Supernatural Speech In Acts
By Rev. Robert Liichow
The 40-member church is among many nationwide that are reducing or cutting out speaking in tongues as they become more popular and move to the mainstream. It’s a shift that has unsettled some more traditional Pentecostals who say the practice is at the heart of a movement that evolved out of an interracial revival and remains a spontaneous way for the poor and dispossessed to have a direct line to God.
Last month on Issues Etc. radio I was asked, along with our discussion of Mr. Copeland’s measles outbreak at his compound to share my insights regarding recent articles that had come out stating that the defining mark of Pentecostalism, ecstatic speech, was not being practiced openly in many Pentecostal denominations and in some cases was no longer being emphasized. Harvey Cox, a Harvard religion professor said “This is a long-developing phenomenon . . . they don’t want what appears to be objectionable to stick out or be viewed with suspicion.”
First of all, we must begin with the biblical
evidence. Once we know what this expression of speaking in other tongues was biblically, then and only then can we determine if any Christian body is following the biblical practice or not. If on the one hand their practice has indeed been biblically correct, then why are they compromising their stance? If however, their practice has not been in accord with the Bible, then it is a good development that it is decreasing. What doth the Bible saith regarding what actually happened on the Day of Pentecost and throughout the history of the Book of Acts?
Prior to that Day – – –
Although many times sign-gift enthusiast proclaimers will begin their message on the validity of speaking in other tongues with this passage of text (which is probably as well known by Pentecostals as John 3:16 is to Baptists) they are already building on a faulty biblical understanding.
And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen. Luke 24:46-53
Only the 12 NOT the 120
Our Lord Jesus was with the twelve. He is addressing His hand-picked witnesses moments before His ascension back to the Father and they are told that they, they who? The eleven disciples/apostles are the ones being addressed. This is a crucial point, do not forget it. They are the ones who will be initially clothed with power from on high and our Lord lifts up His hands, blesses them; they worship their Lord, and being filled with great joy return to Jerusalem. Before the tongues as of fire rested upon the apostles they (the apostles) had to select another man to replace Judas. The qualifications are stated very clearly for all succeeding generations: First, Jesus said His men were witnesses of His ministry in Luke 24 and then again in Acts1:
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a
with us of his resurrection. Acts 1:21-22
The eleven prayed and sought the will of the Lord and they chose by lots between Matthias and Justus, with the result being the selection of Matthias. Remember in Luke 24 our Lord said they (the apostles) would be “witnesses” this is the same masculine term used again here for “witness.” The witnesses were the 12 apostles according to the context of this thought. After the number of apostles was restored to twelve and the “day of Pentecost” had fully come:
Pentecost or Shavuot has many names in the Bible (the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Harvest, and the Latter Firstfruits). Celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, Shavuot is traditionally a joyous time of giving thanks and presenting offerings for the new grain of the summer wheat harvest in Israel. The name “Feast of Weeks” was given because God commanded the Jews in Leviticus 23:15-16, to count seven full weeks (or 49 days) beginning on the second day of Passover, and then present offerings of new grain to the Lord as a lasting ordinance.
Keep in mind that during this celebration Jerusalem would have been packed with people from all over the known world. “The Law of Moses required that all men make a pilgrimage to the temple three times a year to celebrate the feasts or festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.” The city was already filled due to the major Passover and now 50 days later most people were still in the city and surrounds to fulfill their next obligation. This helps explain the wide divergence of languages in evidence during this observance.
When the Day of Pentecost Had Fully Come
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
The “they” being spoken of are the same “they” Luke referred to in his Gospel account. There is nothing that indicates that the 120 other people gathered in that room were also recipients of that vocal gift. There is nothing stated anywhere in the Book of Acts that states or intimates anyone other than the apostles initially received this spiritual ability.
It is a question whether only the Twelve spoke in tongues or all 120. Several factors support the idea of only the Twelve being involved in this phenomenon: (1) They are referred to as Galileans (Acts 2:7; cf. 1:11–13). (2) Peter stood up with “the Eleven” (2:14). (3) The nearest antecedent of “they” in verse 1 is the “apostles” in 1:26.
We do read that it was the apostles who went outside and began to glorify God supernaturally in a genuine language unknown to them as the speakers, but known to the one being addressed hearer(s).
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Acts 2:4-8
The ones filled were the same ones who went outside and began to speak intelligently and the ones speaking were Galilaeans (male verb, male adjective in the Greek), the apostles were all male. We know that there were women that comprised a good part of the 120 people with the apostles but none of them is mentioned as receiving this gift at this time.
Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. Acts 2:9-13
The apostles amazed their hearers because they were extolling the “wonderful works of God” in their own native languages. Languages that “ignorant and unlearned men” (see Acts 4:13) would not have known how to speak. The purpose of this gift was evangelical in that it got the attention of the people by proclaiming the wonderful works of God, which is simply another way of telling people about what God has done for us all in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. From this account we know: (1) Jesus told them to go and wait, they did not know what to expect, i.e. they were not seeking the “gift of tongues.” (2) The apostles were the ones initially empowered with the Holy Spirit. (3) The gift was for the benefit of others not the personal edification of the speaker. (4) The messages were spoken to other people in their own language by a man who did not know the language he was speaking in, i.e. it was a genuine supernatural experience. (5) The content of the messages was clearly understood and glorified the works of God. (6) Lastly, this unusual manifestation was also a duel fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy:
For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; And this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. Isa. 28:11-12
The context is God’s judgment against Judah and foretold their going into Assyrian captivity, a people whose language they did not understand. “Men who mock God’s servants and message will ultimately be mocked in turn: delivered into the captivity of people who speak with what seems to be a stammering or mocking tongue (Isa 33:10). This was fulfilled as Isaiah prophesied, yet the apostles seem to apply this past event to what was now taking place in the Church.
The extreme enthusiasts today claim that because some of the mockers (Judeans) said the apostles were acting like people totally out of control on alcohol that we should expect the same drunken manifestations today when we are “filled” with the Spirit. The entire “holy laughter” movement was buttressed on this faulty concept.
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. Acts 2:14-14
Peter corrects the Judeans who were the ones casting aspersions. There is nothing in the text that indicates the apostles were “acting” drunk at all. The Judeans heard them, did not understand the languages, knew they were from Galilee (hicks) and thus mocked them. Peter says “these are not drunk” and dismisses the notion altogether and begins to explain what is transpiring.
Peter begins to preach what is taking place, in his own native tongue, and he tells them (and us) that what is taking place is THE fulfillment of the prophecy given by Joel [not “a” fulfillment]:
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: Acts 2:16-18
“This” is a demonstrable pronoun pointing to what was taking place right then and there. It was prophesied to come to pass and it CAME TO PASS on that Day. The grammar is always important in Bible study and many people have missed its importance here. Peter stated unambiguously that “this,” what is transpiring in their midst is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Enthusiasts through the ages have tried to claim that their movements were birthed out of additional fulfillments of Joel’s prophecy. Montanus claimed “Joel” as did the people at Azusa Street in 1906, later on the New Order of the Latter Rain declared their movement a fulfillment, as did the Roman Catholic Charismatic renewal movement in the mid 1960’s at the University of Notre Dame. All of them are wrong. That specific prophecy in Joel was fulfilled in the Church then, period.
Without going into the meat of Peter’s sermon we do learn one thing virtually all people fail to mention. When the 3,000 hearers are pricked to their hearts and are brought to faith in Christ Jesus and baptized —- NONE of these men began to speak in other tongues upon believing and baptism.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. Acts 2:38-41
The “promise” of the Holy Spirit is given to all (note also, Peter included children) who are brought to repentance and are baptized into Christ Jesus. Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit at their new birth, but not all Christians spoke with new tongues. Speaking in other tongues is not “proof” or evidence that an individual is “filled” with the Spirit per se. The “proof” of being indwelt by the Spirit is found in the waters of holy baptism. If you were baptized into Christ, then you are indwelt by the Spirit of Grace, like everything else in our walk, this is an article of faith and it is not based on whether we feel His presence or not.
What we should focus on in this event is that the Spirit had just been poured out on the apostles; they were not seeking this gift of other tongues, yet they received it — why didn’t these newly minted “Christians” also speak with new tongues as well? Peter just preached that the gift of the Holy Spirit was for all God’s children . . . so why are not all reported to be glorifying God wonderful works supernaturally? Obviously, this supernatural ability was not given to all believers, then or now. About five years after the Day of Pentecost (DOP) the Gospel message begins to make Its way outside of the converted Jews. In the following event we read of Phillip preaching Christ to the Samaritans. They received the Word of God and were converted (see Acts 8:11).
