“Although trying to cool their ardor for congregational tongues-speaking, Paul does not disparage the gift itself; rather, he seeks to put it in its rightful place. Positively, he says three things about speaking in tongues, which are best understood in light of the further discussion on prayer and praise in vv. 13-17: (1) Such a person is “speaking to God,” that is, he or she is communing with God by the Spirit. Although it is quite common in Pentecostal groups to refer to a “message in tongues,” there seems to be no evidence in Paul for such terminology. The tongues-speaker is not addressing fellow believers by God (cf. vv. 13-14, 28), meaning therefore that Paul understands the phenomenon basically to be prayer and praise.” – Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT), p. 656, emphasis mine.
This is a significant statement by one of the premier NT scholars in the world. Why? Because Fee is not only a considerable NT scholar but a Pentecostal as well! Fee is helpful here because many Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians tend to see tongues as either communication between God and man (when uninterpreted) or communication between man and man (when interpreted). We are told by some Pentecostals that there are multiple functions to the gift of tongues: (1) tongues as the “sign” or “evidence” of the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” (2) one’s personal “prayer language” that can occur both privately and corporately, and (3) a “public” tongue, which is interpreted for the congregation and is seen as a “message” to the church.
However, as Fee notes, the concept of a “public” tongue that is interpreted and then called a “message in tongues” seems to completely ignore what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians. I tend to believe that it most likely stems from a misunderstanding of texts such as Acts 2:11, as well as several verses in 1 Cor. 14. The interpretation of tongues was never horizontal in it’s function within the NT corpus, meaning that tongues is presented in the NT as communication by the Spirit between man and God, not man to man. It follows that the interpretation of a tongue would communicate the same. The concept of a “tongue message” seems to be a later invention. In the New Testament, messages communicated to man by the Spirit for man are referred to as prophecy!
There are several problems with this “message in tongues” concept. It would seem to me that many tongues often go uninterpreted due to the simple fact that what many people consider to be an interpretation is not! Furthermore, when the gifts of the Holy Spirit are mislabeled it is easy to see how they can quickly become misunderstood and worship practices can quickly become based more upon subjective experiences than what is clarified in the Scriptures. Both of these issues raise many other practical issues that can eventually become harmful to the church.
I plan to lay out a strong biblical and theological presentation of the gift of tongues and interpretation on this blog someday. Until then, I find Fee’s statement very compelling!
yo dude you hit the nail on tha head. how many times did we hear guys tell us that we had to speak in tongues to have the holy spirit? a lot dude, a lot.
i don’t know about the tongues message though. most of the interpretations in our church are messages. is that wrong. id on’t know.
My understanding of the interpretation of tongues at Pentecost, was that the crowd understood what Paul was preaching and were communicating with the Spirit via a revivalist mentality.
I didn’t know Paul was at Pentecost!
I think the tongues episode in Acts is more of a gift of hearing then it is speaking…
I think the gift of tongues is an indication of the filling of the Spirit as is every prophetic proclamation of Christ…I also believe that any who are militantly against the gift of tongues or are militantly cessationist in belief and practice cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit for scripture clearly says that Spiritual gifts are gifts from the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God cannot be divided. If they truly were filled then they would truly recognise the spirit workings
Craig, where I’d differ with you is regarding the concept of tongues being a “prophetic proclamation of Christ.” I do not see it as such. I also am not so sure about the idea that Militant Cessationists cannot be filled with the Spirit… that means that virtually the majority of Christians were not filled with the Spirit!!
But, the Acts 2 aspect of tongues being a miracle of hearing is interesting… I’m going to think on that a bit!
Luke, we’ve talked about this topic a lot, but this post brings up one more question. If tongues are only a prayer or praise communication between man and God, might they be prophetic prayers? You already know that my ongoing experience of tongues is that as I’m praying to God, I often know what I am saying (in gist) and am surprised at times by the prophetic prayers and prophetic prayer proclamations that I make. This is not a message to the church (at least not in the private contexts in which I have experienced these, although for me, it is quite natural that if this happens publically, it could be interpreted as a prophetic prayer/ proclamation). And isn’t prayer often inherently tapping into the mind of God to pray for what He is wanting to happen? The line between prayer and prophecy seems to be a really fuzzy one, imo. So is this something you are open to at least in the private realm, or are you thinking that tongues are only simple prayers of petition and praise?
Deborah, that’s a good question.
It’s difficult to answer because I’m not sure what “prophetic prayer” means for you. But if we definite it as a spontaneous Holy Spirit inspired communication to God, then sure! I’d absolutely see it that way.
Speaking for Pauline theology, I think there’s a specific “definition” in his mind when he refers to “tongues” or “prophecy” or “interpretation,” which is why Fee indicates that this is the natural outworking of Paul’s thinking in 1 Cor. 14.
I would think that the only place where one could attempt to argue that tongues interpreted becomes a “prophecy” would be Acts 2… although I think that is HIGHLY speculative and not a good reading of the Greek.
So, to answer your question, it all depends on how you define “prophetic prayer.” 🙂
Haha. Ok, well, I’ll try to read whatever else you blog about the topic. We might just continue to go around in circles on this one, but maybe we are or can be closer in understanding. We’ll see :).
Ha! That’s true.
Though I think it would help if you could provide some definition and clarification about what you mean by “prophetic prayer.” I’ve heard and used that term before, but sometimes I’m not sure what others mean by it.
Could you provide… like… an example?
No hurry…. just whenever you get a chance. I’d be interested in hearing more on this from you, as you seem to have thought it through a lot more than the folks who I have generally had this discussion with. They have always just replied, “Hmm. I’ve never thought about that. I just did what I saw…”
Great topic, Luke! I have thought about this quite a bit.
Like say you’re praying and you’re suddenly aware of a Christian in chains (not someone you know about) who you are praying for, and you start just saying different things in faith over them, channeling encouragement to their heart, etc.
Or you find yourself praying in tongues for a city, and as you do you realize that you’re praying w/ insight regarding dynamics that have come against the leadership there, and so you start calling things back into alignment and calling forth clarity for the combatted and muddled minds (all in tongues).
Or you are praying in tongues for a friend and sense that you are praying into particular areas of insecurity or dormant talents and start pleading for the breaking of different stuff.
Or you are sitting in a church service praying in tongues during worship and getting insight about what God wants to do and perhaps what Satan wants to do and so are given faith to proclaim things accordingly (again all or mostly in tongues).
That sort of thing.
Absolutely interesting! Luke when are you going to write on the the matter bro.? We need to dialogue I have some questions for you and this based on my experience a few times.