Tongues in the New Testament

A study of the Tongues in the New Testament. 

Dear friends if you are Pentecostal or charismatic and believe that the gift of tongues still exist, please do not be offended by the below article.  This is not the intent.   We are pleased with the Pentecostal evangelistic zeal and soundness in most doctrinal matters.   Pentecostals clearly teach the plan of salvation.  Also, there is a variation among Pentecostals.  They are not all the same on all issues. But we believe we are correct in saying that all Pentacostals believe in the contiuation of the Apostolic gifts.

This article is just the conclusion of a biblical study of the Greek words used for tongues.  There are two Greek words that are used for tongues in the New Testament: 1) dialektos and 2) Glossa.   The word dialektos clearly refers to specific local languages spoken in various parts of the world.   The greek word “glossa” is a word that indicates the physical organ and by *metonomy human speech.

Are Tongues in the New Testament unknown languages? 

Tongues in Acts

The first mention of the word tongue in Acts is in 1:19 where it clearly indicates a spoken language (dialektos).

 19 And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper (idios – own) tongue  (dialektos), Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.  Acts 1:19 (KJV) Acts 1:19

Tongues in Acts chapter 2

In the above verse in Acts 1:19  tongue is a translation of the Greek word “dialektos” which indicates it was a known spoken language and dialect.  And verse 6 of chapter 2 uses the word “dialektos” to indicate that the tongues spoken at the Feast of Pentacost were known languages.  Also this indicates that the Greek word “glossa” also mentioned known spoken languages.  The word “glossa” and “dialektos” are used into changeably in these verses.  The crowd noted that almost all the Apostles and people were Galilaeans who would not normally know all these languages (dialektos).

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues (glōssa) like fire, and it sat upon each of them.

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other (heteros – other of a different kind) tongues (glōssa), as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.

6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own (idios-own particular) language (dialektos).

7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?

8 And how hear we every man in our own (idios – own particular) tongue (dialektos), wherein we were born?

9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,

10  Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,

11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues (glōssa) the wonderful works of God.

12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? 13  Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.  Acts 2:1-13 (KJV)

Notice Acts 2:6 “ … because that every man heard them speak in his own  (idios- own particular) language (dialektos) interprets for us the correct meaning of the word tongues (glōssa).  The tongues are actually dialects.  The Greek word dialektos refers to sub-languages of those that were there on the day of Pentacost.

Note Acts 2:11 which says “…we do hear them speak in our tongues (glossa) the wonderful works of God.”  Again I ask, if these were unknown tongues how did the people understand that the tongues (glossa) were proclaiming the “the wonderful works of God”.  These tongues must have been known intelligible languages.

Notice all the sub-language groups that Peter mentions.  Peter mentions approximately 15 sub-language groups or geographical areas as examples of the many tongues (dialects) that were spoken on the day of Pentacost.  More than likely he did not name them all.

7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10  Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues (glōssa) the wonderful works of God.

All that were present on the Day of Pentacost were Jews or Jewish proselytes.  Pentacost was one of the three Jewish feast that every male Jew was required to attend.  They had come from all over the Roman Empire “…Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”

Gospel introduced to a New People Group – Cornelius, a Gentile God fearer

44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues (glossa), and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?   Acts 10:44-47 (KJV)

It is obvious from this passage that the tongues that were spoken were understood languages because the people witnessing the event recognized that they  “magnify God” and mentioned that the Holy Spirit was poured out just as He was on the Day of Pentacost.

In Acts 11:15 Peter says, “…the Holy Ghost fell on them , as on us at the beginning

God gave them the like gift as he did unto us….”  Acts 11:17 (KJV)

The speaking in tongues was no different than that which was on the Day of Pentacost which were intelligible languages.

Gospel preached to Disciples of John the Baptist – a new people group!

1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues (glossa), and prophesied. 7 And all the men were about twelve.  Acts 19:1-7 (KJV)

In the Acts 19:1-7 passage above the people had only received the message of John the Baptist and had not received and believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When Paul laid his  hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them; and they spake with tongues (glossa), and prophesied.    John the Baptist’s ministry was still in the Old Covenant period.  Jesus had not yet died and risen and fully paid for all sin.

The Holy Spirit was poured out at this juncture because this was the introduction of the Gospel to a new people group and these people had not yet fully received the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Again Paul speaks in “the Hebrew tongue (dialektos)” to the Jewish people in his defense outside the Temple.  This was clearly a known language.

