Unwinding the Confusion

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Saturday, August 9, 2014 11 comments

by Nathan Buck

How does babbling and some remote ancient event even matter today?

This is another blog where I am going to ask you to read two passages up front. Read Genesis 11:1-9, and Acts 2:1-13 At the end of the Acts passage, a great question is asked: “What does this mean?” That question is asking for context and understanding for the event they are experiencing. Context is extremely important to understanding any Bible passage, and sadly too often passages like this have whole doctrines and practices formed around them – that have nothing to do with the original context. This moment in Acts is one of those passages.

Way back at the Tower of Babel, humanity decided it was going to work together to build a tower to reach the heavens and overthrow God. Let’s be clear, God was not afraid of this effort. The arrogance and self-centered idolatry of the effort was dangerous to humans, and was in direct disobedience to what God asked them to do in Genesis 3 – “…fill the earth and subdue (bring order to) it.” Because everyone spoke the same language the effort was easy to coordinate, and it was certainly ‘all hands on deck’ in regard to their effort.

When God confuses their languages, the effort stops, but something more significant happens. People are separated in a way they never had been before. Suddenly they could not communicate even the simplest aspect of information or relationship. Those who understood each other grouped together, and eventually they spread out across the earth. They finally “filled the earth” as God asked them to do originally.

Over time, people learned they could compensate and translate languages to get the basic meaning of what someone else was saying. This brought cooperation among nations and alliances, but never to the same degree. There was and is always something “lost in translation.”

When we come to the Acts passage, there is a festival going on – one celebrated every year by the Jews, and always 50 days after their Passover festival. Passover celebrates God’s rescue or deliverance. This Festival celebrated his providing. It was a harvest festival mostly, celebrating the first fruits or completion of the harvest season. There is a lot about this festival that is significant, but I want to simply explain two pieces of context here. First, all able-bodied male Jews were to make the journey to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival – so Jews from all over the world were present at this time (as well as many of their families). Second, this festival had a specific way of giving thanks that other Jewish feasts did not – this festival intentionally invited the poor, the stranger, and others to eat together.

It is at this festival, when people from all over the world are gathered, when different types of peoples are brought together for a meal, when the first fruits/harvest of God’s providing for His people, that God sends His Holy Spirit to be in the hearts of those who knew and chose to follow Jesus. God’s promise of His Spirit to comfort, guide, heal, etc. in the hearts of people who follow Him comes true at this moment. And the sign of that coming true is a re-unification of language. Everyone heard what was being said in their own language, because the Holy Spirit is the key to people being unified in understanding, community, love, and purpose with God. This was not random babbling, and it wasn’t a “heavenly language.” It was a sign of the total restoration of unity, peace, and relationship among all peoples by God’s presence, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also prepared everyone for an invitation – which 3000 accepted (unraveling the 3000 who died in rebellion to God in Exodus 32).

The content of God’s message could have been understood by virtually everyone there, if it had been spoken in Greek or Aramaic – they were common languages across cultures because of business/trade routes. But God specifically ratified this moment in history - this festival that celebrated His provision that brought all Jews, the poor, and the “stranger/outsider” together, this specific Feast of Weeks right after the death and resurrection of Jesus – in order to show he was unraveling the Tower of Babel, and once again bringing people together in relationship with Him.

With respect to my charismatic brothers and sisters, I believe in the gift of tongues (in context as God intends it to be used) and I believe that the Holy Spirit can and does intercede for us - to express to God what is so deep that we cannot even form words to describe it (Romans 8:26). My purpose here is not to debate whether God has given believers the gift to speak other languages (without training), or whether He can express things through us with groans and utterings beyond language. My goal is to put it back into context and let the Holy Spirit help you discern the best application.

For everyone reading this, I want to simply ask:

Do you recognize the root of division and separation from these events?
Do you recognize the promise of peace God made in these events?
Where could you use some peace, unity, or better “translation” work in your life and relationships?
Will you let Jesus have access to those places, and His Holy Spirit to lead/guide you?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this.

You made a statement in this post that seemed to imply that you know for certain that there was no "heavenly language" spoken at this time. How do you know this to be true? We know this, other languages were being spoken and people could understand each other. Where does it imply that only earthly languages were being spoken?

nathan buck said...
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nathan buck said...
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nathan buck said...

I deleted the previous reply and cleaned it up, since auto-correct was interfering..... :-)

Anonymous...thanks for your comment.

