Christian History – Monarchianism, Montanism, and Speaking in Tongues (Part 2)

Please read Part One, or this will make no sense.


If we all keep speaking in our angel languages, then who will teach, who will prophesy, who will work miracles or healings? He names them because they exist as separate for each person, not some unified whole; everyone’s different, and gets different spiritual gifts as a result. And yet…

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

If you do ALL that stuff, express your spiritual gifts, and become a wonder worker for Christ, without love you may as well quit it. That’s the point and focus here.  If I have this ability and not love, I have nothing. Love is the defining characteristic of the Christian. God is love, Love is God; if I don’t have love, then how can I be a Christian!? This was what the Montanists miss: all the theatrics don’t amount to a hill of beans without grounding in God’s essential nature. That’s why, I would argue, that verses 8 and following actually show Paul telling of the coming end of such gifts:

Love never fails; but if there are gifts ofprophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

The “showy” gifts, as I would call them, will pass away when the perfect comes. I would wager Scripture gives us that knowledge that tongues and prophetic knowledge (in the sense of future predictions and Words from on high) ended when the Scriptures were written, came together, and brought us “the perfect”. That doesn’t mean we cannot interpret it wrong, or use it to justify the most heinous of acts, but the 66 books came together for a distinct reason. We have all that we need, so why try to gussy it up with all sorts of surface-level theatrics? We can go even further here with chapter 14, which describes the ultimate failing of most modern”tongues” enterprises: where is the interpreter?

Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. 4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.

Paul characterizes this rather negatively, and for good reason: rarely, if ever, do the words of a babbler help the Church. I have been in churches with interpreters, and they’ve been quite successful and wholly consistent with Scripture. That’s a rarity in today’s world, as the fun and excitement of random spiritual possession takes over cold, hard guidelines from Paul. I mean, seriously, are you up for discerning between spirits? Do you think you’ve got the ability to do that, even with your fallen nature? What would convince a Christian to even mess with such powers? I take 1 John 4 seriously on that tack, and so should we all.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is thespirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Everyone acts as if the Church, somehow, isn’t concerned with a rigorous and set standard for truth, and that we may vary on tiny incidental details. I am not one for such thinking because I have seen where it leads. How can a Church hope to unite in common cause when they do not believe in the same God with the same power? Perhaps I am thinking open theism, or “low” theistic thinking here (God isn’t all-powerful – what a world that would be to live in, huh?), but these are not concepts one could derive except through Scriptural writhing. It’s disingenuous to the text, if in fact it is sacred Scripture, to call one author’s ideas or another merely an opinion; why else would we keep this through the centuries if they were not believed?

Furthermore, tongues comes in a very specific format with very specific guidelines. Paul ensures that the Corinthians have this to discern true and false speakers of tongues, and we have not followed these mandates very well. It’s better than having a clanging gong sound and no one able to discern its ultimate meaning, right? I must say the metaphor Paul uses seems unerringly clear, yet I’ve never heard a single person who speaks in tongues regularly (or what appears as such, anyway) to cite chapter 14 in any way.

6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? 7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.

13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

Tongues lacks bene t to the whole community, even though it may help the self. This is pride, and we all know where that takes us! There’s a reason why the earliest Christians felt pride was such a dangerous sin – it pits me against God, makes me superior to the creator of the universe. Tongues, more than any other gift, truly provides such an opportunity to puff one’s self up. It’s dangerous at its most ineffectual, and hence why I (and, apparently, Paul) think this way about it. But if you must, take verse 27 and the following seriously:

26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; 28 but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • This post is a little confusing. At one point, you seem so say “tongues stopped when the bible was done.” Then you go on to seem to say “tongues with interpretation is okay.” And then you end it with “self-edifying tongues (one of at least 3 kinds of tongues) is prideful and takes us you know where.”

    So which is it?

    Tongues for today, yea or nay?

    If yea, self-edifying tongues is bad and unprofitable?

    • Zachery Oliver

      Well, I am not one to limit God in this respect. It appears to me that those kinds of gifts rarely, if ever, happen in the same way as the early Church. Plenty of denominations differ so wildly on this, so I was making some caveats.

      However, when and if they do appear (as obviously they have…somewhere), there’s rather clear guidelines to deal with it. Does it edifying the self? Is that person saying anything of substance? Will this edify the body? Those are the concerns. Then you need multiple witnesses AND an interpreter. In other words, you might think of it as getting rid of all the outliers and making the real thing stand in stark contrast to people faking it.

      That’s more what I was going for.

      • Still not clear on where you stand. I guess that’s the point?

        • Zachery Oliver

          To put it straight: I don’t think tongues happen often, but when they do, it’s a extraordinary case rather than a common thing due to the specific guidelines listed above.

          • So, no prayer languages, then?

          • Zachery Oliver

            I would imagine this would not fall under the rubric set in Paul’s writings.

          • But verse 14 says you can pray in a tongue. This self-edification is for the benefit of the body as after I pray in tongues, my spirit is refreshed and ready for the work of ministry. I’m more alive in God and can follow-through with whatever God has for me. This is not new or atypical. This is what Paul was correcting the Corinthians for using in their gatherings like a bunch of stupid show offs. It makes sense that this text is in the bible so we at least have some understanding from the Bible on what it is. But since its corrective, the text also seems to confuse Baptists and cause them to feel the need to correct folks on the subject (or at least that’s my experience) regardless of whether they actually understand what the Bible says on the matter. In the case of my wife’s family, they don’t go to church or read their bibles and certainly aren’t specialists on love. But man do they hate tongues and churches that use it.

