The modern understanding and practical applications attributed to the spiritual gifts are diverse. Specifically, the gift of tongues can be a hotly debated topic. Like most people in the church today, I’ve often questioned whether I’ve really understood the whole of the Biblical teaching on this topic.
Below is a link to a working hypothesis. It does not try and follow any particular doctrinal statement or denominational stance. What follows is an attempt to approach the theology of language considering the entire Biblical narrative (both Old and New Testaments).
This project is incomplete in its current form. I’ve organized my thoughts into an outline of chapter headings.
- The Story of Babel
- The Language of Paradise Lost and Restored?
- The Shadow & Fulfillment of Pentecost
- General Overview of Tongues in the NT
- General Overview of Current Theologies of Tongues
- The Problem of Acts 2:13
- Is Acts 10, and Acts 19 the same thing as Acts 2?
- Is 1 Corinthians 14 talking about the same sign as Acts 2?
- The overall context of the 1 Corinthians letter?
- Is 1 Corinthians 12:31 mistranslated in most English Bibles?
- Should Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 factor into the discussion?
- Other possible verses that might play into the discussion.
I hope to fill in more detail as time allows.
As with any work in progress, I welcome feedback, comments, and questions.
The document can be accessed through the following link:
You may not have noticed it before… but there’s a water theme in the book of John. In each of the first 7 chapters of John’s gospel… there are significant events and/or conversations involving water. In each of these, Jesus is shown to not only have control over the water, but also offer a better alternative than the world offers. And John helps tie these water episodes directly to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
I like buying old books. There’s a mystique that old books have that’s hard to replicate in any other type of media. I often don’t even read them… I just thumb through them, smell the old musty pages, then put them on the shelf where I can admire their bindings.
I own books from which I’ve never gleaned a single word. I don’t know their contents and I don’t even care.
I find pleasure in judging a book by its cover.
I think this is acceptable when it’s a book, but people are different. People are much more complex and complicated than books. There’s much more to people than their exterior bindings; where they live, what they do, and with whom they associate. At times it’s hard to look past a person’s cover and reconsider what you think you know.
In John 3:1 we are introduced to a man named Nicodemus. At first it might seem like a simple introduction…
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”
But it’s not quite that simple. John actually begins the introduction three verses earlier, at the end of chapter two.
In John 2:25-27, John describes how it was the Passover season, and Jesus had been in Jerusalem performing miracles. Jesus had caused quite a stir, and when people saw the signs He was performing… the text says many “believed in His name.” It says they were “believing” in Jesus… but that Jesus wasn’t “believing” (the same Greek word) in them. Here’s how it reads,
“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
All that to say, things were complicated in Jerusalem. Many were seeing Jesus for who He was, and believing in Him, but those same people were entrenched within a powerful religious system that didn’t recognize the same truth. This complication caused even believing men… to be unbelievable.
In John 2:1-5, Jesus and His disciples make their way to Cana to attend a wedding. While they are there, the hosts run out of wine. In Jesus’ day, having the wine run out was a big deal. Weddings were multi-day events and usually were large social gatherings.
When his mother brings the situation to Jesus’ attention (in v. 4), He gives an interesting response,
“Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”
John intersperses into his gospel several allusions to Jesus’ impending “hour”. It is through these allusions that the reader begins to anticipate the arrival of that hour.
The first chapter of John’s gospel is a brilliantly planned invitation.
John wanted to invite both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jewish groups) to read his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. To do this, he literarily connected Jesus to concepts from both cultures. In this way, the beginning of John’s gospel is a unique invitation to read beyond the introduction into the heart of the story.
How did John invite a Jewish audience to read his gospel? Here are some examples from the first chapter.
- John 1:1 – “In the beginning…”
- this wording has obvious ties with the Old Testament story of Creation in Genesis 1:1 that opens with the same phrase.
- John 1:14 – “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
- The Greek word translated as “dwelt” is literally “tabernacled” (lived temporarily). The tabernacle/temple was the center of Jewish worship.
