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 Corinthians 14:2,

"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."

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 not: but

prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe."

In 1 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 teachers;

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?" is clearly "No". Because, as 1 Corinthians 12:17 says,

" 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:

1 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 unfruitful.

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 also."

Verse 20 very directly instructs us not to be immature in understanding.

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 says,

" 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 22:18 )

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.

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