Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 10, 1968
NUMBER 23, PAGE 1-2a

Tongues Then And Now

Dale Smelser

The New English Bible erroneously refers to the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues as: "the language of ecstasy... tongues of ecstasy...ecstatic speech...ecstatic language... ecstatic utterance- (I Cor. 14). This is faulty interpretation rather than scholarly translation. There is no word in the original text to suggest or support the use of the terms ecstasy or ecstatic. In each of these instances the words to be translated say either "words in, or "speaking in, a "tongue. It is impossible to translate correctly more than this.

The single term variously rendered language, tongues, speech, and utterance in the N.E.B. is "glossa, the same term found in the expression, "Men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation (Rev. 5:9), showing that tongues were intelligible languages, not ecstatic utterances of gibberish. These language tongues are also that which was spoken on Pentecost where the people not only heard in their own language (Acts 2:6), but where the apostles were actually and miraculously "'speaking in our tongues(Acts 2:11).

Speaking in tongues was the Spirit given ability to speak in languages unknown to the speaker. They were for a sign (I Cor. 14:22), and to cease when knowing in part ceased and the perfect (complete; Vine, Phillips) knowledge came (I Cor. 13:8-9). Complete knowledge, accompanied by the cessation of miraculous tongues, was to occur while faith and hope continued to abide (I Cor. 13:8-13), that is, necessarily during time and before the coming of Christ, when sight (I Jn. 3:2) shall replace faith (II Cor. 5:7), and before fruition (1 Pet. 1:5, 9) shall replace hope (Rom. 8:24). The comparison is that faith, hope, and love are greater gifts than miraculous ones (I Cor. 12:30), for they were to abide while the latter were to cease. Thus perfect or complete knowledge, which signaled the end of "tongues", has to refer to the completion of revelation, the completion of the scriptures which provide a knowledge competent to our perfection and completeness here on earth (II Tim. 3:16-17), rather than a knowledge we shall have after sight and the reception of that for which we now seek in hope.

Unfortunately, the N.E.B. renderings encourage the concept that tongues were merely experiences in ecstatic jabbering, for which there is certainly not required Holy Spirit stimulus. Such are psychological phenomena, attributable to a person's own anticipatory yearnings which culminate in the deluded ecstasy expressed in spontaneous uninhibited vocalization. But this is not a miracle, it is not a sign, it is not what was done by people possessing the spiritual gift of tongues in the New Testament. It is something else with a natural explanation, and is no part of the doctrine of Christ. A Jew, Moslem, or Hippie could do it equally. (It makes one wonder if perhaps some of the contemporary assaults upon music aren't so originated.)

But why should there currently be so much interest and participation among the more staid denominations, and even some of our brethren, in this phenomenon called glossalalian believe such practice arises out of the fact that men have intellectually cut themselves loose from their traditional moorings of security, and longing for assurance in the present onslaught of modernistic and materialistic infidelity, emotion rather than intellect is relied upon, as it always has been in the "holiness" movements.

That there is broad acceptance of emotional criteria is evident throughout our society. Drugs are used to "turn on." Dramatic productions and "happenings" emphasize impact through emotional shock rather than rhetoric. There is "soul" music. Political leaders are being sought not on the basis of executive ability, but charisma. There are protests that, however legitimate, are insatiable in any practical context, demanding rather vindication, revenge, and capitulation. Some seem not to want solutions as much as the emotional satisfaction of their cause and otherwise empty souls, and their frustrations are vented in volatile emotion-charged quests of protest, demonstration, and confrontation.

But the point is made; many today are more emotionally motivated than intellectually. To such persons, ecstatic experience is going to mean more than the teachings of scripture, which by sectarians have not been looked upon for a long time as an explicit positive guide, and which consequently no longer signify the sum of enlightenment to the popular mind.

We assert our faith in God's word, and the blessings that come alone in obedience thereto, to fill man's hungerings and thirstings for righteousness. Though the empty soul of the glossalalia devotee may seem filled for the moment by the false assurance of emotional experiences, which he deludedly believes to be a gift from the Holy Spirit but which in reality may be psychologically explained, his satisfaction is only an illusion that shall forsake him in the judgment.

Is emotion to be divorced from the gospel? Certainly not! In response to the anguish of sin our faith is to come first from knowledge (Rom. 10:17; Jn. 6:45; I Jn. 2:3), not from emotional experience. From this knowledge of the fellowship of God comes love, joy, peace, etc. We are not to premise our conclusions upon what we feel, but rather be lifted emotionally by what we know to be true; by the knowledge of forgiveness and fellowship of God. Obviously, true spiritual gifts did originally give such assurance (I Cor. 14:2, 14). But the point is that such were needed only when knowledge was in part partial in the infancy of the faith but when that (knowledge) which was perfect (complete) was revealed, assurance was to come thereby and the miraculous gifts ceased.

So, it is a question of putting our faith in knowledge or feeling. In this day of emotional orientation many are obviously choosing the latter, and are thus appealed to by, and experience, ecstatic utterance.