Speaking in Tongues*

The issue of "speaking in tongues" plays an important role in our days, and we should consider some of the reasons why Bible-based Christians cannot join this movement. Several points, which we will discuss briefly, condemn the present-day tongues movement as not being of God.

(1) 1 Corinthians is the only epistle that mentions speaking in tongues. This phenomenon has nothing to do with "praying in the Spirit" (Rom. 8; Eph. 5; Jude 20). Therefore, "speaking in tongues" is not essential, as some claim, for the life of faith of a Christian.

(2) In the Scriptures, "tongues" always mean languages that really exist(ed). The Greek word "glossa" is also used in the phrase "tongues, as of fire" (Acts 2:2), to indicate the tongue as a member of the human body. It is further used in Revelation 5:9: "every tribe, tongue, and people ..." to represent the different populations on the earth, with their different languages.

(3) Someone may speak in tongues (a foreign language), but this is never a proof that such a person is filled with, or even indwelt by, the Holy Spirit, let alone a spiritual believer (cf. 1 Cor. 1:5; 3:1).

(4) The gift of tongues is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the sense that He gives this gift through sovereign grace to some in the Assembly and He works in them (1 Cor. 12).

(5) As a gift of the Spirit, tongues receives the last place in 1 Corinthians 12:28 (which presents the order of importance from apostles and downwards) because its possibility to edify is very limited (1 Cor. 14), except in gospel work on the mission front. Paul, in his travels, spoke in foreign languages certainly using his spiritual gifts but not in his home assembly.

(6) Only the apostles and some of those converted by their ministry spoke in tongues. Generally speaking, the sign-gifts are limited to the apostles (apart from the Lord, of course). See Acts 2:43; 3:7-9; 5:12, 15; 9:40; 19:11.

(7) The signs are given as proofs and characteristics of the work of an apostle (2 Cor. 12:12). Apostles must have been with the Lord during His earthly ministry or have seen the Lord in the glory, as happened to Paul (Acts 1:21-26; 9:3; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8).

(8) The signs and miracles, including tongues, were given by God to confirm His Word (Mk. 16:17; Heb. 2:3-4; Jn. 2:23-25). The passage in Hebrews 2 refers to sign-gifts as something of the past, already past when this epistle was written (a few years before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD).

(9) Speaking in tongues is, therefore, a sign for the unbelievers (1 Cor. 14: 19-25) so they could understand what was being said (v.23). [The gift of healing is similar. We find in the New Testament that it is used only for the benefit of unbelievers (especially among the Jews, who looked for signs) to reach their conscience, to confirm the Word that was preached, and to establish the new testimony. We do not read about any healing of believers; in fact, to the contrary (see 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 4:20; Gal. 4:13-14; 2 Cor. 12:7).]

(10) Speaking in tongues is only described in the book of Acts, in the three cases when new groups of believers were introduced into the Assembly (or Church) -- the Jews in ch. 2, the Gentiles in ch. 10, and the disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19:6. All spoke in different languages, and that, without having asked for it!

(11) With the progression of the testimony in the book of Acts, the number of signs and miracles diminishes quickly.

(12) Scripture presents two cases when signs and wonders take place. Most commonly, they are characteristic for the very beginning of a new dispensation. By way of exception, they also occur as a unique and temporary testimony to warn the professing people of God of soon-coming judgments. Moses, Joshua, our Lord, the twelve apostles, and the seventy that were sent out, were only sent to Israel and would fit in the first category (beginning of a new dispensation), whereas Elijah and Elisha fit in the second category (warning of judgment). The past testimony of signs and wonders, at the beginning of the Christian era, as well as a future testimony after the rapture of the Church, takes place within the borders of the Roman Empire.

(13) The completion of the revelation of the Word of God put an end to the special revelations, prophecies, and sign-gifts, including speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 13:8-10). We cannot discuss in detail in this report 1 Corinthians 12-14 (see report titled Biblical Tongues), but note that we should distinguish the gifts of prophecy and revelation of the beginning (Eph. 2:20), when the Word of God was not yet completed, from the gift of prophecy for edification (building up) which still continues to the present time (1 Cor. 13:8), the Word being now complete. [It is remarkable that the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, uses two different verbs in the Greek text to indicate a distinction between prophecy and knowledge on the one hand, which shall be done away with, and speaking in tongues on the other, of which he says "they shall cease" (1 Cor. 13:8). This last verb we could also translate with "pause," because they will function again at the introduction of the millennial reign.]

(14) Speaking in tongues is also presented in the New Testament as a fulfillment of Joel 2 and Isaiah 28 (1 Cor. 14:21) and, therefore, is intimately linked with Israel or the Jews. In Acts 2 and 19, and also in Corinth, the Jews are addressed by different tongues. Thus, they heard the Word of their God spoken to them with "pagan" tongues, something very exceptional. After the introduction of believing Gentiles into the Church, and after the formal closing of the Jewish dispensation (illustrated at the end of Acts 28 and implemented in the year 70 AD with the destruction of the temple), there are no more sign-gifts, at least not on behalf of God. [The enemy will fool people through an energy of error, allowed by God, in the coming days of apostasy (2 Thess. 2:8-12); however, a similar spirit of error is already at work, referred to as the mystery of iniquity.] God will give them again in the near future, connected with Israel: by the two witnesses in Jerusalem (Rev. 11) and, at the beginning of the coming millennial reign (Isa. 32; 53; Ps. 103), connected with a special healing of Israel.

