Friday, February 20, 2009

Speaking in Tongues in Acts

With the birth of the Church in the book of Acts, there were several notable events brought about by the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Of these events, speaking in tongues remains one of the most hotly debated topics in the contemporary Church. While the argument ranges from whether or not tongues is an active gift of the Spirit today, to the nature of this gift as communicated in the New Testament, the purpose here shall be to communicate these issues as limited by the book of Acts. This paper will examine not only the original language and the context of the passages dealing with speaking in tongues in the book of Acts, but also will consider the application of the issue to both the first-century Church as well as the contemporary Church today.
Original Language
Because of the controversy surrounding the topic at hand, it is important to know a little about the original language in which Scripture was written. This will enable the reader to more fully understand the implications of what is being said by having both the denotation and connotation of terms. Regarding glossolalia, the most important Greek term would be “glossa.” The Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance indicates that this term occurs 6 times in the book of Acts. Of these six times, we will be looking at five occurrences, each of which are contained in the following verses: Acts 2:3, Acts 2:4, Acts 2:11, Acts 10:46, and Acts 19:6. Glossa is defined by the Strongest Concordance very simply as, “a tongue, a language.” While these two ideas may at first appear to be synonymous, one use of glossa in our considered passages in Acts indicates that they are not. In other words, the context of Acts 2:3 demonstrates that the physical organ is in mind, while the remaining passages refer to a spoken language.
Looking to further communicate the idea of the term, Vine comments on the distinction by explaining further that glossa, “is used of (1) the ‘tongues…like as of fire’ which appeared at Pentecost; (2) ‘the tongue,’ as an organ of speech…; (3) (a) ‘a language,’…(b) ‘the supernatural gift of speaking in another language without its having been learnt’.” So, while it has been stated that the organ of speech was in mind when translating glossa in Acts 2:3, Vine clarifies that the phenomenon seen was not literally the physical organ itself. This makes sense as the verse indicates that “there appeared to them” these tongues of fire, so as not to confuse these tongues as themselves any actual fleshly organ of speech.
Passages in Question
Having considered the occurrences of the most important term, glossa, and its implications from the original language, we shall now move forward to consider the four pericopes of Scripture which deal with the issue of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts. These are the following: Acts 2:1-4, Acts 2:5-13, Acts 10:44-48, and Acts 19:1-7.
Acts 2:1-4, NASB Updated
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.
Following the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, we see here that the disciples noticed a visible sign of the coming of the Spirit, not unlike His coming as a dove at the baptism of Christ. While the NASB states that “they [the tongues of fire] rested on each,” the literal rendering of the text would indicate that “it” rested on each. Because of this, many commentators point out that the tongues themselves are not in mind, but rather the Spirit Himself. Gill notes the differences in manuscripts by stating that the thing sitting was “the fire, or the Holy Ghost in the appearance of fire. The Syriac and Arabic versions read, ‘and they sat upon each of them’; and so Beza’s most ancient copy, that is, the cloven tongues sat on them.” In either case, it is evident by the use of “fire” that this activity is representative of the divine presence of the Spirit.
With this presence of the Spirit, verse 4 indicates that the disciples were both filled with the Spirit and spoke by His gifting. Robertson notes that, “Each one began to speak in a language that 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.” This is important as some today believe that one universal heavenly language was spoken in which all who heard were able to understand. This idea is disproved, however, by both verse 3 noting the plurality of tongues, and later verse 13 noting particularly that all did not understand. Burton Coffman agrees by indicating that “Despite the insistence of some that this has reference to ecstatic utterances like those of so-called ‘tongues’ today, such a view is refuted, absolutely, by the fact that men of many nations understood every word in their native languages.”
Acts 2:5-13, NASB Updated
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? 9 "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." 12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others were mocking and saying, "They are full of sweet wine."
In this passage, we revisit the idea that several languages were being spoken to men of diverse lands. The amazement experienced by the crowd from verse 7 is summed up by Calvin’s comments on verse 11: “Luke noteth two things which caused the hearers to wonder; first, because the apostles being before ignorant and private persons, born in a base corner, did, notwithstanding, intreat profoundly of divine matters, and of heavenly wisdom. The other is, because they have new tongues given them suddenly.” While the reader today may not understand the implications of this comment, it is important to understand how reviled Galilee was in the mind of the 1st Century Jew. MacArthur points out that, “Galilean Jews spoke with a distinct regional accent and were considered to be unsophisticated and uneducated by the southern Judean Jews. When Galileans were seen to be speaking so many different languages, the Judean Jews were astonished.” Perhaps this very point is why the scoffers who did not understand the languages which the Galileans spoke considered them to be intoxicated. Peter goes on to defend the disciples; however, as he remarks that it is only 9am, which was a Jewish time of prayer at the Temple. This was far too early in the morning and far too sacrilegious to be the case.
