Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My 500th Blog—The surprising power of a blog

I was wandering around my blog today and noticed that this would be my 500th post. This surprised me, because I hadn’t realised I had written that much. I didn’t think I had had that much to say.

Then I noticed that tag, "Stats." I hadn’t really taken time to look at the stats before and wondered, how many people have viewed my stuff? What a shock. I learnt that as of 11.38 am today, there had been 782 page views today alone. There were 908 yesterday. Last month there were over 26,000. Overall, there have been around 305 thousand. While I am sure there are plenty out there who would have far more views, I have to say I am more than a little surprised. I read the stats to Emma and she was similarly amazed.

Now I have written a couple of books and a number of articles. Yet, I am certain that none of them have been viewed that much. It goes to show that the internet is a much more immediate and powerful tool for communication. It is far more dynamic than the published text in book, magazine or journal. With Google and other search engines taking people quickly to material on a given topic, people are surfing the net all the time and finding all sorts of stuff. Not that I believe we should dispense with books etc. It is a both-and thing I am sure. Mind you, I think these will be increasingly found in e-formats. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that.

I wonder who all these people are who view the stuff I write. Perhaps they are spammers. Who knows? I hear some comments from this person and that person. But I generally don't know who they are. Thanks for bothering.

Sometimes I feel like blogging is a waste of time. But perhaps it isn’t. I think I will keep doing it. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

“My God, my God, Why have you Forsaken Me?” Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross?

What did Jesus mean when he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” It is common in evangelistic presentations to see this as a pivotal moment in salvation history when all the sin of humanity was loaded onto Jesus and he became the bearer of our sin, in a quasi-literal sense. As such, Jesus became abhorrent to a Holy God who is disgusted by sin, and so God turned his face away from the sin-laden Jesus. That is, he abandoned or forsook Jesus. The cross then becomes the point at which God punished Jesus for our sin.  He then died having taken the punishment we would have had from God for our sin. Traditional theology says he then descended to hell with the sin. However, God’s justice was satisfied. He then rose from the dead having overcome sin.

I believe there are problems with this construct. It is a theological interpretation of the text and moment which is flawed. When Jesus said these words that is not what he was saying. What was he doing then?

First, this is a quote from Ps 22:1 (21:1, LXX). In the Psalm in its original setting, David is crying out to God in lament during a time of extreme distress. It is a desperate cry of one in immense pain. His experience is one of abandonment and forsakenness. Yet, he cries out to God. Why? He feels like he is forsaken. However, he is also a man of faith and while he feels forsaken in his experience, knows that God has not forsaken him. He knows God is with him despite his torment. David sings of God’s holiness, his acts in history (Ps 22:3–5). He prays God will come and save him (Ps 22:19–21). He states he will praise God and others should do so too (Ps 22:22–23). He then states, “for he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him but has heard, when he cried to him” (Ps 22:24). In other words, he has not abandoned him. Explicitly it states, “he has not hidden his face from him”—the exact opposite of the claims of this theology. The Psalm then ends with praise of God across the world.

Second, theologically, God never abandons or forsakes his son. To say so leads to a false trifurcation of the Godhead. God turned away from his Son; would God ever do that? No way. God was with and in Christ suffering with him. God does not turn his face away. One my otherwise favourite worship songs, “How Great the Father’s Love,” is flawed in this respect as we sing, “the Father turns his face away.” God never does. Rather, when his people suffer, and when his Son suffers, he is with his people. On the cross, Jesus was full to the brim with the Spirit enabling him to come through his torment as the saviour of the world. The Father was in and with Christ by his Spirit. He felt Jesus pain. He went with Jesus through the cross.

Third, it was not God who punished Jesus on the cross, it was people who rejected him, mocked him, beat him, and crucified him. Specifically, a friend betrayed him, another denied him, the Jewish leaders conspired against him, the Romans crucified him, and the crowd mocked him. God did not do any of this. We did it. Yes, in his sovereignty, God presided over the event and it had immense theological significance as Jesus died for humanity. Indeed, one can sing as Isaiah does that “he was smitten by God,” but that does not mean we should read it in direct terms. God did not directly punish Jesus. This idea is not in the NT. If there was a punishment on the cross, it was us punishing God the Son. Or, we could say that God was punishing sin on the cross (N.T. Wright); however, he was certainly not punishing his Son! And God the Son took the punishment of humanity. God in his mercy and wisdom chooses to make Jesus’ death the punishment for the sin of believing humanity, and we are saved through it. We must not overplay these analogies and over-literalise them, or we turn God into a cosmic child-beater. He is not.

