What is today called the charismatic movement does not relate to qualities of personal leadership. The term relates to speaking in tongues. Although we might take exception to the fact these words are used to describe speaking in tongues, we will not take the time to do so. What we will say is, what started out some years ago among the more emotional elements of professing Christianity as an attempt to imitate a practice spoken of in the scriptures, has now spread to many groups which are considered among the mainstream of the Christian religion. Forasmuch as speaking in tongues has received general acceptance today, it seems to us proper to examine what the Bible actually teaches about this subject.
FIRST, we inquire whether or not the Bible teaches the reality of the practice of tongues. The answer is clear. The scriptures teach that believers spoke in tongues. We cite the following passages:
"For with stammering lips and ANOTHER TONGUE will he speak to this people." [Isaiah 28.11].
Christ said: "And these signs shall follow them that believe;...they shall speak with NEW TONGUES;..." [Mark 16.17].
On the day of Pentecost, the disciples "were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with OTHER TONGUES, as the Spirit gave them utterance." [Acts 2.4].
The scripture teaches while Peter preached Jesus Christ to those assembled at Cornelius' household: "the Holy Ghost fell on them which heard the word...For they heard them speak WITH TONGUES, and magnify God." [Acts 10. 44,46].
When Paul came to Ephesus and found certain disciples, he laid his hands upon them, and "the Holy Ghost came on them, and they SPAKE WITH TONGUES, and prophesied." [Acts 19.6].
"But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom;...to another DIVERS KINDS OF TONGUES; to another THE INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES:" [I Corinthians 12. 7-8, 10].
"And God hath set some in the church, first apostles,...DIVERSITIES OF TONGUES...DO ALL SPEAK WITH TONGUES?..." [I Cor. 12.28,30].
It should be clear from these cites that the Bible definitely teaches the reality of this practice.
SECOND, we inquire what it means to speak in tongues. The answer is clear. It is the gift which enabled believers to speak in established foreign languages which they had not been educated to speak. That this is the basis of the gift is clear from Acts, chapter 2. When the disciples were "filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance", there were "at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven." These Jews were amazed "because that every man HEARD THEM SPEAK IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE." They marveled "how hear we every man IN OUR OWN TONGUE, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews, and proselytes. Cretes and Arabians, WE DO HEAR THEM SPEAK IN OUR TONGUES, the wonderful works of God." [Acts 2. 4,5,8-11]. The point is, although these people were Jews, or proselytes, the languages they spoke were the languages spoken in the regions where they lived. A comparison is found in the fact few Jews today speak Hebrew. They speak the language spoken in the countries where they live. Jews in America speak English. Jews in Germany speak German. So the Jews in the days of the apostles who came to Jerusalem spoke the tongues of their native lands. The wonder was that when the disciples spoke to the people, they spoke in tongues which the people understood. What further amazed the people was the fact they knew the disciples had not been taught by men to speak these various languages. This is the point of verse 7: "And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?" If they had perceived these believers were men who had previously studied these various languages, there would have been no reason for them to have been amazed at what they heard.
We must also conclude that when the Holy Ghost enabled the Gentiles to speak in tongues, the gift was of the same nature as that gift given to the Jews on the day of Pentecost. The scripture draws a parallel between what happened at Jerusalem and what happened at Cornelius' house. Notice the scripture: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, 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. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, WHICH HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY GHOST AS WELL AS WE?" [Acts 10. 44-47]. Had the nature of this gift been different from the gift poured out on the day of Pentecost, there would not have been any reason for Peter to now compare the work at Cornelius' house with the work at Jerusalem.
THIRD, we inquire whether or not the gift of tongues also consists in speaking in languages other than established foreign tongues. The answer is, there is no scriptural evidence to support the view speaking in tongues consists of anything other than what we have already asserted. The only biblical teaching we have on the nature of tongues is that it is the gift which enabled believers to speak in established foreign languages which they had not been trained to speak.
Those who take a different position hold that there is such a practice as speaking in unknown tongues. They base this view upon a number of verses found in the King James Version of I Corinthians, chapter 14:
"For he that speaking in an UNKNOWN TONGUE speaketh not unto men, but unto God:..." [v. 2].
