Review - Jim Brooks

Jim Brooks
Pastor Grace Community Church
United States of America

Received 4th October, 2001

On the surface there are several factors which may dissuade the serious Bible student from purchasing this book without a second thought:

  1. the author is a layman with no formal training in Bible or theology;
  2. the book is self-published (but the attractive cover and layout are comparable to the best a major publishing house would produce);
  3. the only way to get the book, for now, is to order it from the author via the internet and
  4. books on tongues are plentiful and represent a well-travelled road. This last point is not lost on Maclachlan as he writes, “If all I was going to do was retrace a well worn track, I would not have bothered with this exercise. I would have been content with the contributions already in print” (p. 13). Of his book the author states, “I am satisfied that I have not followed a well worn path” (ibid.). Indeed he has not and this is what makes this book valuable in the discussion of tongues. Maclachlan has blazed a new trail in the tongues debate with a simple explanation which appears to me both plausible and convincing.

In the contemporary church the issue of whether or not speaking in tongues is a legitimate manifestation of the Holy Spirit is usually divided into two camps. Those within charismatic circles believe Acts and 1 Corinthians describe miracle language experiences (i.e. the miraculous ability to speak an unlearned language) which are valid workings of the Holy Spirit for today. Countering this, non-charismatics believe these supposed miracle language abilities died out with the last of the apostles so that speaking in tongues is not valid for today. Between these extremes is found a mediating position which believes the Holy Spirit may manifest a miracle language gift but it must be in strict accordance with the biblical data.

One glaring fact oftentimes overlooked by all sides in the debate is their agreement on the assumption that miracle language events were occurring in the early days of the church. This is where Maclachlan steps in with his “third way” and asks a very simple question, “What if this assumption is erroneous?” Maclachlan’s basic thesis is “that Biblical ‘tongues’ are normal human languages normally learnt and normally spoken” (p. 20).

For Acts 2 he lays the groundwork for his conclusions:
(1) The disciples lived in a multi-lingual culture. Aramaic was their native language but they also could converse in Greek and possibly Latin.
(2) The Jews from the geographical regions represented at Pentecost were from both the Eastern and Western Diaspora.
(3) The mother language of those from the Eastern Diaspora was Aramaic, those from the Western Diaspora, Greek.
(4) Israel at that time practiced what is known as “diglossia.” This is a linguistic practice in which the language for formal speeches, writing and religious activities is different than the language of everyday life. For example, the Roman Catholic Church practiced diglossia by having the Mass in Latin whereas the language of everyday life was something else: English, French, Spanish, etc. Such a situation existed in Israel in the first century (and continues today within some orthodox Jewish circles). The language of the Temple was Hebrew and was considered the “holy language,” the language of the common man was either Aramaic and/or Greek.
(5) The location of the events in Acts 2 was the Temple complex.
(6) The phrase “other tongue” to contemporary Jewish ears was understood to mean “a language other than Hebrew.”

With this undergirding, Maclachlan interprets Acts 2. The Day of Pentecost was a sacred festival with the hour of prayer being nine a.m. in the Temple, in Hebrew. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in an audible and visible manner. Writes Maclachlan: “So immediately, even though in the temple, they disregarded the cultural constraints and spoke of the marvellous works of God in the low languages they knew [Aramaic, Greek and to a lesser extent Latin], to those that surrounded them who understood them. This was amazing and shocking – simply unheard of! The Diaspora Jews were astonished at the disregard shown to the rules of conduct, but were inquisitive because they heard their own dialects being spoken…Some of those present however, also shocked at the flagrant abuse of the social and religious conventions, ridiculed them as drunks. Why else would anyone behave in such an appalling way?” (pp. 150-151)

The author’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 14 is quite extensive, covering four chapters. His underlying premise is what is readily recognized: the city of Corinth was an urban, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual shipping center. Thus, according to Maclachlan, what Paul was addressing in the Corinthian church was not the unbridled use of ecstatic utterances, but he was instructing them how to deal with the problem of multiple languages being present and used within the meetings of the church.

With this understanding, Maclachlan summarizes Paul’s basic instructions to the church:
(1) Those whose mother language was different from the prominent language (in this case Greek), may legitimately make contributions to the church meetings.
(2) Those who desire to contribute may do so only if an interpreter is present. A secondary instruction is if the speaker himself has the ability to interpret his own message then he may contribute.
(3) Foreign language contributions should be limited to two or three at the most.
(4) Foreign language contributions may include general words of edification, prayers, songs, etc.
(5) If no interpreter is present then the person should remain silent.
(6) If the man knows the dominant language of the church – again in the Corinthian situation this would be Greek- then he should speak it rather than his native language.
(7) The primary purpose of these instructions were for the maximum edification of those in the multi-lingual Corinthian church. (pp. 124-127)

Probably most everyone reading this review has thought of a dozen questions and criticisms. A very helpful section of the book answers in a satisfying and straightforward manner 21 of the most common objections which Maclachlan has had to answer from his critics. In so doing he dissects and analyzes nearly every verse of 1 Corinthians 14.

There is much more in this book to stimulate thought and, no doubt, debate. One chapter is devoted to answering the common charge that Paul was speaking about some form of a Greek mystery religion infiltrating the Corinthian church. 

The second major section of this book is entitled “What of the present?” In this section, Maclachlan analyzes and critiques what he calls “the current charismatic phenomenon” (p. 163). Perhaps unsurprisingly, he concludes the modern speaking in tongues movement is either of human or demonic origin, or some combination thereof. Another helpful section lists 17 suggestions of how non-charismatics and charismatics should interact with one another when discussing the issue of speaking in tongues. The book is well documented with 247 endnotes, some of them quite lengthy and polemical.

Maclachlan’s work is endorsed by Dr. Peter Lineham (Massey University) and Dr. Ronald Nash (Reformed Theological Seminary). Although the focus of the book is directed against charismatic claims, by necessity Maclachlan also tackles cessationist arguments in order to clarify his “third way.”

Those critical of the charismatic movement have had the theological and historical high ground in the debate. With this book, Maclachlan has fired the opening salvo of a new avenue of study and discussion which may prove to be a solidly biblical argument and refutation of one of the core essentials of the modern charismatic movement.