More About “Private Tongues”


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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Southern Baptist missionaries now allowed to speak in tongues


Reversing a 10-year old policy, the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention will receive applications from missionary applicants who admit to speaking in tongues.

The Board will still end employment for any missionary who places “persistent emphasis on any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive.”

I can’t be sure how much of change in theology this is. Clearly the Southern Baptists are not going full Pentecostal, but the acknowledgment that there even is such a thing as a private, devotional use of tongues would seem to be a big step. (This was something we wrote about at length during the “Strange Fire” controversy in 2013.) Because so many Baptists of different stripes are cessationists, meaning they believe the gifts of the Spirit have passed away, it will be interesting to see the reaction to this decision within the wider Baptist family.

A Charismatic’s Response to “Strange Fire – A Case For Cessationism”

During last week’s controversial “Strange Fire” conference, organized by John MacArthur, The Cripplegate posted a message by Pastor Tom Pennington called “A Case For Cessationism.” Pennington’s remarks consisted of a cursory overview of continuationist belief, followed by seven arguments in favor of cessationism.

For those not familiar with the terms, continuationism is the viewpoint that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament are still available to believers today. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians are by definition continuationists. Cessationists, by contrast, believe that the gifts are no longer available, although they would be quick to say that God can do whatever He wishes and that He still answers prayer in miraculous ways.

I would like to provide a simple response to Pastor Pennington’s post. I am not an academic, but I do not believe one needs to be an academic in order to see that the Bible teaches that all the gifts of the Spirit are still available. My hope is that some Charismatics who are concerned about what they heard last week (doctrinally and otherwise!) will be able to see that there is a fully biblical basis for their belief and practices.

Pennington’s Characterization of Popular Continuationist Arguments

1. “The New Testament does not state that the gifts will cease.”

Pennington says: The chief arguments they put forward are these. First, the New Testament nowhere directly states that the miraculous gifts will cease during the church age. But that argument cuts both ways, because the New Testament doesn’t directly say they’ll continue either.

RESPONSE: This does not “cut both ways.” As a matter of proof, the burden of proof should rest with those who claim the gifts have ceased. If there is no clear statement that they will cease then we cannot say they have ceased. The reason for this is very simple. The availability of supernatural ministry as defined by Christ Himself was not predicated on a certain timeframe, nor on possessing a certain office such as apostleship. Rather, Jesus predicated the availability of supernatural gifts on whether one is a believer.

Jesus said that the one who believes in Me will do the works that He has been doing, and even greater works. (John 14:12) Cessationists object to our saying that we can do greater works than Christ. They say that “greater works” does not mean miraculous signs and wonders, for after all who could possibly do greater works of power than Christ Himself? The greater works are things such as the miracle of the New Birth.

In context, I do believe Jesus was saying we could do greater works than He because He was going to the Father, and there would follow a general outpouring of the Spirit upon the people of God. Recall that He was speaking about people believing for the sake of the works He had done. Nevertheless, it is not even necessary to debate the second part of verse 12. The first part of the verse alone is sufficient to show that eligibility and authorization for the miraculous belongs to us by virtue of being members of Christ. Jesus said that those who believe in Him would do the works He had been doing.  Clearly miraculous works are meant. Again, notice that this is predicated on being a believer, and nothing more.

The end of Mark’s Gospel conveys the same idea. Jesus says that the one who believes will speak in new tongues, cast out demons, and so forth. Again, the ability or authorization for miraculous ministry activity stems from my being in Christ and having the right to use the one Name given to the Church. If tongues is not available, then neither can we cast out demons.

We also have express commands from Paul to be zealous for spiritual gifts, and especially (not only!) to prophesy; not to forbid to speak with tongues; and, not to despise prophecies.

Given that these things are predicated upon our being in Christ, and by Jesus’ own words are available to those who believe (without words of limitation for time or office), there would need to be a very clear word given in Scripture before we could consider abrogating the direct words of the Savior.

2. “1 Corinthians 13:10 implies that the Gifts of the Spirit will continue.”

Pennington says: They counter with a second argument. There are a couple of New Testament passage that imply that the miraculous gifts will continue until Christ returns. Their favorite example of that is 1 Corinthians 13:10. They argue that that means that only when Christ returns will the partial gifts of tongues and prophecy cease. However, as you know, this is a very highly disputed passage, and there are a number of possible interpretations, and there are disagreements on both sides of the issue on that passage. So they cannot legitimately support their theology and practice from such a controversial passage. In fact, for most of church history this very passage was used to prove cessationism.