"He that speaketh in an UNKNOWN TONGUE edifieth himself;..." [v. 4].
"Wherefore let him that speaketh in an UNKNOWN TONGUE pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an UNKNOWN TONGUE, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful." [vs. 13,14].
"Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an UNKNOWN TONGUE." [v. 19].
"If any man speak in an UNKNOWN TONGUE, let it be by two, or at the most by three..." [v. 27].
If the translation given in the King James Version was accurate, we would have to admit there was such a practice among the early saints consisting of making strange utterances which were not identified with any established language. However, the truth of the matter is, the translators erred when they translated these passages. Let us be clear. We are not saying the word of God is faulty. What the authors of the New Testament wrote in Greek was inspired by God. The error came about when the English translators translated the scriptures from Greek to English. IN this particular instance, the British scholars did not give us the accurate rendering of the Greek word. Those who hold to the practice of unknown tongues base their case upon an incorrect translation of passages found in I Corinthians, chapter 14.
The truth of the matter is, the word "unknown" does not appear with the word "tongue" anywhere in the text. As a matter of fact, current King James Bibles concede this fact by putting the word "unknown" in italics. Words in italics are words inserted by the translators. These words do not actually appear in the Greek text. Throughout this chapter, the Greek word is "glossa". It simply means "tongue". "Unknown" is not a part of the meaning of the word. "Glossa" is the Greek word used in every instance in the New Testament where there is reference to speaking in tongues. In every case except I Corinthians, chapter 14, the translators gave the correct rendering of the word. For example, it is the word that is used in Acts, chapter 2 when Luke narrates the blessing which enabled the people to hear the word of God in their own native languages. "Glossa" is used in two senses in the New Testament. It is used when reference is made to different languages. For example, when John had revealed to him the fact the children of God are to be found among all sorts of nationalities, he describes this fact by saying: "And they sung a new song, saying, Thou are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and has redeemed us to God by the blood out of every kindred, and TONGUE, and people, and nation." [Revelation 5.9]. By using the word "glossa", he shows that the Lord's redeemed are taken from people who speak all kinds of the languages found in this world. Therefore, Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible indicates "glossa" means both "tongue", and "language"; and in his Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edward Robinson indicates the word is used to designate "an idiom, dialect, spoken by a particular people."
When the word "glossa" is correctly translated "tongue", without having the word "unknown" placed in front of it, it is clear there is absolutely no scriptural support for the practice of speaking in unknown tongues.
FOURTH, we inquire what purposes were served by speaking in tongues. God may have had many purposes for bestowing this gift upon men; yet three appear very plain. One, there was the practical purpose. As we have already observed, on the day of Pentecost, it allowed men of other lands to hear the word of God spoken in their own native tongues. Two, when the Holy Ghost fell upon those at Cornelius' house, the gift of tongues appeared to be what was needed to convince the Jews that the blessings of God were for Gentiles as well as Jews. This was what caused Peter to say, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" [Acts 10. 47]. Three, it served as a sign to unbelievers that they are left in a state of unenlightenment. In I Corinthians 14. 21,22, Paul wrote: "In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will THEY NOT HEAR ME, saith the Lord: WHEREFORE TONGUES ARE FOR A SIGN, NOT TO THEM THAT BELIEVE, BUT TO THEM THAT BELIEVE NOT:..." When the apostle referred to "the law", he is not speaking of the Mosaic law. These words are taken from Isaiah, chapter 28. IN that chapter, the prophet showed that despite the fact "the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" [v. 28a]; that is, the word was given to them in a simple manner; yet, it did not lead the people to conversion, but rather "that they might go, and FALL BACKWARD, AND BE BROKEN, AND SNARED, AND TAKEN." [v. 28b]. It is in this context that verse 11 is written: "For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people." So it was that when God brought the Jews to judgment, He turned them captive to nations of other tongues. Paul takes hold of this principle to show that speaking in tongues are a sign in the gospel age that unbelievers are confounded by the word spoken. Even though the ungodly cannot receive the word of God when it is spoken in a plain manner in his own language, it is a further sign they are left in confusion when it is spoken in a foreign tongue. Therefore, we see the sign is of a negative nature. this is the reason the apostle concluded: "yet for all that will THEY NOT HEAR ME, saith the Lord." [v. 21].
