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Biblical Glossolalia - Theses 1 and 2

By William Graham MacDonald

In every generation, those who care about the preservation of our Lord’s glory in His church must defend Pentecostal truth. A clear statement of the biblical teaching is the first line of defense. Our contending for the once-and-for-all-time faith will take us necessarily to those sectors of the theological front most often being attacked, or in some cases, being surrendered today without a fight by those entrusted with the defense. There are seven such sectors, to which seven biblical theses are marshaled in defense.1

Truth is indestructible. It endures because Christ “the Truth” lives. Childlike minds will understand truth by revelation (Luke 10:21) and cherish both the Living Truth (Christ) and the concepts that preserve His revelation. Jesus said truth is coterminous with the Word of God. Our task then as defenders of the faith is to declare both the biblical “this is that” and to sound the alarm whenever the contemporary “this” is not the biblical “that” transparent to Christ.

As in every era the words of men (Colossians 2:8) compete with the Word of God. New traditions intrude that mask the apostolic tradition. However, scholarship that is not Christocentric cannot understand the things of the Spirit. A phenomenalistic approach to glossolalia is no better than a phenomenalistic approach to regeneration (John 14:17). A phenomenalistic approach attempts to understand spiritual realities exclusively from the perspective of human manifestations. This contrasts with a spiritual approach that understands the inner dynamics according to the ways and Word of God. The same inability to understand the things of the Spirit applies to psychological and sociological approaches.

Pentecostal truth is precious, powerful, and gloriously Christocentric. It features Jesus in His splendor revealing and sharing himself, His power, and His gifts with His church so as to produce the Pentecostal wave of “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” destined to inundate the whole earth to sea depth, in fulfillment of Habakkuk’s glorious prophecy (2:14). Consequently, Pentecostals have no reason to look beyond our Lord and His apostles for truth, for we have the Word of God, the Spirit of Truth, and a deep sense of dependence on revelation (1 John 2:20,27).

Thesis One

Glossolaliais inaccessible to worldly comprehension because of its holiness, its “from heaven” dimension, and its inextricable connection with the glorified Jesus.

If anyone is to understand biblical glossolalia, he or she must be a believer in Jesus; and beyond that, one must see glossolalia through Jesus’ eyes, for the believing disciple has privileged access to His insights (1Corinthians 2:16). We who teach and preach Christ never tire of reiterating that He is the Truth, and that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” inhere in Him (Colossians 2:3). Therefore, glossolalia cannot be truly known from a freestanding position despite all contemporary attempts to the contrary. Glossolalia can only be properly perceived in relationship to Jesus, inside an experiential and intimate full faith in Him, the only Spirit-Baptizer, the Word from whom the holy words originate on, the tongue of one worshiping truly and spiritually.

Preparation For Pentecost By The Prophet John And Jesus

Before Jesus, the greatest person was John the Baptist. His grandeur was in his role as the introducer of Jesus to Israel. His message featured Jesus in two ways: (1) as the worldwide sin-bearing lamb of God; (2) as the new Noah whose ministry would flood the world with the Holy Spirit into which he would immerse believers (Matthew 3:11; 1 Peter 3:20). The first of these, the redemptive aspect, was fulfilled in Jesus’ death, and the Spirit-giving aspect in the stages of His glorification. The focus of John the Baptizer’s introduction anticipated what Jesus would accomplish both in the last hours of His life and in the new epoch to follow His resurrection.

The resurrected Jesus breathed the regenerating peace of His Spirit into the startled company of those who were mourning His death (John 20:19–23). On a later day as He conversed with some of them over dinner, He reminded them that there was more to expect: His Father’s promise, previously endorsed, and yet to be fulfilled as an immersion of His believing church in the ministerial power of His Spirit (Acts 1:4–8).

