Languages (A)

In the New Testa­ment there are four recorded cases when men and women spoke in each of these cases, we can clearly define the meaning of tongues and the purpose of the gift in the context of the evangelistic work of the early disciples.

A. Languages spoken in Jerusalem:

On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13, Jews and proselytes to Judaism from every nation of the Roman Empire were gathered in Jerusalem (At 2:9-11). The apostles were in an upper room in Jerusalem on this day when the Holy Spirit came upon them. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit and began to “speak with other tongues [glossais], as the Spirit gave them utterance” (At 2:4). Verse 6 states that “everyone heard them speak in his own language [dialekto].” Those who were present asked about what was happening, “and how is it that we hear, each in our own language [dialekto] in which we were born?” (At 2:8). They also stated, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues [glossais] the wonderful works of God (At 2:11). If one would simply read these verses without reading into them any modern-day ecstatic gibberish sounds, then we would clearly understand that Luke was describing a miraculous endowment of speaking in languages that was received by the apostles when they were baptized in the Spirit.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to speak in the languages of the people who were present. The people heard them speak in their own dialects the wonderful works of God. The people understood what was being said by the apostles because they said they did.

Luke records that they heard the apostles speaking the wonderful works of God. Therefore, the apostles were not speaking gibberish sounds because of some emotional state of hysteria. They were not speaking some language that was unknown to those who were present. They were speaking the wonderful works of God in the languages of the people who were present.

There is nothing difficult about understanding that the apostles miraculously received the ability from the Holy Spirit to speak the gospel on this occasion in “new languages” (Mk 16:17) to those who were present. They had not studied these languages in which they spoke. Therefore, we would conclude that the reason for the gift of languages for the apostles was evangelistic for the day. People from throughout the Roman Empire were present, many of whom spoke many different languages and dialects. These people needed to hear the wonderful works of God.

In the context of Acts 2, Luke used two different Greek words in reference to the languages that were spoken. The Greek word glossa is used in the plural (glossais) in verses 3,4,11 and 26. This word refers to a known foreign language. It is used in this manner in the context of these passages. The apostles were not speaking a language that was unknown to man. They were speaking known foreign languages that were new to them, for they had never before studied these languages. But the languages were not new to those who came from the areas where the languages were spoken. The people could have never discerned that they were speaking of the wonderful works of God if they did not understand the languages that the apostles used to explain these works.

In verse 4 the apostles “began to speak with other tongues [glossais], as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The tongues here are defined in verse 11 where the word glossais is used again. “We hear them speaking in our own tongues [glossais] the wonderful works of God.” Therefore, it is certain that the apostles were speaking in the languages of the people who were present from every nation. They were speaking languages that could be understood.

The Greek word dialektos is used in verses 6 and 8. This term can refer to either a dialect or language. It was used in this manner in the context of Acts 2. Those from every nation who heard and saw the apostles preaching, stated, “And how is it that we hear, each in our own language [dialekto] in which we were born?” Not only were the apostles speaking in the languages of the people who were present, they were also speaking in the dialects of the languages of the people.

A mother language may have several dialects that are unique to regions other than where a mother language is spoken. What seems to be indicated in the context of Acts 2 is that the apostles not only spoke the mother languages, but also the regional dialects of the mother languages. This fact may be what truly stimulated the curiosity of those who heard. They could not understand how these Galileans could fluently speak in their dialects.

From the use of the above two Greek words in the same context, it is evident that in some way Luke used glossa and dialektos interchan­greably. Dialektos was used in verses 6 and 8. Glossa was used in verses 4 and 11. Both of these words were actually used by the people in the context that Luke records. In other words, the audience used these two words interchan­geably in the context. Therefore, we would understand that these were synonymous words in the culture when used in reference to spoken languages. At least we must conclude that the people not only heard their languages spoken (glossa), but they also heard the derivatives of their languages (dialects) spoken.

