One of my favorite scholars of whom I read and listen is Dr. Michael Heiser who wrote the landmark book, THE UNSEEN REALM. This book has absolutely revolutionized the way that I read the Bible. About the time that I discovered him, I had been desiring of the Lord to really help me connect the Old Testament writings with the New Testament. After all, Jesus and the N.T. writers were all quoting from the Tanakh. For this I am very grateful. It has also led to a personal friendship, here, in Abilene with the co-host of the podcast.
One of my staple habits is to listen to Dr. Heiser’s NAKED BIBLE PODCAST where my Abilene friend, Trey Stricklin, is the “layman” co-host of the program. Recently, they completed an 8-week series on the Book of Jude which was a fascinating study; especially when Dr. Heiser was able to address some of the references in Jude that were generated from non-biblical sources.
The program offers listeners the opportunity to submit questions to Dr. Heiser for further elaboration on, especially, the textual content of the scriptures discussed in the podcast. I took the opportunity to submit my own question regarding the content of Jude. Here is the question that I proposed:
I have a question for Dr. Heiser about Jude 20. I noticed that he basically skipped over it without comment. As one who was baptized in the Holy Spirit 50 years ago with the accompaniment of glossolalia, I have always believed that when I pray in tongues, I am “praying in the Holy Spirit” as Paul seems to suggest in I Corinthians 14:4 (He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself…). Jude seems to be making, primarily, the same case about personal edification. I have found through the years that those who speak on such passages academically, but not experientially have a very clinical view of the whole topic. Just wondering how Dr. Heiser handles this supernatural gift of the unseen realm from a textual viewpoint.
The reader of this article may find Dr. Heiser’s broadcast response from time slot 28:43-35:55 at:
It may be inherently unfair for me to respond to Dr. Heiser’s comments due to my advantage of having the transcript of his exact wording while he was probably speaking extemporaneously. However, my intent is to provide reasoning from the scriptures that inquire further into this scholar’s conclusions, but I certainly do not expect a response to my feedback. Perhaps the best way to proceed is to post the transcript (below) and interject my responses (in blue italicized font) throughout the transcript. My responses (signified by MM:)will frequently identify Dr. Heiser as the “scholar”. Many of the scriptural references are only indicated as “verse ____” which implies a verse or verses located in the English Bible in Chapter 14 of the Book of 1 Corinthians unless otherwise notated with supporting scriptures.
TS: Mike from Abilene… Alright, Mike! I know Mike. Mike’s a friend of mine.
Shout out. He has a question about Jude 20. As one who was baptized in the Holy Spirit 50 years ago with the accompaniment of glossolalia, I have always believed that when I pray in tongues, I am “praying in the Holy Spirit” as Paul seems to suggest in 1 Corinthians 14:4. “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” Jude seems to be making, primarily, the same case about personal edification. I have found through the years that those who speak on such passages academically, but not experientially, have a very clinical view of the whole topic. Just wondering how Dr. Heiser handles this supernatural gift of the unseen realm from a textual viewpoint.
MH: Yeah, well, I’m going to be one of these that are going to speak clinically here just by virtue of my own experience or lack of experience. In 1 Corinthians14:4, it doesn’t actually say “praying in tongues.” It says, “When one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” The passage could apply the way Mike has it here, but it also could not. It would help if it was more explicit in that it actually mentioned prayer, as some other passages do. MM: One of those more explicit references can be found later in the same chapter (1 Corinthians 14: 13-14) when Paul seems to tie together speaking and praying in tongues in back-to-back verses. I’m a little confused why the scholar tried to dichotomize the verbalization of tongues into categories of “praying” and “speaking”.
But when it comes to tongues, I have some positive thoughts and I have some negative thoughts. Just to be a little personal here, I have met people who (like on the mission field) were supernaturally enabled to speak in other languages on the spot and it got them out of a jam or some dangerous situation. I don’t doubt them for a second—that this happened to them and that God enabled them to do this. I don’t doubt it for a second. The teaching of scripture is that tongues are known languages. MM: Clearly, Paul says in verse 2 that he who speaks in an unknown tongue speaks to God, not to man because no man understands him. It seems that these “tongues” to which Paul is referring have not the same purpose as on the day of Pentecost or in the example of Dr. Heiser’s missionary friends. Paul quotes the Old Testament to that effect when he is discussing them in 1 Corinthians, and it is obvious from Acts 2. MM: Assuming that the scholar is referring to Isaiah 28:11-12 (mentioned in verse 21), there might be value in looking a bit deeper into this O.T. scripture (forgive my presumption while addressing an O.T scholar). From the Masoretic text the “strange” tongue comes from the idea of another, different, following; from Achar which can mean loiter or tarry. As mentioned earlier, my comments are clearly biased from experience rather than academia, but the “stammering” tongues during the impartation of the gifts of tongues is a regular occurrence and the “tarrying” concept draws me back to Jesus’ command for his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the further activation of the Holy Spirit. Once again, clearly from an academic point of view, this may have many “holes” in it, but one of the revelations of learning from Heiser has been his concept of “telegraphing” of which he frequently points out, both, to the future and pointing back to the past. I think Isaiah is telegraphing toward this particular future Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in demonstrative, vocal and visual ways. In fact, Isaiah (28:12) goes on to say that this predicted event IS the REST and REFRESHING, which Peter described in Acts 3:19 as (another Heiser-taught principle) the “now and not yet” when the times of refreshing shall come from the Lord.
