“what is your opinion on speaking in tongues? i speak in tongues and im starting to question the whole speaking in tongues thing.i dont believe that what im speaking is from the devil or something i picked up from someone else it could be a diff language?”
“I go to _____ and I pretend to speak in tongues and I’ve been faking it to fit in but inside i know they’re all crazy.”
“what is your opinion on tongues? my parents want me to do it but I didnt find it in the bible. Is it only different normal languages or weird unreal ones “
“how do u know tonges are real? cos im not sure they are it doesnt do anything for me and i try to pray like that all the time.
This is by far one of the most controversial issues in contemporary Protestant Christianity and I’m finally going to touch it because of the number of questions that I have received about it. In the former Soviet Union Christians of all kinds once upon a time died together for their faith but then their churches literally divided over this issue alone into the Pentecostals and the Baptist. Today some people from both groups seem to enjoy slandering each other and considering the other to be less intellectual or less spiritual. Here in the United States some local churches seem to be able to contain people with both views, however, this is also very rare to find, and instead we see a large division. I have literally been present hundreds of times to hear people treat each other with disgust over this. So to think that I can solve the issue in a short article would be immature, rash, and ignorant, however, I would like to address it in a non divisive way by saying what the bible says.
THE PRIMARY ISSUE: UNITY
First of let us emphasize Christian unity. In the 17th chapter of the gospel of John, right before crucifixion Jesus prayed for his followers, four times, “that they may be one” (John 17:11,21,22,23) even going as far as saying Christians need to be united as strongly as Jesus and God. This means we need to be united like Holy Trinity as much as humanly possible. We are made up of separate persons but have the same goal, the same mind, the same ambitions, and etc. The issue of tongues often breaks that unity, against the prayer of Jesus Chris himself. This is my first purpose and point in reading this article.
Many of my Pentecostal friends may disagree, and some Baptist friends would agree with them to disagree with me (maybe it’s the only way to make them friends, by giving them a common enemy). However, my first call is to be faithful to Jesus and his Word which enforces that unity is a primary issue, but speaks of tongues as a secondary issue. Nearly every single one of Paul epistles of speaks of our unity as a church, however, only one mentions the gift of tongues, clearly there was a priority in Paul’s writings that elevated the issue of Christian unity and love over that of tongues. Let us also elevate the same priority. Besides both the Cessasionist (Baptists, Presbyterians, etc) and Continuationist (Pentecostals, Charismatics, etc) side will be playing the same tune in heaven.
THERE IS INSUFFICIENT BIBLICAL EMPHASIS ON TONGUES TO CLAIM THEY ARE ALL-IMPORTANT
The chief reason for the division in the protestant church regarding tongues is because of the lack of sufficient biblical teaching on tongues. In the bible there are only a three occasions where people speak tongues, a few lists that include tongues among other gifts/signs, and there is one chapter dealing with a dysfunctional church where Paul addresses their misuses and abuses of tongues, but other than that we find no clear doctrinal statements about tongues. Things that are of primary importance, such as Christ-like love between brothers, are listed and taught all throughout the bible and are explained in great detail and specifically addressed in all circumstances. Ideas such as righteousness or even the conduct of believers (to abstain from particular sins, to be gentle, how to pray/who to pray for) are listed in just about every single book in the new testament, however, tongues are only written about in one epistle to the Corinthians (and mentioned in narrative form in Acts.)
Many people who seem to have so much to say about tongues, including the ways to get this gift, the ways to use it, the special powers of it are not speaking from a direct biblical teaching, but relying on their “spiritual experience.” What I mean is there is no verse that says “to get the gift of tongues, you must confess of sin and pray this prayer, in this order.” So today people that teach this, don’t do it from clear scriptural directives, but instead from three examples in Acts and their “spiritual experience.” We cannot trust this experience at all, yet it seems harsh and not respectful to say that. So in truth we are left with this scenario: there is very little about tongues and we have only general information that is not specific. Biblically we are told that it’s a gift, some people had it, and the Corinthians abused it enough for Paul to correct them. In my humble opinion this does not provide enough specific information for one to teach a complete doctrine of tongues. The Baptists therefore just teach the little that is there, the Pentecostals fill in those gaps with their personal experience. That said, let’s look at what the Bible says about tongues specifically:
TONGUES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
There is no mention of any kind of gift of tongues in the Old Testament. Almost all the other gifts like prophecy, healing, miracles are present but not tongues. Also we see things like wind and fire being associated with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (1 Kings 19:11) which are comparable to “tongues of fire” resting on the believers heads in Acts 2. The prophet Joel makes a prophecy (Joel 2:28) that Peter sees fulfilled during the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:16, however, Joel’s prophecy only includes the gift of prophecy, not tongues. (It could be said since each foreigner heard members of the early church speaking the foreigners own native tongue, they received it as a prophecy.)
