No “Gift of Tongues” Today
What purposes were served by the Pentecostal gift of tongues? Does God’s holy spirit still impart the gift of tongues, and must we be able to speak in tongues to prove we have received the holy spirit? What does the Bible say?
THE location was an upper chamber in Jerusalem. Present were 120 of Christ’s followers including his apostles, his half brothers and his mother. The time was the day of Pentecost, A.D. 33, about May 20, according to our calendar. Ten days had passed since Christ was seen ascending into heaven. “Suddenly there occurred from heaven a noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting. And tongues as if of fire became visible and were distributed to them, and one sat upon each one of them, and they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues.”—Acts 2:1-4, NW.
At the time, because of the feast of Pentecost, there “were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, reverent men, from every nation of those under heaven. So, when this sound occurred, the multitude came together and were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language” “the magnificent things of God.” Peter, as the spokesman, explained to the awe-stricken Jews the meaning of this miracle, that it was a fulfillment of Joel 2:28, 29 regarding Jehovah’s pouring out his spirit upon all kinds of flesh.—Acts 2:5-18, NW.
About three and a half years later speaking with tongues accompanied the pouring out of the holy spirit upon Cornelius and his household while Peter was preaching to them. Years later a similar incident took place after Paul had preached to some at Ephesus. Do these three instances, the only ones mentioned in the Scriptures, where the gift of tongues accompanied the receiving of the holy spirit, establish a hard and fast rule that all who have received the holy spirit will be able to speak in tongues?
Among a considerable number of the smaller sects of the United States, particularly those termed “Pentecostal,” there is a strong emphasis on speaking with tongues. Thus regarding the General Assemblies of God, whose membership is upward of a quarter of a million in the United States, we are told that “they are especially insistent upon the teaching of the gift of tongues following spirit baptism; no minister doubting that gift could hold credentials in this group.”—Handbook of Denominations.
PURPOSE OF GIFT OF TONGUES
Jehovah God had empowered Moses to perform miracles in order to establish his authenticity as God’s prophet. On the same basis Christ Jesus had proved himself as Jehovah’s prophet, even as he said to his critics. “Even though you do not believe me, believe the works.” What, then, could be more logical than that Jesus’ immediate followers should be able to do the same? And so they also performed miracles, cured the sick, raised the dead, etc. The gift of tongues was just one of the many gifts of the spirit possessed by the apostles and early disciples, helping them to demonstrate that they were indeed true followers of the Son of God and that they had the right, the true, religion.—John 10:38, NW.
The gift of tongues, however, served another purpose, a most practical purpose. Especially on the day of Pentecost, by means of this gift of tongues they were able to witness to Jews coming from many different lands and who did not understand Aramaic, the native tongue. No wonder that three thousand of them embraced Christianity on that day!
Today, however, neither of these two reasons holds. Christianity having demonstrated its divine origin, there is no further need for miracles. Incidentally, let us note that while some claim to possess the gift of healing there is absolutely no similarity between the healing done by Jesus and his apostles and that professed to be done today. Back there everyone that came to Jesus or the apostles was cured, today only an exceptional few can claim to have been helped. Besides, back there even the dead were raised. And then also, today we have the Bible in 1,125 and more languages and “this good news of the kingdom” is being preached in upward of a hundred different tongues.
The fact is that speaking in tongues played a very minor role in the early Christian ministry. Not a word do we read about Jesus himself speaking in tongues, nor of his followers being commanded to do so or doing so while he was with them. Their ministry being primarily to the Jews, there was no need of tongues. So speaking in tongues is not included in Jesus’ parting instructions: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matt. 28:19, 20, NW.
“But,” asks a Pentecostal, “what about Mark 16:17, which says: ‘These signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.’ Doesn’t that prove that all Christ’s followers should be able to speak with tongues?” But let us note the context. According to it believers should not only be able to talk with tongues but also be able to cast out demons, able to handle poisonous snakes without injury and drink deadly potions without harm.
True, there are some few who hold that the holy spirit will enable one to handle poisonous snakes without harm; that is why the United States press periodically tells of some of these misguided ones’ being bitten and even dying from snake bites under such conditions. Such as W. J. Palmer of Johnson City, Tennessee, who died of snake bites October 4, 1953; J. Thomas of Trenton, Georgia, who died of such snake bites June 15, 1954, and C. E. Canada, of Greenville, South Carolina, who in August, 1953, survived a snake bite only because he accepted massive injections of serum that the other two who died had refused.
The fact is that modern Bible scholars are agreed that the last twelve verses that speak about tongues and not being injured by snakes were not written by Mark but added by another. According to Goodspeed, Mark’s account “stops abruptly at the end of Mr 16:8 in the two best and oldest manuscripts, the Sinaitic and the Vatican, and a few others.”—The Goodspeed Parallel New Testament.
GIFTS VERSUS FRUITAGE OF SPIRIT
Because the gift of tongues fascinated the Corinthian Christians all out of proportion to its value, Paul had to set them straight on the matter, which he did in his first letter to them, 1Co chapters 12 to 14 being the only other references to tongues aside from Acts. Even back there not all had the gift of tongues, for Paul wrote: “Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform powerful works, do they? Not all have gifts of healings, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all are translators, are they?” And note the order, from the most important, apostles, to the least important, tongues and their interpretation.—1 Cor. 12:27-30, NW.
Continuing his argument in 1Co chapter 13, Paul shows what really is important: “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.” And, relegating the gift of tongues to its proper place, Paul states in the following chapter: “He that speaks in a tongue upbuilds himself, but he that prophesies upbuilds a congregation. 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.” “I thank God, I speak in more tongues than all of you do. Nevertheless, in a congregation I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might also instruct others verbally, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, do not become young children in powers of understanding.” “Tongues are for a sign, not to the believers, but to the unbelievers.”—1 Cor. 14:4-25, NW.
No question about it, Paul did not attach great importance to the gift of tongues. He showed that it profited little unless what was said was translated, and that to prophesy, here meaning to expound publicly, was far more helpful than any gift of tongues.
Today the Christian congregation no longer needs the gift of tongues but it does need the fruit of the spirit, even as Paul shows: “Love never fails. But whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; WHETHER THERE ARE TONGUES, THEY WILL CEASE.” “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.” Clearly, the miraculous gifts that served the Christian congregation in its babyhood would no longer be necessary upon its maturity. What appears as speaking in tongues today, termed glossolalia, if not the product of emotionalism or mental unbalance, is an instance in which “Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light” to deceive.—1 Cor. 13:8, 11; 2 Cor. 11:14, NW.
Jesus said, “By their fruits you will recognize them.” The fruits his true followers bear today are those of preaching “this good news of the kingdom,” keeping “oneself without spot from the world,” and “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” These, and not the speaking with tongues, identify the true Christian minister and show whether he has the holy spirit or not.—Matt. 7:16; 24:14; Jas. 1:27; Gal. 5:22, 23, NW.
Clothe yourselves with the new personality which through accurate knowledge is being renewed according to the image of the one who created it—Col. 3:10, NW.