So why did Jesus cry out these words? I suggest two main reasons. The first is that Jesus found in David’s lament the perfect vehicle to describe his horrific pain. Jesus is praying thus not because he is literally abandoned by God, but he feels abandoned because he is in horrendous pain and wants God, who is of course with him, to come to his aid to get him through. It relates to his earlier prayer for release from the cross in the garden. Rather than releasing Jesus from the cross, God responded by strengthening him for it. The cry carries on Jesus’ genuine expression of suffering. Theologically it shows not the literal God-forsakenness of Jesus, but his genuine humanity. He felt God-forsaken in that moment, not that he was. God the Son was in immense pain.

The second reason is the most important. Jesus chose this particular Psalm to declare that he is the character of which David prophesied in the Psalms. Any reader of Psalm 22 can see that it the Psalm is an uncanny description of the horror of crucifixion and Jesus’ situation. Verses 6–18 speak of the Psalmist being a worm not a man; being scorned, despised, and mocked; being surrounded by bulls, ravening lions, dogs, and evildoers; being poured out like water, his bones out of joint, his heart melted like wax, his strength drained, his throat dry; his hands and feet pierced; his bones under stress; and the division of his garments by the casting of lots. Jesus is playing this out on the cross. He is crying out, “I am he of whom the Psalmist sang.” “Can’t you see my fellow Jews? Psalm 22 is being played out before you. Your Davidic king and Messiah is before you. The one sung of by David is here. Can you not see?” “Can you not see that you are among those evil-doers? Turn and be saved.” This is the real crux of what Jesus was saying. As he appropriated this Psalm, it was a final declaration that he is the Davidic Messiah of whom his ancestor sang. Of course they couldn’t see it for their worldview precluded a crucified Messiah and “cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree” (Deut 21:23, cf. Gal 3:13; 1 Cor 1:23; Rom 10:33).

We don’t need to use this verse in our evangelisation to speak of Jesus taking our sin and his supposed literal God-punishment and abandonment. Jesus took our sin, he died for our sin, yes! Let’s say that big time! But we don’t need to over-literalise it in this way. It is unhelpful and creates unnecessary theological problems. Nor do we need to say God punished Jesus in a direct sense. We can say that the death of Jesus becomes our death, he died in our place, he took the full vent of human fury and sin, he overcame, and he rose. We can say that God is holy and punishes sin and Jesus’ death deals with sin. But God was not some cosmic Dad with a cane who punished Jesus. This is unnecessary. We humans did it. Yet ironically and mysteriously we are saved through it. Jesus took humanities worst, he died for humanity, he the sinless one, and he rose—if we believe a mysterious unexplainable transaction takes place. His death becomes our death. We are swept up into him “in Christ.” We are declared righteous, sanctified (saints), and we are to live this status out. We are included in his people. We receive the Spirit. We are saved. All that is required is belief. We don’t need to push too hard to theologise every element, it only leads to messed up theology.

God never abandoned Jesus, he never abandons us. He is with us always, even in our darkest hour. David knew this and that is why he cried out in the first place. He knew God was with him. He always is. Jesus knew it too. What Jesus wants us to recognise in these words is that he is Messiah, prophesied a thousand years prior by David, the Lord of the universe. Wow! Perhaps the most specific prophetic fulfilment in the whole Jesus’ story. Jesus died for us. He took our sin. The punishment we deserved is sorted. We are saved through his death. That is what matters.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is the Gay Issue a Secondary Theological Issue?

It is not uncommon to hear some Christians, including some evangelicals, argue that the current gay marriage issue should not concern us much, as it is a secondary issue. As such, the outcome of the legislation and Christians conducting same sex marriages is not one of those issues we should make a big deal of. In this blog-piece I want to take this on. I believe that marriage and sexual immorality is not a secondary issue, but is primary and very much so. In fact, I would argue it lies at the heart of a Christian theology.

1. Heterosexual Marriage is Essential to a Christian View of the World
The Christian story is not merely about one nation Israel and the church. It is a story of a whole world and all its people. It is a human story which begins well before Israel or the church is mentioned with Adam, Eve, and all the nations. God’s plan is for a people inhabiting his wonderfully crafted world who live out their humanness well. Marriage and heterosexual sex producing offspring is essential to the story.

In Gen 1:26–27 human identity is stated—we are image bearers. This is a statement of our identity as bearers of God’s likeness. Both men and women are created in his image. Indeed, our complementary gender appears to reflect two dimensions of God’s person—the male and female. The two complementary sexes coming together is the centre of what it means to be human.

At the heart of image bearing is that we are created for relationship, men and women. Together, we are granted sovereignty, to rule. The first command is to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). This presupposes that the male and female image-bearers will come together in relationship in line with God’s agapē character and have children. Heterosexual relationships are required for this as in all animals.

In the following chapter, God forms a man, states it is not good for him to be alone, and forms for him a partner. This is then the basis for marriage, “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). God thus endorses a particular type of committed relationship at the core of human anthropology—heterosexual marriage. Gay marriage is completely foreign to God’s vision of human anthropology.