(15) With regard to speaking in tongues (as well as any speaking), it is stated in 1 Corinthians 14:34 that women should be silent in the local assembly. Therefore, besides the arguments already given to show that speaking in tongues as a gift of God was limited to the beginning of the Church, we now come to a command of God, given at the beginning, but still valid for today. Yet, when these "gifts" are displayed today, mostly women are involved. [This is not said to discriminate against women! It is a matter of obedience to the Lord Jesus and of submission to the authority of His Word.]

(16) In religious movements and cults, such as Christian Science, Theosophy, Adventism, and all kinds of Pentecostals and Charismatics, women play an important role, either in the start of such a movement or in its emotional practices. The Holy Spirit should control emotions, which is often not so. Genesis 2-3 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 indicate the place God has given to women; these passages also show how the enemy attacks God's order.

(17) Wrong use of speaking in tongues, even in the days of the apostles, was caused either by ignorance (1 Cor. 14:38), by lack of experience (1 Cor. 12:1), because of spiritual imperfection or immaturity (1 Cor. 2:6-16), or even willful abuse (1 Cor. 4:19).

(18) Unbelievers can do signs (Mt. 7:22; Rev. 13; 2 Th. 2:9; 2 Chr. 18:21; Acts 16:16). Furthermore, so-called speaking in tongues has been practiced in the past (even before the early days of the Church) by unbelievers and false teachers, as well as in our days: Plato, Virgil, before Christian Era; Irving, 19th century; Mormons, Buddhists, Spiritists, besides so-called Charismatics, in past and present days.

(19) True believers can place themselves under wrong, diabolical influences, as occurred to Peter (Mt. 16:21-23).

(20) The tongues at the beginning of the Christian era were real languages that could be verified. Today, those who pretend to speak in languages (tongues) do not know what language they speak nor what they say. Sometimes they try to justify themselves by saying that they are speaking in the tongues of angels (because nobody can check this).

(21) Often there is no interpretation, in contrast to Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 14. In reality, uncontrolled expressions that nobody can translate are pronounced; sometimes even curses are uttered, though in a language none of those present understands. If they give interpretations, they may contradict each other, or they are sometimes much longer than the tongue-spoken message, or they are very subjective, instead of glorifying Christ.

(22) A key passage is 1 Corinthians 14:15. This verse shows the one praying, singing, or speaking in tongues (and in context this refers to men in the public meetings of the local assembly) must himself understand what he speaks.

(23) To heed this principle would be very beneficial for many Christians today, who are involved in all kinds of manmade systems and may be placing themselves (often without realizing it) under demonic influences. Even so-called "singing in tongues" is practiced today.


Conclusion

Speaking in tongues, when practiced according to the Bible, is a sign from God given to warn unbelievers of impending judgment. Because of this point, Scripture provides limiting conditions for its use within the Church, including the requirement that an interpretation should be given (also in the case of a visitor speaking a foreign language).

Furthermore, tongues were a characteristic of apostolic ministry, to confirm the Word of God in a time when the Church was not yet established in all its diversity and when the revealed Word of God was not yet completed. The destruction of the temple closed the days of the Jewish era. With the establishment of the new Christian testimony, which included Jewish Christians, the exercise of the sign-gifts, including speaking in tongues, simply stopped. (On the foundation of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament, Ephesians 2:20; Paul's ministry completed the Word of God and closed the period in which God gave revelations.) Therefore, the modern-day tongues movement must be rejected as a demonic influence which serves several purposes:

(1) To keep believers in ignorance and spiritual immaturity;

(2) To suggest that right now, in a day of small things like in Zechariah 4:10, we can have the same "great things of God" (Acts 2:11) as in the early days of the Church;

(3) To suggest that we are not under Gods dealings in discipline, because of decline and disobedience;

(4) To sow discord among Christians, while creating outward unity;

(5) To mobilize emotions, which are not controlled by the Spirit and Word of God.


Several Errors Often Accompany Speaking in Tongues Today:

(1) Often this practice goes together with introducing, defending, or propagating false teachings concerning the Person and Work of Christ;

(2) Women play a dominating role, forsaking the role assigned to them in the Word of God;

(3) There is a lack of true spiritual growth in the tongue-speaking movement;

(4) There is ignorance with regard to doctrinal or moral evil;

(5) There are many conflicts and dissensions because of a carnal condition.

The Lord has given His people the ability to understand His thoughts (1 Cor. 2:15) provided there is a true spiritual attitude (1 Cor. 2:6). When a Christian is speaking in tongues without knowing what he is saying, then this conflicts with his Christian position. It is also crucial, in our days of ruin in the Christian profession, to make sure from which source, Christ or Satan, one receives instructions, influences, or directives. James 3 is quite clear about the possibility of two different sources or fountains (cf. 1 Cor. 12:1-3; 1 Jn. 4:1-3).

Finally, the instructions in 2 Timothy 2 give much help for our days. Are we going to be real servants of the Lord? Are we willing to maintain His rights in the midst of the Christian profession where His authority has been rejected (not always doctrinally, but often practically) by human arrangements or religious systems in which Christ is not honored as Lord? If we reject His authority and rights, we deliver ourselves to God's governmental dealings, as a consequence of our disobedience (compare Rom. 1:24-32, Gal. 6:7). This will ultimately be the case for the so-called charismatic movement, when God will send an energy of error. 2 Thessalonians 2:9 gives the prophetic fulfillment after the rapture, but the principle applies today as well. May it please the Lord to keep us for His own glory, because of His Name!


* Adapted and used by permission of: "THE HOLY SCRIPTURES"/P.O. Box 677/HAWKESBURY, Ontario/Canada K6A 3C8/Alfred E. Bouter (ed.).


Biblical Discernment Ministries - 3/98

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