Review - Grace and Truth

Grace and Truth

Reviewed By :  
Chris Good
Coordinator, Reformed Baptist Fellowship
New Zealand

Publishers comment:

Chris Good is reviewing TR from a non-Pentecostal miracle language position. It is the ClearSight’s view that while Chris has provided a fair review (in fact has said that he probably agrees with about 90+% of the book) and thanks him for that, he has not come to grips sufficiently with the thesis of TR.

ClearSight has provided after the review, a critique by Bob Zerhusen of the critical assumption underlying the miracle language view, which is: that there was great linguistic diversity present on the Day of Pentecost. It follows that because there were far more languages represented than the disciples there that day could possibly have known, a miracle of language speaking had to occur to account for what is described in the Acts 2 narrative.


It is not often a New Zealander makes a unique contribution to evangelical theology, but in this book layman Renton Maclachlan has managed a new contribution on the issue of biblical tongues – a topic about which there has been much spoken and written, but rarely with new clarity being given.
The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 deals with the theological and biblical issues. Part 2, reflecting the layman’s concern for practical application, looks at the implications for church life. There are extensive endnotes for those wanting a more detailed analysis.

Tongues = Languages
Renton argues that the main focus of the tongues debate should be on the fact “tongues” are human languages, rather than on the issue of whether they have ceased (a secondary matter). This is because 99.9% of today’s ‘tongues’ speakers admit that their utterances are ecstatic babble, not languages. If biblical tongues are normal human languages, then the modern phenomenon is invalid, regardless of whether the ‘gift’ has ceased or not (which becomes a separate issue). Sadly, too few non-Charismatic writers have focussed on the fact that tongues are human languages and so greatly weaken and confuse their case. Renton ably demonstrates that biblical tongues are indeed actual human languages from the relevant passages, in chapter 3, while responding to a range of objections commonly raised in chapter 4.

In chapter 6 Renton also shows the relevance of the principles of 1 Corinthians 12-14 to multilingual church situations, arguing that this was most likely the situation in the Corinthian church. This is a very useful application in today’s increasingly pluralistic world.


Where I’m forced to part company with Renton is over the issue of whether this tongue speaking is simply people speaking languages they already know (Renton’s ‘Third Way’), or a revelatory gift of speaking knowledgeably in an unlearned human language.

Acts 2
Renton’s exegesis relies heavily on a lot of assumptions in Acts 2 (for example: that ‘house’ refers to the temple precincts; that the Hebrew diglossia was being used and that tongues means ‘other than Hebrew’ in this context). Although Peter corrects the crowd’s incorrect perception of drunkenness, he doesn’t correct the presumably accurate observation that the 120 were largely Galileans. Renton’s argument that people simply began to speak with joy in the non-Hebrew Greek and/or Aramaic lingua franca seems not to go as far as the text suggests. There the range of ethnic origins, and by implication the languages, is very wide and emphasised. The crowd is clearly shocked by the languages spoken, not by linguistic conventions broken. (Note the emphasis on their “own language” in Acts 2:11 – which suggests the 120 spoke in local dialects rather than just Greek or Aramaic.) It is quite unlikely that the small band of disciples would be so diverse prior to Pentecost. Certainly, the crowd’s reaction seems to support the conclusion that they spoke in unlearned languages – a conclusion held by commentators since earliest times. This is further supported in Acts 10 – 11 where the tongues are significant enough to be compared to Acts 2 (cf.11:15-17). Does Renton propose that in all this time Peter had heard no-one else speak spontaneously in a non-diaglossic or non-lingua franca language? The text itself speaks of a unique “gift” that acts as a sign to Peter that God accepts Gentiles (11:15-17).

1 Corinthians 12-14

Renton’s approach here does throw some useful light on certain aspects. For example, when Paul says he speaks in tongues more than all, he may be simply meaning he speaks in other languages more than all. Also – a person is not to speak unless an interpreter is present – if it is known languages, then this is easily known beforehand and readily explicable, but hard to account if neither speaker nor interpreter know the language beforehand.

