Matthew 28:18-20; John 7:38-39; 14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12;13; 14; Galatians 5:19-23
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4: 10-11
There is a common teaching that sprang up in the early 20th century that "speaking in tongues" is the proof of receiving the Holy Spirit. This is what we discussed in the articles The Baptism of the Holy Spirit PI and PII. There are also many pastors today who believe and teach that you have to speak in tongues to be saved or at least show that you have this ability in order to have the Holy Spirit. Is any of this true? NO! Because the Holy Spirit is given to all Believers as a gift (Acts 2:38; 5:32; 8:18-20; 10:45; 11:17; 11:17; 15:8). Now at this point, you may be lining up on a side of the reason and purpose of spiritual gifts and tongues; perhaps you are thinking this is the essential manifestation and importance for the Church, or, maybe you feel it is no longer a part of our redemptive history or church activity and it has ceased. Perhaps, you are somewhere in the middle. So, take a breath and open up your Bible to 1 Corinthians and read carefully; do not read into it what you think or want, but glean what is actually being said in chapters twelve through fourteen. This will take you fifteen minutes, it is very clear, and then you will know.
The problem is, most people do not read; rather, they read into Scripture what they want and wrap it up in trends and conceit. Thus, many get it wrong and look to pride and not the Bride! Then, why do we have "Speaking in Tongues" and what is it for? After reading the Word, we can then cut away the cuffs of our denominational tendencies, or what we think must be so, or our heritage, or just engage in a rabbit trail of debate. The more excellent way is rather to look to Scripture for our answers.
The background to all this and why we have it in the Bible is that Paul was addressing some serious concerns in the church in Corinth. They were struggling with church members suing and retaliating against one another, an abuse of spiritual gifts, and a lack of love. Instead of loving one another and building up the church, they were being hateful and awful and manipulating others with tongues saying I am better than you because I speak in tongues and you do not. Church and Christian relationships are supposed to be about the primacy and permanence of Christ, and His perfection of love over all else. Our modeling of His love is what showcases Christ's redemption and reconciliation and His Justification, His real love for us. Paul uses these issues to demonstrate the significance and importance of love over what both this Corinthian church and we think is important, like pride, position, status, charismatic signs, prophecy, and utterances-even good works. This also means that God's purpose cannot be thwarted by our actions; we may experience dire consequences, but His plan will prevail.
Thus, Paul sets up some boundaries to speaking in tongues, first explaining what it is, what it is for, and how we are to use and not use it. Thus, he is responding to the Corinthian concerns to show us that God is patient and gracious to us so we can be so with others. "Tongues" is meant to build up, not tear down; it is to bring order and point to Christ-all in love. Thus, love, not spiritual gifts is the path and way for our Christian lives and walk, not vengeance or showboating one's gifts that are supposed to point to Christ and not to one's self and resulting conflict. As Christians, we are to imitate Christ's restorative and redemptive love and model His precepts and call within His parameter of being kind, which is love, and then use our gifts as tools with which to serve. These passages at the top of this article become a character description of who Christ is, and it must also be our character description-of our actions, and our behaving responsibly with spiritual gifts in all that we do (1 Cor. 6:8).
What does the Bible say about Tongues?
This gift is a matter of hot dispute among many theologians in the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Reformed camps. So, all I can do is show you what the Word has to say, not what people think it should say! (This is why I told you to read it first!) A biblical definition of tongues is speaking in a language that you do not know, that you have not learned, so that another person can supernaturally hear the Gospel or message from God through you in their language. Thus, Tongues is supposed to verbally articulate and point to the Gospel of Christ. It can also be in the form of a prophecy, where another person will interpret through God's empowerment what the speaker of the proclamation said, and the message will never, ever contradict Scripture! Scripture also tells us that only one to three people will speak in tongues, never more than that. If it is any different, it is not from God, so beware! There is no indication from Scripture that this gift has ended, even though many fundamental and dispensational groups believe that. In addition, it really is not that important, as Paul pounds that point; it is showy so it attracts good attention like in Acts 2, and bad attention today by false teachers and those who seek to use it as a manipulation tool and build a ministry in their name and not to God's glory.
