The J. H. Spencer Historical Society Journal

By Roy Beaman, Th. D.

      What you and I think matters not. A close study of the New Testament can alone tell us what is meant by "speaking with tongues."

      Different approaches may enrich our study. 1) One may look at the words of Jesus (Mark 16:17), the three instances in the book of Acts (At Jerusalem, at Caesarea and at Ephesus), and at the instance at Corinth. 2) Because of the prominence of Pentecost, one may compare all other instances with Pentecost. 3) One may study closely each word, phrase and clause. These include "speak," the word "tongues," and the adjective employed with "tongue" or language.

Mark 16:17

      Our Lord, Who most likely knew Hebrew as the literary language of His day, Aramaic as the local dialect and Greek in the cosmopolitan currents of His day, promised "tongues" only once (Mark 16:17). With the American Standard Version and most others, I accept this disputed passage as genuine and proceed to interpret it.

      He classed the miracle of "languages" as a sign, a miracle having accrediting or authenticating effect. Only when this effect is prominent is the speaking with languages genuinely practiced. Jesus' promise helps us to interpret the four NT instances.

Jerusalem - Acts 2

      2:4 "other" means "different" (heteros, not allos), a word more suitable to a real difference of language than of ecstatic experiences.

      "Tongues" stands for the Greek "glossa," whose basic meaning refers to the tongue as a member of the body, of men and animals. The main use of the tongue is to speak; thus the language spoken was by transference named from the member producing the speech. There is no instance in any phase of Greek which does not stem from these two meanings. There is no instance of "glossa" used of an ecstatic experience.

      Acts 2:9-11 enumerates the varied areas and therefore the varied linguistic patterns spoken by these miraculously endowed believers. The main thrust is that of approximate universality. The obvious purpose of the gift at Pentecost was missionary, to conquer a language barrier. It was a part of the accrediting work or sign of the Holy Spirit. Several scholars (as B. H. Carroll and F. F. Bruce) have seen Pentecost in part as a reversal of the curse of Babel. At least two linguistic miracles can be named:

      1) The Galilean dialect of the apostles, especially that of Peter, was noticeable. The loss of its peculiarities would be a striking accomplishment.

      2) Still more striking was the leaping of language boundaries into "different" languages. Only such a radical change accounts for the marvel on the part of the crowd at Pentecost.

Caesarea - Acts 10:46

      One argued that the gift of tongues had to be different since there was no language problem at Caesarea. Just the opposite is true. Caesarea was a port where many nationalities came. At Pentecost in Jerusalem, there may have been a greater medley of languages; but what we know about Caesarea, Ephesus and Corinth demonstrates a rather numerous gathering of languages.

      As before, note the verb "hear" and the noun "language." I translate the sentence, "For they were hearing them speaking with languages and magnifying God." The root of the second participle is the same as "wonderful works" or great things in Acts 2:11. The points of similarity are striking.

Ephesus - Acts 19:6

      Note the plural "languages" as before to meet the complex linguistic situation.

      In I Corinthians 12:10 prophesying is listed as another gift, but here speaking with languages and prophesying are tied together by "and." The gift of prophesying obviously refers to testifying or witnessing from Scripture about the Messiah. It must not be limited to foretelling future events; here the emphasis on edification seems not to make it necessary to include foretelling of future events in the gift of prophesying. For us who have not the supernatural endowment here specified, the lesson most likely is that of. witnessing for Christ or testifying about Him.

Corinth - I Corinthians 12-14

      The new item here is "kinds of languages," stressing the plural and the same idea as in Acts 2 on "different" languages. "Divers" (KJV and ASV) and "various" (New Scofield) simply sharpen the term "kinds." The idea is implicit in the Greek and strengthens the view that the Corinthian situation dealt with a language problem, not an ecstatic one. The meaning of the term appears in 14:10. The same word (genos) for "kind" in 12:28 is rendered "diversities" (KJV).

      13:8 in its entirety is a crucial passage. Three supernatural or miraculous gifts are treated alike. What right have we to concede that two are no longer possessed by believers while some claim that one is current? The force of the argument is that the three are accrediting gifts for the early days of the establishment of Christianity. Once that accrediting work was done, each of the three passed. Not one word is hinted about a reviving of one of them in the "last days."

      14:1-5 stresses the former rating of prophesying as superior to the gift of languages. In these verses Paul makes some statement about the lesser gift which must be pondered,

      Otherwise, he may worship God freely and speak "mysteries" (revealed secrets) since he comprehends the languages which he is miraculously endowed to speak. In 14:5 Paul must refer to real languages, not ecstatic or unintelligible rhapsody, since throughout he stressed intelligent understanding.

      To translate "in tongues" as "in ecstasy" is to add one's own interpretation, not to translate. One should translate accurately. If one thinks that "in ecstacy" is the net result, such should be marked as his personal opinion, not as translation.

      14:6-12 stresses the importance of intelligible speaking. There is no profit unless one has one of the four means of clarification enumerated by Paul in 14:6. He emphasizes "easy to be understood" (14:9). Note "words." Paul never conceived of the exercise of the gift of tongues apart from words and words easy to be understood. In 14:12, the issue is not self-edification but edification of the listening congregation. This shows that the interpretation for which he is to pray (14:13) is with reference to the congregation.

      Whatever abuses there were at Corinth, the rules which Paul gave would have corrected them. Those who oppose the view here adopted are bound by the Scriptures to observe carefully the rules or regulations which Paul taught.

      Dr. Roy Beaman (1904-1996) was a student of H. Boyce Taylor. Beaman pastored the West End Baptist in Paducah (1935-1938), was a Moderator of the West Union Baptist Association (1936-1937) and was Professor of Greek, Archaeology and Systemic Theology at the New Orleans and Mid-American Baptist Theological Seminaries.

[Edited for Length]

Republished by the J.H. Spencer Historical Society

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