The miracle of the apostles speaking in languages was magnified in the sense that the Spirit not only inspired languages to be spoken, He also inspired all the dialects of the mother languages to be spoken.

The Jews in Acts 2 came from areas where hysterical (or, ecstatic) gibberish was undoubtedly practiced among idolatrous religions. However, when they came to Jerusalem and experienced the events of Acts 2, they recognized that the languages that the apostles spoke were the languages of their homelands. The apostles were not speaking hysterical nonsense. They were speaking the actual languages of the people who were present. The proclamation of those who heard on the day of Pentecost proves that the “tongues” that the apostles spoke were languages.

In Acts 2:13 Luke recorded, “Others mocking said, ‘They are full of new wine.’” This statement has been used by some to affirm that the apostles were actually speaking in gibberish sounds that sounded like men who were drunk. But this was not the case.

We must keep in mind that the apostles were speaking in different languages. Those from Parthia would not have understood the language that was spoken by those from Libya. Those from Galilee, who knew that the apostles were from Galilee, would likewise not understand either of the languages of those from Parthia and Egypt. To them, the apostles’ speaking in any other language than what they understood would only sound like men who were drunk. And drunk men speak gibberish sounds. Therefore, the irreverent mockers dismissed as drunken the apostles who were speaking in a language that they did not understand.

This event of the apostles’ speaking in “tongues” on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 becomes the dictionary to define the rest of the New Testament when “tongues” are discussed. This is a consistent manner by which we must allow the Bible to interpret itself. Therefore, when we come to the next three records of miraculous speaking in languages, we must understand these biblical contexts from the commentary text of Acts 2.

[Next in series: Oct. 16]

Ghost In The Night

I was recently and unpleasantly startled as those disciples on a stormy Sea of Galilee when Jesus came wandering to them on water between the lashing waves of the night. As those disciples were shocked, I too thought I saw a ghost in the night.

It had been a very long day that began when I was rudely interrupted from my dreams at 4:00am. But after the toil of another long day, the stars of the night were finally about to twinkle on as I prepared to relinquish my labored body to another moment of sweet solitude in the midst of another enchanting forest of trees.

The pestering monkeys of that far away location had finally given up their relentless raid on my exposed food in the back of the White Rhino (my truck). They had deviously cheated me out of some of my precious vitals because I had carelessly left my window open. But now everything was calm. The monkey wars were over and I was now alone in order to shut down a nervous system that had experienced too much in a single day for an old man.

The firmament of the heavens had now darkened. The wondrous canopy of twinkling stars now began their majestic performance in the absence of the sun, with the cheering audience of the moon and myself in attention. So as I shuffled this and that as an encircling mother animal preparing her nest for her little ones for the night, I glanced to my left and briefly noticed a “white tree stump” at a near distance. It was there in the dim light that only heavenly bodies can provide. In the moment, I thought nothing of the mysterious apparition, but wondered why a tree stump would give a dim glow of appearance in the night. Nevertheless, I took no more notice of the supposed imagination, and carried on with my nest preparations. I had already subconsciously cuddled up in a sleeping bag, ready for another adventure into the dreamland of sleep.

Once I had assured myself that I could nestle comfortably and safely in my nest, I again noticed that unusual “white tree stump.” I had not notice it there when I first parked amidst the trees of this newly discovered forest camp. Nevertheless, my curiosity took over. So I focused through the imposing night with an intense stare. The natural thing to do when one stares so intensely through aged eyes is to hunker down and focus. And then . . . I got the fright of my life. The “white tree stump” also hunkered down and stared back at me.

Now my heart was racing. Muscles tensed. Stomach knotted. I had long forgotten the slumber of a long day. I was shocked into a sudden reality that this was a creature! It was a creature in the night that had been standing off over there for some time, just observing cautiously my every move, possibly making some plan for attack.

