Is Speaking in Tongues an Evidence of True Worship?
A NUMBER of religious organizations throughout Christendom make speaking in tongues prominent in their worship, and they will answer, ‘Yes! speaking in tongues is a necessary requirement of true worship.’ “We believe,” states the Manual of one such organization, “in the baptism of the Holy Ghost as it was on the day of Pentecost. We believe all those who receive the Holy Ghost will speak with other tongues.”
Generally speaking, in the United States the Pentecostal churches grew out of a movement that had its start around the turn of the century, and whose revivals were characterized by “speaking in other tongues.” During the year 1906 the most spectacular of these revivals occurred at Los Angeles, California, where, according to the book Suddenly from Heaven, an official history of the Assemblies of God, on April 9, a group of worshipers was hit as though “by a bolt of lightning,” and “the entire company was knocked from their chairs to the floor. Seven began to speak in divers kinds of tongues and to magnify God. The shouts were so fervent—and so loud!—that a crowd gathered outside.”
Since this incident is viewed by Pentecostals as being similar to the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost, a second Pentecost as it were, the questions arise: Is speaking in tongues a distinguishing mark of a true Christian today? For what purpose were first-century Christians given the miraculous gift of tongues? Did Jesus speak in tongues?
PURPOSE OF GIFT OF TONGUES
Jesus cured the sick, raised the dead and performed many other amazing deeds. These miraculous powers identified him as a true prophet and servant of God, just as the performing of miracles established Moses’ authenticity as God’s prophet. However, speaking in tongues was not one of the miraculous powers exercised by Jesus. It was not until the festival of Pentecost A.D. 33 that this gift was first received, and on that occasion it served as an effective evidence that Christians had God’s spirit upon them.
In the late spring of A.D. 33 the Jews had gathered from inside and outside the Roman Empire for their annual festival of Pentecost. Just ten days before, Jesus had ascended into heaven, and, in obedience to his instructions, 120 of his disciples were waiting in Jerusalem to receive the promised “power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) About nine o’clock in the morning on that memorable day there suddenly “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 they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance.”—Acts 2:2-4.
When the Jews heard Jesus’ followers speaking in perhaps over a dozen different languages, what effect did it have upon them? “They were astonished,” the Bible says, “and began to wonder and say: ‘See here, all these who are speaking are Galileans, are they not? And yet how is it we are hearing, each one of us, his own language in which we were born? . . . we hear them speaking in our tongues about the magnificent things of God.’”—Acts 2:5-11.
To hear Galileans speaking distinctly in their many different languages was convincing evidence to these foreigners that God’s spirit was upon Jesus’ followers. It was miraculous! It was entirely different from the ‘loud and fervent shouts’ of the Pentecostal revival at Los Angeles, for here in Jerusalem many foreigners received instruction in their native languages about “the magnificent things of God.”
From what occurred at Pentecost it is evident that the holy spirit was given to early Christians for the practical purpose of preaching the good news. Jesus indicated this in his parting instructions to his disciples: “Do not withdraw from Jerusalem, but keep waiting for what the Father has promised, . . . you will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.”—Acts 1:4-8.
This special gift of tongues received in Jerusalem through God’s holy spirit assisted the disciples there in preaching the good news for a sign to those Jewish worshipers from distant parts of the earth. But the real fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 on that day of Pentecost was the fact that those who were filled with the spirit prophesied. Speaking with tongues was incidental, for a sign of authenticity or divine backing.—Acts 2:16-22.
The Bible records only two other instances of the outpouring of the holy spirit being accompanied with the speaking in tongues. The first occurred about three and a half years after Pentecost, when God turned his attention to the nations and poured out his spirit upon the Gentile Cornelius and his household. Because of its immediate visible manifestation, speaking in tongues was the logical gift for God to bestow on these uncircumcised non-Jews in order to show the apostle Peter that they could be accepted into the Christian congregation.—Acts 10:44-46.
It was similar in the other instance, when the apostle Paul preached to the men at Ephesus who had received John’s baptism. Their speaking in tongues was impressive on-the-spot evidence that John’s baptism was no longer suitable in God’s sight, as it was prior to the outpouring of the spirit at Pentecost A.D. 33.—Acts 19:1-7.
NOT ALL SPOKE IN TONGUES
Now, do these three recorded instances indicate that all first-century Christians spoke in tongues, and that, therefore, all true Christians would today? That is the conclusion drawn by some, but is that what the Bible indicates? Let us examine and see.
