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THE GIFT OF LANGUAGES
(Speaking in other languages)
(Acts 2:1-12 & 1 Corinthians 14:13-19)
Strangely, it has always been a matter of considerable debate, just what the Apostle Paul means by “speaking in tongues”. In chapters 12-14 of his first letter to the Corinthians, he uses the Greek expression “glossa” (gloce-sah) 21 times for “Tongues” and it is by definition “the organ in one’s mouth that is used primarily for taste and speech”, and, it is “a learned spoken language or dialect, not naturally acquired”.
“Ecstatic (emotional) utterances (statements)”, otherwise known as “speaking in tongues” is non-sense utterances that have no possible interpretation, not even by the person who speaks them, and, is of no spiritual value, or no apparent spiritual benefit, to anyone who hears it. It finds its origins in the ancient pagan prophetesses known as “sibyls”, or “sibylla”. One sibyl in particular, the “Cumaean Sibyl”, was the most famous of the ten pagan sibyls in and around the Roman Empire in the first century. She was the priestess who presided over the Apollonian Oracle at Cumae, an important Greek colony located near Naples, Italy.
The word “sibyl” comes from the ancient Greek word “sibylla”, which means “prophetess”. Because of the importance of the Cumaean Sibyl’s position in the legends of early Rome (it is even codified in “Virgil's Aeneid VI”), she became the most famous of all the ten pagan sibyls in the Roman Empire prior to the first century and beyond.
These sibyls were believed, even by medieval Christians, to prophesy through the use of “ecstatic utterances” and thereby, they even began to gain spiritual weight and respect in the Christian Church of the first century. Their “Sibylline Oracles” sometimes called the "pseudo-Sibylline Oracles" are a collection of “oracular utterances” written in Greek hexameters, ascribed to the Sibyls, who uttered so-called divine revelations “while in a frenzied emotional state”. Fourteen books and eight fragments of Sibylline Oracles survive today. These collections of utterances have been composed or edited under various circumstances, probably between the 2nd and 6th centuries AD.
The Sibylline Oracles are a valuable source for information about “Classical mythology” and early first century Gnostic, Jewish, and Christian beliefs. Some apocalyptic passages scattered throughout these oracles seem to give “sketchy outlines” of the Apostle John's Book of Revelation, and other Apocalyptic literature. These oracles have undergone extensive editing, re-writing, and redaction as they came to be exploited in wider and wider circles as the years went by.
The satanic demon spirit behind ecstatic utterances is called “Cybele” (sounds the same as “sibyl”) known as “Magna Mater”, or, “The Great Mother” in Roman religion. The Roman State adopted and developed a particular form of her cult after the Sibylline oracle of Cumae recommended her conscription as a key religious component in Rome's second war against Carthage.
Later Roman mythographers channeled this demon up as a Trojan goddess, and thus an ancestral goddess of the Roman people by way of the Trojan prince Aeneas. With Rome's eventual military and political dominance over the Mediterranean world, Romanized forms of “Cybele's cults” spread throughout the Roman Empire. The meaning and morality of her “transgender” cults and priesthoods were topics of debate and dispute throughout ancient Greek and Roman literature, and remains so, even in modern scholarship.
The Apostle Paul was very much aware of the pagan sibyl’s influence in the Christian Church in its infancy, mostly through the work of “Gnostics” and antichrist Jews, and he knew that the Corinthians may have thought of ecstatic utterances as a spiritual gift from GOD. That is why in this first letter to the Corinthians, we find Paul using the word “glossa” 21 times between chapters 12-14 to demonstrate, and accentuate, the difference between “a learned language or dialect” (those gifts or abilities that come from GOD), and the “mumble jumble” emotional utterances of the pagan sibyls.
