Speaking in Tongues Debate - 06 - Two Different Kinds of Tongues

Chapter 6 


    After all of the insufficient human explanations that I had heard, at last I had found a good scriptural one. I could accept the incomprehensible aspect of speaking in tongues because of Paul's statement, "for one who speaks in a tongue ... no one understands" (I Cor 14:2). Whew!

    Thank you brother Paul. No more need to split hairs! So if men speak so poorly, even in tongues, it is not the angels' fault. Thank you dear Apostle Paul for reminding us in your own way that revealed things are for us and our children, and that hidden things are for the Lord (Deut 29:29). This text came just in time to ease my mind and let me breathe more freely. Certainly the problem was not resolved, but at this point in my search for the truth, this inspired verse, written by the very one who spoke in tongues more than anyone else, was like an oasis in my spiritual pilgrimage under the unbearably hot rays of contradictory opinions. So if I could not understand, there was no need to worry. What a relief! It was as reassuring as a mass in Latin-and it had the same air of mystery which was not at all that unpleasant. I must admit that the adversaries of speaking in tongues were beginning to scare me. I may not have been 100% in agreement with the "charismatics" but I was at least 99% convinced that they were right. I hoped to regain the 1% that had been eaten away, not so much by those who were against speaking in tongues as by the blunders of those who were for it. This providential verse allowed me to join my Pentecostal brothers in believing that there were obviously two kinds of speaking in tongues-one, given on the day of Pentecost, which everyone understood (Acts 2:8), and the other, mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians which could not be understood (I Cor 14:2). I noticed: with a sigh of relief, that partisans of both sides were of about the same opinion on this point. The gift of tongues practiced by the Apostle Paul was not the same as the one experienced on the Day of Pentecost. Hallelujah! I was anxious to meet Paul in heaven, to shake his hand and thank him for writing those words. They allowed me to remain serene in my faith and firm in my position, for the vagueness in my understanding of this subject was in complete accordance with Bible teaching.

A Burned Child Fears the Fire

    This phrase from the Bible, "no one understands him", was a real windfall. So there were two kinds of tongues! But I had been so burned in the past that I could not simply accept things at face value. I decided to stick to my usual method. Since the Bible is our authority for Christian living and doctrine, I preferred to examine what the Holy Spirit had inspired. I wanted to verify whether there were really two kinds of tongues, or if the difference in these two texts was an apparent contradiction. It took me a while to begin this verification. I shuddered at the thought. There are a number of apparent contradictions in the Bible which cannot hold up under a serious, indepth study of the passages involved. Here is how I went about it. I took a concordance and lined up all the verses that have to do with speaking in tongues. I found about thirty. Then I went to the Greek text. There I found that:

    First of all, the French translations all conveyed the very idea expressed in the original text.

    And secondly, in all these texts there was only one word for "tongues" and "languages". It is the same in every case.

    So, it is evident that if the gift of tongues in the Epistles was a different "glossolia" than that at Pentecost, it should be seen in the Greek terms used. Such is not the case. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, used the same word in Chapter 2 as Paul uses in his letter to the Corinthians in Chapters 12, 13 and 14. If as I believed to be the case, the two speaking in tongues were different, Luke, who wrote the book of Acts after Paul had written this first letter to the Corinthians, would have at least shown it by using different words. There is no doubt that Luke was familiar with Paul's epistle, for it circulated widely among the churches. Moreover, Luke was one of Paul's traveling companions. If the speaking in tongues mentioned in his book was different from Paul's, he would certainly have pointed it out to eliminate confusion, but he doesn't say anything about it. No, he uses the same word because he is speaking about the same thing. It is "glossa" in one case and in the other. The Greek text is explicit. This discovery put me at a loss. There were only two ways of interpreting it:

