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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series


A Pastor’s Reaction to William MacDonald’s “Biblical Glossolalia”

Mon, 18 Mar 2013 - 1:08 PM CST

To read William Graham MacDonald's article, Biblical Glossolalia - Thesis 7" visit:

By Bob Caldwell

Dr. MacDonald has performed a valuable service to the study of Glossolalia in his seven theses published recently in these pages. The most controversial thesis would be number seven, in which he contends that a properly interpreted tongue should be directed to God and that an utterance directed to men following a tongue is more properly prophecy.1

As a pastor, not a theologian, I would like to open a dialogue regarding how we in weekly pastoral ministry should deal with this issue. In other words, what do we do with this teaching?

Several questions must be addressed:

1. Is his thesis correct? It seems to me that it is. If there is a strong biblical case to be made for interpreted tongues being directed to people, I have not read it. In a survey of Assemblies of God literature, I cannot find such a defense.2

Some authors appeal to 1 Corinthians 14:5. (“I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.”)3 as “proof’ that tongues + interpretation = prophecy.4 This is a shaky proposition in light of 1 Corinthians 14:2,4,6 and especially 1 Corinthians 14:16,l 7. (“If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.”) MacDonald’s thesis covered these points very well.

Contrary to common belief and practice, some authors acknowledge that 1 Corinthians 14 indicates that interpreted tongues should be expected to be praises to God, but allow for the other as well.5

In fact, too little ink is given to a thorough analysis of what interpreted tongues should sound like. This is amazing, considering that tongues with attendant interpretation are the most commonly exercised gifts in many Pentecostal churches.

The main source of the common practice and teaching for our churches and pastors seems to have come from tradition, i.e., previous experience. This position has been assumed to be true, but neither officially pronounced nor even analyzed.6

2. Is it time for the Assemblies of God to take a stand on this issue? Should we formulate an opinion and disseminate it to the constituency?
It does not seem profitable for different pastors and churches to adopt alternate guidelines for interpreted tongues. Is it good to have a tradition, followed in the overwhelming majority of our churches, that operates differently than some of our scholars are saying it should?7

Obviously, if it is the position of A/G leadership that the traditional belief is correct then the debate might be over quickly. If this were true, it would be helpful if an appropriate body (e.g., the Executive Presbytery) would make such a statement.8

3. Might a mediating position be advanced, vis. that interpreted tongues can be directed either to God or to men? This is hinted at in some of the sources cited.9

If this is true, we have done our churches a disservice by allowing them to be reduced to only half of the possibilities of the moving of the Spirit. In 20 years in the Assemblies of God, I have heard interpreted tongues directed to God only once.10

4. Is it possible that some interpretations in our churches are really praises with a changed subject?

It is recognized that any prophecy is filtered through the mind and verbalization pattern of the speaker. God does not speak in King James English, yet many prophesy in that idiom. Even the words and phrases of the Bible, although inspired by the Holy Spirit, reflect the personality of the human author.

Perhaps the same thing happens with interpreted tongues. Assume that the proper interpretation of a particular tongue would say to God, “You are loving and faithful; you will pour out blessings on those you love.” It would be natural for one who expects a prophetic-type interpretation to state it as, “The Lord is loving and faithful; he will pour out his blessings upon you that he loves.”

In other words, we have sometimes had the right interpretation, but the direction has been changed by expectations.11 In the example, no harm is done, but it would be better not to operate under questionable preconceptions.

This scenario would not address all situations. Many interpretations are clearly prophetic in nature and, if MacDonald’s assertion is correct, could only be explained as a prophecy out of place.12

5. If a pastor is convinced that the biblical evidence supports interpretations being directed to God, what should he do, when the traditional belief and practice counter that evidence?

It is obvious that I am convinced that MacDonald’s position, over against the traditional one, is correct. Interestingly, I was persuaded to this view several years ago by Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel.13 I could not formulate or find a good response to what seems to be the most obvious biblical answer.14

But as a pastor of an Assemblies of God church, what is the proper course? Bow to tradition and put personal belief aside? Or teach that interpreted tongues should be directed to God and deal with the repercussions? This is as much a pastoral issue as it is a doctrinal one.


In my case, I took the plunge. In January, 1994, I taught what I believed the Bible said. I used MacDonald’s thesis to show that I was not the only one in the Assemblies that thought that way.

