APPENDIX: 'PRAYING IN TONGUES'

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

[Note: This appendix has been added because the practice that is called 'praying in tongues' has become more popular since the other studies on the Holy Spirit were written.]

A. JESUS AND PRAYER

A.1 How Jesus prayed
There is no record of Jesus using any ‘prayer language’ or ‘praying in tongues’. All his reported prayers are in known human language, recognized and reported by those who heard him. He makes specific requests in human language.

Some of his prayers are not reported because he drew aside to pray in private. No one can say anything about whether or not he used a special language. But even if he did, that would not validate contemporary ‘prayer language’, since he was the eternal Son talking to the eternal Father, with whom he had conversations in eternity – the nature of which we have no way of knowing, or possibility of copying, since we are not members of the Trinity. We are not God, but Jesus is. What he did when alone with the Father is not our business. If it were our business, or important for us to know, he would have revealed it at least to Peter, James and John, as he revealed his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. [But none of them say a single word about speaking in any kind of ‘tongues’ – neither on the part of Jesus or anyone else.]

If we are following Jesus, we will also follow him in the way he prayed: that is, in ordinary human language.

A.2 Jesus’ instruction about prayer
[1] When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1ff, Matthew 6:5ff) he gave them these instructions:


Don’t pray in such a way as to attract attention to your praying (Mt 6:5,6)

Don’t keep babbling on like pagans (Mt 6:7)

Ask your Father for what you need (Mt 6:8; Lk 11:5 – 13) – which assumes a request made in ordinary language (otherwise you would not know what you were asking for)

To pray the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ – which is clearly a verbal expression of acknowledgement of God and requests to God in ordinary language.

Jesus gave no indication that there was any other kind of prayer than prayer in ordinary human language, in which the person praying is fully aware of what he/she is praying for. As Jesus understood it, prayer is not a mindless exercise, but a deliberate, conscious, verbal commitment of oneself to the honour of God’s name, his kingdom and his will, and a clear verbal expression of dependence on God for physical and spiritual sustenance and protection.

[2] The first two dot points above speak against two elements present in the practice of praying in ‘tongues’. Even those who pray in ‘tongues’ in private are tempted to draw significance/validation from that practice/experience, and feel threatened if someone suggests that it may not be valid. Jesus’ ‘don’t keep babbling on like pagans’ speaks for itself.

[3] On other occasions when Jesus gave instructions about prayer, he specified clear things to pray for ... ‘pray that ...’ ‘ask that ...’ and so on. For Jesus, pray involved clearly understood and expressed communication, that required the use of normal language.

[4] Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus give any indication that there is such a thing as a ‘prayer language’.

If we are following Jesus, we will obey his instructions about how to pray.

 

B. JESUS’ PROMISES ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT

When Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to indwell those who believe, he was very clear about what the Holy Spirit would do for or through the believer:

Be with you forever

Will be in you

Assure you that Jesus is in the Father, Jesus is in you, and you are in Jesus

Teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.

Testify about Jesus

Convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement

Guide you into all truth

Speak only what he hears

Tell you what is yet to come

Bring glory to Jesus by taking what is Jesus’ and making it known to you

You will receive power from on high, and will be my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth.

Jesus did not say one word about the Holy Spirit enabling ‘tongues’ of any description.

[The greatly disputed ending of Mark’s gospel (16:9-20) includes a section where Jesus is said to mention ‘new tongues’, along with several other things that are not advocated/practised by the church generally; however, there is no reference to the Holy Spirit in these verses. This is the only reference to ‘tongues’ in the four gospels.]

If we are following Jesus, we will believe what he has told us about the Holy Spirit, and not add to that.

 

C. PRAYER IN THE REST OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

[1] Throughout Acts, when people prayed it was, without exception, in ordinary language.

[2] In Acts, there is no evidence of, expectation of or instruction about praying in a special language.

[3] In fact, in Acts, there are only 3 occasions where ‘tongues’ are reported to have been used – Acts 2, Acts 10 and Acts 19. In the first two, the tongues were understandable human languages. Acts 19 does not clarify. There is no evidence that those who spoke in ‘tongues’ on these three occasions ever did so again. Peter, reporting the Acts 10 incident, described what occurred as ‘the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning’ (11:15), indicating that it was not something that occurred all the time when people came to faith; it was something remarkable. He did not say ‘As happens to everyone when they come to Christ.’

