“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Wrongly dividing the Scripture, misapplying the Scripture, and emphasizing partial truths of the Scripture to the neglect or rejection of related truths are some of the subtlest means of deception in these last days.
In Satan̓s effort to destroy God̓s purpose in sending His Son into the world he shrewdly used partial truths from the Scripture in the temptation he placed before Jesus. Jesus promptly resisted Satan with additional truths from the Scripture which put the proper balance and right interpretation on the Scriptures Satan had used. Only by the correct interpretation (the God-intended interpretation) was our Lord saved from deception. By no other means will we be saved from deception.
When God saved Israel from Egyptian slavery and bondage to be a “peculiar treasure”unto Himself in the earth, He gave them divine ordinances to observe and holy laws to live by (Exodus 19:5). God solemnly warned them again and again that, “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, ...I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 18:1-5).
When Nadab and Abihu opted to change one aspect of the ordinance of burning incense on the golden altar in the tabernacle, their digression from God̓s divine order was promptly met with God̓s displeasure by His consuming fire (Leviticus 10:1-3).
The New Testament is no less exacting in the call to and the requirement of obedience to its doctrines and ordinances on the part of God̓s redeemed and delivered people of the church age (Matthew 7:24-27; Hebrews 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:l5; 1 John 2:3,4; Revelation 22:14).
The New Testament also predicts that false “pretender prophets” will arise showing “signs and wonders” and that deceivers and the business of “deceiving and being deceived” will be on the Increase from the birth of the church age to the close of the church age (Matthew 24:11; 2 Timothy̓ 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). It is therefore imperative that we be discriminating and that we ‘...believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
The concerns and conclusions set forth on the following pages do not find a basis in any present-day mysterious or miraculous experience, whether feigned or actual, but rather on what we believe to be the divinely inspired, rightly divided, simply believed, and forever-settled-in-heaven Word of God. May God be glorified through His miraculously given and eternally unchanging, wonderful Word.
“Take heed unto thyself and unto the doc Wine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:16).
I. The Meaning of Tongues
Our physical tongues are a miracle of divine creativity. For most of us from day one of our physical birth to our dying day our tongues are on the move. With every different word we speak we must change the twist or shape of our tongues in relation to the roof of our mouth, our teeth and our lips. Along with that we need to exert special vibrations and varied fluctuations of our vocal cords. The fact that we can learn to communicate understandably through the proper use of our vocal cords and proper movements of the mouth and tongue is a marvel indeed. Our tongues are fearfully and wonderfully made. James tells us that by nature our tongue movements can be wild, unruly, uncontrollable and very destructive (James 3:5-10). Perhaps the greatest good and the greatest damage done to the human family is done by proper or improper use of the tongue.
Although the movement of the physical tongue does have a bearing on our subject, it is not the primary interest of this article. The special interest here relates to some theological aspects of what is generally known in religious circles as “The Tongues Movement.”
In the Gospel of Saint Mark we have the first mention in the New Testament of speaking in “new tongues.” It is given in our Lord’s last commission to His disciples. Here while speaking to His disciples in person for the last time on this earth and giving them the authority and responsibility to take the Gospel into all the world, He promised them among other things that “they shall speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:15-18). According to Strong’s Greek Concordance, the word “tongues” as used in this text is translated from the Greek word glossa and means “The tongue; by implication, a language (specially one naturally un-acquired).” (“Naturally un-acquired” does not necessarily mean a non existing language.) Glossa is used in the New Testament fifty times. Once it is used for “cloven tongues of fire.” Sixteen times it is used in speaking of the physical tongue, and thirty-three times it refers to genuine, existing, intelligible languages. In all of the Scriptures referring to tongues-speaking, this word glossa (language) is used.
Throughout the Bible there are references to tongues referring to languages or speech. (Examples: Gen 10:5 and Rev 9:11.)The “cloven” (split, divided) tongues with their split flames shooting from a base might well symbolize the fiery tongues that the Holy Spirit would use to spread the word of the Gospel to every nation and people and tongue.
Every man hearing in his own tongue wherein he was born (Acts 2:8) would also suggest that the new Gospel era with its new Gospel message was intended to “be to all people” (Luke 2:10), every language and every “nation under heaven.” The “whosoever” of any and every nation and language could now “call on the name of the Lord” and “be saved” (Acts 2:21). The New Testament church was no longer to be of the Hebrew nation or tongue but a nation from all the tongues and nations of the world.
In the record of Jesus’ last message to His disciples as recorded in Acts 1:4-9, He assured them something new and unexpected was about to happen. It would not be what they were expecting, but they would be involved. They were to stay at Jerusalem and wait for the empowering of the Holy Spirit which would come upon them, enabling them for the new task on which they were to embark. He assured them they would not need to wait very many days.