RESPONSE: 1 Corinthians 13:10 says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” This is a verse commonly used to suggest that the gifts have ceased. In the Cessationist point of view, the “perfect” is frequently said to be the completed Canon of Scripture. In other words, once we had a completed Bible, we neither have nor even need the gifts of the Spirit.

Here I would point the reader back to the blanket statements of Christ concerning what believers could and would do. The fact that we disagree about how to interpret 1 Corinthians 13:10 does not entitle one side to abrogate the words of Jesus in the Gospels. So then, contrary to what Pennington says, Charismatics do not seek to support their theology and practice from 1 Corinthians 13:10. I think what we are saying is that 1 Corinthians 13:10 is nowhere near a strong enough statement to justify us in forbidding the exercise of spiritual gifts.

I would also say that whether this passage was used historically to prove cessationism means nothing. Of course there are quotes from the Church Fathers which show that the gifts of the Spirit were operating for centuries after the close of the Canon. But this is not dispositive either. What matters is what Scripture says. And without a clear statement terminating the availability of the gifts, we cannot forbid people to speak with tongues.

3. “We cannot artificially divide the Church into different eras.”

Pennington says: Their third main argument is that the New Testament speaks only of the church age as a unit. And therefore the gifts that began in this age must continue throughout it. The say we artificially divide the church age in to the “Apostolic” and “Post-Apostolic” periods. But unless they believe that there are Apostles today like Peter and Paul, they also divide the church age. And they relate at least Apostleship solely to the Apostolic era. They become de facto cessationists, at least in part.

RESPONSE: First, this is a misapprehension of the apostolic ministry. Scripture gives a high place of honor to the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Jesus will reward them highly, giving them thrones to judge the tribes of Israel. They have a unique and non-repeatable ministry.

But the apostolic ministry itself is not a non-repeatable ministry. Some may be greater than others, some lesser in their sphere or power, but even Paul is not an apostle like Peter, because Paul is not one of the Twelve. There were other apostles specifically named in the Scripture who were not among the Twelve, such as Barnabas and James the Lord’s brother.

Many people believe that there are apostles today, for a variety of reasons. Ephesians 4 says that God gave apostles and prophets, etc., until we all come to maturity.

However, it is not necessary to answer that question to reject Pennington’s argument. The Church is definitely a “unit” down through time because of our common salvation. To suggest otherwise would be poor anthropology, and poor ecclesiology. Did Christ ever say or even hint that the Church would someday not receive or need of the same empowering as His first followers? Has Christ said that there would be a change in conditions or a withdrawal of gifts after the last apostle died or the last of Scripture composed? The pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2 was cited by Peter as proof that Christ had been glorified. Therefore I would want to hear some definitive statement from the lips of Jesus to convince me that the full measure of spiritual enablement was not available to me in the 21st century – especially when Peter also said that the Promise of the Father was to as many as the Lord our God shall call.

4. “The sheer number of Charismatics means they’re right.”

Pennington says, But by far the most common argument is: 500 million professing Christians who claim charismatic experiences can’t all be wrong. But let’s think about that for a moment. Using that same argument, we should therefore accept all the miracles of the Roman Catholic Church as well. After all, there are a billion of those, and there is far more history to those miracles. The point is: millions, 500 million, a billion professing Christians can be wrong.

RESPONSE: I don’t know that people are using this as a serious argument in favor of Charismatic expression. I’ve never even heard it expressed. At best, the sheer numbers of people who engage in charismatic practices may demand that we look at their claims, but it isn’t proof of anything, as Pennington rightly says. Otherwise we should all be Catholics or Muslims!  Without wanting to be unkind, to say that this is the most common argument for continuationism strikes me as disingenuous. Was there no Pentecostal apologetic from 1906 and onwards? Have modern Charismatic writers of all stripes not gone into book length on the main issues and the subtopics?

And even if the average layperson in the Charismatic pew really does resort to such arguments to defend himself, does the average cessationist do any better? May I not say in fairness that the average cessationist church attender hasn’t much knowledge of the details of 1 Corinthians 14, much less how it is interpreted by Fee, Grudem, or the Assemblies of God? My interactions with cessationist brothers last week did little to disabuse me of this opinion, up to and including people who don’t even seem to know that the Apostle Paul prayed in tongues. (And those are the cessationists who by definition are actually interested in the topic, else they would not be tweeting out with the Strange Fire hashtag.) To be charitable, when your church doesn’t believe something is “for today,” perhaps you’re not likely to hear a lot of sermons or teachings on it.

