Tongues: Do people “speak in tongues” today?
I still remember my dad and one of my uncles discussing this subject nearly sixty years ago. All my lifetime I have not been able to help but notice that it has been a controversial subject. For those of you who are not familiar with this subject, there are some people who believe that this is a special “holy language” by which one can speak with God. Some people believe that if you don’t or can’t speak in tongues, you are not a Christian. Others believe it simply represents a higher degree of spirituality in those who practice it. Of course, all these groups use the Scriptures to justify their beliefs about speaking in tongues.
The Greek word from which the word tongues is translated in the Bible is GLOSSA. It means tongue or language. The phrase “strange tongues” comes from the Greek word HETEROGLOSSOS which means strange or, as we would say it today, a foreign tongue or language. These words are found quite often in the Bible. The term used by people today who think of themselves as ones who practice speaking in tongues is glossolalia.
The first place this subject comes up in what is commonly referred to as the New Testament is in the book of Acts.
1 And when the day of Pentecost [an annual Jewish holy day] was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. [Emphasis added]
There should be no doubt at all that this was a miraculous occurrence. There were Jews in Jerusalem at that time from all the known world who suddenly heard various truths communicated to them by people who had no prior knowledge of their native language. But suddenly they were able to speak their language fluently.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans [ones of a less educated class]?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. [Emphasis added]
It is no wonder that they were all amazed at what they were seeing and hearing. It was truly a miraculous event. The Apostle Peter then stood up to explain to the group what was going on.
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven [please note that the Scripture tells us the number of apostles had been legitimately brought back up to twelve by the election of Matthias [Acts 1:26] before the salvation of Saul of Tarsus], lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:
15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour [9 AM in Gentile time] of the day.
16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
So, we note that some prophecy given through the prophet Joel was being fulfilled on this occasion. Here is what he said.
17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
All the prophecy of this passage was fulfilled at that time. But what then followed was not! We know now that what followed would have soon occurred had Israel responded to the message they were being given and had accepted their Messiah. Because they did not, that program was then interrupted by the insertion of the Dispensation of the Grace of God of which we are a part today. That which follows in this passage has been put off to a future day. These things will be fulfilled after the Rapture, the removal of believers making up the church which is Christ’s body of believers in this dispensation. These things will occur during the seven–year period known as the Tribulation that follows our time in history. So now let’s read what would have occurred and what now will occur in the future after this Dispensation of Grace is completed.
19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:
21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Their calling on the name of the Lord represents Israel’s final acceptance of Jesus as their Christ, their Messiah. When they do that, Jesus Christ will come back to this earth bringing judgment, and establishing His kingdom on earth where His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Sound familiar? Yes, God’s people will pray that prayer [Matthew 6:9-13] during the time of the seven years of Tribulation that precedes Christ’s second coming. Because of the persecution they are under, they will also be praying for “daily bread” by which to survive. And God will answer every aspect of that prayer. He will forgive them of their constant and continuous rejection of Him and shower them with His blessings.
Now what about the “speaking in tongues” that went on later in the city of Corinth? Is that the same kind of “speaking in tongues” as we have just seen? Some people claim that it is different. They also speak of it as though those who have it are spiritually superior to others. Please notice what Paul says about the ranking of the gifts of the Spirit.
I Corinthians 12:28
28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after thatmiracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. [Emphasis added]
Please notice which one is last on the list. But aren’t there some today who seem to want to put it toward the top or at the very top of the list? Paul then goes on to point out that all did not nor could not have the same gifts as others.
I Corinthians 12:29-31
29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. [Emphasis added]
Then in chapter 13 Paul devotes nearly the whole chapter to the subject of love and the priority it has over all the gifts. It is there that he shows us the more excellent way. Then it is at the end of that chapter that he tells us that the day would come when all those special gifts of the spirit would cease to exist.
I Corinthians 13:8-9
8 Charity [love] never faileth [it is to be ongoing]: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge [a gift of special knowledge and truth], it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part [the revelation for the Bible was not yet complete], and we prophesy in part. [Emphasis added]
This is telling us that the complete revelation of Scripture had not yet been given. Later it would be Paul who would complete the revelation of Scripture addressed to believers of this dispensation.