The reaction was interesting. One woman, who had occasionally given a prophetic-type interpretation, was quite upset. I responded with, “I am sure that what you said was from the Holy Spirit, but, if this theology is correct, then we would just call it prophecy instead of interpretation.” I am not sure that she has yet forgiven me.

The most immediate result is that for many weeks, no one was brave enough to speak out in a tongue. I tried to relax them, but it seems as if it will take time. Since then, we have had two instances of public tongues and each time the interpretation was directed to people. I do not yet know what the long-term results will be.


The question that MacDonald raised is so contrary to the near-unanimous practice that further dialogue is imperative. I have raised what I feel are necessary questions if we are to come to a common, Bible-based doctrine and practice in the Assemblies of God.

It is hoped that others, more gifted in both exegesis and practice, will publish articles that will bring greater understanding.

At the time this article was written, Bob Caldwell was pastor of Valley Gospel Chapel (Assembly of God) in Anza, California. Bob Caldwell, Ph.D.,is currently theologian-in-residence, Network211 and adjunct Professor, Global University, Springfield, Missouri.

1. William Gordon MacDonald, “Biblical Glossolalia—Thesis 7,” Paraclete 28:2 (Spring 1994). 1–12.

2. Sources consulted include: Donald Gee, Concerning Spiritual Gifts (Springfield, MO.: Gospel Publishing House, 1949); Harold Horton, The Gifts of the Spirit (Springfield, MO.: Gospel Publishing House, 1934); David Lim, Spiritual Gifts: A Fresh Look (Springfield, MO.: Gospel Publishing House, 1991); and Carl Brumback, What Meaneth This? (Springfield, MO.: Gospel Publishing House, 1947).

3. Unless other indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

4. Brumback, p. 304; Gee, p. 76.

5. Lim, p. 68 (“Tongues and interpretation are a ministry gift us valid as prophecy because of congregational understanding and edification, but its primary purpose is praise of the wondrous works of God”); Brumback, p. 302 (“we can expect the interpretation, in many instances also to be devotional”); Gee, p. 76 (“It should always be borne in mind, however, that the revealed purposes of the gift of tongues are chiefly devotional, and we do well to emphasize the fact.“). MacDonald cites a later writing of Gee that seems to deny his earlier assertion that interpreted tongues could be equivalent to prophecy.

6. Note that no position paper has been issued on this subject. Most of the space given to Glossolalia in any official publication majors on the initial evidence doctrine, or on the private, devotional use of tongues. When interpretation is mentioned, it is mostly in the Sense of its necessity, not its nature.

7. In private correspondence and conversation, several A/G college professors have indicated their agreement.

8. I am aware that such a move might not be well-received. However, if this subject continues to be raised, then silence might be more harmful.

9. For example, Lim, p. 68 (“Although tongues is not primarily for revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or a word of instruction [14:6], we should not limit God.”). Cf. Brumback, pp. 302–4

10. That was by a woman, baptized in the Holy Spirit only a week earlier, who had not been around long enough to hear any teaching on interpreted tongues.

11. Even Harold Horton, who argues vehemently for message-type interpretations allows for this, p. 156. (“And would it constitute a calamity of major importance if in course of interpretation the prayer or praises even got transposed into exhortations or comforts? Is there really much difference in blessing to our hearts between, ‘Lord, help us!’ or ‘We bless Thee that Thou helpest us!’ or ‘The Lord will help us!’ — one prayer, one praise, and the other exhortation?”)

12. This is what makes the issue so sensitive. Who wants to admit to giving an interpretation that was really something else? Maybe the earlier suggestion that an interpretation can go either way, would calm things.

13. Chuck Smith, Charisma Vs. Charismania (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1983) pp. 115–l17. In many respects, Smith, a former Foursquare minister, is quite hostile to Pentecostalism. However, on this one point, I believe his exegesis to be sound.

14. Not long after I was convinced to accept this concept, the incident referred to in note 9 took place. Amazingly, no one in the church (other than my wife, who was as shocked as I was) seemed to take notice. Since that time I have been in Calvary Chapel and Vineyard churches when a tongue was given. They expect the interpretation to be directed to God, and that is also their practice. This proves nothing, of course, since the idea of expectation

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