THE GIFTING OF TONGUES
By Messianic Rabbi Jack Zimmerman
A gift is something special from God. Because of that, we should not be surprised that it's also abused by people. After all, Satan's purpose is to twist, confuse and destroy everything that comes from God. Naturally, Satan hasn't left tongues undamaged either. It would be against his nature if he did.
I'm going to dispel some myths here: Some may claim an experience of the gifting of tongues and are certain it is divine. But we're going to look at what scripture says about this gifting and about what the experience looks and feels like. And if your experience does not agree with the Bible--I'm sorry to tell you--it is the experience that is wrong, not God's Word. Experience is not the principle, the Bible is. It may feel right to you, but that doesn't mean it's right with Him. Two other points I need to make: First, the rumor mill has said of late that this Rabbi frowns upon the gifting of tongues. While I don't have that particular gift, there's no one who promotes its legitimacy more than I do. What I do frown on is the abuse of any God given gift, tongues included, and I certainly am blessed when the gifts are used in the way God intended.
Second point-- if you have come to acknowledge the usage of this gift from reading a Bible only in English, and not researching the original language, then you'd better buckle your seat belt---while the English of 1st Corinthians may have led you to logically conclude you're using the gift correctly, the Greek will show you a path very different from the one you've taken thus far.
The gift of tongues, simply put, is the special ability God gives to someone, to suddenly speak in a language they've never known. Notice I said it's an ability God gives you. I said that, because the Bible tells us so. In 1st Corinthians Chapter 12 verse 6, which speaks about the usage of spiritual gifts, it says these gifts come only from God (es-TEE ow-TOS THEH-os ho energ-AYO paz en paz) in the greek. The same God works all things in all people.
And in speaking as to how these gifts are given, God tells us that not everyone will be given the same gifts:
One may receive tongues, another person may not, because God says each gift represents a different part of the body, and if he gives everyone the same gift, then everyone's a hand, but nobody's a foot, etc. Like the Lord says in 1st Corinthians 12:19, "DEH EYE EN PAZ HICE MEL-os POO SOMA?-If they were all one part, where would the body be?
I raise the point, because we need to understand that someone with the gifting of tongues is no more or less superior or spiritual than someone without it. In fact, God tells us that the Corinthian Church, where Paul writes about this gift, was the most carnal church around. The people were anything but spiritual in this place. Some of the members would eat meat that had been offered to idols, other members denied Yeshua's resurrection, and some people came to church drunk. Even after the service, men would go up to the temple of Aphrodite and solicit prostitutes, and the Bible records how one man in this church even slept with his own stepmother. So, no, this gift is not on a higher plain than any other one; the church where it was prominent certainly wasn't winning any emmy awards for holiness, folks. But remember I said earlier how Satan likes to take something good and twist it? People continue to fall for his tricks today.
I know of people who want the gift so bad they will flock to congregations that offer classes in how to acquire it. Why? God says the gift comes ONLY from Him; He is your teacher. God tells you in His word that if he wants you to have it, you don't have to go to a class, he'll just give it to you. You can ask God to give it to you, and if He wants to, He will. But if He hasn't, don't go seeking it out. He's already made his choice on what to give you. You've already gotten God's answer. Isn't that good enough?
Mark 16:17 is the first place in the Brit Chadasha where the subject of speaking in tongues comes to the forefront. The timing is just after Yeshua's resurrection. He's straightening out the disciples because everyone has been giving reports of seeing Yeshua walking around after his death, but the disciples aren't buying it, they don't think it's possible. After Yeshua proves them wrong by showing up, he tells them that they are to go out into the world and spread the word of God. And in verse 17 he says that there will be those who believe who are going to be speaking in new tongues.
Now, what's meant by the term, "new tongues"? Well, there are differing opinions.
