Speaking in Tongues as Spiritual Warfare?

One of the theological backdrops to Pauline theology would be the Old Testament, right? After all, the apostle Paul quotes the OT quite a bit as an established authority for the early Christian communities (e.g., Rom. 1:17; 2:24; 3:4, 10; 1 Cor. 9:9; 14:21, etc.). So there’s really no doubt that Paul was thoroughly aware of the Hebrew Scriptures since it was common for Jews to be saturated in it, especially given that he was a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5).

This has got me thinking about whether or not there is a connection between Paul’s understanding of the nature of speaking in tongues and the OT narrative regarding how Jehoshaphat and the rest of Judah were delivered from the attack of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites by God (2 Chronicles 20:1-30). Furthermore, I wonder if this connects the gift of tongues (and interpretation!) with activity related to spiritual warfare. Here’s why:

  • We see a picture of God’s people, led by king Jehoshaphat, praying to God for salvation from the attacking armies (2 Chr. 20:5-12) and we see a picture of Paul describing the gift of speaking in tongues as a Holy Spirit inspired act of prayer (1 Cor. 14:2).
  • We see a picture of Judah singing praise to God (2 Chr. 20:21-22) and we see a picture of Paul describing tongues as Holy Spirit inspired praise (1 Cor. 14:15).
  • We see a picture of Judah giving thanks to God (2 Chr. 20:21) and we see a picture of Paul describing tongues as Holy Spirit inspired thanks-giving (1 Cor. 14:16).

I wonder if there is a connection, or if this is just a coincidence. What do you think?

Luke Geraty is a young budding pastor/theologian who serves at Trinity Christian Fellowship. Husband of one, father of five, and deeply committed to proclaiming Jesus and the kingdom, Luke contributes regularly to ThinkTheology.org and Multiply Vineyard. You can follow Luke on Twitter or Facebook. Interested in having Luke speak at your church, conference, or small group? Send him an email!
  • http://www.facebook.com/SeanClue Sean Clue

    Interesting Luke, very acute  observation, but let me ask, since Paul also states that when we speak in tongues we are speaking to God and in our understanding of warfare we are focused on the combat can we reconcile the two?

    I would really love to understand this as I think it is critical in our private praxis and affects how live our lives. I really am kind of ignorant on the issue of tongues and warfare even though I have heard it being alluded to many times.

  • http://thinktheology.org/?cat=748 Deborah

    It’s really interesting to “watch you” feel your way around on tongues, Luke.  I wouldn’t have thought of using this passage to support the use of tongues in warfare per se, since prayer, praise, and thanksgiving come together often enough in scripture (I think?) that I wouldn’t assume this passage to be on the forefront of Paul’s mind nor that he would anticipate early Christians would make it a clear canonical connection.  However, in the sense that the OT texts inform our basic understanding of spiritual realities (to which we apply New Testament understanding), then I’d agree that you are on to something (that could be applied to tongues).   The passage certainly shows how interrelated prayer, praise, and thanksgiving can be with warfare and could, I would think, point toward the possibility of a divine break down in categories.  Indeed, the Jehoshaphat passage has encouraged me in the same (all of which I would naturally tie to tongues as well, even if not explicitly thinking about them, since I do sometimes use tongues for all those purposes). The debate on the appropriate uses of tongues still comes back, I suppose, to how much the exegete believes its uses (or limitations for those who believe that Paul would have mentioned any limitations there are and that the rest that seem to flow are ok so long as they glorify God) should be spelled out by straightforward primary interpretations of the New Testament texts and how much they believe experience or, as here, inspired/imaginative readings of the Old Testament foundation can inform their use.  

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  • http://www.facebook.com/sam.greenlee1 Sam Greenlee

     I recognize that there are many diverse approaches to spiritual warfare, but in my own take on it we should never be “focused on the battle.” When people engage in spiritual warfare they seem very often to have several assumptions at work behind their practices:

    1. We need to keep on praying through the issue until the battle is won
    2. We need to make sure and use the right language by remembering to ask for things like “the shed blood of Jesus to raise up a hedge of protection” and such
    3. We need to learn as much as we can about the plans of the enemy to thwart it in prayer
    4. We need to raise up as many other prayer warriors as possible to secure victory

    My trouble with this is that I can’t really think of a situation in Scripture that supports these (except maybe #4). When Jesus and the apostles were confronted with demonic powers, Jesus would just tell them to depart and the apostles would basically do the same, with the addendum of telling them to depart in Jesus’ name. I don’t get the impression from Scripture that the earliest church was very concerned with spiritual warfare as many people think of it today. They seem to have engaged in it more cooperating with the Holy Spirit in their own sanctification, sharing the gospel, building up disciples, caring for the sick and the destitute, praying and sharing bread, blessing their enemies, and, yes, casting out demons when they encountered them. While prayer is always important, well, necessary for the Christian life, and it is promised that our prayers do matter, I think we do well to remember how Jesus taught His disciples to pray and that he refuted the idea that we need many and special words to pray. The key is that we are obedient and faithful in prayer, and that the battle is always in Christ’s hands and dependent upon his faithfulness, power, and love and not upon our own mustering of “spiritual power.”