Renton basically argues that the “spirituals” are natural abilities used by God (e.g. like helps, etc.) Hence tongues are reduced to multilingualism and prophecy to preaching. But the list in 12:8-10 seems to include specifically supernatural and/or revelatory abilities (‘common’ gifts – like helps, administration, etc. – are not mentioned). This emphasis by Paul is readily understandable if the Corinthian problem is the exaltation of those gifts perceived as overtly supernatural, and hence more ‘spiritual’. Renton’s reduction of prophecy is especially concerning. A word study of prophecy reveals that true prophecy is not merely preaching, but is an immediate inspiration of new revelation “which cannot be known by natural means” [1] (whereas preaching/teaching uses existing revealed truth). Tongues is always associated with prophecy. I would agree with Victor Budgen [2] that tongues is inspired, infallible prophecy in another unlearned language.

If this is true, Renton’s (admittedly tentative) interpretation of 1Corinthians 13 has problems. Because of his definition of ‘tongues’ as ‘messages in other languages’ (i.e. multilingualism) – which obviously continues today – the implication is then created that prophecies and knowledge must also continue. As a result, these all have to be reinterpreted as an uninspired ‘bringing of a message’ to avoid a charismatic conclusion. He then reinterprets ‘ceased’ as the fact that all individual messages/sermons end/finish but maturity is seen in love that endures forever. However – such a view of ‘ceased’ is so obvious as to be a truism. (Indeed, even the Word of God brings a message when it is read, but it doesn’t ‘cease’ when we stop reading it. It is everlasting!) It is also difficult to see why, on this thesis, tongues would be seen as a mark of an exalted spiritual status by the Corinthians. The context in 1 Corinthians 13, however, seems clearly to be a contrast between the partial nature of specific revelations (i.e. in the form of the revelatory gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge) against its mature/perfect/complete/clear expression (i.e. in its completion in what we now call the Scriptural Canon). This brings the cessation of all revelations, and reveals the priority of the fruits over the temporary gifts of the Spirit.

Much of Renton’s interpretation rests on the supposition that tongues are normal human languages, rather than the issue of learned versus unlearned. The main area of divergence is that if it is unlearned, then ‘interpretation’ would be a gift of perfect inspired translation of a known tongue, which is why prayer would be needed for it.

In the final analysis, it looks unlikely that Renton’s third way of normal learned languages is supported by the texts.

Part 2 of the book looks at the implications of the exegetical findings. The first and most obvious implication of Renton’s exegesis is that the current phenomena of tongues as ecstatic babble is not genuine, but spurious, and consequently must originate in human (psychological) or demonic sources. This position is not popular, but must be held if we are to be faithful witnesses against error. However, Renton encourages us to reach out and challenge charismatics rather than write them off, as many are sincere but mistaken believers. (To illustrate this, Renton includes an appendix from a retraction testimony by Robert Baxter, a leading prophet of the 19th century Irvingite Movement. Indeed the author of this review as an ex-‘tongue’ speaker can attest with thanks that people were willing in patience to show a better way.)

Chapter 11 (“Grace in Times of Conflict”) is an excellent chapter in itself offering guidelines for behaviour in a theological controversy, especially in a local church context. The book is worth getting even just for the practical and pastoral wisdom found in this chapter.

A second appendix on the dangers of false dualisms that are endemic in much contemporary Evangelical thinking is included.

All in all Renton’s book is a useful contribution to the debate that challenges all sides to look afresh at the biblical grounds for their position.

Tongues Revisited:A Third Way
by Renton Maclachlan

Paperback 316 pages ISBN 0-473-06918-0

ClearSight, 94 Mckillop Street, Porirua, NZ Available at $NZ29.95 plus p&p from the publisher:

or online from (Website URL has changed)

1. ‘Prophecy’ in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
2. Victor Budgen, Charismatic and the Word of God, (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 1989). [This book was reviewed in Grace & Truth Magazine (, Issue 4 – July/August 2001, pp.5-6.]


