Category Archives: Acts 2

The Church Did Not Begin at Pentecost

pentecost2

by Scott

Yesterday marked the church’s celebration-remembrance of Pentecost. And today in Belgium, we have a day off. Such a very spiritual land……or maybe not quite yet.

Anyways, there are a few different angles one could approach in remembering the importance of Pentecost. The angle of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on all flesh – male/female, young/old, Jew/Gentile. There is the aspect of empowering for mission that the rule and grace of Christ be made known to all peoples. Then there’s the common notion that the church began on that great day of Pentecost.

But that’s not right, is it? Continue reading

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The Significance of Pentecost

by Scott

During our visit to the U.S. for most of the month of April, we were able to be a part of Advent Presbyterian Church in the Memphis area over a couple of Sundays. This is the church I grew up in, and my parents are still part of the church community.

For quite some time, as a whole church, they have been working through The Story – which mainly focuses on reading through and teaching the major stories of Scripture. It looks to make the Bible very practical – in teaching and application to people’s lives.

While I was back, they had just finished looking at the Ascension (though the church calendar celebrates it this coming Sunday). And so I was asked to speak on Pentecost and Acts 2. It’s Pentecost Sunday this coming Sunday (19th May 2013), so I thought it would be worth posting this video below.

How Firm a Foundation is the Argument from Ephesians 2:20?

By Marv

Ephesians 2:20 is a verse sometimes cited in support of the assertion that prophecy has ceased–which in turn serves as partial evidence for a more general cessationist position. One problem I’ve had writing on some verses relevant to the cessationist controversy is that I have difficulty seeing an actual basis for argument in the text. I don’t want to say that cessationists’ use of this verse gives proof-texting a bad name, but I am frequently amazed at how cessationism seems to create straw men in defense of it’s own positions.

What I mean is that the argument based on this verse is so weak that I am surprised when cessationists bring it up. The reason I say it is weak is that it requires a string of questionable inferences to get from A to B. A chain with nothing but weak links is manifestly a weak chain, one I wouldn’t care to place much trust in, if I were you.

The verse reads as follows:

…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone… (Ephesians 2:20)

The basic idea in the cessationist argument is that if prophets are said to be a component of the “foundation” that their function is limited to an initial stage of construction–a stage now completed–and therefore should no longer be expected to be present. It is, I suppose, satisfying to the already convinced, but is impeachable at multiple stages.

First inference: Paul is referring to contemporary–New Testament era–prophets.

If Paul is referring to the respective authoritaties in the Old Testament, the prophets, and the New Testament, the apostles, then the verse has no relevance to the question of people prophesying in the church. This understanding enjoys a healthy degree of probablity, in view of the context in which Paul is describing a new unity composed of formerly distinct elements:

 …at one time you Gentiles in the flesh…were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise… (Ephesians 2:11-12)

…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two… (Ephesians 2:15)

It is reasonable then that Paul would be presenting a combo platter, one from column A and one from column B. I actually think this is what is going on, though I do not purport the sampling of data I have cited is sufficient to demonstrate it–only to put into question a cessationist use of the verse.

I should say something at this point about Grudem’s argument on this verse, which in my opinion misuses the Granville Sharp rule. I have to admit I had thought he had long since retracted this argument, since being better informed on the grammatical point by Daniel Wallace. However, though he edited his text to reflect Wallace’s objection, he does stick with it. I think he takes the wrong tack here, the grammar being against it.

To recap what is involved, in Greek, when two nouns share a single article it forms a structure like one box containing two objects. If–and only if–those two nouns are singular, this forces identity of referent, both nouns necessarily indicate the same entity. This does not work if the nouns are plural. And in Ephesians 2:20 the nouns are plural.

Paul’s two-objects-in-one-box grammar does seem to be consistent, however with his both-are-now-together theme:

 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off [Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [Jews]. (Ephesians 2:17)

Furthermore, Paul could well have in mind, by metonymy, the authoritative writings of the two eras, summarized as “the prophets” for the Old Testament, and “the apostles” for the New Testament. This is similar to other phrases which refer to the Scriptures.

