Should I “speak in tongues?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

Proponents of the charismatic movement claim that we need to be “filled with the Holy Ghost with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues.” Must we speak in tongues to be saved? Is speaking in tongues necessary to prove our salvation? Remember, we do not appeal to a theological system for answers to these questions. Church tradition, experiences, and assumptions are not the issue; what matters is what God’s Word says.

Let us see what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:10,28,30 about spiritual gifts: “[10] To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: [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. [30] Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” Certainly, some of these Christians had the gift of tongues.

In Mark 16:17, Jesus Christ Himself said, “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.”

Paul himself wrote, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all” (1 Corinthians 14:18).

Tongue-talking is certainly biblical, for the above verses demonstrate that certain Christians and Jewish believers had the spiritual gift of tongues. But, is speaking in tongues something we Christians should practice today? That is, is tongue-talking dispensational? (We will answer this question later.) The Bible clearly mentions “speaking in tongues,” but before we discuss this topic any further, we need to define this term as the Bible defines it, not what a denomination says it is. Firstly, what does it mean to “speak in tongues” in the Bible?

Today, church members claim to speak in allegedly “angelic language,” some special prayer language that only God understands. Upon listening to these people “pray in the Spirit,” we conclude it is nothing intelligent: “Hastala shandala hobbla gobbla.” Others repeat, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” This behavior is related to the Oriental religions’ “breath prayers” and uttering the Roman Catholic repetitious rosary. In short, it is vain, worthless religious nonsense!

Corinth was the most spiritually immature Christian assembly Paul knew. These believers loved feel-good worship services, emotional highs, and being the center of attention (1 Corinthians 14:4,5ff.). That is much of “the Church” today! Corinth abused spiritual gifts, so Paul devoted three chapters (1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13, and 14) to address these problems. Chapter 14 deals entirely with tongue-talking.

In 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 13, 14, 19, and 27, Paul mentioned speaking in “unknown tongues.” That word “unknown”—absent from modern Bibles—indicates this was not God’s gift of tongues. This was some ecstatic, nonsensical utterance based on emotions: some believers in Corinth just loved to draw attention to themselves by abusing tongues (that is, by speaking in gibberish). God’s gift of tongues was always intelligent human languages, dialects.

The Apostle Paul confirmed that speaking in tongues in Scriptures was always an intelligent language that could be translated and understood (profitable). He wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:7-19: “[7] And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? [8] For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? [9] So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. [10] There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. [11] Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian [foreigner], and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian [foreigner] unto me. [12] Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. [13] Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. [14] For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. [15] What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. [16] Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? [17] For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. [18] I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: [19] 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.

What did Paul say in verse 19 above? “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.” Talking 10,000 words in gibberish will profit nothing! Speak with intelligence, not some “angelic tongue.” According to the Bible, “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33), so if it is not an intelligent human language that can be reduced and profitable, it is not from the God of the Bible!

We see how the gift of tongues operated in the Bible by looking at Acts 2, the day of Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Israel’s 12 apostles. Let us read Acts 2:4-11: “[4] And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. [5] And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. [6] Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. [7] And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? [8] And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? [9] Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, [10] Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, [11] Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

For the Feast of Pentecost, there were Jews in Jerusalem “out of every nation under heaven” (verse 5). These Jews did not speak Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, so in order for them to understand Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled, God the Holy Ghost caused Israel’s 12 apostles to speak God’s Word in at least 15 different dialects, those human languages of the nations out of which those Jews came. These Jews were amazed (“confounded”) that uneducated fisherman could speak all of these intelligent languages that they had never formally learned!

The various human languages of the world are the result of God’s judgment on rebellious mankind at the Tower of Babel back in Genesis 11:1-9. In Israel’s earthly kingdom, which is still future, this curse of the languages will be reversed. Zechariah 8:23 says: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” Israel was given the gift of speaking in tongues as a way to evangelize Gentiles (which they will do when Jesus Christ returns at His Second Coming).

Israel is also God’s “signs, miracles, and wonders” people. “For the Jews require a sign” (1 Corinthians 1:22a). In order to demonstrate that He was working in their midst, God would perform miraculous demonstrations for Israel to see and hear. This was true throughout the “Old Testament” Scriptures, the Four Gospels, and even into early Acts.

Acts 10:45-47 demonstrates what God taught Israel using the gift of tongues: “[45] 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. [46] For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. [47] Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” Notice how these were intelligent human languages—otherwise, these Jews would have been unable to recognize that these Gentiles were “magnifying God” (rather than cursing Him, which could not be distinguished had this been gibberish). God poured out Israel’s gift of speaking in tongues on Gentiles to show Israel that He was now saving Gentiles.

