What does Tongues Gift Of mean in the Bible?

Dictionary

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Tongues, Gift of
TONGUES, GIFT OF
1. In NT we read of ‘speaking with tongues’ or ‘in a tongue’ as a remarkable sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; but the exact meaning of the phenomenon described has been much disputed. We may take the passages in the chronological order of writing. ( a ) The Epistles . In 1Co 12:1-31 ; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 , among the charismata or (spiritual) gifts are ‘divers kinds of tongues’ and ‘the interpretation of tongues’ ( 1 Corinthians 12:10 ; 1 Corinthians 12:30 ). Yet St. Paul, who possessed the gift himself ( 1 Corinthians 14:18 ), considers it to be of little importance as compared with prophecy. In itself it is addressed to God, and unless interpreted it is useless to those assembled; it is a sign to believers, but will not edify, but rather excite the ridicule of, unlearned persons or heathens ( Acts 2:1-47 ). Whatever the gift was, speaking with tongues was at Corinth ordinarily unintelligible to the hearers, and sometimes even to the speaker ( 1 Corinthians 14:14 ), though the English reader must note that the word ‘unknown’ in AV [1] is an interpolation. The gift was not to be forbidden, but everything was to be done decently and in order ( 1 Corinthians 14:40 ). Indications of the gift are thought to be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 , Romans 8:15 ; Romans 8:26 , Galatians 4:6 , Ephesians 5:19 , but not at all in the Pastoral, Petrine, or Johannine Epistles. It seems to have belonged to the infancy of the Church ( 1 Corinthians 13:8 . ‘Tongues … shall cease’). [2] ( b ) Acts . At Pentecost, in addition to the ‘mighty wind’ and the ‘tongues parting asunder like as of fire,’ we read that the assembled disciples spoke ‘with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance’ ( Acts 2:4 ). The multitudes from many countries, coming together, heard them speak in their tongues the mighty works of God ( Acts 2:11 ), while some thought that they were drunken ( Acts 2:13 ; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:23 ). We read again of the gift in the conversion of Cornelius and his household ( Acts 10:46 ) St. Peter expressly says that it was the same as at Pentecost ( Acts 11:15 ) and at Ephesus ( Acts 19:8 ); and probably the same is intended in the story of the Samaritan converts ( Acts 8:17 f.: ‘Simon saw that … the Holy Ghost was given’). ( c ) In the Appendix to Mark (which, even if Markan, is comparatively late) we have the promise that the disciples ‘shall speak with [3] tongues’ ( Acts 16:17 : ‘new’ is probably not of the best text).
2. Meaning of the gift . Relying chiefly on the passages of Acts, most of the Fathers (as Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus) understand the gift as being for purposes of evangelization, as if the disciples received a miraculous endowment of foreign languages to enable them to preach; Gregory of Nyssa and others take the gift as a miracle of hearing , the disciples speaking in their own language, but the people understanding their speech each in his own tongue. This view starts with the doubtless true idea that ‘tongue’ means ‘language’ here. But Acts says nothing, about preaching; the gift is never found in NT in connexion with evangelization; the passages in 1 Cor., where the utterances are often unintelligible even to the utterer, are clearly repugnant to this interpretation, and we have no proof that the Apostles ever preached in any language but Greek and Aramaic, even to the ‘barbarous’ heathen, such as the Lycaonians or Maltese. Indeed, Paul and Barnabas clearly did not know Lycaonian ( Acts 14:11 ; Acts 14:14 ). Peter probably did not know Greek well enough to preach in it, for Mark was his ‘interpreter’ (Papias, Irenæus). We cannot, then, follow the majority of the Fathers in their interpretation. Had it been the true one, St. Paul would have encouraged the Corinthians to use the gift to the utmost.