FIFTH we inquire whether or not the practice of speaking in tongues has continued among the saints to the present time. To this question the answer is not too clear; yet it seems the more probable answer is, it has not. We say this because it appears from the sacred record that this gift was only conveyed through the vehicle of the apostles, and if this is the case, the duration of this gift could not continue long after the apostles left this earth. We cite who scriptures which show the connection between special operations of the Holy Spirit and the apostles. The first concerns the case of the believers of Samaria. The scriptures states:
"Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city... But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women...
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (FOR AS YET HE WAS FALLEN UPON NONE OF THEM: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) THEN LAID THEY THEIR HANDS ON THEM, AND THEY RECEIVED THE HOLY GHOST." [Acts 8. 5-8,12,14-17].
From these verses, it is clear 1} Philip preached Christ to the people, 2} miracles were performed by Philip (who himself was one who had the Holy Ghost - Acts 6. 5-6), 3} the people believed, 4} the people were baptized; 5} the people did not have the Holy Ghost until 6} two apostles, Peter and John, cane and laid their hands upon them. Although Philip himself could perform these specials works, he could not pass these things upon the people, but the Holy Ghost was conveyed unto the people through the ministries of the apostles.
The second concerns the case of those certain disciples the apostle Paul found at Ephesus. the scripture states:
"And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto Johns baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. AND WHEN PAUL HAD LAID HIS HANDS UPON THEM, THE HOLY GHOST CAME ON THEM; AND THEY SPAKE WITH TONGUES, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve." [Acts 19. 1-7].
From these verses it is clear: 1} it was disciples that Paul contacted; 2} these disciples neither had full knowledge concerning the Holy Ghost nor did they have the Holy Ghost; and 3} they did not receive the Holy Ghost until Paul laid his hands upon them; whereupon they both spoke with tongues and prophesied.
The point is not that the Holy Spirit only fell upon believers when apostles laid their hands upon them. In the case of Cornelius and his household, the gift came upon the Gentiles while Peter was still preaching to them. Rather, the point is, the special works of the Spirit, including the gift of tongues, only came upon men when it was in some way directly conveyed through the apostles. From what was written in Acts, chapter 8, we have seen Philip could perform the works of the Spirit which he himself had transmitted to him, but he was unable to convey these gifts unto others.
Since the apostolic period ended, it is likely the period of the gift of tongues also ended. Should someone argue the apostolic office has not passed away, the argument should be quickly be put to rest by noting one of the qualifications of an apostle was that he be a witness of Christ's resurrection [Acts 1.22], and by noting that the saints, as part of the household of faith, "...are built upon THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;..." [Ephesians 2. 20]. Because of the fact one first lays a foundation before he builds the rest of an edifice, this passage should sufficiently prove that the apostolic office is not a continuing one. If the foundation of the apostles, prophets, and chief corner stone have not yet been fully laid, then the rest of the spiritual building is not built upon a sure foundation. Therefore, since the apostolic age has ended, and since it appears only the apostles were able to transmit the special gifts of the Spirit, we think it is likely the practice of speaking in tongues is over. Paul said "...whether there be tongues, they shall cease..." [ I Corinthians 13.8]. If someone thinks this time has not yet come, then let him at least acknowledge the truth of the matter about tongues. He must admit the work is not found in nonsensical babblings. It must be found in those who have the ability to speak a foreign language, and this ability must have come from the Spirit of God, not from formal education. If there are instances today in which this is done, so be it. May God be praised!
SIXTH we inquire whether or not the gift of speaking tongues results from being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. The answer is clearly no. Although some make this claim, there is clear evidence in the Bible it is not true. Maybe if the only passage was Acts 2.38: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost", the view might be considered a credible one, but, as we have already shown, believers at Samaria "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus"; yet the Holy Ghost did not fall upon them until such time as Peter and John laid their hands upon them [Acts 8.5-17], and we have also shown that those of Cornelius' household received the Holy Ghost, and spoke with tongues, even before they were baptized. [Acts 10.44-48. It is, therefore, not possible to argue their baptism somehow resulted in the gifts of the Spirit.