  • the Law and the Prophets (Acts 13:15)
  • the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44)
  •  the teaching and to the testimony (Isaiah 8:20)

One objection to what I suggest is the order of the nouns, that if Paul meant the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles he would have said “prophets and apostles” (i.e. chronological order) rather than “apostles and prophets.” I don’t think this is necessarily so from a psychological viewpoint. True, if he’s picturing a historical timeline, he’ll likely say “prophets” before “apostles.” But if he’s picturing his image of a temple with a foundation, he could well be starting at level and working down: this level is the apostles and below them the prophets. Basement and sub-basement, still a natural order.

Second inference: that the metaphor of the foundation implies that prophecy is not used in further building.

Let’s grant for sake of argument at this point that Paul did have in mind people prophesying in the church. The cessationist argument extrapolates from a metaphor. Certainly, Paul would mean that prophecy is foundational to the church. Is it a valid implication of this metaphor that prophecy is only foundational and not useful for building beyond the foundation? What does Paul himself say?

He uses the imagery of foundation and building elsewhere as well. In Eph. 2:20 the word for “built on” is the verb epoikodomeo, the basic word oikodomeo “build” with the prefix epi- “upon.” Note that a different prefix occurs with the same basic form two verses later (v. 22): sunoikodomeo= sun “together” + oikodomeo “build.”

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.(Ephesians 2:22)

We see similar language in 1 Corinthians 3:

 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— (1 Corinthians 3:10-12 ESV)

Each instance of “builds upon/builds on” is epoikodomeo (likewise v. 14). Note also that the metaphor varies. Here Christ is said to be the only foundation, with nothing about apostles or prophets being part of the foundation, as in Eph. 2:20, where Christ is said to be the cornerstone. A metaphor is a metaphor, and serves its purpose in its context. Is there some reason to take Eph. 2:20 as the definitive description? Such an all-encompassing description of reality that we can draw inferences of cessation from it?

Two chapters later we find similar language making a related point.

 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up [oikodome]the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12)

from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up [oikodome] in love. (Ephesians 4:16)

And in the same context:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up [oikodome], as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

Does Paul mean to say that prophecy is limited to foundation laying or does he recommend it for continued building? He makes himself clear on the subject elsewhere:

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up [oikodomeo] himself, but the one who prophesies builds up [oikodomeo] the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up [oikodome]. (1 Corinthians 14:4-5)

The impact of these verses is often obscured by the rendering “edify” in some translations, but this is simply an anglicized form of the Latin aedificare, which means “to build,” like its Greek cousin oikodomeo, with both figurative and non-figurative uses. But at the very least 1 Corinthians 14 calls into serious question the limitations purported for prophecy based on Eph. 2:20.

Third inference: that the metaphor in Eph. 2:20 takes precedence over other Scriptural statements.

I have in mind chiefly Acts 2:17-18:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

But also:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

and

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

as well as

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged (1 Corinthians 14:31 ESV)

Not to mention this pretty important statement:

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Where’s the controlling center to be? In the one metaphor of Ephesians 2:20? Why?

Fourth inference: if prophecy has ceased, being foundational, it is reasonable to suggest that other gifts have ceased.

I’m not saying this one would be asserted in a careful argument, but I can testify to hearing Eph. 2:20 being tossed out as evidence for cessationism in general, though strictly speaking it refers only to apostles and prophets.

It certainly is not from this verse that we learn of the cessation of the gifts tongues, healing, miracles or any of the usual suspects. In fact, if anything the verse would imply that all other gifts continue. If the foundation consists of apostles and prophets, then everything else, including tongues, healing, and miracles are by definition non-foundational. They are building material. The verse then–if we grant the basic premise–is a subtantially useful one for the continuationist perspective.

In point of fact, whereas the foundation of the church is a solid one, Eph. 2:20 makes a poor foundation for a cessationist perspective. It simply cannot support the weight put on it by some who draw from it inferences without logical basis. Let each man be careful how he builds. The wise man does not build upon sand.