Unfortunately, we do not know how the earlier 2nd cent. Fathers understood the matter; but Tertullian apparently judged the gift to be an ecstatic utterance of praise ( adv. Marc . v. 8). This is much more probable than the other view. At Pentecost the disciples spoke the ‘mighty works of God.’ All the NT passages either suggest or agree with the idea of worship. This does not, indeed, exhaust all our difficulties; but perhaps the following considerations may solve at least some of them. ( a ) The disciples, at a critical period of the Church, were in a state of intense excitement. But St. Paul’s words do not mean that their utterances were mere gibberish; on the contrary, they were capable of interpretation if one who had that gift were present. And at Pentecost they were, as a matter of fact, understood. ( b ) It has been suggested that we are to understand ‘tongues,’ not as ‘languages,’ but as ‘poetic or symbolic speech,’ not readily understood by the unlearned. But this view does not satisfy Acts 2:1-47 , though in itself it may be true; in a word, this is an insufficient explanation. ( c ) The languages required by 1 Corinthians 14:23 are actually only two Greek and Aramaic. For those present at Pentecost were Jews; the list in Acts 2:9 ff. is of countries, not of languages. All the Jews of these countries spoke either Greek or Aramaic. This is a difficulty in interpreting the narrative, which gives us the impression of a large number of different languages. But probably what is intended is a large number of dialects of Greek and Aramaic, especially of the latter; it would be as though a Somerset man heard one who habitually spoke broad Scots praising God in the Somerset dialect. And what would strike the pilgrim Jews present was that the speakers at Pentecost were mainly those who themselves spoke an uncouth Aramaic dialect, that of Galilee ( Matthew 26:73 ). ( d ) This consideration may lead us a step further. We may recognize in the Pentecostal wonder a stirring of memory, a recalling of utterances previously heard by the disciples at former feasts when a polyglot multitude of Jews (polyglot at least in dialects) was assembled, the speakers uttering what they had unconsciously already taken into their memories. This would account for their words being so readily understood; some of the speakers would be praising God in one dialect, some in another. ( e ) Something of this sort may have happened at Corinth, one of the most cosmopolitan of cities. Here the possession of the gift was not confined to those of Jewish birth. But naturally the resident Christian community at Corinth would ordinarily not understand the strange dialects given utterance to. The case is not the same as that of Pentecost, when many different peoples were gathered together.
To sum up, it seems probable that the gift of tongues was an ecstatic utterance of praise, not only in poetic and symbolic speech, but also in languages or dialects not ordinarily spoken by those who had the gift; a power given at a time of great enthusiasm and excitement, at a critical period of the world’s history, but not meant to be a permanent gift for the Church, and not ranking so high as other charismata , especially not so high as prophecy. That it survived the Apostolic age is hardly probable.
A. J. Maclean.
Easton's Bible Dictionary - Tongues, Gift of
Granted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4 ), in fulfilment of a promise Christ had made to his disciples (Mark 16:17 ). What this gift actually was has been a subject of much discussion. Some have argued that it was merely an outward sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit among the disciples, typifying his manifold gifts, and showing that salvation was to be extended to all nations. But the words of Luke (Acts 2:9 ) clearly show that the various peoples in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost did really hear themselves addressed in their own special language with which they were naturally acquainted (Compare Joel 2:28,29 ). Among the gifts of the Spirit the apostle enumerates in 1 Corinthians 12:10-14:30 ,, "divers kinds of tongues" and the "interpretation of tongues." This "gift" was a different manifestation of the Spirit from that on Pentecost, although it resembled it in many particulars. Tongues were to be "a sign to them that believe not."
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Tongues Gift of
The chief authority in apostolic literature for the gift of speaking with tongues (γλωσσολαλία) is 1 Corinthians 14. What happened on the day of Pentecost is described (Acts 2:4) as speaking ‘with other tongues’ (λαλεῖν ἑτέραις γλώσσαις). The emphasis lies on the distinguishing ἑτέραις. The speakers spoke in languages other than their own: under the stress of spiritual emotion they lapsed into a foreign tongue; it was a special phenomenon peculiar to a special occasion. In Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6 the same phenomenon according to some authorities re-appears; but, as the distinguishing ἑτέραις is absent, it is open to us to regard these passages as parallel to 1 Corinthians 14 and as indicating a phenomenon other than the Pentecostal.
