Tongues in Acts Ten

Here we wish to take a look the standard explanation for why the gift of speaking in tongues has been given to man. The standard explanation attempts to persuade us that the gift is solely to prove a point in a singular instance of time. The gift has fulfilled its usefulness, there exists no more reason for it and it is no longer given. Those that now speak in tongues are either self, or worse, devil inspired. A comparison of this theory is compared to the account in the Bible.

The standard view of speaking in tongues in Acts Ten

The story of Peter's encounter with the gift of tongues at the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, an Italian centurion, has given much ammunition for those wanting to downplay the part of the Holy Spirit in the modern Church. The standard teaching drawn from this passage says that this particular incidence of tongues was to prove to Peter (and to us) that the Jews were not the only group of persons to whom the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ was offered.

Some take this idea further to commit that this gift has fully served (past tense emphasized) its purpose, and therefore is no longer needed, nor given. With this short document, we take a look at the story in Acts 10 to test the above mentioned proposal.

The story

The passages can be read in Acts 10:1-48 and Acts 11:1-18. A quick chronological summary will be given as follows:

  1. 10:3-6, 10:30-34, 11:13-14 - An angel visits Cornelius and tells him to send for Peter, who shall speak words (and commandments), by which Cornelius, including his house, shall be saved.
  2. 10:9-16, 11:5-10 - Peter has a vision in which he learns that when God calls something clean, Peter should not call it "common".
  3. 10:19-20, 11:11-12 - The Spirit bids Peter to go with the three who come to seek him. From 10:28 and 11:2-3 we know that the circumcised (Jewish) Christians did not appreciate that Peter visited and ate with the "dirty" uncircumcised. This was taboo for a Jewish man. The vision Peter had prepared him to visit persons, whom he had previously considered "dirty".
  4. 10:21-24 - The three visitors explain to Peter why they have sought Peter; namely to hear the words Peter has to say.
  5. 10:34-35 - Peter realizes that God is not a respecter of persons, and that all nations (peoples) can be saved.
  6. 10:36-43 - Peter shares the Gospel.
  7. 10:44-46, 11:15 - The house of Cornelius begins to speak in tongues.

Now, the important point to catch is the chronological order of the happenings. For in this, it becomes abundantly clear that Peter knew that salvation was possible for the non Jew, prior to the falling the Holy Spirit on the listeners. This in turn dictates that the speaking in tongues has nothing to do with the revelation. How can that which happens later cause that which happened prior? Peter speaks his mind in 10:34-35 revealing that he understands that the power of salvation is available to non Jews.

Furthermore, in 10:36-43, Peter shares the Gospel. Why would Peter share the Gospel with persons, for whom the Gospel was not meant? Thus, Peter's revelation on this topic came before anyone began speaking in new tongues in verse 10:44.

We also see in 10:45 that those who came with Peter (but not Peter) were astonished. Peter was not astonished, for he already knew that the non Jew could be saved.

One may object at this juncture and say the speaking in tongues was admittedly not for Peter's sake, but indeed for the other Jews. To this one can ask, are we to say then that every new revelation in the New Testament after Acts 10 must be confirmed by a spontaneous outburst in the speaking in new tongues? It would then reasonable to assume that such an occurrence (revelation confirmation through tongues) should happen repeatedly. How many revelations / teachings in the New Testament do we accept on account that an Apostle wrote it, with no tongues added? The objection reaches a dead end. Is it not clear from the prophecies of the Old Covenant that God wants to draw all nations and people unto Him? And again, was not the vision shown Peter and the angelic visitation enough? Had the house of Cornelius not begun to speak in new tongues, would it still not be obvious that the non Jew has a right to salvation?

To make a long story short, if we were to cut out all the verses relating to the speaking in tongues, we still come to the same conclusion; namely, that non Jews can become Christians. Insomuch as this is the case, we know then that the teaching saying, "the gift of tongues was the proof required that non Jews could be saved" is in error.

The reason

So why did the house of Cornelius begin to speak in tongues? Easy. They became Christians through believing the word (as a side note: we have no evidence that they prayed any sinner's prayer), the Holy Spirit fell over them on account of becoming Christians, and the Holy Spirit decided to give them this gift, which He does from time to time.

I will make the final note that there exists no indication (directly or indirectly) - in the New Covenant that any gift of the Holy Spirit, including tongues, no longer has value and / or is no longer given.

Author: Scott Wallace Brians
Date: 09 October 2005
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Bible Text: Complete Jewish Bible by David Stern