In the context of this next passage we will look at, Paul is speaking of spiritual gifts. He is telling us that a time would come when there would no longer be a need for these special gifts of the Spirit. It would be then that all those special gifts would cease to exist.
I Corinthians 13:10
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. [Emphasis added]
The word “perfect” here is in the neuter gender in the original Greek text, meaning it is speaking of an object, not a person [See W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary, p.846, Published in 1997 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.]. That object, in this case, is the Word of God. He is saying that upon the completion of the Word of God, the need for those special gifts would come to an end.
In I Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul continues to develop the subject of speaking in tongues, along with addressing some problems that existed in that church concerning its function. But there is nothing there that adds more for us in answer to the question at hand. The function of speaking in tongues, as it existed then, does not occur in our time. It is a comment in I Corinthians 14 that causes some to think the practice of speaking in tongues in Corinth was different from what went on in the Acts 2.
I Corinthians 14:1-5
1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God [if there was no one to interpret, only God would know what was said]: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries [things that would be left unknown to others listening].
3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself [because, having this gift, he is the only one who knows what is being said]; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
5 I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. [Emphasis added]
The gift of tongues was given to miraculously provide people the ability to communicate God’s truth without having to learn their language. Today, you will notice that all these people who claim they can “speak in tongues” must go to language school to serve as missionaries speaking foreign languages. That would not be necessary if they truly had the gift of tongues as seen at the time of these passages.
I Corinthians 14:9
9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. [Emphasis added]
There are also people today who even claim that they sing and pray “in tongues.” What about that? They use several verses here to validate that. Let’s look carefully at this passage.
I Corinthians 14:14-16
14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
In the Greek text, the word “if” is in what is called the third-class condition, meaning maybe yes and maybe no. This means it is an undetermined condition. The word “pray” is in the subjunctive mood which means this is a hypothetical case, not something based on fact. Paul is not saying he prays in tongues, but he is simply speaking hypothetically. He’s saying that if he did pray in tongues, his spirit might be praying, but his understanding would be unfruitful and meaningless.
15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? [Emphasis added]
Please understand that the Corinthian church, probably more than any other, was Paul’s “problem child.” Back at the beginning of the book he spoke of their carnality. They were by no means his “spiritual giants,” as we might put it today.
I Corinthians 3:1-3
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men [meaning they thought and acted like unbelievers]? [Emphasis added]
The issue of speaking in tongues was but one of the many problem areas of the Corinthian church.
What happens today that gets passed off as speaking in tongues is an expression of quackery and/or emotionalism. But it is not the “speaking in tongues” that went on in the early church. So, please do not think you’ve somehow missed out on some special blessing or “anointing of the spirit” that comes today through what some call speaking in tongues. You have not missed out on anything where that is concerned. Always realize that a lot of things went on with “the church” in its infancy that have no place today. Today, we can’t heal, we can’t work miracles, and we can’t “speak in tongues.” But the good, even great part, is that the church today is not in its infancy as it was in Paul’s day. Certain things were necessary in the beginning stages, but we are past all that today. It was in the closing days of the timeframe of the book of Acts that all such things passed away.
I Corinthians 13:10
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. [Emphasis added]
Again, [because there’s so much misunderstanding about this] the word “perfect” in verse ten is in the neuter gender in the Greek, so it cannot be referring to a person. It refers to an object. That object is the written word of God, the Scriptures.
I Corinthians 13:11
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. [Emphasis added]
The gift of speaking in tongues had a wonderful place in the infancy stage of the church but does no longer.
Your focus now needs to be on regular intake of God’s Word, with special emphasis given to the Apostle Paul’s thirteen writings. It is there that you will find Christ’s words to us today during this present Dispensation of the Grace of God. It is only in that way that spiritual maturity comes to anyone.
I Corinthians 14:37-38
37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. [Emphasis added]
It is in Paul’s writings that you will find most of the information you need by which to grow and become a spiritually mature believer. As I often mention, even the Apostle Peter in his last recorded words in the Scriptures directed us to the writings of the Apostle Paul.
II Peter 3:14-16
14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest [twist or pervert], as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. [Emphasis added]