The Bible contradicts itself. A hypothesis which a Christian who believes that the Scriptures are inspired by God cannot accept.
There is only one kind of tongues, which creates the problem of explaining why Paul seems to contradict what Luke says.
    Paul refers to languages which are as well-known as those mentioned by Luke. For he says, "a great many kinds of languages in the world" (I Cor 14:10). In Paul's mind, it is clearly a matter of human languages. And if these were languages from our world, why weren't they understood at Corinth just as they had been several years earlier at Jerusalem? Isn't God the same yesterday, today and forever? This is no simple problem. Through prayer, meditation of the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit's help, the fog lifted. The solution was so simple and so evident that I wondered if I had really understood. I didn't say anything about it to anyone, but a few months later an American brother shared with me exactly the same thing that I had discovered myself. The fact that someone else had found the same explanation showed me that the Holy Spirit works today as He always has to guide those who are not satisfied with what others say, but who search the Word of God and meditate upon it day and night (Ps 1:2).
Pentecost Updated

    What exactly did happen at Jerusalem? All of those who were there understood these men speaking foreign languages which they had not learned. When the Holy Spirit was given, separate tongues of fire came down upon the the disciples (Acts 2:3). Each disciple, separately and distinctly, spoke one of the native languages of the different people present. Fifteen countries and peoples are mentioned, therefore fifteen languages are cited (Acts 2:9-11). They all understood, each one understanding the language from his own country. There was nothing complicated about it. There were fifteen peoples with fifteen different ears to understand. The speaking was supernatural but the reception was natural.

    Let's suppose that there were fifteen Corinthians present the day of Pentecost with fifteen tape recorders and that each one taped separately what was being said and understood. Now imagine that these fifteen Corinthians went back to the church in Corinth and played these fifteen cassettes for the Christians who understood one or two languages at the most. They would inevitably arrive at the same conclusion as Paul: "no one understands". Obviously, because there was no one at Corinth to understand (I Cor 14:2). And if these fifteen cassettes were passed down to our day and were played in a church in New York, Paris or Madrid, the result would be the same. These fifteen languages which were so easily understood at Jerusalem would no more be understood today than they were in Corinth in the first century. On the other hand, imagine that we had been able to transport the whole congregation of Corinth to Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost. Of all that was said on that day, they would have understood what had been said miraculously in their own language, that is to say, in Greek; but they would not have understood anything in the fourteen other languages. Of course, if the Holy Spirit had chosen not to include Greek on that day, they would have understood absolutely nothing! And that is just what happened in their church in Corinth! They were speaking in other languages than Greek. No one understood, not because it was ecstatic language, but simply because it wasn't Greek. It was as inaccessible to them as an Englishman receiving a telephone call in Japanese.

    Here I should point out that there is no question of an ecstatic language as some have suggested. This idea is as foreign to the Greek texts as it is to our modern versions. When Balaam's donkey supernaturally spoke by the Spirit it was not in an ecstatic, incomprehensible language to her master (Num 22:28). With intelligible words the "foolishness of God" (I Cor 1:25) made a mute donkey speak with a human voice in order to stop the prophet's folly (II Pet 2:15,16). Whether it be through His Word, His angels, His prophets, or even a donkey, God has always spoken in a comprehensible way. How could I go on believing that this God who made a donkey speak as well as a man could take hold of beings created in His image and move them to speak more poorly than a donkey?

What Does All This Prove?

    It proves that the speaking in tongues practiced by the Corinthians was not an ecstatic, unintelligible verbiage, nor an inaccessible angelic language, but languages as national and distinct as those heard in Jerusalem at Pentecost. And if, as Paul says, "no one understands," it is very simply because we do not have the fifteen ears to understand-no more than Paul or the Corinthians did. Looking at this a bit more closely I found that the Corinthians were not the only ones who did not understand the tongues spoken. On the day of Pentecost, without question, the tongues spoken miraculously by the power of the Holy Spirit, were the languages of the nations of that day. Many of the Jews present did not understand them either.