Here are the Greek definitions:
- Glossa in Romans 3, 12,and 1 Corinthians 13 -14, and 47 other places in the N.T. (plural), is translated as languages/tongues meaning "the tongue," a "member of the body," an "organ of speech" and/or depending on the context, a tongue of the language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations. For example, in 1 Corinthians 13:1-12, it is the ability to speak a divinely anointed message, as in a miracle, in a language one has never learned, but one that is known to the hearers. It is also an ability, that the Holy Spirit will direct one's words to another person of spiritual interest. In 1 Corinthians 14, it is also a call to take the Gospel to different places with different languages as well as keep order in the church. Its purpose is to be an edifying and evangelistic tool for spreading the gospel (Mark 16:17 Acts 2:1-13 Acts 10:44-46 Acts 19:1-7; 1 Cor. 12:10, 29-30; 13:8-12; 14:2; Eph. 19:6 (Make sure you follow the precepts of 1 Cor.14!)
- Dialektos, found in Acts, is translated as tongues and means a "conversation," "speech," "discourse," "language," or the tongue or language peculiar to any people, depending on context. Also, it denotes the meaning that there is no language barrier in heaven. This phrase, in the speaking in tongues context, primarily refers to the ability to speak many languages, like in Acts 2, which was a great trait of value to have in the multi-ethnic Roman Empire that was much like the way it is in cosmopolitan Europe today. And, at some point, the curse of Babel will end and all people will be able to understand one another without interpretation. This also refers to the spiritual gift to speak and understand different languages and a call to go to different languages as a missionary (Gen. 11:1-10; Mark 16:17; Acts 2:1-13; Acts 10:44-46; 19:1-7; See 1 Corinthians 13-1-3 study for more).
- Heteroglossos, in 1 Corinthians 14:21, is translated as other tongues or strange tongues, more to the point as "one who speaks a foreign language," means one who speaks a foreign language. Here, this phrase primarily refers to the ability to speak many languages, also like in Acts 2. This, in context, (chapters 12 and 14) can also refer to the spiritual gift of tongues. This is the supernatural ability to speak a language one has never learned so that the Gospel message can be known to the hearers in that language. Its purpose is as an evangelistic tool for spreading the Gospel, and never for self-grandstanding (1 Cor 14:21).
- Propheteia, in 1 Corinthians 12:10, is translated as prophecy in context to tongues, where God will deliver a message into your mind and out your lips. This is so often abused, as it was in this early Church, and we must always test whether what someone says is really God speaking or revealing to and through them to Scripture. If it is from God, it will build up, be done in love, be edifying, be true, point to the worship of Christ and not to the person speaking, and not contradict Scripture (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 11:2-5; 12:29; 14:3; 1 Thess. 5:19-21; 1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14; 1 John 4:1)!
Thus, we can understand the word tongues in the Greek language-a very clear, real, and stable language. It is never ecstatic speech or a dead or future language, understood by no one except God, and that comes with extra emotionalism and hysteria to make it more real, as many teach today. Paul explains it is too often abused, counterfeited, misused, and used, creating a church in disarray and distracting people from God's real revelations and principles, all for pride's sake or seeking something new outside of the Bible. Even if one would use this as a communication link to God, the emphasis must be God's Truth in its orderly use, and meant to glorify God. If someone does speak in tongues, it will be rare and spontaneous. And yet, most of the time it is nonsense and noise, grandstanding and attention-getting from the person pseudo-giving it. Also, if it is true, Scripture tells us that only one to three people will engage in it and never more than that; it will be done in love, and it will build up, not be divisive. Thus, if the whole church is speaking in tongues, they are in violation of Scripture, they are faking it, and they are being used as a tool of the evil one and/or pride-not by our Lord! Just read 1 Corinthians 14 and see for yourself, as Paul takes the time to state that tongues are not important or essential for worship; rather, order is essential for worship-as is love (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:1-13; Acts 10:44-46; 19:1-7; 1 Cor. 12: 21, 29-30; 13-14).
