand. Perhaps the thing that was spoken, was in fact well known, but nobody knew. 
The words “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself” do not tell us what is the purpose of the gift, but that the only one who was edified could be the speaker, though… is that edifying when one is of use to himself alone? And is that something we have to be proud of, that we seek to forget all present and to edify ourselves only? That is all contrary to the principle of love and dependence one on another. We ought to seek the good of the church or of our brethren, not of ourselves. 

There is another important thing. 
In all we do, we are responsible tot the Lord, and above all in what we do in his house, the church. Therefore women have to keep silence in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34). 
Peter has written: “If any man speak, let him speak according to the oracles of God” 1 Peter 4:11). The responsibility for it is with the believing speaker. But how can anyone speaking unknown utterances, check whether he is complying with that responsibility? How can he be obedient if his understanding and his will have been switched off, speaking what he nor anyone else present can understand. How would he be able to prevent that a wrong spirit lets tell him what is contrary to the truth of God? Paul has written: “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Corinthians 14:32). It therefore is fully unscriptural if a believer lets himself be guided apathetically by any spirit whatever. 

If a speaker knows what to say, let him say it in his own language or the language of the hearers. If he does not know what he has to say and nevertheless starts speaking, not knowing what he is saying, he is acting irresponsibly and is opening the door for the wicked to utter even blasphemy in an assembly. Absolutely reprehensible. 

There remains this question: are for them that do not believe and prophecy is for believers, why then did the apostle write: “If therefore the whole church come together into one place and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are unlearned or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 
24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not or is unlearned, he is convinced by all and is judged by all…” (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). 

The answer is that foreign tongues are for a sign for them that believe not indeed, but will not function if the hearers do not know the language. We saw that on the day of Pentecost there were some for whom the sign did nothing. They mocked and said “they are full of new wine”, nearly the same thing as “they are mad”. The reason was, that they, living in Jerusalem and not knowing foreign languages, did not understand anything. It is another indication, that speaking in foreign tongues where nobody understands them, has no use whatever. 
Verses 27 and 28 in 1 Corinthians 14 confirm it: “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two or at the most by three, and then in turn, and let one interpret. 
28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God”. 
All things must be done unto edifying. A word in a foreign tongue can be edifying if it is interpreted. Without that it would not be edifying and not be acceptable. The Lord loves the church and wants her to be nourished and blessed. 
The restricting words “at the most” clearly have the character of restriction. They are omitted in the directions for prophets. 

In the verses 39 and 40 the apostle closed the subject with the words: “Therefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak in tongues. 
40 Let all things be done decently and in order”. 
Here Paul again admonished the Corinthians (and us) to seek that which would edify the church, prophecy, that is speaking Gods understandable word, and did he not encourage speaking in tongues. He only wanted to prevent that as a reaction to his epistle all speaking in tongues would be prohibited. If the Spirit of God judged it necessary, who then could say “no”. That remark however does not change the purport of what the apostle had to say about the subject in 1 Corinthians 14. 

A closing word.
Someone who is asking why God would not give that gift in our days, should not forget that this wonder and many other signs are called in Hebrews 6:5 as follows: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 
5 and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come,
6 if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put Him to open shame”. 
Those powers had been tasted in the past, but they were powers of the world to come. How can that be explained? 

The things which will be characteristic for the future age, the world to come, when Christ will have returned in glory, have been seen and tasted when Christ was still on earth, for He was the by God ordained King. 
After his ascension the Lord still let those signs come, because Israel had not yet been rejected and the Lord gave his people the possibility to accept Him as yet as the glorified One in heaven. He then would have returned and established the kingdom as Peter has said in Acts 3: “Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. 
20 Then He shall send Jesus Christ, who before was preached unto you, 
21 whom Heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (verses 19-21). 
Peter promised the people that Christ would return and that the happy time of the restitution of all things would come if they repented and were converted. The powers of the world to come were suited to that promise as a sign of the truth of his words. Israel however refused and stoned the witness of the Lord, Stephan. The period of the offer to Israel ended soon after. The Lord is building his church now, consisting of them that believe without having seen (John 20:29), who walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). 
When the Lord will have received the church unto Himself (John 14:3) He will again turn to Israel. In due time they will look upon Him whom they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10) and God will fulfil all promises for Israel, the world to come.