Jesus The Producer Of What Was Heard At Pentecost

Jesus prepared His disciples for Pentecost. He was the grand planner who coordinated the event, first on earth, and finally from His exalted station at the right hand of power in the heavens. After Pentecost, when credits were to be passed out, the apostles rightly claimed nothing for themselves. Ascended and in power in His spiritual kingdom, Jesus was responsible for Pentecost, they said. The Father was the producer and Jesus the director, special effects originator, and sound-systems man. Note the apostles’ attribution of the whole event to Jesus from His seat of power: “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

In the current aversion to the association of Jesus with glossolalia, the truth here merits repetition. The light-and-sound show of Pentecost that awed the thousands of Jewish pilgrims was the work of the twice-glorified Jesus (by resurrection and ascension), who had been so recently crucified 7 weeks before. That is, Jesus, by pouring out the divine Spirit into already believing hearts, was able to articulate through their speech-center (the convolutions of Broca in the left brain) the glorious praises of God in languages unlearned by them.

Jesus did that. Pentecost was the first publicly witnessed act of Jesus after His ascension. This that He did was anticipated in Gods promise in the prophecy of Joel to share His Spirit with the faithful. Glossolalia expressed in part His released power (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8) within the human spirit, delivered there by the One who created that spirit.

Who better than the Creator would know where the depths of the human spirit could be reached? Who better than the Savior who had regenerated the spirit of the believer to submerge that one tenderly and totally in awesome power without fear of harm or mental disintegration? Who better than He who is the Word of God would there be to articulate His words of glory and mystery through those who believed in Him? Who better than the One exalted to the highest heaven to give those united with Him and therefore “seated … with him in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6) a taste of His transcendent glory, breaking their sound barrier — the language of their conscious mind — to speak through them in other languages known to the international community? Who better than “the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18) to inspire the believer’s tongue with “spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13) not already stored in his brain?

The source of this inspiration is the One who had said the flesh counts for nothing and His words are spirit (John 6:63). He, the same Teacher, who had once been stationed outside of them and had spoken spiritual words into their ears, now spoke out through their tongues holy and glorious words of His own choosing. All who have antipathy toward glossolalia are, at least to that degree, resistant to this Jesus as well.

Jesus As One Who Did Not Speak In Tongues

I once heard David du Plessis deal with the obtuse objection to glossolalia voiced by the once popular international evangelist E. Stanley Jones, who said he did not speak in tongues because he wanted “to be like Jesus.” By that, of course, he recalled that Jesus lived His 33 years without speaking by the Spirit in other languages He had not learned. Jones correctly viewed Jesus as the example and model of the spiritual man, even though — we must add for proper perspective — He lived under the law all His life, and the law was not characterized by the Spirit (Galatians 3:2; John 7:39; 2 Corinthians 3:7–9). The significant fact, however, that overturns Jones’ conclusion is that Jesus’ life and influence did not end with His burial. He did not speak in other tongues for the same reason He did not cause His disciples to speak in tongues until after the second stage in His glorification. The international age had not yet come during His and their lives under the law.

Jesus was both architect and implementer of glossolalia as a feature of His baptizing work in the Spirit. Once under the old covenant Jesus ministered to a man who was mute, tongue-tied in the most literal sense. He put His own saliva on the man’s tongue. The upshot was that this once mute Jew was verbally transformed so he could speak plainly in his own language (Mark 7:35). Jesus miraculously activated the man’s speech mechanism to fit the normal pattern of individual control appropriate to the legal era.

Here is how David du Plessis answered the question as to why Jesus did not speak in tongues: (1) In His humanity He already enjoyed perfect communion with God. (2) In His deity He would know all languages; no language could be “other” to Him.

Conclusion

That Jesus did not speak in other tongues cannot be used as a premise to argue opposition to glossolalia on His part. To the contrary, there would be no speaking in tongues at all, were it not for Him. The uneducated and untraveled Galilean men and women who spoke by the Spirit a dozen or more international languages in Jerusalem did so, neither by human ability or training, but because Jesus from His station in glory “poured out what you [the non-Christians] now see and hear” (Acts 2:33), said one of them. It was done by “the same Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:5) who by “the same Spirit” (verse 4) gives all the supernatural speech gifts at Corinth, Caesarea, Ephesus, and throughout the churches.