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. Acts 8:14-17
Phillip shared the Gospel with the Samaritans, yet he was not authorized to impart the gift of the Spirit, only the apostles had this ability. They had to send for the apostles Peter and John. The apostles prayed for them, laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Ghost. There is no mention of these believers speaking with other tongues when they received the Holy Spirit. We are not given many details of how the Spirit manifested Himself among them, but something was evident by reading the account of Simon the sorcerer:
Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Acts 8:13, 18-20
Simon became a believer, he was baptized into Christ and he continued with the evangelist Phillip. Simon saw that through the laying on the apostles‘ hands the Holy Ghost was imparted and he wanted to do the same thing as the apostles and even offered to pay for this ability, which probably made perfect sense to his yet carnal mind. THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT EVENT! We read of a believer who tried to TRESPASS into a ministry arena that he was unauthorized to engage in and Peter rebukes Simon and calls him to repentance for his presumptuous sin, he repents (vs. 24). Here are the vital points; first of all, we read that the Holy Spirit was imparted/given via the ministry/authority of the apostles alone. Secondly, one cannot purchase the gift of God. Thirdly, it was (and is) God alone who determined who and what gift they shall receive. What we are reading about is not the unique gift of speaking in other tongues, instead we are privy to reading about the unconquerable spread of the Gospel, the gates of hell (Matt. 16:18) are indeed no match for the power of God (Romans 1:16) and now the Samaritans are united in one Body with the Jews.
From the DOP nothing is mentioned about speaking in other tongues until the event with the Centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. If the gift of other tongues was the be-all and end-all of Christian spirituality why isn’t it mentioned as taking place more often in the account? We know Peter goes with John and he preaches in the temple and this time 5,000 men are converted (see Acts 4:4). As with the earlier 3,000 converts, these 5,000 also did not speak in other tongues at their conversion either.
If one is honest with the Book of Acts then one MUST admit that speaking in other tongues was not a universal experience for Christians. As we shall read, it was in fact a unique and surprising infrequent occurrence. The next citation of this specific gift is almost ten years later after the DOP at home of Cornelius!
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. Acts 10:44-48
Years had passed since that DOP was initially celebrated. Many Jews have been converted, for even as Paul said later that the Gospel was to “the Jew first, then the Gentiles” (see Romans 1:16). The divine encounter between Cornelius and Peter was completely orchestrated by God. The Lord spoke to Cornelius by an angel (Acts 10:3) and gave hardheaded Peter a vision and brought them together defying tremendous racial animus between the Jews and Greeks.
While Peter was still preaching to those gathered (Cornelius, his household and devout friends, v. 24) the hearers were brought to faith and the Spirit of Grace fell upon the Gentiles for the first time. How did Peter and those on his ministry “team” know they had received the Spirit? “For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (v. 44). There are several very salient facts in this account to keep in mind when it comes to the issue of ecstatic speech.
First, Peter as apostle was present and conducting the service which was his calling as a “witness” (that word again from Luke 24, Acts 1, Acts 10) — apostolic presence and authority. No one in the book of Acts received the gifts of the Spirit apart from the presence/ministry of the apostles. Secondly, some years had passed since the birth of the Church and Peter, Cornelius nor anyone else gathered were expecting (seeking) this capability. At this point in the Acts account we have no proof that anyone spoke with other tongues again after the Day of Pentecost. There is nothing in the text to indicate that speaking in tongues was in evidence in the worship services in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria at this (or any other for that matter). Thirdly, this manifestation was the same as occurred on the Day of Pentecost. The Gentiles did not receive some other demonstration of this gift than the Jews. We know they received the same experience as the Jews by Peter’s own testimony:
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? Acts 11:15-17
Upon returning home Peter is questioned by the circumcised believers and he recounts to them the entire event. Peter clearly states that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles as on us at the beginning (Pentecost). They received the same expression “as he did unto” the Jews. Peter and those with him at the home of Cornelius heard the Gentiles magnify God, and although the text does not state it, it is very safe to conclude that some people in attendance could interpret/translate what was being vocalized or else they would not have known they were “magnifying God.” Also, it makes perfect sense that since the Gentiles received the same manifestation of the Spirit as the Jews, then the gift would have been the same, i.e. in this case Gentiles speaking supernaturally and someone being able to understand that they were in fact glorifying God. In this case it seems that the manifestation of other tongues was to convince the Jewish believers of the validity of the salvation of the Gentiles, even as tongues were used to help convince the pious Jews and proselytes of the reality of Peter’s sermon. What we see on the Day of Pentecost is the outworking of “to the Jew first” and then a few years later the Gentiles are brought in – “then to the Greeks.”