In keeping with His promise, after only ten days of waiting, “suddenly” they were all filled in a new way, with the newly-promised Holy Ghost power, “and began to speak with other tongues” which were miraculously understood by sixteen different tongues “from every nation under heaven” all in their own tongue wherein they were born. They were speaking in these new “other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The word “utterance” is from a Greek word meaning “to enunciate plainly” to declare” (Strong). This would suggest that this new exercise of “other tongues” was communicating a plainly understood message.
II. The New Testament Use of New Tongues Speaking
In this very first experience of speaking in new tongues (languages), the multitude of people who were gathered together at Jerusalem “out of every nation under heaven” heard in his own tongue wherein he was born “the wonderful works of God.” This new, first-ever-heard-of, miraculous manifestation of tongues-speaking both amazed and confounded the hearers (Acts 2:5-11). This confounding, astounding miracle of speaking and hearing, “the wonderful works of God” message which was conveyed through the new tongues, followed by Peter’s climactic Holy Spirit empowered message, brought them to conviction, surrender, repentance, faith in Christ, and salvation. The New Testament Church was born with three thousand converted charter members who “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” etc.
In this initial new-tongues phenomenon at Pentecost, there is nothing to indicate that the converts spoke in new tongues. Rather, the very opposite is indicated. It is specifically stated in the context that “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43). Acts 2:14 also implies that the apostles were exclusively in charge of this uniquely phenomenal gathering. It may be worthy of note that other than on the day of Pentecost we have no record of the apostles ever speaking in new tongues again.
In Acts 10 it was the new Gentile converts who spake in new tongues. The record says nothing about the possibility of Peter and his Jewish companions speaking in tongues on that occasion. The reason for this change is clearly indicated in the fact that the Jewish brethren who accompanied Peter to the house of Cornelius “were astonished... that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Just as on the day of Pentecost, where the converts needed confirmation that the apostles were God’s approved agents, so now the Jewish leaders needed the same confirmation that God was accepting the Gentiles on the same basic conditions. When Peter was “called on the carpet” for going in unto the unclean Gentiles, he had all the evidence and all the witnesses he needed to prove that he had moved under the direction of the same Holy Spirit that had led on the day of Pentecost. When the shocked and apprehensive critics heard the testimony of Peter and his accompanying brethren, they “glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). This was God’s way of getting the Jewish leaders and Jewish converts to see and believe that in this new New Testament Church era God “put no difference between us [favored Jews] and them [despised Gentiles]” (Acts 15:9).
In Acts 19:1-7 we have the last of the three recorded new tongues-speaking experiences which took place in the beginning of the new church era. Here Paul found a group of sincere Old Testament believers who had been baptized by John but were totally ignorant of the new outpouring of and baptism of the Holy Ghost of which they had heard John prophesy. They responded to Paul’s teaching and were baptized. As Paul laid hands on them, “the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”
Each of these phenomenal new-tongues experiences was had in connection with new circumstances and new revelations related to the birth and formation of the new body of Christ, the church. On the day of Pentecost the multitudes of Old Testament “dyed-in-the-wool” Jews and proselytes needed special confirmation that the apostles were God’s true representatives for the occasion.
At the house of Cornelius, the Jewish leaders, in this never-before-heard-of relationship with Gentiles, needed miraculous evidence to help them believe that God was now putting no difference between the “select Jews” and the “Gentile dogs” (Acts 15:7-18). The middle wall of partition was now broken down (Eph 2:11-22).
The Ephesus group doubtless needed miraculous confirmation that Christ and the Holy Ghost baptism which Paul presented was in reality that which John the Baptist had prophesied should come (Matt 3:11).
The glorious, unforeseen changes of religious life from the Old Testament’s cumbersome types-and-shadows religious practices to the new Testament’s “more glorious” era of fulfilled types and shadows, along with other significant experiential changes, was so drastically different that God saw fit to graciously confirm His original representatives of the change by “bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will” (Heb 2:4). Perhaps the last great confirming miracle of the transitional era was the giving of our Lord’s last Will and Testament to man by divine inspiration. Today we need no other sign. We still have that great miraculous sign with us. Borrowing the phrase of Abraham to the rich man in hell, when the latter pled for a miraculous witness from the dead to be sent to his living brethren to keep them out of hell (Luke 16:27-31), we can say with equal or even more emphasis than Abraham, “If we hear not the Gospels and the Epistles, neither will we be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Those original authorized agents of the transitional period did not have the miracle of the New Testament Scriptures to carry with them. God’s confirming “signs and wonders” were conferred upon them in a unique way. God confirming Scripture writers with miracle signs was not new. Moses and the prophets were also confirmed in this way as they penned the words of Holy Writ.
III. The Abuse and Proper Use of New Tongues Speaking
In seeking to defend the unknown tongues movement, and some of the strange behavior that sometimes goes along with it, one Pentecostal tongues-speaking church leader writes thus —
“It should be noted that while God was pouring out His Spirit the disciples of Christ were acting in such a manner that some people actually thought that they were drunk... Acts 2:16 says ‘But this is that’ This meaning the people speaking in tongues and appearing to be drunk, is what Peter is referring to as a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. In Joel 2:28-29, God promises to pour out His Spirit on daughters and handmaidens. I don’t think any of the Apostles could be considered daughters and handmaidens! So this shows us that there were women on the day of Pentecost speaking in other tongues and appearing to be drunk.”