Thesis Two

In its inception and continuation the Pentecostal experience of the Spirit glorifies Jesus. Speaking in tongues by His direction results in greater awareness of Jesus, the living Lord, and enhances one’s overall relationship with Him.

Stanley Frodsham more than a generation ago expressed what well might be deemed the spiritual secret of the Pentecostal movement. What he voiced was expressive of a truth virtually universal in the oral tradition of the Pentecostal faith:

The baptism in the Spirit gives a deeper revelation of the person of Jesus Christ.2

The Spirit’s Featuring Of Jesus In The New Epoch

The work of the Spirit is to present Jesus in His glory, as Jesus said, “taking from what is mine,” which He defined as “all that belongs to the Father,” and “making it known to you” (John 16:14,15). Think for a moment of how this principle has been implemented in the lives of those biblical characters who lived through the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant. Under the old covenant, they had a man-to-man, disciple-to-rabbi, prophet-to-senior-Prophet, apostle-to-sender, student-to-teacher, face-to-face relationship with Jesus. Under the new covenant, they had a spirit-to-Spirit, worshiper-to-God, believer-to-Lord new relationship.

After their multiple confirmations of His resurrection for 40 days, that spiritual relationship no longer depended on His physical presence. Often baffled before by Jesus (“Who is this?” — Luke 8:25), after Pentecost they became bold and supremely confident they knew the One whom they trusted as Leader. Such knowledge was not just nominal, conserving His titles, but in the deepest sense it meant knowing His identity, intents, and operating principles.

The experience of those transitional disciples progressed from natural familiarity with the Lord on the basis of spending much time traveling around with Him and working with Him, to a sublime experience of spiritual intimacy subsequent to His resurrection — with the consequent affiliation (John 20:22) — and His ascension — with the resultant outpouring of His Spirit in power from heaven. Therefore, is their heightened consciousness of Jesus’ identity and role, and their deeper prayer and communion access to Him “in the Spirit,” merely the consequence of the passage of time in a maturing relationship? Or was His resurrection and ascension the basis of the change? No one can successfully challenge the fact of the spiritual advancement that occurred in His Galilean followers. The question can be focused specifically in reference to their being baptized in the Spirit inclusive of tongues: Is the argument Pentecostals make to be faulted as the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc?3

Just because their greatly improved understanding of Jesus became manifest from the Day of Pentecost forward, does that mean the one directly caused the other that followed? It certainly does in this case. There is no other plausible explanation. One would be hard put to interpret Acts vis-à-vis the Gospels in any other way than to recognize that something powerful happened to the 120 on that Jewish Thanksgiving Day that revolutionized them as representatives of Jesus. Their Christological knowledge base had been expanded by the Pentecostal experience.

The Glory Of Jesus Evident In Glossolalia

Pentecost with its international languages was not something the disciples were responsible for, much less dreamed up. It was the surprising work of Jesus, having His voiceprint on it — not to mention the wind and fire of God. Their resultant boldness to confront their contemporaries with the message and work of the living Jesus was due to their being immersed in the Habakkukan “sea” of the knowledge of God’s glory. It was the experiencing of Jesus in heart and mouth that brought that glory! Better than His saliva on a mute tongue to liberate it to speak in the common language was His Spirit put internally, enabling them to convey His glory transcendently and freely in languages and dialects never before formed by their tongues.

When one today is baptized/immersed in water, the baptizer assumes full control of the body being “washed,” or as in the other biblical analogy, being “buried” in water. The entire body is dunked under the water. A certain level of trust, therefore, must exist between the “baptizee” and his baptizer. It takes even more trustful submission to yield one’s spirit and speech-center to the simultaneous control of the One who baptizes — not the body in water — but the core of one’s being in the Holy Spirit. Now how does the Baptizer assure all concerned that the spirit of the individual being baptized is fully under His Spirit, saturated, filled, and drenched in His spiritual glory? By controlling one’s speech completely, even in a way superior to one’s own speech control.