There was no implying that they do not exist or did not exist. In the context of the Greek language used there in Acts, and the historical culture, it would be difficult to support that anything other than earthly languages were being spoke/heard. Let me unpack this a little... ( please read the rest of this reply carefully before responding....) :-)

What is certain is the text of Acts does not indicate or imply anything to do with heavenly languages when you read in literary and historical context. The Greek word translated as "tongues" is simply the word for "languages." In any other context this word is taken to just mean known/spoken earthly languages.

While Romans indicates the Spirit intercedes on our behalf, and other passages could be interpreted to indicate there are "heavenly languages," the Bible is silent as to what those languages might be and whether we actually are enabled to speak them. Typically, any doctrines or theology around "heavenly language" is highly based on human experiences and should never be used as a reason, for taking action or believing a particular way, just by themselves.

When we create doctrines out of context or based on experience, we take a step away from the Bible as the authority and begin to make our experience the authority. When we try to live out those beliefs/doctrines, they may cause us to re-interpret the Bible in line with our experience instead of in harmony with the rest of God's Word and the understanding it would have had in its originally given culture.

So, I offer a caution, not an absolute.
In Acts, there is no apparent context I see that supports the tongues described there as being a Heavenly language. We must use caution in reading experiences or human doctrines back into the text in order to say the Acts tongues were more than what I described in the blog. What God did, and how He displayed the unity and peace by the Holy Spirit through that particular festival is so amazing and challenging. We do not need to add to it, or distract from it.

Hope that helps.
I hope you dig into the Greek words there, the cultural perspectives of the day, and the larger connections to Genesis and Exodus. If you find more going on in that passage, please share.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, thank you for your comment.

I understand what you are saying regarding this text in Acts. I used to see this just like you. Here's something to ponder, even if the text does not reflect heavenly language being spoken, that does not mean it didn't happen. The honest answer is, we don't know. All am I hopping happens from this is for you to be willing to see that because we weren't there.

I hope someday you will be able to actually experience the Holy Spirit working in this way. It is incredible to be used in this way on earth by the God of the Bible.

Charlie said...

I've seen the "angelic language" in practice before and I've seen it faked a fair amount. But I've personally seen the type of tongues Acts 2 describes in action. My parents served as missionaries to Juarez Mexico for 22 years. My dad does not speak a word of Spanish yet he got along just fine with the men in Juarez who did not speak a word of English. We do believe they were speaking their native language but also hearing their native language. And this was in very simple one-on-one conversations, not the big speaking events.

I've seen enough of the other kinds of "tongues" to not outright deny it, but I'm also cautious when I see it. I know what Acts 2 describes is different than this and I've seen that multiple times.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Charlie.

nathan buck said...
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nathan buck said...
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nathan buck said...

Anonymous, been there, and have personally experienced the authentic interceeding of the Spirit, as well as what many might call "prayer lanuguage." I do not deny what is possible or the giftings of God. But I always question the experiential doctrines of humans. :-)

My hope is to have my focus be on Scripture as the bedrock for faith and practice, and scripture in context.

I apologize, I am having trouble deciphering the thrust of your encouragement, because we are "texting" replies. So let me ask...

Can you share why you assumed I have not had that experience?

Can you explain why it is important for you to have this passage in Acts 2 be supportive of "heavenly languages?"

What is it you personally have gained from your experience of "heavenly languages"?

What has the mission of Christ specifically gained by the use of "heavenly languages," as apposed to the gift of tongues as described in Acts - unification of people via earthly languages through the Holy Spirit of Christ?

I look forward to your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

//Can you share why you assumed I have not had that experience?//

I guess because, it seems to me, you might have acknowledged it in your original post instead of what I took as pointing out "charismatic brothers and sisters" Just my take.

//Can you explain why it is important for you to have this passage in Acts 2 be supportive of "heavenly languages?"//

I never claimed it does. As I stated, you don't know they were there just as much as I don't know they were there. You cannot make the claim that they were not there. We do not know. That is all I am claiming. Just because they are not mentioned does not mean they were not there.

//What is it you personally have gained from your experience of "heavenly languages"?//

1 Corinthians 12 - 14 need to be looked at to understand. What I have experienced personally in the Holy Spirit working in and through me and others to free people from demonic possession and healings is nothing short of amazing. People being delivered to move God's Kingdom forward in this world is an honor.

//What has the mission of Christ specifically gained by the use of "heavenly languages," as apposed to the gift of tongues as described in Acts - unification of people via earthly languages through the Holy Spirit of Christ?//

See my previous comment before your question above.


Keep serving Christ in all that you do Nathan. I appreciate that you are not here to argue. God bless.