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The Purpose of Tongues in the Assembly

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By Virgil - Posted on 03 February 2009

What were tongues for? What was the purpose of this gift? The one place in the New Testament which clearly sets forth the purpose of tongues is 1 Corinthians 14:22: "Wherefore, tongues are for a sign . . ." The preposition translated "for" (eis) here denotes purpose. The verse is introduced by the particle "wherefore" (hoste), which means "for this reason, therefore." [Arndt and Gingrich, p. 908] Paul’s explanation in verse 22 concerning the purpose of tongues is actually an inference based upon his words in verse 21. Therefore, the key to understanding the purpose of tongues must be found in 1 Corinthians 14:21. Verse 21 begins with these important words, "In the law it is written . . ."In verse 21 Paul cited an Old Testament passage, Isaiah 28:11-12. Paul knew that the key to understanding the Biblical purpose of tongues is found "in the law," that is, in the Old Testament Scriptures. What does the Old Testament teach concerning tongues? What was the significance and purpose of tongues in Old Testament times? When foreign tongues were spoken, what did this mean? The key which will unlock the purpose and significance of the gift of tongues is found " in the law."

Isaiah 28 is not the only passage in the Old Testament which deals with the significance of foreign tongues. Several such passages together set forth a very sobering Biblical principle-a principle which has been demonstrated repeatedly in history. To discover the significance of tongues in the Old Testament, the following important passages must be considered: Genesis 11, Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 5, Isaiah 28 (cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:21), and Isaiah 33.

As these passages are examined in detail, the reader is encouraged to discover a pattern and sequence which is repeated again and again. This tragic pattern can be simply summarized as follows:

God has a message for the people.

The people refuse to listen to God.

God causes tongues to be heard as a sign of judgment.

Dispersion follows.

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plymouthrock's picture


I am writing a longer paper on this same topic and am finding the same pattern. Great job.


Ransom's picture

plymouthrock (are you anonymous on purpose?),

I look forward to reading your paper! Are you planning on posting it here?

plymouthrock's picture

That's the plan. Thus far, it discusses God's preferred methods of communication, comparing God's dealings with Adam, Moses, Jesus, the prophets and apostles, and us. It also discloses manna and quail as types of sign-gifts, with sign-gifts being destined for a first-century purpose and demise.

I hope to add a section on how love is superior to sign-gifts.


Ransom's picture

It must be noted that I didn't write this -- I merely submitted it. The folks responsible for this article are avowedly premil dispy futurists but they certainly seem to get it. I especially like the end, which drifts from the tongues issue a bit more into an interesting acknowledgment of a corporate body.

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