What are the chief features of glossolalia in the Corinthian church? (1) Like ‘prophecy,’ ‘speaking with tongues’ was one of the gifts of the πνευματικοί: it was reckoned among the charisms as an inspiration or endowment originating with the Holy Spirit. (2) It was unintelligible to others (1 Corinthians 14:2, ‘no man understandeth’). (3) It was personal to the speaker, who edified himself and not the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). (4) It is described in the case of an individual as γλώσσαις λαλεῖν (1 Corinthians 14:5) and again in the singular γλώσσῃ (1 Corinthians 14:13; 1 Corinthians 14:27) or ἐν γλώσσῃ (1 Corinthians 14:19) (διὰ τῆς γλώσσης, 1 Corinthians 14:9, refers to the instrument of speech). It is evident that ‘tongue’ in this connexion is used of a specific utterance. It is an open question whether it was deliberate, on the ground that ordinary language was unsuitable for prayer or fellowship or testimony regarding the spiritual life, or was produced apart from the volition of the speaker under the influence of spiritual excitement or emotion. The evidence is in favour of the latter view: in other words, that the speaker was the subject of a Spirit-possession which moved him to speak ‘with the tongues of men and of angels’ (1 Corinthians 13:1). The distinction in the latter passage points to an ecstasy which on occasions appeared to be more than human, as if the Spirit used a human medium for angelic speech (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:4). It was used only in prayer (1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:14). It was speech ‘not unto men, but unto God.’ To the outsider it appeared a species of soliloquy. Intellect or νοῦς was passive or ἄκαρπος (1 Corinthians 14:14). There were many types of tongues (γένη γλωσσῶν 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28).
Undoubtedly St. Paul recognized it as a spiritual gift, but inferior, as, e.g., compared with prophecy. It was of no value to an unbeliever, because it could not lead to faith: cf. St. Paul’s application of Isaiah 28:11 f. in 1 Corinthians 14:21. Indeed, to both the outsider and the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 14:23) it would appear a kind of madness. Nor to the believer was it of real benefit unless there was an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:13); and the speaker-with-tongues was counselled to pray for such an interpretation, as if his utterance per se were of little value. St. Paul was no believer in unintelligibility (1 Corinthians 14:11): hence his emphasis on a εὔσημος (‘capable of being expounded’) λόγος (1 Corinthians 14:9). He claimed the gift as one of his own (1 Corinthians 14:18), but preferred five instructive words spoken with the understanding to ten thousand in a tongue (1 Corinthians 14:19). If his words were not understood, it was like pouring words into the empty air (1 Corinthians 14:9). Hence an interpretation was essential, though this was a gift by itself and was not necessarily exercised by the speaker-with-tongues himself.
It is obvious that the Corinthians were specially susceptible to such abnormal powers; with a considerable section of the church γλωσσολαλία was more popular than teaching and prophecy, in spite of the fact that as a purely subjective phenomenon it was of no value to the outsider (ἰδιώτης), who could not even say ‘Amen’ to the formula of thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 14:16). The common sense of St. Paul was undoubtedly tried by its ineffectuality (‘your thanksgiving may be all right, but then-the other man is not edified 1’ [1]).