The Tongues Conundrum (Part 4)

by Scott

Thus far, I have posted 3 articles centred around the gift of tongues. But I would say they haven’t come in the best form of ordered succession. So, below are the links to the 3 articles in the order that would flow the best. When I finish the series, I will post a PDF file with all the articles in order.

In this article, I want to specifically look at the three purposes of tongues. In my study of the subject of tongues, I have come to see that such a gift is given for mainly three activities: praise, prayer and proclamation.

a) Praise

Here are three specific passages that point to tongues being utilised as praise to God.

… we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. (Acts 10:46)

15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? (1 Corinthians 14:15-16)

Now, the second passage in Acts 10:46 could be seen as distinguishing tongues and praise from one another. And, if that is true, of course I am fine with such. Nevertheless, there is no doubt tongues will be utilised in praise to God. This is why you might walk into a church gathering and here people singing in tongues, or they might refer to it as singing in the Spirit. And, though I don’t have a lot of time to go into it in this post, I believe this is also not too far off from Paul’s two references to ‘spiritual songs’, or ‘songs of the Spirit’ (see Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

b) Prayer

One of the more obvious texts that point to tongues as prayer is found in the well-known passage of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:14)

Now there are other passages that many Pentecostals and charismatics would refer to as pointers to prayer in tongues. The word ‘tongues’ is not found in the three passages below, but it does speak of prayer and groanings in/by the Spirit. What are those three texts? The first is found here:

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:18)

In this passage, it seems that praying in the Spirit is differentiated from other ‘types’ of prayer. Why? Paul first says, ‘praying at all times in the Spirit,’ and then goes on to say, ‘with all prayer and supplication’. The second phrase refers to what we might term ‘normal’ prayer and supplication, while the first phrase projects us praying in, or by, the Spirit.

One might ask – Well, do we not only pray because of the work the Spirit in our lives, kind of like Paul said that no one could say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ unless by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3)?

Such is a good question. But what I would liken this to is the role and gift of faith. No doubt one can only come to faith in Christ by the activity of the Holy Spirit. Such is very clear in the teaching of Scripture. But, beyond this faith activated in every believer by the work of the Spirit, Paul also distinguishes it from the gift of faith, as in 1 Cor 12:8-10. That gift of faith is what is normally activated by the Holy Spirit in God’s people for the workings of miracles and healings.

Thus, just as we would distinguish between the faith given to all saints for belief in Christ and the faith-manifestation of the Spirit for enacting miracles and healings, so I believe we can differentiate between prayer that is a reality in the lives of all believers and prayer in the Spirit that is a specific enabling of God’s Spirit to pray and intercede above and beyond that in which we would normally participate.

Now, to the question of what ‘praying in the Spirit’ actually details, I personally do not believe praying in the Spirit is intrinsically connected to praying in tongues. Still, what I would suggest is that, if tongues comes via the activity of the Holy Spirit and prayer in the Spirit comes via the Holy Spirit, then it is highly possible the two are linked together. Or, I might even suggest that praying in the Spirit is more of a broader, ‘umbrella’ term of which praying in tongues comes under. Some will disagree. But, at this point, that is my conclusion from studying the Scripture, as well as interacting with God in prayer via the specific activity of the Spirit.

And, as a side note, the phrase, ‘at all times’ in the Ephesians 6 text, probably does not refer to praying in the Spirit every second of the day, but rather to regular prayer in the Spirit.

These words of Jude are somewhat similar to Eph 6:18:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 20)

Again, I would argue that praying in the Holy Spirit does not necessarily involve the act of praying in tongues, or praying with our spirit as it is worded in 1 Cor 14:14-15. I believe we can pray in the Spirit via our own mother tongue. But I would also maintain that praying in tongues is part of praying in the Holy Spirit.