- In Acts 2:13-21, the early Christians were mocked because they appeared to be in a drunken frenzy as they spoke in tongues. Peter, in verse 14, gives an explanation of what was happening, that it was the baptism with the (not of the) Holy Spirit, by quoting Joel. Tongues also instituted the permanence of the Spirit, as foretold in Joel, and was what Moses' longed for, which was fulfilled at Pentecost (Num. 11:29; Isa. 28:11; Psalm 16:8-11; 110:1; Joel 2:28-32; 3:1-5).
- In Acts, we see fire along with tongues indicating the Presence and Purity of God as in the Person and work of the Holy Spirit (Ex. 3:2; 13:21; 19:18; Isa. 4:5; Ezek. 1:4; Acts 2:3, 11).
- In Acts, Romans, and 1 Corinthians 12-14, tongues always represents a real, understood human language that is comprehensible to the present audience (1 Cor 12:10; 14:26, 28).
- What about tongues of angels? Not necessarily meaning one can talk to angels willingly (verb is subjunctive), as the context is speaking hypothetically. If/when we do, we usually do not know it, so when an angel is revealed to us, we are floored by them. This means "if we can;" and when we do, what good would it be without love? In the 14:1 passage, it is all about order in the church and not chaos (1 Cor. 3:8-12; 14:1)?
- What about groaning in Romans 8: 22-26? This is like that of a mother giving birth. In verse 26, it is a prayer language between God the Spirit and God the Father that we cannot understand. Some Bible teachers make reference to this verse to make an argument for group speaking in tongues as a form of prayer. However, there is no indication in Scripture that this is true. If it were, it would contradict 1 Corinthians 14! This just means the Triune community of God is alive, at work, and in communication in the Body of Christ, the Church, and within us too as believers.
- The word, mysterious, refers to the speaker of the tongues not knowing the language, not that the language itself is mysterious! Paul also uses the word, mysterious, to proclaim divine truth not yet disclosed to us, which is in the context of prophecy in First Corinthians. Some argue that Paul refers to an intimate prayer between the Spirit and God. If that were so, then you would not utter it, since you are not the Spirit, or God! However, the Greek is clear in that it refers to human languages that are known, not dead or mysterious. And, of course, God is the principle audience, especially in worship!
The argument can be made for speaking in tongues to God, so that only He understands, but Paul warns us not to lean or dwell on this (1 Cor. 14:26-33). Also, Paul cites its use in Romans (Rom. 8:26) as more of the Spirit strengthening us, not necessarily giving us the words to give to God. Yes, in 1 Corinthians 14:2, Paul explains it as a communication to God, but also notice the emphasis on its orderly use! Order is the key, and the emphasis to glorify God is essential for worship. To have the view that tongues are essential for the Christian is to perform made-up-in-the-mind exegesis. The only reason tongues would be unintelligible to the listeners, like in Acts 2, is that they would not understand the language being spoken, like Aramaic and Hebrew speakers not knowing Latin or Assyrian (Acts 2:2-4; 1 Cor. 1:7).
Speaking in tongues also coincides with praising and glorifying God as an extra ability and power to witness to others in their own language. The context of tongues is always in and with love, and pointing to Christ, never to the deliverer, the speaker of it! The Bible makes it clear that obedience to God is a mark of His presence, not tongues! No great achievements can be accomplished that would glorify God and echo into eternity if there is no love or faith or Fruit (Acts 1:8; 2:4, 11; 5:29-32; 10:46; 19:6).
How and Why is Tongues used in Scripture?