This bulk of this review originally appeared in: & Truth Magazine Vol 1(6):19-21, Nov/Dec 2001.


About the review author:
Chris Good (Email: is the coordinator of a small Reformed Baptist group in Wellington, New Zealand. Originally from a Pentecostal background, he came to a Reformed position while studying at university. He is currently Sciences Liaison Librarian at Victoria University of Wellington. He is married with three daughters.


Critique of Review by Chris Good

By Bob Zerhusen

Hello Stephen,

You shared your friends’ (Chris Good’s) review of Renton’s book with the list. 

Although there are many problems with the review, I want to focus on ‘one’ problem in particular which seems to crop up in the presentations of virtually all people who advocate what I call the “language miracle view” (i.e., that Acts 2 describes the apostles as supernaturally speaking MULTIPLE human languages which they did not know and had never learned). Having discussed this subject many times, over and over and over again this same problem surfaces. I have brought up this problem and proponents of the language miracle view ‘never’ adequately answer it. Most are completely unaware of the problem and those that know about it do not seem to understand that this torpedo sinks their ship! I hate to disagree with a Reformed Baptist named “Good”, but let’s talk about that Achilles heel here. None of us wants to be aboard a sinking ship do we?

Good writes: “Renton’s argument that people simply began to speak with joy in the non-Hebrew Greek and/or Aramaic lingua franca seems not to go as far as the text suggests.”  

The error that Good makes, which is so, so common, is to ASSUME that there was a significant amount of LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY among the first century Jews. The assumption is this: the first century Jews spoke as their NATIVE LANGUAGE (or vernacular) some “local” (I put this in quotes as it is regularly IMAGINED and ASSERTED but never shown to be true) language OTHER THAN ARAMAIC OR GREEK.  

We also need to remember the old legal maxim here: “he asserts must prove” (i.e., the person making an assertion has the responsibility, in a rational discussion, debate, or dialogue, to prove his assertion with evidence). Language miracle proponents regularly and repeatedly assert that there was GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY among first century Jews. Going back to the first quoted statement of Good, notice carefully that he labels Aramaic and Greek as “lingua francas”. He is asserting first, that Aramaic and Greek were NOT the native languages of first century Jews. Second he is attempting to minimize the use of Aramaic and Greek among first century Jews by asserting them to be “lingua francas” not their native languages.  

Linguists commonly speak of “lingua francas” in a region. This means that multiple people are using multiple languages as their vernacular or native language and yet one language becomes the standard language used for communication by most of the people in that region. Living in Los Angeles and being a native Californian, I know that there are people living here who speak multiple native languages (including Spanish, German, Japanese, etc.) and yet ENGLISH is the “lingua franca” here. It should also be noted that for persons like myself, my native language ENGLISH, is ALSO the “lingua franca” here. So this clearly indicates the possibility that a person’s NATIVE LANGUAGE could also be the LINGUA FRANCA of the region in which they live.

Again, carefully examining Good’s first quoted statement he is implying that while ARAMAIC AND GREEK were the “lingua francas” for first century Jews THEY WERE NOT THE NATIVE LANGUAGES OF FIRST CENTURY JEWS. He is of course asserting this because in order for the language miracle view to be true he’s got to come up with MULTIPLE NATIVE LANGUAGES other than Aramaic and Greek (because we ALL know that the disciples knew and had learned Aramaic and Greek) which the disciples supposedly spoke in Acts 2.

Does he provide ‘any’ historical evidence for this claim? No. He merely asserts this, or worse yet, merely assumes it. If you examine the historical evidence you find exactly the opposite picture (i.e., there was NOT GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY among first century Jews, their native languages, which also happened to be the lingua francas in the areas in which they resided, were Aramaic and Greek).  