The final text centred around praying in the Spirit, though worded a bit differently, is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Now this verse does not seem to have any specific connection with tongues. But, again, both tongues and these ‘groanings’ come as a stirring and work of the Holy Spirit within the human spirit. And those who have been involved in deep times of prayer and intercession will know that, at times, we are not sure what to pray. But, in those times, we sense the stirrings of the Spirit welling up in us and all that comes forth are groans and cries from our heart. In those times, we can be assured the Spirit is actively at work in our weakness, praying according to the will of God.

Regardless of whether or not these three verses – Eph 6:18; Jude 20; Rom 8:26 – refer to tongues, which I suggest they could be distinguished from tongues, what we can note is that one of the purposes of tongues is that of prayer (1 Corinthians 14:14).

c) Proclamation

Many a Pentecostals and charismatics will stop with those two when it comes to the purpose of tongues. But I believe tongues can also function as proclamation. Why would I suggest such? Well, for starters, let’s look back at a passage in Acts:

… we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

I don’t believe that this statement has to intrinsically be tied into praise, though some are convinced it is. I believe that to tell, or declare, the mighty works of God (in another language) functions as a proclamation. Matter of fact, this specific act led to the drawing of 3000 people into the kingdom of God on that Pentecost day. Much more than praise was probably being given.

And, let’s notice something else that is interesting about the Pentecost event. Following the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter quotes Joel with these words:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

Peter says that what has just happened is a fulfilment of Joel’s prophetic utterance centuries before. And the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s people – male and female, young and old – would be prophecy. But what happened at Pentecost? The event did not include prophecy, in the specific sense. Rather, it included tongues, which were understood by the on-lookers. Therefore, the outpouring of the Spirit along with the fruit of tongues became the initial fulfilment of a passage that specifically referred to of prophecy as the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit.

Thus, I believe that tongues, when miraculously spoken and understood, or miraculously spoken and interpreted, can function like prophecy. So, tongues is a like the sister of prophecy, just as miracles and healings are quite related to one another.

This is why I believe tongues can function as a proclamation of God’s truth. And, even if it comes forth as praise, that praise can also operate as proclamation.

If you would like to hear the audio recording of my teaching on the gift of tongues this past Sunday, you can listen to it by clicking on the audio icon below, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.

The Tongues Conundrum (Part 2)

by Scott

I recently began a series on the gift of tongues, but started with some thoughts on the larger scope of Spirit-inspired speech. But let’s move on specifically to the gift of tongues.

The first instance that we read about tongues is at the Pentecost event of Acts 2:1-4:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The word normally translated as ‘tongues’ in our English versions comes from the Greek word glossa or glossia (plural). It could also be translated as ‘languages’, which seems an acceptable translation when considering the biblical teaching on this gift. Though some might argue it sounds like babble (or babel), it actually comes as some sort of intelligible language, even if that language is not personally known to the speaker.

As a kind of side excursus, many theologians see this act of the initial outpouring of the Spirit as a reversal of the curse at the Tower of Babel where there was a confusion of languages (Genesis 11:1-9). Because of Pentecost, tongues now stands as a sign of unity in the body of Christ, God using people to speak in languages they have not learned to be a blessing to the body of Christ.

Of course, one of the main purposes of tongues in Acts 2 was that of an evangelistic drawing of people to Christ. But, a sort of theological deduction from considering tongues across both Acts and 1 Corinthians (and possibly a few other passages) is that such was given as a unifying sign of edification to the body of Christ, thus, reversing the curse of Babel for God’s covenant people. And, I can only suppose that the first Christians that witnessed the amazing and paradigmatic event of Acts 2 would have been blessed and edified by the outcome.

Now, in the account of Acts 2, the people spoke in languages that were recognised by those gathered around (see Acts 2:5-12). This is really the only biblical account in which we see tongues being utilised evangelistically. But that does not mean it was never again utilised in such a way in the New Testament record, especially if an interpretation comes forth, which we will consider later on from looking at 1 Corinthians 14.

