Monday, March 11, 2013
The Role of Tongues In Acts
Regarding the nature of the gift of tongues in Acts, it is first and foremost established as a unique gifting of God through the Holy Spirit to the apostles so they could proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and herald his identity as the exalted and resurrected Lord in the new age of redemptive history. Therefore, I would suggest a biblical interpretation, usage, and role of the unique gifting of tongues in Acts is grounded in gospel proclamation.
Later in Acts, the unique gifting of tongues is given to other believers as well, further explaining how someone receives the gift of tongues from the same Spirit, and must be a born-again regenerate Christian in the exalted and resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ.
The "Pentecost motif" continues three times in Acts, which establishes a significant biblical pattern for speaking in tongues with regards to being grounded in gospel proclamation (cf. [Jewish Pentecost] vv. 2:3, 4, 11: [Gentile Pentecost] v.10:46; [Johannine Pentecost] v.19:6). It is not just the Jewish people who receive the Spirit [which was an eschatological promise of God (Ezekiel 36), but that eschatological promise is also for the Gentiles [all nations] (10:44ff). Hence, God the Holy Spirit appears to gives the unique gifting of tongues in Acts to proclaim gospel-centered truth (i.e. preaching things of gospel, and having fellowship which cultivates "koinonia" [the things of God] among the people of God vv. 2:42-47).
I believe the distinct role of tongues in Acts is clearly a reversal of the confusion/scattering of the tongues in Genesis 11 (the tower of Babel). Due to the disobedience of the old Adam image-bearers in Genesis 11, God scatters them into different nations and confused their tongues. Yet in Acts 2, those who believe in the obedience of the New Adam, Jesus Christ, God gathers them into a new spiritual nation and unifies them through the gospel.
The word "tongues" means, "1) the tongue, a member of the body, an organ of speech 2) a tongue 1a) the language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations of uncertain affinity; the tongue; by implication, a language (specially, one naturally unacquired)" (Strong's). If Babel parallelism is true, then it is appropriate to translate and understand tongues as languages or dialects of nations ("native tongues" cf. vv. 2:5-8). Thus, Acts is doing a play-on-words of tongues as a reversal of having a different language in Genesis 11 (which is confusion), compared to the language of the gospel in Jesus Christ (which is truth)!
Every instance in Acts, the mention of tongues follows these biblical characteristics receiving salvation [became a new creation] (2:37-47); extolling God [celebratory worship] (10:46), and prophesying [preaching the truth] (19:6). The role of tongues in Acts show the progression of the gospel to all nations through the three "Pentecost motif" events which are gospel-centered proclamation episodes in the narrative, and as a result are saturated in biblical characteristics which glorifying God.
(NOTE: Paul's letters definitely define the use and purpose of tongues directly, and that is why I mention the term "unique gifting of God" in regards to the gift of tongues. I believe my analysis of Acts can be true of Paul as well, but in a different context of course (i.e. ecclesiological issues). No where else do we read in the NT that this unique gift of tongues was used to speak in mysterious languages or utterances to signal a divine revelation or word from God. The use of tongues within the Lukan account is grounded in the proclamation of the gospel, and I think Paul was hinting the same in the his exposition of the misuse of tongues (1 Cor. 14). The confusing nature of the unique gifting of tongues is when Paul speaks of this gift as one of the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit gives to believers. Yet, Paul only mentions the Spirit gives the unique gift of tongues to equip and edify the church, not endorse or empower yourself. It is a mysterious topic indeed, so I rest in this: God is in control and can use anyone he chooses to speak his truth!)