Speaking in Tongues Today—From God?
“THE Scriptures teach that spirit baptism, evidenced by speaking in tongues, is for the true church today,” claims Pentecostal minister Marvin A. Hicks.
“The basic doctrine of tongue speaking is unscriptural and wrong,” contends Dr. W. A. Criswell of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. He adds: “If that is the Christian faith, then I am not a Christian.”
In the face of such controversy over the practice of speaking in tongues, you may wonder: ‘Just what do the Scriptures say about the gift of tongues? Is it part of Christianity today?’ For the answers, it is helpful to understand why the gift of tongues was given to the early Christians.
WHY THE GIFT WAS GIVEN
First of all, the apostle Paul explains at Hebrews 2:2-4 that the miraculous gifts, which would include the gift of tongues, were given to the first-century Christians to verify that God’s favor had shifted from the old Jewish arrangement for worship to the newly established Christian congregation. The shift of divine favor was well established by the latter part of the first century, while some of the apostles of Jesus Christ were yet alive.
That the gift of tongues also served another purpose can be seen from Jesus’ words to his disciples shortly before his ascension to heaven in 33 C.E. He said: “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 1:8) The small group of disciples did not include persons who spoke the languages of every part of the earth. But, true to Jesus’ promise, about 10 days later, on the festival day of Pentecost, the holy spirit was poured out on about 120 of his disciples gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem. The result? They “started to speak with different tongues” and so could proceed immediately to carry out the assigned work of witnessing.—Acts 2:1-4.
When those disciples gave a witness in Jerusalem at the festival of Pentecost, Jews and proselytes who had come from faraway places for the festival were heard to say: “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 2:8-11) It is obvious that the tongues mentioned here were known languages, not unintelligible speech. And notice that the gift was used in harmony with the purpose for which Jesus said the spirit would be given, namely, to witness to others. It notably served that purpose, for “on that day about three thousand souls were added.”—Acts 2:41.
Another instance when the outpouring of holy spirit was accompanied by the gift of tongues is reported on at Acts 10:44-46. If you read the account you will notice that when God’s spirit fell upon the Gentile Cornelius and his household, they, too, began “speaking with tongues.” Commenting on what he had observed on that occasion, the apostle Peter said: “But when I started to speak, the holy spirit fell upon them just as it did also upon us in the beginning.” So, according to Peter, the gift of tongues bestowed on that occasion was the same gift received several years previously at Pentecost—a miraculous ability to speak foreign languages. The Bible shows that the gift of tongues given to Cornelius and his household convinced Peter and those with him that God was now accepting uncircumcised Gentiles into the congregation. God was now using the Christian congregation.—Acts 11:15-18.
‘But how do you explain Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 14:2?’ some ask. ‘Did not Paul say, “For he that speaks in a tongue speaks, not to men, but to God”?’
First of all, it should be noted that Paul is not here discussing private prayer but, rather, the use of the gift of tongues at a congregational meeting. (See 1 Corinthians 14:23.) Moreover, Paul’s words are in complete harmony with both the purpose for which the gift of tongues was given and the description of the gift given in the book of Acts. If you read the entire 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians, you will notice that (1) the tongues referred to were known languages, not unintelligible speech, and (2) the gift was to be used, not privately, but for the benefit of unbelievers.
Let us read 1Co 14 verse 2 in its entirety. It states: “For he that speaks in a tongue speaks, not to men, but to God, for no one listens, but he speaks sacred secrets by the spirit.” The Greek word translated “tongue,” glōssa, is the same word as that used at Acts 2:4, 11, where it obviously has reference to known languages. The Greek word translated “listens” can denote hearing something without understanding what is stated. This can be better understood in the light of verses 13, 16 and 17 of 1 Corinthians, chapter 14, where we read: “Therefore let the one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may translate. Otherwise, if you offer praise with a gift of the spirit, how will the man occupying the seat of the ordinary person [or, unbeliever; see 1Co 14 verses 22-25.] say ‘Amen’ to your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? True, you give thanks in a fine way, but the other man is not being built up.”
Simply put, the one speaking in a tongue speaks to God rather than to men if the men who are listening do not understand what he is saying. Paul had in mind not unintelligible speech but foreign languages that potentially could be understood by others. But if, in fact, none of those present could understand the language and if there were no interpreters present, then the one who spoke the tongue should pray that he might translate it and thus build up others, especially the unbelievers. If there was no one to translate, then, as the scripture says, it would be better for him to keep silent.—1 Cor. 14:28.
What about today? Would not gifts such as tongues be necessary to ‘indicate the presence of the holy spirit’ in a person?