A revengeful “ghost monkey” flashed through my vivid imagination, thinking that the illusive creature was going to lay claim to my settlement as soon as I dozed off into dreamland. With all the self-control that I could muster up for the moment, I held back doing what those disciples did centuries ago when they thought that they saw a ghost on the stormy Sea of Galilee. They cried out! My outcry was strenuously contained by a vocal system that had now gone dead for fright.

But then after assessing that my kitchen-utensil weapons and strategy would lead to conquest because the night creature was smaller than me, I concluded that I could overpower it by suffering only a few scratches and bites here and there in our mortal confrontation. So with very cautious steps, and cooking weapons in hand, I eased toward this ghost creature of the night whom I would fiend off from my settlement.

But then, something very unsettling happened. The ghostly “tree stump” also advanced by taking a step toward me. Even more frightening, and what seemed to be a two-edged sword, flipped up behind the advancing creature.

What could I do? I stopped breathing and prepared for a mortal conflict between a razor sharp two-edged sword and my dull cooking utensils. But then for a moment, we both stopped dead in our own tracks. In my mind I concluded that we both were waiting for an attack to come from the opposite party. But then again, the night creature commenced to enter into the war zone for conflict by moving forward. My mind was running wild. My knuckles whiten around my cooking weapons.

But then out of the silence of the night in this enchanted forest, I heard a familiar sound that totally disarmed me. It was the purring of a cat. As the ghost creature in the night cautiously approached closer, it was as if a thousand muscles in my body settled into tranquil neutrality. I was overcome with rejoicing and relief after being disarmed from a possible mortal confrontation with some creature of the wild. The mysterious creature was a ginger-colored “camp cat” who had flipped up his “two-edged” tale, not a sword in order to engage in conflict, but in peace talks. With his tale, he simply wanted to signal to me that we both should engage one another in peace.

I wondered what was going through his own mind as he too stood tense at a distance and surveyed the two-legged “night creature” who had invaded his settlement. After observing the nonthreatening behavior of this two-legged creature, he had first decided to stand at a distance in the night until the two-legged creature could reveal his intentions. And then, he took on the challenge of changing me. He came close, just as Jesus came close to me in order to transform the hostility of my ways into His ways.

It seems that I cannot make a long story short about this chance encounter in the night between two creatures of God in a far away forest. That cat knew how to draw out of me every ounce of affection I had to offer for animals. He drew righteousness out of me towards animals. In order to do this, he just came as close as possible. He threw himself down at my feet, and washed my feet with the silk of his cozy fir. I melted in response to the gesture of His affection. I could only lean down and scratch a head that could not show enough affection for me. He was the opposite of the character of the monkeys who could only think of what they could come and take. This curious cat only wanted to come and give his affection. What he received in response was only the serendipity of his affection.

So laying aside the kitchen weapons of my imagined carnal warfare, I had to return the favor for his affection. Jesus has washed my feet so many times, I cannot stop living in gratitude. Somehow I just keep looking for dirty feet. I keep loving because He keeps loving me.

Jesus did not stand at a distance and wish for me to respond with love. It was as John said, “We love because He first loved us.” There is nothing more powerful to stir love in our hearts than to see someone at our feet with a towel.

It was then that I remembered the words of my mother, words that she said more than once throughout my early years on the farm. “A righteous man regards the life of his animal.” And for the night in that far away camp forest, that ghostly cat was my God-provided animal. I began to understand what my mother sought to teach her children with these precious words of Solomon. That cat drew out of me righteousness, that is, doing right in reference to one’s animal.

When we begin to understand that God so loved the world that He sent His beloved Son into a dark world of “sinful animals,” where there was no one worth such a love offering, it is then that we seek to emulate the same righteousness for any creature who is beneath us. The righteous man passes on the affection (love) that was extended toward him through the incarnational offering of the Son of God on the cross. As God regarded our life, so we regard the life of any animal.