There is no need to look for the origin of this experience among contemporary ethnic cults. That the atmosphere of the Hellenistic world of St. Paul was full of the phenomena of mysticism and ecstasy is clear to all students of the mystery-religions. But the ecstatic manifestations of the Corybantic or Dionysiac devotee or the worshipper of Isis and Osiris are simply parallels with the Corinthian Christian phenomena; they are not sources of it. Κορυβαντιᾶν (to use Philo’s word, Quis Rer. Div. Heres, 69, quoted by Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery-Religions, p. 66) is a convenient generic term for Divine possession as found in the revivals of ancient and modern religions. To Huxley the Salvation Army appeared to be a kind of ‘Corybantic Christianity,’ judged by its external phenomena of religious excitement and enthusiasm. At the same time, the phenomena that have accompanied revivals such as early Methodism, the Salvation Army, and the recent Welsh revival have rarely been of the type of γλωσσολαλία: there have been sobs and ejaculations, but not unintelligible continuous speech. In a valuable appendix to his Earlier Epistles of St. Paul2 (London, 1914) K. Lake (‘Glossolalia and Psychology,’ ch. iv. Appendix ii.) finds traces of glossolalia in the Testament of Job and in the magical papyri, e.g. the Leiden papyrus, where Hermes is invoked in unintelligible symbols. The use of strange words in magical formulas or charms which is to be found in circles alien to the apostolic communities may properly be adduced as parallels to glossolalia; but it would appear that glossolalia speedily vanished from apostolic Christianity. There is no reference to it in the Apostolic Fathers. The passages quoted from Irenaeus (Haer. V. vi. 1) and Tertullian (c. Marc. v. 8) are not convincing proofs that the practice was in vogue in their own times, while Chrysostom in the 4th cent. is unable to explain what its real nature was. Lake notes the case of the Camisards, a sect of French Protestants in the early 18th cent., who are known under stress of religious emotion to have ‘uttered exhortations in good French, although, in their ordinary state of consciousness, they were incapable of speaking anything but the Romance patois of the Cévennes’ (loc. cit., p. 245). A clearer parallel to glossolalia is the more familiar case of the Irvingites, whose ecstatic utterances were an unintelligible jargon. Lake’s examination of the phenomena as a whole demonstrates that from the standpoint of psychology there is nothing in itself unreasonable in uncontrolled or uncontrollable speech. When the subliminal consciousness is called into play or energy by religious emotion, there results a paraphasia which may take the form of speaking languages previously not known by the speaker, or uttering speech unintelligible to the hearer. The whole subject is invested with renewed interest by the modern study of religious pathology and psychology. It would now appear that speaking with tongues, like so many other phenomena of the spiritual consciousness, whether in the records of the Scriptures or in non-canonical writings or in the general annals of the Christian life in all ages, is capable of reasonable explanation on psychological lines, even if all the data fail to yield a satisfactory meaning to the inquirer.
Literature.-In addition to the works named under Gifts and Prophecy, the following may be consulted: K. Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul2, London, 1914; H. A. A. Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery-Religions, London, 1913; J. Weiss, Der erste Korintherbrief, Göttingen, 1910; F. G. Hencke, ‘The Gift of Tongues and Related Phenomena at the Present Day,’ in AJTh [2] xiii. [3] 193-206; W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience5, London, 1903, lects. ix. and x.; E. Mosiman, Das Zungenreden, geschichtlich und psychologisch untersucht, Tübingen, 1911 (contains an excellent bibliography).
