Why I Am Not a Charismatic

Hands Raised

Tongues

This post is a continuation from my earlier post, “Why I Am Not a Cessationist,” and it is in participation with another post on Donald’s blog, Covenantal Organic Christianity [no longer available].

Over the next few posts, I will present my understanding of the gift of tongues and why I believe they must be intelligible languages. This is why I do not consider myself to be a charismatic.

Please note that while we may have different understandings about this, I consider the issue of tongues to be a relatively small matter. In no way do I wish to demean those who believe they speak in them, nor do I feel any need to break fellowship with such people.

Defining Tongues

The Greek word translated “tongues” is glossa, which most literally refers to the organ inside one’s mouth (e.g., James 3:5). It is also used figuratively in reference to speech (e.g., 1 John 3:18) and to languages (e.g., Revelation 5:9). We often do the same things with the word tongue in English today.

Given these exceedingly natural uses for the word throughout the New Testament (and the Septuagint), there is no reason to assume that glossa, when given by the Spirit, means anything other than different languages, unless context indicates otherwise.

At most, three books of the New Testament refer to glossa as a spiritual gift. The first is a single mention by Jesus, recorded in Mark.

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; they will pick up snakes; if they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well. (Mark 16:17–18, HCSB)

Interestingly, this is part of the longer ending to Mark (Mark 16:9–20), which is not found in the best manuscripts and is most likely not an authentic part of the original text. If it is authentic, however, it only records Jesus’ prophecy of the gift that was to come and does nothing to define it.

The other two books that reference the gift of tongues are Acts and 1 Corinthians. In Acts, the gift is defined, and we see multiple examples of the gift being used properly. In 1 Corinthians, we only see Paul’s response to abuse of the gift.

It thus seems unreasonable to define the gift by the vague references in 1 Corinthians. Rather, we must start with the clear definition from Acts and use it as an interpretative guideline for understanding the references in 1 Corinthians.

These are basic principles of biblical interpretation. Use Scripture to interpret Scripture. And interpret the ambiguous by the clear.

Tomorrow, I will examine the definition and examples of tongues recorded in Acts. The next day, I will examine the restrictions Paul placed on the gift in his letter to the Corinthians.

Spiritual Gifts Series

  1. Why I Am Not a Cessationist
  2. Why I Am Not a Charismatic
  3. The Gift of Tongues in Acts
  4. The Gift of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 12–13
  5. The Gift of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14

What Do You Think?

Don’t give me your whole outlook on tongues just yet. We’ll go through it part by part. For now, do you agree with these methods of interpretation? Is this a fair way to approach the subject of tongues?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends.