Paul on Mutes

I just read an article in the May 2014 Focus on the Kingdom (Vol. 16, No. 8) newsletter (which is the newsletter of Unitarian teacher and author Anthony Buzzard) entitled “My Pentecostal Experience” by someone named Kris (the word Colorado follows his/her [?] name after a comma but I’m guess this is where Kris is from and not Kris’ last name).

In the article Kris recounts his/her (?) experience in Apostolic (= Oneness) Pentecostal churches. Kris was made to believe that if he/she did not speak in tongues then he/she was not saved. This is false, of course, but I don’t want to focus on that. I also don’t want to focus on the clearly cultic activities of the churches that Kris spent time in (read the article for yourself and you’ll see what I mean). I did want to ponder one particular statement.

Kris says, “This preacher was also claiming that ‘tongues’ were the initial evidence of receiving the ‘Holy Ghost.’ Despite whatever gibberish these people would utter, it would be taken for an authentic language. However, one cannot claim to have spoken in tongues without having someone verify that what they are speaking is an authentic language. Thus, whenever someone ‘speaks in tongues,’ they are not actually doing so if the language cannot ever be authenticated” (6).

Kris apparently believes that “tongues” are “languages” as in “known languages.” Kris isn’t alone in such a belief. Many people read the events of Acts 2 into Paul’s statements about glossolalia and argue that Paul is speaking of known languages that are likely unknown to the believer speaking them. But Kris goes on to make a statement that made me ponder something I’ve never considered; he/she said, “1 Corinthians 12:30 clearly explains that all do not speak in tongues [languages]” (6).

Paul certainly does say that not all speak in tongues in 1 Corinthians 12:30, or he at least asks, “μὴ πάντες γλώσσαις λαλοῦσιν;” expecting a negative answer. If known languages (even those unknown to the speaker) are in view then I don’t see how this jibes well with what he says elsewhere (e.g., in 1 Cor. 13:1 where he calls them “tongues of angels” or 14:10 where he contrasts them with the “many kinds of voices in the world”).

I think we’re left to conclude that if Paul isn’t talking about inarticulate speech (cf. Rom. 8:26) then he’s talking about mutes. 1 Corinthians 12:30, then, is about people who can’t speak (or I suppose use sign language either since it is a way of expressing thoughts or feelings). Or not. You know, there is a way for the particular Pentecostals Kris dealt with to be wrong and for other Pentecostals to be right. Either way, I think Kris has missed it.

B”H

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