[4] In the apostolic letters when the writers speak of themselves praying, they know what they were praying about and who and what they were praying for. They report their prayers in ordinary language, listing in words the exact things they prayed for.

[5] Similarly, when the writers give instructions about prayer, it is all about prayer in ordinary language – with the things, people, actions, etc to be prayed for listed.

[6] Apart from 1Corinthians 14, there is no reference to anyone praying in an unknown language. And in 1Corinthians 14 Paul rebukes the practice because it is edifying oneself, not other believers. He says that the purpose of all the gifts is the edification of the church (see also Ephesians 4:9-16), that the gifts are not for personal use. It is contrary to the Holy Spirit’s purpose to use the gifts for self.

Note that, outside of Acts, ‘tongues’ are mentioned only in 1Corinthians 12 – 14, and only by Paul. And they are mentioned here only because they were being seriously abused. All of the other gifts listed in the New Testament (in Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and 1Peter) are meaningless if practised in isolation, indeed they cannot be practised in isolation, because they are other-directed. To isolate the gift of ‘tongues’ and suggest that it okay to use it for personal edification is contrary to Paul’s teaching, and contrary to the purpose of the gifts given by the Spirit. That is why Paul rebukes them for doing something that is edifying only to self, and that is why he refuses to personally abuse the gift of tongues in that way. [See note on 14:14-18 below.]

 

D. THE VERSES USED TO SUPPORT THE PRACTICE OF PRAYING IN TONGUES/PRAYER LANGUAGE

A number of New Testament verses are used to support the belief that ‘praying in the Spirit’ is a form of glossolalia, a special ‘prayer language’, with which one talks to God:

John 4:19 – 24: ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.’

Why these verses are not about a special, personal, prayer language, or ‘praying in the Spirit’:

[1] Translators are generally agreed in translating Jesus’ words as ‘in spirit’ not ‘in the Spirit’.

[2] In the Greek text there is only one preposition governing both nouns ‘in spirit and truth’, thus linking them together.

[3] The context is the question: ‘should we worship in Samaria or in Jerusalem?’ which focuses on physical/ritual worship. Jesus uses this question about the right physical place to worship to address the more important thing: the reality and integrity of the worship: in spirit and truth (as opposed to mere formal/ritual worship in which a person can go through all the right actions, the right words, in the right place, at the right time, but whose heart, soul and mind are far away from God.)

[4] To understand Jesus to be referring to a ‘prayer language’ is to ignore the words ‘in truth’ – since it is absolutely impossible to know whether or not what is being said in the ‘prayer language’ is actually the truth, or in keeping with the truth; or even a true expression of one’s own heart and mind.

Romans 8:26: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

The context is Romans 8:18 – 39, which is all about suffering, and how faith relates to and survives in suffering. Paul has said, in respect to suffering:

The whole creation has been groaning (sustenazo) right up to the present time (verse 22).
We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan (stenazo) inwardly (verse 23).

And now in verse 26:

...the Spirit intercedes for us with groans (stenagmos) that words cannot express.

Sometimes our human suffering is way too deep for words. The suffering causes us to groan (v23). And the Holy Spirit, knowing and empathizing with that depth of suffering, intercedes for us with groans that it is not possible to put into speech.

Why this is not a special, personal, prayer language:

It is clear that in verse 26 it is the Holy Spirit who is interceding (the praying), not the Christian.

It is also clear that this intercession is not vocalised: the Greek is stenagmois alaletois – where ‘alaletois’ means that the groans cannot be expressed by the physical act of speaking. The NIV ‘that words cannot express’ is not an exact translation. The KVJ ‘that cannot be uttered’ is more correct. But the NIV inadvertently (or deliberately) leaves the door open for the Charismatic interpretation – given that the ‘prayer language’ is not understood as ‘words’. But the ‘prayer language’ is actually spoken with the tongue and vocal chords – and that is what this verse is saying cannot happen: the groans of the Holy Spirit cannot be spoken/uttered/vocalised.

1Corinthians 14:14 – 18:
The context of these verses is:

1. The first letter to the Corinthians contains one rebuke after another as Paul addresses a wide range of problems within the church in Corinth.

2. In chapters 12 to 14 he addresses the issue of the abuse/misuse of ‘gifts’, especially the ‘gift’ of ‘languages’. He introduces this section by saying– Greek: peri de ton pneumatikon‘concerning now the spirituals’ [plural of the adjective ‘spiritual’. The word ‘gifts’ is simply not in the text. The term ‘spiritual gifts’ does not occur anywhere in the Greek New Testament. It could equally correctly be translated ‘spiritual matters’ or ‘spiritual things’.]