A PART OF CHRISTIANITY TODAY?
The Scriptures show that the miraculous gifts given to first-century Christians were only temporary in nature. “Love never fails. But whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease.” (1 Cor. 13:8) Does the Bible give any indication as to when the gifts would cease? Yes, it does.
Read for yourself the reported cases when the gift of tongues accompanied the outpouring of holy spirit: Acts 2:1-4, 14; 10:44-48; 19:6. You will notice that in every case one or more of the apostles of Jesus Christ were present. According to Acts 8:18, “through the laying on of the hands of the apostles the spirit was given.” Logically, then, with the death of the apostles, the transmitting of the gifts of the spirit, including the gift of tongues, ceased. The gift of tongues had served its purpose. It had been well established that the Christian congregation had God’s favor and backing. Moreover, Christians had grown in number and had been dispersed to many lands, carrying the “good news” with them.—Compare Colossians 1:23.
‘But if the gifts have ceased, then what accounts for modern-day manifestations?’ some may ask.
“We are also aware that a similar phenomenon can occur under occult/demonic influence,” admitted a joint statement by the Fountain Trust and the Church of England Evangelical Council. (Italics added.)
Could it be possible that the modern-day gift of tongues is not from God? Admittedly, accepting this may be difficult for those who claim to have the gift. Of the 5,000,000 adult Americans who claim to speak in tongues, 33 percent do not even believe that the Devil is a personal being and that he can influence others. Well, then, how can you know for sure from what source modern-day manifestations come?
“BY THEIR FRUITS”
Jesus provided the key for identifying true Christians when he declared: “Every good tree produces fine fruit.” (Matt. 7:17) Yes, there would have to be fruitage, or evidence, that God’s holy spirit was backing them. It is revealing to consider the Scriptural evidences of such in the light of the Christianity Today—Gallup poll, published in the February 22, 1980, issue of Christianity Today.
Not once do the Scriptures record the granting of a miraculous gift to one who approved of or who practiced sin. The first-century Christian congregation at Corinth included persons who formerly had been immoral but had changed on becoming Christians. They no longer indulged in a life of sexual immorality. (1 Cor. 6:9-11) And, yet, according to the poll, 19 percent of those who speak in tongues today approve of sexual relations before marriage.
True Christians would respect the Bible as being the Word of God. Jesus Christ quoted the Scriptures and viewed them as being God’s word. (John 17:17) But, according to the poll, 44 percent of those who speak in tongues in our day do not hold the Bible to be the most important religious authority.
“Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations,” commanded Jesus. (Matt. 28:19, 20) And he foretold that the “good news” of God’s kingdom would be preached “in all the inhabited earth for a witness.” (Matt. 24:14) True Christians should be active in doing this. However, according to the poll, 51 percent of those who now speak in tongues do not talk about their faith at least weekly, and 58 percent do not set priority on helping to win others for Christ.
“They are no part of the world,” said Jesus regarding his followers. (John 17:16) But far from being “no part of the world,” “in political affiliation” speakers in tongues “conform closely to the pattern of the general populace,” reports Christianity Today.
“By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves,” said Jesus. (John 13:35) The apostle John added: “We should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother.” (1 John 3:11, 12) True Christians have genuine love for one another. They are not divided by racial, national or social prejudices. Even in times of war, they refuse to slaughter fellow believers in other lands. Is that true of the general populace? Of those who claim to have the gift of tongues?
So, then, what does the evidence show? Well, since those who speak in tongues as a group are not producing the “fruits” that identify true Christians, it is clear that those who claim to have the gift of tongues could not have received it from the same source that the early Christians did.
The Scriptures contain strong warnings that indicate another source is responsible. Jesus foretold: “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you!” (Matt. 7:22, 23) The apostle Paul warned that the time would come when ‘powerful works’ and “lying signs” would take place as an “operation of Satan.”—2 Thess. 2:9, 10.
How, then, can you identify true followers of Christ if it is not by the possession of miraculous gifts of tongues? By the “fruits,” the Scriptural evidences, that we considered.
We invite you to investigate the Bible and then compare it with the teachings and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. See for yourself if what you observe will move you to say regarding them, “God is really among you.”—1 Cor. 14:25.
[Box on page 7]
“My Experience Was Not From God”
“The scripture at 1 Corinthians 14:27, 28 . . . convinced me that my experience was not from God. . . . Paul’s counsel there . . . was exactly opposite to what I had experienced. Instead of being limited to two or three at the most, we had large groups. Neither did we have anyone to interpret, so who was being upbuilt?”