A Biblical Explanation on Tongues from a First Century Jewish Perspective


The following discussion took place on a radio broadcast of Friends of Israel.
The discussion is between Elwood McQuaid and Dr. Renald Showers.
August of 1999



Elwood: We are going to talk about a couple of things, today, that I think will be of great interest to our listeners. I want to start with something you’ve just done. I have in my office what looks like papyrus really.

Renald: You’re right

Elwood: As you know, when we discussed, sometime back down the road, you are preparing for us a millennial survey chart that would scan the history of the church (in a very compressed way) from the days of the early church [up] through until 2000, the turn of the millennium. You have done that, and you have done a magnificent work, I just want you to tell our friends what this is about.

Renald: Well, what we tried to do, Elwood, is to compress the major events and decisions that were made throughout the history of organized Christendom into

a (as much as we could) kind of a capsulized form. We have divided the scope of church history into about eleven segments, and several of those segments comprising ancient church history from the time the church was born (on the day of Pentecost) up until about 313 A.D., and then the medieval church history from 313 up into like the early 1500’s, and then the time of the Reformation right up until the present day. We just wanted to give people an overview, so that, in a fashion where they could read through this ( look it over and everything – maybe even within a half an hour) that they would get at least the major developments that have taken place within organized Christendom throughout the planet earth.

Elwood: You know, one of the great deficiencies that we’re plagued by these days, unfortunately, is a lack of real understanding of our country, for example, but particularly for believers, the history of the church, and the things that have gone on, that can shed great light on the facts of the contemporary world: what’s happening to us and what’s happened in the past. I think this is a tremendous contribution.

Renald: Thank you Elwood. It’s been my privilege.

You know, one of the things you probably noticed (at least in the opening part of that) that I want to get across – not only to Christian people, but the Jewish people as well – is the fact that the early church, from its beginning, for the first several years, was totally Jewish in membership, and that all the apostles were Jews that the Lord sent out, and the Scriptures were written primarily by Jewish people. I think a lot of Christian people don’t realize that, and I know that the overwhelming majority of people are not aware of that. Jewish people are not aware of that.

Elwood: No, and you know, that’s a very important point because if you talk to – I want to use the term “the man on the street” who’s the average Christian – number one, that thought has never occurred to them when you say: “Yes, that the early church was Jewish, and even that Jesus was a Jew.”

Renald: Yes.

Elwood: There’s immediate agreement in a general sense to say: “Oh, I guess that’s true!” but without really realizing the ramifications of that: what it meant, what it means to us, and what that should do to our attitude toward the Jewish community. So that’s a great contribution.

Renald: And another thing we want to do with that, too, is for people to see how the whole Roman Catholic system developed and when they make decisions. You know, a lot of Roman Catholic people don’t realize that some of the things, that are actually dogma of the Roman Catholic Church today, were not even adopted as dogma by the Roman Catholic Church until centuries and centuries and centuries after the true church had begun back in the day of Pentecost.

Elwood: And you know, Rennie, so many times, when those of us who are not Roman Catholic’s in our persuasion, mention the word “Roman Catholicism,” immediately a red flag goes up, and this is interpreted as confrontation. That we’re out there to get the Roman Catholic Church isn’t the case. Giving information how that dogma developed is a great contribution and I think it will be a great help.

Renald: And then another part: you know, as we come up to more recent centuries we want people to be able to see how liberalism began to creep into organized Christendom, and as a result, how some church groups and denominations start out very faithful to God’s word, have now defected from that, doctrinally. Because of the tremendous inroads of liberalism and neo-orthodoxy, and that type of thing is creeping into the organized church.

Elwood: Well, and that should be a warning to us today, because those of us who live long enough to see liberalism really in its hey-day here in America, when institutional denominations, by and large, turn to liberalism, and got involved with the great so-called “Ecumenical movement.” I’m seeing signs of that even among Evangelicals, today, in a more subtle way, but perhaps even a more dangerous way.

Renald: Yep, you’re right, very definitely.

Elwood: And so understanding these things is a big help to us.

With that in mind, let’s talk a little about the importance of teaching. You know, we’ve heard over the last several years (the last generation or so, really) that doctrine shouldn’t be so important, it’s relationships. It’s “learning to get along with each other in the here and now,” and “let’s not be concerned about that.” And we’ve turned to so many things that are, unfortunately, entertainment-oriented, rather than doctrine. Why is it important for us to have a good strong doctrial basis upon which to build our lives?

