It is far too common among us, that when a well respected preacher speaks, his followers fail to examine his statements in light of the counsel of God. Is this preacher, in this case, making a solid argument from a text or texts in the Bible, or is he bringing his own ideas into the text and attempting to make them fit? I think if we examine this short clip of John Piper defending the idea that the gift of tongues speaking as it is commonly “practiced” today (meaning the mindless babbling of sounds that have no correlation to any real language), we will find that he in no way draws his conclusions from the text of the Bible itself, but rather comes to the Bible with the intent of finding some justification for the practice.
Our first hint comes early as he says he has “heard stories” of someone speaking in a language they had not learned and being understood by another people group. Interesting beginning for a discussion of the supernatural gift of tongues, stories he’s heard. Well I’ve heard stories too, about men filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking “the wonderful works of God” in a language they had not learned. Luke tells us all about it in the book of Acts! The apostolic gift of tongues was the gift of prophetic utterance receiving direct revelation from God and delivering that revelation in a language not your own. This is indeed an amazing supernatural gift, the undeniable power of God Himself.
But there is something I’d like you to contemplate. Consider the words of Peter as he completed his sermon to the household of Cornelius.
Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
Peter concluded that these Gentiles had “received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” Now knowing what Peter had actually experienced at Pentecost, do you think there is any possibility that this would be his reaction if those Gentiles had simply begun to babble incoherent nonsense? Do you think maybe Peter would be able to tell the difference between the mighty work the Holy Spirit had done in and through him and his fellow disciples and blabbering like an infant? It has to be beyond dispute that the tongues speaking throughout the book of Acts was consistently the gift of Divine utterance, speaking revelation from God in a language that one only knew through supernatural means.
But Pastor Piper says that he sees a different form of the gift of tongues when he comes to 1 Corinthians 12. His “sense from reading 1 Cor. 12 is that that’s not what was going on there, but it was more of an ecstatic utterance that didn’t have any ordinary human meaning…” which he describes as God given syllables “that are of spiritual value to you…”. What is his exegetical justification for this belief? They are spoken of as the tongues of men and angels …angels.
Here is my question. Where in 1 Corinthians 12, or where in the entirety of the Bible for that matter, do we find any inkling that the language of angels is mindless incoherent babbling? When angels speak to men in the Bible it is always in a coherent tongue, so we know angels can speak to humans in a language that humans can understand. So why would we think that when angels speak to each other or to God that they switch to some sort of nonsensical utterance of syllables that have no perceivable meaning? There is nothing in the passage itself that should lead us to such a conclusion. What we have here seems to be the argument along these lines: No one can know for certain what the phrase “tongues of angels” really means, so no one can say that the practice of making meaningless utterances isn’t what it means.
Yet I see much even in 1 Corinthians to point away from any possibility of this being the case. First of all words are what were being spoken. Words are the building blocks of language, not mere random syllables. Secondly, these words were capable of being interpreted. Clearly this points to the fact that they were not mere utterances of syllables, but words spoken that could be understood by someone with the spiritual gift of supernaturally understanding a language they had not learned. Thirdly, these words were edifying to the person exercising the gift. Now Piper clearly believes that edification can refer to some spiritual feeling that is wholly divorced from rational thought, but I find nothing in the Bible to support such an idea. God made men rational creatures and he deals with them as such. Biblical edification comes through our minds and understanding as we are made capable of understanding and experiencing a real relationship with God Himself. It is not some sort of existentialistic type of feeling we get through a mindless experience. True edification comes as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ through His word and the work of His Spirit upon our hearts and minds. So I believe the proper conclusion from the fact that speaking in tongues was edifying to the person exercising the gift is that he/she was also made capable of understanding what he/she uttered.
There is no exegetical evidence in the New Testament that there were two distinct forms of speaking in tongues. Consider the vast difference between what the gift actually bestowed upon disciples in the apostolic age and what is commonly practiced in our day. Let us not attribute mindless babbling to the work of the Holy Spirit of Almighty God! I think I’ll return to the topic in a few days and look at how this all pertains to the third commandment, because it certainly does. But this may be enough to ponder for a little while.
If like me, you haven’t had time to listen to all of the speakers at the Strange Fire conference, at least find time to hear Conrad Mbewe and take advantage of this wonderful resource. Mike Riccardi has practically transcribed the messages.
His Throne is Forever and Ever!