THE OLD TESTAMENT DEFINES PURPOSE AND MEANING OF TONGUES

When I returned from Vietnam in 1969 I obeyed my conscience and, with some fear and trepidation, informed my denomination that I was convinced its doctrine on evidential tongues was unscriptural and unacceptable to me. The Rocky Mountain District, where I had been ordained, strongly recommended that I be dismissed from the Assemblies of God. Providentially, I was invited to transfer to the Northern California/Nevada District where Superintendent Joseph Gerhart welcomed me with open arms. I remained a valued member of this District for the next forty years.

During more than fifty years of ordained ministry with the Assemblies of God I refrained from going public about my break with the denominational tradition. I limited any discussion of the matter to Assemblies of God officials, family members, and a few close friends. There were several reasons for this decision to remain silent. (1) I was sure there was a genuine experience of being baptized with the Holy Spirit validated by Scripture which was accompanied by the gift of tongues. (2) I was convinced that the Assemblies of God tradition regarding the purpose of tongues that accompanied Spirit baptism was in error because it had no solid scriptural foundation. I could clearly see it was based on a series of assumptions and no “thus saith the Lord.” I had seen how this tradition hindered the Holy Spirit from fulfilling Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers. I had also seen how it helped foster a spiritual caste system similar to Corinth. (3) And of course, while I served as an Assemblies of God church I was ethically constrained to remain silent. (4) But the one thing always tugging at my mind was the this question: Since tongues were not meant to be the unique initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism what was their purpose? It would not be helpful to go public without a biblical response to this question.

But where in scripture should I look for the answer? Something long overlooked occurred to me. The only Bible the first disciples had was the Old Testament. If they were to determine the purpose of the tongues at Pentecost that is where they must look. And, I realized, that is where I must look.

The first Old Testament passage is the one Paul quoted loosely from Isaiah 28:11-12 in 1st Corinthians 14:21: “In the law it is written: ‘Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me’ says the Lord.” From this Isaiah passage Paul extracts this principle: “Tongues, the, are a sign not for believers, but for unbelievers.” v.22a. The conjunction “then” clearly refers back to the Old Testament passage. Grammatically, the conjunction will allow no other conclusion. This was my first breakthrough in understanding the purpose of tongues at Pentecost. I was excited to pursue an exegetical study of this text. I will share where that took me in another blog.

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