Denominational Doctrinal Discussions
These studies examine the traditional doctrines held by denominations by comparing those beliefs to the scriptures. My desire is that we walk righteously before God, not according to traditions of men. Bernie Parsons
|Speaking In Tongues
By Bernie Parsons - February 25, 2002
A doctrine espoused by some charismatic denominational church members involves what they call "speaking in tongues". They present this "gift" as indicative that they have received God's Holy Spirit--some go so far as to say that if you don't possess this ability, then you have not received the Holy Ghost baptism, and are not saved. (Some refer to this as the "baptism of fire", erroneously citing John the Baptist's mention of the same, and mistakenly linking it to Acts 2:3.)
Matthew 3:10-12 "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Acts 2:1-4 "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."
First of all, let's clear up the misconception about the "baptism of fire". When John the Baptist spoke of the baptism of fire, he clearly indicated that it was reserved for the unbelieving. Notice his statement that the trees that do not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. He immediately follows this statement with the one about the baptism of fire, in which he says that the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire. Jesus also commented on this unquenchable fire.
Mark 9:43-48 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
This unquenchable fire is the fire of hell.
The Acts passage does not even speak of actual fire, but of "cloven tongues like as of fire". In other words, the appearance was that of fire--or, it resembled flames of fire. With that out of the way, what does the Bible teach about "speaking in tongues"?
Jesus said that signs would indicate that the power of God was with the apostles as they went into all the world, preaching the gospel of salvation in Christ, and baptizing the believers.
Mark 16:15-18 "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
Among these signs would be speech in "new tongues". Simply put, they would speak in "new languages", or languages other than their native tongue. This was important on Pentecost, because there were devout Jews from many different countries assembled in Jersualem for the feast days. These people did not all speak a common language, and in order for them to hear the gospel, the apostles were given the ability to speak to them in their own languages.
Acts 2:2-11 "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
These men were not speaking gibberish, merely jabbering and making unfamiliar sounds. They were preaching the gospel--the wonderful works of God--in each man's native language.
I have heard on the radio and seen on television those claiming to speak in tongues. For the most part their speech is incoherent. I did pick out a couple of choice bits from one man's sudden outburst on his radio program. I distinctly heard, among the syllables, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani" (taken from Mark 15:34--an odd thing to be saying--"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!?! Maybe that in itself is quite telling!) He also threw in a couple of native American tribes, something like "Choctaw Arapaho". These were sprinkled among the other syllables that he gushed. I don't know if the others were similar real words from other languages, or if he just made up the sounds. At any rate, there is no doubt in my mind that this particular fellow was a charlatan.
Some claim that these people are not understood, because they speak the language of the angels. Even if that were so, they show a deep and abiding ignorance of the scriptures regarding speaking in tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:9-10 "To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:"
The Holy Spirit gave some the ability to speak in foreign languages. To others, He gave the ability to interpret foreign languages. Not every Christian was given the ability to speak in tongues, so we know that speaking in tongues is not a condition of salvation, nor is it a sign given to mark every saved person.
1 Corinthians 12:28-30 "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?"
1 Corinthians 14:5 "I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."
The Apostle Paul put some restrictions on speaking in tongues, based upon common sense and the reason that these gifts were given in the first place. The Corinthian Christians desired the ability to speak in tongues. They saw this gift as a prestigious and impressive gift, one worthy of much honor.
1 Corinthians 14:2-28 "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. I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 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. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.
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. 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? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God."
The idea behind speaking in tongues is to convince the listener of the gospel of Christ when he hears it in his own language, not in a foreign language that he does not understand. Therefore, Paul writes that if there is no interpreter to explain the sermon to the listener, there is no point in speaking. In fact, if everyone is speaking in an "unknown tongue"--foreign language--simultaneously, the unbeliever will consider the whole church a bunch of crazies. Yet I have seen some groups who claim a belief in speaking in tongues where all are jabbering at the same time, in direct violation of what Paul taught.
As Paul said, if there is no interpreter present, "let him keep silence in the church". As an additional note, many of these groups have women "speaking in tongues" in the assembly, in violation of another instruction of Paul in that same Corinthian letter.
1 Corinthians 14:34-38 "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant."
The same Holy Spirit that gives the gift of speaking in foreign languages also says that the women are to remain silent in the church assemblies. If Christians do not follow these teachings, they show their ignorance of God's will.
Love, in Christ,