The subject of tongues is large, but it is really not difficult. I will give only the bare outline here of Biblical teaching.

In the Law it is written, "By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me," says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe. (1Cor. 14:21-22) [All Scriptures are quoted from the New American Standard Bible]

1 Corinthians 14:21-22, written to the church in Corinth in the first century AD, is the key passage in understanding tongues, and part of it is a quotation from Isaiah 28:11-12. What was said in Isaiah 28 is a repetition of a principle given much earlier and stated in a few other places.

Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue, He who said to them, "Here is rest, give rest to the weary," And, "Here is repose," but they would not listen. (Isaiah 28:11-12)

In Deuteronomy 28:49-50, around 1400 B.C., the promise was made to the nation Israel that if they continued to disobey God, He would eventually judge them with people who spoke other languages. That meant that a foreign nation would conquer them.

The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, a nation of fierce countenance who shall have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young. (Deuteronomy 28:49-50)

This was repeated in Isaiah 28 about 700 BC as quoted above, and it was not long until it was realized by the northern kingdom of Israel. It was promised again Jeremiah 5:15 a century later to the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah.

"Behold, I am bringing a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel," declares the LORD. "It is an enduring nation, It is an ancient nation, A nation whose language you do not know, Nor can you understand what they say." (Jeremiah 5:15)

In Isaiah 33:17-24 a time long in the future was promised when this threat would no longer exist.

Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; They will behold a far-distant land. Your heart will meditate on terror: "Where is he who counts? Where is he who weighs? Where is he who counts the towers?" You will no longer see a fierce people, A people of unintelligible speech which no one comprehends, Of a stammering tongue which no one understands. Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts; Your eyes shall see Jerusalem an undisturbed habitation, A tent which shall not be folded, Its stakes shall never be pulled up Nor any of its cords be torn apart. But there the majestic One, the LORD, shall be for us A place of rivers and wide canals, On which no boat with oars shall go, And on which no mighty ship shall pass - For the LORD is our judge, The LORD is our lawgiver, The LORD is our king; He will save us - Your tackle hangs slack; It cannot hold the base of its mast firmly, Nor spread out the sail. Then the prey of an abundant spoil will be divided; The lame will take the plunder. And no resident will say, "I am sick"; The people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity. (Isaiah 33:17-24)

That brings us to the New Testament. Acts 2:4-6 is the most common episode of speaking in tongues.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:4-6)

As far as the text indicates, based on the law of antecedence, only the twelve apostles did speak in tongues on that occasion. The three thousand who believed that day did not. The apostles spoke in the hearing of all the people who had assembled from near and far for the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. These people understood them speaking in the various languages represented. And according to 1 Corinthians 14, the Jews should have understood that this was a sign of judgment. It was definitely a judgment on the Jews, because God ceased, at least temporarily, using the Jewish nation to work out His plan in the world and brought into being the Church. From this point on (until a time still future), believing Jews would be a part of the Church, just as believing Gentiles would be.

People are recorded as speaking in tongues in Acts 10:45-46 and also Acts 19:6.

And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. . . . (Acts 10:45-46)

And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:6)

These were special people groups, the Samaritans and some men who had not yet heard the completed gospel. This was an indication that God was in fact creating a new organism in the world, namely, the Church, through which He would work out His plan. As each of these unique groups entered for the first time, God confirmed their place in the Church by the same phenomena as at the first.


The text in 1 Corinthians 14 (quoted above) says tongues are a sign to unbelieving Jews. It was to be a sign of judgment to them, to show them that God was setting aside the Jewish nation and beginning a new work, the Church, made up of all kinds of people the world over. Once that had been demonstrated, the necessity for tongues would cease. The need for the gift of tongues did cease probably about AD 70, as 1 Corinthians 13:8 predicts.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:8)

In the context of that verse, it is helpful to note that spiritual gifts is the subject of discussion. It is the gift of speaking in tongues that is in view--languages themselves will not cease. It is the gift of knowledge that will be done away--knowledge itself will not cease.

