Messages in tongues

Question 138, from Julie (UK)

My ex-fiance felt that he could receive messages in tongues from God for his own personal information and use. I could not see this in the Bible and felt uncomfortable about it. Can you elaborate?

‘Speaking in tongues’ – which can be defined as prayer or praise spoken in syllables not understood by the speaker [1] – is a Christian practice that can be quite divisive. Some Christians would regard it as an essential part of Christian experience, while there are many church streams that regard ‘tongues’ and other ‘charismatic’ practices to be redundant. The word ‘tongues’ can be confusing; in this sense it means speaking in another, unknown, language.

However this practice is now viewed, ‘tongues’ were certainly part of church life as recorded in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians, which Paul is generally assumed to have written, contains a number of specific instructions relating to how ‘tongues’ should be used in corporate worship. Interestingly, many of the experiences seen in current Pentecostal churches, including practices like ‘singing in the Spirit’, are not mentioned.

One often overlooked aspect of the use of ‘tongues’ is (more…)

Self-harm in the Bible

Question 137, from Emma, United Kingdom

What, if anything does the Bible say in regard to self-harm? What if the reason for self-harm was something that the person had no control over and is having to deal with later in life?

Although there are few direct references to self-harm in the Bible, there are several references to the Christian’s body belonging to God. In 1 Corinthains chapter 6, verses 19-20, Paul writes: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.”

Paul makes that statement in the context of discussing sexual behaviour and morality. However, it does illustrate the Christian idea of a holistic salvation – the body is ‘saved’ or ‘redeemed’, as well as the soul.

Biblical references to deliberate self-mutilation are located (more…)

Ploughshares in the Old Testament

Question 136, from Roger, United Kingdom
I’m confused about the phrase in Isaiah chapter 2, verse 4: ‘They shall beat their swords into ploughshares’. As I understand it, the Middle Eastern plough didn’t need such an attachment as their soils were very light – and the plough share was developed in the 7th century to enable the ploughing of heavy grassland in Europe.

The kind of plough used in Old Testament times was a light one-handled affair pulled usually by oxen. The point of the plough was covered with iron and was held in place by strips of iron which were about the shape of a sword.

In this verse in Isaiah, the prophetic statement revolves around a coming time of such peace and prosperity that metal used for swords can be re-used in this way. It may have been common practice for metal – a relatively expensive commodity – to be utilised for different purposes, depending on circumstances. For example, in Joel chapter 3, verse 10, the reverse instruction is given: “Beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”

The use of the word “ploughshare” in English translations is simply to make the metaphor understandable to an English-speaking reader. It does not refer to the English style ploughshare, and should not be read as such.