In response to this in the first place, we would simply say that the record does not say that when they were speaking in other tongues they appeared to be drunk. It was mockers or critics who were present who didn’t believe, and didn’t want others to believe, so in mockery they said “these men (not women) are full of new wine”. Days later the same kind of critics had the Apostles imprisoned as criminals for preaching Jesus (Acts 5:18). Were the apostles acting like criminals?! Earlier in the life of Jesus the same kind of critics blamed Jesus for being possessed of the devil when He was faithfully representing His Father in Heaven. Was Jesus acting like He was possessed of the devil?
The Apostle Paul, in seeking to correct the disorderly Corinthians in their tongues practices (1 Cor 14), by Holy Spirit inspiration ordered, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” We have no reason to believe that the Holy Spirit was leading in any other way at Pentecost. To say that the women or any others were “speaking in tongues and appearing to be drunk” is saying something that the Bible doesn’t say. It was the mockers who said that. There were about three thousand souls there at Pentecost that day who saw and heard, and believed that the activities of the day represented “the wonderful works of God.”
Secondly, did Peter say that all Joel’s prophesies were actually being fulfilled on that day? Or might he have meant that this is that Spirit that God promised by the prophet Joel when he uttered these promises?
Jesus gave a similar prophecy about the sun being darkened and the moon being turned into blood before He comes again in glory and great power. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matt 24:29-30) These prophecies were to take place in the heavens above, Pentecost’s miracles were all taking place on the earth.
Thirdly, Does Acts 2:4 really say that they all spake in other tongues? It does say that they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Utterance “to enunciate clearly, to declare Strongs #669). “All filled with the Holy Ghost” would of course include the women present. But the terms “began to speak” and as the “Holy Spirit gave them utterance” would at least imply that only those whom the Spirit gave a message were speaking. In 1 Cor 14:26, Paul, by inspiration of “that” same Holy Spirit which directed at Pentecost, ordered the Corinthians to do all things decently and in order. Also, when there were several who wanted to talk they were to speak by course, doubtless meaning one after the other, not all at one time. Consistency of interpretation would suggest that “that” same Holy Spirit was directing in no other way at Pentecost.
It seems unthinkable that all 120 disciples would speak in other tongues all at one time with thousands of people understanding what they were saying, and although it might have been possible for all 120 to each take a turn it is quite unlikely that such was the case. If all the 120 would have spoken in turn and each one would have limited himself or herself to 5 minutes, talking about the wonderful works of God, It would have taken 10 hours just for the other-tongues speaking part of the day. And, if indeed, the women present were at that time given prophecies to utter, according to “that” Holy Sprit’s New Testament directives it would have needed to be done with meekness and sobriety (1 Tim 2:9-12, 1 Pet 3:3-4), not in an appearance of drunkenness. The Holy Spirit would hardly disobey His own directives. The fact that the mockers said “these men are full of new wine” might well suggest that the women were not among those prophesying at that time. Paul, in correcting the disorderly Corinthians on their tongues speaking meeting ordered their women to refrain from that kind of activity altogether. Acts 2:14 “But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice...” would also indicate that the Apostles were the predominately leading personalities on the day of Pentecost.
Following the Holy Spirit-directed, new tongues-speaking associated with the birth and early formation of the new New Testament Church fellowship, the only other New Testament reference we have to active tongues-speaking is in First Corinthians 14, where the Apostle Paul seeks to correct the confusion and heresy of tongues-speaking as it was being practiced in their church life. As we look at this corrective treatise on tongues, we are impressed with how different Corinthian tongues-speaking was from the original Holy Spirit-directed tongues on the three occasions in Acts. And on the other hand, in how many ways it was similar to present-day tongues practices.
It should be noted that the term “unknown,” as used in 1 Corinthians 14:2,4,14,19,27, is in italics, which means it is not in the Greek text from which our King James Bible is translated. “Tongues” stands for languages and constitutes intelligible words or utterances. At Pentecost the “other tongues” did not represent a vague unknown language, but conveyed a message of “the wonderful works of God.” At the house of Cornelius their speaking in tongues was understood to “magnify God.”At Ephesus the speaking in tongues embodied a prophesied message (Prophesy: “To foretell events... speak under inspiration” Strongs. “To speak unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort” (1 Cor 14:3). Bible prophesies have always conveyed understandable messages and Bible tongues always conveyed an intelligible message that could be directly understood or was to be understood by interpretation.
Paul’s paramount concern for the church at Corinth was that all who heard utterances in the church gatherings whether believer or unbeliever would be able to understand and be edified. He indicated that the tongues speakers were benefitting no one (verse 8), with the possible exception of some personal edification (verse 4). Since without understanding the message of a tongue there is no edification therefrom, the man in verses 2&4 who was alone edified by the tongue he was using must have understood the tongue he was edified by. Paul’s argument is that a tongue understood only by the speaker would be of no value in their public gatherings because only the speaker could know what he himself is speaking and praying about (verses 9,16).