Some feel it can't refer to a known language spoken here on Earth, because such languages have obviously been in existence, so therefore they're not…new. Thus, some say this must refer to a language no one has ever heard of before, and since this term came as a declaration from Yeshua that people would speak it, it's only natural for some to conclude this new language is a heavenly language, a language that would sound like babbling or gibberish, to everyone but the one who God gave it to.
It is perfectly understandable for you to come to that conclusion from reading your English Bible, but as we've all come to learn, English is not the original language of God's Word, and you can only get the full story and the right story, when you go to the source. Listen to what this verse sounds like in the Greek: DEH TOW-tah say-MY-on (AND THESE SIGNS), para-coolo-THE-o pist-YOU-o (shall follow those who believe) EN MOO ON-omah ek-BAL-oh dahee-MON-eyon (and in my name they shall cast out devils) laleo kahee-NOS (and they shall speak with new) glo-SSA (tongues).
Well, there you have it. This is no mystery. If the original Greek for tongues is the word glow-SSA, all we have to do is look that word up, and see what God's meaning is from it, not man's. The answer may surprise you:
Glow-SSA has several meanings. It refers to your tongue, meaning that organ in your mouth that you bite from time to time, and it's also used the way Yeshua used it in Mark 16:17-to denote a language or dialect used by a particular people, distinct from that of other nations. In fact, in some universities that have Anthropology departments, you will find a separate department for Glossology. Such department is so called because it deals with the study and classification of known languages and dialects.
Well then, if the language is already being used by other nations, why would Yeshua refer to it as a new tongue? Very simple-while it certainly would not be new on this earth, it would be a new language for those Yeshua was speaking to at the time. Yes, this would be a known language somewhere in some country, but nonetheless a language that these disciples had never spoken before, thus it certainly would have been new to them. Let me ask you something-everytime someone tells you that they're buying a new car, do you get all excited and say, let me see it now, it's obviously never been on this planet before? Of course not. Your response is probably, "oh that's great, what kind is it?".
Your response alone confirms that your concept is of a car that's already been built and already exists. That's the whole point. New to the buyer; not new to the planet.
Secondly, look at the context of where Yeshua is saying that people will speak in new tongues. It comes right after He tells the disciples to go out and preach the gospel to the world. The fact that those two thoughts are in the same passage is no accident. Yeshua is prophesying of a time when believers will go out and preach the word to the world, but then the question would come up, well, how can we present the gospel, if we don't speak their language? And so, these believers would be given the gift of speaking in the tongue, in the glow-ssa, in the language of other nations, so that people around the world could understand the gospel message in their native tongue and thus be saved, and that way, Yeshua's will that he speaks of here in Mark, could be accomplished. Further, if indeed this were a heavenly language of babble that Yeshua were referring to, it begs the following nonsensical question:
Why would God want the disciples and believers to spread the gospel to another nation, by using a language of babbling? If that were the case, there'd be no reason for God to give these believers any new language at all, because any foreign nation of peoples would be just as confused from a language of babble as they would from the disciple's native language of Hebrew or Aramaic; these foreign nations wouldn't know either one, so what's the difference? Either way, confusion would result. And clearly, that is not what our God, who says He is a God of order, wants.
Let's go to Acts, Chapter 2. Following Yeshua's discussions with his disciples, he's told them that he wanted them to stick around Jerusalem.. Why? Because every prophesy of God has to have a fulfillment, and the prophecy Yeshua gave in Mark 16 about believers getting these new languages so that they can spread the gospel to the world is about to be fulfilled in Acts 2. It is Shavuot, Pentecost. Scripture tells us those who were gathered saw what looked like tongues of fire coming down from, and when it rested on the people, verse 4 tells us, "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them".
