Speaking in Tongues—Is It From God?
“I JUST don’t understand,” says Devon. “Each week at my church, many seem to get the holy spirit and miraculously speak in different languages. Some of them lead immoral lives. Meanwhile, I try to live in a morally upright way. Yet, as much as I pray for it, I never receive this gift of the spirit. How can that be?”
Gabriel likewise attends a church where people appear to receive holy spirit and speak in tongues. “What bothers me,” he explains, “is that during my prayers, others interrupt me with loud speech that neither I nor they understand. No one really benefits from this speech. Should not a gift of God’s spirit have some useful purpose?”
The experiences of Devon and Gabriel raise an intriguing question, Is speaking in tongues as done in some churches today really from God? To answer that question, it is helpful to examine the gift of miraculous speech among first-century Christians.
They “Started to Speak With Different Tongues”
In the Bible, we read of some men and women who were given power to speak languages that they had never learned. This first occurred on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., a few weeks after the death of Jesus Christ. On that day in Jerusalem, some 120 disciples of Jesus “became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues.” Visitors from foreign lands “were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”—Acts 1:15; 2:1-6.
The Bible mentions other early followers of Jesus who had this remarkable ability. For example, empowered by holy spirit, the apostle Paul could miraculously speak in numerous tongues. (Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28; 14:18) But any such gift of God’s holy spirit should logically have a good purpose. So, what purpose did speaking in tongues serve in Bible times?
A Sign of God’s Backing
When writing to Christians in the city of Corinth, some of whom apparently could speak in tongues, Paul explained that “tongues are for a sign . . . to the unbelievers.” (1 Corinthians 14:22) Hence, along with other miraculous abilities, the power to speak in tongues was an indication to observers that the newly formed Christian congregation had God’s approval and backing. The miraculous gifts were like a street marker pointing out where truth-seekers should now go to find God’s chosen people.
Significantly, the Bible does not mention that Jesus or any of the pre-Christian prophets miraculously spoke in tongues that they had not learned. The gift of tongues bestowed upon Jesus’ disciples, then, evidently had some additional objective.
A Tool to Spread the Good News
Early in his ministry, Jesus directed his disciples to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom to the Jews only. (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) As a result, the disciples rarely set foot outside of areas predominantly inhabited by Jews. But that would soon change.
Shortly after his death in 33 C.E., the resurrected Jesus commanded his followers to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” He also told his followers that they would be witnesses of him “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8) Spreading the good news to that extent would require the use of many tongues other than Hebrew.
However, many of those early disciples were “unlettered and ordinary.” (Acts 4:13) How, then, would they be able to preach in distant lands where languages were spoken that they may never have heard of, let alone learned to speak? Holy spirit empowered some of those zealous preachers with the miraculous ability to preach fluently in languages they had never before learned to speak.
Thus, the gift of tongues served two vital purposes. First, it provided a sign as evidence of God’s backing. Second, it was an effective tool to help the first-century Christians fulfill their commission to preach to people of many languages. Does the speaking in tongues done in many churches today accomplish these purposes?
Speaking in Tongues Today—A Sign of God’s Backing?
Where would you post a sign to benefit as many individuals as possible in your community? Inside a small building? Of course not! The account of the day of Pentecost tells us that a “multitude” of passersby observed the sign provided by the disciples’ miraculous speaking in tongues. Why, as a result, “about three thousand souls were added” to the Christian congregation on that day! (Acts 2:5, 6, 41) If people today claim to speak in tongues but do so within the confines of a church building, how can the practice serve as a public sign to multitudes of unbelievers?
God’s Word mentions fornication and other “works of the flesh” as being opposed to the operation of holy spirit, adding that “those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” (Galatians 5:17-21) If you observe people of questionable morals speaking in tongues, you might rightly wonder, ‘Would it not be inconsistent—even misleading—for God’s holy spirit to be bestowed on individuals who persistently engage in conduct that God’s own Word condemns?’ That would be like installing a street sign that directs traffic the wrong way.
Speaking in Tongues Today—A Tool to Spread the Good News?
What about the other purpose of the gift of tongues in the first century? Does the speaking in tongues practiced in churches serve as a tool for preaching the good news to people of different languages? Recall that observers who were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. were from many lands, and they clearly understood the languages miraculously spoken by the disciples. In contrast, those who speak in tongues today usually utter speech that is unintelligible to any listener.
Clearly, modern-day speaking in tongues is very different from the gift of holy spirit given to Jesus’ early followers. In fact, there is no reliable record of anyone receiving that same miraculous power since the death of the apostles. This is not surprising to Bible readers. Regarding the miraculous gifts, including that of speaking in tongues, the inspired apostle Paul prophesied: “They will cease.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) How, then, can one discern who has the holy spirit today?
Who Give Evidence of Having Holy Spirit?
Jesus well knew that the gift of tongues would cease relatively soon after the formation of the Christian congregation. Shortly before he died, Jesus mentioned a timeless sign, or mark, that would identify his true followers. “By this all will know that you are my disciples,” he said, “if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) In fact, in the same verse where God’s Word foretold that the miraculous gifts would eventually cease, it says: “Love never fails.”—1 Corinthians 13:8.
Love is listed as the first of nine aspects of “the fruitage,” or product, of God’s holy spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23) So those who truly have God’s spirit—and hence God’s backing—would show genuine love for one another. In addition, the third aspect of the spirit’s fruitage is peace. Thus, those people who today have holy spirit would be committed to peace, earnestly seeking to rise above bigotry, racism, and violence.
Also, recall Jesus’ prophecy recorded at Acts 1:8. He foretold that his disciples would receive power to be witnesses of him “to the most distant part of the earth.” Jesus also indicated that this work would continue “unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20, King James Version) Hence, this international preaching work would continue to be an identifying mark of those who are truly empowered by holy spirit.
What do you think? With what group of people do you find evidence of holy spirit today? Who are manifesting the spirit’s fruitage, particularly love and peace, to the extent that they suffer at the hands of governments because of their refusal to bear arms worldwide? (Isaiah 2:4) Who are endeavoring to avoid the works of the flesh, such as fornication, even removing unrepentant practicers of such conduct from their midst? (1 Corinthians 5:11-13) Who are preaching in all the earth the good news that God’s Kingdom is the only hope for humanity?—Matthew 24:14.
The publishers of this journal do not hesitate to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses fit the Bible’s description of the people having holy spirit. Why not become better acquainted with them and decide for yourself whether they truly have God’s backing?