The Sign: Tongues Part 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
People who speak in an unknown tongue are to pray that they may interpret (1 Cor. 14:13).
The gift of tongues is to be exercised with restraint and in an orderly way. The regulations for its public use are simple and straightforward. People who speak in an unknown tongue are to pray that they may interpret (1 Cor. 14:13). Or, someone else is to interpret what is said. Only two or three persons are to speak, with each having an interpretation of what is said. Each is also to speak in turn. If these criteria are not met, they are to remain silent (1 Cor. 14:27–28). The gifts of speaking in tongues and their interpretation are to be Spirit-inspired. Paul also points out that tongues are a sign to unbelievers. If these guidelines are not observed, unbelievers who are present will conclude that the people of the church are out of their minds.
The phenomenon of speaking in tongues in the New Testament is not some psychological arousal of human emotions that results in strange sounds. This is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit.
There is not, in the New Testament, a definition of the immersion in the Holy Spirit, but we have here what is possibly better, a living instance of its occurrence. The apostle gives us a distinct view of men in the act of being immersed in the Spirit, so that, in order to understand it, we have to look on, and tell what we see and hear. We see, then, flaming tongues, like flames of fire, distributed so that one rests upon each of the twelve apostles. In the clause, “it sat upon each of them,” the singular pronoun it is used after the plural tongues, to indicate that not all, but only one of the tongues sat upon each Apostle, the term distributed having already suggested the contemplation of them singly.
We see this, and we hear all twelve at once speaking in languages to them unknown. We see a divine power present with these men since we cannot attribute these tongues to any other power. We hear the unmistakable effects of a divine power acting upon their minds; for no other power could give them an instantaneous knowledge of language which they had never studied. The immersion, therefore, consists in their being so filled with the Holy Spirit that they are enabled to exercise a miraculous intellectual power. If there is any other endowment conferred upon them, the apostle is silent about it, and we have no right to assume it. Their ability to speak in other languages is not an effect upon their speech directly, but merely a result of the knowledge imparted to them. Neither are we to regard the nature of the sentiments uttered by them as proof of any miraculous moral endowment; for the reason that pious sentiments are the only kind which the Spirit of God would dictate, and they are the kind of words these men, who had been for some time “continually in the temple, praising and blessing God,” and “continuing with one consent in prayer and supplication,” would be expected to utter, if they spoke in public at all.
as the Spirit gave them utterance.
What seems to be implied here is a kind of speech that comes from the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who gave them the power to communicate prophetic messages through speaking languages which they had not spoken before. Their native tongue was that spoken in Galilee, a rather barbarous dialect of the common language used in Judea, the Syro-Chaldaic. It is possible that some of them might have been somewhat familiar with the Greek and Latin since both of them were spoken a little among the Jews, but there is not the slightest evidence that they were acquainted with the languages of the different nations where they went to preach the gospel. Various attempts have been made to account for this remarkable phenomenon, without assuming it to be a miracle. But the natural and obvious meaning of the verse, which comes from understanding the context of the passage in which it has been placed, is that they were endowed by the miraculous power of the Holy Ghost with the ability to speak foreign languages, and languages they had not known before. It does not appear that each one of them had the power of speaking all the languages which were required—“We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God” (Acts 2:9-11; NABWRNT); but that this ability was present among them, and that together they could speak all these languages; probably they were enabled to speak the language they needed at a particular time. The following remarks may perhaps throw some light on this remarkable occurrence:
1. This ability was predicted in the Old Testament, "With another tongue will he speak to this people." (Isaiah 28:11). And in 1 Corinthians 14:21, it is expressly applied to the power of speaking the gospel in foreign languages—“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 will they not hear me, saith the Lord.”
2. The Lord Jesus predicted that they would have this power—"These signs shall follow them that believe-they shall speak with new tongues" (Mark 16:17).
3. The ability to speak in tongues was widespread and continued for a long time in the church.
a. "To another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:10, 11).
b. "God hath set in the church—diversities of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28).
c. Also see 1 Corinthians 12:30, 14:2 , 4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 18, 19, 22, 23, 1 Corinthians 14:27, 39.
4. From this, it appears that the power was well known in the church, and was not confined to the apostles, but was conferred on other members of the church as well as the apostles.
5. It was very important for them to be endowed with this power in their great work. They were going to preach to all nations; and though the Greek and Roman languages were spoken extensively, their use was not universal; and there is no evidence to indicate that the apostles were skilled in those languages. If they were to preach to all nations, it was crucial for them to understand their language. And it was necessary for them to be endowed with the ability to speak to them without having to go through the slow process of having to learn their language.
6. One method was to establish the gospel by means of miracles. However, no miracle could be more striking than the power of transmitting the gospel at once into all the languages of the earth. When it is considered what a slow and difficult process it is to learn a foreign language, this would be regarded by the heathen as one of the most striking miracles which was ever performed in the establishment of the Christian faith—“Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe…But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (1 Corinthians 14:22, 24, 25).
7. The truth and certainty of this miracle are strongly confirmed by the early triumphs of the gospel. That the gospel was rapidly spread over the entire world by the apostles of Jesus Christ is the clear testimony of all history. They preached it in Arabia, Greece, Syria, Asia, Persia, Africa, and Rome. But how could this have ever happened without the miraculous power of speaking the languages used in all those places? Since it requires many years to learn foreign languages, the recorded success of the gospel is one of the most remarkable evidences of the miracle that could be conceived.
It should be noted that they were not allowed to preach the Great Commission until now, in order that every word spoken on this day might be the word of the Spirit, not of man.