R. Martin Pope.
Smith's Bible Dictionary - Tongues, Gift of
I. glotta , or glossa , the word employed throughout the New Testament for the gift now under consideration, is used-- (1) for the bodily organ of speech; (2) for a foreign word imported and half-naturalized in Greek; (3) in Hellenistic Greek, for "speech" or "language." The received traditional view, which starts from the third meaning, and sees in the gift of tongues a distinctly linguistic power, is the more correct one. II. The chief passages from which we have to draw our conclusion as to the nature and purpose of the gift in question are--
(Mark 16:17 )
(Acts 2:1-13 ; 10:46 ; 19:6 )
(2 Corinthians 12:1 ; 2 Corinthians 14:1 ) ... III. The promise of a new power coming from the divine Spirit, giving not only comfort and insight into truth, but fresh powers of utterance of some kind, appears once and again in our Lord's teaching. The disciples are to take no thought what they shall speak, for the spirit of their Father shall speak in them. (Matthew 10:19,20 ; Mark 13:11 ) The lips of Galilean peasants are to speak freely and boldly before kings. The promise of our Lord to his disciples, "They shall speak with new tongues," (Mark 16:17 ) was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when cloven tongues like fire sat upon the disciples, and "every man heard them speak in his own language." (Acts 2:1-12 ) IV. The wonder of the day of Pentecost is, in its broad features, familiar enough to us. What views have men actually taken of a phenomenon so marvellous and exceptional? The prevalent belief of the Church has been that in the Pentecostal gift the disciples received a supernatural knowledge of all such languages as they needed for their work as evangelists. The knowledge was permanent. Widely diffused as this belief has been it must be remembered that it goes beyond the data with which the New Testament supplies us. Such instance of the gift recorded in the Acts connects it not with the work of teaching, but with that of praise and adoration; not with the normal order of men's lives but with exceptional epochs in them. The speech of St. Peter which follows, like meet other speeches addressed to a Jerusalem audience, was spoken apparently in Aramaic. When St. Paul, who "spake with tongues more than all," was at Lystra, there is no mention made of his using the language of Lycaonia. It is almost implied that he did not understand it. (Acts 14:11 ) Not one word in the discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14 implies that the gift was of this nature, or given for this purpose. Nor, it may be added, within the limits assigned the providence of God to the working of the apostolic Church,was such a gift necessary. Aramaic, Greek, Latin, the three languages of the inscription on the cross were media, of intercourse throughout the empire. Some interpreters have seen their way to another solution of the difficulty by changing the character of the miracle. It lay not in any new character bestowed on the speakers, but in the impression produced on the hearers. Words which the Galilean disciples uttered in their own tongue were heard as in their native speech by those who listened. There are, it is believed, weighty reasons against both the earlier and later forms of this hypothesis.
It is at variance with the distinct statement of (Acts 2:4 ) "They began to speak with other tongues."
It at once multiplies the miracle and degrades its character. Not the 120 disciples, but the whole multitude of many thousands, are in this case the subjects of it.
It involves an element of falsehood. The miracle, on this view, was wrought to make men believe what was not actually the fact.
It is altogether inapplicable to the phenomena of (1 Corinthians 14:1 ) ... Critics of a negative school have, as might be expected, adopted the easier course of rejecting the narrative either altogether or in part. What then, are, the facts actually brought before us? What inferences may be legitimately drawn from them? (a) The utterance of words by the disciples, in other languages than their own Galilean Aramaic, is distinctly asserted. (b) The words spoken appear to have been determined, not by the will of the speakers, but by the Spirit which "gave them utterance." (c) The word used, apoftheggesthai , has in the LXX. a special association with the oracular speech of true or false prophets, and appears to imply a peculiar, perhaps physical, solemn intonation. Comp. ( 1 Chronicles 25:1 ; Ezekiel 13:9 ) (d) The "tongues" were used as an instrument not of teaching, but of praise. (e) Those who spoke them seemed to others to be under the influence of some strong excitement, "full of new wine." (f) Questions as to the mode of operation of a power above the common laws of bodily or mental life lead us to a region where our words should be "wary and few." It must be remembered then, that in all likelihood such words as they then uttered had been heard by the disciples before. The difference was that before the Galilean peasants had stood in that crowd neither heeding nor understanding nor remembering what they heard, still less able to reproduce it; now they had the power of speaking it clearly and freely. The divine work would in this case take the form of a supernatural exaltation of the memory, not of imparting a miraculous knowledge of words never heard before. (g) The gift of tongues, the ecstatic burst of praise, is definitely asserted to be a fulfillment of the prediction of (Joel 2:28 ) We are led, therefore, to look for that which answers to the gift of tongues in the other element of prophecy which is included in the Old Testament use of the word; and this is found in the ecstatic praise, the burst of sang. (1 Samuel 10:5-13 ; 19:20-24 ; 1 Chronicles 25:3 ) (h) The other instances in the Acts offer essentially the same phenomena. By implication in ch. (Acts 14:16-10 ) by express statement in ch. (Acts 10:47 ; 11:15,17 ; 19:6 ) it belongs to special critical epochs. V. The First Epistle to the Corinthians supplies fuller data. The spiritual gifts are classified and compared arranged, apparently, according to their worth. The facts which may be gathered are briefly these:
The phenomena of the gift of tongues were not confined to one church or section of a church.
