Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | October 25, 2006

Are Tongues for Today?

How timely to have a debate going on here in light of our current topic?  Today we will continue to examine the implications of our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture as outlined in Article 7 of the Belgic Confession.  In our last entry we discussed the cessation of the apostolic office, today we review the cessation of miracles and more specifically the gift of tongues.  (For more on miracles in general see this entry whos-to-say-part-2).  

Before we begin it must be mentioned that I first heard this view presented by Pastor Paul Viggiano and would encourage all to read his series on this topic (Remedial Christianity – How come I never see a miracle).  This describes another purpose for tongues, in addition to the proclamation of the Gospel to every tribe and tongue (essentially reversing the Tower of Babel episode).  

Currently, there is a debate over Paul teaching on the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12-14.  And we will be primarily looking at a view that summarizes the relationship of this gift with the idea of the covenant.  This can be developed from Scripture due to an interesting quote that the Apostle interjects during his discourse about the use of tongues in the Church.  It appears that in this quote we find an interesting insight into one of primary purposes of the gift of tongues in the beginning of the New Covenant era.  In 1 Corinthians 14:21 the Apostle quotes the following statement:   

In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 

This quote is taken from the prophet Isaiah in the chapter 28, which is part of the following discourse: 

For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the LORD will speak to this people, to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. And the word of the LORD will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.  Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem! Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement, when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;  therefore thus says the Lord GOD,  “Behold, I am the one who has laid a as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through, you will be beaten down by it. As often as it passes through it will take you; for morning by morning it will pass through, by day and by night; and it will be sheer terror to understand the message.  (Emphasis mine) 

Viggiano goes on to assert that this prophecy that Paul quotes from is referring to the generation in Jerusalem during the first century.  We read in Isaiah that condemnation is going to be directed against those who ruled in Jerusalem.  When Christ refers to the unjust judges in John 10:31-39, a quotation from Psalm 82, it seems to reinforce this idea.  The rulers of Jerusalem, at this time, were unjust and the consequences of their ultimate unjust actions (in the crucifying of our Lord) would bring divine retribution.  However, even more explicit is when Isaiah goes on to mention another passage that is quoted in the New Testament also.  Although, it is written in the past tense here it is apparent that this “precious cornerstone” we should believe in, is referring to Christ.  This passage is quoted later in Peter 2:6-8: 

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 Peter joins the words from Isaiah with another famous passage Psalm 118:22.  Clearly, he is applying these words to Jews who rejected our Lord.   This is even more explicit when our Lord applies this Scripture to the religious establishment in Jerusalem in Matthew 21:42-45 (and they knew it was them he was referring to them too).   So, when we look at the original context of Paul’s quote from Isaiah we must infer that the significance of tongues during the first century had something to do with an impending judgment on covenant unfaithfulness.   

Viggiano goes on to point out the significance of the baptism of fire that is referred to by John the Baptist.  This baptism of fire he asserts is associated with the impending judgment on God’s disobedient covenant children of that day.  I agree with the connection between the baptism of fire and this judgment, which is found in Matthew 3:7-12:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Clearly, John is referring to a coming judgment on this generation who would reject the precious cornerstone Jesus Christ.  However, in referring to the coming Messiah he talks about two different baptisms.  One will be of the Holy Spirit and one with fire.  Now, some might argue that fire here is a positive thing related to the Holy Spirit.  However, if you continue reading, the fire is being used to burn the chaff, which will be separated from the wheat.  Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that John is talking about two opposing baptisms.

This all comes together on the Day of Pentecost where “tongues as of fire” come down from heaven as we read in Acts 2:1-4:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And 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. 

Here the Holy Spirit and fire are present at the same time in the same place.  The believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit then speak in tongues, which the diaspora Jews recognize as their native languages.  However, it is important to note that the fire does not devour them as in judgment.  No the fire “rested on each one of them” or was prevented from devouring them.  They were not judged, because as believers their judgment had already been imputed to the risen Lord during His passion.   

This whole event though is a sign to the observers, in keeping with Isaiah’s prophecy, that judgment was coming.  And if you reject the chosen stone, there is no escape from this judgment, this baptism with fire.  As history testifies, in 70 AD our Lord’s prophecy about the temple was fulfilled Matthew 24.  And that generation, which rejected the “stone”, was judged due to their covenant unfaithfulness.

In conclusion, not only did this sign gift pass out use in the Church at the closing of the canon it was also a sign to unbelieving Israel.  Once unbelieving Israel received the judgment for covenant unfaithfulness, this sign of judgment was no longer necessary.



  1. Daniel and Albino,

    Do you think Paul’s quote from Isaiah has any significance?

  2. Hey Mike,
    Yeah, it’s funny that the same people that insist on speaking in tongues are the same people that see the Jews as a especialy elect….even apart from Christ whom they crucified. Don’t think they’d like the judgment view of tongues.

  3. oops. typos up there as usual.

  4. Tornado,

    Actually, the guys we were debating are a little different than the typical “tongue” speakers. They are not Dispensational, but claim to be “Covenantal”.

    That’s why I especially thought this argument would appeal to them. This debate shifted to another blog and if you read the thread, it didn’t make much headway with them.

  5. I’d rather have a holy man pray for me than a man who can speak in Tongues. To speak in tongues doesn’t imply holiness. It only implies tongues. There are cases in scripture where those with signs of the spirit weren’t holy men. The prayer of a holy man avails much.

    Also I read some of the criticisms of Mike being a divider and having a bad attitude. One of mike’s accusers said I’m not trying to accuse you of anything, but to “remind” you… blah blah blah. That is oviously an accusation not a reminder. It’s classic passive agressiveness… annoying.

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