            Anyway, there’s many kinds of tongues (as Jesus says in the tail end of Mark) that his disciples will speak in. Acts 2 languages known by the hearers. Acts 10 tongues where Cornelius and the Gentiles spoke in tongues and praised God (everyone present knew Greek and Aramaic, so there was no need for the Acts 2 stuff). Acts 14 is where we see tongues being used in tandem with prophecy for the first time). And in 1 Cor 14, Paul talks about prophetic tongues for the church (with interpreters). Prayer tongues would either be a fifth use or as I see it, in line with tongues and praising God. Or rather one in the same. Paul implies that we can speak in tongues of angels, if that’s not praising God, I don’t know what else an angel would have to say.

          • Zachery Oliver

            Still, isn’t that a bit strange? I could claim, at any point, that I am speaking in tongues in private. That’s all well and good, but at the same time could easily come off as a boast. I have seen this in many church contexts, I assure you, and any time someone brings up the “private prayer language”, it makes an awkward mess of the room. It might be edifying in a group where everybody’s doing it…but then everyone’s doing it, and then it’s not a unique occurrence but a common place thing.

            I think that’s the context of the Corinthian example. Not only does it describes tongues in the specific sense you mention in a negative light, but it is literally the ONLY epistle that mentions tongues. It seems that the “angel language” tongues was a particular doctrinal/practical problem of the Corinthians Church, and this is why Paul had to address it in this sense.

            Why else ask for an interpreter or anything to that effect, right? He knew that something wrong was going on; people were claiming the gift without understanding its use. They had not seen the earlier tongues speaking (or had failed to remember that it was speaking multiple languages simulatenously). Remember, this was prior to when Acts was written, and the early Church only had letters and heresay, so tongues could be rife for ecstatic abuse rather than its traditional Scriptural use as speaking in many languages simultaneously (more on that in a bit).

            Furthermore, what exactly does tongues do that ordinary language does not? Perhaps it can edify the body, but ambiguous feelings and refreshment seem a bit tedentious a base to make for the use of tongues. The Pentecost example always made sense to me as a sign, the others not so much. Too much room for weird events, doctrines, errors, bad spirits, etc. Like a Pharisee, I suppose I want to put a hedge around it precisely because of the means of abuse. And I imagine that’s why Paul did the same thing. Clanging symbols do not make good music when played all at the same time 🙂

            I could cite some further evidence for that case, noting that Paul stayed in Corinth for a YEAR AND A HALF to resolve the problem (Acts 18:18-23, Acts 19:1, if the timeline appears correct). The Corinthians Christians were already known for quarrelling among themselves about Christian doctrines, and Paul meant to set them straight. Paul speaks to this context, true, but he also speaks to us as well: how should we run our Churches, and what should we believe? These are not opinions, but ways to set us straight. Of course, we do not know whether modern tongue speaking or anything modern churches do is like the Corinthians, but it certainly applies if done for the same reasons.

            As far as I know, there’s nearly no scholarly dispute that every mention of tongues in Acts refers to known languages. That’s not necessarily a proof in itself, but it is rather amazing that people could amass so willingly on that point. I would also note that Mark 16:9-20 is heavily questioned by scholars, who believe that later manuscripts basically plopped this addendum into the narrative so it fit more in line with other Gospels as the Scriptures began to be compiled.

            To be a little more exhaustive: It would appear that, contextually, the appearance of tongues in Acts 10 was a sign similar to Pentecost as the Christian faith spread out of its Judaic origins. This is confirmed by looking at Acts 11, where Peter describes the experience right then and there to other converts. I specifically mean verse 15:

            11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.

            If it were an extraordinary case, I imagine we could say it’s different, but then Peter goes right up and says otherwise. Plus, Peter wasn’t a Roman citizen, but Paul was, so perhaps we could see it as a miraculous confirmation in that light. There are many ways to look at it, but definitely not in the sense beforehand.

            I can’t find anything related to tongues in Acts 14. Are you sure you don’t mean Acts 19? I would wager that’s the only one that just says “tongues and prophesying” at the same time, but given the weight of the other evidence presented, how else could we view it except in the sense listed previously in the very same book? An author is rarely inconsistent, especially a doctor/teacher like Luke. I could also list the innumerable times when people were converted and tongues did not come upon them as well, so it seems a specialized case, all said.

          • Right, Mark’s last bits are a controversy. And I did mean Acts 19 (I suck at numerical references).

            And I did completely oppose unknown tongues due to a variety of initial wacky experiences and the instruction of a Fundie Baptist girlfriend’s dad. I argued until blue in the face with folks who are in my now-church. But then I had an experience that I couldn’t deny. And I didn’t want to stop it because it resulted in a supernatural tie-in to God’s Spirit. I was filled-up with his love and I didn’t want to abandon it. I found the whole thing kinda problematic at first – especially with a Fundie Baptist girlfriend. And it didn’t help that her dad came after me about it: “I’ve been refuting tongues for 25 years and all of what you’re saying about how you experienced it is a-typical.” I just told him that when I opened up to 1 Cor 12 and 14, it made sense. And also, helped me fall in love with the Scriptures.

            To this day, I can find that a lot of when I’m spiritually downtrodden and lukewarm is a direct result of my lack of overall intimacy with the father. Yes, reading the bible is good. Yes, addressing Papa in prayer is powerful. But something about engaging in tongues helps draw me out of depression or spiritual ickyness that makes me willing to defend the practice quite vigorously (regardless of whether or not I can change anybody’s mind – which I don’t believe I can).

          • Zachery Oliver

            Hard to argue with personal experience, you know? Not that I deny yours at all, but I just haven’t found a way that lines up with Scripture.

            Now, from what I can tell, yours seems to be an entirely different case; I think it’s more as a safeguard for those who could (and do, even now) abuse such a thing.

            That’s where I come from, I suppose.