The comparison of gifts, in both the lists given by St. Paul -- (1 Corinthians 12:8-10,28-30 ) --places that of tongues and the interpretation of tongues lowest in the scale.
The main characteristic of the "tongue" is that it is unintelligible. The man "speaks mysteries," prays, blesses, gives thanks, in the tongue, (1 Corinthians 14:15,16 ) but no one understands him.
The peculiar nature of the gift leads the apostle into what at first appears a contradiction. "Tongues are for a sign," not to believers, but to those who do not believe; yet the effect on unbelievers is not that of attracting, but of repelling. They involve of necessity a disturbance of the equilibrium between the understanding and the feeling. Therefore it is that, for those who believe already, prophecy is the greater gift.
The "tongues," however, must be regarded as real languages. The "divers kinds of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28 ) the "tongues of men," ( 1 Corinthians 13:1 ) point to differences of some kind and it is easier to conceive of these as differences of language than as belonging to utterances all equally mild and inarticulate.
Connected with the "tongues" there was the corresponding power of interpretation. VI.
Traces of the gift are found in the Epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, the Ephesians. From the Pastoral Epistles, from those of St. Peter and St. John, they are altogether absent, and this is in itself significant.
It is probable, however, that the disappearance of the "tongues" was gradual. There must have been a time when "tongues" were still heard, though less frequently and with less striking results. For the most part, however, the pierce which they had filled in the worship of the Church was supplied by the "hymns and spiritual songs" of the succeeding age, after this, within the Church we lose nearly all traces of them. The gift of the day of Pentecost belonged to a critical epoch, not to the continuous life of the Church. It implied a disturbance of the equilibrium of man's normal state but it was not the instrument for building up the Church.
Fausset's Bible Dictionary - Tongues, Gift of
Mark 16:17; Acts 2:1-13; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6; Acts 19:1 Corinthians 12,14. The Alexandrinus manuscript confirms Mark 16:9-20; The Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts, omit it; "they shall speak with "new" ("not known before", kainais ) tongues"; this promise is not restricted to apostles; "these signs shall follow them that believe." a proof to the unbelieving that believers were under a higher power than mere enthusiasm or imagination. The "rushing mighty wind" on Pentecost is paralleled in Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Ezekiel 43:2; Genesis 1:2; 1 Kings 19:11; 2 Chronicles 5:14; Psalms 104:3-4. The "tongues like as of fire" in the establishing of the New Testament church answer to Exodus 19:18, at the giving of the Old Testament law on Sinai, and Ezekiel 1:4 "a fire enfolding itself"; compare Jeremiah 23:29; Luke 24:32.
They were "cloven" (diamerizomenai ), rather distributed to them severally. The disciples were "filled with the Holy Spirit"; as John the Baptist and our Lord (Luke 1:15; Luke 4:1). "They began to speak with "other" (heterais , different from their ordinary) tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Then "the multitude were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language; and they marveled saying, Behold are not all these which speak Galileans? and how hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born, the wonderful works of God?" This proves that as Babel brought as its penalty the confusion of tongues, so the Pentecostal gift of tongues symbolizes the reunion of the scattered nations. Still praise, not teaching, was the invariable use made of the gift. The places where tongues were exercised were just where there was least need of preaching in foreign tongues (Acts 2:1-4; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6; Acts 19:1 Corinthians 14).
Tongues were not at their command whenever they pleased to teach those of different languages. The gift came, like prophesying, only in God's way and time (Acts 2:1-18; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6). No express mention is made of any apostle or evangelist preaching in any tongue save Greek or Hebrew (Aramaic). Probably Paul did so in Lycaonia (Acts 14:11; Acts 14:15; he says (1 Corinthians 14:18) "I speak with tongues (the Vaticanus manuscript, but the Sinaiticus and the Alexandrinus manuscripts 'with a tongue') more than ye all." Throughout his long notice of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 he never alludes to their use for making one's self intelligible to foreigners. This would have been the natural use for him to have urged their possessors to put them to, instead of interrupting church worship at home by their unmeaning display.