This is why there was tongue-speaking in Paul’s ministry and in the early Church the Body of Christ. God was proving to Israel, especially unbelieving Israel, that He was now ministering to the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22: “[21] 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. [22] Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.”

The spiritual gifts program, however, was only temporary. Those spiritual gifts were only operating while the transitional book of Acts was occurring. God was moving away from Israel and going to the Gentiles, and the miraculous demonstrations—including the gift of tongues—operating amongst the Gentiles proved this. Once that transitional period was over (that is, the book of Acts had ended), God had fully set aside Israel and her program. Once the spiritual gifts ceased, the Corinthians would have nothing on which to rely in their Christian life! Thus, Paul urged these immature believers to grow up, and not to be fixated on spiritual gifts, which were passing away (Paul’s two letters to Corinth were written during the latter half of the Acts period).

Notice carefully what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13: “[8] Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. [9] For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. [10] But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. [11] When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. [12] For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. [13] And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

The spiritual gifts (the chief of which were the gift of prophecy, the gift of tongues, and the gift of knowledge; verse 8) were only going to operate while there was incomplete knowledge and incomplete understanding of God’s Word. When the Bible canon was completed, which was about A.D. 68, the spiritual gifts were no longer needed. The gift of speaking in tongues “vanished away” when the Bible was completed in the A.D. first century. “That which is perfect is come” is complete knowledge and complete understanding—it is not Jesus Christ’s coming and it is not going heaven. God does not want us to grow up when we get to heaven—He wants us to grow up now! Paul wrote that the immature Corinthians needed to grow up now! “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Contrary to the tenets of the charismatic movement, the gift of speaking in tongues is of no use to us today—otherwise, we are wasting our money and time sending missionary to learn foreign languages in language school! It existed in the early days of the Church the Body of Christ, when God was using it to signify to the Jews that He was now operating amongst the Gentiles. But, there came a point in time when the spiritual gifts were no longer needed. The spiritual gifts were no longer needed when the Word of God, the Holy Bible, was completed, and mankind received the full/complete (“perfect”) revelation from God. We know that today’s tongue-talkers in religion are not doing God’s will, for they are not obeying the rules regarding tongue talking as described in 1 Corinthians chapter 14.

  1. MUST ONLY BE MEN SPEAKING IN TONGUES. When God’s gift of tongues is operating, only men talk with them (verse 34). Why are women talking in tongues today?
  2. MUST BE TWO, OR AT THE MOST THREE, MEN SPEAKING IN TONGUES AT ONE MEETING, AND THEY MUST TAKE TURNS TALKING. No more than two or three are allowed to speak in tongues, and they are to take turns talking—they are not to talk over one another, and the entire assembly is not to speak in tongues (verses 23-24, 40). Why do whole churches engage in tongue-talking today?
  3. MUST MAINTAIN SELF-CONTROL AT ALL TIMES. Self-control is to be present the entire time while the gift of tongues is in operation (verse 40). Why do today’s tongue-talkers lose bodily control (jumping pews, running down aisles, dancing, convulsing on floors, et cetera)?
  4. MUST BE INTERPRETED/TRANSLATED. God’s gift of tongues was an intelligent human language never formally learned, but it was to be interpreted (verses 27-28; cf. Acts 2:4-11). Why do today’s tongue-talkers utter gibberish, which cannot be reduced to anything intelligent and profitable?
  5. MUST BE A SIGN TO UNBELIEVING ISRAEL. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22: “[21] 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. [22] Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.” God is not dealing with Israel anyway, so why would He be communicating to Israel via the gift of tongues?

Obviously, today’s “gift of tongues” is not of the God of the Bible; it does not agree with these rules for speaking in tongues that God laid out in the above verses. Rather than spiritual gifts, we have the completed and written Word of God to accomplish His will, and that Bible can be and has been translated into the languages of the world: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is studying and believing that Holy Word of God rightly divided that we will grow up spiritually!

So, if it is not of the God of the Bible, then what is the origin of the modern-day gift of speaking in tongues? It is nothing more than an emotional high, the overactive flesh of spiritually immature people who are not cooperating with the God of the Bible. “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect through the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). God does not deal with us via emotions (they are tainted by sin); God communicates to us through our spirit, our mind, as we study and believe His Word (Romans 12:1,2; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10).

Also see:
» Should I be filled with the Holy Ghost? (UPCOMING)
» Are signs, miracles, and wonders for today? (UPCOMING)
» What about angelic appearances, visions, dreams, and other experiences? (UPCOMING)