So on that night I regarded my animal, a camp cat that had yearned for affection as I yearned for God’s love. That cat was no different than ourselves in reference to the loving grace of God. Throughout the night until I bedded down in my nest, he simply stayed as close as possible to my affection. He continued to roll on his back at my feet, awaiting any generous scratching that I might relish upon him. And finally, after a shared morsel of food for the night, I tucked myself comfortably away for my expected coma. As I lay down my head, I then wondered where my animal might go for the night.

After some time in dreamland, the first tweet of a morning bird signaled that the stars had given way to the rising sun that brought on another day. I looked outside my cocoon window and saw that the rising sun said I had had enough sleep. It was time to accomplish more for Him in the blessing of another day.

After morning prayer in bed for an hour or so, I began to wonder where my animal had rested for the night. That question did not linger long in my mind when I saw my animal come stretching out from under my vehicle. He had made his bed for the night under the vehicle of the one who had returned loving affection for him. That is what love does. We gravitate to those who hold dirty towels that have washed our feet.

So my animal resumed his normal unpretentious pose . . . sitting off over there at a distance, observing my preparation for my breakfast of coffee and porridge that I prepared for myself from my own food supply. The kettle steamed, the coffee was prepared, and the porridge was mixed in my bowl. My animal just sat there and observed all my narcissistic preparation for myself.

And then I had to surrender as my Lord surrendered for me. I had an extra bowl and milk. So into the bowl the milk was shared. I made only a glance at my animal, and he immediately came running to my love offering. He submerged himself in the milk with lapping that echoed throughout the trees. I likewise indulged myself in my bowl of porridge. We ate together.

I felt good about having regard for my animal that God had provided for me for the night. Whether a test, or just coincidence, my mother’s repetition of Solomon’s words throughout my young life continued to ring in my memory: “A righteous man regards the life of his animal.” That ghost in the night extracted righteousness out of me. He was a stranger that now had become a friend. I envisioned heading down the road toward home with a two-edged ginger tail dangling out the back window.

Something happened on that morning that reminded me of all those selfish prayers that I had already uttered. I just kept asking God for this and that. I asked for a safe day of travel. I asked for opportunities to preach Jesus. I asked to bless or protect this person and that person. I asked Him to bless the mission that I was struggling to complete. I asked without end.

After my animal scarfed down the milk of blessing in his bowl, he look up at me with those squinted eyes, that could only mean one thing: “Please, my bowl is empty.” I looked into his desperation, wondering where he would ever get his next meal. That slightly titled head and squinting eyes broke down every power of resistance that I could muster. I relinquished.

I looked into my bowl that was still half full of porridge, looked at him, and then said, “You ask for my porridge also?” I knew his reply. It was by now as if there was a mental path of telepathy between two of us.

So I stooped down, scratched his head to draw again that precious purring, and then set down the remainder of my bowl of porridge before him. What else could I have done? I just think God invented purring to soften the hearts of those who have little regard for animals.

I am sometimes embarrassed because I keep asking, and asking, and asking God for so much. But the incredible thing that I try to comprehend is that He keeps setting down porridge before me. I keep purring through prayers of thanksgiving, and He keeps putting before me exceedingly, abundantly more than what I expect or deserve. “Thank you, Jesus.”

My response to His security is as those relieved disciples of Jesus on that now calm sea. Jesus entered into their boat, and only that which is natural, happened, “They worshiped Him.”

Christians Only

My wife and I were peacefully sitting in a local restaurant about to be served breakfast which was our treat for the week. So before the food was served, we engaged in our customary behavior to offer thanksgiving for the food that was soon to be served. The restaurant was only the vehicle through whom God would serve to us our food for the day. So hand in hand, we prayed together.

In our minds, others who were in the restaurant at the time just became invisible while we engaged with our Father in thanksgiving for what was about to be set before us. It was as if we were alone at the moment of intercession. The rest of the occupants of the restaurant did not exist.