5. Summary of Pennington’s characterization of continuationist arguments.

Pennington calls these the “chief arguments” of continuationists. After reviewing them, I think I can honestly say that this is not at all the way Charismatics promote and defend their beliefs. Admittedly we are quick to assert that the New Testament does not explicitly state that the gifts will cease. But that is not a weak argument; it is a strong one. Nevertheless, what is typically emphasized by Charismatics is the ongoing promise of Christ to empower His Church by the Spirit, whether from Acts 1, Acts 2, John 14, Mark 16, or elsewhere.

Does Pastor Pennington really think that Charismatics are using he claims are their “chief arguments,” or does their teaching and literature rely on things like Jesus saying, “In My Name they shall speak with new tongues?” The most cursory look at Pentecostal and Charismatic literature of any generation will reveal the answer.

Let’s turn now to Pennington’s actual points in favor of cessationism.

1. The Unique Role of Miracles.

Pennington says, “Many evangelicals think that miracles litter almost every page of biblical history. In reality, there were only three primary periods that God worked miracles through gifted men, when God gave human beings miracle working power. The first was that of Moses and Joshua, from the Exodus through the career of Joshua (1445-1380 BC), about 65 years. The second window was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha (ca. 860-795 BC), again only about 65 years. The third time was with Christ and His Apostles. It began with His ministry, and lasted through the death of the Apostle John, also about 70 years.”

RESPONSE: While Pennington is not trying to provide a book-length defense of cessationism, this is a conclusory statement – a principle of cessationism, not an argument. Certainly the miracle ministry of Moses is without parallel in the Old Testament. Certainly there is a profusion of miracles noted in the days of Elijah and Elisha. Obviously the Gospels and Acts are replete with miraculous ministries. But these are not the only “windows” of the miraculous. All we can safely conclude is that they are the main windows that God is showing, or perhaps they are the only windows that cessationists want to look through. The people he cites are not the only people who worked miracles, and there is also a consistent sprinkling of other supernatural ministry, such as prophetic ministry, throughout the life of Israel and the Church – both prophecy that was Scripture and prophecy that was not Scripture.

Samuel called out to the Lord and God sent thunder and rain. Solomon prayed and the literal fire of God came out of Heaven. Isaiah called out to God and the sun went backwards!

In the New Testament, isn’t it elementary knowledge that others besides the Twelve did miraculous signs? Paul was not even among the Twelve. We know that some want to say, “Well, Paul was supposed to be in the Twelve, but the Eleven jumped the gun,” and so forth. But the Bible is clear that Mathias was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:26)  Notice that in Acts 6:2 the apostles are specifically called the Twelve, before Paul’s salvation. Besides the miracle ministry of Paul, we have the powerful miracle ministry of Stephen, who did great signs and wonders. What about Philip’s powerful ministry in Samaria? Cessationists attempt to cop out here by saying that such people don’t count, for they were associated with the apostles.

Paul also recognized the presence of people with a miracle-working ministry in Galatia, asking the church there, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith…?” (Galatians 3:5)

But perhaps most damaging to the cessationist cause is the fact that Paul specifically mentions workers of miracles as a separate ministry, distinct from the ministry of apostles. (1 Corinthians 12:28-29) They were listed as fourth, after apostles, prophets, and teachers. Paul asks, “Are all apostles?” And then he asks, “Are all workers of miracles?” Clearly the two are not identical.

I would also reiterate that Jesus did not confine the miraculous to the Twelve or even to those in the “apostolic circle.” He invited all believers to step into the miraculous, into doing His works, by faith and the leading of the Spirit: “He that believeth in Me…”

2. The End of the Gift of Apostleship.

Here Pennington asserts that the gift of apostleship has ceased and, with it, the availability of the miraculous gifts: No one alive today meets [the qualifications of apostleship]. So at least one New Testament gift has ceased. What that means is that there is a significant difference between the time of the Apostles and today, because one of the most miraculous displays of the Spirit, the gift of Apostleship, disappeared with the Apostolic age. It’s also interesting that it ceased without a crystal clear New Testament statement that it would. That means it is neither impossible nor is it unlikely that other significant changes happened with the passing of the Apostles as well. Once you agree that there are no Apostles today at the same level of Peter and Paul, you have admitted that there was a major change in the gifting of the Apostolic and post-Apostolic age.

RESPONSE: I think most Pentecostals and Charismatics do agree that there are no more Apostles like the Twelve, but that is because of the uniqueness of that group, as a set of men specially chosen by Christ. They have a unique place of honor in the Church, will judge the tribes of Israel in the Millennium, and have their names inscribed on the foundations of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14).