Acts 21:40 And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue (dialektos), saying,

Acts 22:1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.  Acts 22:2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue  (dialektos) to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) Acts 21:40- 22:1-2 (KJV

Paul gives his testimony before King Agrippa about his miraculous conversion and commission to preach to the Gentiles

Agrippa was a convert to Judaism but was a descendant of Esau.

14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue (dialektos), Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.  Acts 26:14 (KJV)

The last mention of the word “tongue”(dialektos) in the book of Acts occurs in the above verse.

You might want to read the Wikepedia article on “dialect” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialect

Definition of DIALECT   http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dialect

1 a : a regional variety of language distinguished by features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from other regional varieties and constituting together with them a single language <the Doric dialect of ancient Greek>

b : one of two or more cognate languages <French and Italian are Romance dialects>

c : a variety of a language used by the members of a group <such dialects as politics and advertising — Philip Howard>

d : a variety of language whose identity is fixed by a factor other than geography (as social class) <spoke a rough peasant dialect>

e : register 4c

f : a version of a computer programming language

Origin of DIALECT

Middle French dialecte, from Latin dialectus, from Greek dialektos conversation, dialect, from dialegesthai to converse — more at dialogue

Dialect   noun (Concise Encyclopedia)

Variety of a language spoken by a group of people and having features of vocabulary, grammar, and/or pronunciation that distinguish it from other varieties of the same language. Dialects usually develop as a result of geographic, social, political, or economic barriers between groups of people who speak the same language. When dialects diverge to the point that they are mutually incomprehensible, they become languages in their own right. This was the case with Latin, various dialects of which evolved into the different Romance languages. See also koine.

The Greek word “glossa” is also used in 1 Corinthians 14.  The word “unknown” is in italics which indicates there is no word found in the original Greek for this translation, but this word was added by the translators.  This addition of the word unknown was the honest and legitimate idea which the translators thought would convey the full meaning of the word “glossa”.

Were these “tongues” actually unknown” languages?  In Acts 2 they were actual known dialects (dialektos).

Almost all the remainder of the usages of the Greek words in the New Testament are “glossa”.  My judgment is that the word “glossa” refers to the physical organ which is used by *metonymy for speech.   The word “dialektos” refers to the actual speech or language of the person.  In some Scripture passages the Greek word “glossa” is used for the actual tongue.  Note Rev. 16:10 below!

10 And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues (glōssa) for pain,  Rev 16:10 (KJV)

The Greek word dialektos is never used for the physical organ of the body.  It is only used for the actual speech and words that are spoken.

*Metonymy (pron.: /mɨˈtɒnɨmi/ mi-TONNə-mee)[1] is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. Metonyms can be either real or fictional concepts representing other concepts real or fictional, but they must serve as an effective and widely understood second name for what they represent.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metonymy

Chapter 14 all of the words for tongue or tongues in chapter 14 of Corinthians is the Greek word “glossa”.

1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. 2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. 3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue(glossa) edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 5  I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues (glossa) , except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

6  Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues (glossa), what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? 7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. 10  There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. 11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. 12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue(glossa) pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue(glossa), my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? 17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues(glossa) more than ye all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue (glossa). 20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. 21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues(glossa) and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. 22 Wherefore tongues(glossa) are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. 23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue(glossa), let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29  Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. 36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.  1 Cor 14:1-40 (KJV)  

What is my conclusion?

My conclusion from looking at all the Greek words (glossa) and (dialektos) is that they were all known spoken languages.  And the KJV’s insertion of the word “unknown” is a serious mistake.  Even though the KJV translators put it in italics, many Christians do not know and understand what the italics mean.  Most Christians do not have any practical understand even of other languages.

As I have mentioned in the article each of the new times when the Holy Spirit was again poured out, it was poured out when the Good News – Gospel was introduced to a New People Group other than Jews.  Remember that all the people present on the Day of Pentacost were Jewish.  All Jewish male were required to attend three of the Seven official Jewish feasts each year.  Pentacost was one of these three.

Lord willing (D.V. – divine volution) we plan to do a study on the history of the attempts by various Christian groups to revive the Apostolic gifts.  We already know of at least three.

May God bless your today and forever!

Rev. Thomas L. Clark – Phil. 3:14

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