- The gift of tongues as defined by Scripture:
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues, the wonderful works of God. Acts 2:4-11
It is clear in this passage from the book of Acts, that the gift of speaking in tongues was the ability to speak another language without having learned it. Everyone was amazed to hear the wonderful works of God spoken by the unlearned Galilaeans (Acts 4:13) in his own language!
- The purpose of the gift of speaking in tongues.
The purpose of this gift as stated in this context was to glorify God by declaring His wonderful works to Jews out of every nation under heaven. Speaking in tongues was a sign to unbelieving Jews (I Corinthians 14:22a). This means that whenever the sign gift of speaking in tongues was exercised, unbelieving Jews would be present.
We would do well to remind ourselves that Jesus came teaching, preaching and healing. He came teaching, preaching and healing to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. In so doing, He proved that He is who He said He is: God’s Son, the promised Messiah! Messiah Jesus came offering to Israel the Kingdom and Himself as her King.
Our understanding of the purpose of the gift of tongues, is rooted in the Old Testament passage that the apostle Paul quotes to the Corinthian church as the proof text for the gift of tongues. In I Corinthians 14:21 Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11; For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
- The historical context of the Old Testament for the New Testament sign gift of speaking in tongues is coming judgment.
Throughout their history God’s people turned away from Him over and over. God would chastize them, Israel would repent, God would have mercy, and Israel would be restored. This cycle is repeated over and over throughout the Old Testament.
At times during these cycles, the people of Israel looked to unbelieving nations for deliverance from their enemies rather than looking to God. Israel made alliances with her enemy’s enemies. Israel chose to trust in man rather than God and God promised severe judgment for such allegiances.
For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. Isaiah 28:11
Israel’s enemies were foreign nations who spoke another language or tongue. God is saying that since my people will not listen to me, I will speak to them from their enemy’s lips, from those who speak the Hebrew language with hesitation (stammering).
To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. Isaiah 28:12&13
God offered Israel rest and refreshing but they would not listen. The drunken leaders (vs 7&8) repeated God’s instructions of line upon line, precept upon precept in sing song mockery.
Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death (Egypt) , and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge (Assyrian army) shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: Isaiah 28:14&15
Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD! Isaiah 31:1
- God’s promise to them that receive His word and are obedient.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Isaiah 28:16
This cornerstone is identified by Peter in the NT as Jesus Christ. He that believes in God’s provision will not be forced to flee judgment.
- The pronouncement of God’s judgment.
And your covenant with death (Egypt) shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge (Assyrian army) shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: Isaiah 28:18&19a
The outcome of God’s judgment will be that Egypt will not honor their agreement with Israel. Instead the stammering lips of a foreign enemy will deliver a message of judgment and the Assyrian army will carry it out unless Israel repents and turns back to God.
- The OT meaning of the gift of speaking in tongues in the NT.
The apostle Paul quoted Isaiah 28:11 during his discourse to the Corinthians on the gift of speaking in tongues. The stammering lips of Israel’s enemies in this OT passage forecasts coming judgment as the result of Israel’s rejection of God’s word.
In like manner the gift of tongues in the NT was a sign gift to unbelieving Israel of coming judgment. Israel rejected the promised Messiah and His Kingdom. Only judgment remained.
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.
And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. John 11:47-53
What the Jewish leaders feared would happen, happened anyway because of their unbelief. But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. John 19:15
Israel chose to trust in man rather than God. The Roman general Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Note: There is also a lesson here for us in interpreting Scripture. One must interpret Scripture in light of Scripture. It doesn’t matter what you and I think these passages mean. What matters is what the Scriptures tell us they mean by the context.
Speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11 in the middle of his discourse on tongues, making this passage his proof text. The NT gift of speaking in tongues can only be understood as God intended in the context of Isaiah 28. The context is coming judgment.
For a more complete study of this topic please read The Corinthian Catastrophe by George E. Gardner; copyright 1974 by Kregel Publications.
To Be Continued……See Part II.