TONGUES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
There are 3 occurrences in Acts, a mention by name in three lists(Mark 16, 1 Cor 12, 1 Cor 13), and the 14th chapter of 1st Corinthians deals with a misuse of tongues. I would really advise you to read with a bible (or new window or app), especially for 1 Corinthians 14 which we hardly ever read in full. (Also there is a passage in Romans 8:26 that some have claimed refers tongues, however, the passage never speaks of tongues but of “groans that are too deep for words,” its clear in English that this cannot be a spoken tongue or language, and the greek alalētos [too deep for words] is even clearer, defined by Strongs dictionary as “not to be uttered, not expressed in words.“ Due to the strong textual evidence against, I don’t believe this passage refers to tongues that are by nature words that are “uttered”).
The Three Occurrences
1. Acts 2
On the day of Pentecost one hundred and twenty persons are recorded as being together in “the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). All of a sudden “tongues of fire” appeared to them (this word tongues means flames that were resting above their heads, Acts 2:3). And they were filled with the Spirit and spoke in new tongues (Acts 2:3). A large crowd from many nations gathers and people from the crowd hear and hear their own languages being spoken (Acts 2:11).
2. Acts 10
A Roman centurion, name Cornelius, who saw an angel from God also received a visit from Peter the apostle. Peter still didn’t believe an uncircumcised gentile could be saved, but God changed Peters mind in a vision. Peter shares the Gospel with Cornelius then the Holy Spirit fell on the listeners and they were heard to be “speaking in tongues and extolling God” (Acts 10:46). We are not told explicitly about the type or kind of tongues that were heard or If anyone understood the languages, however, when reporting the event Peter says “God gave them the same gift as us” (Acts 11:17) and while he is likely saying the gift of the Holy Spirit, this may also allude to tongues as different languages that were understood (which is a gift that was given to the Jews on one occasion in Acts 2).
3. Acts 19
Twelve men come to Peter who had not yet received Jesus, but were disciples of Johns baptism. Peter tells them about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the men are baptized in the name of Jesus, then when Peter lays hands on the men and they begin to do two things, speak in tongues and prophecy (Acts 19:6). We are not told what type or kind of tongues were heard or If anyone understood the languages.
The Three Lists
1. List of signs accompanying believers
Mark 16:18* lists the act of speaking in new tongues as one of the signs that will accompany the believers of Jesus. Also included is picking up serpents and not being hurt, drinking deadly poison and being unhurt, casting out demons, and healing the sick.
*Most scholars and modern bible translations claim this verse was not found in the early and original manuscripts of the bible, but only found on much later (middle age) copies of the book of Mark.
2. List of differing gifts of the Spirit
There is a list that is repeated twice in the 12th chapter of Corinthians, and this list includes tongues. The first repetition is 1 Cor 12:10 which says that different gifts are given to different people, claiming that to some is given prophecy “to another various kinds of tongues.” This list is repeated a few verses down listing “various kind of tongues” among the many gifts God himself appointed, its listed in order (1 Cor 12:28). Paul concludes this list with asking “Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:30).
3. List of things that are less important than love
Paul emphasizes the importance of love over all things and all deeds, he goes into a list of all the things that are vastly inferior to love. 1 Cor 13:1 he mentions speaking in “tongues of men and of angels” without love is pointless. Then in 1 Cor 13:8 he says tongues will pass away but love will remain forever. The whole point is to write in order the things that are important, love makes the top of the list, gifts and signs make the bottom.
However, very interesting here is the use of “tongues of angels.” In other scriptures on tongues we see tongues as being languages that foreigners understood, which many critics of the charismatic movement have pointed out, yet this opens the possibility of another kind or type of tongues. This is what most knowledgeable pentacostals and charismatics say they speaking in when their tongues are not of a particular human language.
The 14th chapter
1. This chapter deals with tongues during a church service
Paul only addresses situations where Christian are gathered together for a church service, as to what parts of this may or may not apply to situations when one is alone or in small groups, we are told little.