We see other specific examples of tongues in Acts, specifically with Cornelius’ household in 10:46 and the Ephesian disciples in 19:6. But neither of these accounts point to an evangelistic use. Rather they were a response to the baptism/initial filling of God’s Spirit.

Still, though tongues might come forth in a language recognised by those present (and I can think of a couple examples off hand from ministry friends in the present day), we must also bear in mind that tongues might not always be spoken in a language that is recognised by those present. I think such is acceptable when we consider words like there from Paul:

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

But it is through the interpretation of the tongue that understanding is brought to the body of Christ for edification, or even utilised in drawing people to Christ. And, I suppose the need for the gift of interpretation would only point to the fact that tongues are not always understood by those present.

There is much discussion about another aspect of tongues, as highlighted by these words of Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Some will claim that this reference to ‘tongues of angels’ is a hypothetical situation and one should not expect to find themselves speaking in such a manner. But remember the first words of Paul’s statement: ‘If I speak in the tongues of men.’ Now, we know this is an actual certainty – speaking in the tongues of men that we have not learned. Thus, it seems highly unlikely that Paul would refer to one situation that is a reality and one situation that is hypothetical. And, noting that tongues is a Spirit-enabled language, it’s possible that one might speak in a heavenly tongue.

Nothing could be ‘proved’ in regards to this, since tongues can regularly come forth in languages one has never learned, and especially since there are thousands of languages and dialects in the world. But I would propose that, since it is possible to speak in tongues (languages) or men, then the same could be true with regards to tongues of angels.

As an encouraging personal side story on the gift of tongues, I share an account of a specific local church where a friend of mine is an elder-pastor. This happened about a year and a half ago.

My friend specifically works with a church that officially relates to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But, while they maintain that relationship of accountability, the church does not always practically function in regards to every specific of the SBC. For example, they have a plurality of eldership, which is not the norm for SBC churches.

Also, as you might imagine, historically, the SBC has not been an advocate for the practise of the more ‘charismatic’ giftings of the Spirit, i.e., those in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. My friend’s church never preached against such, and they actually were quite open in allowing people to openly share what God was stirring in them during their corporate gatherings, even some things that could be classified as prophecies and revelations. But, with tongues, there was not much knowledge or practise of this gift.

So, my friend and the wider eldership of the church decided to take up preaching and teaching through the book of 1 Corinthians. Wow, what a challenge to say the least! And, of course, many months down the road, they took up a close study of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Not too long after they finished the teaching on those chapters, God brought a surprise into their midst. God was making sure that their spirituality was not just doctrinal teaching, but also a practical reality. In one of the Sunday gatherings of the congregation, a person gave the first ever public message in tongues. In recalling the story to me, my friend shared how he kind of sat back in his chair and went on to let God know that he trusted Him. This was something that had never happened before. But my friend was not going to ‘nip it in the bud’, as they say.

And when the message in tongues was finished, the interpretation came forth by the one who spoke in the tongue.

But here is the beautiful part – After the gathering ended, a young man came forth to speak with my friend who is one of the elder-pastors. This young man did not usually attend their gatherings. Rather, he happened to be there as he was in a close relationship with one of the members of my friend’s church. I guess he was the boyfriend of one of the young adults of the church. He shared with my friend that he was of Jewish background and the tongue that had come forth in the gathering was in Hebrew (obviously more modern Hebrew than ancient-biblical Hebrew). And the young man preceded to share that the interpretation that came forth was correct.

A fantastic story of God’s grace and gifting amongst His people. A testimony to the reality of the gift of tongues being utilised, and utilised properly, in the corporate gathering of God’s people.

Thus, here are some summary points from this first post on tongues:

  • Tongues is most likely a God-statement that He was reversing the curse of Babel for His body.
  • Tongues can be utilised evangelistically (as in Acts 2) or in edifying the body (1 Corinthians 14).
  • Tongues can be spoken in actual human languages or in the languages of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).

I hope this has begun to give somewhat of a solid introduction into the gift of tongues. Stay tuned for more articles in which I will discuss other important aspects of the gift.