Tongues is a spiritual gift that points to Christ and helps people understand solid teaching from God's Word. The practice of it can also help us to motivate others to have a more absolute trust and confidence in Christ. This kind of faith, that we all can have, helps us realize that things may look impossible to us, but with God, anything is possible. It also helps us be submissive to God and be examples to others that faith is more than any deed or obstacle (Matt. 17:23; Mark 9:29).
The New Testament does not convey any instances of tongues being used as a prime evangelism tool, although this is one of its roles. There is also no indication that the 3,000 converts at Pentecost received the gift of tongues. Biblical tongues will never be said without an interpretation, nor ever glorify the speaker! Not all people will speak in tongues. It is the least of the gifts. Paul lists tongues twice with the other Spiritual Gifts, and places tongues, and the interpretation of same, at the very bottom of the scale of need and importance, which makes you wonder why people are so zealous about it (1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28-30)!
Paul rebuked the Corinthians' teaching, which is the same as the modern Pentecostal view, as an improper interpretation due to their over-zealous desire to peruse tongues and not the Word. Both groups looked to tongues and experiences over and even against what the Scriptures had to say. In so doing, they carefully studied tongues but not the Word. Most Charismatic and Pentecostal commentators teach that the Corinthian tongues were not the same as the tongues at Pentecost. They believe that the Corinthians tongues were overjoyed outbursts of prayer and praise that were out of control. And yet, Paul attacks this notion and the misuse of tongues when they become unorganized and incoherent. Ironically, these utterances often become strange and incoherent emotional hysteria in the very churches who say this. The irony continues with the speaker's or leader's own grandstanding, manipulations, and distracting people away from God's Word, discipleship, and real spiritual growth.
Too many Bible commentators like to pull from Scripture what is not there. God's Word is crystal clear in these passages. Thus, when tongues is not spontaneous or done right according to Scripture, or is incomprehensible to the speaker or the audience, then it is the result of misplaced and uncontrolled emotionalism only, and not of God (1 Cor. 14:4-14). Remember, God is a God of order and unity (1 Cor. 14:26-33)! Thus, the gift of tongues should not be sought. However, if it comes, welcome it; seek its interpretation, and search the Scriptures (Isa. 28:11; Joel 2:28-30; Acts 2:3-36; 4:31; 8:17; 9:17-18; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor. 12:10; 12:28-30; 13:1; 8; 14:5 -6; 14:1-39; 14:39; Rev. 16:10)!
The most important and needed Gifts are those that focus in on the Word and work of God, and that disciple the Believers, because without them, the church would fall down (Matthew 28). The teaching and preaching of the Word of God must be more valuable to you than any material or emotional thing!
Does Jesus call the church to speak in tongues to be saved?
NO! See Numbers 11; Joel 2:28-29; John 7:37-39; Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1; 14:26-33; Ephesians 2:8-9!
All the gifts are needed and essential because they all are designed to edify the Church and glorify God. The church is a body, where all parts of the body are important. Some are more essential, like the brain versus a foot. The Corinthians had trouble distinguishing the importance of the Gifts, hence Paul's letter to them to rectify a problem that we still have today (1 Cor. 12:31; 14). Thus, leaders and teachers are the most important people who clearly present the truths of the Christian faith, which the apostles (church leaders) give from the Word.
A Christian must never, ever be so filled with pride that he/she is arrogant and callous toward others! The mature Believer should be able to give up his/her selfish desires and inclinations for the good of others, so to be an example of Christ. We are to be pursuing God, not status-seeking, immature love. Paul is directing them to the Old Testament and challenging the current philosophy that sought any wisdom and/or knowledge. In Christ, we are to seek His wisdom and knowledge through prayer and the Word (Ex. 28:30; 1 Sam. 12:23; Psalm 119; Prov. 1:2-7; Col. 1:9-14).
Have tongues ceased?
The Bible gives no indication of the "Cessationist" view, that the speaking in tongues or any of the signs and wonders like healing and prophecy stopped after 100 A.D. when the last of the Apostles died off and the "perfect" they interpret for the Bible came into being! Others see this as ceasing when Christ returns because the "perfect" refers to Christ's return and not the completion of Scripture. They may be rare, but nonetheless they are here and working. However, when we do see them, we are to be discerning and seek scientific and psychological reasons before we jump to conclusions. If we do not, we get ourselves in trouble by falling prey to shysters and manipulators using cheap magician tricks to distract us away from God's truth. Remember; the purpose of tongues or any kind of "signs and wonders" is to glorify Christ, not put on a show! When the manifestations become center stage, we miss the point of them, placing the focus on the delivery of the message and ignoring the message itself. Just look up these passages and see for yourself (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:4-5; Acts 10:46; Rom. 15:18-20; 1 Cor. 1:4-8; 13:8-13; 2 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:7-13; Heb. 2:1-4; James 5:14-16)!
The practice of tongues is often debated as to the normative aspect and whether or not it continues today. Some scholars propose that miracles are no longer a function of the church, and were just a part of "redemptive history." However, there is, again, no Scriptural support for that position! Tongues and miracles may be rare, but to say they do not happen puts a limit on God's sovereignty. God has no limits. Tongues, prophecy, revelation, churches, our work, all that we think is important will become obsolete! What are really important, relationships and love, will remain for eternity!
It all comes down to this one word in the Greek: Teleios. In 1 Corinthians 13:10, it is translated as perfection comes, meaning "brought to its end" or "finished." This refers to the Second Coming of Christ. Although some have stated this is the completion of the cannon, the Bible, word meanings and context say otherwise. Although a case can be made for this as an application because the Bible contains the plan of God, it is primarily the crescendo of God's redemptive plan. Thus, all that we have now is temporary-a type and shadow, an imperfect picture of what still awaits us; Christ's work is finished. The Law was not able to give people an intimate relationship with or access to God. Thus, the Law and sacrificial system were only temporary and would be replaced with a permanent solution-Christ the Redeemer; all will culminate with His return. God's redemptive plan is geared to make us perfect too, as Christ's work gives substance to faith and love. This was also a philosophical term used by Philo, meaning the "perfect priest," who Philo saw as Levi (I guess he did not read Genesis). What is perfect does not need to change; the old way was flawed and only useful to point to the One who is Perfect, and now His New Order is here (Matt. 24:4-36; 25:19-21; Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Thess. 2:1-12; Titus 2:1-3; Heb. 1:2; 4:8; 8:7; 7:11-28; 2 Peter 3:1-13; Rev. 19:11-12).
So, tongues and miracles may seem great! However, they do not meet the basic and eternal needs of the Body of Christ like the other gifts do, like teaching. To think they are would be like putting the cart in front of the horse! The Bible does not make the case that they have ceased, although they are not considered important. They are like milk for a baby versus the meat of teaching for maturity (1 Corinthians 14:1-25). Those who put emphasis on the "signs and wonders" miss the point of Scripture and the call of God. It is like saying the hotdog condiments are more important than the ball game (1 Pet. 4:10)!
This comes from the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 that states will cease...will pass away. The word meaning does state "to be put out of action," but the context is key here. This is meant to show that the Old Testament prophets predicted a final outpouring of the Holy Spirit where He would become the illuminating force to bring people to God. This will last only a limited time, and then God will take it away and end Spiritual Gifts and the Holy Spirit's intervention, which could happen at anytime between Jesus' first and second comings, in His perfect timing. Some have taken this to mean all charismatic gifts and signs will end with the Bible being completed, but the context and word meanings do not make this case. The point is that the gifts are not as important as love and will one day end anyway, while love and relationships will remain forever (Jer. 31:33-34; Joel 2:28; 1 Cor. 14:1-25).