Glossolalia As Submission And Simultaneous Freedom

Nothing is more universally characteristic and expressive of the human spirit than speaking. All his life, one who is human strives to keep his speech under the control of his true self — however good or bad that self may be. The last thing he has when all else is stripped away is his ability to talk, to express himself. Therefore, were he to surrender his speech to the control of another “spirit,” he would have nothing left of autonomy, and would be under the influence of the one who controlled his speech for as long as his own spirit remained submitted.

It is no wonder, then, that before believers in the glorified Jesus were filled by Him with His Spirit, they had become fully yielded to Him in their inner being as they waited at the temple for at least a week in prayer before God. To these fully committed and submitted believers Jesus was free to baptize their speech in languages other than their own. Because of the “spiritual” intimacy involved (being bonded at the speech center, and yielding fully to the Spirit-Baptizer), one who is baptized by Christ himself (as contrasted with His agents who do water baptizing) will be profoundly conditioned by that experience in his resultant perception of the Lord. One so submitted to His power has surrendered not only over 100 muscles of the vocal tract,4 but supremely his inner self.

Biblical glossolalia is produced by, and therefore revelatory of Christ above and within one’s being. One’s spirit is engaged with His in the utterance of the holy speech of which He by His Spirit produces the words, voicing them in consonance with the speaker’s oral concurrence. One is built up by such holy speaking, as in any communion with the Lord. But because of the mystery involved for the speaker’s mind, there is of necessity a deepening of dependence on Christ, and at the same time there exists an incomparable freedom of expression in Him.

The following testimony by a college senior illustrates the continuing characteristic Christocentric dimension of speaking in tongues in the 20th century: In my own life, praying in tongues has made me more responsive to the Lordship of Jesus. When I yield my tongue to His control, my heart experiences an intimate communion with Him. I am free to let the Spirit of God pray through me in His own way, to let Him pray for His perfect will. Those who analyze tongues without ever having yielded their speech to the Lordship of His Holy Spirit cannot begin to comprehend the depths of God; it is foolishness to them!5

—William Graham MacDonald, Th.D., Front Royal, Virginia, taught a combined 22 years at Southeastern College, Central Bible College, and Gordon College, before engaging in a full-time writing ministry.

Endnotes

1. This article comprises the first two of seven theses marshaled in defense of biblical glossolalia. The remaining five theses will be published in future Paraclete issues:

a. Biblical glossolalia has no antecedents, no precedents, and no parallels — in the Old Testament, or paganism, or pathology.

b. Biblical glossolalia has a uniform character throughout the New Testament. While there are “kinds of tongues/languages” spoken in the Spirit, and kinds of situations where glossolalia is appropriate, there are not kinds of glossolalia.

c. Whenever it was Luke’s intention to feature the initial responses of believers being immersed in the Spirit’s power, the one constant biblical indicator of that experience — whatever the episodic variables — was glossolalia. This historical norm bears full doctrinal authority because Jesus, “the Way,” is the “same,” temporally and universally.

d. Glossolalia is only, ever, and always one — directional, from the believer to God. In form, glossolalia is spoken or sung. In content, glossolalia consists of worship or prayer: praise, thanksgiving, or intercession. Because glossolalia is unidirectional, it cannot be an oracular utterance. In value, glossolalia, even when properly interpreted, rests at the bottom of the apostolic scale of gifts benefiting the congregation.

e. While spiritual gifts are corporate in nature, intended by the Lord to build up the church as a whole, glossolalia is the one gift given primarily for the benefit of the individual: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (1 Corinthians 14:4).

2. Quoted from the research of Peter Hocken’s oral presentation before the Society for Pentecostal Studies, “The Christian and the Gifts of the Spirit,” November 18, 1982.

3. “After this, therefore, because of this”: an argument that just because one event comes after another, it means that it was caused by the first event.

4. Clifford A. Wilson and Donald W. McKeon, The Language Gap (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 50.

5. Written in May 1975 by Carol McGinley.

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