Tongues, Part 2-mp7a1

Religion If Paul’s use of tongues does not mean glossolalia in the contemporary or Delphic sense, what does it mean? The Greek word simply means tongue, the instrument of speech. And by implication and .mon use at the time it was written, it referred to a foreign language or to foreign languages (plural). The Protestant Reformers believed that glossolalia (ecstatic and unintelligible speech) had stopped or ought to stop in the New Testament era, that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit among God’s people would put an end to such nonsense. And they were correct because the God of Scripture is not a God of nonsense and/or confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Glossa means means foreign languages. And here’s the key issue that will help us understand what Paul was driving at: if some languages are foreign then one particular language is not foreign. Remember that we are talking about God’s Word, or "God’s language." God revealed Himself to the ancient Hebrews and established the nation of Israel as a kind of case study regarding God’s law. From Moses to Christ that nation was Israel and its language was Hebrew. At that time God’s Word was written exclusively in Hebrew. That was God’s native tongue, so to speak. The Hebrew Scriptures were not available in any other language. That is important because it meant that all God-language was in Hebrew. If anyone wanted to know what God was talking about, they needed to learn Hebrew. With the advent of Christ the gospel was opened up to the Gentiles, to the other nations of the world. Those Gentile people spoke other languages. They didn’t speak Hebrew. So, if they were going to understand the gospel, it would need to be spoken (and written) in other languages, languages foreign to the Hebrew tongue. The beginning of this process of speaking genuine biblical gospel God-talk in other languages began at Pentecost when "divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:3-4). "Divided tongues" is .prised of two Greek words, diamerizo glossa. We have determined that glossa means foreign languages, languages other than Hebrew. Diamerizo does mean divided, but would be better translated as a division or a distribution. The phrase "tongues as of fire" is a correct translation, but it isn’t very helpful. Note that it does not say "tongues of fire" but "tongues *as* of fire." The word "as" sets up a .parison. Tongues (foreign languages) are .pared to fire. The tongues are not made of fire, but are like fire in some way. So, how can foreign languages be like fire? Fire flickers and tongues can be understood to flicker in the mouth when speaking. Thus, the phrase "tongues as of fire" suggests that foreign languages were being spoken with ease. We might say "burning up the airwaves." Tongues were flickering as many people were using foreign languages to speak about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the God of Scripture. Tongues were flickering in a similar way that flames flicker in a fire. That’s the .parison. Acts 2:2 tells us that "suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting." Think of a school lunchroom or a symphony audience before the show starts. People are all talking at once. Have you ever stopped talking in the middle of that kind of setting and just listened? It sounds like wind rustling forest leaves on a cold Autumn day, except louder. Luke described it as "like a mighty rushing wind" (Acts 2:2). The Greek word translated wind can also be translated as breath. The word wind occurs twenty-six times in the New Testament, but this particular word only occurs twice, here and in Acts 17:25 where it is translated as breath. Let me suggest that breath may be a better translation. Understood as breath the phrase would mean "like a might rushing breath," or a "mighty gust of conversation." But this rushing breath must not be understood as a temporary or momentary phenomena. The Greek word translated rushing is also unusual. It literally means to bring forth, to bear or carry with endurance. Thus, the phrase suggests a powerful bringing forth of a great and sustaining breath. Let me suggest that this Acts 2:2 tongues as of fire event was the beginning of a great movement of tongue wagging about Jesus Christ in foreign (non-Hebrew) languages that will continue to the end of history. People were not just talking, they were excited! And as more of them began to get excited about the miracle of God’s grace in their own lives, they had to speak louder in order to be heard above the crowd. Thousands of people were crowding together, excitedly talking among their friends about their new insights into the gospel of Jesus Christ. What happened on Pentecost? Suddenly God’s Word was being discussed in foreign languages (not Hebrew) among the international crowd that had gathered. The Word of God had been given to people who didn’t speak Hebrew. For thousands of years all genuine God-talk had been limited to the Hebrew language, and now suddenly, people began to speak about the Hebrew God in their own languages — foreign languages. The gospel had been given to the Gentiles, but if it was to be received by the Gentiles, it needed to .e to them in their own languages — and it did! The point of the Pentecost story was the sudden distribution of genuine God-talk among speakers of foreign (non-Hebrew) languages. If Jesus was to be the savior of the Gentiles, the Gentiles would need to discuss Him in their own languages. And they did, all of a sudden! All at once these gathered Gentiles started talking among themselves about the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and the amazing grace of the gospel. They began talking among their small groups, among their families and friends, groups who didn’t speak Hebrew. God’s Word had broken out of the Hebrew box that had contained it for thousands of years. The actual understanding of grace and salvation had been given to Gentiles — foreigners, and in their own languages! That was the miracle of Pentecost. Pentecost was not about mystical unknown languages or special languages known only to God and particular, individual believers. Pentecost was not about gibberish! It was the outpouring of God’s grace to the Gentiles in their native tongues. Later, when the Protestant Reformers said that "tongues" had "ceased" they meant that the Canon of Scripture was closed with the writing of the New Testament — which is true. But in another sense tongues had just begun! The gospel of Jesus Christ is still being translated and spoken in foreign tongues all over the world, and it will continue until the end of time. Greek was a foreign tongue to the Hebrews. So, part of the tongues experience involved the writing of the Bible (the New Testament) in a foreign language — in Greek, which was the international language of the day. The closing of the Canon was a very important concern. All kinds of stories about Jesus and all sorts of erroneous miraculous events were floating about. And much of it was nonsense. The truth about Jesus Christ needed to be codified. Truth needed to be separated from error. Three hundred years after Jesus, the Roman Emperor Constantine called for the Nicene Council who, among other things, began the process of codifying the books of Scripture as we know them. The authoritative books of the New Testament were established on the basis of .mon usage. That was a critical issue for the life and viability of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but there were differences of opinion about some relatively popular books. In the Seventeenth Century the Protestant Reformers then made a few adjustments of the Canon at the Westminster Assembly when they excluded the Apocrypha from the Canon, which the Roman Catholics have retained to this day. With that exclusion, Protestants then agreed that the Canon was closed. And to emphasize the closing of the Canon they emphasized in the first chapter of the Westminster Confession the cessation of the gift of tongues, and understood it to mean the end of the writing of the Bible. But that closing of the Canon did not stop or limit the expansion of God’s Word into foreign territories or foreign languages. Rather, the Protestant Reformation began the greatest expansion of Christianity the world had ever seen. Tongues began to flicker for God all over the world, and they still are. Indeed, from this perspective tongues did not cease with the closing of the Canon, but rather they began in earnest as the Bible was translated into every known tongue and exported to every known people. Praise be to Jesus Christ! 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