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Speaking in Tongues

Maurice A Meredith

1230 Orlando Drive, Coolidge, Arizona 85228





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Tongues of Fire

Maurice A Meredith

Speaking in tongues is nothing new, but the thrust it has made into some of the mainline denominations has been wholly unexpected. For years it has been identified as a phenomenon with Pentecostal Churches. It has now crossed the railroad tracks, moved uptown, and has manifesting itself in Episcopal, Lutheran, and even Catholic Churches as well as appearing on some of the big name college campuses. Thus it has become one of the leading issues of the day.

It shall be our purpose in this treatise to examine the gift of tongues in the New Testament, then to evaluate the present day practise in that light. It is our conviction that the gift of tongues in the apostolic church was a miracle of such magnitude that it bears little resemblance to modern tongues, which may be easily explained by modern psychology.

In Jesus' farewell is to be found the first mention of tongues, when He said: "These signs shall accompany them who believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." (Mark 16:17,18). It is doubtful if you will ever find a conservative Bible student who does not believe that this prophecy was fulfilled on Pentecost. Jesus spoke of five signs - any one of which would be great, nor would tongues be the least of them.

The greatness of the Pentecostal miracle is exceeded only by the stupidity with which some present-day writers deal with it. Such as those who say that Luke's language cannot be understood, and resort to devious means to excise tongues from the book of Acts. To men who believe Luke was inspired by God, and who have no theory to prove, it is crystal clear what Luke meant. "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:4). Now, notice these phrases: ". . . every man heard them speaking in his own language. . . How hear we, every man in our own language wherein we were born? . .. we hear them speaking in our tongues the mighty works of God." (vs. 6, 8, and 11).

The language of Luke is clear and unmistakable. All who believe that the writer was inspired of God must inevitably conclude that tongues were a distinct, understandable language. The evangelist Luke seems to exhaust his vocabulary in describing the wonder and perplexity in the minds of the observers of the Pentecostal miracle. The only marvel of modern tongues is that sensible persons should be duped into believing they are related. The apostles were Galilean Jews, and hardly expected to speak in the languages represented then in Jerusalem. But this is precisely what they were doing. Luke enumerates sixteen different regions but scholars tell us that twelve dialects would adequately communicate with all the regions represented. Our conclusion is that the twelve apostles spoke from the twelve porticoes of the temple, each in a different dialect. This is the reason some heard in a language they did not understand, and concluded that the speaker was drunk. With very little bother he could have found one he did understand. Thus, the miracle was upon the mind and tongue of the apostle, who spoke in a language he never mastered. The word "tongues" as Luke uses it can only denote language; and "other tongues" can only mean another language other than a person has studied.

This is confirmed by Bible Scholarship. Prof. A. T. Robinson says: "Each one began to speak in a language he had not acquired and yet it was a real language and understood by those from various lands familiar with them. It was not jargon, but intelligible language . . . Paul explains in I Cor. 14:22 that "tongues" were a sign to unbelievers and were not to be exercised unless one was present who understood them and could translate them. This restriction disposes at once of the modern so-called tongues which are nothing but jargon and hysteria. (Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. III, p. 22).

Dr. R. C. H. Lenski says: "The disciples spoke in foreign languages that were hitherto unknown to them, in the very languages of the natives of the foreign lands who were presently assembled before them. This is what Luke writes, and the church has never doubted the fact and Luke's veracity and accuracy in reporting that fact . . . As they have done in the case of the gift of healing, men have tried to regain the gift of tongues. The last abortive effort started in California, leaped to Scandinavia, ran its course there and in Germany as a Pentecostal movement and died suddenly when its chief exponents openly confessed that they had been hoaxed by devilish spirits. Those `tongues' had been gibberish, their translation pure imagination. The devilishness consisted in no small measure in attributing this folly to the Holy Spirit." (Comm. on Acts, pp. 61, 63).

Canon F. C. Cooke defines other tongues to mean: "Other than their mother tongue. This shows what had been meant by the promise of speaking with new tongues, Mark xvi. 17. Nothing short of the sudden communication of the power of speaking languages of which there had been previously no colloquial knowledge, and which were not learned in the ordinary course, can be implied by this statement, reiterated, as it is, in vs. 6, 8, and 11. None of the suggestions of vehement excitement, for a time affecting the organ of speech, so as to render it more or less unintelligible, of ecstatic, inarticulate utterances, of the use of archaic words or poetical phraseology, or of new modes of interpreting ancient prophecies, can be accepted as at all adequate to this narrative." (The Bible Commentary, Acts, pp. 361, 362).