3. He reminds them of their pagan past (12:2) when they were carried away/influenced/led astray to mute idols. History tells us that the pagan worship in Corinth included both glossolalia and ecstasy. Paul, in recalling their pagan past, is warning them against being similarly carried away. [See Matthew 6:7, where Jesus tells us not to ‘keep on babbling like pagans’). There is a strong possibility that some of the things he rebukes or corrects in chapters 12 - 14 are the result of a synergistic merging of their previous pagan practices and culture with the gifts given by the Spirit. Indicators that this was the case are:

The inference in 12:2 that some of them were saying ‘Jesus is cursed’; Paul says that that does not happen if a person is speaking ‘by the Spirit of God’.

Paul’s stress that all the Christian gifts are from the one Lord – the triune God. This is in contrast to their former pagan belief that different ‘gods’ were responsible for giving different gifts – a belief that encouraged perceived superiority of one gift over another.

The divisions and factions within the body (both in these and earlier chapters) which reflects/reproduces the previous mindset of aligning of oneself with one god or another.

The obvious disorder/chaos in church meetings that Paul endeavours to replace with order.

Paul’s distancing of himself from engaging his ‘spirit’ without at the same time engaging his ‘mind’.

4. Throughout 1Corinthianss 12 – 14 Paul repeatedly states in various ways that God’s purpose in giving the ‘gifts’ is not for personal edification or prestige, but for the edification/encouragement – for the common good - of the church, the body of Christ. He outlaws any self-serving use of the gifts. His purpose in speaking of the gifts is to rebuke and outlaw the misuse and abuse of the gifts, including using them for personal edification. If we keep this in mind when we read chapter 14 we will understand it quite differently than we would if we think Paul’s purpose is simply instruction about acceptable behaviour.

5. Paul stresses that love is more important than any gift, and that loving far surpasses even the more spectacular or impressive of the gifts. This, together with the previous point, is central to his attitude to the practice of praying (and speaking) in an unknown language.

Why this is not a special, personal, prayer language:

Verse 14: ‘for if I pray in a tongue ...’ Those that advocate use of ‘prayer language’ understand this to mean that Paul himself actually engaged in a prayer language. But that is not what the text says. It says ‘if ..’ using the same word – ean as in 13:1 – 3: ‘if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels ... if I have the gift of prophecy and can understand all mysteries .... if I have a faith that can move mountains ... if I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames ...’ ... We do not infer from this that Paul himself did all of these things; indeed we know that he did not. It is just a way of speaking.

So also here in 14:14. Paul hypothesises that if he actually did this ‘praying in tongues’, only his spirit would be engaged, not his mind. In fact, his mind would be ‘unfruitful’. And that is exactly what he does not want for himself or for the Corinthians. It is the same emptiness/nothingness/meaninglessness generated by the loveless accomplishments of 13:1-3.

Verse 15: ‘So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind.’ Paul is determined that both his spirit and his mind (=mind/intellect/understanding) will be engaged when he prays, and when he sings. He wants to know what he is saying; he wants his mind (=mind/intellect/understanding) to be involved. So he will not engage in prayer in an unknown language that is meaningless to him.

Verse 16,17: Paul expresses his concern that others present should be able to say ‘Amen’ to the prayers, and to be edified by them – something not possible when a person prays in a language.

Verse 18,19: Those who practice and encourage use of a ‘prayer language’ assume and teach that this is what Paul is referring to here – that he prays in ‘tongues’ more than any of them (v18). But that is not what he says. The text is clearly ‘speak’, not ‘pray’. He speaks in tongues more than any of them. It is assumed by those who practise ‘praying in tongues’ that Paul is contrasting praying in tongues in private and speaking in the common language in church meetings. But, given that he has already affirmed that he wants his intellect as well as his spirit to be engaged when he prays, that assumption cannot be correct. The alternative understanding is that in the church context he speaks in the local language so that the believers can understand and be instructed, but he speaks in tongues in other contexts. [What that context is, is possibly explained in the following verses in which he indicates that ‘tongues’ are a sign for unbelieving Jews. And his words in verse 20 rebuke his readers as being ‘infants’ in their understanding, in not realizing that.]

Ephesians 6:18, 19: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be give me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel ...’

In the Greek text the ordering of the words is different – as retained by the KJV:

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel ...