But while that one set of apostles is complete in its membership, the needful function of apostles has not been eliminated. And can we say categorically that there have been no other such people in history? If some came and said there were men in India and China with a miracle ministry who have planted hundreds of churches, would cessationists even credit this testimony? And there are indeed people of this type.

There may not be apostles on the miracle-working level of Peter and Paul, but that was true even in their own day, was it not? And again, there were other men called apostles such as James the Lord’s Brother. Barnabas was an apostle, and up through Acts 15 was he not still the senior member of the team or equal to Paul?

As in the case of the gifts, there is no place where God says the office of apostle has ceased. Ephesians 4 says the “five-fold Ministry” is given to enable us all to grow up. Do we not need it now?

3. The Foundational Nature of the New Testament Apostles and Prophets

Pennington argues, The foundation is finished, and now the superstructure is being erected on that already completed foundation. This is the same image in 1 Corinthians 3, as the leaders of the first century of church is adding their work to centuries of building. But the foundation was laid by the Apostles and prophets—the revelation that came through them. Once the revelation that God gave to the Apostles and the New Testament prophets were complete, the foundation was finished. Their work was completed. Their role was done. That’s clearly true of the Apostles as we’ve seen. But here in Ephesians 2 Paul says the role of the prophets was also foundational, and it is complete as well. We should not expect any more apostles, prophets, or revelation.

RESPONSE: The Church is indeed built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. But what is that foundation? Is it only teaching and doctrine? No. That foundation is the ministry and equipping that only comes from apostolic and prophetic input into our lives, the grace that is upon an apostle and a prophet. We will need this grace, as well as the grace that is on the life of evangelists, pastors, and teachers, until we all come in the unity of the faith. (Ephesians 4:13) There is not a hint of a time limitation. The first believers were built on that foundation and so must we be.

4. The Nature of the Miraculous Gifts

Pennington claims, If the Spirit were still gifting believers with the miraculous gifts, they would be the same gifts that we find in the New Testament. However, the Charismatic gifts claimed today bear almost no resemblance to their New Testament counterparts.

It is difficult to know how to respond to such sweeping and dismissive claims. It seems that cessationists like Pastor Pennington not only seem to believe they understand the character of Charismatic gifts today, but apparently have a perfect understanding of how the gifts were exercised in the New Testament.

In the case of tongues, Pennington says tongues were a known human language but today’s tongues are ecstatic speech. He also says that New Testament prophets were infallible, unlike Charismatic prophets, and that New Testament healing was of a greater character than healings claimed by Charismatics today.

RESPONSE: As is commonly the case with cessationists, modern-day spiritual gifts are denigrated here as being not the same as what we see in Acts. Some say they are falsified or, more charitably, only learned behavior.

First, we have the use of the term “ecstatic” to describe tongues today. How can Pennington or anyone else know what tongues looked like in 45 A.D. compared to what they look like in 2013? So, there is a definitional problem, based on assumptions and circular reasoning. 

Cessationists claim that the tongues of the Bible were xenoglossy, which is speaking in tongues in a recognized human language. Pennington says this doesn’t exist or happen today. But I have heard it, and so have many other Pentecostals and Charismatics. I have heard it or participated in it on at least three occasions I can recall over the last 30 years. So I dispute on the basis of personal experience that there is no xenoglossy today.

Pennington also assumes, as many cessationists do, that all tongues were for public use. The only way for cessationists to maintain this position is by a deliberate mangling of the plain words of 1 Corinthians 14.  Tongues was not only allowed outside of church, but encouraged for personal edification. (Note: even the idea of personal edification is maligned by many cessationists, as though edifying ourselves were something we should consider selfish rather than something God would have us do!)

There is abundant evidence for private, devotional tongues within 1 Corinthians 14:

A. Paul says that “he who speaks in a tongue is not speaking to men but to God.” (1 Cor. 14:2)  Such a plain statement should by itself be sufficient to demolish the cessationist argument. The word “God” there is in the dative singular, in other words, speaking unto God!  It does not simply mean that God is listening to such a person’s prayers.

Paul does not teach the cessationist doctrine that tongues were exclusively directed towards men in New Testament times. Certainly the New Testament says that tongues is a condemning sign for unbelievers, particularly unbelieving Israel. But this is not the only use of tongues. It is clearly a form of prayer directed to God, on the authority of the Apostle Paul.

Even on the Day of Pentecost, tongues was not preaching, but praise, as I have written previously. Peter preached the Gospel while those who spoke in tongues merely extolled God. This was also the case in Acts 10.

B. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself. (1 Cor. 14:4)  Clearly there is a private benefit to tongues. We cannot analyze this from an intellectual perspective, for it is not an intellectual experience. Many cessationists ask what is the use of such an experience or practice. I cannot analyze this any more that I can explain how I am spiritually edified by the Word, or by love. What is the mechanism by which I am built up? I do not know. Perhaps if I were an angel I could see it taking place. But I cannot. However, this does not entitle me to denigrate it, especially since Paul specifically says that the practice edifies us. It is a thing given us by God. How can we call it selfish or weak?

C. Paul wants us all to speak in tongues. (1 Cor. 14:5) This does not mean that all will have an ongoing ministry of speaking in tongues in the church. This means that Paul wants us all to engage in this activity – but more so that we will prophesy, because prophecy will edify the church and not just the self. He does not say “I wish you could do it,” but that he wants us keep doing it but prefer prophecy. The NIV and ESV correctly keep this sense.

D. People can give thanks (bless) in tongues as they will. (1 Cor. 14:17)  Paul says that the person who gives thanks in a tongue is indeed giving thanks well, despite the fact that he does not even know what he is saying. This is a private activity, not at all intended for the benefit of other people.

E. Paul spoke in tongues voluminously outside of the church setting. (1 Cor. 14:18-19)  In the church, prophecy would be preferred so that others might receive instruction also. But notice how much of Paul’s prayer life was in tongues! He says in v. 18 that he thanks God he speaks in tongues more than all of them.

F. A person is allowed to speak to himself in tongues. This also is a form of speaking to God. (1 Cor. 14:28)  Such tongues are not directed to men, but are directed to God and as we see elsewhere are for personal edification. All of these things either militate in favor of the idea or simply say flatly that there is a private exercise of tongues.

Pennington’s treatment of prophecy is similarly limited. We do not have the record of many New Testament prophets in comparison to their Old Testament counterparts, but we are never told that they are infallible. At a minimum we can say that those who were not in prophetic office could prophesy without an expectation of infallibility. If this were not the case, why was New Testament prophecy to be judged?  John Piper speaks, quite properly I think, of the need for NT prophecy to be “sifted.” Not the people prophesying, but the prophecies. We also have the enigma of the somewhat inaccurate prophecies in Acts concerning Paul’s arrest. Yet no one says Agabus or the other brothers in all the cities to whom Paul alludes were “false prophets.”

As far as healing goes, we again note the completely conclusory statements. Pennington says modern healings are different, and not verifiable. I don’t think I know a single Charismatic who wouldn’t laugh at this. We don’t build theology from experiences, but the prejudice of such a statement should be apparent. I know people who would be dead today if they had not been healed by healing prayer, including a man who was healed and got off his deathbed when a cloth was applied to him. Pennington gives no biblical reason why the healings of today are not like the Bible. If a person gets healed of cancer in 2013, I suspect that this is just as impressive as it was in the first century.

5. The Testimony of Church History

Pennington takes the typical cessationist stance that the gifts were absent from the Early Church after the Apostles left the scene, and even that they began to decline before that:  …even before the Scripture was complete, the miraculous gifts had already begun their decline. The miracles intended to confirm the apostles and their message had already begun to die out. When we leave New Testament history, we discover that the testimony of the church after that era was exactly the same: the miraculous gifts ceased with the Apostles.

RESPONSE: We all know that church history cannot be set forth as dispositive proof of anything. But in this case again, Pennington is simply incorrect. Of course we know that some Church Fathers say the gifts had passed away. However, many others among the Fathers talk about the gifts still begin extant in their day. Why do Cessationists seemingly pretend that the other set of quotes do not exist?

I don’t wish to be tedious by listing citations which should be well known to honest inquirers. I will give you only two:

Irenaeus, 2nd century: “Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands of them, and they are made whole.”

Novatian, 3rd century: “This is He who places the prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggest counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts, there are of charismata; and thus makes the Lord’s church everywhere, and in all, perfected, and completed.”

I believe Wesley was on the right track when he wondered if the lack of gifts in church history was due to the church’s coldness. I would also suggest that a lack of teaching contributed to their absence. After all, how many people in Western Europe had a clear grasp of justification by faith in the year 1100 A.D.? It was not any less true for being ignored or opposed. 

6. The Sufficiency of Scripture

Pennington sets forth the cessationist claim that a completed Bible means there is no more revelation: The Spirit speaks only in and through the inspired Word.

RESPONSE: Scripture is our infallible rule of faith and practice. As Pennington says, we do not have to wonder whether the words of the Bible are from God. But this does not mean that God cannot and does not speak to us apart from Scripture. Even before the Canon was closed, God spoke to people in ways that were not inscripturated. In ways that were personal, and concerned their personal situation.

