Tongues: Sign of Covenantal Curse and Blessing -- By: O. Palmer Robertson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 38:1 (Fall 1975)
Article: Tongues: Sign of Covenantal Curse and Blessing
Author: O. Palmer Robertson

Tongues: Sign of Covenantal Curse and Blessing

O. Palmer Robertson

God does not generally startle his people with the novel and the unexpected. The whole purpose of the long preparatory history of the Old Testament was to cushion the potential shock of an incarnated Son of God. Hardly a doctrine or an experience of the New Covenant people of God has failed to have its Old Testament counterpart. The softening shape of the shadow has preceded the luminous entry of the reality. In order to assure proper contextual comprehension, God carefully guarded the entry of his truth into the world.

This “preparation principle” certainly played a prominent role in the charismatic gift of tongues. On the day of Pentecost, Peter could point readily to Joel the prophet as one Old Testament figure who had anticipated quite specifically the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all flesh. The connection established by Peter between Pentecost and the Old Testament is well known.

Not so readily recognized is the connection made by Paul. Interestingly, Paul connects the Old Testament specifically with the phenomenon of tongues itself. While Peter applies a general Old Testament prophecy concerning the Spirit to the tongues of Pentecost, Paul penetrates even more deeply and points to a portion of the Old Testament which concerns itself explicitly with tongues.

Paul’s passage, often overlooked, is embedded in the very heart of his treatment of the tongues of Corinth. In typical fashion, Paul locates the problem-solving fulcrum for the New Testament people of God in the inspired Scriptures of the Old Testament. If a definitive answer is to be found for trouble among God’s New Covenant people, it must be sought in the authoritative documents of God’s Old Covenant people. Paul’s pertinent

comments are found in 1 Cor 14:20–22, which read as follows:

20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes; but in your thinking be mature.

21 In the Law it is written, By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me, says the Lord.

22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.1

First, note that Paul identifies tongues as a sign of covenant fulfillment.

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