Why this is not a special, personal, prayer language:

[1] If Paul had wanted to stress the phrase ‘in the Spirit’ he would have placed it at the beginning of the sentence. (That is what you do in Greek.) But he didn’t. He placed ‘praying always’ at the beginning. What he wanted to stress was the importance of continuing to pray.

[2] Paul states clearly how and what to pray: ‘all kinds of prayers and requests’ – these are not sounds that are without known meaning; they are prayers and requests/supplications for specific things – some of which Paul clearly identifies, and which he asked his readers to specifically pray for.

[3] The prayer Paul is requesting/commanding requires alertness/watchfulness (agrupneo – being sleepless) and perseverance (proskarteresis – persistency). In other words, it requires a very deliberate decision of the mind and the will. The person praying is in control of his praying and what he is praying for.

[4] The Greek text does not have the word ‘pray’ in verse 19. Verse 19 is governed by the opening words of verse 18 ‘praying always with all prayer and supplication ...’

[5] ‘in the Spirit’ – en pneumati. Literally - ‘in spirit’. There is no definite article. This same Greek phrase is translated variously in various places in the New Testament - by the Spirit, in the Spirit, with the Spirit, in spirit, in the realm of the Spirit, through the Spirit. There is nothing in the context to suggest that ‘in the Spirit’ is what Paul actually meant, and not ‘in spirit’, or one of the other phrases. Nor is there anything in the context to suggest or to validate the interpretation that ‘in the Spirit’ means ‘in a prayer language’. Such an interpretation was not even considered in historic commentaries on Ephesians. It is a very recent importation into this text, interpreting the text through the lens of contemporary experience and practice, and seeking to validate that experience and practice by supposing that this is what this text is referring to.

Jude 20: ... pray in the Holy Spirit
The Greek phrase is the same as in Ephesians 6:18, with the addition of the adjective ‘holy’ – hagios. This eliminates any possibility that Jude is referring to the Christian’s own ‘spirit’. It is in the Holy Spirit that he is instructing us to pray. What does this mean?

The context of this verse is:

Jude’s letter was written because of the presence of deceptive and ‘godless men’ in the church, who, among other things, deny Jesus Christ, are divisive, follow their own instincts, and do not have the Spirit.

Verse 20, 21 is Jude’s instruction to believers about how to respond to this deception: Build yourselves up in your most holy faith. Pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love. And all of this while waiting for the mercy of Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Why this is not a special, personal, prayer language:
According to the New Testament:

Every true believer is ‘in the Spirit’ (Romans 8:9 – en pneumati).

Every true believer lives ‘by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25 - pneumati). It is the Spirit who has regenerated us, and brought us to new life in Christ.

Every true believer has the witness of the Spirit that he/she is a child of God (Romans 8:14ff; Galatians 4;6), and by the Spirit calls God ‘Father’.

Every true believer has the seal of the Spirit, marking them as God’s own possession (Ephesians 1:13, 14).

Every true believer has the guarantee of the Spirit, assuring them of their eternal salvation (Ephesians 1:13, 14; 2Corinthians 1:22; 5:5).

To ‘pray in the Holy Spirit’ is to approach God’s throne as his well-loved child, secure/confident in the relationship with him established and confirmed and guaranteed by the Spirit. This is in stark contrast with the false teachers Jude is exposing – ‘who follow their natural instincts and do not have the Spirit’ (v19), and in stark contrast with the destructive impact their teaching has on those who follow them.

1Corinthians 13:1: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels...
This verse is used by some to validate their speaking/praying in a language that is not a human language.

Why this in not a special prayer language:

[1] As indicated earlier the ‘if’ does not mean that Paul or anyone else is actually doing this, just as the other things listed in verses 1 – 3 are just ‘ifs’. Paul is using exaggerated examples to press upon his readers the immensely great importance of love, not to suggest that he or anyone actually did these things.

[2] The question is answered quite simply: whenever the speech of angels is reported, they always spoke in human language. Even the seraphim in Isaiah 6, and the four living creatures in Revelation 4 & 5, all of whom are in the very presence of God, speak in the language of humans.

God is a God who speaks to us in our language ... not in some strange language that we cannot understand. As Paul points out in 1Corinthians 14:20, 21, when God spoke to Israel through men of foreign tongues/languages it was not an act of blessing but of judgement; in fact, God’s with-holding of his clearly spoken word is his most extreme temporal judgement. It is contrary to the very love and grace of God to suggest that he wants us to communicate with him in an unintelligible language, when he, right through human history, has in his gracious condescension, spoken to us in various ways in our language, and has in the ultimate condescension of the incarnation of his Son, become one of us, speaking our human language. Nowhere does he say that we have to or can speak to him in anything other than our human language.

