Tongues is one of those hot-button topics in Christendom that while it seems to be quite a new phenomenon in it’s global influence, it is nothing new. In fact I’ve written about it enough times as to think, will the conversation ever end? And yet – here we are again.
Recently, I re-listened to the 2014 debate between Dr. James White and Dr. David Bernard on this topic (third, maybe fourth time…) due to recent conversations on the topic. (Click here for the debate)
Dr. James White is a Cessationist who holds to Reformed theology, has authored many books, is a prolific debater and Greek scholar, and is the founder of Alpha and Omega Ministries. Dr. David Bernard is also an author and is an apologetic defender of the Oneness Pentecostal faith who currently presides as the President of the United Pentecostal Church, International.
In the debate, the two argued out again the question, “Is tongues the initial evidence of Salvation, and is Tongues required to be saved?”
I am compelled of course, as I normally do, to refer to some Scripture, Commentary and Word Dictionaries to define this word ‘tongues’ before we get into the meat of the topic.
What are Tongues?
First off, the word ‘tongues’ as found in the Book of Acts Chapter 2, verse 4, is glóssa, which literally means a language. This is most often used to distinguish a Nation, the language of that nation. This word is also the word used in Acts 10:46, “heard them speaking in other tongues and magnifying God”
The example set out in the Book of Acts Chapter 2 is that the 120 in the Upper Room were in-dwelled by God’s spirit, which was the Promise of the Father as Jesus promised and urged them to wait for in Acts 1, and in that event those assembled “spoke in other glóssa as the Spirit gave the utterance.”
The importance is to recognize that this was A) a real, recorded event in Scripture, with a purpose, and that B) they truly spoke in other glóssa, or languages. This is an important distinction that will be clearer as we progress through this quick study.
The assembled Jewish believers from many different nations recognized quickly that these people were not speaking incoherent words or ‘other-wordly (angelic) languages’, but known human languages, in the tongues (national language) of the many assembled Jews in Jerusalem.
7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” ~ Acts 2:7-11
Why is this important? For two primary reasons;
1. To again iterate that tongues (glóssa) was a true, known and operative human language at the time and actively in use by humans in the region of influence.
2. To again iterate that tongues (glóssa) was done for the benefit of the hearer, as we see repeated twice more in the book of Acts, such as Cornelius in Chapter 10.
In each case of finding the word ‘tongues’ in Scripture, such as 1 Corinthians 13 and 14, the same word, glóssa is used and in all contextual examples, a human language is inferred if not didactically, or explicitly referenced such as in Acts 2.
There are no instances of people speaking in ‘unknown’ tongues. For instance, the cases where the phrase ‘unknown tongue[s]’ is found in Scripture one will immediately notice that ‘unknown‘ is always italicized and this is because that word ‘unknown‘ is not in the original Greek texts or translations. It is later added to make emphasis on the fact that the glóssa in question was not known to the speaker, such as in 1 Corinthians 14.
The primary take-away however, when defining tongues (glóssa) is that it was always an active, known, human language, never unintelligible words, gibberish, ‘angel’ language or something unknown to humans who may come in contact with (hearing) it.
This article is NOT a discussion on whether or not tongues were/are real, whether or not tongues are still in operation in the church, under the guidelines of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14, nor a discredit to those who believe they have, do, and/or seek for the gift of Tongues (glóssa).
This article is a launching point for the conversation/debate around the stance that a single denomination (Oneness Pentecostalism) takes, which is that Tongues (glóssa) are the Initial Evidence of receiving the Spirit of Christ upon full Conversion and that if one has not spoken in tongues, they are not justified in Christ. (As Mr. Bernard states in the listed debate, He/They believe in Progressive Salvation)
The primary evidence for this stance is in three to five examples in the early chapters of the Book of Acts, listed here;
Acts 2 – The Upper Room experience, waiting on the promise and that the 120 in the Upper Room spoke in tongues (glóssa) as the spirit gave the utterance.
Acts 8 – Simon the Sorcerer wanted to purchase the ability to transfer signs and wonders as he believed the Apostles did when they laid hands on disciples and they received ‘the spirit’. This has been assumed to be speaking in tongues (glóssa) by those who believe Tongues are the initial evidence of being fully justified and baptized in the Spirit.
Acts 10 – Cornelius and his family speaks in tongues (glóssa) before Peter and other disciples with the phrase, “that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”
Acts 19 – Paul in Ephesus asks some followers of John the Baptist, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” (This is easily argued as these Disciples hadn’t believed on the Gospel, still being followers of John the Baptist)
These primary examples (the fifth being Peter in Acts 11 telling the Jerusalem Counsel about his experience with Cornelius and that the Gospel was now also to the Gentiles) are the proof texts used primarily to defend the notion that Tongues are a necessary component in the Salvation process and that if one has not spoken in tongues, they a) haven’t received the Gift of the Holy Spirit and b) are not justified before God, thus, are not saved.