So not all prophecy was Scripture. We have no idea what Philip’s four daughters said when they prophesied to people, but it wasn’t Scripture. Yet I recently spoke to someone who said all prophecy was inscripturated. He never replied when I mentioned Philip’s daughters. What about the prophets Judas and Silas, or the prophets at Antioch besides Paul, who wrote no Scripture?

Last week, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 was cited liberally. Pennington quotes Paul there that the Word will cause the man of God to be “…adequatefully equipped for every good work.”  But no one discussed 1 Timothy 1:18, where we learn that Timothy received personal prophecies, and that Paul there said Timothy was to use those prophecies to wage a good warfare. So yes, the Word is sufficient to equip Timothy for every good work, but does the Word contain everything that God wanted to say to Timothy about his own life and situation? I doubt it. And not because I am a rabid experience-seeker, but because Paul says so.

7. The New Testament Rules Laid Down for the Miraculous Gifts

This does not seem to be an argument on Pennington’s part, but more of a complaint. He says: Tragically, most Charismatic practice today clearly disregards those clearly given biblical commands. So not only are they not the same gifts, but the clear directives laid down for the practice of the gifts are ignored. And so the Holy Spirit is not honored. Instead he is routinely grieved and disobeyed. The result is not a work of the Spirit but of the flesh. Clear rebellion, even if it were the New Testament gifts.

RESPONSE: I agree with Pastor Pennington that there are guidelines given for the use of the gifts. What this has to do with cessationism is hard to say, although he seems to says that the gifts we see today are not valued because “most Charismatic practice today clearly disregards those clearly given biblical commands.” Even if this rather slanderous statement were true, it says nothing about the ongoing availability of the gifts.

I do disagree with him as to whether women were allowed to minister in tongues or prophecy. Pennington says, “women are not allowed to prophesy in the corporate worship (14:34).” Is this really true? The regulation of the activity of women in 1 Corinthians 14 has nothing to do with Paul’s regulation of tongues and prophecy per se, and in fact Paul alluded earlier in the letter to women prophesying without any hint of rebuke or disapproval, aside from the head covering issue. (1 Corinthians 11:5)

I would also note again the ministry of Philip’s four daughters. Clearly they prophesied. Will anyone for the sake of maintaining his doctrine at all costs ignore that? I hope not.


The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that spiritual gifts are available to us on the ground of our being in Christ, and nothing else. The Baptism of the Spirit (the “upon” experience of the Spirit) and the empowerment it brings are available to all believers. Believers are commanded by God not to despise prophecies, not to forbid speaking in tongues, and they are also three times commanded to be zealous (zelōo) for spiritual gifts. For all these reasons and more, Christians can be confident that their belief in the ongoing miraculous and prophetic ministry of the Church is justified, as it is fully supported by the Scriptures.

Then Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Cold Water On My Face After Strange Fire

While I am appreciate Tim Challies’ calm tone in his reflections on the first day of the Strange Fire conference, I still found it all to be bracing, like cold water. I responded to Challies on G+ in this vein:

I’d like to think things will go irenically as you hope, but the language and the aspersions are so unfair and over the top I don’t see how that is possible.

There is no desire to engage with any Charismatic person on the level of theology, only on the level of practices as measured by the worst. The bogus statistics [90% of Charismatics are “Word of Faith”] are just an added bonus and further marginalizes us in all your eyes…

Yes, Pastor MacArthur has managed to put all of us bugs into the same jar, from Piper to Hayford to Fee to traditional Assemblies of God pastors to the most over the top Word of Faith preacher in the two-thirds world who copied a lady with purple hair on TV. We are all the same to you. Congratulations and thanks for the reminder!

And apparently a good chunk of you really do think that we are all blaspheming the Holy Spirit. So much for the high-sounding talk and video clip for the “Faithful Pentecostals.” In the Cessationist definition, a faithful Pentecostal is one who does not actually do anything Pentecostal, especially if the Bible no longer contains 1 Corinthians 14:39.

But, if you really don’t think we are blaspheming the Spirit, then who will correct MacArthur, as we are admonished to correct all off-beat Charismatics before we may have a voice?

The Private, Devotional Use of Tongues


Weighing in on the perennial arguments about speaking in tongues, Nathan Busenitz at The Cripplegate posted an article last week entitled Two Kinds Of Tongues?  Busenitz thought “it seemed fitting to post something related to the charismatic-cessationist debate” in view of this week’s (how else to put it?) anti-charismatic “Strange Fire Conference” being organized by John MacArthur.