 

E. OTHER THINGS THAT NEED TO BE CONSIDERED WHEN ASSESSING THE PRACTICE OF ‘PRAYER LANGUAGE’

[1] The common testimony that engaging in ‘prayer language’ is learned and can be learned
It is very common in reading the testimonies of Christians who pray in a ‘prayer language’ to find that they were taught how to do it, or learned how to do it, often by deliberately repeating words or random sounds for an extended period, until the ‘tongues’ came.

This is contrary to the fact that biblical ‘tongues’ were a gift given by the Spirit, that came upon people spontaneously without their personal effort or any preliminary exercises.

This ability to ‘learn’ speaking/praying in tongues has been demonstrated in people of other religious beliefs, and even in experiments undertaken with Christians who are theologically/biblically opposed to contemporary ‘tongues’.

This raises very serious questions about the validity of such ‘tongues’.

[2] Linguistic considerations
Professional linguists have analysed the ‘tongues’ spoken in both contemporary (i.e. 1960 to the present) Charismatic churches and pagan religions. They have found:

Both are similar to each other.

Both to lack recognizable characteristics of language.

Both resemble the pre-language babbling of toddlers.

This is contrary to the ‘tongues’ reported in Acts, which were recognized and understood by people familiar with the languages spoken.

[3] Historical considerations
The concept of Christians praying in a special personal ‘prayer language’ that is not a human language is a recent innovation.

In addition:

The practice of ‘tongues’ in Corinth (Paul wrote to them in AD55) is the last New Testament reference to anyone speaking in tongues.

Tongues are not mentioned in the gift lists written after this (Romans, Ephesians, Peter) In 1Corinthians 13:8 – 12 Paul talks about the way three different gifts would end:

‘prophecy’ (that is, the proclamation of the word of God) will be brought to an end -katargethesontai (Greek: plural, Passive Voice, meaning by some other agent or event) when ‘that which is perfect’ comes. (The NIV wrongly translates the verb as Middle Voice ... ‘will cease’.)

‘knowledge’ will be brought to an end – katargethesetai (Greek: singular, Passive Voice, meaning by some other agent or event) when ‘that which is perfect’ comes. (The NIV wrongly translates the verb as Middle Voice ... ‘will cease’.)

‘tongues’ will cease - pausontai (Greek: plural, Middle Voice – meaning in and of themselves, not by some other agency or event. The NIV wrongly translates as Passive ‘will be stilled’).

For further on this see my study on 1Corinthians 13.

Paul’s point is that tongues, unlike prophecies and knowledge, would simply come to an end in and of themselves. [This is really quite clear in the Greek text.] The lack of any New Testament reference to them after the Corinthian debacle suggests that that is what happened.

That when Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, thought to be just a few months after the first, he included a very interesting and significant statement in chapter 11:

‘But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.’ [11:3,4]


In these verses, Paul uses a different word for ‘if’ than he did in 1Corinthians 13:1 – 3, and 14:14. There he used ean, which is the ‘if’ of uncertainty ... if this was to happen ... . But here in 2Corinthians 11:3,4, he uses ei, which is the same ‘if’ that Satan used when he addressed Jesus ‘If you are the Son of God ...’ and that Paul uses in Romans 5:10 – ‘if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled ...’, and in Philippians 2:1 – ‘If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ ...’ , where the meaning is more like our English ‘since’.

Paul is saying in these verses that, when anyone came to the Corinthians preaching a different Jesus than the one the apostles preached, and a different spirit from the one they had originally received, and a different gospel from the one they had previously accepted, they put up with/permitted it, easily enough.

This, he says, makes him fearful that they are being/have been/will be deceived, just as Eve was, and led astray from their pure devotion to Christ.

He refers to those who had thus infiltrated, and been accepted by the Corinthian church, as ‘false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ’ who, like Satan who masquerades as an angel of light, masquerade as servants of righteousness (verse 13 - 14).

He is so fearful that the Corinthians will succumb to the powerful and persuasive influence of these so-called ‘super-apostles’ that he engages in the ‘foolishness’ of boasting in order to prove that he, in contrast to them, is a real apostle, whose message, not theirs, is the true message (10:1 -18; 11:7-12, 16 – 12:13; plus other verses earlier in the letter.) So far had they moved from their original faith position, that they were actually demanding proof that he was an apostle (13:3)

Paul expresses the possibility that his readers, or least some of them, are not believers, even though they claim to be (2Corinthians 13:5,6).