The Apostle further enlightened them that “tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not” (verse 22). It was not a sign for believers to seek for for themselves. And for the unbeliever tongues were to convey a convicting message that revealed “the secrets of his heart; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (verse 25). In contrast, if an unbeliever came into a religious service where the group is speaking in senseless, unintelligible tongues it would simply give the impression of insanity or madness (verses 22-25).
Matthew Henry, commenting on these verses says; “The Christian religion is a sober and reasonable thing in itself, and should not, by the ministers of it be made to look wild and senseless.”
The Corinthians’ tongues-speaking gave the church no sense of direction (verses 7-9). It was as useless as speaking into the air (verse 9). It appeared heathenish (verse 11). It was very inferior to plain, simple, understandable speech (verses 1,19). It was disorderly, confusing, and took on the form of insanity (verses 23-27). It made them feel like an exclusively superior group (verse 36).
Can any tongues practice, that follows a similar pattern be said, in any way at all, to be Holy Spirit directed?
To add weight to Paul’s concern, he reminded them that although he could speak in tongues (not unknown tongues) more than any of them (verse 18), it would be of no value for him to speak to them except his speaking reveal some truth, impart some knowledge, edify someone, or teach some doctrinal truths (verse 6).
It seems quite evident that if properly understood and properly interpreted, the Bible gives no place for a “peep and mutter” (Isa 8:19), indistinct, inarticulate, unknown tongues-speaking for any purpose. Again, the meaning of “tongues” in the Bible when referring to speech always means an intelligible, meaningful language. Here the questions might well be asked:
“Did God, or His Holy Son, or His Holy Spirit, or His holy angels, or His holy prophets, or His holy apostles, ever deliver a message or speak to the world in a tongue that could not be understood or interpreted by His children?”
Another question: “Did God ever promise that His children would ever speak in unknown tongues?”
“Did “new tongues” (Mark 16:17), “other tongues” (Acts 2:4), “divers kinds of tongues” (1Cor 12:10), “diversities of tongues” (1Cor 12:28), ever mean unknown, nonexisting tongues?”
Inasmuch as the New Testament gives no example of tongues speaking that did not convey a message of “the wonderful works of God” or that did not “magnify God,” or that did not edify the hearers, or that did not embody a prophesy, the answer to the above questions is an emphatic “NO!” Our God is an all wise, all knowing intelligent God. He wants us to understand spiritual and eternal realities. He never tries to tell us something He doesn’t want us to understand.
Paul’s ability to speak in many tongues (1Cor 14:18), languages, may well account for the fact that he seems to have had no problem communicating to people everywhere as he went from country to country and to different nationalities with the Gospel.
Although the Greek language was the common international tongue of the time, there were other languages like Hebrew, Syriac, Latin, and doubtless others in general use in different areas. It is hardly likely that all the “far hence” (Acts 22:21 nations and languages to which Paul took the Gospel were readily conversant in the Greek language.
In my younger days as a mission pastor we were blessed with a community convert who could converse intelligibly in about a half dozen different foreign languages. As he became known across the church, he was frequently called upon to come and communicate the Gospel to foreigners with whom the local folks had difficult language problems. He seemed to always be able to understand and communicate with such folks. He spake in tongues more than we all. He used his gift of tongues for edification.
A few times in my lifetime, all unplanned for, and, in fact, not previously known to me, I found myself in the presence of unknown tongues-speaking. One of these occasions was in community visitation during a series of revival meetings. We visited a woman who had been a member of the church, had backslidden, and had apparently given herself over to demonic influence. As we introduced our interest and started to share the love and claims of Christ to her, she burst into vulgar and blasphemous speech. Suddenly she changed her talk into meaningless, unknown, tongue-twisting syllable speech with fire flashing, as it were, out of her eyes and spit flying out of her mouth. There was no question as to the source of both her known and her unknown tongue. We were relieved to get away from that kind of open-sepulcher-throat stench and asp-poisoned, tongue-polluted talk (Rom 3:13). It was unquestionably demonic.
The other occasion was different. We were visiting our churches in the South and were invited to attend a Pentecostal revival service. Following an orderly church service, the pastor invited interested folks to come forward and join in a prayer period. About a dozen and a half went forward. After a brief period with a number of folks praying in the English tongue, the pastor began supposedly praying in another tongue. Soon it sounded like the whole group was engaged in what seemed to us strangers as some confusing babbling into the air which nobody could understand. While this speaking in tongues was different from the other, it was not patterned after any of the examples of tongues-speaking in Acts and fell far short of the tests and corrections of 1 Corinthians 14.
