Do All Speak in Tongues?

January 21, 2016

Is it necessary to speak in tongues to be saved or to be spiritual? Is speaking in tongues the expected universal experience of all Christians? Is there a way to answer these questions? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, although it may be difficult to see for the English reader because it involves a question of Greek grammar.

The NASB actually addresses the Greek grammar issue in its preface: “In the rendering of negative questions introduced by the particle mē (which always expects the answer “No”) the wording has been altered from a mere, “Will he not do this?” to a more accurate, “He will not do this, will he?” Greek has two negatives and ou, which mean no or not. When a question begins with , the author or speaker expects a negative answer. When a question begins with ou, the author or speaker expects a positive answer.1 The NASB handles the question in 1 Corinthians 12:30 this way: “All do not speak with tongues, do they?” The NASB translators are expecting the English reader to connect this construction with their statement in the preface and realize that the question expects the answer of no.

The NET handles these verses in a similar way:

Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform miracles, do they? Not all have gifts of healing, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret, do they? (1 Corinthians 12:29–30, NET)

However, NET places a footnote at the end of verse 30, which reads: “The questions in vv. 29–30 all expect a negative response.” I think the footnote makes this clearer for the English reader, and I’m glad that it is there. The NET often has helpful translation information in its footnotes.

Several functional equivalent translations attempt to make the passage clear using other methods. The NLT renders the questions in a simple form: “Are we all apostles? … Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages?” However, the NLT concludes the series of questions with the answer: “Of course not!” (1 Corinthians 12:30). The New Century Version and the Common English Version restructure the questions into statements: “Not all speak in different languages” (NCV) and “Not everyone can speak different kinds of languages” (CEV). All of these are attempts to make explicit to the English reader what the Greek reader would have clearly seen.

Is it necessary to speak in tongues to be saved or to be spiritual? Paul’s answer is no.

1A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, §427(2).

The Accumulative Effect

January 12, 2016

Have you ever tried to catch a snow flake? How small and ephemeral they are! They touch your hand and quickly melt away. But before they do, we glimpse their intricate and wondrous crystalline patterns. How small is a single snow flake! Yet put them all together in a snowstorm—there’s an accumulative effect. Such small things can bring the hustle and bustle of daily life to a grinding (or should I say sliding) halt.

Does the impact of small things sound familiar? The kingdom of heaven is compared to a mustard seed that is planted and grows larger than the garden plants (Matthew 13:31-32). Jesus compares our little faith to a grain of mustard seed (Matthew 17:20, Luke 17:6). But Jesus goes on to say that faith can move mountains. God takes note of small deeds—the giving of a cup of cold water because of Jesus (Matthew 10:42). There is reward for even giving cups of cold water.

Sometimes great things happen because of one person’s faith, one person’s prayer (see Nehemiah 1:4-2:8). Nehemiah’s prayer and God’s providence in answering his prayer led to the walls of Jerusalem being built. Nehemiah didn’t do it by himself. Nehemiah chapter 3 names 43 work groups. Each individual in each group did a small part of the wall, but the accumulative effect was the wall was built. Each individual’s part was seemly insignificant, but the accumulative effect was transformative.

The world with all of its needs and problems is overwhelming. Yet, God has given to His people the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Have you ever thought, “What can I do?” Yet, I suspect that part of the answer is found in each of us doing our part and working together as a church. Like individual snowflakes our part may seem small, but the accumulative effect may change the world around us.

Don’t underestimate your participation in the life of the church. Don’t underestimate your presence in the assembly. Don’t underestimate your gift in the collection. Don’t underestimate your deeds of kindness. Don’t underestimate your attempts to share your faith. Don’t underestimate your prayers. Like individual snowflakes we are part of a larger whole. The point is simple: God can do wonderful things through the accumulative effect of all of us working together by faith.

The Danger of Distractions

January 1, 2016

A man walked off a cliff while distracted by his cell phone plummeting to his death. Automobile fatalities have occurred with drivers texting instead of noticing the on-coming tree or vehicle. We cannot but conclude there is danger is distraction. Yet, distraction is a big part of our world.

I suspect that the default setting for our world is noise. I can remember my family’s first television set when I was a child. It was a big wooden cabinet RCA, but the black and white screen wasn’t that big by today’s standards, and we received one channel maybe two if the conditions were just right. The broadcast day would end around midnight with the playing of The Star Spangled Banner. Now our large, high definition screens have more channels than I have ever viewed. Television is on demand at any moment of the day. I can even watch it on my phone and tablet wherever I am.

I remember my first transistor radio as a boy. I could stick it in my pocket and have AM radio wherever I went. It was a marvel of miniaturization with the new transistors replacing the old, large vacuum tubes. Now I carry the Internet in my pocket, and with it a world of distractions.

I’m not wanting to give up my modern conveniences. I regularly use a smartphone, a tablet computer, a laptop, and a TV that streams content on demand. But I’m also aware of their dangers. I don’t want my attention span shrunk to a 140-character tweet or the rapidly changing images of a video. A library of books that we call the Bible sustains the life of the church and the life of a Christian. We must fight against the distractions that would keep us from our heritage and great spiritual treasure.

Distractions, however, can do more damage than just shortening our attention spans. Distractions can keep us from thinking important thoughts: why am I here? Is there any meaning to life? Does God exist? Has He spoken in the Bible? Have I listened to him as I should? The distractions of life can keep us from contemplating the spiritual and eternal. The distractions are not bad in themselves, but they are the temporary and are not meant to fill the spiritual void in our lives that only God can satisfy. But sometimes we must be still to realize the void is there. One of the best things we can do for some of our friends is to get them to slow down and experience quietness, so that the distractions are silenced for a time, and they can begin to feel their own spiritual hunger.

I recognize the danger of distraction. What I’m suggesting that each us needs to carve out some quiet time: a time to read the Bible, a time to pray, time to worship, and a time to contemplate our lives and what is most important.

A man walked off a cliff looking at his cell phone. I wonder how many plummet into eternity only thinking about the distractions of life.