Now we humans are not only unique in our image-bearing and all that it entails, but we are also an animal species. We are mammals. We are mortal. Like all animals, our existence depends on sexual relationships between the male and female and the kids they produce. Propagation is essential to our survival as a species. As such, biologically the coming together of male and female is basic to our anthropology. This entails more than merely sperm fertilizing ovum; it is the full relationship of a man and woman and the raising of the household, the basic unit for human life.

These two passages and common sense place heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage at the centre of a Christian anthropology. Human ontology is premised on our coming together and multiplying, an essentially heterosexual activity. As such, it can hardly be seen as secondary any more than image bearing can be secondary. It is essential to image bearing. It is ontological. It is at the very heart of what it means to be truly human. It is central to theology. And when Christ came as a human, he came to restore us from brokenness to true humanness.

2. Jesus and Paul Endorsed This View
Our Lord Jesus, the incarnation of God, the basis of Christian faith, endorsed the Jewish view of marriage enshrined specifically in Gen 2:24. He cited Gen 2:24 in his discussion on divorce with the Jewish leaders (Mark 10:7; Matt 19:5). He repudiated divorce, absolutely if we accept Mark’s version of his teaching, or in all cases except marital unfaithfulness if we prefer Matthew’s version. He rejected sexual immorality (Marr 5:32; 15:19; 19:9; Mark 7:21) and adultery (Matt 5:27, 28, 32; 19:9; Luke 16:18), which for a Jewish teacher in the first century would be nicely summed up as “everything other than heterosexual marriage” and “any violent non-loving acts against one’s spouse within marriage.”

Paul also endorsed the Genesis picture, citing Gen 2:24 twice (1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31). More strongly than Jesus, likely because he was writing to a Greco-Roman world where sexual immorality was rife, Paul repudiated sexual immorality including homosexuality (esp. Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 5–7; 1 Thess 4:1–8). As with Jesus, he considered any sexual expressions outside marriage sin.

The endorsement of the view of marriage found in the creation account indicates that Jesus and Paul sanctioned the notion that at the centre of human anthropology was marriage. Paul also gave further instructions on marriage in 1 Cor 7 and his household codes. It was important that the Christians lived out their gospel call in marriages and families that sought to please God.

3.  A False Dualism
Considering marriage a secondary issue is born of a false understanding of the scope of Christian theology and concern for humanity. There is a tendency to believe that if something relates to Christian salvation, it is central. So, things like, the universality of sin, the atonement, the resurrection, Jesus’ true humanity and divinity, salvation in Christ, the life-giving work of the Spirit, the return of Christ, etc., are primary. Other things, like marriage and sexuality are secondary. This is a false dualism based on a narrow view of what God is doing in the world. He is restoring a whole world and came to restore humanity—including marriage.

Sexual immorality is important for the NT writers because it violates the central unity of human life, the marriage. We Christians are first human born of the coming together of male and female. We can’t isolate spirituality from our humanness. From sexual relationships between men and women, humans are born into the world and are image bearers. Murder is evil, because it cuts short life, a gift from God. Humans, like all creatures, must procreate. The species depends on it. Salvation depends on it, because one must live before one can have a relationship with God. It is spurious to drive a wedge between salvation issues and the foundation of life itself! Heterosexuality is basic to being human. Gay marriage cuts at the core of a Christian anthropology. It violates our ontological image bearing. It corrupts the ideal of the basis for human life; a man and woman coming together as one in community and love, having and raising children. The male and female elements are not secondary, they are crucial. The complementarity of male and female is central to God’s vision for healthy humans to fill his world and continue his work. Through this, the species goes on.

I suggest that those Christians who see it as a secondary issue are incorrect. They have not thought through the implications of the full extent of what God is doing on the planet. He has formed all humans in his image, male and female, and he has called us to come together and become one flesh. They are to fill his world with their kids, and so the human story goes on. Some are indeed called to singleness, and they are complete people. As Paul teaches, not everyone has to marry and he prefers singleness himself (1 Cor 7). However, in the broader biblical story, the basic unit of humanity is not the individual, but the marriage. In marriages, men and women come together, form one flesh, and have children. In this way, humanity goes on. Where Christian faith is concerned, these children are to be bought up in the Lord in a context of agape and the faith grows and carries on.  

In terms of the wider question of gay marriage, in NZ at least, for now, bible-honoring Christians have lost the public debate. However, within the church we must not compromise the anthropological centre of the gospel to what wider society in its “wisdom” has chosen to do. Marriage is a foundational doctrine that lies at the very core of Christian theology and anthropology. If we compromise on this issue, it is heresy.

Why Get Water Baptised?

