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Lost in Translation

Visit any pentecostal church nowadays and you’ll be witness to one of the strangest spectacles known to modern christianity, that of so-called “speaking in tongues.”

If you’ve never seen or heard it before let me tell you how it works. As the song service, or any service with a great amount of energy, rises to a fever pitch, suddenly a sole solitary individual will speak up babbling words which no one can understand. The words themselves sound hebrew-like and can go on for a few seconds to a few minutes. When they do so, the whole congregation grows quiet and listens until the person is finished. When they stop speaking a strange and awkward silence follows. The congregation waits for another individual to receive the “holy spirit” and translate to the masses what the other person said. After which there is much praise and celebration for the word they have received.

My reaction? Yeah. Right.

I have a deep and firm belief that this protestant hocus-pocus is pure and unadulterated crap. I think its nonsense and is misleading to the young minds full of mush who sit in witness to this spectacle, being brought up to believe a lie which will ultimately lead to delusions and disbelief.

So why do so many of these people believe that these ramblings are divine? I believe the answer lies in their not being able to read the bible for themselves, also the leadership’s poor translation of the bible, and the unwillingness by the general population of these congregations to challenge the status quo in their church. Perhaps their most fervent argument for these Jesus-seances is what is found in the book of Acts.

Acts 2:3-4
3Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

This is from when the Apostles were speaking to a group of people gathered for the Jewish holiday of Pentecost (theres a funny coincidence). Now if we just took this passage as it stands alone, its not hard to see why the pentecostals believe in this speaking in tongues business. They are notorious for taking stand alone verses and passages out of their context and twisting the meaning (see: Rapture and Prophecy). So, if we take this verse, as they have, by itself we can see that the apostles were filled with the holy spirit and began to speak in other tongues which probably need translators and such to deliver the word of God to the people. Right? WRONG! Look at the next passage:

Acts 2:5-11
5And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs–we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

Yeah, its long, but it gets my point across. Look at what the people who were hearing the Apostles speak said about what they heard. First, you need to understand that these are Jews who had moved throughout the Roman empire and were coming back to Jerusalem in order to take part in the festivities. So most of them spoke other languages. Here is something that most people never tell you. When the Apostles spoke in tongues, everyone heard what they said in their own language. In other words, it would be like me standing on a table in the foreign languages department and saying something like “Cheese and EXUBERANCE!” and everyone there, Russians, Japanese, French, Swahili, would all be able to understand what i said (perhaps not the content thereof, but you get the idea =P ). There are NO translators. None. Nada. Zip. There wasnt need for them. The holy spirit allowed everyone to hear and understand with no middlemen.

So the very fact that what we hear is ramblings disproves the very idea of tongues altogether, at least as far as scriptures are concerned. We all know that some people could care less about what scripture says and more about what their traditions are, but thats another article.

Now some of you may know your bible and say “Hey! What about 1 Corinthians 14 1-25?” Well I’m glad you asked.

Again, this passage is used to back up claims of the tongue’s credibility, however, here I will use it to disprove it entirely. Paul is speaking to the Corinthians about languages, languages that are in use all over the world at the time. Remember, the Mediterranean region had a HUGE number of languages floating around in it. From arab to latin, to Aramaic, to hebrew, to greek, so speaking in “tongues” was something that was important back then to a group of people who were too small to have a significant number of people who knew enough languages to go and spread the word. So then, the holy spirit’s touch in tongues helped spread the word. (And by extension, now that over half to world knows of the Gospel, and there are so many from so many regions around the world, that aspect of the holy spirit is no longer needed)

For further proof that tongues are other languages and to back up what i said about the Mediterranean, check this out.

1 Corinthians 14:10-12
10There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.

So what is this other than EXACTLY what i just said? And yet pentecostals continually yell at me saying im wrong about this. But just to make it even more difficult for them today, consider the following:

1 Corinthians 14:18
I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;

Paul is well educated in many languages, as can be attested to by his missionary journeys and his successes therein. It is also probably a major factor in why God chose him to be the greatest missionary ever. All through Acts, there was not one mention of him speaking in babel and then having someone translate for him. And i believe that Luke was scrupulous enough to make mention of it if he had. So then what does the following mean?

1 Corinthians 14:13
Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.

Its simply to pray to the holy spirit (i.e. god) that those who listen will understand. (It probably means too to pray you dont screw up and say something stupid like “I am a jelly doughnut”) Paul goes on after this (read it for yourself, its too long to post) to say that when he prays in a tongue that his spirit prays but his understanding remains unchanged. This is probably due to the fact that no one can really gain much insight introspectively if one does it using a foreign language, especially when addressing a crowd. You are much too concerned with the words being correct and translating your thoughts in your head that you dont have time to thoughtfully consider what they mean. Not to say you dont mean what you say, heavens no! Paul says his spirit prays, he is putting his all into it, but his all is being put into speaking to others, not into speaking to himself.

And now for even more damning proof.

1 Corinthians 14:22
Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

Listen to this! Because this destroys the last argument advocates for speaking in tongues have. They claim, “You need to believe in what is happening, to have faith in God. If you dont then of course it sounds like gibberish to you.”

BS. This passage explicitly states that speaking in tongues is to be a sign for non-believers. In fact he goes on to say, that when skeptics see this sign they will believe. And if that is so, then when I and others question this practice we shouldn’t even need to be questioning it because it should shun any doubt we have about it. Yet the Pentecostal’s practice just raises more doubts.

There are other questions that remain unanswered too. Why didn’t this practice continue through the 2000 years of Christian history, why did it stop and the start again whit the reformation of 1850? Why is the “tongue” used made up of only a few syllables and indecipherable to linguists? The list goes on.

In short, this practice is an abomination to the church, to believers, and to those we are trying to win over. It promises God’s words but in the end all we get are human thoughts. And when human thoughts are passed off as God’s proclamations, well, thats when things just get ugly.

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