One of the finest commentaries ever written on the book of Acts is by Paton J. Gloag, who examines six hypothetical explanations of the gift of tongues. Dr. Gloag concludes: "The only hypothesis which suits all the conditions of the case, is that of an actual speech in foreign and previously unaquired languages; a miraculous gift of tongues, so that the disciples were able to speak Persian, Arabic, Latin. Etc." (Commentary on Acts, vol. I, p. 85).

In minimising the magnitude of the miracle of Pentecost, some liberals seek to eliminate the miraculous element by stating that it was ecstatic utterances. Pentecostals, ordinarily, have little use for modernism, yet here is where they clasp hands with the modernists. Both downgrade the gift or tongues. Liberals do it to eliminate the miraculous. Pentecostals do it to make it appear that they have the same gift today. Modernists are at least consistent. But for men to claim to believe the Bible yet foist upon a gullible public their senseless jargon is strange to say the least.

We must ever remember there were two miracles on Pentecost - the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the ensuing gift of tongues. The first was manifest by the appearance of cloven tongues as of fire and the sound of a mighty, rushing wind. The second enabled the apostles to speak in known languages. We will believe that men have been baptised in the Holy Spirit today when we see the fire and hear the wind. We will be convinced that they have the gift of tongues when they cease their gibberish, and actually speak a language.

In studying with the `tongues' people one finds it difficult to get them to look squarely at the second chapter of Acts, because they want to qualify it with Paul's language in the fourteenth chapter of I Corinthians. If there is any discrepancy between Paul and Luke it exists in the viewpoint of the reader. Luke writes for readers who may never have seen the gift of tongues in operation, while Paul writes for a church that was quite familiar with it. But modern glossolalia will not fit into the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians for the simple reason that it edifies no one, and everything in this chapter is concerned with the edification of the church. The whole spirit and tenor of Paul's message is to the effect that anything that does not edify must not come into the assembly of the saints.

Much of the fault of misunderstanding this chapter is attributable to the King James translator's use of the word "unknown" before the word "tongues" in this chapter. Actually the word "unknown" appears only three times in the Bible - but not once in this entire epistle, and only once in the second epistle (II Cor. 6:9). There is no such thing as an unknown tongue. If it is a tongue - it's a language. If it's a language someone uses it or has used it. If someone uses it or has used it, it is or has been known. It is not only a contradiction, but downright ridiculous to speak of an "unknown tongue."

When the apostle Paul says, "no man understands" (I Cor. 14:2), the Corinthians could recall the many times some brother started off in some language they did not know. What he said made no sense to them, since no interpreter translated into their native Greek tongue. "No one" is not used in the absolute here, for that would eliminate the interpreter. It's just that the congregation as a whole does not understand the foreign language.

Glossolaliasts make their major defence behind this verse: "For he who speaks in a tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God; for no man understands; but in the spirit he speaks mysteries." (I Cor. 14:2). All tongue speakers admit that neither the speaker or hearer knows what is said, they only know they feel better. There is no edification unless speaker and hearer have both been built up.

It is embarrassing to ask Pentecostals how many have been converted as a result of their tongues. It is more to the point to ask them how they felt. They make no pretext of converting anyone with tongues. Yet the apostle Paul says, "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them who believe, but to the unbelieving." (I Cor 4:22). Phillips does violence to God's word at this point in his version, by completely reversing the meaning - all the while admitting there is no manuscript evidence for his perversion. Most Pentecostals are not this honest. They violate the apostle's injunction, and reverse his statement in practice all the while professing to teach he was inspired.

The Corinthians possessed a similar gift - not the same gift that the apostles had on Pentecost. Paul goes to great lengths to show that those who spoke in tongues were to be understood (either by an interpreter, or without), or else they were to remain silent. To speak in tongues, when no one understood would be filling the air with so much sound, and would be satisfying the speaker's vanity.