Are we to think that in this case what is being referred to is a babble type language? If so, there two problems that arise: First, we'd be calling Yeshua a liar because we'd be denying that the prophecy he made in Mark is being fulfilled here like He said it would be. And God is not a liar. Secondly, listen to the Greek of Acts 2:4: KAI PLAY-tho HAP-as HAG-ios PINYU-mah (and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit) KAI AR-come-ai LALEO (and they began to speak with) HET-eros glow-SSA (other tongues). There's that word glow-SSA again. The original Greek leaves no doubt that these believers spoke in just the way Yeshua prophesied, in languages that would be known and understood by people in different nations, so all that all would be able to hear the Good News.
Now, remember a while ago I said that Satan will try to twist and destroy anything good that comes from God? Such confusion about the usage of tongues is very much alive today, and its roots can be found in 1st Corinthians, Chapter 14. Anyone who has come to conclusions about what tongues is, and has not looked at the original language of 1st Corinthians, nor studied the history of the city of Corinth and the church that existed there, has done themselves a dis-service and could quite possibly be engaging in a counterfeit tongues practice, certainly not honorable to God.
Let me tell you a little bit about the city of Corinth. It had always been a rich and prosperous city, primarily because of geography. Corinth is located in Greece, on an isthmus, so if you were traveling by ship from Asia to Italy and other parts west, you had to go through here. In 146 B.C., this Greek city changed hands when the Romans invaded. For 100 years it lay in ruins, until Julius Caesar had it built back up. He needed people to do that. And so he moved in Roman and Greek families for the task. The city was beautiful once again. And it's no surprise then that 100 years after, in Rabbi Shaul's time, Corinth was a melting pot-the population estimated at a half million or more, made up of Romans, Greeks, Orientals, and…Jews who had fled persecution in Israel.
Eventually, cults arose. The city was into idol worship and mysticism, and when the church at Corinth opened its doors, some of these problems seeped in. The mystics and the Gnostics tried to upstage everyone else worshipping, by working themselves into a frenzy and pouring out uncontrollable torrents of sounds in no known language. Call it babble, for lack of a better term. The idea was to influence the worshippers that these mystics must have the real truth of God, because there couldn't be any other explanation for why they were acting that way. But that was only part of the confusion Satan was stirring up: The worshippers themselves were causing some of their own. Let me tell you what it was: As I said, Corinth was a city of Elite Romans, the common Greeks, Orientals, and Jews. They all attended the Corinth Church. Each also spoke a different language. The native language of the Romans was Latin, for the Greeks it was of course, Greek, and certainly the Orientals and Jews spoke their respective native tongues as well. Now, if you walked into the church at Corinth, and heard these different languages, you certainly wouldn't think there was anything unusual about it, because you know the makeup of the population of the city. You expect to find this. If say, we walked into a congregation in Nogales, Arizona, and we heard some people speaking English, others speaking Spanish, and other attendees, who might happen to be from the tribe of Tohono O'dham, speaking their native American language, we certainly wouldn't find that unusual, in fact, we'd expect it.
Problem was that in Corinth, God had given the gift of tongues, glow-SSA, the ability to speak in a different language, to some of the body, and they were mis-using this gift. In two ways. First, because of the pride of the people, they were emphasizing their usage of this gift in the Church where they could be seen and would stand out, and often-times no interpretation of the language would be provided. Even today, I still see churches where an alleged tongues gift is used, but people don't bother with an interpretation to follow. That's not only awkward, it's disobedience to God. It's sin.
Secondly, 1st Corinthians 14:22 says that this gifting is for benefit of the unbeliever, it is to lead the unbeliever to know and accept Yeshua. I've heard of experiences where the supposed gifting of tongues was used in a church service, and because it was counterfeit (not a glo-SSA), not surprisingly, several unbelievers got up and walked out. Additionally, why then do people stress tongues so much INSIDE the church, where most everyone in attendance is normally a believer, when it really should have been focused OUTSIDE the church? Where do you find most nonbelievers-inside the church, or outside of it?