First of all, it is interesting to find that the only other place in the inspired Scriptures where the gift of tongues is mentioned is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And on that occasion Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning tongues because they had attached apparently too much importance to them and had to be straightened out as to their use.
So, in order to determine the Christian’s proper position with respect to the gift of tongues, let us examine the three chapters in which the apostle Paul discusses them. In 1Co chapter twelve of his letter he explains that there were many miraculous gifts of the spirit, and where did he place tongues in importance? Paul minimized them in verse 1Co 12:28 by listing them last. He then asked: “Not all have gifts of healings, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they?” It is clear that Paul was showing that not all Christians possessed these miraculous gifts, and, therefore, the possession of any one of them, including the speaking in tongues, was not necessary to salvation.—1 Cor. 12:4-11, 28-31.
However, someone may argue that there is a difference between the “gift of tongues” and the speaking in tongues as “evidence” of the outpouring of the holy spirit. All spoke in tongues upon receiving the spirit, they might say, but not all were later endowed with the “gift of tongues.” But where is the Scriptural support for such a supposition? It is lacking.
To illustrate: One will observe that other miraculous gifts were also bestowed when the holy spirit was poured out, as at Ephesus when the men “began speaking with tongues and prophesying.” (Acts 19:6) Now, do the Scriptures make a distinction between receiving the gift of prophesying at the outpouring of the holy spirit and exercising it later on; that is, that all received the gift of prophesying when holy spirit first came upon them, but only some exercised it after that? No, the Scriptures do not make such a distinction, just as they do not show that all Christians spoke in tongues on receiving the holy spirit, while only some did afterward! There is no getting away from it, not all Christians spoke with tongues in the first century. It was not necessary to salvation.
GIFT OF TONGUES CEASES
Paul goes on, in the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the Corinthians 1Co 13, to show them the lowly position of tongues as compared with more important matters, especially the “surpassing way” of love. Even those blessed with the gift of tongues “become a sounding piece of brass or a clashing cymbal” if they do not exercise love, he explained. (1 Cor. 12:31; 13:1) And to emphasize the importance and permanence of love as compared to the miraculous gifts of the spirit, he wrote: “Love never fails. But whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will be done away with.”—1 Cor. 13:8.
On the basis of Paul’s words here, there should be no question that the miraculous gifts of the spirit were to pass away. But when? It is argued by some that, since Paul said that ‘tongues are a sign to the unbelievers,’ they would not pass away until unbelievers passed away, that is, until there were no longer any unbelievers. (1 Cor. 14:22) But is that the point Paul is making in this thirteenth chapter? No, it is not. In this chapter he does not associate the cessation of tongues with unbelievers, but, rather, he is comparing the temporariness of the gifts of the spirit with the permanence of love; and he links the transitoriness of these gifts, not with unbelievers, but with the infancy of Christianity.
So after declaring, in 1Co 13 verse 8, that the miraculous gifts of prophesying, tongues and knowledge are to be done away with, Paul shows that they were a feature of the babyhood of the Christian congregation. In its infancy such miraculous gifts were needed to identify in a spectacular way that God’s favor had shifted from the Jewish nation and was now upon this new congregation of Christians. But, as Paul explained, when a man reaches adulthood he does away with “the traits of a babe.” So when the Christian congregation grew to adulthood, that is, reached maturity by becoming a recognized, established organization, these miraculous gifts passed away. Yet faith, hope and love remained as the distinguishing mark of true Christianity.—1 Cor. 13:9-13.
Regarding the transitoriness of the miraculous gifts M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, Volume 10, page 484, says: “It thus appears that the miraculous gifts of the first days bestowed upon the Church for a definite purpose were gradually but quickly withdrawn from men when the apostles and those who had learned Christ from their lips had fallen asleep.” The Scriptures show that it was “through the laying on of the hands of the apostles the spirit was given.” Therefore, when the apostles died, and when those who had received the miraculous gifts through them passed from the earthly scene, the supernatural gifts of the spirit, including speaking in tongues, ceased.—Acts 8:18.
