The Bible’s Viewpoint
Speaking in Tongues—Is It From God?
“DIRECTLY, there came into my hands a strange feeling, and it . . . began to surge! It was like a thousand—like ten thousand—then a million volts of electricity . . . I spoke in a language I could not understand for about two hours.”
This experience typifies one of the most debated practices that many associate with Christian worship today: speaking in tongues. This matter has been of particular concern to Pentecostal groups and charismatic movements in other churches.
Dr. Vinson Synan of the Pentecostal Holiness Church stressed the dilemma sincere worshipers face concerning the role of speaking in tongues. He said: “Speaking in tongues is an embarrassment to us.” Why? Dr. Synan noted that tongues today may not seem to make sense to us. “Embarrassing as it may be,” he continued, “glossolalia [speaking in tongues] is the gift that God has chosen at strategic points in history to expand and renew the Church.”—Italics ours.
One such ‘strategic point’ was a most unusual occurrence some 1,900 years ago.
It was Pentecost of the year 33 C.E. A change was due. A new covenant was to replace the ancient Jewish Law covenant. For what reason? To open up a better way to worship Jehovah God. How could people see that God’s blessing was upon this shift in worship? He would use an outburst of miraculous events, including the speaking in tongues, to move the hearts of righteously disposed people. These would see that the almighty God of their forefathers was indeed now conferring his approval upon Jesus’ disciples.
The gift of tongues served another purpose at Pentecost. In Jesus’ day, printing and broadcasting did not exist, and written records were not common among the ordinary people. Hence, the good news of God’s will and purpose would have to be carried forth on the tongues of believers. Worshipers of Jehovah had come to the Festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem from over a dozen lands in Africa, Asia, and Europe, and they spoke several different languages. About 120 of Jesus’ disciples also assembled in Jerusalem. Empowered with God’s holy spirit, the disciples started to speak with different tongues. What a banquet of good news was served to a multitude of worshipers! These were able to “hear them speaking in [their own] tongues about the magnificent things of God.”—Acts 2:5-11.
How effective was this miracle? Three thousand listeners became believers that same day! (Acts 2:41) Returning to their far-off homes, these new converts then bore witness about true worship “to the most distant part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8.
Only a little more than two decades after Pentecost, Paul served notice that the gift of tongues would eventually cease. (1 Corinthians 13:8) Why would this be reasonable? Because the miracles at Pentecost, as a confirmation of early Christianity, had served their purpose well and were no longer needed.
We can similarly view the case at Mount Sinai over 1,500 years earlier. Here God caused spectacular supernatural signs in order to impress upon the assembled people that the Law covenant was of divine origin. Once this new arrangement had been accepted by the people, these particular miraculous signs ceased to be seen.—Exodus 19:16-19.
Today many feel that they are assisted by God’s holy spirit to speak in tongues. How can we reconcile this with Scriptural evidence that the gift of tongues has passed away?
Speaking in tongues usually amounts to highly emotional outbursts of sounds that no one understands. So it cannot be from God. Jesus said that religious hypocrites would try to attach his name to such “powerful works,” but he rejected these “workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23) And Paul prophetically warned of a future time when there would be fraudulent miracles, or “lying signs and portents.” Thus, “every unrighteous deception” is a specialty of the archdeceiver, Satan the Devil.—2 Thessalonians 2:8-10.
Did you know that speaking in tongues was a part of certain pagan religions of Greece in Paul’s day? Their rites mixed speaking in tongues with practices such as the cutting of the flesh and frenzied nude dancing. Such historical examples clearly show that speaking in tongues can occur under influences that are most unholy.
Reason Speaks Out
If you are still uncertain about the origin of the ecstatic speaking in tongues today, ponder over 1 John 4:1, which says: “Beloved ones . . . test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” Yes, test by a sober study of God’s Word, with prayerful petition for help. (Acts 17:11) See if those religions that speak in tongues today are really guided into “all the truth.”—John 16:13.
When Christians spoke in tongues in the first century, it edified the listeners. The inspired message was to be clear and intelligible.—1 Corinthians 14:26-28.
Those who now honor Bible truth are uttering expressions that surpass the speech that came forth from inspired tongues on that day of Pentecost long ago. Why so? Because they are announcing God’s Kingdom rule by Christ for all obedient mankind to a larger audience and in a permanent form. Their message is part of the Bible’s written record, and unlike the first-century Christians’ speaking in tongues, the Bible, in whole or in part, is available in some 1,800 languages.
[Picture on page 23]
First-century Christians were given the gift to witness in foreign tongues