The powerfully deceptive impact of false teachers is testified elsewhere:

Matthew 24:24: For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible’.

Galatians 3:1: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. ...’

Colossians 2:4, 8, 18, 19: I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments ... See that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ ... Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head ...’

When tongues resurfaced, along with the belief in new prophetic ‘revelations’, in the second half of the second century in a group known as Montanists, this group was outlawed as heretical by the churches.

[4] Psychological considerations
The following psychological aspects involved in the practice of ‘prayer language’ need to be considered:

The power of personal expectations and desires

The power of peer pressure/expectations/perceptions, including the need to feel accepted

The power of dynamic leadership, especially where a relationship of authority/dependency is in place

The theology commonly accepted and expressed in the group or by the teachers with regular input/contact with the individual

Together or separately, these predispose an individual to expect/seek and ‘receive’ the perceived ‘gift’. [But see #1 above. Just because they are engaging in what looks like ‘tongues’ does not mean that it actually is a gift from the Spirit.]

[5] Neuro-science
SPECT scans taken of the brains of people while actually engaged in ‘tongues’ show a marked reduction of activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, indicating loss of control (Andrew Newberg, University of Pennsylvania).

This indicates that these contemporary tongues cannot be from the Holy Spirit, given that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control’ (Galatians 5:23); and given that Peter instructs us to be ‘clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray’ (1Peter 4:7).

[Given that I have personally watched how loss of frontal lobe function can impact a person, this is not something that I would wish on anyone even for a few minutes, and certainly not something that the gracious and loving Holy Spirit would inflict on a person whom he has made is holy dwelling place.]

[6] Epistemological considerations
Epistemology is the theory of knowing: how do we know?

The biblical perspective is that:

Our knowledge (in the area of religious/spiritual truth) is based on the written word of God, the Bible. Both Jesus and the apostles affirmed this.

This includes the fact that in knowing Jesus Christ we know the truth and we know God [John’s gospel; 1John 5:20]

The truth contained in the Bible either affirms or invalidates our interpretation of our ‘experiences’

Conclusion: The Bible defines the truth.

The Charismatic perspective is that:

Yes. The Bible is the word of God.

But, it is not complete and not sufficient. God is still revealing additional authoritative truth through present day apostles and prophets.

The Bible is interpreted/judged/understood by/through our ‘experiences’

In other words, if this is where I stand, I understand/interpret the biblical text through the lens of my experience (of praying in tongues, or whatever), regardless of what the text actually means in its context, and regardless of what it meant to its original readers. My experience defines the truth, rather than the truth defining the validity or invalidity of my understanding/interpretation of my experience: I’ve prayed in a special language ... okay, then I will read the Bible as if it talks about such a thing, and I will find it there, regardless of whether or not it actually is there. I will make it mean whatever is necessary to affirm my experience.

Conclusion: Experience, not the scripture, thus defines the truth.

This is a far cry from the historic dependence of the Protestant church on the written word – the sola scriptura of the Reformation; it totally undermines the authority of the scriptures, and rips away the foundations of the Christian faith. It leaves us with a relativistic, subjective perception of ‘truth’ that changes from person to person, and group to group, and place to place, and time to time, rather than the absolute and objective truth of the Scripture that is true for all people, in all places, at all times.

That people have an ‘experience’ is not in question. What is in question is whether or not that experience, and their interpretation of that experience, is affirmed by the written word.

[7] Decisions made by translation teams
The word ‘tongue’ is Old English for ‘language’. It is puzzling that all recent English translations retain this Old English word while modernizing the rest of the English text. [The NIV acknowledges this meaning by noting ‘language’ in footnotes.]

The translators of the CSB (Christian Standard Bible, 2017), a revision of the HCSB which used the word ‘language’, deliberately reverted to ‘tongues’, in order not to be perceived to be anti-charismatic:

‘The translators, representing a variety of denominations, did not intend by the use of “languages” to exclude charismatic views of ecstatic speech. The decision was made without reference to convictions about gifts of the Spirit, questions of cessationism versus continuationism, or any other theological concern. However, in the years after HCSB debuted, many readers assumed that the HCSB had intentionally excluded Charismatic viewpoints.

