New Tongues for the New Creature
Robert Wurtz II
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues (Mark 16:17 NKJV).
Then there appeared to them cloven tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.” (Acts 2:3)
In Acts 10:9-17, God revealed to Peter that the Gentiles had been cleansed of their ceremonial uncleanness using unclean animals in the illustration. Animals without cloven hooves were considered unclean (Lev. 11:3-8). This was not the only criteria, but it’s the aspect relevant to this entry. God used animals and other items to teach the Israelites the difference between clean and unclean. Bulls, goats, and sheep were clean. Swine and dogs were unclean. Some Jews consider swine so repulsive that they won’t even call them by their proper name but say “davar acher,” meaning “other thing.”
Jews applied these symbols to Samaritans (half-Jews) and non-Jews as a reminder that they, like unclean animals, were unclean too (Matthew 7:6). To be unclean meant that the person was unfit for the service of God or to be partakers of Holy things. Peter saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (Acts 10:11-15)
We can’t understand how entrenched Peter’s attitude towards unclean things was while living in the twenty-first century. Not just him, but all Jews and non-Jews shared this view. Peter told God, no. Consider that. Nevertheless, God told Peter, What God has cleansed, you must not call common. When God cleanses something, it is no longer unclean.
Jesus Explains Defilement
When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:14-23).
I have quoted this passage at length to demonstrate the reality of defilement. Jesus basically said that our actions and words defile us in the same sense that uncleanness would defile someone or something in the Old Testament. In the cognate passage in Matthew chapter 15, He specifically says “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” (Matthew 15:18 NKJV) When something was defiled, it had to be cleansed before the priests could use it in God’s service. It usually took blood to purge things, but sometimes it took many hours or days before cleansing would be effectual (Leviticus 11:24-31, 12:1-8, 15:5-27, 17:15, 19:7-10). So likewise, evil behaviors, ungodly talk, or hateful speech defile a person before God and man, and it usually takes a while before God can use them again.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the mouth is the source of defilement because Isaiah needed his lips purged before he “go” after being sent (Isaiah 6:1-5). God used a lump of fiery coal to do it. James spoke of a tongue that sets on fire of hell (James 3:6). We need tongues burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit. The fire of hell must be replaced with the fire of God. Everything we know about God’s holy fire as it related to His priestly service should come to mind.
Although God used pictures of things like touching dead bodies or clean or unclean animals, true defilement springs from the heart and through the mouth. The mouth, or, more specifically, the tongue and lips, form words, and it’s our words that defile us. It took fire to purge Isaiah’s lips, and it will take fire to purify the tongues of those who are born of God.
God planned to deal with man’s unclean heart, tongue, and lips. These are the source of the thoughts expressed in words that defile us. This is good news when we consider that by our words, we shall either be justified or condemned (Matthew 12:37).
New Hearts and New Tongues for the New Man
Ezekiel 11 and 36 foretell of God giving a new heart. Jeremiah 31 follows this same line of thought. Jesus informs us in Mark 16 that people will speak with new tongues (Mark 16:17 Majority Text). “New” is the Greek word kainos, and it means qualitatively new. Simple “new” in Greek is neos as distinct from kainos. A simple new “neos” patch on an old garment will shrink and tear the garment when washed. A kainos new patch is both new and pre-shrunk for the purpose. The promised new heart and new tongue are tailored for the new man. A new heart and a new tongue are essential to a new creature.
Conscious of Unclean Lips
As I briefly mentioned, when Isaiah was in the presence of the Lord in Isaiah 6, he was keenly aware that he was a man of unclean lips. In other words, he had been saying things that defiled him before God. Paul takes up the universality of this problem in Romans: “THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN TOMB; WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY HAVE PRACTICED DECEIT”; “THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”; WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS” (Romans 3:13-14). This is a combined quote from Psalm 5:9, 10:7, and 140:3.
If God ever changes a person, He must deal with both the heart and the tongue. Notice in Isaiah 6 how the angel came and touched Isaiah’s lips with a fiery coal from off the altar and purged his iniquity. Keep this fact in mind when we arrive at Acts 2. It is instructive to see the place where the Seraphim applied the fire, not his hand, legs, chest, or anyplace else. It was his mouth.
God Fulfills His Promise
In Acts chapter 2, God is preparing to “send” the disciples into the world to declare the Gospel. There is a hint back to Isaiah 6 when the Seraphim purged Isaiah’s mouth and then heard the question, “who will go for us?” God sends no one until He first cleanses their heart and mouth. Again, just as in Isaiah 6, Pentecost had all the earthly elements of Temple (a type of God’s throne room), priesthood, fire, and ceremonial cleanness. So when cloven tongues like fire appeared over the people’s heads, it was God’s way of saying that their hearts and tongues had been purged by fire and were now clean.
In the figure of the cloven hoof, the cloven tongue spoke of acceptance with God for sacrifice and service. The Holy Spirit had replaced the defiling heart and tongue with the new tongue promised in Mark 16:17. Jesus said they who believe would speak with new tongues. The cloven tongue of fire represented a tongue burning with the love of God and no longer a source of defilement. The things that come forth from the new tongue will bless and not curse. The poison of asps (deadly words) under the lips is replaced with words of edification for man and praise for God.
These great truths bring us back to the house of Cornelius and the story of the sheet of unclean animals that Peter saw in the beginning. Peter understood this vision to mean that God was no respecter of persons. Therefore, the illustration of unclean animals will be essential to him making sense of what he is about to experience.
In Acts 11, Peter listened to Cornelius, a non-Jew, tell him how God had spoken to him. Then as Peter states, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-17)
Cloven = Clean
The Greek word here for “as” that Peter used for how the Spirit fell is hosper, and it means “Wholly as, just as, and exactly alike.” In the NT, it is used only in comparisons. This means cloven tongues like fire set upon the Gentiles when the Holy Spirit fell upon them, too, just as it did the 120 in the Upper Room. Now the whole sheet vision of unclean beasts makes sense. It is a graphic picture that hearkened back to the very beginnings in Leviticus and Deuteronomy when an uncloven hoof was unclean and cloven was clean. God had given the believing Gentiles new hearts and new tongues just as he gave the Jews. They were new creatures. They could now put on and walk in the new man without fear of an unruly tongue defiling them (so to speak). He used identical signs signifying equality in the scope of the transformation. He made Jews and non-Jews fit to be used in His service.