Speaking in Tongues

The Bible Is Our Guide

The phenomenon of ecstatic “tongues speaking,” praying in tongues, etc. is prevalent among Christians and non-Christians around the world. It is spreading rapidly in Christian movements in the name of the Holy Spirit. It is important that the Word of God be the guide and that all practices and doctrines be in conformity to the Bible—regardless of opinions, experiences and physical manifestations. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Beware of False Teachings

Jesus gave the church the following warning: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24). The devil comes not only with the appearance of evil but also as an angel of light working miracles. It is vital that truth be embraced and all error rejected. Many are being deceived by the false doctrine of glossolalia that is sweeping across the land. It brings a false sense of spiritual security to those who practice it and undermines the reality of a true experience of the Holy Spirit and holy living. Modern tongues speaking is not a result of the Holy Spirit but is of a counterfeit spirit. It is vital that every child of God understand the truth of “tongues” and beware of the fallacy in much of the current teaching and observance on the subject.

Speaking with New Tongues

Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel. “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues [glossa]” (Mark 16:17). This is the only place in the Gospels that references speaking with tongues as a gift or a sign. This was beautifully fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the disciples “…were filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:4) and “…every man heard them speak in his own language [dialektos]” (Acts 2:6). The disciples were speaking in “new” or “other” languages. They had not learned the languages they were speaking but were able to speak them through the power and gifting of the Holy Spirit.

The disciples were not babbling or speaking unintelligibly. They were speaking with clarity and distinc-tion in a foreign language. By the Spirit, they were beginning their ministry to people from outside of Israel who spoke different languages.

Many people today testify to having been baptized with the Holy Spirit and having a Pentecost experience of speaking in tongues. If this were accurate, these people would be speaking human languages to witness of the power of God instead of the incoherent babbling that is filling many churches today.

The Gift of Tongues

The Apostle Paul expounded upon the diversities of gifts that are given by the Spirit. “There are diversities of gifts but the same spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). The Holy Spirit does not give all people the same gift. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge…to another faith…gifts of healing…working of miracles…prophecy…discerning of spirits…divers kinds of tongues [glossa]…interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).

God gives gifts of the Spirit as He sees they will be profitable to the body of Christ and to the work of the Kingdom of God. The gift of tongues, as evidenced by Pentecost, is the ability to speak in a foreign language that is not learned but is given through the power of the Spirit to share the gospel with people in their native tongue or language. The word glossa (or language) used in 1 Corin-thians is the same word used in Acts 2. It is not a gift of babbling or speaking in an unknown language to man. The gift of tongues was not the gift of glossolalia but of xenoglossia.

Gift of Interpretation

The gift of interpretation is the special gifting of the Spirit to translate for someone who is speaking in his own language that is different than that of the hearers. If the disciples on the day of Pentecost would not have been blessed with the gift of tongues, they would have needed someone with the gift of interpretation to translate their message into the languages of the listeners. Often, as people babble ecstatically, they claim they need a translator. This is far from the reality of the true gift of tongues or the gift of interpretation. Where there is the gift of tongues, there is no need for an interpreter as everyone will understand in their native language.

Many seek the gift of tongues and esteem it greatly, even if their understanding is faulty. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:31, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” He then expounds on the value of charity in the fourteenth chapter. If people would get as excited about and value love as much as they do tongues, the world would be a different place. While not everyone receives the same gift from the Holy Spirit, all can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit Himself.

Scriptural Examples of the Gift of Tongues

In addition to the day of Pentecost, there are two other times recorded in the scripture where people received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. A few years after Pentecost, Peter ministered to the household of Cornelius and the Holy Ghost fell on them. “And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished…because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (Acts 10:45-46). Peter later testified that “…the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Similarly, the Holy Ghost fell on disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus who received Christ. They also “…spake with tongues [glossa], and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

The Holy Spirit was not only given to people on the day of Pentecost but to all believers who opened their hearts and sought for the infilling. God also gave the gift of tongues in these two recorded examples just as He gave at Pentecost. Again, they were not speaking incoherently but in the languages of the hearers. Any other accounting is a perversion of what the scripture clearly states. With the gift of different foreign languages, they prophesied, or taught, in those languages the doctrines of Christ.

Everyone Does Not Speak with Tongues

Many churches that practice glossolalia, speaking unintelligible speech, teach this is the evidence of the Holy Spirit. Not only is their understanding of tongues wrong, it is also incorrect to believe everyone will have the true, Bible experience of tongues. God sets the members in the body and distributes the gifts of the Spirit as it is pleasing to Him. Paul asked questions to make a definite point in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30. “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?” The answer to those questions is clearly “No.” Paul continues to ask: “Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues [in foreign languages]? do all interpret?” The answer remains the same: “No.”

Tongues (Foreign Language) Is Just One Gift

While some of the 120 believers in Acts 2 spoke in foreign languages, many others who received the Holy Spirit at that time did not speak in tongues (other languages). When people of Samaria heard the word of God and were saved, Peter and John prayed for them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). They did not speak in tongues, nor did Paul when he received the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, Jesus did not speak in tongues when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him.

Speaking in tongues, or foreign languages, was never commanded, never practiced by all Holy Spirit-filled people and was not exemplified by Christ Himself. It is just one gift of the Spirit that was given at needful times to witness to the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 14:22) that the gospel would be spread and believed.

Evidence of the Spirit Is Power to Live Holy

The true evidence of the Holy Spirit is found in the power to live a holy life and to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It is by this fruit that the spiritual life of a person is truly known. There are many people who babble and speak incoherently. They profess to possess the Holy Spirit and yet they are living in sin and in disobedience to God’s Word. They are not filled with the Spirit, for the Spirit will only dwell in a clean, holy temple.

Conclusion

The scripture lays down a clear pattern at Pentecost for understanding the gift of tongues as a human, foreign language. The “tongues” movement has gained millions of people who are drawn to an experience that would appear to be supernatural. If someone can have this experience and still live in sin, why seek the real Bible experience of the Holy Spirit? Charismatic babbling is not of the Holy Spirit but of a deceptive spirit contrary to that of God. God does not want to be worshiped in illegitimate ways. The fullness of the Holy Spirit is not found in external exhibition but in righteousness, peace, and joy.
-mws