Because “tongues” is an appropriate translation and is the word used in every other major English Bible translation, the CSB Translation Oversight Committee elected to adopt the traditional rendering and avoid any appearance of theological bias.’ Tom Schreiner, Co-Chair of Translation Oversight Committee.

A similar pandering to popular theology re ‘tongues’ has reportedly been voiced by a member of the NIV translation team.

We need to seriously ask questions here:

Should translators allow themselves to be dictated to by popular theology?

Should not the Hebrew and Greek words be translated into their contemporary English equivalent, regardless of what is the popular theology’s interpretation of the Old English word, and regardless of popular theology being wedded to a very specific understanding of ‘tongues’ as something different to ‘languages’ – as ‘ecstatic speech’ – even though that was never its Old English meaning?

In any case, the continued and widespread use in translations of the Old English ‘tongues’ instead of modern English ‘languages’ has the affect of confirming Charismatics in their particular theology of ‘tongues’ as ecstatic speech, not necessarily a human language. This includes the thought of ‘praying in tongues’ as a special, and even personal, ‘prayer language’.

[8] Cultural considerations
[1] In the middle ages, when the Roman Catholic church hid the truth from the mass of the population, and even the parish priests did not know the Bible, which was not available in the vernacular language, and church services were all in Latin, the pursuit of the miraculous and mystical flourished.

[2] The post-modern denial of the existence of any absolute truth has created a vacuum in which hedonism (the belief that pleasure is the ultimate good, and is to be pursued) is rife. In our culture generally, the pursuit of pleasing personal experiences – including miraculous/mystical experiences – replaces the pursuit of truth, because, for the atheist, there is no truth to be found. This hedonistic mindset has infiltrated the church.

[3] Among Christians, there is evident loss of confidence in the Bible that has been generated by liberal theology, by the influence of geological uniformitarianism, Darwinianism, secular humanism, and post-modernism, and, in addition, by the charismatic stress on contemporary revelations and statements denying the sufficiency and relevance of the Bible. All of this has opened the door to, indeed motivates, a search for meaning and identity in pleasurable personal (mystical) experiences.

[4] These experiences, whether the drugs of secular culture, personal excursions into psychic/occult areas, or the ecstatic or miraculous experiences of charismatic culture, become addictive, requiring increasing intensity of stimulation to produce the same amount of pleasure, ecstasy, etc, etc. In terms of charismatic experiences, it is quite common to read testimonies of people who eventually (and sometimes even from the start) simply fake the experience in order to continue to be perceived as ‘spiritual’ because they can no longer achieve the ecstatic state.

[9] Taking the evil one’s nature and tactics into consideration
Satan’s historic strategy is deception. Jesus called him ‘the father of lies’ and said ‘when he lies, he speaks his native language’. Part of this deception is that he deceives/tempts/entices us by implying that he can give us something highly desirable, when it is actually something we already have (in its God-given form). For example:

Genesis 3: he tempted Eve with ‘you will be like god ...’ – when they were already created in the image and likeness of God.

Matthew 7:8 - he tempted Jesus with ‘all this I will give you ...’ – when Jesus was already the Almighty God, Creator and Ruler of all.

In the context of Charismatic theology we find the same kinds of promises about getting something that we actually already have. For example:

They promote/offer additional ‘blessing’ – but Ephesians 1:3 praises God that he has already given us in Christ every spiritual blessing that he has for us.

They promote ‘full salvation’ via an encounter with the Spirit – but Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are already ‘complete’ in Christ.

They say we need have to receive the Spirit – but Ephesians 1:13 tells us that we received the Spirit when we believed, and the NT makes it clear that where one member of the Trinity is, so also the other two are present. If we have received Jesus, we already have the Spirit, because the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.

They offer the Holy Spirit as something essential in addition to Jesus Christ – but Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 clearly state that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, whom we have already received.

They promise us deeper intimacy with God through ‘prayer language’ – but Colossians 3:3 teaches us that our life is hidden with Christ in God, and multiple verses, including statements of Jesus, teach us that Christ is in us and we are in him. Nothing can be better or closer or more intimate than that.

Whether they realize it or not, Charismatic theology does the devil’s work for him. He can simply sit back and relax while Christians are deceived into believing that there is something better than Jesus Christ – that Jesus needs to be augmented by the Spirit; and that there is something better than the salvation we have in Christ – it needs to be augmented and perfected by the ‘blessing’ of the Spirit; and that grace is not sufficient – it needs to be augmented by our fulfilment of various pre-conditions that will enable us to get the ‘blessing’ of the Spirit.