The “unknown tongues movement,” as it is generally practiced today, could be discontinued completely without disobeying or doing violence to any Scriptural teaching whatsoever. In fact, we believe it would be spiritually and Scripturally honorable to replace that kind of unknown, strange speaking “into the air” with tongues that would be understandable and would convey a convicting or up building and edifying message to the hearers. It would be God glorifying! In Paul’s corrections in 1 Corinthians 14:12, he admonishes, “Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” This he indicated they could not do, speaking in unknown tongues.
The proper and safe understanding and use of tongues, as promised by Christ, is seen in the way new tongues were used or witnessed by the foundational New Testament “apostles and prophets” in the birth and formation of the New Testament church (Eph 2:20; Heb 2:3,4). These tongues experiences are found in Acts, chapters 2, 10, and 19. If speaking in unknown tongues today were God-ordained and Holy Ghost directed, the practice would be patterned over these examples and would stand up to every test of 1 Corinthians 14. Sadly, the very opposite seems to be true.
IV. Questionable Claims and Warnings
It has been claimed by unknown-tongues speakers today that their experience in tongues was supernatural. While they were “seeking the power” or “baptism of the Spirit,” some mysterious power took control of their tongue and made them speak or pray in an unknown tongue. Sometimes these claims are made by those who have known and practiced the simple, easy-to-understand holy commandments of the New Testament but have disliked them and have turned “from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Pet 2:21). They may use their “supernatural” experience as an excuse, or justification, or a refuge for not loving some of the truths they had learned and had previously practiced (2 Thess 2:10-15). Commands like, “Greet one another with an holy kiss” (five times commanded in the Holy Word), or the unshorn-hair and veiled-head command for Christian women, or, “Wash one another’s feet,” or the command to be separate from the world related to worldly dress and fashions, or perhaps the command to “obey them that have the rule over you,” etc., etc. These are plainly stated holy commandments of our Lord, whereas speaking in “unknown tongues” is never once commanded in the Bible.
God sometimes lets people actually believe they are right when they are actually wrong because “they received not the love of the truth” (2 Thess 2:10,11; John 14:21; 1 John 2:3-4).
The Bible is replete with warnings and examples of deception. Jesus warned that “many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matt 24:5). One of the most subtle forms of deception is to exalt the name of Christ and to minimize or wrest the commands of Christ.
Paul informs us that there are false apostles who transform themselves into fake apostles of Christ, a Satan who transforms himself into a fake angel of light, and ministers of Satan who are transformed into fake ministers of righteousness (2 Cor 11:13-15). Also, that the end times will be characterized by many “signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess 2:9), and that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13).
Peter warns that “there shall be false teachers among you “ and many shall follow their pernicious [destructive] ways” (2 Pet 2:1,2).
John warns, “Try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1John 4:1).
Jude warns in verse 4 that men creep in “unawares” who turn “the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (a license to loose living).
Jeremiah 23 speaks of the reality of false prophets and how they work. They cause God’s people to err (verse 13); they speak a vision out of their own heart (verse 16); they are very energetic, they run even though God has not sent them (verse 21). They prophesy lies on the basis of their dreams, which God declares is nothing but “chaff” compared to the “wheat” of His word (verses 25-28). They deceive their own hearts (verse 26); they steal God’s words, thus adding power to their chaffy dreams (verse 30); they claim to have a burden from the Lord (verse 34). They are prophets who could have led, would have had the ability to lead, God’s people aright if they had stood in God’s counsels (verse 22). But they were prophets (religious leaders) whom God was against (verse 30).
V. Confirming Signs Unique for the Apostolic Era
It seems Scripturally clear that at the beginning of the New Testament era and through the transitional period from the Old Testament on until the New Testament Scriptures were finalized, God confirmed His initially-authored agents for that period with special miracle-working manifestations. On the day of Pentecost it was specifically stated that “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43).
It was the apostles Peter and John who healed the forty-year-old cripple in Acts 3. Again in Acts 5:12, after the schemed deception of Ananias and Sapphira and their sudden judgment-of-death pronouncement by the Apostle Peter, it is stated that “by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.” In verses 14-16 we are further told that as multitudes of believers were added to the Lord, they brought forth the sick to Peter for healing. At the same time “there came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem,” (where the apostles were giving themselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word Acts 6:4), “bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one”, no failures whatsoever.
In Acts 8:5-7, Philip, one of the initially authorized agents of the new era, “went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many... and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.”
In Acts 9:32-35, it is again Peter who, coming to the saints at Lydda, found Æneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, sick of the palsy, to whom he spoke the word, and he was instantly well and strong. The result: all that dwelt in Lydda and Saron turned to the Lord. In the following verses of this chapter, Peter performs an only-once-recorded type of miracle by the apostles in the raising of Dorcas to life. The result: “And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.”
In Acts 19, through the Apostle Paul’s two-year stay at Ephesus, “all they... in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus...” Here it is said that “God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul” (verses 10,11). Paul was one of the special, initially authorized agents of the new era to spread the Gospel in all the world.