A friend of mine who is coming to know Jesus asked me the other day what he had to do to show that he is a Christian. I told him he had to do nothing, because faith saves us. Faith is that “yes” that wells in the human heart to God who is calling us. It is not something we do, but something that wells up inside and we respond to. Genuine faith of course leads to actions that spring forth from it (e.g. James 2:17; Gal 5:6; Eph 2:10); but it is the faith that saves us. We are “justified by faith” and not any works (see esp. Eph 2:8–9). That is the wonder of Christian salvation—Jesus has done it all for us, all we have to do is yield to him. When we do we are saved not by works, but by grace through faith alone.
However, while it is true that we are saved by faith alone, I suggested that baptism is the moment where we publically declare that faith to God and people. While some traditions sprinkle water for baptism, most do so by immersion—a person enters water, is immersed under it, and rises out of it. 

This is the ritual that kind of ratifies our faith commitment. Just as marriage publically celebrates the coming together of a man and woman, so baptism marks the entry of a new convert into the church and union with God. One is no longer a de facto Christian, one is a full member of the church, the bride of Christ (Eph 5:25; Rev 19:7; 21:2), and part of the people now “married” to Christ and God (so to speak). Being baptised then is a statement to God, to the church, and to the world that one has “decided to follow Jesus,” as the ol’ hymn says.

In Acts in particular, we see that new converts were quickly baptised after conversion (Acts 8:12, 13, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16). It is commanded that new converts should be baptized (e.g. Acts 2:38, 41). This is seen in the Great Commission in which Christians are commanded to go to all nations and make disciples. Such disciples are to be well educated in Jesus’ teaching and baptised in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).
Christian baptism is not something new; it stands in continuity with Jewish ritual cleansing which a new convert went through along with circumcision. The prophet John the Baptist baptized people in this Jewish way, in preparation for the one “who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). His was a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4). It was a kind of initiation into a “new Israel” in preparation for its Messiah.

In Christian thought, baptism is the ritual of initiation. When someone is baptized, the visual ritual declares and enacts that person’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This is the event that saves us and we identify and participate spiritually in it. The baptisee goes under the water enacting the death and burial of Christ. They come up from the water symbolising their resurrection to new life (Rom 6:3–4; Col 2:12). Baptism enacts a new birth, our adoption as children, a believer is born again from above, they are regenerated (John 3:3–6; Tit 3:5; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5). Baptism marks a believers’ expiation, their forgiveness or cleansing from sin (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11; Tit 3:5). It marks the receipt of the Spirit, the baptism in the Spirit (Acts 2:38). It marks their entry into the church universal (all believers over time and across the world) and local (a local church community) (1 Cor 12:13).

Baptism is a vital moment in the life of a new believer. It kind of ratifies to everyone involved that this person is now God’s child. Others who are Christians witness this event and the person is incorporated into the body of Christ. God sees the act of commitment and faith, and is well pleased----the new birth of another of his children is celebrated.

As such, we should all be baptised when we come to faith in Jesus. It is an important moment in our lives which confirms that we are truly believers, a child of God, born again, destined for salvation, and part of God’s great family that spans history and all peoples. It is a glorious moment when the angels rejoice that someone else will get to live with God forever.

Of course if we are from a paedo-baptist tradition, then this is a little more complicated. Confirmation traditionally plays the role in such churches whereby a person baptised as an infant has a confirmation ceremony, which “confirms” their commitment to God. Some have a reaffirmation of the earlier baptism with the adult believer being immersed. This is not a rebaptism, but a reaffirmation. Others do not take seriously paedo-baptism at all, consider it worthless, and endorse a second baptism. All these things get a little detailed and confused. Personally, I think that point of faith-commitment is best followed by being immersed. Whether it is a reaffirmation or baptism itself is neither here nor there; it is just theologising and I am not sure God is that concerned. What matters is that we publically mark our confession of faith. 

So, it is good to be baptised (or confirmed). It is an act of obedience. It marks our inclusion in Christ, our cleansing, our initiation into the faith and church. It makes public and real our acceptance of God's invitation to salvation. It is like a marriage ceremony. We are included in God's people. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Should All Christians Speak in Tongues?

Someone asked me (again) the other day whether all Christians should speak in tongues if they are open to the gift? Or is it a gift only some Christians get? It is an important question, because if one believes all should or can speak in tongues those without the gift of tongues can feel somehow inferior. They can believe that there is something deficient in their relationship with God. On the other hand, some can take a position of spiritual superiority over others if they do speak in tongues believing that if only they are open then they will receive it. Let me add that I write this as a tongues-speaker having received the gift of tongues in my early days as a Christian. I often pray in tongues as a part of my prayer life.

Some False Ideas
There are a number of false ideas about tongues held by some Christians that can quickly be put to bed. One is that the gift no longer exists and that it was only for the time of the Apostles—cessationism. This view is often held by Classical Dispensationalists and 1 Cor 13:8 is used as support. However, this is based on a misunderstanding of this text which does not contrast the time of the apostles with the time of the church, but this present age with the age to come. There will be no need for tongues in the world to come, for we will all understand each other and be understood fully. Further, many Christians today have received this gift. This is clearly flawed.