In all probability the Corinthians spoke Greek. Let us assume that here is a man with the gift of the Hebrew tongue. For him to preach to that assembly without an interpreter, or when no Jews were present, would mean that no one would understand and he would be speaking mysteries. The apostle tells him to remain silent or let someone interpret, "But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God." (v.28). The idea of tongues being for one's own edification is something these glossolaliasts have imported into the Scriptures.

Miraculous gifts were to benefit the whole congregation. Paul said as much at the beginning of the discussion of the topic: "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal." (I Cor. 12:7). To mutter and babble in some foreign language would be incoherent and unintelligible, and the great apostle was intent upon stopping such practices by taking the conceit out of their displays. The very thing Paul condemned in the Corinthian church is practiced in tongues meetings with impunity. We must safely conclude that present-day glossolalia is not the work of the Spirit that inspired Paul. They contradict each other.

Paul said that he would rather speak five words with his understanding, "that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue" (I Cor. 14:15). To this, he adds: "Let all things be done unto edifying." (v.26). It is a little short of amazing how men can work themselves into the frenzy of believing that modern Pentecostalism is in any way related to the miraculous workings of the Holy Spirit through the apostles; but it is an even greater wonder to see how they treat such obvious verses of Scriptures as the two quoted above. On top of this, they admit that they practice what the Holy Spirit prohibited at Corinth. This can only mean one of two things - these people are woefully ignorant of the Word of God, or else they are perverse in their practice and derelict in their duty.

The apostle Paul made one very practical test that no known case of `tongues' today has passed. He said, "tongues are for a sign, not to them who believe, but to the unbeliever" (v. 22). No one has yet attempted to show how their incoherent jabbering could convert an infidel.

Stuart Bergsma is a practicing psychiatrist, in whose examination of modern `tongues'' he gives the following psychological evaluation: "ecstasy, catalepsy, mass hysteria, a psychological state in which the consciously controlling apparatus of the mind is not dominant, a state in which the primitive reactions find their way to the surface, a state in which speech continues after thought is exhausted and a series of meaningless syllables results." (Speaking with Tongues, p. 9). From this it would appear that the very thing that Paul predicted has come true, when he said outsiders would look upon such proceedings and pronounce the participants as "mad" (v. 23). How true!

Dr. W. A. Criswell points out that no known language is used by these glossolaliasts. He says tape recordings were submitted to the Toronto Institute of Linguistics and these learned men in the science of phonetics said, "This is no human language." A similar experiment was conducted in Washington, D. C., before a group of government linguists, who concluded, "What they speak is meaningless to the human ear." (The Holy Spirit in Today's World, p. 180). Does this sound like the work of the same Spirit who led Paul to say, "Let all things be done unto edifying" (v. 26); or, "if there is no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church" (v. 28)?

Far be it from us to question the power of God. It is our considered conviction that when missionaries went to some foreign country, in the days of the apostles, they were empowered to speak in the language of the people, without having to take a textbook and try to figure out whether they were looking at a language character or if a chicken had walked across the page. When missionaries go to foreign countries today they must learn the language. A number of years ago while working for a congregation in Springfield, Missouri, the catalog for Central Bible Institute - an Assemblies of God college, stated that all prospective missionaries would be required to take three years of English as a basis for the foreign language they would have to learn.

There are very few known cases of those who claim to have the gift of tongues having tried to preach in some foreign language The Baptist Argus, of Louisville, Kentucky, for January 23, 1908, carries an account of how a Mr. McIntosh went to China, a dozen missionaries from the state of Washington went to Japan, a Mr. A. G. Garr went to India and others went to Hong Kong. All of these were sure they possessed supernatural gifts, yet each failed miserably to communicate in a foreign language. The Irvingites made the same claim, of whom A. E. Seddon wrote: "I have never yet heard any other than the English language. Some groaned and shouted incoherencies I have heard, but to my ears these bear no resemblance to language as spoken between men in the common affairs of life. I claim some qualifications to judge in this matter, having knowledge of eight languages, some of which have been learned during residence in the countries where they are spoken. If any of these had been used, I could have instantly detected it." (Homiletic Review, 57 p. 108)

The ability to run on in incoherencies is no monopoly of glossolaliasts. One of the elders of the church here used a tape that someone had reversed for him, the other day, and thought it was in German. It sounded all right when he reversed it. Played backwards, it made just as much sense, and would have edified one as much as modern `tongues.' But more than that, infidels speak in the same variety of tongues. Prof. Flournoy, professor of psychology at the University of Geneva, studied the speaking in tongues of one Mlle. Helen Smith, who claimed she had visited Mars in a trance and spoke the Martian Language. The professor published his findings in a book entitled "From India to the Planet Mars." Mademoiselle Smith professed no religion yet there is better evidence to show that she spoke in Martian than Pentecostals can give to prove they have the gift of tongues.