TONGUES THE LESSER GIFT
But since the spiritual gifts were at that time still present, Paul went on, in chapter fourteen of his letter, to encourage the Corinthians to strive after them. But which one in particular? Not tongues, but “preferably that you may prophesy.” This would do more good in upbuilding others. For Paul explained: “He that speaks in a tongue upbuilds himself, but he that prophesies upbuilds a congregation.” He then asked: “If I should come speaking to you in tongues, what good would I do?” Yes, how would it help others if they did not understand what he was saying? So Paul said: “In a congregation I would rather speak five words with my mind, that I might also instruct others verbally, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”—1 Cor. 14:1-19.
The Corinthians needed to be reminded of the purpose of the gift of tongues. So Paul wrote: “Tongues are for a sign, not to the believers, but to the unbelievers.” Notice that Paul does not associate the cessation of tongues with unbelievers, but, rather, he explains that tongues should serve as a sign to unbelievers, as they did at Pentecost. At that time foreign-speaking peoples were attracted to Christianity as a result of hearing God’s Word explained to them in their own languages. So the Corinthians should remember that tongues were not given to instruct believers within the congregation, but “for a sign” to unbelievers who might attend a meeting of the believers.—1 Cor. 14:21-26.
As to the use of tongues in the congregation, Paul counseled: “If someone speaks in a tongue, let it be limited to two or three at the most, and in turns; and let someone translate. But if there be no translator, let him keep silent.” Such counsel served to control the use of tongues in the congregation. It relegated them to their proper place.—1 Cor. 14:24-28.
Does the foregoing, which includes the entire Bible record concerning tongues, indicate that Christians would speak in tongues today? No, for tongues and the other miraculous gifts served as credentials for God’s new Christian organization during its infancy. But after serving this honorable purpose these miraculous gifts ceased.
‘But hold on,’ someone may caution. ‘You overlooked the main scripture on the subject, Jesus’ own instructions at Mark 16:17, 18: “These signs will accompany those believing: By the use of my name they will expel demons, they will speak with tongues, and with their hands they will pick up serpents, and if they drink anything deadly it will not hurt them at all.” See, that proves Christians today would speak in tongues.’
But does it? A person who would deliberately handle poisonous snakes or drink a deadly potion would be considered either very foolish or mentally deranged, even by a Pentecostal. Yet that is what those words say Christians would do.
The fact of the matter is that Bible scholars are agreed that the last twelve verses shown with the book of Mark, which speak about tongues and not being injured by snakes, were not written by Mark but were added by another. Tregelles, a noted nineteenth-century Bible scholar, states: “Eusebius, Gregory of Nyssa, Victor of Antioch, Severus of Antioch, Jerome, as well as other writers, especially Greeks, testify that these verses were not written by St. Mark, or not found in the best copies.” But even if these words were part of Mark’s inspired writings (although the bulk of evidence shows they are not) there is nothing in them contrary to the Scriptural evidence that tongues would pass away following the death of the apostles.
AN EVIDENCE OF TRUE WORSHIP TODAY?
Whereas the apostle Paul showed that the gift of tongues was to cease from the Christian congregation, he pointed to love as the permanent distinguishing characteristic of true Christians. Jesus did also, when he said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:35; 1 Cor. 13:8, 13.
Love is the primary fruitage of God’s holy spirit; the others are “joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” It is these qualities, along with faithful obedience to God’s command to preach “this good news of the kingdom,” that identify one as having the holy spirit today, and not the gift of tongues.—Gal. 5:22, 23; Matt. 24:14.
What, then, is it that on occasions knocks worshipers from their chairs and causes them to shout in different tongues? Since the Scriptures clearly show that it is not God’s spirit; if it is not the result of emotionalism or mental unbalance, then it is an instance of the operation of Satan and his demons. The apostle Paul warned that ‘Satan would transform himself into an angel of light’ and that he would deceive many with “lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception.”—2 Cor. 11:14; 2 Thess. 2:9, 10.
Those who seek these miraculous gifts that God no longer bestows upon his people lend themselves to such deception by Satan, and often the effects are embarrassing. Aside from the convulsive seizures and emotional shouting, D. A. Hayes in his book The Gift of Tongues described an incident similar to those reported by others. “At Los Angeles not long ago,” he wrote, “a woman had the gift of tongues, and a reputable Chinaman who heard her said that she was speaking his dialect of Chinese. When he was asked to interpret what she said, he refused to do it, saying that the language was the vilest of the vile.”
Such obscenity is characteristic of the work of the demons. No, the so-called ‘speaking in tongues’ of today is not an evidence of true worship. But, rather, Jesus said that his disciples would be known by the love among themselves.