Renald: Well for several reasons. Number one, correct doctrine is actually God’s truth that He revealed to people in the word of God. The very fact that God went to the trouble of revealing that truth to prophets and apostles – and then the Spirit of God moving them supernaturally to record that revealed truth accurately – the fact that God went to the trouble to do that, says He wants His people to know this truth and to pay attention to the truth and for several reasons.

Apart from that, number one, we’re not even going to have a correct understanding of who God is, and what His purpose is for the world, what His purpose is for us as human beings. We’re not going to have a proper understanding who Jesus Christ is, His person and His work, the significance of His work, and boy, our whole salvation and utter [eternal] destiny definitely depends upon that.

Then on top of that, God has given much of that truth in the Bible, which (again) is doctrine to show us how we are to live, and what we are to base our decisions on, as human beings, upon God’s truth, so that if we’re going to ignore doctrine, we’re going to ignore all the things that God wants us to know that would impact our lives, bring people to the saving knowledge of Christ, and enable us to live the kind of life that God wants us to live. So, these are very critical things.

Elwood: I saw something a few weeks ago while I was out in the mid-west. I was driving to my appointment, and I drove by a church and they had a sign out on the front of the church – one of these stand-up signs you put out by the road to attract attention – and it said: “Nineteen Minute Sermons on Sunday Morning.”

Renald: Oh boy!

Elwood: Coming from my generation, Rennie, that was kind of a shock to me, even today.

Renald: Oh yes.

Elwood: That’s sort of the grabber that this generation has been exposed to, saying loudly and clearly “doctrine is not really important,” If I can talk to you for 19 minutes, that’s more that you can tolerate or I have to say, and it might have been, in this case, absolutely correct.

But let me ask you this: how much do you think this whole development of extra-biblical revelation (I use the example of the word of knowledge) where we have a hotline to God, where God is revealing to individuals His word, has this been a tremendous problem causing people to get away from studying the word of God and looking for something that’s more contemporary?

Renald: It really has, Elwood. You know, one of the interesting things is, when liberalism began to infect the organized church, and everything, starting like in the latter quarter of the 1800’s and coming into the 1900’s, that was an all-out frontal attack by Satan against God’s truth that’s recorded in the Bible.

What happened is, there was a significant nucleus of people (within organized Christendom) who recognized that as an all-out Satanic attack, and took a stand against it and refused to go that way. But see, when Satan can’t get the church to go haywire by hitting it head on, coming in the front door, then he’ll slip around and try to sneak in (in a very subjective way) through the back door, to get people who took a stand against liberalism to defect from God’s doctrinal truth of His word in another way. I think this is one of those ways that Satan’s doing it, in everything. He’s determined to get people away from the word of God, with its doctrinal truth, because the Bible exposed him for who he is, what he does, what he’s trying to accomplish in the world. So, he’ll use any technique he can to even get “Born Again Christians” away from God’s truth. You know, if he can get their lives messed up because they’re not thinking biblically in the decisions they make, that will render the effectiveness of them, for God in the world, almost useless. And if he can lead them off into error by so-called “more new revelation that’s coming,” that is one of his favorite ways of attacking what God is doing in the world, what God wants to do in the world.

Elwood: You’ve done a great deal of work in the area of spiritual gifts.

Renald: Right

Elwood: You know, I was watching a documentary on television the other evening, Renny, there was a healing service that was going on. This was a purely pagan service in a purely pagan country but the thing that struck me was that the manifestations (that went on in that service) paralleled, in many respects, some of the manifestations that we have in the so-called “modern healing” movement. How do we sort out the kind of healing, for example, in spiritual gifts that are biblical and biblically justified, and the things that may be a distraction, and may have another origin than the one we would hope for?

Renald: Well, again, we have to go back to the Scriptures and allow that to be our authority for what we believe and what we practice, and not just experience, because Satan can cause false experiences that seem to be parallel with what the Bible says were truly from God.

In Matthew 7:21, Jesus talked about people who in the future would approach Him and say: “Lord, Lord, did we not cast out demons in Your name, did we not heal the sick in Your name, did we not prophecy in Your name?” And Jesus said: “I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me, your work is of iniquity; I never knew you.'” That’s a very critical statement by the Lord because that indicates that, just because people are able to do supernatural things – such as healing the sick or casting out demons or prophesying (so-called), even in the name of Jesus – that’s not a clear indication that was truly of God, otherwise Jesus could not have made the statement that He did.

The interesting thing is, there are only two supernatural sources of power: God and Satan. And so, if people are doing this (even in the name of Jesus) and it wasn’t of God, you’re forced to conclude, therefore, that this was Satanic. It is a Satanic counterfeit to deceive people and lead them off into error.