2. Tongues don’t do good for the church, only build up yourself
In 1 Cor 14:4 Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells the church at Corinth that while someone who speaks in a tongue “builds himself up” those that prophecy “build up the church.” Here Paul’s intention is to ask the Corinthians which is more important self or church? In 1 Cor 14:6 Paul makes this clear by saying if he comes to them with only tongues he will not benefit them at all (speaking tongues for Paul wouldn’t be good for them), but will only benefit them if he brings knowledge. Paul is very evidently arguing the point that prophecy is greater and more beneficial in a church service and this verse seems to be the strongest emotional packaging of what he is saying.
3. Tongues are not understood by anyone but God, and tell mysteries to God.
Paul says that no one understand a speaker who speaks in tongues, besides God. (1 Cor 14:2) This is given as a comparison to prophecy which is understood and thus beneficial for all people. Paul also says in the same verse that those “speaking” in tongues “utter mysteries in the spirit,” an interesting note here is that tongues are not called a prayer but considered a type of speech that declares mysteries. (He writes that a person “speaks mysteries” not “prays mysteries” even though later he talks about “praying in tongues.”)
4. Paul would much rather people prophecy than speak in tongues
1 Cor 14:5 which appears to say that “all” should speak in tongues, also tells Christians that while Paul wants all to speak in tongues its “even more” important that they all prophecy. This message says not only that when someone prophecies it’s more important than tongues, instead it says that if all should speak tongues “even more” all should prophecy, at least this is what Paul says.
5. Tongues give an indistinct/unclear message or make a sound “into the air”
Paul compares human speech to musical instruments used in artistic music and sounding battle orders. (1 Cor 14:7-8). He says that in both situations if those people using the musical instrument make a sound that isn’t understood by their hearers it would not have a good effect on the hearers. In 1 Cor 14:9, he concludes by saying that tongues without interpretation are like the instruments that don’t give a clear sound, and finally says that speaking tongues is comparable to “speaking into the air” or “into the wind”.
6. If tongues are present there must be interpretation
Paul doesn’t just leave them with a rebuke, but says that anyone who speaks in tongues needs to pray for interpretation (1 Cor 14:13-19). He says that praying/giving thanksgiving with a tongue makes the mind unfruitful while the spirit is fruitful (1 Cor 14:14). Paul doesn’t stop at that as a fact, but says it’s a situation that need to be corrected by praying that both sprit and mind would be fruitful (1 Cor 14:15). In the following verses, 1 Cor 14:16-17, he says the reason for this is that others may hear your thanksgiving and pray in agreement with you.
7. Preaching is 2000 times more important than tongues in church
Paul admits that he speaks in tongues (this may/may not be different than praying in tongues) more than everyone of the Corinthians, but yet in a church meeting his ratio is 5 real words is more important than 10,000 words in tongues, this means Paul considered pastoral teaching about 2000 times more important than speaking in tongues. Paul clearly emphasizes this is “in church.”
8. Unbelievers hearing tongues will say “you’re crazy” but hearing prophecy they’ll repent
In 1 Cor 14:20 Paul asks the church to not be children in their thinking about tongues, he then reminds the church that tongues have a purpose. Paul also says that if unbelievers come to a church meeting with members speaking in tongues they won’t repent but instead will think everyone is crazy (1 Cor 14:23). On the other hand if everyone is prophesying those same unbelievers will repent and worship Jesus (1 Cor 14:24-25). There is also an apparent contradiction in this passage, see notes below if you are interested.
Contradiction in standard pentecostal view: Verses 22-25 seem to be a contradiction in literal reading. In 1 Cor 14:22 Paul says “tongues ARE a sign for unbelievers but not believers, prophecies ARE to believers but not unbelievers.”
Then in 1 Cor 14:23-25 he shows a scenario that is opposite?! That tongues is a sign that causes unbelievers to think the church is crazy and not turn to God, but prophecy is a sign that will cause unbelievers to repent and worship God.
One Possible Solution: (This is my opinion, please don’t confuse it as essential church doctrine. However, you will be hard pressed to find an alternate answer, the official Assembly of God position fully ignores this contradiction completely, while a few liberal theologians say it’s a copying mistake of the bible, and most conservative scholars say something very similar to my answer.)