First we read of the dramatic birth of the Church, the Church being opened to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and now in Acts 10 we read of the Church doors being opened to the Gentiles and the beginning of global evangelism. On these occasions nobody was expecting and thus not seeking the gift of tongues. On these occasions the vocalization of this special gift was spoken in a known language by people who did not know that language but a language that could be understood. Initially the apostles were the recipients and from that point on the apostles were always present when spiritual gifts were imparted. In Acts we read of no accounting of the Church gathering together to speak in tongues as part of worship, nor of any lay people going about distributing the gifts of the Spirit.
For almost another ten years the Book of Acts is silent about the use of this gift until we come across the apostle of untimely birth (1 Cor. 15:8) Paul in Acts 19:
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve. Acts 19:1-7
Paul and Apollos are on their way to Ephesus and they encounter a group of John’s disciples. Beyond them being disciples of John the Baptist we know very little about them. We know they were baptized with John’s baptism and they did not knowing that the Holy Spirit had been given by Jesus Christ who came baptizing with the Holy Ghost and fire (Matthew 3:11). The apostle Paul corrects their theological ignorance and they received the Word and were baptized into Christ Jesus. Then Paul the apostle laid his hands on these men and the Holy Spirit came upon them and these twelve men both spoke with tongues and also prophesied. Again, let us focus on what we do know, not what we speculate about! The Holy Spirit was given/imparted/bestowed through the ministry of an apostle to believers who had no idea of what to expect, they did not even know of the Spirit’s ministry through the Church at this point, again they were not “seeking” an experience or encounter with God. We read that the “gifts” given are according to the will of God, they spoke in tongues and also prophesied, two of the nine gifts Paul delineates in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. This encounter is the last mention of speaking in/with other “tongues” in the Book of Acts.
The fact is there are only three actual texts that deal with speaking in other tongues —Acts 2:4, 10:46, and 19:6—are the only instances regarding speaking in tongues in the book of Acts. Some Pentecostal and sign-gift enthusiasts assert that tongues also occurred in Acts 8:4 but, there is no textual support for their belief, it is pure speculation. All three events treat the gift of speaking in tongues as the public and intelligible (understandable) communication of truth about God. Each event also show the gift of speaking in tongues as a verifying sign of the unique coming of the Holy Spirit upon a new group of people, thereby incorporating that group into the church.
In conclusion let us also remember the examples of when people were converted and filled with the Holy Spirit without any evidence of speaking in other tongues. In Acts 2:41-42 we read where the three thousand were converted and baptized. Phillip preached and men and women were converted and baptized in water and filled with the Spirit, no mention of other tongues however, Acts 8:12. When Phillip witnesses to the Ethiopian eunuch who converts and is baptized does not speak in other tongues, Acts 8:26-40. There is no evidence at his conversion and baptism that the apostle Paul spoke in tongues (Acts 9:17-19), although later he thanks God he speaks in tongues “more than ye all” in 1 Cor. 14:18. It is obvious that the gift of speaking in other tongues was not a universal experience or practice. When the Spirit manifested Himself in such a manner He did so through apostolic authority and not the laity. Lastly, it was not an experience to be sought, nor did it seem to be for personal edification. Then how did the sign-gift movement get to be the largest segment of the Church? Stay tuned as by the grace of God DMI will continue to endeavor to unscrew the inscrutable.
ENDNOTES & REFERENCES:
An important FACT to remember when you read the Book of Acts is that what we read in an hour covers many years of Church history.
This is one of several recent stories on this topic http://bigstory.ap.org/article/messages-tongues-down-among-pentecostals. The underlining and bold type were added by the author for emphasis.
Christian people need to regain their objectivity. It matters not how long a group of Christians has done something nor does it matter how many millions embrace a practice or dogma that does not make it true. Our first and foremost authority is the Bible itself.
Obtained from http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefeastsandholidays/p/pentecostfeast.htm on 9/24/13
Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 357–358.
Walter C. Kaiser, “1118 לָעַג,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 481.
When Pentecostal/sign gift folks teach the Book of Acts the people are given the impression that all of these “supernatural” events take place one after another quickly and that all the members of the early Church were all supernaturally empowered by the Spirit and that the rank-N-file believers were imparting gifts, working miracles, having a revival time in the Lord per se. This is simply invisibly written into the account. There is nothing that indicates this sort of hyper-Pentecostalism was transpiring at all in the lives of the people.