The only outlier here is this personal prayer language kind of thing, which (depending on what passage you’re in) could go one way or the other. To me, it’s not a practice that can be conclusively demonstrated from scripture, but I have friends who do that and I don’t pick on them. It’s fine. MM:It’s interesting that Dr. Heiser does not think that the gift of tongues is not a practice “conclusively practiced” when Paul, himself, said that he speaks in tongues “more than ye all” (verse 18) and he is desirous that “ye all would speak in tongues” (verse 5). Also, it seems that Paul is addressing the misuse of tongues widely “practiced” by the Corinthian church – the reason for Chapter 14. I can’t say I have any benefit of any experience of my own in this regard, but it is very clear scripturally that tongues are known languages and not the sort of gibberish that you might hear. MM: Obviously, by the example on Pentecost, one could conclude that tongues were of a man-centric utilitarian purpose so that Jews from the nations heard these uneducated Galileans speaking about the wonderful works of God in their native languages. However, it seems unlikely that the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-45) “needed” to understand these tongues in the same way as the visitors of Jerusalem at the Pentecost celebrations. Paul laid hands on the twelve “Baptists” in Ephesus (Acts 19: 1-7) who were recorded as speaking in tongues and prophesying. There is no indication in this account that they were hearing or speaking in known languages. With such a small group gathered, it seems unlikely that multiple known languages were replicated as on the day of Pentecost. Once again, Paul clarifies in verses 13-17 that he who speaks with an unknown tongue and he who hears an unknown tongue have unfruitful understanding. Could this tongue be, linguistically, a known language of men, but just unknown to the speaker and hearer? Or, could the speaker be speaking in the tongue of angels as referenced in 1 Corinthians 13:1? My point is that it is not always “very clear scripturally that tongues are known languages” as Dr. Heiser contends. By the way, if you’re praying in an unknown or a gibberish language, that doesn’t justify what happens in churches with the gibberish language because those passages that talk about praying in tongues, it’s personal. It’s not public. MM: The point of my question was exactly this – tongues are, primarily, for personal edification…except in the case at Pentecost (where the hearers could understand) OR as Paul indicates in verses 27-28 where Paul establishes guidelines for the use of tongues in public services. While Paul was providing guidelines for the use of tongues publicly, he was not prohibiting the use of tongues which he supports, once again, in verse 39 when he instructs the Corinthians “…forbid not to speak in tongues.” Regarding Dr. Heiser’s alternative use of the word “gibberish”, which often seems carry a negative connotation, I took time to check out the definition so that I would not jump to conclusions. Although some dictionaries define gibberish as unintelligible chatter, nonsense sounds & writing, or confused and meaningless words; Merriam-Webster also says that it can be a technical or esoteric language. Then, I had to look up the meaning of “esoteric” which carries the meanings of being designed for or understood by the specially initiated; private; confidential; of special, rare or unusual interest. This definition seems to align with verse 2 when tongues are identified as a language of a man’s spirit speaking mysteries unto God. So, gibberish it is. So if we are dealing with something personal there, fine. Like I said, I let that alone because I don’t have any benefit of any personal experience and it is a possibility textually that such a practice is extant. I mean, if that’s a clinical view, it’s a clinical view, but I think I can argue both sides of it pretty well scripturally. MM: Perhaps some of my current aforementioned disputations and perceptions of the scriptures will be an enhancement to understanding “my” experiential side of the discussion.
Anyway, getting back to the point, my real problem with it is logic. MM: Verse 14 says that when we pray in tongues, our spirit is praying. (Reminds me of my thesis on Jude 20.) However, Paul contends that one’s understanding, intellect, reasoning (dare I say, logic) is unfruitful or barren. That is the point of praying in tongues – the logic and intellect are not needed for the man’s spirit to pray. Paul, who was no intellectual slouch nor contrarian to logic, says that he speaks in tongues more that “ye all”. What was his spiritual benefit in doing so? According to verse 4, once again, it is for personal edification – building up his faith. This is very similar to Jude’s exhortation to pray in the Holy Spirit. If we have received His Spirit, then it bears witness (testifies) with our spirit (Romans 8:16). How, then, does the Spirit “testify”? Could it not be by speaking (testifying) in the spirit (which is praying in the spirit?) Perhaps that is not the only way, but it seems “logical” to me. I accept that believers do this. Again, I have friends who make praying in tongues sort of a spiritual discipline. What troubles me about it is the logic of it and one other point: the fact that it shows up in pagan religions. The gibberish stuff shows up in pagan religions, and so that suggests to me that it could be self-contrived. It could be self-actuated, and it might not be the Spirit of God. MM: There are all sorts of practices that pagan religions employ that are similar to Christian practices suggesting the doctrines of sacrifice, death, afterlife, congregational worship, prophecy, visions, etc. I am not sure why the scholar seems to be most alerted about the issue of tongues being self-contrived. If we accept Paul’s emphasis on the priority of prophecy being used in public worship to influence and edify, it may make more sense to be concerned about the negative impact of false prophecy (in known languages) than an errant message in tongues that know one understands anyway. But on the other hand, it may be, because you can martial a scriptural argument for it. So I don’t really know what to do with it other than to say, “Be warmed and filled” to believing friends who do this and maybe even caution them to keep it private like the scriptures do. MM: Once again, Paul does not make the practice of tongues, exclusively, private in the Church (I Corinthians 14:23-32), but rather he provides guidelines for the use of tongues along with interpreters with the intent of edification as the purpose. (The reaction of the cessationists and those overly cautious about this gift, in the church today, seems to use the same logic as those who convinced my generation to take prayer out of the schools because it was a projected violation of a church vs state clause. In other words, it just easier to throw out the baby with the bathwater than to implement the guidelines the apostle established for the Corinthian church.)
