This article was authored by my friend, Jay Nelsestuen, on his blog, Theologically Minded. You can find this at LoveGodWithAllYourMind.Blogspot.Com. I received prior permission to repost here. If you want to follow him on Instagram you can find him @Reformed_Jay
The Original Article can be found at this link.
For part two of this series on tongues, I want to focus on the book of Acts. There are three places where tongues appear in the book of Acts, and I will be focusing on each one of them in turn, hopefully creating a coherent view. I will also be looking at the differing theories as to what tongues actually are, which will lead me to wander into 1 Corinthians a bit. A more thorough treatment of 1 Corinthians will take place in part three, so for now I simply want to give an overview of the many differing views, hopefully landing with the biblical view.
Let's start by reading Acts 2, verses 1-13: "When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.'"
This is a familiar passage. Only ten days after Christ's resurrection, the disciples are hiding, waiting to be arrested for being disciples of the man whom the Jewish leaders "convicted" of blasphemy and subsequently crucified. Then, at the third hour of the day (v. 15), a huge noise disrupts the meeting, fiery tongues rested on their heads, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in different languages by the power of the Spirit.
So what are the tongues that are described here? In this passage, from the reaction of the Jews and proselytes gathered in Jerusalem, we can gather that this type of tongues is, in fact, real languages that could be heard and understood by the crowds. The 1599 Geneva Bible notes at verse 4, "He calleth them other tongues, which were not the same which the Apostles used commonly, and Mark calleth them new tongues [probably referencing Mark 16:17]." The Geneva also notes that the disciples were not speaking the same thing at the same time in the same language, but rather, "the Apostles spake with strange tongues: for else the miracle had been in the hearers, whereas now it is in the speakers." Basically, the Apostles were not speaking in the same language and being heard by the people in different tongues, the Apostles were speaking the actual languages; otherwise, the miracle would have been in the hearers.
Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, notes, "It should be said at the outset that the Greek word glōssa,translated 'tongue,' is used not only to mean the physical tongue in the person's mouth, but also to mean 'language.' In the New Testament passages where speaking in tongues is discussed, the meaning 'languages' is certainly in view." He goes on to say that because translations of the Bible have used the strange expression "speaking in tongues" (strange to the modern ear, anyway), the phrase gives the impression of an ecstatic experience, "completely foreign to ordinary human life." However, he writes, if Bible translations were to use the phrase, "speaking in languages," much of the confusion would be done away with, and it "would give the reader a sense much closer to what first century Greek speaking readers would have heard in the phrase when they read it in Acts or 1 Corinthians."
The majority of biblical scholars have concluded that the gift of tongues is, in fact, known human languages that can be translated. This is consistent with what Paul writes about the gift of interpretation, where in the church service, if someone has a tongue, they should have an interpreter with them, to translate and therefore build up the church.
The second occurrence of the gift of tongues is in Acts 10, in the story of Peter and Cornelius. The story goes that a man named Cornelius, who was a centurion, was a devout man of God. One day at about three in the afternoon he saw a vision of an angel, who called him by name. Cornelius said, "What is it, Lord?" The angel replied, "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea." So Cornelius sent two of his servants and a soldier to go get Peter.
The next day, Peter was up on the roof at about noon, praying. Suddenly, he too saw a vision, where a great white sheet descended from heaven with all manner of reptiles and birds and animals inside of it, many of them unclean to the Jews. A voice came from heaven that said, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter refused, because the animals were unclean to Jews. But God told him, "What God has made clean, do not call common." And the sheet was taken back up into heaven. This happened three times.
Finally the servants and the soldier got there and inquired of Peter, whether or not he wished to go visit Cornelius. Peter accepted, and the next day, he arrived at Cornelius' house, and preached the gospel to the whole household. And here is the text in question: "While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 'Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?' And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days."
With the conversion of Cornelius and his household, a "baptism of the Holy Spirit" takes place, and the Jews standing by heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Is this the same type of tongues as in Acts 2? There's no reason to believe that it's anything different. In fact, the word for "tongues" is the same Greek word used in Acts, so these are again known languages, unknown to the speaker.