SEVENTH, we inquire whether or not there were limitations placed upon the gift of tongues. The answer is yes. We will consider three. One, it was limited with regard to its importance. Two, it was limited with regard to the number of saints who had the gift. Three, it was limited with regard to the conditions under which the gift was lawfully exercised.
That the relative importance of the gift is limited is apparent from the words of the apostle Paul in I Corinthians. Having written concerning the various gifts in chapter 12, the apostle admonished the saints to "covet earnestly the best gifts", and then he wrote "yet shew I unto you a more excellent way" [I Corinthians 12.31]. What was the "more excellent way?" It was love, which is the subject of chapter 13. Although he might speak with the tongues of men and angels, without love, he would be as "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." [I Corinthians 13.1]. Prophecies, tongues, knowledge will cease, but love will never fail. [I Corinthians 13.8]. All of the words of chapter 13 were written to show that he that truly loves has a blessing from God which exceeds all of the other gifts. In the next chapter, the apostle shows that tongues are of relatively less value than prophecy. Although he never commanded men not to speak in tongues, and, as a matter of fact, he even declared, "I would that ye all spake with tongues" [1 Corinthians 14.5], in various verses, he showed that it had less value compared to prophesying. Notice the following:
"Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially THAT YOU MAY PROPHESY. For one who SPEAKS IN A TONGUE speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit." [I Corinthians 14.1-2 RSV].
"Now I want you all to speak in tongues, BUT EVEN MORE TO PROPHESY. HE WHO PROPHESIES IS GREATER THAN HE WHO SPEAKS IN TONGUES..." [I Corinthians 14.5 RSV].
"...in church I would RATHER SPEAK FIVE WORDS WITH MY MIND, IN ORDER TO INSTRUCT OTHERS, THAN TEN THOUSAND WORDS IN A TONGUE" [I Corinthians 14.19 RSV].
*NOTE: The Revised Standard Version (RSV) was used in the three instances above because this version properly left off the word "unknown". We have already shown that the King James Version incorrectly joined this word to "tongue".
During the early days of the Christian Church, the gift of tongues played an important role in the spread of the gospel. The fact it enabled men to hear the word of God in their own tongue made it a useful tool. As long as tongues could be interpreted, it still could edify saints. However, the fact God abundantly blessed men to preach, enabled the word to be proclaimed without the gift of tongues.
That not all possessed the gift is also apparent from the words of the apostle Paul. He pointed out "there are diversities of operations" [I Corinthians 12.4,5,6]. All of this led to his conclusion: "For to on e is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; TO ANOTHER DIVERS KINDS OF TONGUES; TO ANOTHER THE INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES: But all these worketh that one and the self same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." [I Corinthians 12.8-11]. Further along, the apostle asks: "Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? have all the gifts of healing? DO ALL SPEAK WITH TONGUES? DO ALL INTERPRET? [I Corinthians 12.29-30]. Although Paul wrote these words as questions, his words lead to an obvious conclusion. As all are not apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, and healers, so also it is true, all do not speak with tongues. From these passages, it is clear the gift of tongues was given to a restricted number. Some have tried to argue one must speak in tongues to be saved. We believe the above quoted scriptures should sufficiently dispute this view.
That the gift of tongues could not be lawfully exercised at all times is also apparent from the words of the apostle Paul in I Corinthians. The apostle set forth the conditions in which the saints could and could not lawfully practice this gift. Paul's words are clear:
"If any speak in a tongue, LET THERE BE ONLY TWO OR AT THE MOST THREE, AND EACH IN TURN; AND LET ONE INTERPRET. BUT IF THERE IS NO ONE TO INTERPRET, LET EACH OF THEM KEEP SILENCE IN CHURCH and speak to himself and to God." [I Corinthians 14.27-28 RSV].
Although we have earlier expressed our doubts that this gift has continued to the present age, we have not been able to rule out the possibility that God is pleased at certain times to still give diverse tongues to believers. If he does, the scripture clearly indicates no more than two or three are to speak in tongues, the speakers are to practice the gift in turn, and, unless there is someone to interpret, none are to openly practice this gift. Any one who acts in a contrary manner disregards the word of God.
We hope our brief study of the subject of tongues has been thorough enough to help any inquirer understand the truth concerning this gift.
David K. Mattingly