These are the issues Rabbi Shaul is addressing in 1st Corinthians. This is the only church that Shaul speaks to about tongues, because it's the only one that has this unique problem of mystics coming in and blurting out unintelligible language and not telling anybody what it supposedly means. Eventually, the other people who were given the legitimate gifting of tongues, felt it wasn't necessary for them to have an interpretation given for what they were saying either. So in 1st Corinthians, because this is a church with believers, and tongues is a sign for unbelievers, Shaul is not so much encouraging the practice of tongues inside, as he is laying down rules to restrain its use.
Let's look at 1st Corinthians 14:2. The verse may say this: For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no man understands him, in his spirit he speaks mysteries.
This verse continues to create much controversy. There are those who believe that it is referring to a heavenly tongue because the verse says it's a language that's unknown to men, and known only to God. And in the part where it says in his spirit he speaks mysteries, many feel that that gives legitimacy to a language of babble, and they use Romans 8:26 to back up their claim. The scripture in Romans says, "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words".
From that, it's easy for some to conclude that a tongue can be a language no one's ever heard of before except God, and if what we are saying is a mystery to men, doesn't make any sense, well that's okay because it's the Holy Spirit working in us and those unintelligible babblings or groanings are caused by divine intervention, and that should be allowed lest we quench the Holy Spirit. We wouldn't want to do that, would we?
But that's not what's going on here. First, it's no coincidence that verse 2 comes right after and right before verses that emphasize the gift of prophesy over tongues. Shaul tells us in verse 4 that someone who speaks in a un-interpreted tongue, builds themseves up in the church, but someone who has a word from God to share builds up everybody. Before I give you the rundown of verse 2, we have to first go to verse 5. It is there where Shaul says, I wish you could all speak in tongues (we know Shaul himself did), but even more that you would prophesy. Greater is the one who gives a prophesy than one who speaks in tongues---and here's the key word now-unless an interpretation of that tongue is given so that the entire church is edified, so that the whole church can benefit. Because when you interpret a tongue, you know what the result is? A prophesy. A Word from God.
Now, let's go back to verse 2. What about speaking an unknown tongue that only God can understand, and being led to groan or babble by the Holy Spirit? Come on, that's divinely led, of course you can do that, right?
Well, let's look at the word "unknown" in that verse. Earlier, I said you may see it in verse 2. If you're reading from a King James, Amplified or Youngs version of the Bible, the word "unknown" is in the verse. But you won't find the word there in most versions of the Bible. Here's where the confusion over tongues arises. Is this language unknown, never heard of before? Or is it another glow-SSA? Once again, the only way to know for sure, is to see what the original language says. See if you read the Greek word, "agnostos", in the words that follow, for agnostos is the Greek word that means, "unknown". That's where we get the word "agnostic" from, describing one who thinks the concept of whether or not there is a God, can't be rectified, because to them, the answer is unknown.
Okay, here's the Greek. Tell me if you read the word, agnostos in it: Gar Laleo glow-SAH (for he that speaks in a tongue) oo ANthropos ah-la THEH-os (speaks not unto men, but to God) gar OO-dice aKOO-o (understands him) de pinyumah (neverthelss in the spirit) Laleo musterion (he speaks mysteries).
Did you read the word, "agnostos in that"? I didn't think so.
Friends, this is no heavenly language being discussed here, this is not pointing to a babble. Believe it or not, translators added the word "unknown" for the sake of…..understanding. You see, they were trying to convey the thought that there was an abuse of the gifting going on because someone was speaking in a tongue, and what they were saying was unknown to everybody because no interpretation was given. After all, the reason for providing an interpretation in the first place, is so what you've just said WILL BE KNOWN to all. That's why your King James has the word "unknown" in Italics, it's telling you it's not from the original.
