Category: Speaking in Tongues


Along with the gift of speaking in tongues,  another spiritual gift mentioned in the list found in 1 Corinthians 12:10 is the gift of interpreting tongues. The gift of interpreting tongues is the  ability to translate a foreign language into the language of the hearers. The  gift of interpreting tongues is always alongside the gift of speaking in  tongues. It is a separate gift, but it is always used in conjunction with the  gift of speaking in tongues.

A person with the gift of interpreting  tongues could understand what a tongues-speaker was saying even though he did  not know the language that was being spoken. This is what distinguishes the  spiritual gift from the natural gift of being able to understand and speak a  variety of languages. The tongues interpreter would then communicate the message  of the tongues speaker to everyone else, so all could understand and benefit  from the truth being spoken. The tongues were known languages, not to ecstatic  utterances. According to the apostle Paul, and in agreement with the tongues  described in Acts, speaking in tongues is valuable to the one hearing God’s  message in his or her own language, but it is useless to everyone else unless it  is interpreted/translated. His concern is edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:512).

Paul’s conclusion regarding tongues that  were not interpreted is powerful: “But in the church I would rather speak five  intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1  Corinthians 14:19). There is no benefit to others in hearing something they  cannot understand. More importantly, there is no benefit, and much harm, done in  churches where the speaking and interpreting of a tongue brings forth that which  does not line up with Scripture or which cannot be verified in Scripture.

Paul was also concerned about order in worship. His concern was that  everything is done for edification of the church. He goes on to say that there  should only be two or three speaking in a tongue and one should interpret. If  there is no interpreter present, then one should be quiet (1 Corinthians  14:26-28). Because of the temporal nature of the gift of tongues, it assumes  that the gift of interpretation of tongues was also of a temporal nature. If the  gift of speaking in tongues were active in the church today, it would be  performed in agreement with Scripture. It would be a real and intelligible  language (1  Corinthians 14:10). It would be for the purpose of communicating God’s Word  to a person of another language (Acts  2:6-12), and it would also be in accordance with 1 Corinthians 14:33,  “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the  saints.”

Advertisements

There are three occasions in the book of Acts where speaking in tongues  accompanied the receiving of the Holy Spirit—Acts 2:4, 10:44-46, and 19:6. However, these three occasions are the only places  in the Bible where speaking in tongues is an evidence of receiving the Holy  Spirit. Throughout the book of Acts, thousands of people believe in Jesus and  nothing is said about them speaking in tongues (Acts 2:41, 8:5-25, 16:31-34, 21:20). Nowhere in the New Testament is it taught that  speaking in tongues is the only evidence a person has received the Holy Spirit.  In fact, the New Testament teaches the opposite. We are told that every believer  in Christ has the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:91  Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians  1:13-14), but not every believer speaks in tongues (1 Corinthians  12:29-31).

So, why was speaking in tongues the evidence of the Holy  Spirit in those three passages in Acts? Acts 2 records the apostles being  baptized in the Holy Spirit and empowered by Him to proclaim the gospel. The  apostles were enabled to speak in other languages (tongues) so they could share  the truth with people in their own languages. Acts 10 records the apostle Peter  being sent to share the gospel with non-Jewish people. Peter and the other early  Christians, being Jews, would have a hard time accepting Gentiles (non-Jewish  people) into the church. God enabled the Gentiles to speak in tongues to  demonstrate that they had received the same Holy Spirit the apostles had  received (Acts 10:4711:17).

Acts 10:44-47 describes  this: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all  who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were  astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the  Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter  said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have  received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’“ Peter later refers back to this  occasion as proof that God was indeed saving the Gentiles (Acts 15:7-11).

Speaking in tongues is nowhere presented as something all Christians should  expect when they receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and are therefore baptized  in the Holy Spirit. In fact, out of all the conversion accounts in the New  Testament, only two record speaking in tongues in that context. Tongues was a  miraculous gift that had a specific purpose for a specific time. It was not, and  never has been, the only evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.

The first occurrence of speaking in tongues occurred on the day of Pentecost in  Acts 2:1-4. The apostles went  out and shared the gospel with the crowds, speaking to them in their own  languages: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11). The Greek word  translated tongues literally means “languages.” Therefore, the gift of tongues  is speaking in a language a person does not know in order to minister to someone  who does speak that language. In 1 Corinthians chapters 12–14, Paul discusses  miraculous gifts, saying, “Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues,  what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or  prophecy or word of instruction?” (1  Corinthians 14:6). According to the apostle Paul, and in agreement with the  tongues described in Acts, speaking in tongues is valuable to the one hearing  God’s message in his or her own language, but it is useless to everyone else  unless it is interpreted/translated.

A person with the gift of  interpreting tongues (1  Corinthians 12:30) could understand what a tongues-speaker was saying even  though he did not know the language that was being spoken. The tongues  interpreter would then communicate the message of the tongues speaker to  everyone else, so all could understand. “For this reason anyone who speaks in a  tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says” (1 Corinthians  14:13). Paul’s conclusion regarding tongues that were not interpreted is  powerful: “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to  instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians  14:19).

Is the gift of tongues for today? First Corinthians  13:8 mentions the gift of tongues ceasing, although it connects the ceasing  with the arrival of the “perfect” in 1  Corinthians 13:10. Some point to a difference in the tense of the Greek  verbs referring to prophecy and knowledge “ceasing” and that of tongues “being  ceased” as evidence for tongues ceasing before the arrival of the “perfect.”  While possible, this is not explicitly clear from the text. Some also point to  passages such as Isaiah  28:11 and Joel  2:28-29 as evidence that speaking in tongues was a sign of God’s oncoming  judgment. First Corinthians 14:22 describes tongues as a “sign to  unbelievers.” According to this argument, the gift of tongues was a warning to  the Jews that God was going to judge Israel for rejecting Jesus Christ as  Messiah. Therefore, when God did in fact judge Israel (with the destruction of  Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70), the gift of tongues would no longer serve  its intended purpose. While this view is possible, the primary purpose of  tongues being fulfilled does not necessarily demand its cessation. Scripture  does not conclusively assert that the gift of speaking in tongues has  ceased.

At the same time, if the gift of speaking in tongues were active  in the church today, it would be performed in agreement with Scripture. It would  be a real and intelligible language (1  Corinthians 14:10). It would be for the purpose of communicating God’s Word  with a person of another language (Acts  2:6-12). It would be in agreement with the command God gave through the  apostle Paul, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should  speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter,  the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God” (1  Corinthians 14:27-28). It would also be in accordance with 1 Corinthians 14:33,  “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the  saints.”

God most definitely can give a person the gift of speaking in  tongues to enable him or her to communicate with a person who speaks another  language. The Holy Spirit is sovereign in the dispersion of the spiritual gifts  (1  Corinthians 12:11). Just imagine how much more productive missionaries could  be if they did not have to go to language school, and were instantly able to  speak to people in their own language. However, God does not seem to be doing  this. Tongues does not seem to occur today in the manner it did in the New  Testament, despite the fact that it would be immensely useful. The vast majority  of believers who claim to practice the gift of speaking in tongues do not do so  in agreement with the Scriptures mentioned above. These facts lead to the  conclusion that the gift of tongues has ceased or is at least a rarity in God’s  plan for the church today.