In 1 Cor14:21 Paul quotes the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:11-13) where invaders speaking foreign tongues are used to discipline the Jews who did not respond to God’s teachings in their own Hebrew. Paul uses the word “thus” or “so then” to connect his statement about who tongues are really meant for. In the Isaiah scenario foreign tongues were a sign of Gods judgment for Jewish people who were by their deeds unbelievers. I believe he is saying that foreign tongues are not always a good sign for unbelievers, and may be in some cases a sign of their judgement. He then shows a situation to back this up. In 1 Cor 14:23 unbelievers who hear tongues (as opposed to prophecy) will leave the church unrepentant and also receive Gods judgment. So to them it was a sign of judgment, just like it was in Isaiah passage Paul quotes and uses to prove this idea. Conversely, when former unbelievers hear prophecy they repent (1 Cor 14:24-25) and become believers, so thus prophecy is for believers (even former unbelievers who hear it and become believers) and, I think Paul’s point is that prophecy is positive in all situations, while tongues was a bad sign in Isaiah 28:11-13 and is can be a bad sign for nonbelievers who come to your church because they will not repent (like they would with prophecy).
9. The rule is: 1 or 2 people to speak tongues at once with interpreter, and without interpreter “let them be silent”
“If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.” (1 Cor14:27-28) This passage is so clear the only mystery remains what does Paul mean by “speak to himself and to God,” it appears he means to pray at home when no one is there except you and God.
10. Tongues aren’t to be always forbidden.
After spending all of the chapter ridiculing and rebuking the Corinthians for disorder and giving them guidance and correction, Paul closes with a few statements (1 Cor 14:39) First, that the church should desire to prophecy, the second is that tongues should not be forbidden. However, even in this he sets a priority of prophecy first as something that is encouraged and to be desired and tongues as second, something to be allowed.
11. Everything Paul writes in this chapter is a command of the Lord
“if anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” (1 Cor 14:37-38). As an effort to testify to the validity of what he says, and to make sure people don’t say “its just your opinion Paul” he reminds us that his words are Gods commandments.
BOTH SIDES ARGUE FROM THE SAME SCRIPTURE
The above scriptures are the full collection of all the passages that mention the gift fo tongues. Were I to write of the passages that speak of love, unity, sexuality, righteousness, holiness or any other biblical topic, I would be able to fill a hundred more pages with biblical material. Yet both sides of the debate make wholesome claims about these passages. The truth is both sides use the same scripture and I do believe both sides do love Jesus and want to serve Him in truth, carefully discerning His scriptures and obeying them.
Both sides make plenty of arguments with the above scriptures, but I am not wholly convinced by either.
The Pentecostals will say: All of the occurrences of the Holy Spirit coming down in Acts contained tongues as a testament and this is true. There is also a fourth coming down of the Holy Spirit which was seen by people, so this was likely due also to speaking in tongues.
The Baptists wills say: There were only three occurrences where tongues were recorded, and they were momentous events one when the Jewish people received the Sprit, second where the Gentile church received Him, and one where Johns disciples received Him. Furthermore, each was different, the first had tongues that were foreign languages, the second are unknown, and the third had prophecy and tongues, so if there is such a standard why are the only three instances completely different, and this is true also.
The Pentecostals will say: Jesus taught on the signs that would accompany believers and included tongues as part of this discourse on gifting and confirmations of being a believer, and this is indeed true.
The Baptists wills say: Jesus also included other signs like healing and getting bitten by snakes/drinking poison unharmed, but these don’t set the standard for the christian experience. Also Jesus taught on prayer many times but never mentioned tongues, and indeed this is also true.
Etc, etc, etc.
We could still look at history and consequences of the movement and many other things, but that would require me to write a book. And there are already books going back and forth, all presenting valid observations, and being hit back with even more valid arguments (and some with completely invalid points, like anything by charismatic authors who diminish scripture and elevate tongues and prophesies as equal to scripture.)
WHAT SHOULD YOU BELIEVE?.
So here we are, having very briefly looked at all that the scripture has to say about this controversial topic and you are left with a decision on what to do. Here is my advice to you, don’t fight, don’t cause dissention, don’t cause division. The bible call that a sin. Don’t slander and accuse other believers. Don’t call someone less spiritual or less intellectual.
Love people like Jesus always does.
As far as your personal convictions about tongues, read the scriptures above, pray that the Holy Spirit would give you guidance, hear what your pastors and elders say, study the fruit of the Spiritin their lives and then come to your conclusion. If you don’t think you really have the gift but just learned how to pretend and it serves as a hindrance to your spiritual life and you feel it’s not your personal gift, then don’t force yourself to do something that is unhelpful. If you have the gift or want the gift and know or believe that it serves to build you up and grow you in the knowledge of Jesus, then by all means, I would never forbid you to do so, but I do encourage you to saturate yourself with the word of God that you may proclaim it.
