Speaking in "tongues"
A "tongue" in the Bible
is a word which means simply "a language". The English
language is a "tongue", as are all the languages of
the world. ( Genesis 10: 20,31, Revelation 7:9 & John 5:2 give good examples of this ).
The Bible does also make mention
of "unknown tongues" in 1
"For he that speaketh
in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for
understandeth him; howbeit
in the spirit he speaketh mysteries."
It is however, important to note
that in almost every example the Bible gives of tongues taking
place, they were not "unknown languages" that were spoken,
but rather known languages of different nations. For example,
when God poured out His Holy Spirit upon the world to usher in
the New Testament and the spreading of the Gospel to all the peoples
of the world, He performed the miracle of tongues upon the disciples
of Jesus Christ. Acts chapter 2
records this event for us. Notice especially verses 5 through 12. In this passage, there
were men at the Jewish feast of Pentecost from "every
nation under heaven" each of these men heard the disciples
speak of the wonderful works of God in his own native tongue.
The Lord used this miracle along with other miracles in the early
church, to serve as a witness to the world that what was being
taught was truly coming from God. Hebrews 2:3,4
shows this ( in that day the Bible was not yet completed and the
word taught could not be fully checked out in the Bible to see
if it were true, so God provided miracles to witness and show
that the teachings were indeed coming from Him ). It was also
necessary to give this miracle of tongues to the early church
so that the Gospel could be communicated to people from every
nation. It allowed the Truth of Salvation to be spread across
the world rapidly and to serve as a witness to the unbelievers,
as 1 Corinthians 14:22 says,
"Wherefore tongues are
for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe
prophesying serveth not for
them that believe not, but for them which believe."
Corinthians 12:10 it mentions that the miracle of tongues
was among the various gifts given to the early church; but in
1 Corinthians 12:27-30 it shows that this
was not a gift given to every believer. This chapter speaks
of how the Lord has given different gifts (not all of them miracles)
to each individual member of the body of believers, to be used
to edify the whole body. We all, like different parts of a physical
body (like hands, feet, eyes, etc.) are given different abilities
and serve different purposes in the body of believers. Ephesians
4:11-12 also explains this:
" And he gave some, apostles;
and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and
For the perfecting of the
saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the
body of Christ:"
And so, in 1
Corinthians 12: 28-30 to underscore this truth, the
scripture says this:
"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.
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?"
The answer to these questions,
including the one that says "...do all speak with tongues?"
"No". Because, as 1 Corinthians 12:17
" If the whole body were
an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where
were the smelling?"
So far, we have seen that:
(1) tongues were usually
not "unknown languages" and
(2) tongues were not
a gift shared by all believers
Now let's see what else the Bible
has to say about speaking in tongues:
Corinthians chapter 14
addresses this topic very directly.
In this chapter, it is important
to notice that speaking in an unknown tongue is discouraged
several times and we are exhorted to seek prophesy instead ( prophesy
means simply, to declare the Word of God ). The primary reason
for this is because the church does not receive edification from
an unknown tongue ( 1 Corinthians 14:3-5 ). Another reason is because
speaking in an unknown tongue creates division in the church "...if
I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be a barbarian, and
he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me" ( verse 11 ).
So the brother who speaks in an unknown tongue is instructed to
pray that he may be able to interpret (
verse 13 ) so the church can be edified, but also for
his own sake too. As verse 14 & 15 says:
"For if I pray in an
unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is
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
Verse 20 very directly instructs us not to be immature in
Verse 22 tells us that the miracle of tongues is not given
for those who believe but as a sign for the unbelievers. And yet
one of the main reasons speaking in an unknown tongue is
discouraged against, is because it is a bad witness to unbelievers.
As verse 23 says:
"If therefore the whole
church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues,
and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will
they not say that ye are mad?"
Over and over again in this chapter
the scripture emphasizes the need for prophesy (declaring the
Word of God) and speaks against speaking in an unknown tongue
unless there is a brother present who can interpret the unknown
language. Verse 28 strictly
" But if there be no
interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let
him speak to himself, and to God."
Finally, it is important to note
that whenever a tongue was interpreted, it then became "prophesy"
-- because one would then be declaring the Word of God. And since
this is one of the means that God was using to communicate His
Word at that time, the Apostle Paul says in the scripture "forbid
not to speak in tongues" (verse
3 ). However, when we compare this with the rest of
the Bible, we see that when God wrote the last verses of His Holy
Word He declares,
"For I testify unto every
man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If
any man shall add unto these things, God shall add
unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any
man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy,
God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out
of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this
book." ( Revelations
Here we see that once God had
completed His Word, He declares that there would be no more additional
prophesy given. ( the web page on this site titled "The Bible Only" addresses this truth
specifically ) This means that God would no longer communicate
His Word to us through the means of a vision, dream or tongue.
So today, the only Word of God for us is His written word
the Bible. Any spoken Word of God (or prophesy) must come from
His Word the Bible. Prophesy from any other source would be adding
to His completed Holy Word.
So, we see that the miracle of
tongues is not for today. God's Word, the Bible, is all that we
need to come to know the joy of fellowship with the one true God.
In conclusion, we see that the
Bible teaches that:
(1) tongues were usually
not "unknown languages"
(2) not all believers were
given the gift of tongues
(3) unknown tongues were
prohibited in the congregation (unless an interpreter was
present to provide prophesy) because:
-- they did not provide
edification for the body of believers
-- they created division
among believing brethren
-- they did not help
one grow in understanding
-- they were a bad witness
for the unbelievers
(4) tongues (not unknown
tongues) were miracles provided for unbelievers not believers
(5) the miracle of tongues
ceased when God finished His Word the Bible
I realize that many churches
teach contrary to these truths, but ultimately, when it comes
to understanding Truth, the only thing that really matters is
"What Does the Bible Say?" Unfortunately, we are living in a day when God's
Word is terribly mis-represented. God ultimately holds each of
us accountable for putting our trust in anything or anyone other
than Himself and His Holy Word alone. It is my hope and prayer
that this study will bring comfort to you and joy, as you rejoice
at understanding God's Word.
If you should have questions or comments about what is said
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