Nowhere in its biblical use, or its Greek or English definition does the word “glossa” or “tongue” refer to “ecstatic speech”, not in any of Paul’s letters (used only three other times outside of 1 Corinthians), and, not when used anywhere else in the New Testament. Whether it is used “literally” of the physical organ (Mark 7:33, James 3:5, Revelations 16:10), or “figuratively” of human languages (Acts 2:11, Revelations 5:9, 7:9, 10:11, 11:9, 13:7, 14:6, & 17:15) the word is always the same.
What Paul is saying in verse two of this chapter of 1 Corinthians 14, is that, if a person were sitting in a Church assembly in France, for instance, and everyone in the assembly spoke in the French language except that person, then, if that one person was to stand up and start speaking in, say, the German tongue, no one would be able to understand them but GOD.
And while that person, who may be gifted to teach in more than one language, or, “tongue”, and, could be uttering something that may be totally GODly and spiritual, it wouldn’t be of benefit to anyone in the assembly because none of them are gifted in the German dialect. They simply would not be able to comprehend what the, more gifted, person were saying, as it would sound to them like “utter non-sense” or “mumble jumble” (1 Corinthians 14:2).
However, one who has the gift of prophecy, which is a “Spiritual gift”, is helping people grow in the LORD, encouraging them, and comforting them (v.3). The person who speaks in various tongues, a “learned gift”, through GOD-given intellectual capabilities”, is only strengthened “personally” in the LORD, while one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire Church (v.4).
In verse 5 Paul says, “I wish you all had the gift of speaking in tongues, but even more I wish you were all able to prophesy. For prophecy is a greater and more useful gift than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so the whole church can get some good out of it”. Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in tongues, how would that help you? But if I bring you some revelation or some special knowledge or some prophecy or some teaching, that is what will help you (NLT).
Paul himself spoke in various tongues, in fact, the bible tells us that he was able to speak and write in at least three different languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. However, he tells us in verses 9-12 that “If you talk to people in a language they don’t understand, how will they know what you mean? You might as well be talking to an empty room. There are many different languages in the world, and all are excellent for those who understand them, but to me they mean nothing. I will not understand people who speak those languages, and they will not understand me. Since you are all so eager to have spiritual gifts, ask GOD for those that will be of real help to the whole church (NLT).
Languages that are interpreted can benefit the assembly (Acts 19:6) as well as prophesy, therefore, the gift of interpretation should be requested from GOD also. This means that someone independent of the person, who is speaking a different language, must be present and able to interpret what that person is saying to the assembly, not just the person themselves (v.13).
Gifts are not given by GOD, so much for personal use, as they are for use in helping others, and building them up. “Personal edification” is something that should be a by-product, or a result, that is reserved for someone who has shared their gift to help better the Christian community as a whole. Personal edification should not be a result of one helping himself, or taking advantage of others.
Some people try to make a distinction between the word “tongues” in this epistle, and the use of the word “tongues” in the book of Acts on Pentecost Day. However, there is no difference as the same Greek term “glossa” is used in both instances. The only difference is that the HOLY SPIRIT acted on several people on that Pentecost day, giving them special supernatural abilities to instantly communicate in other languages that was not their own, for the benefit of the many foreigners who were in Jerusalem at that time, and, who spoke in many different languages.
GOD wanted everyone in attendance that day, regardless of their native tongue, to participate in, and to understand the significance of this “distinctive act”, where HE first allowed HIS HOLY SPIRIT to embody all those who choose to believe in CHRIST JESUS.
Paul says in this particular passage of the book of Acts, that unbelievers view “strange tongues” as being some sort of a sign, while believers are not of that opinion (v.22). In order for unbelievers to become convicted of their sins, they must hear the Gospel in their own native languages before they can begin to comprehend the things of GOD.
The Word of GOD should convict and condemn by what it says to us personally, and it can’t do that unless it is first understood by those who hear and see it. However, among those who see, hear, and understand the Word, their secret thoughts are laid bare, and they can then, fall to their knees and worship GOD with their whole heart, as they should.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website