Definition: A special ability given through the holy spirit to some disciples in the early Christian congregation that enabled them to preach or otherwise glorify God in a language other than their own.
Does the Bible say that all who would have God’s spirit would “speak in tongues”?
1 Cor. 14:5: “Now I would like for all of you to speak in tongues, but I prefer that you prophesy. Indeed, he that prophesies is greater than he that speaks in tongues, unless, in fact, he translates, that the congregation may receive upbuilding.”
Does ecstatic speech in a language that a person never learned prove that he has holy spirit?
Can the ability to “speak in tongues” come from a source other than the true God?
1 John 4:1: “Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression [“every spirit,” KJ, RS], but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” (See also Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15.)
Among those ‘speaking in tongues’ today are Pentecostals and Baptists, also Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. Jesus said that the holy spirit would ‘guide his disciples into all the truth.’ (John 16:13) Do the members of each of these religions believe that the others who also “speak in tongues” have been guided into “all the truth”? How could that be, since they are not all in agreement? What spirit is making it possible for them to “speak in tongues”?
A joint statement by the Fountain Trust and the Church of England Evangelical Council admitted: “We are also aware that a similar phenomenon can occur under occult/demonic influence.” (Gospel and Spirit, April 1977, published by the Fountain Trust and the Church of England Evangelical Council, p. 12) The book Religious Movements in Contemporary America (edited by Irving I. Zaretsky and Mark P. Leone, quoting L. P. Gerlach) reports that in Haiti ‘speaking in tongues’ is characteristic of both Pentecostal and Voodoo religions.—(Princeton, N.J.; 1974), p. 693; see also 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10.
Is the ‘speaking in tongues’ that is done today the same as that done by first-century Christians?
In the first century, the miraculous gifts of the spirit, including the ability to “speak in tongues,” verified that God’s favor had shifted from the Jewish system of worship to the newly established Christian congregation. (Heb. 2:2-4) Since that objective was accomplished in the first century, is it necessary to prove the same thing again and again in our day?
In the first century, the ability to “speak in tongues” gave impetus to the international work of witnessing that Jesus had commissioned his followers to do. (Acts 1:8; 2:1-11; Matt. 28:19) Is that how those who “speak in tongues” use that ability today?
In the first century, when Christians ‘spoke in tongues,’ what they said had meaning to people who knew those languages. (Acts 2:4, 8) Today, is it not true that ‘speaking in tongues’ usually involves an ecstatic outburst of unintelligible sounds?
In the first century, the Bible shows, congregations were to limit the ‘speaking in tongues’ to two or three persons who might do that at any given meeting; they were to do it “each in turn,” and if there was no interpreter present they were to keep silent. (1 Cor. 14:27, 28, RS) Is that what is being done today?
Might the holy spirit be directing charismatics into practices that reach beyond what is found in the Scriptures?
2 Tim. 3:16, 17: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (If someone claims to have an inspired message that conflicts with revelations made by God’s spirit through Jesus and his apostles, could it possibly be from the same source?)
Gal. 1:8: “Even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond [“at variance with,” NE] what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed.”
Does the way of life of members of organizations that look with favor on ‘speaking in tongues’ give evidence that they have God’s spirit?
As a group do they outstandingly manifest such fruits of the spirit as mildness and self-control? Are these qualities readily evident to persons who attend their meetings for worship?—Gal. 5:22, 23.
Are they truly “no part of the world”? Because of this do they give full devotion to the Kingdom of God or are they involved in the world’s political affairs? Have they remained clean of bloodguilt during wartime? As a group do they have a fine reputation because of avoiding the world’s immoral conduct?—John 17:16; Isa. 2:4; 1 Thess. 4:3-8.
Are true Christians today identified by the ability to “speak in tongues”?
John 13:35: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”
1 Cor. 13:1, 8: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a sounding piece of brass or a clashing cymbal. Love never fails. But whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease.”
Jesus said that holy spirit would come upon his followers and that they would be witnesses of him to the most distant part of the earth. (Acts 1:8) He instructed them to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matt. 28:19) He also foretold that ‘this good news of the kingdom would be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all nations.’ (Matt. 24:14) Who today, both as a group and individually, are doing this work? In harmony with what Jesus said, should we not look for this as an evidence that a group has holy spirit?
Is ‘speaking in tongues’ to continue until that which is “perfect” comes?
At 1 Corinthians 13:8 reference is made to several miraculous gifts—prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. Verse 9 again refers to two of these gifts—knowledge and prophecy—saying: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” (KJ) Or, as RS reads: “For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect.” Then verse 10 states: “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (KJ) The word “perfect” is translated from the Greek teʹlei·on, which conveys the thought of being full grown, complete, or perfect. Ro, By, and NW here render it “complete.” Notice that it is not the gift of tongues that is said to be “imperfect,” “in part,” or partial. That is said of “prophecy” and “knowledge.” In other words, even with those miraculous gifts, the early Christians had only an imperfect or partial understanding of God’s purpose. But when the prophecies would come to fulfillment, when God’s purpose would be accomplished, then “that which is perfect,” or complete, would come. So, this is obviously not discussing how long the ‘gift of tongues’ would continue.
However, the Bible does indicate how long the ‘gift of tongues’ would be a part of Christian experience. According to the record, this gift and the other gifts of the spirit were always conveyed to persons by the laying on of hands of the apostles of Jesus Christ or in their presence. (Acts 2:4, 14, 17; 10:44-46; 19:6; see also Acts 8:14-18.) Thus, after their death and when the individuals who in that way had received the gifts died, the miraculous gifts resulting from the operation of God’s spirit must have come to their end. Such a view agrees with the purpose of those gifts as stated at Hebrews 2:2-4.
Does not Mark 16:17, 18 (KJ) show that the ability to “speak with new tongues” would be a sign identifying believers?
It should be noted that these verses refer not only to ‘speaking with new tongues’ but also to handling serpents and drinking deadly poison. Are all who “speak in tongues” also encouraging these practices?
For comments on the reasons why these verses are not accepted by all Bible scholars, see pages 158, 159, under the heading “Healing.”
If Someone Says—
‘Do you believe in speaking in tongues?’
You might reply: ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses do speak many languages, but we do not engage in ecstatic speaking in “unknown tongues.” But may I ask, Do you believe that the “speaking in tongues” that is done today is the same as what was practiced by first-century Christians?’ Then perhaps add: ‘Here are some points of comparison that I found to be very interesting. (Perhaps use material from pages 401, 402.)’
Or you could say: ‘We do believe that first-century Christians “spoke in tongues” and that this filled definite needs back then. Do you know what those needs were?’ Then perhaps add: (1) ‘It served as a sign that God had shifted his favor from the Jewish system to the newly formed Christian congregation. (Heb. 2:2-4)’ (2) ‘It was a practical means to spread the good news on an international scale in a short time. (Acts 1:8)’