Is Prophecy Tongues?

Jason Dulle

The following is a dialogue that ensued between a questioner and myself regarding whether or not Peter's quotation of Joel 2:28-32 on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21) means that Joel's reference to "prohecy" is to be interpreted to mean tongues:


The Bible point blank declares that tongues WILL be the sign given when one receives the Spirit of God. Joel said that when the day comes for God to pour out His Spirit, the recipients will prophecy. Peter said the events of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) were the events spoken of by Joel. On that day of Pentecost, they were ALL filled with the Spirit and ALL spoke with tongues. Obviously, according to Peter's explanation, the "shall prophecy" was fulfilled by "spake with other tongues". Since the promise of the Spirit is not to a select few (i.e. "prophets") but to "all flesh" (that is, as Moses said in Numbers 11, that all God's people would have the Spirit), and since the Lord made an unqualified promise ("they shall prophecy") that is universal to all the recipients of the promise, and since the first batch of recipients of this promise (the Upper Room prayer group) were all filled, and all spoke in tongues, I must conclude that speaking with tongues is the New Testament meaning or fulfillment of Joel's promise about "prophesying". THEREFORE, since all who are God's are to receive the Spirit, and ALL are to "prophesy" (i.e. speak by inspiration), they also are ALL to speak in tongues. Most people who argue against tongues as the sign of Holy Ghost Baptism are people who have never experienced such a thing, and who for the life of them will not experience such a thing.



Although I agree that tongues are the sign that one has received the Holy Ghost, I disagree that we should interpret Joel's prophecy about "prophesying" to mean speaking in tongues. Joel also said that there would be dreams and visions. Why not reinterpret these to mean tongues? Joel was very specific as to what he meant, and I believe that we should take his words literally. Prophecy is to be abundant in the age of the Spirit. Joel was not trying to say that everybody on whom the Spirit is poured out is going to prophesy, or that everyone will have dreams and visions. His point is that these things will be very common and widespread to all people--young and old, men and women, servants and maidservants.

There will be an even greater future fulfillment of this verse, and many other OT prophecies when God makes the New Covenant with Israel, whom it was originally intended for (Jer 31:31-34).

I just think that we are pressing Joel too far, and even Peter's use of Joel, when we interpret "prophesy" to mean tongues. Peter was only quoting Joel to show that what had just occurred was the outpouring of the Spirit that the OT spoke of. If we reinterpret prophesy to mean tongues, then do we rule out actual prophesying, or are we just lumping the two together into one? I am content to believe that the OT never prophesied about speaking in tongues. Tongues were a matter of progressive revelation. Just something to think about. Feel my love!




But what then did Peter mean when he said "this is that"? Is it not that what is happening now is what Joel said? Yet Joel said "prophesy", and what is happening now (that is, on Pentecost) is "speaking with other tongues."

It seems to me that Peter interpreted Joel this way. What else does "prophesy" mean in Joel’s prophecy? I also think that if we do NOT interpret Joel this way (which I believe is the way Peter explained it) then we have no solid basis for "evidence". It will be based entirely upon inference from selected examples in Acts, with no clear statement of Scripture.

If "this" = "that", and if "this" includes "speaking with tongues", and if "that" includes "prophesy", then I see no reason why we cannot say "prophesy = speaking with tongues".
a = b
a = c
b = d
c = d

Seems rather straightforward to me.



Not only did Joel say that they would prophesy, but he also said that they would have dreams and visions. We do not reinterpret these to mean something else other than what they are, so why should we believe that Peter reinterpreted prophecy to mean tongues? If this was so, why did Paul not refer to tongues as prophecy in I Cor 12-14? Why does he maintain a distinction between tongues and prophecy if prophecy is tongues? It seems clear to me that Peter's quotation of Joel was only to say that this is the time of the outpouring of God's Spirit that Joel spoke about. I do not believe that he was trying to say that tongues are prophecy. I agree with you that this does not leave us any solid evidence that tongues are the evidence of having received the Holy Ghost. I am comfortable with that, however. Besides, you will have a hard time convincing someone that Joel meant tongues when he said prophecy, even if that was Joel's point. If the verse will have no force because it fails to interpret the term "prophesy" in accordance with both OT and NT usage, why even use it? That's my take on this. To me this seems pretty straightforward.



