In order to make sense of how the gifts were used in public worship – we need to have some background. During the time of the exile in Babylon the synagogue worship grew and expanded. They could not offer sacrifices so the place in worship where sacrifice had dominated in Israel was replaced by a reading and then an explanation of the law. We see this pattern in Neh 8:1-8 and then we see it in the New Testament when Jesus taught in the synagogue in Lk 4:16-30.
The time of the New Testament was a time of the fulfillment of many prophesies concerning Jesus. God had not spoken through prophets for 400 years. Earlier prophets had told of the coming of the Messiah. There were a number of things He was to do. One of them was to seal up vision and prophesy (Dan 9:24). That’s interesting given that God had been silent in that regard for the previous 400 years. Other prophets spoke of this function as well. (Zech 13:1-7)
However – the time prior to the closing of the canon of scripture (the finishing of the books of the Bible) was a period of revelation. It had been prophesied that a Prophet, Jesus, would come and tell us “all things.”(Dt 18:15-19) Jesus spoke these things to the apostles in John 15:15 even using the words “all things.” In John 14:6 he promised that the Holy Spirit would bring to the remembrance of the apostles “all things” that He had spoken and in addition would teach them “all things.”
Jn 16:13-16 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you (the disciples) into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” Following the resurrection Jesus equipped them - Jn 20:22 “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” The apostles were then to teach “all things” to those who would communicate that message to others “Mt 28:18-20.”
They were to authenticate that they were speaking for him by the use of “the signs of an apostle ….. in signs and wonders and mighty deeds…” (2 Cor 12:12). This was just like the Moses in the OT. He was given signs to convince both the Jews and Pharaoh that he was God’s spokesman. Moses complained that he was not eloquent – He could not communicate the message although he did understand it. In a method very similar to the interpretation of tongues – Aaron spoke for Moses.
If the prophet made an untrue prediction or spoke false doctrine – that person was to be executed (Dt 18:20-22). In New Testament times the prophets, apostles, and tongue speakers were declaring the “Mysteries” of God. We need to come to an understanding of just what this term means.
A mystery was something that was hidden or secret that was only made know by revelation. This mystery is said to be the gospel in all of its fullness. The gospel is so explained in scripture that it requires teachers to help us to see its greatness. The book of Hebrews shows how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies and the use of the term “mystery” is really explained in that book even though the term is not used. Salvation has always been by grace through faith in Christ. In the Old Testament they looked forward to the coming of Jesus. We now look back at his work on the cross. Both groups look forward to our eternity with him. Like the old musical we may well ask – “Who can ask for anything more!”
That “more” is the mystery! There are at least 2 really big aspects of that mystery that were made known only by Christ and the apostles and prophets in the first century. While believers in the time before Christ’s life on earth in bodily form looked forward to the Messiah, they did not fully understand how he was revealed in the scriptures that they had. Even the OT prophets knew this according to 1 Peter:
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.” 1 Peter 1:10-12
Just like those who did not have the ability to interpret for the good of the congregation the tongues (languages) in which they spoke, so the prophets in the Old Testament could not make their understanding fruitful in the sense of having a deeper understanding that came after the fuller revelation of Christ when he appeared. These prophets knew what they were saying. They often wrote it down, but their understanding of what they wrote was incomplete.
Tongue speakers in the New Testament knew what they were saying – it was a language. However, just like Moses they did not have the gift to communicate that message. That is why an interpreter was needed – just like Moses needed Aaron.
So what was the Mystery? It was at least 2 fold. God’s people before Christ knew that the kingdom of the Messiah would have some sort of effect on the gentiles. Here are a few examples:
· Simeon knew that the Messiah would be, “A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel." Lk 2:32
· The Psalmist even knew that the nations would be the inheritance of the Messiah, “Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession.” Ps 2:8
· Isaiah said that the Gentiles would see the light of the Messiah, “"THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES: THE PEOPLE WHO SAT IN DARKNESS HAVE SEEN A GREAT LIGHT, AND UPON THOSE WHO SAT IN THE REGION AND SHADOW OF DEATH LIGHT HAS DAWNED." Mt 4:15-16
Yet there was a “Mystery” – something that was not known apart from divine revelation during the time of Christ and the Apostles and Prophets, look at this:
“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Eph 2:11-22
This was amazing and the entire New Testament is a commentary of how Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel and that now instead of being an ethnically set apart people – the gospel made Jews and Gentiles one people – in Christ! He explains it again in Eph 3:1-7. This is an inescapable aspect of the gospel and certainly a Mystery that was understood only by revelation. The New Testament can’t be understood without it.
A second aspect of the gospel is the clarity with which Christ is revealed and his work explained. Hebrews describes Jesus as the fulfillment of what the Old Testament said was going to happen. Hebrews explains that the fulfillment was so much more than anything the people in the Old Testament could have imagined. This is truly a mystery – only God himself could reveal it – and he did it through the message of the Apostles and the Prophets:
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
Thus far we have seen that the time and work of the Messiah was discussed as early as the time of Moses. There was to be revelation during this time. Jesus used the Apostles and Prophets as his mouthpieces to accomplish what had been spoke of – the revelation of “all things.” This “all things “’ was the gospel and it included the person and work of Christ and the inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God. This was the “Mystery.”
