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Q. How Can You Dismiss Speaking In Tongues From Romans 8:18-27?

Hi there,

I’ve just read your article on Romans 8:18-27 in preparation for an upcoming Sunday school lesson. Great article and thank you. However, I really disagree with your point dismissing tongues, so much so that I’ve felt compelled to contact you to say so. “Groanings which cannot be uttered” is absolutely what speaking in tongues provides. It is an undefiled language, I cannot curse in it, or take the Lord’s name. It comes from him and I express myself to him in tongues. I don’t know what I am saying when I speak in tongues. I’ve certainly never had a translation. “Groanings which cannot be uttered” is absolutely what is going on when I speak in tongues, I am unburdened, uplifted, ministered to in a Spiritual way that I could never achieve speaking English. I’ve heard rare accounts of people understanding speaking in tongues, but for the most part no one ever knows what they are saying in their own language or it wouldn’t be speaking in tongues, it would be speaking their own language! It is a pure prayer language to God. To deny yourself of this is denying yourself access to the power of God. Remember that on the day of Pentecost 3,000 received and spoke in tongues. These letters that were written were written to churches where everyone spoke in tongues.

God Bless

*****

Answer

Dear *****,

Let’s begin by being clear regarding what I did not say. I am not a cessationist, that is a person who believes that tongues cannot occur today. Neither do I accept every claim that someone is experiencing or witnessing tongues speaking. (Even the cults have their own kind of tongues experience, which is not genuine tongues.)

Here is where I disagree with what you are saying. You say,

“Remember that on the day of Pentecost 3,000 received and spoke in tongues. These letters that were written were written to churches where everyone spoke in tongues.”

Actually, that is not what we are told in acts chapters one and two:

15 At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, 16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus (Acts 1:15-16).

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? (Acts 2:1-8)

37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:37-47).

It seems clear to me that all 120 of those gathered did speak in tongues, and that while it was a language unknown to the speaker, it was a language known to some in the much larger audience of those who gathered to witness this event. Of these, 3,000 came to faith. They were promised to receive the Spirit, and that might have resulted in tongues, but if that were so (something we are not actually told) then we would expect the “tongues” the 3,000 spoke to be like those tongues spoken by the 120 (or at least that we would have some indication that they were different).

Here’s my problem. You write that Paul’s letters were written to churches where everyone spoke in tongues. That is simply not so. Listen to what Paul says about spiritual gifts:

27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:27-31).

Paul clearly says that all do not speak in tongues, just as not everyone has the gift of healing, or the gift of teaching.

It is also interesting to note that while the gift of tongues was the most highly valued gift among the Corinthians, and thus sought by many, Paul makes it clear that tongues is not the ultimate gift. Strangely, the Corinthians looked down on prophecy, in favor of tongues. Everyone does not speak in tongues, and tongues is not the greatest gift.

While you admit that you have not witnessed tongues being interpreted, Paul places a very strong emphasis on the importance of interpretation, to the extent that if a known interpreter is not present when the church gathers, un-interpreted tongues is not to occur (other than quietly within the speaker, who speaks to himself and to God – 1 Corinthians 14:28). Paul is very clear in 1 Corinthians 14 that if tongues are not able to be interpreted, they should not be publicly exercised in the church meeting (1 Corinthians 14:1-25). Paul also says that he would rather speak five words that he understood than 10,000 utterances that he did not understand. If tongues are to edify, they need to be interpreted.

You say this as well:

“It is an undefiled language, I cannot curse in it, or take the Lord’s name. It comes from him and I express myself to him in tongues. I don’t know what I am saying when I speak in tongues. I’ve certainly never had a translation.”

Paul warns the Corinthians in this way:

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).

Paul reminds the Corinthians that are other “spirits” at work in the world, and that they were formerly “spirit led” as pagans, but it was not the leading of the Holy Spirit. Then he gives a way of testing the spirits. When under the control of the Holy Spirit, one cannot say, “Jesus is accursed.” One can only say (when under the Holy Spirit’s control) “Jesus is Lord.” But you are seeking to defend a tongues experience that happens when you don’t know the words that are being spoken. How can you test the spirit without hearing actual words you understand?

I am not saying that the Spirit cannot convey our inward groanings to God. I am saying that since the gift of tongues is not a gift all can possess, then by your explanation, in Romans 8:17ff. not every Christian’s groanings will be conveyed to God because not every Christian can or does speak in tongues.

In all this, I am not seeking to disprove that someone can speak in tongues, but rather to caution you to understand and explain tongues, not so much in terms of your experience, but in terms that are clearly set forth in the Scriptures.

With all of his cautions and warnings, Paul tells us not to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39), but to practice them in a way that is consistent with Scripture, and which edifies others.

Blessings,

Bob

Related Topics: Christian Life, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Spiritual Gifts, Tongues

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