"Okay Rabbi, but what about the groanings in Romans 8:26? Sure, I speak mysteries but then the Spirit tells me to babble and groan. That's okay for me to do; that's what the verse says". No it doesn't. First, let's keep in mind that you can't use a verse from a lower emphasis tongues church like the one in Romans, to apply to the concerns of a highly tongued church in Corinth.. Secondly, Corinth's problem was abuse of tongues; the church at Rome's problem in this verse deals with a different subject entirely-not knowing how to pray. "But Rabbi, my babbles and groans are not tongues then, they are a prayer language, just like in Rome". Sorry, that doesn't work either.
You don't even have to read Romans 8:26 in the Greek; the English alone will tell you that they didn't know how to pray, so the Holy Spirit had to do it for them; the groans came not from the people-the verse says they were weak, that's why the Holy Spirit was the one doing the groaning. He was the intercessor. An intercessor does for you what you can't do on your own. If you believe that the role of an intercessor is to use you to help them accomplish a divine purpose, then how come Yeshua, our great intercessor, didn't use anyone other than himself to die on the cross?
"But Rabbi, what about where Rabbi Shaul says, though I speak with the tongues of men and angels. Isn't he admitting there that he speaks in a heavenly tongue, the language that angels speak?". He sure is. If you only read the English. Here's the Greek. Listen: eh AN laleo glow-sah ANTH-ropos KAI ANG-elos. According to the Greek, it's not, "though I speak", but rather, eh-AN laleo, "If I were to speak". There's a big difference. Just like our language has tenses, so too do others, Greek included. And the words eh-an or "If I were", are known in Grammar as a Conditional Purpose Clause.
For you English majors you know that means that whatever follows the clause must always be in the subjunctive mood. In other words, the action that this clause describes, (namely that of speaking in tongues of men and angels), can only be used in a hypothetical sense because in the future it may occur or it may not. Rabbi Shaul, who we know speaks in tongues, is not saying the tongue he speaks is a heavenly language, or a special language of angels. He's speaking hypothetically to get a point across. Here's how the verse is supposed to sound if Shaul were saying it today: "Let's say that I had the ability to speak in an angelic language. Even if I could do something as seemingly great as that, it wouldn't mean a thing if I didn't have love within me. I'd be like a drum cymbal but instead of being used to make music, my clanging would only make noise". That's what he's talking about.
Now, how does everything we've discussed apply to us today? First, God's gifts are not to abused. And anyone who has or believes they have been given the gift of tongues cannot rely on the English translation of the Bible to justify how they use this precious gift. You may end up getting into trouble, if you haven't already.
Second, if God has given you a glow-SSA, a foreign language, he specifically says it's for the unbeliever, so if you've been using it more in a congregation filled with believers and less outside those doors where the unbelievers are who God says he wants you to reach, you may have some re-thinking to do.
Third, if it is used in here, it must be a glow-SSA, not a babble, and it must have not just an interpretation, but a correct one. All too often an utterance is given, and a state of tension takes over a congregation because nobody can interpret, and then someone finally makes up an interpretation, as a means of rescuing the one who made the utterance, from embarrassment. Indeed, I've heard of instances where a supposed tongues gift is uttered, someone interprets, and before they are finished giving the interpretation, someone else interrupts them to interpret the same utterance, yet gives an entirely different interpretation! Again, this is from the devil. It is not of God. For even if the tongue utterance were genuine, one still has to explain then why God would interrupt Himself.
Maybe you have utterances that indeed, nobody knows, and you say those utterances to yourself. No problem, as long as you know 2 things: #1---If this draws you closer to God, amen. In some orthodox Jewish temples the worshippers will utter in silence, to bring about Keva and Kevanah, closeness with the Lord. But keep in mind these utterances are different than the spiritual gifting of tongues the Bible speaks of. And #2---Since these utterances are between you and God, keep it that way. The last thing that you want to do is cause someone else in any way, to be distracted from worship. Worse yet, why do something you know has a tendency to have any non-believers who might be attending, heading for the hills? Drawing near to God is an incredible privilege and blessing. Let us avoid distracting, so that we may give everyone else the same privilege and blessing that we have.
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