I could use many, many examples but for brevity’s sake a few clear historical evidences that Aramaic and Greek were the native languages of first century Jews includes:
1.    the fact that parts of the book of Daniel were written in Aramaic (Why? because Aramaic was both the lingua franca and the native language of Jews taken in exile to Babylonia; no one questions this fact);  
2.    Hellenistic Jews spoke Greek as their native language (shown by synagogue inscriptions, writings, the process of Hellenization started by Alexander the Great, ossuaries, and my favorite, the Septuagint translation of the OT, translated into Greek because Greek had become the native language of Jews in Egypt);  
3.    In Acts 6, EVERY scholar says that the native language of the “Hellenists” was Greek (note these would have included the same people who’d been present in Acts 2 for Pentecost; its actually humorous to see a commentator asserting that the native tongue of the Jews from the western Diaspora listed in Acts 2:9-11 did not speak Greek as their native language and then the same commentator when discussing Acts 6, with no hesitation, will declare that the native language of the “Hellenists” of Acts 6 was Greek!). These are not just assumptions, or unsupported assertions, these are all commonly known facts. Commonly known by all, but seemingly forgotten, or at least not taken into consideration, when people discuss the native languages spoken by the disciples in Acts 2.

The second thing to note about Good’s first recorded statement is his phrase: “seems not to go as far as the text suggests.”  We need to remember that no single language is listed or mentioned or referred to anywhere in Acts 2. From Acts 2 alone we don’t know what the lingua francas or native languages would have been for the Acts 2 crowd. Now Good is asserting that the text IMPLIES GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY. Note carefully, the text does not explicitly declare that there was GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY. According to Good, it IMPLIES IT. So we are dealing not with actual, historical, available evidence, but an IMPLICATION that Good is alleging. An IMPLICATION which Good says “the text suggests.” So where does Good (and many others as well) get this IMPLICATION from the text of GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY?

Good answers this question with his next statement: “There [where?] the range of ethnic origins, and by IMPLICATION [my emphasis] the [multiple] languages, is very wide and emphasized.” So where in the text of Acts 2 does he (and other proponents of the language miracle view) get his IMPLICATION? From Acts 2:9-11 of course. And what does Acts 2:9-11 contain?  It is a listing of GEOGRAPHICAL AREAS from which the Acts 2 crowd had come.  

Good’s IMPLICATION and logic is quite simple, it goes like this: All those various and diverse areas suggests (or implies) various and multiple languages, these multiple areas suggests GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY. Again, he is asserting, but does he provide ANY historical evidence for this assertion? None.  

And yet this completely unsupported assertion wields great power over his thinking (and over the others who share this view). Obviously, if the text suggests GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY, then also obviously there must have been multitudes of languages which the disciples could not have known, had never learned, and thus ONLY a language miracle could make the speaking of this vast multitude of languages  possible. Its not hard to understand how people can think this way or come to this conclusion. TODAY, if we gathered a group of Jews from around the world in Jerusalem, they WOULD SPEAK A MULTITUDE OF NATIVE LANGUAGES.

The problem is that Acts 2 is not describing the Judaism of today, but the Judaism of the first century. And in the first century, if you take the time to check it out for yourself (i.e., “be a Berean”), you find not that there was GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY but that Aramaic and Greek were the native languages of Jews both in Israel and in the Diaspora (i.e., Jews outside Israel).  

