Those familiar with the Book of Acts are well-aware that the author seemed to have had a positive understanding of glossolalia or “speaking in tongues”. In 2.1-14; 10.44-48 and 19.1-7 (and possibly 8.14-24) we have a public display of the sign. The first being on the Day of Pentecost amongst Jews in Jerusalem. The second being amongst Samaritans who had believed the gospel that Philip preached but who had to wait for Peter and John to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The third being the Gentiles of the house of Cornelius. The last being disciples of John the Baptist who had believed the message of John but did not know the New Covenant had been inaugurated and that the Spirit had been made available to all.

On the other hand, we have the Apostle Paul who is very supportive of this gift while providing regulations on how it is to be used in public worship. In 1 Cor 12-14 he addresses the gift in several places. In 12.10 he list it as one of the gifts of the Spirit. In 12.28 he notes that it is used to edify and build the church. In 13.1 he reminds his readers that it must be accompanied by love if it is to have any value. In 14.1-5 he notes it has less value that prophecy in public worship and in vv.6-12 he clarifies that this is because no one can understood what is being said. In 14.13-19 he explains that it can be useful when accompanied by an interpretation which puts it on par with prophecy at that point as concerns edification.

In 14.20-25 he uses confusing examples (in citing Is. 28.11-12 and using the vague word “sign” [σημεῖόν] he complicates matters a bit) to say something fairly straightforward: glossolalia will make the outside world think you are mad but prophecy may lead to conversions. In 14.18 he speaks of himself as an avid user of this gift so there is no way he sees it as a bad thing. Rather, he simply sees it as not being very useful in public worship.

At first glance it would seem that the Pauline and the Lukan perspective on the public use of glossolalia are at odds. Is this so? Let me suggest several possible options and you tell me what you think makes the most sense.

(1) There is a tension between Luke and Paul here that that we must embrace.

(2) Luke describes how glossolalia functioned early, even into the ministry of Paul, but the Corinthian correspondence shows that the church had learned what could happen if there were not some regulation in place. Luke and Paul would agree that there was a time when it was a harmless expression but now there needed to be some qualifications.

(3) Luke’s perspective is the general rule. Glossolalia can be a valuable tool for bringing people to Christ. It is a witness of the Spirit. The Corinthian situation was an exception to the rule. The Corinthians were abusing the gift so Paul put regulations on them because the way the Corinthians were using the gift was taking away from the gospel. Other churches that did not have the same problem as the Corinthians would not have been told that speaking in tongues publicly should be discouraged.

(4) Paul’s perspective is the general rule. Luke addresses important events in this epoch of salvation-history that he did not see as common place. The events mentioned are important because Peter was able to witness the Spirit being poured out on Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile which parallels the outline provided in 1.8.

The disciples of John the Baptist are mentioned in 19.1-7 as having a similar experience in all likelihood as a polemic against a rival sect of disciples still following the teaching/message of John who had not come to embrace Jesus as Messiah. By emphasizing this event Luke shows that even some of John’s disciples have come into the New Covenant but only through Jesus the Messiah who provides the Spirit.

(5) An alternative to these four theories that you have found convincing.

Of course, anyone who has read this blog for any time knows I have written in favor of part #4 on several occasions. Which of these do you find most likely? Or do you have your own approach that you feel makes more sense?