Another interesting thing is, even in the New Testament (and I counted this up some time ago) I could find only approximately 82 people, specifically named in the New Testament, who were given the power like to heal or perform other sign gifts. That’s a very small minority when you consider there were several thousand people in the church at that time.

Together with that, at the same time the Lord was giving some people the ability to heal, in James 5, he referred to another approach to get healing from illness, where he says: “If any among you is sick, let him call for the leaders of his church,” and there he called the elders of his church to come and to pray for him to be healed. Well, why did the Lord refer to this other approach for healing, if He intended many people to have gifts of healing and to have that in the church throughout its history? The one in James 5, did not involve the gift of healing at all, it was simply the leaders of the church coming to the sick person and asking God to heal that person.

In Hebrews 6:5, the writer of Hebrews is talking about Jewish people of the first century, who had witnessed the miracles the apostles performed (the supernatural signs), and he said (of those particular Jews) that they were sampling or tasting the powers of the “age to come.” Now, to the Jewish way of thinking, the “age to come” is the future millennial age when the Messiah will come back to the earth, and He will set up God’s kingdom and rule the earth for a thousand years.

Notice what the writer of Hebrews (even in the first century) was calling the “age to come” – the future millennial age, the miraculous signs of the early church – he’s calling those “powers of the future millennial age.” In other words, those were samples in the first century of the miraculous powers the Messiah will exercise at His second coming when He comes to set up His kingdom. And so, Christ exercised those powers and He gave the apostles, and a few other people in the early church, the authority to exercise those powers, at the time that He was claiming to be the Messiah for Israel, and so those were designed to signify who Jesus is. He is the promised Messiah who, when He sets up the future millennial kingdom, will exercise these same miraculous powers worldwide to transform nature to restore it back to the way it was before it came under the curse of man’s fall.

So that statement in Hebrews 6:5, is very significant. It’s indicating the miraculous powers of Christ and the apostles, and a few other people, performed in the first century are to be characteristic of the future millennial age, not of this present age throughout history.

Elwood: That’s very, very interesting and relates to another question that’s, again, a rather sensitive topic with people today, and that is the matter of tongues: speaking in other tongues.

Renald: Yes.

Elwood: We see that again (if it is not biblical, thoroughly) as something that will distract people, the whole matter of the interpretation of tongues: who interprets, who practices it, where it’s practiced. Talk to us a little bit about that, Rennie, and give us some biblical discernment about it.

Renald: Well, the thing that determines how long a spiritual gift was to last was the purpose of that spiritual gift. The idea is, once the purpose of that gift was completely fulfilled, there was nothing more for that gift to do, and so it would be done away with. There’s only one passage in the whole word of God that uses purpose language concerning the gift of tongues, and that’s 1st Cor. 14:22, where Paul says: So then, tongues are for a sign… Now notice, it’s to be a sign gift, not revelational gift, and it’s not even a revelational gift. That’s important to see because I’ve had some Christians say: “Well, I have the gift of tongues, but I never exercise it in public. I just do it in private for my own personal edification.” Well, Paul is saying the biblical gift of tongues was for a purpose of being a sign gift, not an edification gift, not a revelational gift.

Then he says it’s to be a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers. So, what Paul is saying is, that when God gave the gift of tongues to believers in the early church, He gave it not for the benefit of Christians, but to be a sign of something to unbelievers. So, if a person says: “I speak in tongues for my own edification,” that was a misuse of the gift of tongues. God never gives a spiritual gift for the benefit of the person who has the gift. That comes very clear in 1st Cor. 12, where Paul’s talking about spiritual gifts that he says that He (God) gives the spiritual gifts for the common good.

In 1st Peter 4:10, it says to use it in the service of others. In other words, spiritual gifts are God-given abilities to minister for the benefit of other people, not for the benefit of a person as a gift. In light of that, you notice in Paul’s statement in 1st Cor. 14:22, he begins it: So that tongues are for a sign, which says he’s drawing a conclusion there concerning the purpose of the gift of tongues, on the basis of what he just said in the immediate preceding verse.

And in verse 21 of 1st Cor. 14, he goes back to the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 28:11, where (in context) the religious leaders of Israel in Isaiah’s day were rebelling against God’s message that His prophet spokesmen were declaring to the nation. And what the religious leaders were saying of Isaiah – you know: “Doesn’t he realize who it is that he’s speaking to? He’s speaking to us like we’re babies. All we hear is line upon line, precept upon precept.” In other words, very simple language like you’d speak to children. Doesn’t he realize that we are the elite, educated religious leaders of this nation?” And so, they were rejecting God’s message through his prophet, spokesman, messengers.