Joel did not say "they" would have dreams and visions, but rather that certain men would. The "prophesy" part is the only part that is common to all - young men, old men, servants, and handmaidens - which comprises all who would receive the Spirit (young men, old men, men, and women). they are ALL to "prophesy", but not all are to have dreams or visions. Therefore "prophesy" is the common universal sign that Joel gave associated with the Promise of the Father.



I see what you are saying, but I do not believe that your view is substantiated by the text, especially when we look at the Bible as a whole. The meaning of prophecy is very clear in the OT, and clear in the NT. The meaning did not change. If we are to take prophecy and say that it means tongues, then why does the NT distinguish between tongues and prophecy. After all, if "prophecy" means tongues, why make a distinction between them even after Pentecost?



First, "prophecy" by its very definition includes, but is not limited to, "tongues". Prophesy means, both in Greek and Hebrew, essentially "speaking by divine inspiration". Surely tongues is "speaking by divine inspiration," is it not?

Therefore, the Old Testament use of the word "prophesy" does not always necessarily mean an inspired message in the speaker's and hearers' native language, but could also mean what we today call tongues. Saul's experiences seem to indicate this possibility.

Second, this view and definition is the only one that makes true sense of the actual text of Peter's speech. Again, I am struck by the fact that Joel said "they will prophesy", and yet they did not, but rather "spoke with other tongues". THEN, to clear up the possible confusion ("What meaneth this?") Peter explains that "this" is "that". Surely "this" includes "what you both see and hear", else the crowd has no reason to ask "what's all this, here?"

I do not say that we are to take prophecy and say it means tongues. I mean that we are to understand Joel the way Peter explained him, that the "prophesy" in his prophecy meant tongues. Otherwise, I see no logical reason for an "initial evidence" doctrine of tongues. It is plain that we cannot build a doctrine out of purely circumstantial evidence. Peter and co. knew the guys at Cornelius' house received the Spirit "because they heard them speak with tongues and praise God", but that in itself does not mean "initial evidence". In this case, tongues would surely be evidence, but so might a healing, a miracle, "word of wisdom", etc. And thus we have full blown charismatic doctrine of Spirit baptism.

The word "prophesy" apparently is an equivocal term. Paul's equating of tongues plus interpretation with prophesying tends to support this view. The two phenomena are very closely related. the absolute absence of "speaking with tongues" in the Old Testament in reference to Spirit baptism (except the ambiguous "With stammering lips and a strange (i.e. foreign) tongue") requires us to ask "whence cometh this strange sound"? In other words, we should have some continuity here between the Old and the New.

I must be honest about this. I cannot see how Peter's words "this is that" can be interpreted any other way than "this REALLY IS that" without eisegesis or scratching of the Scripture.



I agree that tongues come by divine inspiration, but I do not see that tongues can be put into the box of prophecy anymore than prophecy can be put into the box of tongues.

I disagree that any OT prophecy came in anything other than the language of the people. I do not see how Saul’s experiences have any bearing on this. All prophecy was understood in the language of the people. The same applies in the NT. Paul makes this point in I Cor 14. He talks about the difference between prophecy and tongues, showing how the first brings understanding because it is the language of the people, while the latter does not bring understanding to anyone (unless it is interpreted). See I Cor 14:12-25.

It seems that your reasoning behind your interpretation of Peter’s use of Joel is that "Joel said they would prophesy, and Peter said ‘this is that,’ and ‘that’ was tongues, so ‘prophesy’ must be referring to tongues." The problem with this line of reasoning is that Joel’s prophecy does not all have to be fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. He also mentioned that people would have dreams and visions.. Did they have these on the Day of Pentecost? But Peter quoted it when he explained what "this is" that was happening. Peter’s use of Joel was not to explain why they were speaking in tongues, but to explain what the significance of the event was. He was telling the onlookers that they had just witnessed the outpouring of the Spirit that Joel spoke about. He did not mean that everything Joel spoke about had just happened. Peter even quoted about the sun being turned into darkness, the moon into blood, before the terrible day of the Lord, but that wasn’t happening either. It just does not appear that Peter was trying to say that everything Joel prophesied about was occurring right then. If that is the case, then we are not forced into interpreting "prophesy" as "tongues," which would truly be a foreign concept to the Biblical concept of prophecy in the OT and NT.

