Sunday, March 23, 2014

Glossolalia in Acts 2

"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues, as of fire, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

"Now there were, dwelling in Jerusalem, Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And, at the sound, the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speak in his own language."
- Acts 2:1-6

This passage is so closely associated with the tongues movement that its common name, Pentecostalism, is even derived from it. However, I think that a careful reading of it will indicate that there is no Pentecostalism in it. I intend to make my case through three points: 1) the events described were of a special occasion, never intended to be normative; 2) the tongues were in the ears of the hearers, not in the mouths of the speakers; and 3) the glossolalia of modern Pentecostals is utterly unlike the tongues in this passage.

The passage in Acts 2 must be addressed in its context. I especially include the words of Jesus in Acts 1:4-5, "Wait for the promise of the Father, which, He [i.e., Jesus] said, 'You heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'" And again in verse 8, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." That context indicates that the events of Pentecost must be considered the fulfillment of those words of Christ. He was sending the Holy Spirit (see also, e. g., John 14:16 and 14:26) to empower the disciples for their calling in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). The Holy Spirit isn't a heavenly yo-yo, being sent and then withdrawn repeatedly. When He came at Pentecost, He came to stay. Therefore, the events in Acts 2 can only be one-time, not to be repeated as a normative event.

Second, read the actual words of the passage: in verse 6, the listeners are said to hear the speakers speaking in the language of each one. This is repeated in verse 11, where the particular languages are even named. That indicates that this was less a matter of speaking in tongues than of hearing in tongues.

Third, Pentecostals cannot even prove that their tongues are actual languages. Their gibberish is no more capable of "telling the mighty works of God" (compare I Corinthians 14:22) than are the experimental vocalizations of infants. However, to point that out makes the sceptical observer the equivalent of a spiritual buzz-kill, and will be rewarded with scorn, not meaningful answers.

I am not attempting here to address the issue of tongues, in general. I have addressed that elsewhere (use the tag below). Rather, my intention in this post is only to address the use of this passage by Pentecostals. I think that use represents really bad exegesis, completely ignoring what the passage says, simply to justify an experience. That is backwards: experience should never be forced into Scripture; rather, Scripture must judge experience. That, I think, is the fundamental distinction between my theology and that of Pentecostalism.

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