Ryan Habbena: Examining Tongues – Part 1


December 20, 2011

In the American Evangelical Church today, the words “speaking in tongues” provoke an automatic understanding heavily influenced by Pentecostal teaching that one who “speaks in tongues” does so in an unknown, heavenly language. To our human ears, it sounds like babbling. In this episode, Pastor Ryan Habbena takes a step back and examines the phenomena of speaking in tongues to try to better understand what is going on in the passages of scripture where this phenomenon takes place. Ryan strives to take a step outside of our contemporary understanding and investigate the cultural, historical, and literary context in which we find tongues mentioned. He presents a more conservative explanation for what is really going on when people speak in tongues in the Scriptures.

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An Outline of the Discussion
  • Ryan begins by giving his own theological background on the issue of tongues, being raised in an Evangelical Lutheran (ELCA) church that didn't teach on the topic. As he began his Biblical studies, he didn't have an opinion either way.
  • The decision to study tongues came out of preparations for teaching a class at the church he pastors.
  • Ryan sought to understand the passages regarding Tongues as they would have been understood by first century Christians, rather than from a 21st century America understanding.
  • To understand the phenomena of tongues, Ryan begins at the beginning in Genesis with the creation of human languages at the Tower of Babel. (Genesis 11:6-9)
  • When God called Abram/Abraham and established the Hebrew nation, the Hebrew language was established as the Holy Tongue, with which most of the Old Testament was written, and was the language that was used in ecclesiastical teaching.
  • Isaiah predicted that God's Word would one day go out in foreign languages (besides Hebrew): “Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue, He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,” And, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.” – Isaiah 28:11-12
  • Peter quotes Joel in regards to what happened in Acts at the time of Pentecost: “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy,Your old men will dream dreams,Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” – Joel 2:28-29
  • Tongues are always accompanied by prophecy in scripture.
  • The Jews began to lose Hebrew as their native tongue beginning with the Babylonian captivity.
  • In the eastern portions of the Roman empire, including ancient Israel, the predominant languages were Greek and Aramaic. Latin was used in official, governmental capacity, and Hebrew was primarily used in ecclesiastical settings in a liturgical capacity, much like the Catholics used Latin up until Vatican II.
  • The book of Acts begins with Christ telling His disciples that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit and will take the Gospel to all of Jerusalem, Judea and Sumaria, and to the uttermost parts of the Earth (Acts 1:8). This is the primary focus of the entire book of Acts.
  • The first incidence of “tongue speaking” takes place at Pentecost, a feast in which all able-bodied Jews are in Jerusalem to celebrate. These Jews primarily spoke either Aramaic (eastern Jews) or Greek (Hellenized/western Jews).
  • Greek words used in Acts are: laleo (speak), apothengomai (utterance), glossa (tongues), and dialoectos (native languages).
  • The miraculous gift seems to be in the boldness of their speech.
  • When we read the list of various nationalities present at Pentecost in Acts 2:8-11, it's natural to assume that each nationality has its own lanquage, but in the Roman empire everyone spoke one of just a few languages.
  • Mockers suggested that those who were speaking were drunk (in the morning). This is often used to suggest that they were babbling, at least from the point of view of those listening, and that they must have been speaking some heavenly language, since Peter responded that they were not drunk. Drunkenness doesn't necessarily lead to babbling, especially mild drunkenness, but rather lowers inhibitions. Those speaking were thought to be drunk because they were speaking of the things of God in common languages, and were common men themselves, not priests, scribes, or Pharisees. It was thought that one would have to be drunk to be so bold.
  • Over and over, the speeches given are with boldness.
  • If what Ryan is saying is right: that the supernatural gifting is in the boldness, but not necessarily in the language spoken, it is hard to engage in an argument about cessationism.
  • The focus of Acts is in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Please feel free to direct questions and feedback our way. We'll be following up on this subject sometime in mid 2012, and would like to incorporate feedback in that discussion. You can do so via the comments sections (here, on Facebook, or Google+), via the feedback form, or even by old-fashioned snail-mail (see feedback form for address).

Scripture References
  • Genesis 11:6-9
  • Genesis 12
  • Isaiah 28:11-12
  • Joel 2:28-29
  • Numbers 11:27-29
  • John 19:19-20
  • Acts 1:8
  • Acts 2:3
  • Acts 2:8-11
  • Acts 2:12-21
  • Acts 4:8-10, 13
  • Acts 4:31
  • Acts 10:44-46
  • Acts 19:1-10
Additional Resources
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    One Response to “Ryan Habbena: Examining Tongues – Part 1”

  1. By Sam Madrid on Dec 20, 2011

    Excellent hermaneutical study on “tongues”. Very enlightening and worthy of sharing with anyone that has questions on “tongues.”

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