Acts 10:44-48, NASB Updated
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.
Just as it was on the day of Pentecost, the new Gentile believers also spoke in various tongues. While we do not see the same “tongues as of fire” being distributed amongst the Gentiles, we do see the present circumcised (Jewish) believers amazed that the Gentiles had received the Spirit in the same manner as they, with the speaking of different tongues. The response was so convincing that Peter himself believes none can discredit them from being baptized in obedience to Christ. Henry states that, “The Holy Ghost fell upon others after they were baptized, for their confirmation; but upon these Gentiles before they were baptized: as Abraham was justified by faith, being yet in uncircumcision, to show that God is not tied to a method, nor confines himself to external signs…Now it appears why the Spirit was given them before they were baptized—because otherwise Peter could not have persuaded himself to baptize them, any more than to have preached to them, if he had not been ordered to do it by a vision.”
Considering Henry’s statement, it was necessary in this instance of first-preaching to the Gentiles that the Holy Spirit should come prior to their baptism, that they may be both accepted and indeed baptized. God’s providence here left the Circumcision without excuse to include the Gentiles into the body of believers, although later we see Paul battling against the Judaizers who believed quite the opposite. Like the Jewish believers at Pentecost, it appears that speaking in tongues here again refers to being given the capability to communicate in unlearned languages. Verse 46 also appears to point out that they may have been speaking Hebrew, as the Jewish believers both heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. This praise likely would not have been understood had not at least one Gentile been speaking Hebrew.
Acts 19:1-7, NASB Updated
1 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." 4 Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 There were in all about twelve men.
This passage of Scripture seems to line up with Henry’s statement regarding Acts 10:44-48. Here we find an instance in Scripture where believers received the Holy Spirit after baptism “for their confirmation.” Like the birth of the Church at Pentecost, and the first inclusion of the Gentiles into the body of believers in Caesarea, these Gentiles also spoke in tongues with the coming of the Spirit. The apparent difference here is that He came with the laying on of hands by Paul. This is similar to Acts 8:14-17, where Peter and John laid hands upon those who had been baptized by Philip, however, there is no account there of any glossolalia. Burton Coffman disagrees, stating that, “It is a mistake to make another Pentecost out of this. Walker said that ‘This was the same phenomenon witnessed on Pentecost and at the house of Cornelius’; but in neither case was the phenomenon due to the imposition of apostolic hands. This is therefore clearly something else.”
While his statement is accurate as far as the coming of the Spirit, he overlooks the relationship we see of these three events between this coming and speaking in tongues. MacArthur comments that, “This signified their inclusion into the church (see note on 8:17). Apostles were also present when the church was born (chap. 2), and when the Samaritans (chap. 8) and Gentiles (chap. 10) were included. In each case, God’s purpose was to emphasize the unity of the church.” So, according to MacArthur, the laying on of hands here was merely an expression of the unity of the Church under the authority of the apostles, and does not indicate anything somewhat different from the speaking of tongues in association with the coming of the Spirit seen in chapters 2 and 10 in Acts.
Having reviewed the usage of the Greek term “glossa” in the book of Acts, as well as the context of the passages where it occurs in reference to “speaking in tongues,” we must move forward to how this applies both to the 1st Century Church as well as the contemporary Church. Restricting this discussion solely to the book of Acts, it is quite evident that speaking in tongues was an evidence of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon believers, be they Jew or Gentile. Additionally, this speaking in tongues was an act whereby God was glorified through the communication of the Gospel in known human languages, although said languages were unlearned by their speakers. There is no indication in Acts that glossolalia was a repeated incident for any individual beyond their first experience with the Spirit, nor is there any indication that speaking in tongues was a certain byproduct of that experience (see Acts 8). Taking these points into consideration, as far as can be gathered from the speaking of tongues in the book of Acts, the 1st Century Church experienced this phenomena in accordance with the coming of the Spirit at salvation alone. If this was not always the case, as it was not, speaking in tongues is not a guaranteed sign that one has received the Spirit of God. While the Gospel has been communicated throughout the world today and the Word of God is available in almost all known languages, it is no longer necessary to assume that speaking in tongues will accompany salvation with the coming of the Spirit. We should not deny the power and will of God to do as He pleases in this world, however, we should also see that for those who insist the occurrence of glossolalia still occurs today, that at a minimum they are being regulated by what is communicated in Scripture, not simply emotions, experience, or church tradition.

