What does “Forbid not to speak with tongues” mean?


by Shawn Brasseaux

In this study, we will look at this puzzling verse (not just some of it, but all of it!), and we will allow God’s Holy Spirit to shed light on it for us. It is ever so important to not look at the Holy Bible using denominational eyeglasses—this is how the Body of Christ wound up in the confusing mess in which it currently finds itself! The Bible says what it means and means what it says, but we need to let it say what it says without forcing a denominational doctrine into the passage.

Those who believe that the supernatural gift of tongues is still operating today, claim that the Bible supports their doctrinal position. Years ago, a pastor of such a persuasion reminded me that I should “forbid not to speak with tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39). Despite the many verses clearly against his religious practice, he did not have an ear to hear me quoting God’s precious Word; he was only willing to hear and follow the verses he liked (such as 1 Corinthians 14:39, in part). The man simply quoted that single verse to defend himself; after that, he said nothing and he refused to relinquish his denominational doctrine. By quoting that verse, he was telling me that God the Holy Spirit was still miraculously empowering Christians to speak languages they never formally learned (what is called “angelic languages” or “private prayer languages” in religion). He flippantly quoted 1 Corinthians 14:39 (in part) to me in order to discourage me from rebuking him for his error. Is 1 Corinthians 14:39 really giving credence to the modern-day tongues movement? We want to investigate that verse here.

As with anybody pushing a denominational system, they never quote an entire verse, just the portion of the verse that agrees with their theology. Thus, we should not be surprised to realize that those who quote 1 Corinthians 14:39 to defend their alleged “gift of tongues” never quote the rest of the verse. The part of the verse that they do not cite is the main point of the verse—to say the entire verse is to say too much and weaken their position and discredit what they are doing. Beloved, that is duplicitous, and whether intentionally or inadvertently, they are still mishandling God’s Word and still misleading people astray using Scripture (of all books, they use God’s Word to deceive!).

Spiritual gifts were only temporary among members of the Church the Body of Christ. The closing verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 make it very plain that the spiritual gifts would operate only among the early church (for information about that, please see our study at the end of this article about “that which is perfect is come”). Regarding the gift of tongues, Paul only mentioned it in one section of his writings (1 Corinthians chapters 12-14)—part of his first epistle to Corinth. He began that section by saying that he did not want the Corinthian Christians to be ignorant concerning spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1)—that is precisely what much of Christendom is ignorant of today! These Christians in Corinth were very carnal, emotionally driven, given over to the desires of the fleshly (human) nature, people who were very selfish and childish and reproachful to the name of Jesus Christ. They did not know how to use spiritual gifts properly. When Paul wrote to them about the gift of tongues—40 verses (the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians)—it was not a compliment. He did not write to them about their spirituality, but about their carnality—contrary to what you may hear today, speaking in tongues is not necessarily spiritual and, the “tongues” of today are not of the God of the Bible.

Considering the abuses regarding the gift of tongues, someone in Corinth could have wrongly concluded that they should totally repudiate anything and everything to do with any type of tongues experience, even those caused by God’s Holy Spirit. This is the best way to look at 1 Corinthians 14:39: “forbid not to speak with tongues.” Paul was telling the Corinthians not to abandon their spiritual gifts but rather not to abuse them—they were not to have an evil mind toward spiritual gifts such as the gift of tongues. They simply were to have a bad attitude toward using the spiritual gifts for their personal advantage, fabricating spiritual gifts so they could have emotional highs, counterfeiting God’s work so they could gain attention, and so on. But, there is more to the verse than that, and to get the full picture we need to look at the full verse.

First Corinthians 14:39 reads in its entirety: “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.” Why does Paul tell them to “covet to prophesy?”

We read in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 14: “[1] Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. [2] For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. [3] But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. [4] He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. [5] I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.”

Verses 12 and 13: “[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.”

The Corinthians were very passionate, very worked up about spiritual gifts, very “zealous,” but they were going about it in the wrong manner. They were fervent, but they needed to focus their energy on something productive instead of being selfish. Paul told them to seek the assembly’s edification—they were to uplift others instead of themselves. Tongues was a spiritual gift misused to cause attention to be drawn to the speaker, and unless it was translated—that is, reduced to something intelligent—it was useless to the listeners. The Corinthians were urged not to go around babbling incoherently, but to pray that they would be able to interpret those unknown tongues (they were thus manifested as counterfeit if they could not be interpreted).

In the listing of the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28, the gift of tongues is listed last. The gift of prophecy is listed second. Prophesying, or preaching God’s Word before it was written down, was more edifying to the local assembly than someone speaking in tongues. That is what the Bible says; I am just repeating what God has already said about it in His Word. This is how we are to view 1 Corinthians 14:39: “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.”

The Corinthians were urged rather to speak forth God’s Word and benefit the local assembly (1 Corinthians 14:1-5). Spiritual gifts were still operating at that time, and thus they were not to forbid those from exercising God’s gift of tongues. What Paul was saying was they needed to follow those directions in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 regarding speaking in tongues, or they were to be quiet and say nothing at all (verse 28).

Speaking in some strange language was not the gauge for spirituality, whether in the Corinthian church or in the church today: the Corinthians enjoyed the gift of tongues, and the Bible says they were “carnal,” “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3), and not at all spiritual or mature. While it is commonly said that we need to “speak in angelic languages” to prove we are saved—to prove that we are filled God’s Spirit or to “manifest the Holy Ghost”—this is nothing more than religious tradition. According to the Holy Spirit Himself, true spirituality today in this the Dispensation of Grace is determined by whether or not someone listens to God’s instructions through Paul. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 14:37-38, “[37] If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. [38] But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” If someone does not hearken unto the Apostle Paul’s writings, Romans through Philemon, they are denying Jesus Christ’s words to us today, and God’s Holy Spirit is not leading them! (That would describe 99 percent of the people in the world’s “Christian” pulpits!)


It is argued that if we forbid people to speak with tongues today, then we are limiting God and that we are opposing God’s work (see 1 Corinthians 14:39). However, we reply, this is assuming that God the Holy Spirit is involved in the modern-day tongues movement in the first place. If God the Holy Spirit is not dispensing spiritual gifts today—particularly the gift of tongues—and we forbid people to exercise their so-called “supernatural gift of tongues,” then we are not arguing against God because God is not doing that today anyway. If God is not working in these modern-day “tongue-talkers,” then we are opposing what they are doing in the flesh, and not at all challenging what God the Holy Spirit is doing (because, according to the verses in 1 Corinthians chapter 14, He is not the “spirit” operating in and through them!).

There is abundant Scriptural proof that the modern-day “gift of tongues” is not at all of the God of the Bible. It is of some other spirit, some other entity (frankly, it is man’s flesh working in tandem with Satan’s policy of evil!). No verse—not even a misquoted 1 Corinthians 14:39—can authenticate the modern-day tongues experience so prevalent in charismatic circles. They are abusing many Bible verses, and proving that they are not interested in doing God’s work, just interesting in doing what they want to do to further their theological system. Beloved, may we guard ourselves against such error!

Also see:
» Should I speak or pray in tongues?
» What is the “that which is perfect is come” in 1 Corinthians 13:10?
» Could you explain Paul’s “Acts” ministry?