The primary arguments against this position are simply that the narrative does not continue throughout the rest of the New Testament and if Tongues (glóssa) was the normative evidence or sign of receiving God’s Spirit it likely would have been mentioned in every didactic teaching about Salvation, regardless of the side-argument that Romans-Jude were Epistles written to ‘already saved’ church groups.
My three primary arguments against the Initial Evidence stance are as follows;
- No clear, didactic teaching of this stance – The New Testament teaching directly related to Salvation never mentions Tongues (glóssa) as part of the process, or as being normative for all Saints in the Conversion process, or required as a sign to the individual believer that they are in fact, saved. Tongues were for a sign, but never to the individual believer who was speaking in tongues. The gift of Tongues was a gift, given by God, to various, but not all saints, as Paul taught clearly in 1 Corinthians 14 as a sign to the unbeliever.
From Romans, Hebrews, Ephesians and every other instance of Salvation being taught among the churches, not a single inference or explicit teaching was made that Tongues had anything to do with the salvation plan. In fact, most accurately, Scripture teaches specifically that Salvation is wrought by the Grace of God. (Eph 2)
Proponents such as David K. Bernard say that ‘tongues do not save you, but you are not saved without tongues.’ There is no evidence of that in Scripture, nor is there evidence of progressive salvation in Scripture as Mr. Bernard claims in the debate listed above. (The “Have you received the spirit since you believed” example in Acts 19 is not a foundation for progressive justification!)
- Inconsistent Experience and Examples – Proponents of the Initial Evidence stance consistently make the claim that they are ‘Just like the book of Acts’ but there is actually no similarity between the Book of Acts 2 and 10 examples of Tongues (glóssa) and what is taking place in their churches today. First and foremost in Chapter 2 the tongues were accompanied by a visible sign of forked tongues of fire in the room, and an echoing sound filling the room, and most importantly, an audience of people who understood what was being said in various languages. (glóssa) There was an audience who understood, miraculously, and became amazed.
In the case of Acts 10 and Cornelius household, it is clear that the event took place to confirm the Gospel being loosed upon the Gentile believers, post the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7/8. Peter and the other Jews heard the Gentiles speaking in tongues and seemed to know what they were saying due to the intimation, “For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” There was an audience who understood, miraculously, and became amazed.The proponents of Initial Evidence having people seemingly ‘speaking in tongues’ but who hears and understands what they are saying? The defense is that it isn’t necessarily a human language, but that is the only valid example we have in Scripture of the early Acts usage of Tongues as a sign.
- Clear contradiction of Scriptural Teaching on Tongues – Paul clearly taught between 1 Corinthians 12/14 that there was a proper use of Tongues in the early Church, how it was and was not to be used. For instance, Paul said that two, or at the most three should speak in tongues and that it must be accompanied by an interpreter. (1 Cor 14:27-28). With no interpreter, those speaking in another language were to be silent, to stop speaking.
This was prefaced with the understanding that Tongues were NOT for a sign to the believer, but to the unbeliever, yet those in the Initial Evidence camp claim tongues are a sign to the individual that they are saved. And, Paul convincingly taught in the same chapter, in verse 23, “So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” While Initial Evidence proponents argue that there is a difference between ‘Initial’ tongues, and Tongues and Interpretations, there is great inconsistency in both cases.
My personal conclusion therefore is that the Initial Evidence argument is inconsistent with Scriptures teaching and this is clearly seen by the inconsistent message produced by the proponents of this claim. Is it just like the Acts 2 example? It actually isn’t. Does it defy the teachings of Paul in 1 Corinthians? It actually does.
Whether or not an individual believes Tongues are still an active gift of the Spirit today, there is no question that the Bible does not teach that Tongues are the definitive sign that a new believer is Saved, or justified in the eyes of God. In fact, it clearly teaches that the only way this can happen (being justified before God) is based on the Obedience of Christ. (Rom 3:21-26, Rom 5:19) Tongues are not a fruit of the Spirit and they are also not to be a corporate body activity.
Those who claim the Initial Evidence argument often consistently and completely defy the teaching of Paul by having a church of many people, all speaking in tongues in ecstatic worship at the same time and there is never or rarely an interpreter. Thus, to claim that the Spirit is inducing them to defy Holy Scripture is the purest of contradictions.
The most clear evidence of Scripture of the Holy Spirit is a heart that was at enmity with God, an enemy of God, seeking after, and loving God. (Rom 8:1-10) This is followed by the clear Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) and as James declared, Pure Religion before God which is caring for those who are in positions of being unable to care for themselves. (James 1:27)
Tongues are clearly a Gift of the Spirit (1 Cor 12) that God disperses throughout the Body as He will (1 Cor 12:4), but not all will Speak in Tongues just as not all will be Apostles, or have the Gift of Healing, etc. (1 Cor 12:27:31) To claim that ALL must speak in tongues is a damnable doctrine that requires redefining Scripture and deceiving many to believe a message that is against or contrary to Scripture.
Regardless of my conclusion, I am looking forward to hearing yours!