In Acts 2:14ff Peter speaks to the crowd in ONE language and everybody understands him! That couldn’t happen today, you could not gather Jews from around the world, speak in ONE LANGUAGE and have them all understand you. But according to the text of Acts 2 this was not only possible, but occurred in Acts 2. Now scholars disagree whether or not that ONE LANGUAGE Peter spoke was Aramaic or Greek (I lean to Aramaic myself), but nobody questions that he had no problem communicating with the crowd in ONE LANGUAGE  (its also interesting to note that the disciples understood exactly what the crowd was saying in response to the tongues, the reactions of amazement and ridicule, that would be a miracle in itself, if the crowd spoke multitudes of native languages which the disciples did not know or had never learned! That would mean that the disciples had a miracle occur when they spoke all these alleged languages they had never learned AND they would need a miracle of hearing to understand what these people were saying when they responded to the disciples’ speaking!) This clearly indicates not that there was GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY in first century Judaism, but the opposite, there was not GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY, the speaking of Aramaic and Greek would have been entirely sufficient for that entire crowd, AND, the disciples understood what the people were saying because they spoke the same languages! 

Another rather clear indication that there was not GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY among first century Jews is that in the book of Acts describing about the first 30 years of the early church, Paul and the others have no trouble communicating the gospel all over the world of that time (there is only one reference to a language other than Aramaic and Greek causing a problem in the whole book of Acts: Lycaonian, and the apostle Paul who had the gift of tongues according to 1 Cor. was ‘unable’ to speak in Lycaonian!)  Why? Because the use of Aramaic would have covered Israel and the use of Greek would have covered every other place that Paul traveled among the first century Jews! Even the NT itself is evidence that the Jews did not speak a multitude of native languages other than Aramaic or Greek. The NT was written in Koine Greek sometimes to the very same areas that are listed in Acts 2 (e.g., James 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1) because this was both the lingua franca and the native language of Hellenistic Jews.

Good speaks of “the range of ethnic origins, and by implication the languages.” Whoa, hold it! Acts 2 is not describing a range of ethnic origins. It is describing a crowd of first century JEWS from around the world. There is only ONE “ethnic origin” in Acts 2 – Judaism! Now they may have been from different parts of the world (as listed by Acts 2:9-11) but they are only one ethnic group, Jews (and some proselytes who are converts TO JUDAISM!).

The text of Acts 2 clearly asserts that the crowd was hearing the speaking of their own native languages. While the text does not tell us what these languages were, it does indicate WHERE THESE JEWS HAD COME FROM (the listing in Acts 2:9-11). So we need to ask the question: what was the native language(s) of Jews living in the areas listed in Acts 2:9-11? Does that sound fair and reasonable?  

If there was indeed GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY among first century Jews, with Jews from differing areas speaking a multitude of native languages OTHER THAN ARAMAIC AND GREEK, then if we look at the available historical facts, won’t we find precisely this, evidence of the Jews of the first century speaking multitudes of native languages other than Aramaic and Greek? If the language miracle view were true, this is precisely what you would expect to find, and indeed precisely what you would in fact find. The problem is – that you find precisely the opposite – tons of evidence that Aramaic and Greek were the native languages of first century Jews. Go to Jewish sources and scholars, go to Bible translations/targums/ossuries/inscriptions/writings/even graffiti, go to liberal scholars, go to conservative scholars (who have investigated first century Judaism), go to the OT, go to the NT, the picture is the same everywhere, the native languages of first century Jews were Aramaic and Greek.

Let’s use the Acts 2:9-11 list as an example. “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia” refers to Jews living in the eastern Diaspora, primarily Babylonia. The Targums, Aramaic translations of the OT were produced here because Aramaic was the lingua franca in those areas and ALSO the native tongue of those Jews. Jewish sources are especially strong in corroborating this but you will also see Christian scholars like F.F. Bruce saying the same thing. Next on the list is “Judea”. The native language of Judea at this time was Aramaic (see Acts 1:19 which proves Aramaic was the native language of these Jews). Next on the list are all areas where Greek was the lingua franca and the native language of Jews residing there (“Cappodocia, Pontus, and Asia [not China and Japan but the Mediterranean], Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes”). At the island of “Crete” they didn’t speak “Cretan” they spoke Greek as their native language. Cyrene was a GREEK COLONY so guess what the native language of Jews from there was? Jews from Egypt didn’t speak Egyptian as their native language they spoke Greek. That’s why the Septuagint which was produced there was written in Greek. It was not merely put into a lingua franca while the Jews there spoke some other language as their native language. It was put in Greek because THAT WAS THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGE! How about Jews and proselytes from Rome? The reason Luke mentions the proselytes when referring to visitors from Rome is because at that time the greatest amount of Jewish proselytizing was occurring in the city of Rome. And at the CITY of Rome the predominant language among the Jews was Greek. Cappodocia, Pontus, etc. were areas where Hellenistic Jews resided. And what was the native language of these Hellenistic Jews? What language are their synagogue inscriptions in? Why were they using the Septuagint translation? Because Greek was their native language.