Dr. E. Mansell Pattison, M. D. professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington school of medicine, writing in "The Christian Standard" for Feb. 15th, 1964, cites four studies that have been made of modern glossolalia:

"In summary, they all report that the various samples of glossolalia are structurally not a language; it would be linguistically impossible to derive the alleged `interpretations' from the glossolalia message; and most significantly, that the glossolalia was linguistically a decomposed form of English.

"To this I can add my own observations from clinical experiences with neurological and psychiatric patients. In certain types of brain disorders resulting from strokes, brain tumours, etc. the patient is left with disruptions in his automatic, physical speech circuit patterns. If we study these `aphasic' patients we can observe the same decomposition of speech that occurs in glossolalia. Similar decomposition of speech occurs in schizophrenic thought and speech patterns, which is structurally the same as glossolalia.

"This data can he understood to demonstrate that the same stereotypes of speech will result whenever conscious, wilful control of speech is interfered with, whether by injury to the brain, by psychosis, or by passive denunciation of wilful control. This corroborates our previous assessment that glossolalia is a stereotyped pattern of unconsciously controlled vocal behaviour which appears under specific emotional conditions." (p. 100).

In 1927, Dr. George B. Cutten, president of Colgate, wrote a book entitled, "Speaking in Tongues, Historically and Psychologically Considered," which was published by Yale University Press. He shows that the gift of tongues, characteristic of the apostolic church, had died out by the time Chrysostom lived. He writes: "At the time of Chrysostom (345-407 A.D.) the gift seems to have entirely disappeared and he is puzzled by Paul's account of the Corinthian situation. He says, `The whole passage is exceedingly obscure; and the obscurity is occasioned by our ignorance of the facts and the cessation of happenings which were common in those days but unexampled in a our own." (p.37). Later he adds "Whatever may be predicated of the psychological conditions of speaking with tongues in the New Testament, it is evident that the experience; since then may be classed as ecstasy or allied phenomena." (p. 57). He concludes: "As far as I know there is no case of speaking in strange tongues which has been strictly and scientifically investigated that can not be explained by recognized psychological laws." (p. 181).

Donald S. Metz, head of the department of religion at Bethany Nazarene College, says: "The conclusion of this study, then, is that speaking in unknown tongues is purely a human reaction, which may or may not indicate valid spiritual activity, arising from spiritual confusion, spiritual frustration, or spiritual immaturity." (Speaking in Tongues, p. 104).

Russell T. Hitt, editor of "Eternity" magazine is of the opinion that many of those who have experienced the so-called "Spirit-baptism" have been suffering from deep personal or family problems, or emotionally troubled about their own spiritual lives.

L. M. Van Eetveld Vivier in a doctoral dissertation on glossolalia for the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa reports that a group of tongue-speaking Pentecostals whom he tested were found to have had "psychologically, a poor beginning in life characterised by insecurity, conflict and tension."

Dr. V. A Criswell, Pastor of the First Baptist Church, in Dallas, Texas, indicts modern tongues on six charges. He writes: "The basic doctrine that lies back of glossolalian practise is wrong. That doctrine is that speaking in tongues is necessary evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is in direct opposition to the distinct and emphasised teaching of the Word of God." Further he adds: "Wherever and whenever glossolalia appears it is always hurtful and divisive. There is no exception to this. It is but another instrument for the tragic torture of the body of Christ." (The Holy Spirit in Today's World, pp. 178-181).

Anthony A. Hoekema, professor of systematic theology at the university of Michigan, complains that: "Pentecostalism erroneously teaches that a spiritual blessing must be attested to by a physical phenomenon." To this he adds another complaint: "The theology of Pentecostalism tends to create two levels of Christians: Those who have received spirit baptism and those who have not." (What about Tongue Speaking?, pp. 116, 119).