Another is those who argue that there are two different gifts of tongues in the NT; one for private use and one for public use. This can be shown to be flawed with a quick look at the use of the Greek for tongues in the NT. There is one Greek word used across the NT for tongues, glōssa. It is found fifty times in the NT and used in different ways. It is not always used of the gift of tongues. Sometimes it is literally the human tongue (e.g. Mark 7:33; Rom 14:11; Rev 16:10); figuratively of someone’s ability to speak (e.g. Mark 7:35); of speech (Acts 2:26; 1 John 3:18); of a mouth with which one speaks (Rom 3:13; 1 Cor 14:9; Phil 2:11; Jas 1:26; 3:5, 6; 1 Pet 3:10); tongues of fire (Acts 2:3); and languages (Acts 2:11; 1 Cor 13:1; Rev 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). In some instances, it refers to the spiritual gift of tongues (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor 12:10, 28, 30; 13:8; 14:2, 4, 5, 6, 13, 14, 18, 19, 22, 23, 26, 27, 39).

In the uses for the spiritual gift, the same Greek word glōssa is used each time. If there were two gifts, we would expect some indication in Paul’s language to indicate this. However, the language does not vary indicating it is the same gift each time. However, this same gift can be used in different contexts. When used privately, one can simply speak out in tongues for personal edification uttering mysteries in the Spirit to God (1 Cor 14:2–4). When used publically, Paul expects that the utterance will be translated or interpreted using the accompanying spiritual gift of “interpretation” (1 Cor 12:10, 30; 14:13, 26, 27). There is no basis for suggesting there are two different gifts. There is one gift, but it can be used in different contexts. When it is interpreted in public, it effectively becomes prophecy as it builds up the body.  

Third, tongues are not always a known language (xenoglōssia). However, it appears that sometimes they are, and sometimes they are not. In the Acts 2 outpouring, the tongues were clearly recognisable. In the other situations, it is unclear whether they are known or not. In 1 Cor 13:1 Paul mentions the “tongues of angels or of people” indicating that perhaps he or the Corinthians believed that they could be known languages or the spiritual languages employed by angels (1 Cor 13:1). Contemporary studies on tongues supports that they are usually unknown. I personally know of two first-hand accounts of people discovering that their language was known. One spoke royal Fijian, the other Tunisian.

Fourth, denominations that state you are not a Christian if you don't speak in tongues are patently wrong and heretical. The discussion below will make this clear.  

Should All People Speak in Tongues
Now, returning to the initial question, should all people speak in tongues, or is it available to all Christians if they are open to it? The data of the NT emphatically says no. Why? Here are the reasons.

First, there is no evidence that Jesus spoke in tongues. Jesus performed miracles, healings and prophetic utterances. However, there is no reference to tongues in his practice. Surely, if it is an essential component of the gifts of the Spirit we might find something in the Gospels to suggest so. There is nothing indicating that Jesus had a special prayer language. This does not rule out that he did, but it is not mentioned. And that it is not mentioned is interesting if it is so important.

Secondly, despite Mark 16:17, in fact, Jesus never taught that all believers will speak in tongues. The only reference to tongues in the Gospels is a later addition. It is found in Mark 16:17:And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Students of the NT know that this is that Mark 16:9–20 is part of the longer ending of the Gospel and not part of the original text of Mark. That is noted in most modern translations even if the verses are included. You can see further on this at This passage is a later addition to the original Gospel of Mark. Indeed, it is certain Jesus never said these words. Rather, later Christians summarized what had happened in Acts and the experience of the church and created an ending because they were unsatisfied with the strange and abrupt ending in Mark 16:8. Further, the passage does not say all believers will speak in tongues. Neither does the passage say that all believers will cast out demons, all will heal, all will pick up serpents, and all will drink deadly poison and not die. Some Christians like Paul did these things, others did not.

Thirdly, in the five accounts of the various fresh outpourings of the Spirit in Acts, tongues not found in every instance, but only in three of the passages. It is a common misnomer that every recipient of the Spirit in Acts received the gift of tongues at the time. Tongues are mentioned in the accounts of Pentecost, Cornelius’ family, and Ephesus (Acts 2:3; 10:46; 19:6). Tongues are not mentioned at the accounts of the receipt of the Spirit for Paul (Acts 9:17–19) and Samaria (Acts 8:17–18). We know from 1 Cor 14:18 that Paul did at some point receive the gift and speak in tongues but there is no mention of it at his conversion and receipt of the Spirit through Ananias.