So this list of Acts 2:9-11 does not suggest or imply GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY, it only does so if you ASSUME that it suggests or implies GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY, or if you ASSUME that Luke’s purpose for the list was to emphasize linguistic diversity (I believe his purpose was to emphasize that the first Spirit empowered witness was to the nation of Israel which was represented by Jews from around the world as listed in Acts 2:9-11). And you only assume that if you are not really aware of what native language the Jews in those areas spoke. What I am suggesting is nothing hidden or extraordinary, it’s actually quite simple; investigate the available evidence that exists in regard to the native languages of Jews in these areas. Don’t ASSUME that you know. Don’t ASSUME that since Jews TODAY speak multitudes of native languages they would have done so THEN. Check out the first century evidence. When you do so, you will find that the evidence available to anyone who cares to examine it, thoroughly refutes the ASSUMPTION of GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY which exists in the minds and imaginations of language miracle proponents. The facts say otherwise. And if the ASSUMPTION of GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY among first century Jews is false, then the language miracle view is seriously threatened and is probably false.  

Chris if you should choose to respond to this post I would like to see you attempt to establish two points:  
1.    show with evidence, do not merely assert, that Aramaic and Greek were merely lingua francas, not native languages for the Jews from the areas listed in Acts 2:9-11; and/or
2.    show with evidence that these Jews actually spoke languages OTHER THAN Aramaic and Greek as their native languages.

Merely asserting or claiming that languages OTHER THAN Aramaic and Greek EXISTED in the first century is NOT SUFFICIENT (I have often heard language miracle proponents say things like: “well they MAY HAVE [emphasis mine] spoken languages other than Aramaic and Greek as their native languages, probably “local languages” so it MIGHT HAVE BEEN these local languages which they spoke in Acts 2″). Proving that other languages EXISTED (or may have existed) in the first century is not the same as, in fact, isn’t even close to showing, that the first century Jews spoke these languages as THEIR NATIVE TONGUES (e.g.., Native American languages did in fact exist at this time in the first century but did the Jews speak these languages as their native languages? Pahlavi was used in Babylonia but did the Jews there speak it as their native language rather than Aramaic?  etc. etc. etc.) I don’t want to see “might have beens” or “quite possiblies”. Saying or claiming or asserting or imagining that the first century Jews spoke a multitude of native languages may be convincing to others who share the same opinion, but it has little or no weight for those who have investigated the actual facts. If the first century Jews spoke these multitudes of native languages other than Aramaic and Greek, then there should be abundant and available evidence supporting this assertion. I want to see hard evidence for the claim that first century Jews spoke native languages other than Aramaic and Greek as their native tongues. You want to assert GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY then its your burden of proof to establish your assertion with evidence.

Also, Stephen and Chris, lest you think that I am against you in some personal way because of what I have written here. I rejoice in the work that you are doing in New Zealand. I have had many contacts with people from New Zealand (through some amazing coincidences) and sadly from my conversations with people it appears to be a very secular place where evolutionism is completely assumed and Christians are definitely in the minority. Just the place for the good work that you guys are doing. My problem is not with you guys personally, but with the ASSUMPTION of GREAT LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY. It’s an assertion with no legs to stand on, that if seriously and properly considered ought to be abandoned.

Bob Zerhusen