You said, "The word ‘prophesy’ apparently is an equivocal term. Paul's equating of tongues plus interpretation with prophesying tends to support this view. The two phenomena are very closely related." I agree that the purpose of tongues and interpretation is closely related to the purpose of prophecy, but what Paul said does not make the two equivocal. Paul said in I Cor 14:4-5, "He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself; but he that prophesies edifies the church. I would that you all spoke with tongues but rather that you prophesied: for greater is he that prophesies than he that speaks with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying." Paul did not equate the two. His point contextually is that prophecy brings edification to the church, not tongues, because prophecy is in the language of the people and all can understand it, while tongues are not understood, bringing edification to the speaker alone. For this reason Paul preferred prophecy over tongues. The exception to this was if tongues were coupled with an interpretation, because this would bring edification to the church. These two types of spiritual gifts are clearly distinguished. Paul only places them on the same level of importance when they both bring edification to the church.

You may very well be right. I do not think that your interpretation is completely out in left field. It has some merit, but I feel that it has more marks against it than for it. I do not see that there is much supporting evidence exegetically, or contextually in Acts 2 to demand the meaning you are assigning it (especially when coupled with what the rest of the Biblical portrayal of tongues and prophecy). My main concern is that you would expect a non-Pentecostal whom you are trying to convince that tongues are the evidence of the reception of the Spirit, to believe it because of Joel 2 and Acts 2. I don’t think that many would buy that simply because they know that this would be an awkward use of the word that is not maintained in the rest of the NT. Even if it is true that Peter equated prophecy with tongues, it is not all that clear, and is a loose connection at best. I don’t like building entire arguments or doctrinal positions off of hard-to-defend interpretation of verses. I know that you see this interpretation as logically necessary, and the only supporting evidence for the "initial evidence doctrine." I would not want to start with the "initial evidence doctrine" and then look for proof for it though. This is eisegesis, not exegesis. I’m not accusing you of doing this, but I’m only warning against trying to find "proof" for the doctrine, because you commented in another post that if we do not interpret Peter in this way that there is no Biblical proof for the initial evidence teaching. Maybe there’s not. Maybe we’re wrong. I don’t believe so, but my conclusion comes from other texts. If this teaching is not clear, then let’s just be honest about it. Looking to Joel and Acts just seems too far of a stretch to me.

We may never agree on this, but that is OK. This is not a primary, secondary, or tertiary level of doctrinal importance. That does not mean it does not matter, but that it does not matter enough to argue and argue and argue about it to the disunity of the brethren. There are other areas of theology that are worth fighting for, but this is not one of them.


Questioner’s Comments

It appears evident from Acts 2 that the languages that were being spoken in the upper room were familiar to the hearers. Would this not then make this prophecy (divinely inspired utterances)? It also seems as if all of the speakers at least spoke two languages, for they recognized the various languages the 120 were speaking in, and Peter proceeded to preach to them all in one language, which may have been Aramaic. However, in other narratives of Spirit baptism, there is no indication that the hearers understood what was being spoken by the speakers.


Jason’s Comments

You have a good point, but I think that upon closer examination it does not support your claims that tongues are prophecy. Yes, I agree that the hearers did understand the tongues on the Day of Pentecost, but that was only because the languages spoken were the languages of the audience’s respective countries. Remember that hearing something in one’s one native language is not the definition or nature of prophecy, and neither is the lack of understanding of someone’s words the definition and nature of tongues. These are only the practical effects of the nature of each. The nature of prophecy and tongues are not defined by the standard of understanding or not understanding. If we define prophecy by whether or not it is understood by the hearers, then we would have to conclude that a genuine prophecy given in another language other than our own (which is native to the speaker and hearer both) is actually tongues! But the natives would call it a prophecy. Which is it? Such logic is inconsistent. It would mean that when I go to Ethiopia and hear a prophecy come forth, it actually becomes tongues because I do not understand it. No, it is actually a prophecy. I just don’t know the language that the prophecy is going forth in. So if the fact that the hearers on the Day of Pentecost understood the tongues makes those tongues "prophecy," then when I don’t understand Ethiopian prophecies they cease being prophecies and become tongues.

Creating a hypothetical situation according to the idea that you proposed, we would have to say that if a Mexican was present at the Day of Pentecost, what was going on would have been tongues to him (since no one was speaking Spanish), but prophecy to everyone else. This definition of prophecy and tongues makes the distinction perspectival, not actual.

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