    It is clear from Acts 2 that there were two groups of Jews present at the Feast of Pentecost:

Those who were visiting at Jerusalem from the fifteen nations named, to whom the languages other than Aramaic spoken in Jerusalem and Judea were known.
Those who were natives of Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 2:1) and did not speak or understand those languages of the fifteen nations spoken by the disciples and by the other group of Jews from those nations. These were the "others" of Acts 2:1, "But others were mocking and saying, 'They are full of new wine!"'
    Therefore, the Jews of Judea who did not understand any languages other then the Aramaic spoken in Jerusalem and Judea, did not understand the tongues spoken at Pentecost. So they resorted to mockery, saying that the disciples were drunk! These Jews could have said also of this gift of tongues at Pentecost, "no one understands". Exactly what Paul said thirty years later to the Corinthians.
    In summary, please note:

The Jews who were visiting at Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost understood their own native tongues spoken by the disciples and were astonished, not knowing what to think (Acts 2:12), while those who understood only Aramaic cried, "Drunkards!".
After having addressed himself to God in a language other than his own, "speaking mysteries" (I Cor 14:2), Peter then spoke to all those assembled, not in a foreign tongue, but in their own Aramaic tongue, explaining what was happening and also preaching Christ to them (Acts 2:14-36).
    In these "mysteries" spoken in tongues, there was much more than simply misunderstanding due to their lack of comprehension of the foreign languages. There were great mysteries of the faith, mysteries of the wisdom of God (I Cor 2:7). Those who spoke in foreign languages adored are the same God on the basis of these mysteries. These mysteries which every Christian extols today as he gives thanks to God. These mysteries were:
"God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself" (Col 2:2), the subject of inexpressible adoration.
"The mystery of godliness" (I Tim 3:16). The mystery of God leaving His glory and returning thereto after manifesting Himself in flesh; things which angels desire to inquire into.
The mystery of the return of Christ (I Cor 15:51,52) with the redeemed to say, "Amen. Come Lord Jesus" (Rev 22:20).
And above all, the mystery most prominent in the speaking of tongues, the mystery that the Gentiles (those of languages other than Hebrew) are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the promise of Christ Jesus through the Gospel (Eph 3:6).
    In this same line of thought, Paul, after having explained the mystery of the hardening of Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles (Rom 11:25), says that "God has shut up all disobedience that He might show mercy to all (Jews and non-Jews)" (Rom 11:31). Dazzled by this truth, Paul concludes in sublime adoration, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Rom 11:33).
    This mystery is such that the twenty-four elders in Revelation 5:8-10 go to their knees adoring and singing to the slain Lamb Who purchased by His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

    It is for this mystery that Peter and the others glorified God in foreign languages on the day of Pentecost which was the Inaugural Day of the salvation which God offered to people of all the earth. To those who did not grasp it, Peter gave, then and there, a clear explanation saying that the Lord would pour out His Spirit from that moment forward on all mankind (Acts 2:17).

    That was the mystery of the Gentiles becoming fellow heirs with the Jews.

    All this helped me to understand three things:

That speaking in tongues always has to do with living, spoken languages of the different nations of that time.
That if one is not careful, the phrase "no one understands" can easily become an umbrella for those who would have everyone believe that what is practiced in certain churches today is the same as what was practiced in the apostolic church since no one understands-neither then nor now. An abuse of this phrase "no one understands" eliminates any means of verification and leads straight to uncontrollable counterfeit.
That Paul, in spite of the authenticity of the use of the gift of tongues in his time, would not allow it to be exercised unless it was followed by an interpretation; that the assembly of believers was not the place to exercise the gift (I Cor 14:27); that it was better to remain silent or only speak to oneself than to speak in tongues under those conditions (I Cor 14:28). With the Holy Spirit's authority Paul establishes the rules for the use of this gift and condemns any misuse of it-right at the time in church history when the "charisma" (gift) was fulfilling its purpose. The reason he writes, "I speak in tongues more than you all" (I Cor 14:18) is evident. His call to be an apostle to the nations-peoples of many languages-was constantly questioned by his Jewish adversaries. Thus he showed them that foreign tongues could praise the Jehovah of Israel as well as theirs. And to prove it, this liberated ex-Pharisee, with Jewish lips, proclaimed the wonders of the God of the Jews among the Jews in a pagan tongue! Wonders for some (the converted Jews and pagans), and fiery judgment for others (the unbelieving Jews infuriated with jealousy).