When Paul was converted, Ananias was directed by the Lord to inform him that “The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men...”(Acts 22:14-15a). Without doubt these experiences qualified Paul to be one of the initially authorized, foundational agents in the building of the new church. (Eph 2:20-22)
In 2 Corinthians 12:11,12, Paul, who had earlier referred to himself as an apostle who saw the Lord, “as of one born out of due time,” (1 Cor 15:8), humbly testifies, “For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.”
As the apostolic era, the transitional era, and the confirming-by-signs era drew to a close, and the New Testament Scriptures were given and finalized, and the church had been founded and well established, there was no longer a need for the confirming physical, miracle signs. Paul, who had healed people of all kinds of sickness many times during his ministry, stated near the close of his life, “Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick” (2 Tim 4:20), and recommended something other than divine healing to Timothy for his “often infirmities” (1 Tim 5:23).
The era of the birth and early formation of the church was uniquely different from any other era in that it was made up basically of people who lived in two drastically different dispensations. Inasmuch as the “New” fulfilled and therefore concluded the “Old,” believers needed to move out of the one into the other in order to be saved (Gal 5:1-4) and receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:4,5). The apostles who previously had their names “written in heaven,” (Luke 10:20) since they lived and were saved in the Old Testament era before the promise or fulfilled Holy Spirit baptism was given they needed to wait till Pentecost for their experience of Holy Spirit baptism. It could have been no other way for them. In contrast the three thousand repenting converts were promised and received the Holy Spirit the same day of their conversion (Acts 2:38-41). They immediately became part of the newly born church (Acts 2:41). Newly born Christians are never told like the Apostles were, that they are to wait and pray until they receive the Holy Spirit baptism.
Since the formation of the church, "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13) when we become a part of that body. We cannot therefore find a basic or complete pattern of experience for the entire church era in the experiences of the apostles or in the birth, early formation, and activities of the church. It was uniquely and exclusively the early church that God used to give us the full and finalized New Testament Scriptures. There will never be another Pentecostal church born and there will never be another New Testament Bible written.
Leaders of subsequent eras like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Menno Simons, John Wesley, Edward Irving, the organizers of Bethel College at Topeka, Kansas, etc. may have been foundational in starting certain sects of professing Christendom, but no one (other than those of the apostolic era) however great, can be said to be the initiators under whose direction the church was born and formed. They did not have the foundational New Testament Manual to guide them, hence God bore them witness with “special miracles,” “divers miracles,” etc.
An infallible commentary of the exclusiveness and uniqueness of a select group of authorized agents for the transitional era, and who those agents were, is given to us in Hebrews 2:3,4. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?”
VI. Completed Revelation for the Subsequent Church Age
In the finalized New Testament Scriptures we have given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3) and all we need to throughly furnish us and finish us out in Christian sojourn (2 Tim 3:15-17). We do not need to depend on physical miracles. Neither do we prove what is right or wrong by such evident miracles. Moses performed a great miracle in an act of flagrant disobedience to God.
It has been accurately stated that no miraculous manifestation, nor a messenger from another world, could make the goodness of God more lovable, sin and hell more terrible, Christ more divine, Calvary more cleansing, salvation more wonderful, decision more urgent, or life, death, and eternity more solemn, than do the Scriptures we hold in our hands. An angel from heaven (Gal 1:8) or one risen from the dead (Rev 13:3; 17:8) might lie, the Holy Scriptures cannot.
In the Gospels we have recorded for us the miraculous birth, beautiful life, gracious words, wonderful works, and divine sacrifice of Jesus in providing salvation for the world. The church is mentioned in only one Gospel and is seen only in its embryonic stage (Matt 16:15-19, 18:17). In Acts the church is seen in its miraculous birth, its early formation, and its initial rapid growth, all associated with Holy Ghost miraculously confirmed activity.
With the exception of the called-together council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) and Paul’s message to the elders at Miletus (Acts 20), all the messages recorded in Acts are directed to those who were not yet Christian and needed to be saved. It remained therefore basically for the Epistles to set forth for us the inner character, the solemn responsibilities, the holy walk and talk, the faith, hope, and love, and the heavenly fellowship that is called for and characterizes the true church. In these Holy Ghost inspired Epistles, in which we have the most demanding and heavenly aspects required of the church, the speaking in unknown tongues and the performing of physical miracles is not once promised or set forth as a requirement or even as an evidence of the blessing and power of God on the church or any individual in the church. The truest blessings and the richest experiences are promised to those who live a life of faith and holiness in loving obedience to the gracious and eternal commands of our loving Lord Jesus Christ.
Now that the New Testament doctrine is fully given, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim 4:16). And “seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” (2 Pet 3:17).
VII. Summary Questions
For those individuals or professing church groups who maintain the position and the belief that the same kinds of miraculous manifestations as experienced by the Apostolic Church should be the norm for the entire church era we would present the following questions.
Are they duplicating regularly the early church performances without ever a failure whatsoever?
