I recently had opportunity to teach again on different aspects of speaking in tongues, and in the course of teaching, I referred people to my post entitled “The Private, Devotional Use of Tongues.” This was a piece I wrote in the middle of the “Strange Fire” controversy several years ago.
Things had quieted down on that front but, to my surprise, a flurry of comments has just come in from someone who disagrees with me strongly about speaking or praying in tongues privately. I wanted to give this brother, Mr. Ron Cash, the courtesy of addressing his objections in the form of a actual post, rather than a comment thread, which can become hard to follow. I also want to reassert my position and see if working through his objections could be helpful. When talking about spiritual gifts (and certainly tongues) I think it’s a good thing to deal with people’s real questions, concerns, and objections, rather than being too theoretical.
Here are Mr. Cash’s objections and, as always, I invite his (and your) further thoughts.
Objection 1: …you have not taken the entire context into account. The epistle to the Corinthians was addressed to the most carnal church in the entire NT. You cannot just take a few verses out of context and make a doctrine out of it. What you are actually doing is appealing to the way the Corinthians were using the gift and somehow using that as an example to emulate. Again, Paul considered them carnal, as in “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal”. So what you are doing is using the practice of carnal christian’s as your example.
Response 1: On the contrary, I think I have taken the whole context into account. There’s nothing in what I’ve said that seeks to use the practice of carnal people as an example. Thoughtful Pentecostals and Charismatics have always taught that Paul was correcting the misuse of a valid gift. Especially do we see this in Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, where Paul takes great pains to emphasize that the rule of love (specifically the rule of seeking to edify the church) must govern whether one speaks in a tongue or in the vernacular at any particular moment. What was making the Corinthians carnal was not speaking in tongues per se, but their unloving (or otherwise inappropriate, unedifying use of tongues). I agree with Mr. Cash’s statements to the effect that 1 Corinthians, Chapters 12-14, are corrective in nature. No one is debating this. But this does not mean that there is no valid personal use of tongues — it only means that the personal use of tongues is inappropriate in certain settings, and Paul gives examples to show us what he is getting at.
Objection 2: So his whole train of thought is very consistent in Chap. 12 to Chap 14. It is all about using the gifts for the common good to edify the body, anything else is abuse, self centered abuse, remember Chap. 3 he called them “babes in Christ”.
Response 2: Yes, I think anything else is definitely abusive of the gift, but I’m afraid it’s Mr. Cash who has gone beyond Paul’s argument, which is to address the corporate setting.
Objection 3: Notice he mentions what tongues are here, he clearly calls them “languages”, which is why he concludes that thought with “13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” He never said, sometimes interpret. Who is to pray to interpret? The “one who speaks in a tongue”, which means always. If you speak in a tongue, then pray to interpret. How many who practice this as a “private prayer” language are doing that? If not you are disobeying the word of God, plain and simple, every time you ignore this verse. This verse has never been rescinded!
Response 3: The context here, again, is a church gathering, as Paul says in v. 6, “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?” (1 Cor. 14:6, NKJV) In such settings, an uninterpreted tongue is unloving, inappropriate, unedifying, and therefore forbidden by apostolic command. See also verse 12, the immediately preceding verse: “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.” Of course, the verse which follow on from v. 13 show very clearly that there is an appropriate giving of thanks, etc., in tongues, and that Paul would regulate himself in the matter depending on his situation. You cannot deny that this is the context of v. 19, in which he says that in the church he will speak in the vernacular.
I woudl also point out the word language in 1 Cor. 14:10 is questionable in this context. The KJV is actually better when it renders it as voice, because it is the Greek word phone. It means a voice or sound. The languages in Acts 2:6 are the word dialektos, something more like an actual language. Your argument assumes that all tongues speaking at Corinth was xenolalia, which I don’t think was your intention.