And God says, because they do that, I’m going to speak to them in another way. I’m going to speak to them by raising up a foreign power against them who will conquer them, and while they’re under the oppression of these foreigners, they will be forced to listen to a language they cannot understand.

The point was, he was saying that when the Jews had to listen to a foreign language they couldn’t understand (that of their oppressors), that would be a sign to them they were under the judgment of God, because they had earlier rejected God’s message through His prophet spokesman. He had the same principle pointed out again in Deut. 28. You have it pointed out again in Jeremiah 5, when Israel would reject God’s message through His prophet messengers. God would speak to them in judgment by raising up a foreign power against them who would oppress them. They would be forced to listen to the language of that oppressor they could not understand, and that would be a sign to them they were under the judgment of God.

Now, Paul reaches back into these Old Testament passages and on the basis of that says, here is the purpose, then, of the gift of tongues in the early church was to be a sign, a sign of what? of judgment, not for believers, but for unbelievers.

Now, how does that relate to the early church? Well, when you go to Hebrews 1, the writer of Hebrews says: God, who in different ways at different times, in the past spoke unto us by His prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us through His Son. And the point there is, God’s ultimate prophet spokesman to Israel was His Son Jesus Christ.

But what did the people of Israel do with Him and His message? They rejected Him and His message. So, what God did was, He gave, then, the believers of Jesus Christ, in the early church, the ability to speak in actual languages, that would be foreign to the people of Israel, as a sign to that generation of Jews, who had seen and heard God’s ultimate spokesman Jesus Christ, but rejected Him. A sign to them that they were coming under the judgment of God, because they did not accept the message of God’s messenger, His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, the whole point was: God gave the early church, during apostolic times, the ability to speak actual languages which they had never learned, those languages that would be foreign to the people of Israel in the first century who had seen and heard Jesus, but rejected Him, a sign to them that, that generation of Jews was going to come under the unique judgment of God.

Jesus, in Matthew 23, and other passages, said: “This is a wicked and adulterous generation, greater than Solomon, is here among you,” and all the judgment is going to come upon this particular generation. That judgment did come when the Romans decimated the nation of Israel in what was called “The Jewish War” from 67 to 70 AD, when they leveled Jerusalem to the ground and Herod’s Temple to the ground. That was the purpose of the gift of tongues, to the church, that the sign of judgment to that generation of Jews would see and hear God’ ultimate prophet spokesman His Son Jesus Christ, but rejected Him.

Elwood: Well, you know, that corresponds also to what we have in the Book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost. They heard the word of God in various languages, but these were known languages that appealed to them. It was an Evangelistic use of it that people would respond to the Gospel.

But you know, Rennie, that drives us right back to when we discussed all these questions, the imperative of studying the word of God, and not following with itching ears, the people that come on with some kinds of bizarre interpretations that appeal to certain minds. We need to be disciplined enough to stay in the word of God. Is that the important message we’re supposed to get?

Renald: Absolutely, Elwood. You know, some of these trends are getting absolutely ridiculous. I was on a ministry trip to Brazil two years ago (in this decade) and down there, for the same kind of emphasis, one of the extremes now was what was called “The Gold Tooth” movement, where people (in some of these so-called charismatic meetings)where all of a sudden, a gold tooth would appear in their mouth out of nowhere.

And then the other one was the “Instant Reduction of Weight” movement where supposedly, miraculously, in these meetings people would just lose maybe 20, 30, 40, 50 pounds instantly, and that type of thing.

Where do you find those kinds of emphases in the Bible? They are not there at all.

Elwood: Yes.

Renald: Another critical thing here is –you know, I have people say: “Well, doctrine divides, doctrine divides.” And I say to them: “Do you realize what you are saying? Doctrine, correct doctrine, is God’s truth, so then what you are saying is ‘God’s truth divides.’ Well, some of them don’t like to go that far and I say to them: “Listen, if it is correct doctrine, that is accurate with the Scriptures, that is being taught, and divisions take place, it is not the fault of the doctrine, it is the fault of the people’s wrong reaction to the doctrine. They don’t want to accept what it says.” And so, it is really people’s wrong reaction to the doctrine that divides. It is not the truth, God’s truth, that divides.

Elwood: Yes. Conversely, God’s truth unifies, rather than divides, if it is properly interpreted and applied.

Renald: Right.

Elwood: So, we are the problem, not the Lord.

Renald: That’s it exactly.

Elwood: Rennie, this has been a great conversation and we’ll want to talk to you about this further down the road, but this has been a great help to us and I’m sure to many of our listeners. Thanks for sharing with us.

Renald: My privilege, Elwood, and thank you for the opportunity.