    C.S. Lewis wrote that the two main mistakes people tend to make about the demonic are: 1. that we act as if there is no such thing as the demonic, and 2. that we focus too much on the demonic. I think he was right.

  • http://thinktheology.org/?cat=748 Deborah

    Here is where I seemingly retract some of what I’ve said before to you, Sam, in regards to my concern over deliverance ministries that have complicated flow charts and are run by peops who are fixated on criticizing and on controlling everything with formulas (and blaming those for whom the formulas don’t work).  I do think there CAN be spirit breathed ministries that focus some on understanding how Satan works.  I personally found working with a generational deliverance ministry once helpful.  Unlike some of the deliverance ministers I had been too, they didn’t do more damage than good.  Some of what they did was formulaic and rote (and may have been really beneficial; it’s hard for me to know with some of that stuff, since it’s not in line w/ my personality), but they had, I believe, genuine insight into things in my family line that were enabling some of the unusual difficulties I have come across today.  So much of it comes down to the attitude, motives, devotional focus, maturity, etc.  I think a lot of spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry appeals to precisely the worst in us (the pride, control, criticism, need to feel super-spiritual and special because of insecurities, and alarmist or attention-getting attitudes).  And thus so very much of it goes off, way off.  ALSO, I think that SOME spiritual mapping is dangerous in that we can take on principalities we weren’t called and equipped to directly take on, reaping havoc.  Just because we truly discern something is there doesn’t mean we’re supposed to start shouting at it or fasting and praying against it; we need to be Spirit led (which, of course, does mean that we are in fact focused on the Spirit).  I think I have erred in this at times even just privately and experienced backlash.  At the same time, I know folks who are in the spiritual mapping circles who have seen amazing things happen when they were led to prayer walk or the like in accord with their discernment.  My aunt, for instance, is among those included on the “Transformation” videos that have been circulating around churches describing prayer initiatives in various cities of the world which have led to unusual revivals or changes in crime, etc. in difficult areas. So I’m not prepared to do as much of a push back on spiritual warfare and deliverance emphases as I take it you are.  And I try to refrain from making especially quick judgments about spiritual warfare that seems like it may be loopy.  But I agree with the C.S. Lewis quote :).  My 2….

  • http://www.facebook.com/sam.greenlee1 Sam Greenlee

     Thank you for your thoughts, Deborah. I especially appreciate your emphasis on the need to be Spirit-led, as seeking the Spirit should generally keep us from straying very far. My concern with the more extreme forms of spiritual warfare is at one level a Scriptural concern, and at a higher intensity a pastoral concern. First, with regard to Scripture, I see very little in Scripture hinting that such approaches to spiritual warfare were used by the early church or expected of the early church. Now, of course, I am ok in general with the fact that the Church has a much longer history than the first 40 years and believe that we have had, together, some very helpful development of insight into Scripture through the illumination of the Spirit. So the general biblical silence is not a complete argument.

    I do find, though, that the thrust of the New Testament especially, when it deals with spiritual warfare, seems to point constantly to the authority of Christ. It seems that a rebuke in the name of Jesus and prayer for the infilling of the Spirit are all that were expected of the disciples. There are undoubtedly times that call for fasting, but fasting is not a “weapon” to be wielded against evil, but instead a practiced dependence upon God in prayer. That should mean that we don’t need to fast and search out the hierarchy of evil, but simply fast and ask God for deliverance. If we ask Him for a fish, He won’t give us a snake.

    I have two more chief worries. First, such spiritual warfare looks so much like a form of gnosticism in which victory comes through right knowledge of esoteric secrets. Second, for those who truly are afflicted demonically, it doesn’t really bring good news but instead lays a heavy burden. There seems to be such a difference between, on the one hand, helping such a person by sharing the Gospel, praying for them in the name of Christ, encouraging them to repent of their sins, and showing from Scripture Christ’s ability to defeat evil on the spot; and on the other, laying out all the flowcharts, special prayers, etc. that the person is going to need to deal with in order to be free. Where does the freedom come in when victory is so dependent on personal insight? It seems that there might always be more layers of hierarchy yet to be unearthed. Just my thoughts for now… :)

  • Deborah

    Hi, Sam!  Your thoughts on fasting are refreshing and true.  As for everything else, I think we share a similar concern about the heart emphases and the attraction such specific knowledge holds for peops who feel a need to be super-spiritual beyond others (you call it gnostic in bent).  I am a bit agnostic as to how this really does or should play out.  P.S.–I think you’ll be a really good pastor :)  

  • http://www.facebook.com/hyesung.gehring Hye Sung Francis Gehring

    Worship is warfare!