Why did God fill Cornelius and his household with such a massive display of the Holy Spirit? Some commentators have concluded that this type of thing should happen with every conversion. Many Pentecostal and Charismatic groups have seen the gift of tongues to be something that should happen whenever someone gets saved, and have built whole theologies around that idea. However, it is my conviction, and the conviction of many others, that Cornelius and his household were given the gift of tongues as a sign to the Jews that were standing there, so that they would know that the Gentiles are now accepted into the covenant people of God. The ESV Study Bible says at verse 44, "The Holy Spirit fell in a way that was visible and audible from the response of the people on whom he fell (see v. 46). These Gentiles had come to genuine saving faith in Christ and had received the new covenant power and fullness of the Holy Spirit, which was a sign that they had been accepted by God as full and equal members of his people."
So the first and second instances of tongues in the book of Acts were primarily as a sign; first, for the Jews and proselytes, so that they would hear the Word in their own languages; and second, for the Jews standing by at Cornelius and his household's conversion, so that they would know that the Gentiles were now accepted into the New Covenant. Peter reports this story to the church in Acts chapter 11, and verse 18 is very important to the understanding of why tongues were given to the Gentiles: "When they [the church] heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, 'Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.'" Therefore, the purpose of the tongues here is Gentile confirmation in the sight of the Jews. This is a sort of "Gentile Pentecost," as RC Sproul puts it in his commentary on Acts.
The third place where tongues occur in the book of Acts is in chapter 19: "And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' And they said, 'No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.' And he said, 'Into what then were you baptized?' They said, 'Into John's baptism.' And Paul said, 'John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.' On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all."
This is another text that many would point to and say that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always evidenced by prophecy and by speaking in tongues. But this group of people in Ephesus was unique; they had only been baptized into John's baptism, and had not heard of the Holy Spirit before. Paul corrected them, saying that John pointed forward to Jesus, and that it is Jesus that they should be believing upon. So right after they were baptized, as a sign that they had received the Holy Spirit (which they had never heard of), they began to prophesy and speak in tongues.
Are these tongues any different than the previous two occurrences in the book of Acts? We have no reason to think that they are anything different than actual languages not understood by the speaker. Here in Acts 19, we see that tongues are given to these twelve Gentiles as a sign to fully confirm that Gentiles are now accepted into the covenant community. RC Sproul notes in his commentary on Acts on this passage, "So we see Pentecost coming in full measure to the Gentiles. The loop is complete." The Gentiles are now confirmed to be savable, so to speak.
In these last two occurrences, we see gradual Gentile acceptance. In Acts 10, Gentiles speak in tongues to Jews in a Jewish city, partially confirming their presence in the church; and in Acts 19, Gentiles speak tongues to Gentiles in a Gentile city, to fully confirm their presence in the body of Christ. It is for this purpose, the confirmation of Gentiles, that I believe tongues were poured out on the believers in the last two occurrences in the book of Acts.
This is just a cursory overview of the occurrences in the book of Acts. Much more could be said about each of these, I'm sure, but for now I think that this will do. In summary: in each occurrence of tongues in the book of Acts, the gift refers to actual languages that were new to the speaker, but that could be understood by others on the earth and by those who had the gift of interpretation. The gift was given for two reasons: in Acts 2, gospel proclamation to Jews and proselytes; Acts 10 and 19, Gentile confirmation. First, it was given to Jews in a Jewish city (Acts 2; the disciples were "technically" Jews); second, it was given to Gentiles in a Jewish city (Acts 10), confirming to the Jew present that Gentiles were indeed believers; and third, it was given to Gentiles in a Gentile city (Acts 19), coming full circle and fully confirming the Gentile presence in the body of Christ.
I hope that you all will read the passages again and see that what I'm saying is biblically sound. God has given us his Word to instruct us, to correct us, to reprove us, and to train us in righteousness.
Over and out.
About the Author
Brandon C. Hines is a young writer from somewhere in northern Alabama who writes about Theology, Polemics, and Apologetics. His beliefs are best summarized by the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
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