WHAT DO I BELIEVE?
Now I hope that you who are reading this do not see it as a challenge or attack and take up arms against me. This is not my humble intention, I’m merely expressing my current position and exposing my heart which I believe was influenced by Scripture. First off I do not set myself up as all knowing and all righteous. I do not claim my knowledge is equivalent to scripture or spoken revelation from God. I am open to being wrong and am open to correction and am open to change if given enough direct evidence through, from, by, and in the Holy Scriptures.
Second, the churches I grew up in were fully Pentecostal (yet I have many Baptist friends, which I think leads me to stand in the crossfire so often). My old church (and indeed the largest part of the Russian community) is in full agreement with the Assembly of God doctrine on tongues as being the only evidence to the second blessing of a special baptism in the Holy Spirit. I have read all the Assembly of God position papers and arguments, twice. I have read the points made by AoG Theological Seminary professors and I am currently not convinced by them on what I believe are very solid biblical principles. (As a note, there are 100 conservative Christian professors against every 1 Pentecostal professor on this issue.) I understand this isn’t the official position of my old church, but I am not speaking for them or for anyone else, only expressing my personal thoughts on a blog.
I don’t think Pentecostals or charismatics have the monopoly on truth and the Holy Spirit. I don’t think they are more spiritual or better or holier or elite. Salvation is by faith through the cross of Christ and given to us by freely by Gods Grace. And the Holy Spirit fills all believers allowing them to witness “in the Holy Spirit” that “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3). I believe all Christians who love and trust Jesus have different gifts of the Holy Spirit and that one group should not slander the other and call them unspiritual. As far as the exact definition of the gift of speaking in tongues vs glossolalia, I am personally convinced, as well as most of academia (including theologians like J.I. Packer) that glossolalia is a manifestation of the human emotion, much like crying or weeping, I do not think it is the same as the gift of xenoglossy (speaking in real human languages) that is seen in the Bible.
Either way, I think the fact that tongues are mentioned as one of the gifts of the Spirit disqualifies the AoG position. Tongues are never listed as the one and only sign, but are listed as a gift (in fact Romans 12:6-8 which also lists gifts of the spirit like prophecy misses tongues completely.) Tongues are clearly set up by Paul in 1 Cor 12:10, 28, 30 as only one of the gifts and clearly not all are given this gift according to Paul.
The AoG position maintains the exclusivity of tongues based on it being implied with three (highly varying examples) yet the exclusivity of tongues is actually explicitly and openly denied by Paul on almost every occasion where he mentions it.
If you set up a few examples of something happening vs direct doctrinal teaching on how it should happen, and the latter always wins. (If we were to take the three examples in Acts literally and follow them word for word, then 1 of 3 baptisms with tongues need to be understood by foreigners, 1 of 3 need to happen while people are listening to preaching, and 1 of 3 baptism with tongues need to also include the gifting of prophecy).
Furthermore, the gift of tongues is mentioned as a gift of the Holy Spirit, that is among other gifts, such as teaching or wisdom. The bible literally puts these gifts as in the same list (1 Cor 12:8-10). If we Pentecostals mandate that only those who have the gift of tongues have the Holy Spirit and his gifts…. Then how in the world have all the other gifts been distributed to those that don’t speak in tongues? Read Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 12:29-30, 1 Cor 12:8-10, 1 Cor 12:28. All of those gifts are also gifts of the Holy Spirit, just like tongues. Why are they scattered sporadically through many denominations and groups of people who don’t speak in tongues? Why do some Baptists have the gift of teaching or wisdom if they are not baptized with the Spirit with the evidence of tongues? Does not only baptism of the Holy Spirit bring gifts of the Spirit?
My personal position is that the gift of tongues is one of the many gifts of the Spirit that he gives as he wills. I do not think a serious and literal reading of the 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians can yield to any other view. There is no way to read the following passage and come up with the doctrine that tongues are required to be raptured or mandatory for having the Holy Spirit. In fact Paul starts off his dealing with spiritual gifts by saying that all who trust Jesus as Lord already have the Holy Spirit 1 Cor 12:3.
Therefore my view on spiritual gifts can be summarized as exactly, clearly, specifically, literally, and completely what Paul says:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Corinthians 12)