What is often not noted sufficiently is that other things happened when the Spirit fell in those three that do mention tongues. At Pentecost they are also impelled into the street and Peter preaches (Acts 2:5–41)—they have received power to be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8). Cornelius’ family not only spoke in tongues, but “extol” (megalunō) God (Acts 10:46). The Ephesian believers also “prophesy” (Acts 19:6). In Paul’s case, he is healed of his blindness (Acts 9:18). The Samarian account indicates that something unspecified happened. Simon Magus was impressed with some evidence and saw that the Spirit had fallen and tried to buy it (Acts 8:18–19). However, what he saw is unclear. It can’t be assumed he saw or heard them speak in tongues. This is an argument from silence. Did Simon see them praising? Did he see some healed? Did he see them prophesy? Did he see the Spirit’s fall manifest in some other way (falling over? Crying? Laughing?, etc.). Who knows?

Importantly, it is important to note that it does not say in Acts 10 and 19 that “all” of Cornelius’ family or the Ephesian believers spoke in tongues. Nor does it say that all 3000 who were baptized at Pentecost received the gift of tongues (Acts 2:38–39). They received the Spirit, but what gifts manifested remains unknown. In these instances, it may have been some of them did. It can’t be assumed; it is another argument from silence or read into the text (eisegesis).

We can also note that tongues came twice when the Spirit fell spontaneously (Pentecost, Cornelius), and once with the laying on of hands (Ephesus). There are one or two other occasions where Luke speaks of outpourings of the Spirit, including after the prayer of Acts 4:31. In that instance, the Spirit fell, the room was shaken, and they spoke the word with boldness. The amazing events of Acts 4:32 onwards including radical material sharing, the sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, the miracles of Peter, and further evangelistic zeal can be linked to this experience. Yet, tongues are not mentioned and cannot be assumed.
One more thing should be noted. There is no set order of reception of the Spirit as if there is a “second blessing” through the laying on of hands. The Pentecost recipients certainly believed, then received the Spirit. However, the Spirit fell spontaneously. Similarly the Samaritans, who received the Spirit through the laying on of hands. Cornelius’ family received the Spirit in the middle of a sermon, before baptism and the laying on of hands. Paul received the Spirit after meeting Jesus by Ananias laying hands on him. The Ephesians received the Spirit after faith. Neither is there a mention of a set “second blessing” sequence in of the other 25 books of the NT. In fact, Paul is quite clear, you receive the Spirit at conversion (e.g. Eph 1:13–14; 1 Cor 12:13). There is no set order to God’s work, the Spirit blows where the Spirit wills (John 3:8). This does not mean that some Christians do not have subsequent experiences of the Spirit including some speaking in tongues. This is when the Spirit who is already in us does a fresh work, such as impart something new. I have had a number of such experiences. However, it is not as if I received the Spirit at that point—I was already indwelt by God, but now the Spirit was doing something new. We should always be open to such fresh imparting, we should “continually be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18).

What we can say from Acts is that the Spirit fell on people either spontaneously or by the laying on of hands and sometimes some people received the gift of tongues. They also received other experiences such as prophesying, praising God, healing, deliverance, strong mission-power to witness, an impulse to radical material generosity, and miracles.

Fourthly, tongues are only mentioned in Paul in one section of all his letters, in 1 Corinthians 12–14. Paul makes no mention of it in his other twelve letters. Very importantly, it is not included in the gift lists of Romans 12:4–8 and Eph 4:11. Romans was written to a non-Pauline church, and if tongues were so critical, I would imagine Paul would mention it. Yet he doesn’t. Why? In 1 Corinthians tongues is mentioned alongside interpretation as one of many gifts in 1 Cor 12:8–10. There is no suggestion that this gift or any of the gifts listed is given to all believers. Indeed, the point Paul is making is the very converse; no one gets all the gifts, each gets some, and God, Father, Son and Spirit, decides what he gives to each (1 Cor 12:4–6). That is, “to each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:8). And, “all these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” The implication is not that all get all, but that all get some, as God apportions. Similarly, there is no suggestion all get tongues any more than all get the gift of miracles or healing. There is no basis for putting others down because they have received tongues or any of God’s gifts. Nor is there any basis for spiritual smugness among those who do speak in tongues or move in another gift. We are all one in Christ, equal, who have different gifts and roles.

The next reference is 1 Cor 12:27–31. In v. 28 Paul lists gifts which “God has appointed.” In v. 29, Paul asks a series of Greek questions beginning with the Greek . As Greek grammars and lexicons indicate, when a Greek question begins with and the indicative, it expects the answer “no” (e.g. BDAG, 642; EDNT, 2.242). In this string, Paul’s questions then read: “Not all are apostles are they? Not all are prophets are they? Not all are teachers are they? Not all have miracles do they? Not all have gifts of healing(s) do they? Not all speak in tongues do they? Not all interpret do they?” This could not be clearer in the Greek. Paul is emphatically making the express point that not all receive the gift of tongues. He ends with tongues and interpretation to emphasize it so that the Corinthians do not elevate the gift of tongues over other gifts as they seem to be doing. It is patently obvious that only some Christians are appointed to be apostles and prophets. Similarly, only some Christians speak in tongues. This is such basic Greek that is unquestionable and it amazes me that people including some biblical teachers persist in arguing all should speak in tongues. They either show utter ignorance of the Greek or find some creative loophole. One is to argue that there are two different gifts. However, as I have shown above, the consistent use of glōssa in the NT rules this out (above).  