Do they have church gatherings when tongues like as of fire sit on each of them as an evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence? (Acts 2:3)
Are they having new tongues speaking sessions with multitudes of different nationalities and tongues present wherein every man hears in his own native language “the wonderful works of God?” (2:8)
Are their leaders being confirmed by doing “many wonders and signs” bringing fear upon every soul? (2:43)
Do they “in the name of Jesus Christ” bring immediate healing to 40 year old lifetime cripples? (3:7-9)
Have any of their leaders been imprisoned for preaching Jesus, only to have the locked prison doors miraculously swing open to free them to continue their witness? (5:19; 12:7; 16:26)
Are they having multitudes bringing sick and evil-spirited people to their churches and healing “every one” — no exceptions? (5:14-16)
Do they without any information or indication whatsoever, detect and confront hypocrisy with a pronouncement of judgment, seeing the guilty persons fall over dead? (5:5-11)
Do they have any remarkable Stephens full of faith and power doing great wonders among the people dying a martyr’s death with a face looking like the face of an angel and praying for mercy on his killers in his dying breath? (6:8, 15)
Do they have any Philips going into new areas being confirmed before the multitudes by casting out unclean spirits and healing the incurables and the disabled? (8:5-8)
Do they have traveling evangelists directed by angels to traveling strangers, leading them to Christ, and then suddenly, miraculously being caught up and transported by the Spirit of God about 35 miles? (From Gaza to Azotus) to continue their evangelism in other areas? (8:26-40)
Have they found any eight-year incurable, bedridden Æneas’ getting up at their word and carrying away his own bed? (9:33-34)
Have they raised any well-loved, dead Dorcas’ to life by the word of one of their leading leaders? (9:40)
Have they ever had an angel appear to a seeking soul of a new nationality and naming one of their leaders to send to for help? (10:1-6)
Have any of their evangelists ever encountered one who opposed the truth and been confirmed by sentencing blindness on the opposing one? (13:10-11)
Have they ever had one of their missionaries stoned and drug away from his preaching area for dead and have him get up and continue his mission work as though nothing happened? (14:19-21)
Have they ever had a Eutychus fall from a third floor taken back up as dead and immediately restored to life by the preacher of the evening? (20:9-12)
Have they ever had an evangelist stranded in a foreign area spending his time healing many people of their diseases? (28:8-9)
Have any of their people been bitten by what is known as a poisonous viper and without any medical aid whatsoever receive no harm? (28:3-5)
In the history of their religious life and activities have they experienced and are they continually experiencing these kind of miracles, without any recorded failures, to the glory of God and the ingathering of the lost multitudes about them?
In our day of multiplied infirmities, incurable diseases, lifetime disabilities, along with the increased social, and moral corruptions, religious confusions, etc. it would seem that the need for a Pentecostal, Apostolic type of church would be greater than ever and the opportunities would be limitless — if that were God’s way of making Himself known and advancing His cause in the world today.
To those groups who promote the unknown tongues speaking practices today, we would ask the following questions.
Do they practice the New Testament Holy Spirit directed new tongues speaking as exemplified in the Acts of the Apostles?
Do they in their unknown tongues speaking follow the divinely inspired guidelines and restrictions of 1 Cor 14?
Do they emphasize that speaking in a known tongue is much more useful and beneficial than speaking in an unknown tongue? (1,5,6,19 & 24)
Do they stress that the person is greater who prophesieth (speaking to edification, exhortation and comfort) (3), than the person who speaks in an unknown tongue?(5)
Do they teach that without the use of an interpreter speaking or praying in an unknown tongue is unedifying (5, 17) and unfruitful (14) to the hearers, and that if there be no interpreter, unknown tongues speakers are to “keep silence in the church?” (28)
Do they believe that unless the message of a tongue is understood it is as worthless to the hearer as merely speaking into the air? (9)
Do they understand that if the significance of a voice is not understood it is like one barbarian (one who did not understand Greek) speaking to another barbarian, each telling the other something but neither one understanding the other one? (11)
Do they teach that those who are zealous of spiritual gifts should seek to excel to the edifying (using words that build up) of the church? (12)
Do they agree that Paul, as an example, prayed and sang with the spirit and with the understanding, and that he deemed a five-word testimony given in an understandable language preferable to ten thousand words given in an unknown tongue? (19)
Do they believe that speaking in tongues is not a sign for them that believe, but for them that believe not (22), as it was to the thousands of Jews and Jewish proselytes at Pentecost (Acts 2) or as it was to the unbelieving Jewish skeptics in relation to the acceptance of Gentiles into the church? (Acts 10,11)
Do they maintain that all things are to be done decently and orderly?(40) Tongues speaking is to be limited to two or three each in turn-one after the other, restricted only to those who can have their tongues interpreted? No interpreter? No speaking! (27-28)
Do they teach that women are to keep themselves non-involved? (37)
Do they emphasize that anyone claiming to be a prophet or spiritual will acknowledge that the things which the Apostle Paul wrote are the commandments of the Lord? (37)
This message is not a denial of a miracle working God for today. God’s people are ready to humbly accept any true miracle God wants to perform among them or through them, “according to His own will.” However, inasmuch as we have the miracle of the complete final inspired message of the New Testament Scriptures which the initial foundational agents of the church era did not have to build with, and since that Word is “quick and powerful” and is the “power of God unto salvation” this is all the manifestation of power, all the proof or all the confirmation needed for experiencing “so great salvation,” for assurance of being baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ, for knowing the will of God and serving Him faithfully.
