Posts Tagged ‘speaking in tongues’

1. Where it is mentioned in Scripture: Mark 16:17; Acts 2:1-18; Acts 10:45-46; Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12-14.

2. What is it?

  • It is Spirit prompted: “. . . as the Spirit gave them utterance” – Acts 2:4. It is one of “the manifestation(s) of the Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:7.
  • The person is in control. They can choose to speak or not – 1 Corinthians 14:27-28.
  • It is spoken to God, not others. “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God” – 1 Corinthians 14:2. Also 1 Corinthians 14:28.
  • It is unintelligible speech:
    • It is not understood by the speaker. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful” – 1 Corinthians 14:14. This is why the speaker would need to pray for the gift of interpretation to make what he/she is saying known – 1 Corinthians 14:13.
    • It is not understood by the hearer. “. . . no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 14:2. Also 1 Corinthians 14:16. This is why the gift of interpretation is needed for tongues to be used in the church.
  • It consists of prayers, singing praises and speaking a blessing or giving thanks – 1 Corinthians 14:14-17. Also in Acts it is associated with praising God – “telling the mighty works of God” – Acts 2:11; “extolling God” – Acts 10:46. This is most likely why tongues, unlike prophecy, do not need to be tested (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22; 1 Corinthians 14:29). It is not a message from God, but praises and prayers to God.
  • Are tongues human languages? It’s not clear. They are languages. But Paul also talks about the tongues of people and angels – 1 Corinthians 13:1. In Acts 2 human languages are involved, at least in the interpretation. It was a miracle of hearing. That is, God interpreted the tongues so that each person heard the 120 speaking in their own language – Acts 2:6-11 (v. 6 – “each one was hearing them speak in his own language”). In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul assumes that no one will be present who understands the language. And so the solution is another gift of the Spirit – the gift of interpretation.

3. Not everyone has this gift. Although he says in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I want all of you to speak in tongues,” the question he asks in 1 Corinthians 12:30, “do all speak with tongues?” grammatically requires a “no” answer. Although each of us has the Holy Spirit in us and so at any point any of us could exercise any gift, if God so chooses, normally God gives different gifts to different people and then calls us to act as a body complimenting each other. So only some will have a regular gift of tongues.

4. Tongues must always be interpreted in church. To build up the church it must be understood. This can be done by the speaker who has the gift of interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:14) or by another person with this gift (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). Otherwise the person is to speak privately – 1 Corinthians 14:28. As this verse also says, “keep silent in the church.” No one should hear it in the congregation, since otherwise this would lead outsiders to say that the believers are “out of their mind” – 1 Corinthians 14:23.

5. Someone with the gift of tongues can use it privately. This is what Paul instructs in 1 Corinthians 14:28. This builds up the individual believer – 1 Corinthians 14:4.

6. Rules for tongues in the church. We are not to forbid it – 1 Corinthians 14:39. Two or three can speak in tongues as long as it is interpreted – 1 Corinthians 14:27. Everything must be done decently and in order – 1 Corinthians 14:40.

7. Does Paul disparage tongues? No. He simply corrects the Corinthians’ over evaluation of it in the gathered meeting. It is a gift of the Spirit – 1 Corinthians 12:7. Its use in private builds up a believer – 1 Corinthians 14:4. And if it is interpreted it builds up the church – 1 Corinthians 14:5. Paul also says, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”

8. How are tongues without interpretation a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:21-23)? In Isaiah 28:11-12 God tells Israel that since they didn’t listen to his message through the prophets he would speak to them with unknown tongues. That is, in an act of judgment, the Assyrians would capture them and take them away. Tongues then, are a sign of judgment (also Deuteronomy 28:49, Jeremiah 5:15). Paul applies this to the Corinthian situation. If they all speak in tongues, and an unbeliever comes into the service, it keeps the unbeliever from hearing God’s message and so they are in effect judged. They will think the Christians are out of their minds and thus leave without being called to repentance.

9. More from Acts. Three things: a) Tongues are treated as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that all would prophecy – Acts 2:14-17. So here tongues are a kind of subcategory of prophecy. b) Tongues can be an outward evidence of the reception of the Spirit (Acts 2; 10:45-46; 19:6). But so can any other Spirit manifestation/gift or no manifestation at all (Acts 13:12, 48-42; 14:21). c) Acts 2 presents the reversal of what happened at the tower of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9. There all spoke one language, but God judged them by giving them different languages to scatter them. Here God interprets the various tongues to draw together one people in Christ out of the nations.

10. Love is more important than speaking in tongues. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” – 1 Corinthians 13:1. “Tongues will cease” but “love never ends” – 1 Corinthians 13:8.


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