[10] The normalization/familiarization factor
When the Charismatic movement ‘took off’ in Australia (in the second half of the 1960s) it was a new thing. [The Pentecostal groups prior to that had been more or less quiet, keeping to themselves, and not invading other denominations.] At that time godly men around the world had the courage to stand up and speak against it.

During the six decades since then a number of significant things occurred:

The Christian world became familiar with/accustomed to the presence of Charismatics and their theology and practices.

Seeing what looked like a great global move of the Spirit, many feared to judge it or speak against it, lest they be speaking against the Spirit.

And many looking on, fearing Jesus’ command ‘Judge not, or you too will be judged’ in Matthew 7:1, chose to disobey his other command in 7:15: ‘watch out for false prophets’, and his harsh indictment in 7:21ff against ‘many’ who claim to have performed a range of supernatural acts in his name.

Charismatic practice regularly morphed, as one ‘wave’ followed another, each with its peculiar emphasis and/or aberration. Some of these morphs were so extreme that even some individual Charismatics and Pentecostals rejected them, despite organizational acceptance of them.

A generation rose up that has never known a world without the presence of Charismatic theology and practice; it became accepted as ‘normal’ Christianity, even though these practices had not been part of ‘normal’ Christianity since the end of the first century.

This familiarization has fulfilled the adage ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ – (1) on the part of some Christians as the result of their ignorance of any other form of Christianity, but (2) on the part of others, as a deliberate refusal to acknowledge the many serious departures from biblical truth and biblical faith that are evident in some Charismatic beliefs and practices.

[11] False assumptions
That the majority is right
Related to this normalization is the assumption that so many people – good, sincere Christian people – can’t be wrong, can’t be deceived. But the fact that ‘everybody’ believes something or is doing something, does not make it true or right. Roman Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination ... but many of its dogmas and its practices are far from biblical truth. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 about the narrow gate and the narrow way is very clear: few actually find it, few are on it.

That the rapid, worldwide growth/spread of Charismatic practice and theology validates that practice and theology as generated by the Spirit.

That there is a global movement cannot be denied, but that it is a movement of the Spirit is true only if its theology and practice are biblical. Doubtless, where Charismatics have proclaimed the truth about Jesus Christ, and Christ has been received as Lord, the Spirit as been at work, despite aberrations of belief and practice accompanying the Gospel. But that does not mean that the Spirit is the source of everything that is said and done. Rather, it is evidence of the gracious work of the Spirit through imperfect humans.

That if a miracle occurs it is the work of God
The New Testament, including Jesus himself, makes it clear that this is not so. Just because someone speaks in a ‘tongue’ does not mean that that ‘tongue’ comes from God.

About unity
[1] It is commonly assumed that ‘unity’ is more important than ‘truth’, and on this basis anyone who speaks against Charismatic theology or practice is labelled ‘judgemental’, ‘divisive’ or ‘unloving’. However, the Bible does not promote unity at the expense of God’s truth, but unity grounded on and issuing from the God’s truth.

[2] In the history of the contemporary Charismatic movement, it is the Charismatics, not the conservative evangelicals, who have generated the disunity. It is they who have gone into other churches and caused disunity by their beliefs and practices. Some Charismatics were actually taught by their churches how to infiltrate a non-Charismatic church and gradually influence it towards embracing the Charismatic perspective. In addition, it is the Charismatics whose churches are regularly characterised by division and fragmentation.

[12] The words of Jesus
Jesus denied the integrity of the faith of those who followed him because of miracles:

‘... many people saw the miraculous signs he was ,doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them (Greek ‘believe in them’), for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.’ (John 2:23 – 25)

‘A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign ...’ (Matthew 12:39; 16:4).

To ‘pray in tongues’ or to have ‘a prayer language’ is to be involved in something that has the appearance of a ‘miracle’ ... a supernatural happening. To live on the basis of such a happening, to take one’s identity from such an occurrence, to define one’s relationship with God from such an occurrence, to get one’s joy, one’s significance, one’s sense of intimacy with God from such an occurrence, or worse, to ground one’s faith on such a happening, is to walk by sight (to walk on the basis of one’s senses), not by faith.

But biblical faith believes what it cannot see. Biblical faith trusts God and trusts what God has said, despite any lack of visible, audible, tangible, sensory evidence.

As Jesus said to Thomas:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29).