Objection 4: You said, “As for the devotional practices of Paul himself, we have his own record in 1 Cor. 14: 18-19a: “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church…” Where did Paul’s frequent tongues-speaking take place? By his own words, it was done mostly outside of the church – in other words, privately.” I certainly accept the verses as quoted as being true, but you have made numerous assumptions about these verses that are just no supported by Paul and the NT. First and foremost, you said, ” in other words, privately.” Where does it say that anywhere in Scripture? I would be interested in seeing where it says Paul used it “privately”. I myself do not know anywhere that is stated. So this would seem like a big assumption on your part and that this slight twist you put on his quote is what you are using to try to shift the meaning of what tongues is. Paul made it clear that as a basic tenet not to be violated, “13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”
Response 4: The word privately is not used, but it is certainly descriptive of what Paul is conveying to us. You and I agree that Paul commands interpretation in the church, but you are not grappling with verse 19 in which Paul says he spoke with tongues more than them all, yet in the church he would rather speak five words in the vernacular. You have gutted completely the force of your own argument. He did it more than the Corinthians, who did it a lot, and he contrasts that frequent use of tongues with what he did in church.
Objection 5: You said, “Where did Paul’s frequent tongues-speaking take place? By his own words, it was done mostly outside of the church” Of course, Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles and he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, so he needed the gift of languages to communicate the gospel to them, nowhere does it say “privately”, that is jumping completely out of context. And that is exactly what he had in mind when he said, “”If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian,”. He even goes on to say, “In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers;” So he also has the idea of his talking to “unbelievers” in mind in this passage from chap 12 to chap 14.
Response 5: Again, you’re confounding the context here. The verse about the barbarian, verse 11, is followed immediately by verse 12 which says to excel in edifying the church. He’s clearly talking about the need to interpret tongues in a public meeting, as you yourself wished to emphasize from v. 13. Even the passage about being a sign to unbelievers has to do with avoiding the problem of unbelievers coming into a gathering were everyone is speaking in tongues and thinking the saints are mad. Perhaps we should notice again that verse 23-28, which give more insight into public meetings, follow verse 22.
You’re also attempting to make a strong conclusion from a very weak argument from silence. We have no record whatsoever in Scripture that the Gospel was preached through a gift of tongues. Even in Acts 2 the Gospel was not preached in tongues; rather, the wonderful works of God were extolled. It was left to Peter to preach Christ in the vernacular. No one, no one at all, preached the Gospel in the Book of Acts by speaking to them using the gift of tongues. Such a thing (which I admit is possible) would undercut your cessationism, since if tongues were given for that purpose, it would seem it should still be needed.
I would also point you to 1 Corinthians 14:2 where Paul specifically says that he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. This forces honest readers to confess that tongues are for prayer and/or worship only, as they are directed God-wards.
I will close with this:
Three Things Cessationists Ignore, Demonstrated from a SIngle Verse, 1 Corinthians 14:28: “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” (NKJV)
- Private tongues: notice that the man is told to speak to himself if there is no interpreter or, we may surmise, if he himself does not have the faith to interpret. Notice that he is in a church service.
- Praying in tongues: notice that the man is speaking to God. I think most Christians would agree this limits his speech to prayer or expressions of praise. Of course, some Cessationists have denied that there is even such a thing as praying in tongues at all, even though Paul specifically alludes to the practice in 1 Cor. 14:14 and says that when a person prays in a tongue his spirit (not his mind) is praying.
- Edifying of the self is a good thing, not a bad thing. It can certainly be wrong to edify yourself when you’re in church to edify others; our use of the spiritual gifts is always to be governed by love. However, there is nothing wrong with edifying ourselves per se. And Paul allows people here to speak in a tongue to themselves and to God, even in church. This is clearly a private activity, which will result in spiritual edification to the one speaking, however unquantifiable or inexplicable to us. We know this is so because Paul has said that he “who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” (1 Cor. 14:4)
These one verse shows these three concepts dovetailing together: there is a private use of tongues, in praying and worshiping God, which has the secondary (but unselfish and beneficial) effect of edifying oneself.