Papias (in Eusebius, H. E. iii. 30) says Mark accompanied Peter as an "interpreter," i.e. to express in appropriate language Peter's thought, so that the gift of tongues cannot have been in Papias' view a continuous gift with that apostle. Aramaic Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (the three languages over the cross) were the general media of converse throughout the civilised world, owing to Alexander's empire first, then the Roman. The epistles are all in Greek, not only to Corinth, but to Thessalonica, Philippi, Rome. Ephesus, and Colosse. The term used of "tongues" (apofthengesthai , not only lalein ) implies a solemn utterance as of prophets or inspired musicians (Septuagint 1 Chronicles 25:1; Ezekiel 13:9). In the first instance (Acts 2) the tongues were used in doxology; but when teaching followed it was in ordinary language, understood by the Jews, that Peter spoke.
Those who spoke with tongues seemed to beholders as if "full of new wide," namely, excited and enthusiastic (Acts 2:13; Acts 2:15-18), in a state raised out of themselves. Hence, Paul contrasts the being "drunk with wine" with being "filled with the Spirit, speaking in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:18-19). The ecstatic songs of praise in the Old Testament, poured out by the prophets and their disciples, and the inspired musicians of the sanctuary, correspond (1 Samuel 10:5-13; 1 Samuel 19:20-24; 1 Chronicles 25:3). In 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14 tongues are placed lowest in the scale of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:5). Their three characteristics were:
(1) all ecstatic state of comparative rapt unconsciousness, the will being acted on by a power from above;
(2) words uttered, often unintelligible;
(3) languages spoken which ordinarily the speaker could not speak.
They, like prophesyings, were under control of their possessors (1 Corinthians 14:32), and needed to be kept in due order, else confusion in church meetings would ensue (1 Corinthians 14:23; 1 Corinthians 14:39). The tongues, as evidencing a divine power raising them above themselves, were valued by Paul; but they suited the childhood (1 Corinthians 14:20; 1 Corinthians 13:11), as prophesying or inspired preaching the manhood, of the Christian life. The possessor of the tongue "spoke mysteries," praying, blessing, and giving thanks, but no one understood him; the "spirit" (pneuma ) but not "understanding" (nous ) was active (1 Corinthians 14:14-19). Yet he might edify himself (1 Corinthians 14:4) with a tongue which to bystanders seemed a madman's ravings, but to himself was the expression of ecstatic adoration. "Five words" spoken "with the understanding" so as to "teach others" are preferable to "ten thousand in an unknown tongue."
In Isaiah 28:9-12 God virtually says of Israel, "this people hear Me not though I speak to them in their familiar tongue, I will therefore speak to them in other tongues, namely, that of the foes whom I will send against them, yet even then they will not hearken to Me." Paul thus applies it: ye see it is a penalty to encouuter men of a strange tongue, yet this you impose on the church by abusing instead of using the tongue intelligibly. Speakers in foreign tongues speak like "children weaned from the milk, with stammering lips," ridiculous because unintelligible to the hearers (Isaiah 28:14), or like babbling drunkards (Acts 2:13), or madmen (1 Corinthians 14:20-23).
Thus, Isaiah (Isaiah 28:9-14) shows that "tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not." Tongues either awaken to spiritual attention the unconverted or, if despised, condemn (compare "sign" in a condemnatory sense, Ezekiel 4:3-4; Matthew 12:39-42), those who, like Israel, reject the sign and the accompanying message; compare Acts 2:8; Acts 2:13; 1 Corinthians 14:22; "yet, for all that will they not hear Me," even such miraculous signs fail to arouse them; therefore since they will not understand they shall not understand. "Tongues of men" and "divers kinds of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 13:1) imply diversity, which applies certainly to languages, and includes also the kind of tongues which was a spiritual language unknown to man, uttered in ecstasy (1 Corinthians 14:2). It was only by "interpreting" that the "understanding" accompanied the tongues.