Greek Dictionary. The Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan, 2004.
Vine, William E. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996.
Gill, John. Commentary on Acts 2:3. The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible. 1999.
Robertson, A.T. Commentary on Acts 2:4. Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament.
Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960.
Coffman, James Burton. Commentary on Acts 2. Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New
Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Calvin, John. Commentary on Acts – Volume 1. Translated by Christopher Fetherstone. 1585.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2009.
MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur Study Bible. Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006.
Henry, Matthew. Commentary on Acts 10. Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole
Coffman, James Burton. Commentary on Acts 19. Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New
Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Gill, John. Commentary on Acts 19:6. The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible. 1999.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What is the significance of the decision made at the Jerusalem “Council” in Acts 15?

The first of all Church councils, the Jerusalem Council, was important as it dealt primarily with the question of what one must do to be saved. MacArthur agrees and notes that, “The apostles and elders defied efforts to impose legalism and ritualism as necessary prerequisites for salvation. They forever affirmed that salvation is totally by grace through faith in Christ alone.” Bock points out that the receipt of the Spirit and Peter’s conclusion regarding the matter demonstrate that “God accepted Gentiles as they were when the Spirit came…God equally receives both Jews and Gentiles…There is no distinction between them when it comes to access to salvation.”
So, it seems quite evident that rendering a decision regarding the issue of salvation in light of the Law amongst Jews and Gentiles was absolutely necessary. This decision was made to help deter the nationalistic pride of Israel detrimental to the spread of God’s kingdom, the badgering of Gentile believers by the Judaizers, and to encourage the proclamation of the Gospel amongst unreached Jews and Gentiles within the Roman Empire. With this decision, the only restrictions made related to holy living in relationship with God: Idolatry, consumption of blood and strangled animals, and fornication.

How did Paul share his faith with the Athenians in Acts 17?
In his customary fashion, Paul was in the synagogue at Athens reasoning with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. He also took the opportunity to share his faith in the marketplace, defending his views amongst the Epicureans and Stoics as well. With this new teaching to the Athenians, Paul was brought to the Areopagus in order to defend his views before the city’s philosophers and authorities. Henry notes that the Areopagus was “the town-house, or guildhall of their city, where the magistrates met upon public business, and the courts of justice were kept; and it was as the theatre in the university, or the schools, where learned men met to communicate their notions.”
Using this most important site in the city, Paul took advantage of the opportunity to share his faith by means of appealing to the supernatural nature of the Athenians. Their concern for pleasing the gods extended to the point of making an altar to an unknown god, for fear of offending any they may have forgotten. Because of this, Paul was able to use the altar as a springboard to share the Gospel of the one true God. Beginning with Creation, Paul moved forward addressing the idolatry of the Athenians and ending ultimately with the resurrection of Christ. As usual, Paul’s message met mixed reviews, with some believing, some scoffing, and some desiring to learn more.

MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur Study Bible. Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.
Henry, Matthew. Complete Commentary on Acts 17. Matthew Henry Complete
Commentary on the Whole Bible". com/view.cgi?book=ac&chapter=017>. 1706.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is suffering persecution normal for a Christian?

The question of Christian persecution as normative is not something modern Americans generally consider. With health and wealth preaching as well as Scripture verses being taken out of context (such as John 10:10, etc.), it is hard to understand that there is no promise in the Christian life that we shall go without persecution. Quite the opposite is true, because we should in fact expect it (John 15:8,20; etc.). Drummond agrees by stating that, “Every man who lives like Christ produces the same reaction upon the world…He [Christ] prepared His Church beforehand for the reception it would get in the world. He gave no hope that it would be an agreeable one (emphasis in original).”
While Drummond addresses what we should expect in the Christian life, Bock encourages the believer by looking at the example of the Apostles: “They [the Apostles] show that suffering is not to be feared, nor is it necessarily an indication of failure. In fact, it may well come with the territory of sharing the need for Jesus in a world that seeks self-sufficiency…If Jesus, the servant and example, experienced sacrifice and rejection by many, should those who follow him expect anything different?” So, while it is true that any believer who is following the example of Christ should expect persecution and suffering, it is also true that we should glory in such suffering as it brings us closer to Christ and is used by God to further His kingdom. As Paul has indicated in his letter to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Is God involved in the suffering of a Christian, both regular suffering and persecution?
Too often, God’s love is flaunted by a wicked world (outside and inside the visible Church) unwilling to come to terms with its sinfulness. The truth of the matter is that God is both perfectly loving and perfectly just. Additionally, God is absolutely sovereign. This does not mean that we are some mindless robots that have no will in the actions we carry out or receive against ourselves; however, it does mean that God is in control and works in all things. Considering these points, we can look to Scripture for verification. First, Paul demonstrates God’s goodness in Romans 8:28 by acknowledging that God, controlling all things, works them together for the good of the believer. This means that while we may not understand our circumstances (which may include both suffering and persecution), we are able to trust that God is working it out for our good. Second, Luke indicates in Acts 3:18 that the suffering of Christ, God’s own Son, was according to the plan of the Father. This is accomplished in grace, as without it we would still be dead in our sins. Finally, Paul communicates to the Philippian believers that, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear {to be} in me.” So it is quite apparent that God works things which we do not understand together for our good, He planned the suffering of His own precious Son, and we are blessed should we share in this suffering as it progresses the kingdom of God. In light of these three points, we are able to glory in suffering and accept that God remains in control in spite of this suffering. MacArthur puts it well by stating, “The Gr. verb translated ‘granted’ is from the noun for grace. Believers’ suffering is a gift of grace which brings power (2Co 7:9,10; 1Pe 5:10) and eternal reward (1Pe 4:13).”4

Drummond, Henry. The Ideal Life and other Unpublished Addresses. 1897. Christian
Classics Ethereal Library, 2009.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.
MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur Study Bible. Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006.