What is important for us to know about tongues?
- Is the Holy Spirit at work in my life, helping me to produce real obedience and faith? Or am I using Him for my show of power, position, and pride, building my church and my ministry for my credit and fame? Remember, the essential aspect of real Christian faith and ministry is to place the focus on Christ and bring Him the glory! It is ABOUT the "Christ" not the "me!"
- Is the Spirit at work in my life, helping me to subdue sin, and moving me to produce more character? Is He removing from me what is in Galatians 5:19-21 and producing what is in Galatians 5:22-26? These are the Fruits of the Spirit, which are the evidence of the Spirit at work, happening in me! Notice what is missing! Tongues!
- Is the Spirit at work in my life, helping me generate praise in all aspects and moments of my life, not just on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.? Is my life filled with Him, modeling His character so my heart, mind, and mouth worship Jesus Christ?
- Is the Spirit at work in my life, helping me reap an attitude of what is really important?
- Am I seeing that speaking in tongues, and the gift of prophecy are not significant, as compared to Galatians 5:22-26, but that growing in maturity and character is important, and that we should not even seek tongues (1 Cor. 14)?
- What gifts are more important? Answer: I Corinthians12:28: And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Thus, speaking in tongues is least; how ironic that some people place this first and foremost!
- We are called to glorify Christ in all that we do! Paul fervently urges in Romans 12 and 15 that when we worship (as a life-style as opposed to just a gathering for a service) and are obedient to Christ, we must also demonstrate His love in how we relate to others. Paul seeks missionary support for his journeys because of the urgent need of the world to hear the Gospel. He desires prayers and respect. We must give the same to one another.
- Yes, tongues are still for today, and are a sign of God's grace. However, the other gifts are much more precious and pleasing to Christ, and are real evidence that the power of God is working in us! If tongues happen, then embrace it, as called for in Scripture. Just do not go out and seek it!
- How do you know if someone is actually speaking in tongues or faking it? Easy! The real experience will not be planned out, rather spontaneous; there will be one to three people speaking in tongues to someone or mutable someones who are not Christians. It will be in a real, coherent language not known to the speaker that someone else interprets, and language that they have not learned, so that the Gospel or message from God is proclaimed in the hearer's language. Basically, it is a communication platform for the Gospel. This will be done in love, it will be edifying, pointing to Christ and His glory, it will be true, not contradicting any Scripture, and will not be done by someone who seeks to build a name or ministry for themselves instead of to God's glory!
Do not take the radical departure from sola fide, that we are saved by faith alone, by Christ's work alone. We do not need to seek special anointing or a Holy Spirit baptism as a means of Grace, because we already have it. So, do not teach erroneously that if you do not speak in tongues you are not a real Christian! This thinking is rooted in the kingdom of the cults, one's imagination, pride, and false teaching, not in the Word of God! If you are a Bible teacher, your responsibility is to teach true Truth from careful study, not jump to conclusions or onto the latest bandwagon of false doctrines! You are to represent Christ, not promote yourself!
The quintessential template and archetype that sets us up for what tongues or any gift or signs and wonders or program for that matter, is supposed to do is showcase Who and What Christ has done, and we are to point to Him in and with love! There is nothing comparable to the importance of effectual faith and the Fruit of the Spirit, especially Love! By the way, you do not need tongues if you can communicate to the person normally, in that case you do not need the supernatural. So, if you are looking for a hook to your ministry, a showpiece, then tongues is not for you as a devout believer because God's Word tells us not to do that! So, what are we to do? What really showcases the Gospel if it is not tongues? Goodness, the Fruit of the Spirit, and our love! Because people are attracted to a church, not by its style or location or gifting, but by the people who are there who care. It is about being hospitable, treating others with respect in love, being authentic, and quality, and uncompromising Bible teaching.
In the Law it is written "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord." 1 Corinthians 14:21
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit PI
Baptism of the Holy Spirit Part II