Some people speak in tongues today. This experience is commonly not a recognizable language used by people to communicate, but it was a language in the book of Acts. Various religions of the world practice speaking in the babbling kind of tongues, also--it is something one can learn to do; so it cannot be any proof of the Holy Spirit in Christianity. (David Hocking's book, The Dynamic Difference: The Holy Spirit in Your Life, Harvest House Publishers, 1985, devotes three and one-half pages to listing various religions of the world, ancient and not-so-ancient, which have practiced speaking in tongues.) It is at best some kind of emotional outburst, at worst it is demonically produced. I have read articles in which people who practice speaking in tongues are worried that the source might be demonic.

Some say tongues speaking is legitimate today but is a different kind than in Acts. In that case, they are operating completely outside the realm of the Bible, and any outlandish claim made is just as reasonable. One should not attempt to tie an extra-biblical activity to spiritual truth.

Some say that God could cause people to speak in tongues today. Of course, He could. But what has He revealed in the Bible concerning His plan? Speaking in tongues was in the plan for a specified purpose. That purpose has been realized. Speaking in tongues is not in the plan for today. God does not give all gifts at all times to all people, especially when He has designated a specific purpose for certain ones. In fact, the unique purpose assigned to tongues Scripturally cannot be maintained if every Christian everywhere should be speaking in tongues.

There is no Biblical necessity of us speaking in tongues today, and this is nothing one should seek. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is what we should seek, and it will appear in the life of a true Christian as that person lives out the teachings of the Bible.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Question: Is speaking in tongues unique to Christianity?
Answer: No. This should give us pause in assigning purpose to it. Does it have the same purpose for non-Christians? Obviously, in itself this is a problem. Whatever purpose it has must be assigned Scripturally in order to avoid confusion.

Question: Is speaking in tongues the evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit?
Answer: No. Some churches officially teach that it is, but Scripturally it cannot be because of 1 Corinthians 12:30 which says "All do not speak with tongues, do they?" with the negative answer anticipated.

Question: Is speaking in tongues evidence that a person is more spiritually mature?
Answer: No. Maturity is revealed in complete trust in the Lord and complete obedience to His written Word, the Bible. An experience, no matter how ecstatic, does not contribute positively to maturity: it may even detract in the sense that an individual may begin to substitute experience and emotion for the Scriptures which are to be our nutrition for growth.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2:1-3)

Question: Is speaking in tongues speaking in known languages?
Answer: Biblically it was, at least in the book of Acts. In 1 Corinthians 12 some may not have been, especially verse 3 where it says "no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus is accursed.'" When the emphasis is on the activity and not the content, there may be a temptation to substitute what was language with what is not and treat it as though it is the same. Or there may even be demonic influence under which an individual might speak that which dishonors God.

Question: Can there be more than one legitimate kind of speaking in tongues?
Answer: If the Bible legitimates more than one kind, then there could be. If it does not, then there could not be. One should not create a second kind of speaking in tongues in order to justify one's belief and practice, if in fact the Bible does not.

Question: Does the Bible anywhere encourage seeking to speak in tongues?
Answer: Reading 1 Corinthians 14 is an excellent exercise when asking the following question: Does this chapter encourage or discourage speaking in tongues? In a time when its purpose had not yet been satisfied, the chapter places restrictions on the practice. Also, it is noteworthy that tongues speaking occurred in the book of Acts without any seeking of it on the part of the speakers: it was a sovereign manifestation of God. There is no reason to seek a divine effect to a human cause when it is never portrayed that way in the Bible.

Question: Can you speak in tongues and be a Christian?
Answer: It is possible to be a Christian and at some time or other do practically anything. However, one must examine motives. Why would I exalt the practice of speaking in tongues? What does it promise me that faith and obedience to the written instructions of God's Word do not? There is no blessing Scripturally promised to a believer as a result of speaking in tongues.

Question: Is the author of this article opposed to speaking in tongues?
Answer: No, the author appreciates the special purpose given the phenomenon of tongues speaking in the history of the Church. By the same token, the author would not seek to force an activity on anyone today that is not intended for us.

If you have specific questions, you may direct them to the author at arlieandruth@cox.net.