- John 1:29, 36 – “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
- Lambs were often used as offerings in Jewish worship ceremonies.
- John 1:51 – “Truly, Truly I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
- This recalls a dream that Jacob (a father of the Jewish faith) had in Genesis 28:10-13.
In the movie, The Magnificent Seven, a selection of otherwise unrelated mercenaries prove to be more effective as a group when defending a village against a gang of thieves. These seven people were able to accomplish far more by working together than they would have as individuals. The movie had a promotional tagline, “Justice has a number.” And that number was seven!
In a similar way John, Jesus’ disciple and author of the gospel, organized information into groups of seven. He knew that information grouped into categories accomplishes more working together than the same information randomly presented on its own. For instance, readers may notice that, in his gospel, John includes seven miracles of Jesus. He organizes these into a related group by referring to each of them as “signs” or “attesting miracles”.
- John 2:1-11 – turning water to wine
- John 4:46-54 – healing of a royal official’s son
- John 5:1-15 – healing at the pool of Bethesda
- John 6:5-14 – feeding of the 5,000
- John 6:16-24 – walking on water
- John 9:1-7 – healing of a blind man
- John 11:1-45 – resuscitation of Lazarus from the dead
These are not the only miracles Jesus performed during his ministry. We know from the other gospels that there were many other miracles John doesn’t mention. John mentions only seven… and six of them are unique to his gospel. His decision to cap the miracles at seven is calculated.
In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells a parable about a man who embarks on a journey. But before he leaves, he entrusts his possessions with three slaves that stay behind. Many readers may be unaware… but there a problematic translational switch-a-roo that happens in Matthew 25:15. It concerns the possessions the man entrusts to the slaves… the talents.
“To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” – NASB (’95 update)
It turns out, the word “talents” is an unfortunate translation. Well actually, it’s not a translation at all… it’s a transliteration. What’s the difference? Translation conveys the meaning of words from one language to another, where transliteration simply conveys the sound of words between languages.
How does that play out in this passage? There is a Greek word “talanton” that’s an ancient Greek unit of weight and, at the same time, a measure of monetary value. It’s kinda like the British “pound”. On one hand, a unit of weight, but also has a specific monetary value in that society. Continue reading
Have you ever been wading in a river, or a lake, and one moment you are doing just fine, walking along and able to touch bottom. Then, for whatever reason, the next step takes you into a deep underwater hole. One step earlier you felt like you were some sort of “Aqua Superhero”… and the next you feel like you might drown.
Theologically, that’s what some people experience when they step into Matthew 24. You might feel pretty confident of your footing in the chapters leading up to this one… then all of a sudden you are treading in deep theological waters and feel like you are about to go under.
Why do I say that?
There are so many ways people read Matthew 24. This is the type of passage that inspires charts… and diagrams… and long extended analogies to explain. So many charts… and at least potentially (from this chapter)… so little time.
The chapter begins with a comment about nice buildings… and then a promise of destruction of those buildings.
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
Then the real question… the one where the theology suddenly get deep. What exactly do the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 24:3? Continue reading
Throughout his gospel, Matthew organizes large segments of Jesus’ teaching into five major discourses. That just means there are a whole bunch of red letters… all scrunched together… in five different places.
The author does this on purpose… because he wants us to think of Jesus in terms of the Old Testament character, Moses. Moses was that person who lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and on towards the land that had been promised to their family. Moses wrote 5 major discourses (the first five books of the Old Testament). To help connect Jesus as “the new Moses”, Matthew presents Jesus’ teaching in five distinct settings.
Today, it’s the last discourse I’m interested in… and where it might begin. Those familiar with the Bible at all have probably heard of “The Olivet Discourse”. It’s found in Matthew 24:3-26:1 and is named after the location Jesus was when He taught it. He was on the “Mount of Olives” in Jerusalem.
We know the discourse ends in Matthew 26:1 because the Matthew includes a clue for the reader that signifies the end (“When Jesus had finished all these words…”). But there is no equivalent marker used for the beginning of the discourse. Continue reading