MLJ Monday – Were Tongues in Acts and 1 Corinthians BOTH Unintelligible?

MLJ Monday – Were Tongues in Acts and 1 Corinthians BOTH Unintelligible? August 7, 2006

In the excerpt I am quoting today, Martyn Lloyd-Jones weighs in on the current discussion regarding the gift of tongues. He attempts to answer the question, “Is there a discrepancy between the tongues described in the book of Acts and those referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians?”

Now clearly the Doctor’s view contained in this post, if totally correct, seems to cause some problems for BOTH my position AND Dan’s. But I will, for now, allow him to simply speak for himself without trying to fully critque his positon. We do not interpret Scripture in a vaccum, so it pays us well to listen to what great expositors of the past and present have to say.

The Doctor is not easily pidgeon-holed and seems to want to, in one sense, go further than most charismatics would go by saying that tongues in Acts AND 1 Corinthians were not, in fact, foreign languages. He is eager to stress the need for decency and order, however, to the point where he believes that tongues not done in order cannot actually be tongues at all – which seems a bit strange since Paul seems to be addressing a situation where disordered tongue-speaking WAS in fact occurring.

But whatever your position on tongues, a dose of the Doctor’s carefully thought-out medication this Monday morning should be provocative and help you to think through a bit more what YOU think about it all.

Now this gift of tongues often leads to trouble and to confusion. We are told about this gift of tongues in the second, the tenth, and the nineteenth chapters of Acts, and then it is dealt with in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14. The great question debated throughout the centuries is this: Do the three chapters in Acts refer to the same thing as the three chapters in 1 Corinthians? Now one school of thought differentiates between Acts and 1 Corinthians. There are those who say that in the book of Acts the apostles and others were literally speaking in other languages, not Greek or Aramaic, but, perhaps, Latin or some of the dialects and languages of the various peoples who were gathered together at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Whereas it is said that in Corinthians Paul is referring to some sort of ecstatic utterance which is not a language at all, but sounds and words uttered without understanding by the person taken up by the Holy Spirit.

But, again speaking for myself, I find it very difficult to accept that view because I find that the terms which are used in Acts and in 1 Corinthians are precisely the same and it seems to me to be unnecessary to postulate two different meanings, if one will account for it all. ‘But,’ someone may say, ‘we are told that on the Day of Pentecost everyone heard the apostles speaking in their own language.’ Of course. That seems to me to be a part of the miracle that took place. In other words, I suggest that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the people who were listening were enabled to hear in their own language though their own language was not being spoken. Now at least fifteen different dialects were spoken by those people at Jerusalem at that time, and it seems to me to be quite incredible that if these fifteen different languages were being spoken at the same time in these conditions, the people who were standing by and listening could each one differentiate not only his own language, but could clearly follow what was being said. It seems impossible. But it is quite possible that the apostles were speaking in some kind of speech and the Holy Spirit, as it were, conveyed that speech to all these people as if it were coming in their own tongue and they understood what was being said. They understood these men telling forth these wonderful works of God.

So I suggest that the difference between the tongues in Acts and 1 Corinthians is simply that it was done in all its perfection and glory on the Day of Pentecost, in the house of Cornelius, and in Ephesus. However, in Corinth there was this difference, that sometimes the man speaking did not himself know what he was saying, and the ability to understand it was not conveyed to others except by an occasional interpreter. Of course it was not conveyed to everyone at Jerusalem, because there were some who thought that these men were filled with a new wine, you remember. Not everyone was given the ability to understand, but in Corinth there were these interpreters who were able to explain the meaning.

Another point is that the gift of tongues is not meant for all. The Apostle asks, ‘Do all speak with tongues?’ (1 Cor 12:30). And the answer is, of course, ‘No, all do not speak in tongues, all do not have the gifts of healing, all do not interpret,’ and so on. And you will notice that Paul always puts the gift of tongues last in his list. In chapter 14, he is at great pains to say that everything must be done ‘decently and in order’, for God is not the author of confusion (vv.40, 33). So if you meet people who say they speak in tongues, or if you have been at a meeting where this is claimed, and if there was disorder and confusion, then you are entitled to say, in terms of the scriptural teaching, that whatever else it may have been, it was not the gift of tongues as described in the church at Corinth. The Apostle always emphasises the order and the control which must be exercised. This is a difficult subject, but if we constantly heed the injunctions and the warnings, and the teaching of the Scripture, we shall be saved from much trouble.

All emphasis mine.

This excerpt was taken from:

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible, The Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 2003, pp.273-274.

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