There is yet more to this Mystery – and it is prophesied in Is. 28. Here is the passage:
1Co 14:21 “In the law it is written: "WITH MEN OF OTHER TONGUES AND OTHER LIPS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE; AND YET, FOR ALL THAT, THEY WILL NOT HEAR ME," says the Lord.”
God was going to bring judgment upon his people for their systematic violation of his covenant. He did it in a small perhaps typological way in the judgment on his people in the Old Testament. They were taken captive by Assyia/Babylon and they heard their captives speaking in a language that they did not understand. This is how God spoke to them – they heard the strange language and knew that the curse was upon them for rejecting God and his covenant.
This is repeated in1 Cor 14:26. God was once more fulfilling his covenant promise in that he was judging his people and they would hear language they did not know. This was the anti –typical full fulfillment of that curse because Is 28 is talking about Christ and the gospel - as being the ultimate full fulfillment of prophesy. Unbelieving Jews heard the preaching of the gospel by those untrained in the language that hearers across the empire knew. Doom was upon them. The temple fell in 70 AD and Israel as a country was over. The covenant of God was continued in the faithful of Israel and the believing gentiles. They were the New Temple. The gentiles were grafted into the fig tree of Israel and there was now a spiritual kingdom whose outward manifestation was not the kingdom of Israel but rather the church in it’s local, spiritual, and international composition.
So what about a “prayer language”? There are a few verses that, given a modern as opposed to the time between the resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem, understanding - might seem to point to the viability of a “prayer language.” Here they are:
1. 1Co 14:2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.
2. 1Co 14:4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
3. 1Co 14:14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
4. 1Co 14:27-28 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
5. 1Co 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
1. These are the verses. The first one 1 Cor 14:2 is determinative. “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” Whenever tongues are spoken the speaker is speaking of the mystery – hidden in the past – revealed as the person speaks of the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its fullness. There are no prayer requests or intercession being made. The speaker is proclaiming the Mystery. There is no Biblical way around this point. The only way around is to ignore this verse and rely on one’s own experience instead of scripture. I don’t recommend that.
2. In 1 Cor 14:4 “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” How does he edify himself if he does not understand? The apostle makes this argument for the church but it surely applies to the individual, “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.” 1Co 14:7-9
Did tongue speakers in the Bible know what they were saying? I think verses 7-9 demand that they did. It would be like the case of Moses and Aaron that I spoke of earlier, “Moses complained that he was not eloquent – He could not communicate the message although he did understand it. In a method very similar to the interpretation of tongues – Aaron spoke for Moses.” In a like manner – the understanding of the tongue speaker did not benefit the church apart from an interpreter – but he was speaking the mystery of the gospel!
This is also illustrated by 1 Pet 1:10-12 “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.”
The prophets of the Old Testament knew what they were saying. They must have in order to write them down. It’s just that they were describing things much like a cowboy in the 1800’s might describe a modern car. Their understanding was partial and did not become nearly as fruitful until the coming of Jesus.
3. 1Co 14:14 “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.” The previous section demonstrates that the unfruitfulness spoken of indicates that the message was unfruitful if not interpreted – not that it was not understood in some manner by the speaker.
4. 1Co 14:27-28 “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” This passage demonstrates how tongues were handled in the Church. They were handled just like Prophesy. They spoke in order and waited for an interpreter. If there was no interpreter the speaker was speaking the mystery of the gospel but only to God.
5. 1Co 13:1 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” It is often said that the prayer language falls in the category of “tongues of angels” a heavenly language. There are a couple of issues that seriously question this interpretation.
First, in order to be biblical tongues it must still be the mystery of the gospel that is spoken. There are no prayer requests going on here. People often say that they don’t even know what to pray for and that is what the prayer language is for. Paul, inspired by the Spirit expressly says, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Rom 8:26-27 We never pray the right way! We always need the Holy Spirit and He always meets that need – apart from tongues!
Secondly, The word used here for speak is the Greek word
“laleō”. It is used 295 times in the New Testament. Only here does anyone take it to mean prayer. I am aware of no Bible translating it to mean prayer. The normal word for prayer is “proseuchomai” and is used 87 times. I find this interesting.
Biblical tongues were spoken human languages. They were a sign of God’s judgment on the Jewish state. The tongue speaker spoke a revelatory message regarding the fullness of the gospel. In the time after 70 AD there is no more prophetic message for the people of Israel regarding their judgment for rejecting the covenant. Tongues were not then and are not now a prayer language.
Using a Targum:
Developed during exile
“to translate or explain” – like a paraphrase
Often was a chain of “proof texts”
Aramaic was the common lanquage
Neh 8:1-8 How it worked in public worship
Similar to 2 pulpits by puritans
Tongues were handled similarly I Cor 14:22-33