Blogger Adrian Warnock seems to have provoked Busenitz’s post by asserting that there are different kinds of tongues. Busenitz for his part claims that the tongues of Acts and the tongues of 1 Corinthians are the same, but his real goal is to uphold the cessationist argument that there is no exegetical support for the idea of private or devotional tongues – something often referred to by Pentecostals and Charismatics as a “prayer language.”

As one who believes in the ongoing availability of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, I found the article disturbing. Like many who advocate cessationism, Busenitz seems to overlook or not connect other important things that we (and the Apostle Paul) are saying. Perhaps not interacting with Pentecostal and Charismatic writings going back 100 years also creates problems for his formulations. I wanted to respond to Pastor Busenitz and discuss the private, devotional use of speaking in tongues.

A Definitional Problem

I’ve been involved in Charismatic circles for over 30 years, and I don’t accept Busenitz’s quite limiting definition of the gift of tongues – nor, I imagine, do many others. He asserts that:

Charismatics generally define the gift of tongues as a devotional prayer language that is available to every believer. This prayer language, according to its proponents, is not bound to the linguistic structures of earthly, human languages. In other words, it is not a real language — but rather “angelic” speech which supposedly transcends human language.

But therein lies a problem. On the one hand, the charismatic version of tongues does not consist of real human languages. On the other hand, Acts 2 makes it clear that the tongues spoken at Pentecost were real human languages.

I have to respond to this first by saying that Busenitz’s definition is incomplete. Pentecostals and Charismatics do not assert categorically that this is the character of the gift of tongues. There is no agreed-upon definition, to be sure, but Classical Pentecostals would certainly first want to say that tongues today may indeed be real languages of this Earth. This is xenoglossolallia, speaking in a foreign tongue which can be recognized by someone hearing it.

Are there real instances of this occurring today? I believe there are, and I believe many thousands of people can bear witness to it. I myself have both done it (so I’ve been told) and also heard it in person. I was present to hear a young lady, newly baptized in the Spirit, speaking in Arabic, as identified by a medical doctor present who knew Arabic and had done his residency in Saudi Arabia. This gentleman is sober, missions-minded, and has suffered persecution for the cause of Christ. He has no reason to lie and was in fact amazed. Such stories are common, if not pervasive, in Pentecostal missions literature.

I would also add that not all Charismatics even accept the “tongues of angels” theory, although some do. But given that there are literally thousands of living human languages and thousands more extinct, who can know whether someone is giving voice to a language of Earth or a language of Heaven in any case? Who can say that tongues is not “real?” The source of the language is, after all, utterance given to us by the Holy Spirit, who knows all tongues of all the beings He has made.

[As an aside, this points to a broader problem in cessationist thinking: the Gifts of the Spirit as nearly-magical and automatic. In this view of things, a person with a healing gift should be able to run down to the hospital and lay his hand on the cornerstone to empty every bed. In that world, people with the gift of prophecy always gave out Scripture, although Paul said we prophesy in part; and people who speak in tongues are always speaking Spanish or Mandarin. Such a view is seeking, concededly, to give due honor to the Spirit, but don’t seem to comport with biblical and historical evidence of ministry in the Spirit. Jesus Himself could do no mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief. That shows that (1) Jesus was not doing everything He did out of His Divine Power; and (2) the administration of supernatural gifts is a complex matter involving many variables, including God’s sovereignty and even on occasion the faith of human candidates for prayer. ]

The Sign of Tongues and Tongues in Acts 2

Cessationists want to assert that tongues was always a human language because their claim is that tongues only has value as a sign of condemnation (a sign contra Israel) or to enable people to preach the Gospel, as helping with communication and as validating the messengers of Christ. As to the first matter, we know that the fact of tongues and the presence of the gifts of the Spirit in general were a part of the apologetic of the Early Church against Judaism. The idea of course was that the gifts had passed from natural Israel to the New People of God. We would have to agree that this idea is accurate. Both Jews and Gentiles who receive Jesus as Messiah participate in the New Age of the Spirit, in which we enjoy the promised universal outpouring of the Spirit, wished for by Moses.

However, there is no indication in 1 Corinthians 14:19 or anywhere else in Scripture that the purpose of tongues was preaching the Gospel to people of other languages, although there have been instances recorded in history where the phenomenon has been reported.

Even on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Gospel was not preached in tongues. It fell to Peter to preach the Gospel in Acts 2, not the tongues-speakers. The text says that the assembled Jews could hear the tongues-speakers proclaiming “the wonderful works of God.” There is no reference in that report to them hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was only when the Word was preached by Peter that they were cut to the heart and asked what they should do.