The whole question of tongues might best be summed up in the experience of D. Robert Lindberg, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, missionary to China, and minister for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He tells how he sought and experienced speaking in tongues, but honesty demanded that he re-evaluate his experience. He soon became convinced that tongue speaking is not of God, but "has at its heart a false mysticism which is contrary to the Word of God." He gives seven reasons for his judgment concluding that the tongue speaking we observe today is not a gift of God but the result of "auto-suggestion, self induced - piously, yes, but wrongfully and unscripturally." (Presbyterian Guardian, February, 1965).

In conclusion, we should like to point out that what has been said of tongues is even truer of the whole spectrum of charismatic gifts. The greatest need in religion today is not miraculous gifts, but a greater spirituality among Christians. A survey taken of young people asked the question: "What do you thing is the greatest need of the church today?" Many answers were given, but the one most of these young people gave was "A greater spirituality." How true, and who can deny it?

The Scriptures are clear on the point: "If any man has not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His." (Rom. 8:9). But possessing the spirit of Christ does not mean talking in a senseless jargon or carrying on at a mourner's bench. The apostle Paul clearly defines spirituality: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self control." (Gal. 5:22, 23). Isn't it odd that in all the lists of Christian graces charismatic gifts are ignored? How thoughtless of the Holy Spirit to slight Oral Roberts and Simon the Sorcerer in this manner!

If you crave greater spirituality, it will not he found by turning off the lights, and holding hands - such a procedure would be more at home in the Witch of Endor's cave. Jesus gave the clue to spirituality in saying, "the words I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life." (John 6:63). Paul said as much when he said to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), since the passage of Scripture that parallels this one says: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." (Col. 3:16). Furthermore, the Spirit and Christ dwell in our hearts through faith (Eph 3:7), which faith comes by hearing the word of God. (Rom. 10:17).

The reason that there is a dearth of spirituality is because phycology, philosophy, and politics are discussed the pulpit and in classes, but the Word of God is neither studied nor memorised. At the College Hill Methodist Church in Kansas, a number of years ago, the Pastor called for a Bible, and not one could be found in a college-age class of approximately sixty young people. Greater spirituality and greater conviction comes from God's word. When the murderers of Jesus were convicted on Pentecost and cut to the heart, it was by "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Eph. 6:17). That sword is just as sharp as it ever was, but it must be used.

We do not need charismatic gifts. The church in Corinth had more miraculous gifts than any other congregation, as far as we have any record. Yet, here is a church split with factions, carnality, lawsuits, fornication, scepticism, and even drunkenness at the Lord's Table. What a church for our charismatic friends to emulate! Well did Jesus say, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign" (Matt. 12:39).

The idea of spiritual gifts today is not something new in the history of the church. Even in the days of Alexander Campbell, this was no small difference between him and Sidney Rigdon. Campbell opposed the idea, but Rigdon espoused it and made it the basis for his pretended revelation in writing the Book of Mormon. In this, Rigdon was consistent. Spiritual gifts in the apostolic church were to confirm the revelation (Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3). If men have spiritual gifts today it should be for the same purpose. All of which points up the utter folly of pretending to possess spiritual gifts. They have no revelation to be confirmed, unless we accept the decretals of the Pope, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, or the Book of Mormon.

God's choice of tongues of fire to represent the presence of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is not without significance. For what could more appropriately depict the purging and refining influence of the Word of God in the world? "Is not my word like fire? saith Jehovah: and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces." (Jer. 23:29). God's Word is a fire that tries all - the good and the bad, and destroys the evil. It is in a similar vein that God says: "Therefore as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as the dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust; because they have rejected the law of Jehovah of hosts, and despised the Word of the Holy One of Israel." (Isa. 5:24).

It could be a very frightening experience to awaken in the middle of the night and find your house on fire. How much more frightening, do you suppose it will be, to awaken on the day of judgement to find that we have refused the counsel of God? There must be some kind of a warning in God's selection of fire in which to clothe the appearance of the Pentecostal tongues. In their clamour for speaking in tongues, some have rejected the teaching of Christ and have made light of the Word of the Holy One of Israel. May God have mercy on their souls.

"So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers" (I Corinthians 15:22a)

Maurice A Meredith

1230 Orlando Drive,


Arizona 85228

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