Paul goes on to say more about tongues. In 1 Cor 13:1 he states that love is more important than any gift of tongues. This verse highlights to the tragedy of Christians with the gift of tongues lovelessly looking down on others who don’t. If they do, their babbling is no more use than an annoying clanging cymbal! That is really annoying! It is tragic that misinformed Christians who believe the NT says all should or can speak in tongues make others feel inadequate for not doing so. This is a violation of the essence of Christian ethics—love! That is one of Paul’s main points in 1 Cor 13!

In 1 Cor 14:1–25 Paul gives careful instructions concerning the meaning and use of tongues. Likely, some of the Corinthians were into tongues big time and their meetings were out of control with their use. Some were likely looking down on others who did not have the gift. Paul says a number of things concerning tongues. Christians should pursue gifts that build others up, especially prophecy. He demonstrates that prophecy is more important for the church than tongues because it builds up the community not just the individual. Tongues are a personal prayer language in which one speaks mysteries to God. Tongues are for personal edification. Paul wishes all could speak in tongues. Note however that he does not say all will and all should. His personal desire is that all do. Yet, he would strongly prefer that all prophesy. The one who prophesies is “greater” than the one who speaks in tongues, as he or she builds the church up. Paul emphasizes the importance of interpretation—one should only speak in tongues in the church gathering if it is interpreted. He gives a number of illustrations to make this point in vv. 7–11. The person who brings the message in tongues should seek to interpret it themselves. He speaks of the importance of the tongues message being interpreted so that people can understand and affirm what is prayed (vv. 13–17). He is grateful that he speaks in tongues (v. 18). Yet, he would rather speak five instructive words in a common language than 10,000 words in tongues if they are not understood. For Paul, tongues are a negative sign to believers of judgment or of Christian “madness.” Whereas, tongues are a positive sign for believers, as they build the church up. He warns the church to avoid corporate tongues speaking, as it will alienate outsiders and unbelievers.  

Put simply, there is nothing in 1 Cor 14 to suggest all will speak in tongues. Paul would like all to do so, but I am sure he would like all believers to have all the gifts, to heal the sick, raise the dead, walk on water, feed the poor, prophesy, etc. Knowing that not all receive the gift, he is much more concerned about the other more important gifts—gifts that build up, like prophecy. All in all, tongues are great for those who have the gift, but there are way more important gifts that build up, and believers should seek these (“the greater gifts”).

Fifthly, aside from Acts and 1 Cor 12–14, there are no references to tongues in the supernatural gift sense in the NT anywhere. I have already mentioned that in twelve of Paul’s thirteen letters tongues are not mentioned. And it is only mentioned in one section, 1 Cor 12–14. If tongues are so important, one might expect that they would be mentioned much more and included in his other gift lists. Further, in Hebrews, James, Peter’s two letters, John’s three letters, Jude, and Revelation, there is no mention of them.

In sum, it would seem pretty clear-cut that believers should not expect that everyone who receives the Holy Spirit will necessarily speak in tongues any more than all will be prophets, apostles, work miracles, have the gift of healing, or the many other gifts listed in the NT.
On the other hand, we should expect that some will speak in tongues. Indeed, that is what the empirical evidence suggests—some receive the gift, some do not. I know great Christians from a range of denominations who do speak in tongues, I know many who don’t. There is nothing deficient in those who do not speak in tongues. The Spirit gives as the Spirit wills. Somewhat ironically, one can argue that as tongues is a gift given to believers for their personal edification, those who do not receive it may be the stronger Christian because they have not received it!

Irony aside, what is clear is that we must no longer allow tongues to divide us or become a basis for pride or inadequacy before others. The NT is clear, if we believe in Jesus we have received the Spirit as a seal (e.g. Eph 1:13–14; 2 Cor 1:21–22; 1 Cor 12:13). The signs of that receipt are things like ongoing faith, a preparedness to confess Christ as Lord and a refusal to ever curse him (1 Cor 12:3), love (1 Cor 12:31–13:13), a missiological impulse (e.g. Acts 2), radical generosity (Acts 4), for some miracles (Acts 5), the inward witness of the Spirit (Rom 8:16), and so on. And remember, the greatest of these is the most excellent way, love (1 Cor 12:31; 13:13).

If a Christian desires to have the gift of tongues, that is fine and they should ask God to bless them with it. If God chooses to do so, that is his prerogative, for “he distributes them (the gifts) to each one, just as he determines” (1 Cor 12:11). If he  doesn’t, no worries, we are secure in Jesus and we have received the Spirit. Personally, I would take Paul’s advice and seek the greater gifts—those that build up the people of God (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1).