It begs the question: if preaching is the purpose of tongues, why would the completion of the Canon or the establishing of the Gospel in a given region render tongues unnecessary or withdrawn by God in other localities? If there yet remain many hundreds of languages whose speakers have not heard the name of Christ, why do we not still need tongues?

Devotional Tongues in 1 Corinthians and in Paul’s Life

Paul never suggests in 1 Corinthians or anywhere else that tongues should be intelligible languages, but he says prophecy is to be preferred, seeing it does not require interpretation. If tongues are used in the assembly, then they must be interpreted. This renders them intelligible and capable of edifying the congregation, which is his goal throughout 1 Corinthians 12-14.

This is why he also says in 1 Cor. 14:13, “Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.”

Paul also says very clearly towards the end of chapter 14 (v. 39) for us to be zealous to prophesy and not to forbid people to speak in tongues – a frequently-disobeyed commandment if ever there were one. Note that in 1 Cor. 14:28, Paul specifically says that if there is no interpreter present, the person speaking in tongues should speak to himself and to God.  Because the person is to speak to himself and to God, verse 28 also therefore demonstrates that there is a private, devotional use of tongues for personal edification. Why is this so?

(1) If there were no private use of tongues, Paul would have said that in the absence of an interpreter present, the man ought to simply be quiet and not speak at all.

(2) If there were no private use of tongues, Paul would not have said that the man should speak to himself and God. If tongues were only useful as a sign, or to somehow fill in the gaps in our edification until the Canon of Scripture were complete, Paul could not say that the man ought to speak to God. In other words, if the content of tongues were only addressed to other people, cessationists could make a better case that tongues is for the purposes they assert. But if, as the Apostle Paul says, there is a use of tongues which is directed towards God, then the uses of tongues cannot be confined to a condemning sign, or to giving people edification before the close of the Canon.

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. He regulated his tongues-speaking by whether or not he was in church, as a place where tongues was not to be preferred over prophecy. Yet it seems to me that cessationists not only ignore the implications of this Scripture, they avert their eyes from its very existence.

Cessationists also overlook 1 Cor. 14:14-15, where Paul explains that tongues is a volitional activity to be regulated, again, by his situation, as measured by the rule of love. He says that he will pray with the spirit or with his understanding, depending on where or with whom he finds himself. If he was praying with his spirit, whether in the church or out, he was edifying himself, since, as he taught us, “he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself.” (1 Cor 14:4)

Even to realize that Paul by his own words prayed in tongues should be sufficient to cause cessationists to simply leave the field of debate graciously. Will anyone doubt that his use of proseuchomai in verse 14 and 15 of 1 Cor. 14 means that he is praying to God? it is a normal New Testament word for prayer made to God. And if so, this must be a private use of a spiritual gift to assist Paul in his own, personal, private seeking of God.


An examination of Paul’s own, stated personal prayer practices as well as the rules for Christian assemblies he provides for us within 1 Corinthians 14 compels us to conclude that Christians can and should enjoy the private exercise of tongues in worship and in prayer. We can do no better than to conclude by echoing Paul’s own words, words which are not at all negative, but which are sadly cited often just to reinforce his promotion of prophecy over tongues in public assemblies:

θέλω δὲ πάντας ὑμᾶς λαλεῖν γλώσσαις…

I want you all to speak with tongues… (1 Cor. 14:5a)

Moving on from prejudice against tongues?

It’s always fascinating to me when secular sources discuss the phenomenon of speaking in tongues – and even more fascinating when they seem sympathetic to it.

Stamford anthropology professor T. M. Luhrmann took a friendly stance last weekend in the New York Times, writing with even-handedness and humor. In a day when our fellow-saints are running “Strange Fire” conferences to straighten us out (and perhaps to lampoon us) I find this refreshing.

Dr. Luhrmann reminds us of a recent neurological study which hints that speaking in tongues is neither an “emptying of the mind” nor a rational prayer of the type we learned at our mother’s knee. This tallies strikingly with the Apostle Paul’s description of praying in tongues as an experience in which our spirit prays but our mind is “unfruitful.” (1 Cor. 14:14)

However, while we’re thankful any time a Cambridge Ph.D. lends her aid to Charismatics, we should always take our true encouragement from God Himself. Neither the skeptical commenters at the Times nor our more Fundamentalist brothers have caught the full import of the Spirit’s assurance through Peter that the promise is for all who are afar off, as many as God will call.

Read: Why We Talk in Tongues –