Our God can do the miraculous. When Jesus’ followers in the early church spoke “in other tongues,” what was God doing? In a special edition of the program, Pastor Lutzer addresses the Bible passages about speaking in tongues and their controversial interpretations. God can do what God wants to do, so Christians should seek God, not speaking in tongues.
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Transcript: Welcome to 5 Minutes with Pastor Lutzer. I’m so glad that you joined us again today as we speak about a very controversial issue, and that is the doctrine of tongues. We might ask the question this way: What was God doing there in Acts chapter 2? Is it a sign of the baptism of the Spirit? What’s going on? Well, if you were with us last time, you’ll remember that I emphasized that all believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit, they become a member of Christ’s body. But what about the speaking in tongues? It says in the book of Acts, they were filled with the Spirit, and they spoke in tongues. Now there is a principle of biblical interpretation that basically says this: When it comes to a controversial matter, it is best to take the clearest text and once you clarify that text, it helps you to interpret the passages that might be less clear. And there is no passage in all the New Testament regarding the purpose of tongues that is as clearly stated as that in 1 Corinthians 14.
Now, I know that this is 5 Minutes with Pastor Lutzer but I want to warn you of two things. First of all, this might actually go a little bit beyond the five minutes. But second, I wish that you had a Bible in front of you. If you are in a place where you have a Bible, turn to 1 Corinthians14. If not, put us on your cell phone. You have to see the text and if we interpret this text correctly, a lot of things fall in place.
Here’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14 regarding speaking in tongues. This is the great tongues chapter, as you know. He says in verse 21, “In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, and yet they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.” And then this shocking verse: “Therefore, if the whole church comes together and speaks in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” Let’s read those verses again if we have to. You’ll notice that in verse 22, Paul says that tongues are for a sign “not for believers but for unbelievers” and in the very next verse he says but if the whole churches gather together and there are unbelievers they’re going to think that you are mad. One translator looked at this and says, apparently, Paul didn’t realize he was contradicting himself. Maybe he wrote one of those verses, and then left to have a sandwich, and came back and forgot what he wrote and contradicted himself. In the first instance, he is saying that tongues are for unbelievers; the next verse, he says if unbelievers come, they’re just going to think that you are mad. How do we interpret that? Here is the key: Do you notice how Paul says, “In the law it is written, ‘With stammering lips and another tongue (with other tongues) I will speak to this people’”? That’s actually Isaiah 28:11. In the Hebrew text, it says “’With a stammering tongue and the guttural sounds of Gentile languages, I will speak to these people.’ says the Lord.” What people? Well, the answer is to unbelieving Jews.
You see, what God was saying is that the Jews who would have known about this prophecy (what was happening there in the book of Acts) was now God was saying, “I’m transitioning from the beautiful Hebrew language, which is almost musical to the guttural sounds of all of these Gentile languages. They are now hearing the words of God.” It was a transitional experience where they were now hearing the words of God and God was saying, “I’m going to all the nations, in all the different languages that are available and that are known, so the Jewish people would know that the era of the Gentiles had come. But if Gentiles who don’t know the text of the Old Testament, and who don’t know this prophecy, if they come to a meeting like this they’re going to say, “You know, all of you are mad!” As a matter of fact, I’ve seen that verified because there was a time when our parents used to take us to these meetings, especially during the summer in a tabernacle, where there was speaking in tongues. And because it was summer, the tabernacle was open and people from the area would come and make fun of what was happening—fulfilling this passage of Scripture.
You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, what is it that you are actually saying?” I hope that I’ve been clear, but I want to restate it: Tongues were for a sign to unbelieving Jews. “To this people,” God says, “I will speak” (in the book of Isaiah)—a sign to unbelieving Jews that God was moving to all the different Gentile languages that came to Jerusalem there. As a matter of fact, if you read Acts 2, you’ll notice all the different languages that are listed.
That’s why tongues no longer were in existence, even in the early centuries of the church. Tongues were a transitional period. Tongues were a sign when God was saying to the Jews, “The gospel is now going to everyone. It is no longer limited to the Jewish people and to the land of Israel.” So, what we have is a couple of things that I want to emphasize as we look at the implications.