So, if you have had prayer for the receipt of the Spirit and tongues, and have not received it, relax! It’s ok! You are ok! Don’t let others put you down and rob you of your status as a child of God, signed and sealed by the Spirit, destined to be delivered to eternal life, an heir of the universe, etc. On the converse, if you do speak in tongues, stop putting others down who do not. To do so is to violate the primary fruit of the Spirit—love! There is no basis for spiritual arrogance. Read 1 Cor 12:11–13:13 very carefully, and live out of love! As Paul says in Phil 2:3, “consider others above yourselves!”

Shalom in the Spirit.

An “Aha Moment,” 1 Cor 1:17

What a privilege I have to be paid to study the Scriptures, digging in each day to the text in its original language, seeing things, learning things, being shaped—what a joy. Thanks Laidlaw. Thanks God. In this short blog, I want to share a little thing I really saw the other day.

Now, to understand this, you need first to grasp the cruciform or kenotic nature of Paul’s theology. This is bought out well by scholars like Michael Gorman. That is, undergirding Paul’s understanding is the crucifixion. The crucifixion for Paul not only saves us, but provides the shape of Christian life. His ethics is based on living out of the cross. I call it “the pattern of the cross” and say more about this in my forthcoming commentary on Philippians. The thing is, that Christian life is cross-shaped, cross-eyed, so to speak. Words which define this are things like humility, selflessness, servanthood, sacrifice, suffering, i.e. love. It is self-emptying for the world. The opposite of things like selfish ambition, pride, seeking self-glory, etc. The place we see it best is in Phil 2:1–11 where Paul appeals to the Philippians to live out of the cross and gives Christ as the example par excellence. Jesus “emptied himself” for the world, as a slave, as a human, fully obedient, even to death. Jesus did not empty himself of anything, like some element of his divinity—he emptied himself! That is, he poured himself out for the world. That is what God looks like when he comes to earth.

When you look around Paul’s letters knowing this, you find the language and ideas of cruciformity everywhere. For example, “give your bodies as a living sacrifice” in Rom 12. The idea of “treasure in jars of clay” in 2 Cor 4. I could list many others. 1 Corinthians 1–2 too is an appeal to live out of the Christ pattern. The Corinthians know that the cross has saved them, but are more focussed on the glory of the resurrection life. They are still infected by concern for rhetoric and glorious rationalism. They are neglecting the cruciform life. They are not living out of kenosis, self-emptying. Because of their imbalanced theology, they have inadvertently failed to live out the Christ-life well.

So, here is the fresh insight. In 1 Cor 1:17 Paul writes, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied (kenoō).” He goes on in the next verse to say, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” The word “emptied” word underlined is kenoō which is the same Greek word used in Phil 2:7, “but he emptied (kenoō) himself.” Paul is beginning his challenge to the Corinthians by reminding them that it is all about Jesus, and that the crucifixion lies at the heart of the gospel. The cross doesn’t just save us (hallelujah for that!), it is the matrix for Christian life—a kenotic, cruciform life. They know they are saved, but they are not living “out of the cross,” or better, not living “with crosses strapped to their backs,” with cross-eyed living, etc.

So, there is a deep irony here in his use of kenoō. He is saying, that we don’t resort to human methodologies of proclamation like glorious rhetoric, which is an invasion from the world, but present Christ crucified (2:2) “lest, the self-emptying of Christ is emptied.” See the play on ideas. It is a double negative. Basing the gospel around our own glory, rhetoric, wisdom, etc, leads to emptying the self-emptying of Jesus and the cross loses its power. That is so cool, emptying the self-emptying! Love it. If we do, the cross loses the power that those who are being truly saved recognise. The real power is not miracles, but found in (apparent) powerlessness, i.e. there is a deeper power, the power of selflessness, simplicity, humility, sacrifice, suffering, servanthood, apparent weakness, i.e. love! I love Paul’s irony. No wonder the letter climaxes in 1 Cor 13 with the wonderful “hymn” on love. The second climax is 1 Cor 15, where Paul hammers home the bodily resurrection—we live the kenotic live life in the present by the power of the Spirit flowing through our beings.

The message for us is to relentlessly live as cross-eyed people. We are to take up our crosses and walk in “the way.” We are to renounce worldly patterns that move the focus from the crucified Christ to glorious rhetoric, brilliant thought, performance over substance, charisma over character, leading from above over leading from below and among, etc. We are to live the Christ life in its fullness. The real power is found in God’s Spirit working in broken vessels bringing transformation at the very deepest level. The Corinthians have forgotten this. Many churches have. We are to live the “in Christ” life fully—walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ our Lord, shaped by his death, and empowered by his resurrection. God strengthen you as you do.