And then arrived the blessing of the occasion … the steaming hot food. As the waitress, who had witnessed our prayer, set the plates before us, she asked, “Are you Christians?” We simply responded, “Yes, just Christians. That’s all.” That answer invoked a series of requests on her part. She asked these two strangers to offered prayers for her family. As a mother of three, she was in desperate need of supplications for herself, two small children, and one teenager.

It is for this reason that we stand for being known as Christians only. That label was good enough for the Holy Spirit to tag the early disciples (See At 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pt 4:16). So we will stick with the same. We seek to be Christians only without some label for ourselves, or some unique sign post for those with whom we sit on the first day of the week. We are all just Christians. We are not “A” Christians, or “B” Christians, or even “C & D” Christians. We are Christians after Christ. Please don’t tag a label on our Christianity.

The restaurant encounter reminded Martha and myself again what it means to present ourselves before the world as just being Christians, without the shroud of some religious institution. In the midst of a religious world that has invented every imaginable name under which adherents would hang their religion, we have chosen to exalt Christ alone by being known to identify ourselves to be simply “of Christ.” This is gospel business. In doing this we are focusing on and exalting Christ, not on ourselves or some favorite religious sect, or common religious heritage. We choose to focus exclusively on Christ, not on some man, some movement, some doctrine, or some imagination of men that would huddle individual adherents under the banner of a particular sect that maintains a common traditional heritage.

When Paul wanted to encourage the frightened Christians in Rome that they were not alone in their stand for Christ, he did not refer, as some would today, to a particular religious institution that was identified by some favorite name of man. He simply wanted the Christians in Rome to know that the “churches of Christ” sent their greetings to them (Rm 16:16). He gave them no “brand name” reference that would bring them comfort in a time of isolation in the seat of Christian persecution. Neither did he seek to give a unique name to all those who had obeyed the gospel of Christ. He simply wanted the Christians in Rome to know that there were Christians meeting everywhere under the name of Christ alone.

If we would be literal in our interpretation of his encouragement after mentioning several groups meeting in homes throughout Rome, then we would justly translate the Greek word ekklesia (“assemblies”) to be used in the common era of the times. Those in Rome thought that they were alone in meeting for Christ in the seat of Roman government, and a center of Nero’s persecution of Christians. So Paul wanted the disciples in Rome to know that there were assemblies for Christ throughout the Roman Empire. They were indeed not alone.

What is strikingly different today is that if some would presume to write a letter of encouragement to a group of persecuted Christians, they would probably state that there were people assembling under the name of a Jewish feast day—Pentecost—who send their greetings. Others would possibly write that there are people assembling under the name of a favorite doctrine, or methodology, or even a favorite personality. Some would even try to encourage the persecuted in Rome by saying that they were assembling under a sign post outside their building that glorified themselves. And to emphasize their point, they would refer to themselves as either “first,” or “second,” or “full.”

But the Holy Spirit did not resort to such sectarian misdirection. He directed the hand of Paul to encourage the Christians in Rome that there were others throughout the Empire who were assembling under the name of Christ alone. And that is good enough for us. When people observe us in public, we want to be identified to be of Christ only, not people who have institutionalized as a unique sect under the name of Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos (See 1 Co 1:12,13). We were not baptized into the name of any man, neither was any man crucified on our behalf. So when the world observes our gospel behavior, we do not want them to feel that we have ulterior motives. We seek to exalt Christ alone.

Therefore, we will absolutely not allow ourselves to be called after any man, or Jewish feast day, or unique doctrine, or unique history, or whatever. If you don’t mind, we will be called after Christ, which means that we will be known as Christians only. So don’t try to pigeonhole us with some sect. That by which we allow ourselves to be called reveals whether we are of the gospel of Christ . . . or not. We are not brand-name disciples of Christ. We are Christians only. Therefore, when people see us living the gospel of Christ, they will inquire concerning our hope, knowing that they are not going to be converted to some religious institution.