There are many views on the gift of Tongues and its role in Christian practice today. At one end of the scale, some Conservative Christians claim that the gift of Tongues ended long ago and that those who practice it today are deceived by Satan and serve him instead of Christ. At the other extreme, the radical Charismatics believe that all true Christians must speak in tongues. The truth, as revealed in God's Word, is somewhere between these two views.
Before we go any further, let us establish what the gift of Tongues really is: talking in a God-given language unknown to the speaker. There are four uses for the gift of Tongues shown in the Bible: to evangelize foreigners in their own language; to communicate with believers (which requires interpretation); as a sign to unbelievers and to pray to God privately.
The first passage addressing the issue of tongues is in Acts 2:1-18. Here we see the gift of tongues being used to evangelize people from diverse countries and languages:
And while the Day of Pentecost was being fulfilled, they were all with one accord in one place.This occurrence was unique in several respects: it was the first time God had poured out His Spirit on Jesus' followers and it is the only recorded instance that all of the brethren spoke in tongues. Furthermore, when the many foreign pilgrims arrived, each of them heard at least one disciple speak in their own language.
And suddenly there came a sound out of the heaven, just like a rushing mighty breath, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues, just like fire, such that one sat upon every one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, just as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Then there were Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under heaven. But these voices having taken place, the multitude came together, and were puzzled, because everyone heard them speak in his own dialect.
Then they were all astonished and wondered, saying to one another, "Behold, are not all these who speak Galileans? "And how do we hear, each in our own dialect in which we were born? "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, not only Judea but also Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Not only Phrygia but also Pamphylia, Egypt and the portions of Libya near Cyrene, visitors from Rome, not only Jews but also proselytes, Cretans and Arabs; we h ear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God."
So they were all astonished and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
But others mocking said, "They are full of sweet wine."
Then Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and harken to my words. For these are not drunk, as you assume, for it is only the third hour of the day. Instead this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
'And it shall be in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall behold visions and your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy.Acts 2:1 to 18
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.But if any wish to argue, Paul makes it crystal clear that not all Christians have to speak in tongues:
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each separately as He wills.1 Corinthians 12:4 to 11
But you are the body of Christ, and members out of this portion. And of whom God has indeed established these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, and then powers, then gifts of healings, understandings, administrations, kinds of tongues.
Not all are apostles. Not all are prophets. Not all are teachers. Not all are given powers.
Not all have gifts of healings. Not all speak with tongues. Not all interpret.1 Corinthians 12:27 to 30
Just as we are not all prophets, teachers or healers, we do not all speak with
tongues. And more than this, the passage reveals that the gift of tongues, though
conspicuous, is not the greatest gift of the spirit. Instead, we are to desire the
greater gifts, but within the embrace of God's Love :
But earnestly desire the better gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.None the less, the Bible does show that tongues are valuable. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 14:5 Paul says he would be delighted if all could speak in tongues. But what is the value of tongues? Is it the same as what occurred on the Day of Pentecost in Acts where tongues were used to prophesy directly to foreigners in their own language? The Bible shows us that the gift is not the same as the unique Pentecost event:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as roaring brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.1 Corinthians 12:31 to 14:1.
For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.1 Corinthians 14:2 to 4
So we see that the normal gift of tongues is predominantly intended to be
used in private prayer between a person and God. It is not understood by other
people. It is a gift that needs humility and the Spirit of God to function
properly. Without God's Spirit there is no gift, and without humility we would
not allow God's Spirit to speak through us. It is a beautiful gift that God uses
to strengthen our own personal faith. But a Christian is not required to speak
in tongues to be spiritual. Each person has a particular gift that God has given
them. Using their gift, under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, will strengthen
their faith and generally strengthen their brethren too.
As an example, prophecy is a greater gift than tongues as it helps and strengthens others. Paul expands this concept in the next few verses:
I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.Paul then shows that tongues also have a place in church meetings, but it is a carefully controlled position. Tongues can be used as a sign to unbelievers, and must always be interpreted. Moreover, only two or three messages in tongues will be allowed. God does not authorise communal singing in the Spirit such as occurs in many charismatic churches.
But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?
Even soulless things, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the power of the sounds, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.
Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
What is the result then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.
I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.1 Corinthians 14:5 to 19
Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord.
Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is judged by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.1 Corinthians 14:20 to 33
In verse 32, Paul shows us that God does not take away our self-control
even when he is speaking through us, either in tongues, interpretation,
knowledge or prophecy. We can reassert our control at any moment. It is not
like the demonic possession which occurs in dervishes or other pagan religions
where the person's self-control is ripped apart. God loves us and always
respects our freedom to choose to participate with Him. Slaying in the Spirit
and similar practices do not comply with God's Word nor His Way and
therefore must not be accepted in Christian assemblies.
As in most other things, Satan does indeed have his counterfeit of tongues. In the author's experience God's gift of tongues came as a gift that descended from above, and filled us from our head to our toes with peace, joy and a deeper love for God and his Word. It did not require an 'initiation ceremony where you chant meaningless sounds surrounded by others who encourage you to duplicate their noises. Those who learn to speak in tongues in this way frequently say that the power comes up through the ground into them in an overwhelming manner -much like the Kundalini power of Hinduism. One can only have grave doubts about the source of their gift. These people also generally claim that God's commandments have been done away by Christ and they are free to do what they like. Compare this attitude with Matthew 5:17 to 20, 1 Peter 2:11 to 16 and Revelation 14:12. This anti-law teaching is dealt with fully in the Appendix of our Ten Commandments article.
It is also important to see in 1 Cor 14:26, quoted above, that God, through Paul, wants us to have a vibrant, but controlled, creativity in our congregations. God Himself will give songs, revelations, etc to numerous members of the assembly to bring to the meetings. He does this to strengthen the faith of the entire congregation and to ensure that we remember that He is the head of the church, not any man.
If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.The idea that Tongues has ceased is based on the mis-interpretation of a passage that we quoted earlier:
Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.1 Corinthians 14:37 to 40
Love never falls. But where there are prophecies, they will come to an end; where there are tongues, they will cease; where there is knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will come to an end.The issue here is what is the perfect which will come and bring these things to an end?
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.1 Corinthians 13:8 to 12
'And it shall be in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall behold visions and your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy.Acts 2:17 to 18
We have been in the last days ever since then, and with each passing year
we draw closer to the time of Christ's Return and the establishment of the
Kingdom of God.
Prophecy is not limited to the writing of the Bible. There are many references to prophets in the Bible whose messages have not been recorded for us. (Acts 13:1, Acts 15:32, Acts 21:9, etc). It is reasonable to assume that this is because they had messages intended for local situations and congregations and thus they were not included in the Word.
Prophecy specifically means to let God speak through you. This is different from preaching, which is teaching others from God's Word. Indeed, they are translated from two different Greek words. Prophecy comes from propheteia, which means a discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; esp. by foretelling future events.
Preach is translated from kerusso, meaning to publish, proclaim openly: something which has been done; used of the public proclamation of the gospel and matters pertaining to it, made by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the apostles and other Christian teachers. (Both definitions from the Online Bible)
This type of prophecy should be happening today as we move into the end times.-We need it to guide and strengthen us in our spiritual fight against the forces of darkness which are gathering strength for their open rebellion against God.
We can see that even at the very end of this era, God will still have His Prophets:
Eventually there will be a time when prophecy is no longer needed. This will occur once the Kingdom of God has been established on Earth and everyone knows God:
"And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.
These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
Now when they finish their witness, the beast that ascends out of the abyss will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their corpses three and a half days, and not allow their corpses to be put into tombs. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.Revelation 11:3 to 10
Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them," says the LORD.Though all Bible-believing Christians already have God's Laws written in their hearts, this is not yet the case for the houses of Israel and Judah. Zechariah shows us when this will happen:
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days," says the LORD, "I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.
"For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawlessness I will remember no more."Hebrews 8:8 to 12
"It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.God's gifts -every one of them- are needed by God's children on a day to day basis to enable us to fulfill our part in God's Plans. These gifts were given to us at Pentecost in the year of Christ's crucifixion, and will remain with us until we no longer need them. - And we will need them until we are transformed into spirit-based children of God with abilities and composition like -but not equal to- God our Father.
"And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.Zechariah 12:9 to 11
"In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.
"It shall be in that day," says Jehovah of Hosts, "that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land.Zechariah 13:1 to 2
The Bible passages used in this article are taken from the Central Highlands Christian Publications or the New King James translations.
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