Glossolalia In The New Testament -- By: William G. MacDonald

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 07:2 (Spring 1964)
Article: Glossolalia In The New Testament
Author: William G. MacDonald


Glossolalia In The New Testament

William G. MacDonald

Definition of Glossolalia

The locus classicus of glossolalia is found in Luke’s account of the first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:4. Glossolalia, the technical term used to describe this phenomenon, does not appear as one word in Greek. It has been coined as a descriptive expression of the phenomenon of speaking languages that one does not know by the enablement of the Spirit of God, from γλωσσαι (tongues) and λαλειν (to speak). A more precise term would be “heteroglossolalia,” since it is distinctively “other (erepats) languages,” which are specified in this foundational passage (cf. 14:21 also).

Antecedents of Glossolalia

One feature of Spirit theology should be briefly delineated here as a background to glossolalic study. The work of the Spirit of God is not to be temporally limited to one occasion in the experience of an individual. Christ is unique in His experience of the Spirit (Jn. 3:34). However, Jesus, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit was later anointed with the Spirit at the Jordan. The significant point is that He was born by the Spirit, which was the basis of His holy life as the Incarnate Son of God, and yet the Spirit thirty years later is said and seen to descend upon Him at the outset of a ministry in the power of the Spirit. Yet Christ, with all the gifts and operations of the Spirit, never spoke in tongues. Why? His temporal ministry was only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” while His primary service was the universal act of offering himself to God to atone for man’s sin. Thus because His manhood was lived under the old dispensation, the law (Gal. 1:4), the Holy Spirit did not choose to operate through Him in any oral manner other than that common to the Old Testament saints and prophets, i.e., by prophecy. Having ascended, He is linked with glossolalia, not as a recipient, but as the One who together with the Father is responsible for all that was seen and heard (Acts 2:33) on the day of Pentecost.

The Apostles likewise had several experiences chronologically of the Spirit. On Christ’s first encounter with them subsequent to His resurrection He breathed out from Himself into them “Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:22—anarthrous construction). Thus they became united with Christ in a new way in the exper...

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