I have not heard of Joseph Prince before our mini-series focusing on popular leaders of the Charismatic movement in the Asian scene. Our other blogger, EvangelZ, was the one who told me about him and how I should look him up. It seems like he is a Charismatic prosperity gospel preacher with a big church in Singapore call New Creation Church. His popularity is beyond Asia, and even here in the US.
His ministry uploaded a clip on Youtube from his sermon titled “Tongues–The Key To A Spirit-Led Life.”
The purpose of his message is clear:
Speaking in tongues make you supernatural. So that is the prayer language that every believer should have.” (8:05-8:13).
He believes Christians SHOULD speak in tongues. But in order to make his argument, he has to make two assumptions necessary for his case:
- Speaking in tongues is not the same thing as the gift of tongues.
- Those baptized in the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues.
In this post we will focus only on the first premise, that speaking in tongues is not the same thing as the gift of tongues. Joseph Prince articulates and argue for this distinction between speaking in tongues and the gift in tongues seven minutes into the clip, saying:
So the biggest problem, the body of Christ today is that Charismatics who is baptized in the Spirit see it as a sign, alright, that they are baptized and that’s it but they don’t exercise the gift. Now, many a times they exercise the gift when they come to church. And that was the problem in the church of Corinth where Paul wrote trying to control of the gift of tongues. Now gift of tongues, not everybody has the gift of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14, 12 and all that, where it talks about where you don’t have an interpreter, keep quiet. Now that’s the gift of tongues. All of us have the sign that Jesus said in Mark and this sign will follow those that believed, alright? One of the signs is that they shall speak with new tongues. Our Lord Jesus said that. This sign will follow the believers. Didn’t say pastors. Believers. Didn’t say Apostles and prophets. Believers. One of the biggest sign is what? They shall speak with new tongues.” (7:01-7:58)
So while “not everybody has the gift of tongues,” Joseph Prince believes that the Bible teaches all believers “shall speak with new tongues.’
Joseph Prince might say this distinction parallel evangelism and giving:
- While some have the spiritual gift of giving (Romans 12:8), yet all believers are commanded to give (Romans 12:13, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, etc).
- While some have the spiritual gift of evangelism(Ephesians 4:11), yet all believers are commanded to evangelize/witness (Matthew 28:19-20, 1 Peter 3:15, etc).
Spiritual gifts will differ from individual to individual (Romans 12:6) but that doesn’t mean if we don’t have the spiritual gift of evangelism or giving that we cease giving and witnessing.
But does this distinction applies to the issue of speaking in tongues? It doesn’t seem likely. Note that in order for the gift/general function distinction to apply, it is necessary that God’s Word gives a command to believers in general to practice it. While God does tells believers in general to witness and give, there are no imperative verbs in the New Testament ordering believers to speak in tongues. Thus, Joseph Prince is not biblically warranted to make such the distinction between spiritual gift and practice of tongues.
However, Joseph Prince does attempt to show from the Bible that all believers should speak in tongues. Recall how in the quote above he said, “All of us have the sign that Jesus said in Mark and this sign will follow those that believed, alright? One of the signs is that they shall speak with new tongues.” That passage in Mark in Mark 16:17, which says
These [d]signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues
As Prince stated, here in verse 17 it says “those who have believed,” and not just a subset of believers such as Pastors, apostles, etc.
But there are two good reasons why Mark 16:17 doesn’t support Prince’s cause.
First off, there is an issue of textual criticism with the end of Mark 16, in which verse 9 and following is disputed to be part of the original since many of the older and reliable manuscripts does not attests to anything beyond verse 8. I myself believe the Gospel of Mark ends in Mark 16:8.
Secondly, even if we assume Mark 16:17 is part of the Greek autograph and therefore is legitimately part of God’s Word, this still doesn’t help with Joseph Prince’s cause. I believe that the context of the immediate verse in Mark 16:18 strongly imply that we see a limitation of Mark 16:17 applying universally to all believers at all time. Note verse 18 states:
they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
I would not want to see Joseph Prince pick up dangerous serpents and drink poison today. If he believes that there are some exclusion to verse 18 being the case today, then I would say that to be consistent the context strongly demands an exclusion for the application of verse 17 for today also. Thus Mark 16:17 does not provide (1) the warrant for Joseph Prince to assert that all believers are obligated to speak in tongues, (2) nor that which is necessary to establish the distinction of the gift of tongues and the act of tongues.