Number one: I believe that all tongues—always legitimate tongues—are actual languages. I know there are some people who speak about their heavenly languages based on 1 Corinthians 13, where the Apostle Paul says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…” And they say see there are angels that have tongues. I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying. It’s something like saying, “If I were to fly to the moon and didn’t have love, it would mean nothing.” We can’t base it on that. You say, “Well, there are people who speak in tongues and they have no idea what they’re saying, because it’s a heavenly language!” My friend, that is very scary. Imagine you speaking something, and you have no idea what it is that you are saying. Sometimes, tongues are found in pagan languages as well and pagan cultures that may come from a different source. You say, “Yes, but what does Paul say? He says in verse 14, ‘For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.’” That’s the proof text. I don’t think that Paul is saying that “my mind is put in neutral and I have no idea what I’m saying.” What he’s saying is, “If there’s no interpreter present, and I speak in a tongue, my spirit prays but my being understood is unfruitful.” It’s of no benefit to anyone else. For example, when I was growing up, my parents read to us from the German Bible. So, I know some verses of Scripture in German. I could quote those verses of Scripture and actually be edified. I’ve used them when I’ve been in Germany trying to witness to some Germans. But if I were to quote them now, it would be of no profit for you. My mind would be unfruitful, in the sense that my being understood would be totally unfruitful, because there is no interpreter present. So, I believe that all true speaking in tongues is actual languages.
Something else that I want to emphasize is, it is found in the book of Acts several times, whenever God is going to a new community—like to the Samaritans and beyond—their speaking in tongues. Why? As a sign that the gospel of Jesus Christ is now going to other groups and is no longer limited to the Jewish people. Now, the Jewish people were supposed to, of course, share the gospel with others. But the point to be made is God is saying now, “The gospel is to go to the world.” And God might do a miracle at times. I’ve heard stories of where somebody stood up and didn’t know the Chinese language and gave a message in Chinese to the people. In his mind, he was thinking English, but Chinese came out. We should never limit God. God can do whatever God wants to do. But I do not believe that we should seek the gift of tongues. I could expound on that but we’ve already taken quite a bit of time to explain it, and I hope that you understand that we do not need to speak in tongues in order to prove that we have been baptized, or filled, with the Holy Spirit of God.
Now, God can do it whatever He likes, as I mentioned. I have a sister (She and my brother-in-law were in Mexico for about 25 or 30 years) translating the Bible into an Indian language. How they could have wished for the gift of tongues! It certainly would have saved them a lot of time. One day, I was speaking to a man who was well known in the circles where there’s an emphasis on speaking in tongues. I asked him, I said, “Do you have the gift of interpretation?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “When somebody stands up and speaks in a tongue, do you actually understand what they are saying?” To my surprise, he said, “No.” He said, “I discern their mood. If they seem to be praising God, I praise God. If they seem to be exhorting, I exhort.” Now, let’s just take a deep breath and think about that for a moment. If he doesn’t understand the words, why doesn’t he just stand up and exhort, or admonish people, or give a message from God and just simply do it. Why even have someone speaking in tongues if you do not understand what it is that they are saying? And how can you claim that you’re actually an interpreter?
Now, obviously what I’ve said, there are many other questions that I can’t take time to answer. But I want to end this way. Among those who practice speaking in tongues, if they put into place the rules that Paul gives at the end of this chapter regarding how it should be done, that certainly would be very different than the kinds of things that I personally have witnessed. For example, it says that there should be only two, at the most three. Paul says there should only be one speaking in tongues at a time, so it can be interpreted. I’ve been in meetings where everybody was speaking in tongues, or a lot of people were speaking in tongues simultaneously. Paul would not have approved of that.
I say all this not to be controversial. There are many people who disagree with me about this, and they speak in tongues, and I know that they love the Lord Jesus Christ and they are my brothers and sisters. But I emphasize what I’ve said today for this reason: You and I do not have to seek the gift of speaking in tongues. I believe very much in seeking God, even though we have found Him. Seek the Lord. Seek Him for wisdom. Seek Him for the filling of the Spirit. But “speaking in tongues,” I think that was a transitional period and those kinds of miracles, if they happen today, they happen very seldom. Well, thank you so much for joining us today on this controversial topic. I hope that you subscribe, follow, and share. And as for today, you just go with God.