He who spoke (praying) in a tongue should pray that he might (be able to) interpret for edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:13; 1 Corinthians 14:26-27). Hebrew and Aramaic words spoken in the spirit or quoted from the Old Testament often produced a more solemn effect upon Greeks than the corresponding Greek terms; Compare 1 Corinthians 16:22, Μaranatha , 1 Corinthians 12:3; Lord of sabaoth , James 5:4; Αbba , the adoption cry, Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6; Alleluia, Revelation 19:1; Revelation 19:6; Hosannah, Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15. "Tongues of angels" (1 Corinthians 13:1) are such as Daniel and John in Revelation heard; and Paul, when caught up to paradise (2 Corinthians 12:4).
An intonation in speaking with tongues is implied in Paul's comparison to the tones of the harp and pipe, which however he insists have distinction of sounds, and therefore so ought possessors of tongues to speak intelligibly by interpreting their sense afterward, or after awakening spiritual attention by the mysterious tongue they ought then to follow with "revelation, knowledge, prophesying or doctrine" (1 Corinthians 14:6-11); otherwise the speaker with a tongue will be "a barbarian," i.e. a foreigner in language to the hearer. A musical tone would also be likely in uttering hymns and doxologies, which were the subject matter of the utterance by tongues (Acts 2:11). The "groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26) and the "melody in the heart" (Ephesians 5:19) show us how even inarticulate speech like the tongues may edify, though less edifying than articulate and intelligible prophesying or preaching.
Either the speaker with a tongue or a listener might have the gift of interpreting, so he might bring forth deep truths from the seemingly incoherent utterances of foreign, and Aramaic, and strange words (1 Corinthians 14:7; 1 Corinthians 14:11; 1 Corinthians 14:13; 1 Corinthians 14:27). When the age of miracle passed (1 Corinthians 13:8) the tongues ceased with it; the scaffolding was removed, when the building was complete as regards its first stage; hymns and spiritual snugs took the place of tongues, as preaching took the place of prophesying. Like all God's gifts, tongues had their counterfeit. The latter are morbid, the forerunners or results of disease. The true tongues were given to men in full vigour, preceded by no fanatic madness, and followed by no prostration as the reaction. Practical, healthy religion marked the daily walk of the churches in which the tongues were manifested. Not these, but the confession of Jesus as Lord with heart and tongue was the declared test of real discipleship (1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 John 4:2-3).
Morrish Bible Dictionary - Tongues, Gift of
This gift was in the early church, and was a sign 'to them that believed not,' in fulfilment of Isaiah 28:11,12 : cf. 1 Corinthians 14:21 . The gift was exhibited in a special way on the day of Pentecost, when people of many lands heard the wonderful things of God each in his own language. In the assembly these gifts were not to be exercised unless there was present an interpreter, that the saints might be edified. Paul thanked God that he spake with tongues more than all at Corinth; but in the assembly he would rather speak five words through his understanding, that he might teach others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 1 Corinthians 12:10,28,30 ; 1 Corinthians 13:1,8 ; 1 Corinthians 14:2-39 .
The expression 'unknown tongue' is unhappy, because it has led some to think that the gift of tongues consisted of a sort of unintelligible gibberish. The word 'unknown' has been added in the A.V., where it should read simply 'tongue.' At Pentecost it was shown that the gift of 'tongues' was in a person speaking a language which he had never learnt, but which was at once understood by those who knew it.
1910 New Catholic Dictionary - Tongues, Gift of
One of the preternatural gifts mentioned by Saint Paul; the gift of speaking so as to be understood by all, and the corresponding ability of the hearers to understand one who is speaking in a foreign tongue. Acts 2, tells how, men of every nation under heaven, 18 being specified, understood the Apostles in Jerusalem the first Pentecost as they spoke in diverse tongues. Saint Francis Xavier and other Apostolic men had this gift.

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