Miracles “according to His own will” may be a reality today, But they are not needed for special confirmation. And we “forbid not to speak in tongues” if it meets the criteria of Holy Ghost orderliness (1 Cor 1426-30, 40), spiritual saneness (22-25), conveys a message that can be readily interpreted by someone present (28) forbids women involvement (34) and presents truth that is edifying to both speaker and hearer (37).
VIII. A Final Warning
When our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world in human flesh His coming was accompanied with all the necessary signs and proofs that He was indeed the very Son of God, the Lamb of God and the Savior of the World. He was the exact fulfilment of the prophesies of the coming Savior. He fulfilled the unique prophetic sign of His virgin birth (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:18:23). The sign of the angelic announcement of His birth (Luke 2:8-14). His special guiding star sign to the very location of His babyhood (Matt 2:2,9). His boyhood wisdom sign (Luke 2:46-47), His baptismal witness sign from Heaven (Matt 3:16,17). All His “miracles and wonders and signs which he did in the midst of the people” (Acts 2:22). His Lamb like life and sacrificial death sign (1 Pet 2:21-24) And final sign “...declared to be the Son of God with power... by the resurrection from the dead”(Rom 1:4) . These and others were undeniable signs of His Deity and Son ship. These signs were given by God without any one person or groups of persons seeking for signs and wonders.
During His ministry, in spite of all the incontrovertible evidences of His being the very Son of God, His opponents came seeking a sign from Him (Matt 8:38,39). Jesus soundly rebuked and indicted them with the words, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.” Luke records Jesus as saying “This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.” (Luke 11:29)
Today we have the full, complete, incontrovertible, forever settled Gospel of Christ which is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16). Might our Lord’s same indictment be upon the sign seekers of our day? Could it be that sign seekers today may well be preparing for and endangering themselves and others for a ready acceptance of the one who will come “with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess 2:9) and thereby deceive many?
Before Jesus began His earthly ministry He humbly presented Himself to John the Baptist for water baptism. Immediately following His baptism, “... lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
This assured word of Divine Sonship from Heaven was followed by an intense forty-day period of being “tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1-11). In Satan’s soliciting the worship of Jesus his climactic master stroke was a subtle effort to place a doubt in the mind of Jesus concerning His assured word of Sonship from His Father in Heaven. With a thrice repeated question “If thou be Son of God” Matthew 4:3-10 he tempted Jesus to prove His Sonship by miraculous performances. (Sound modern?) Except for the fact that He would have been listening to the devil Jesus could have very easily met Satan’s challenge and performed those suggested physical miracles. Significantly, He chose rather to resist the devil each time with a simple statement from the written Word of God (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). A very beautiful example for all who have become sons and daughters of God by being born again from above.
The Bible, the written Word, that voice that God has given us from Heaven, gives us all the conditions and the assured Word we need to know and to be assured that “...ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:17- 7:1)
The first Epistle of John is written especially to help us to understand and to know how to test genuine Christian experience. The word “know” or its equivalent is used at least thirty-two times in the five chapters. Four basic reasons are given in the Epistles for writing of the Epistle. They are found respectively in chapters 1:4, 2:1, 2:26 and 5:13 and are as follows:
1 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
2 ... these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.
3. These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
4. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life...
In all of the beloved Apostle John’s many, many tests and conditions for “Fulness of joy” in Christian experience, for experiencing forgiveness and cleansing from sins, and “that ye may know ye have eternal life”, nothing comes even close to the seductive promotions or conditions held forth by religious groups today who promote testing, proving or conditioning genuine Christian experience by some miraculous, mystic physical manifestations.
We might well ask, “How would Jesus respond to such promotions or appeals. Judging from His example we may well conclude His answer would be the same today as recorded for us in Matthew chapter four. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)
Jesus in speaking of end time conditions declared that false prophets (religious leaders)shall arise “and shall shew great signs and wonders” (Matt 24:24). Of the end time false prophet of Revelation 13:13-14, it is said “for he doeth great wonders... and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by means of those miracles which he had power to do...”
In Matthew 7:22, 23 Jesus revealed that in the judgment day
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” only to hear the response from Jesus “I never knew you: depart from me...”
Jesus then gave His hearers the assurance that safety and security in the day of judgment resides in the simple hearing and doing of “ these sayings of mine.” (Matt 7:24-27) Again in John 14:21 Jesus declared “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me...”
“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:3-4)
May we heed the warning “Let no man deceive you by any means” (2 Thess 2:3).
- Myerstown, PA