But the logic of it just escapes me. God already knows what we need and what we want in prayer. Why do we need a secret language to express that? It doesn’t make any sense to me. MM: Has the Lord never gone before us to make a way where there was no way? Does that make sense to us? With all the insights into the Unseen Realm, it seems amazing that the scholar concludes with the idea that the spiritual gift of tongues (listed among various gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) requires his logic when other manifestations of the Spirit do not. A gift of faith or discerning of spirits just baffle me much more so than tongues. Perhaps such is because I am and have been a “tongues-talker” for half a century. It just seems natural to me. Now you could turn that around on me and say, well God already knows what we need in prayer, so why pray at all? I mean, that’s a perfectly legitimate question. Why would we pray at all if God already knows everything that we need or want or could ask for, so on and so forth. I think in terms of the prayer issue, we are commanded to pray. We are not commanded to speak in tongues. MM: No, we are not commanded to speak in tongues, but we are commanded to “…forbid not to speak in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39). And we are encouraged to pray “…in the Holy Ghost.” So there is a difference there. And prayer fosters dependence on God. I would imagine for those who have the private prayer language thing going on, that can be argued the same way—that it helps them depend on God more. That’s perfectly fine with me. Again, I don’t pick at it, but I do wonder about the logic of it, and I don’t see it simply as the way I would look at prayer in other contexts more widely. So that’s my clinical view of it [laughs], again, not having had the benefit of any personal experience.
TS: Yeah, Mike, with supernatural gifts like that, I mean, I’m at the point where I don’t even try to figure it out. I mean, God can do whatever he wants so I’m not going to question or even try to figure it out.
TS: I’m just like, “More power to you.”
MH: That’s why I’m in the cautiously open category which is actually an academic clinical category. MM: My question for Dr. Heiser is, “Are you just as ‘cautious’ with regard to all the other gifts of the Spirit?” If not, why not? Do they not emanate from the same Source? Can they all not be mimicked by dark forces and self-contrived motives of our common enemy? Just as you do not see the “logic” in trying to find a meaningful purpose for the gift of tongues, I don’t see the “logic” in such a cautionary label. Could it be that our common enemy sees the value of us speaking in the spirit to the Lord of all Spirits about the mysteries that we cannot articulate in our known languages nor even understand with our intellect? Could it be that such a gift should be impeded and even defamed by large swaths of those professing to be followers of Jesus? Ah – the answers to these few questions are only my speculations with no textual support of which I am aware. What mysteries we have yet to be revealed to us by our Helper who is purported to guide us into all truth! There are those who are not cessationists, but they’re also not charismatic. There’s something in the middle, and that’s me. I’m in the middle, and if God wants to do this he can. I’m not going to pick too much at it. I will look at it. I want to see if it bears fruit. I want to see if it does violate anything scriptural—again, like taking the gibberish public. I don’t see the public gibberish sort of tongues kind of stuff as being Biblical. I know enough people who have faked it (and they’ve told me they faked it for whatever reason) to be suspicious of it, but for me that does not exclude the notion that God could actually do this and does.
TS: Sure, yeah.
MH: So I let it alone.
TS: Yeah, it’s a shame that people abuse that and then it causes mistrust for everybody else. That’s unfortunate. Alright. Thanks, Mike, for the question and representing Abilene.
MM: Final comments: I am grateful for Dr. Heiser taking time to address this very personal issue of mine. He has not been dismissive in his comments and observations which is refreshing, but such is the character of the man to whom I have been listening for several years now. My conclusions began with the remembrance of my own cry to God over 50 years ago, very similar to Trey’s closing comments. At first exposure, as a Baptist kid, to this phenomenon, I was so desperate for a real encounter with Jesus, I had to surrender all my “figuring out”, concluding that if this (gift of tongues) was of God, I wanted all of Him that He would give me. And He did apportion this smallest of gifts to me. I bear it gladly and (hopefully) faithfully.