I have been asked to explain the phenomenon known as speaking in tongues. This is sometimes a very emotional charged subject. Christians many times find their relationship with Christ and their Christian life in general as “plain” and uneventful and the seek something more intense.
This search for a deeper spiritual life is commendable and the yearning to be “closer” to God is good but, sometimes our motive sends us into the wrong directions. We are called to grow as Christians. Our Christian growth comes through communion with God through prayer and Bible study and is cemented in by our actions.
The chase after something more than gospel reveals that we misunderstand what the gospel is. What Christ has done is sufficient nothing can be added to what He has done.Now, let us look at the phenomenon of speaking in tongues.
Firstly let me kick off by sharing part of my journey.
I also frequented charismatic churches and groups and was attracted by what I perceived as a deeper faith. One night I answered the alter call and experience what they call “baptism with the Holy Spirit” and started praying in tongues. I loved it but, something wasn’t right for me, and only practiced it a few times.When we investigate anything we must go to the Bible as our source.
So what does the word “tongue” mean in scripture?
When the Bible speaks about “tongues” it plainly means language, a language that is spoken and understood by people.Genesis 10:20
“These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.”
The best place to start looking in this study is in the book of Acts. When we study the Bible the best way to find out what the Bible teaches about a specific thing is to look at different passages and then let them help interpret each other.
“And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.
And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.”
If no one would have told you about speaking in tongues would you think that these were languages spoken of in Acts 2 is strange languages or would you understood that they are already existing languages? Jerusalem was filled with foreigners. These foreigners spoke different languages and God through the Holy Spirit gave the Christians in the upper room the ability to talk languages they never heard or learned before.
This gift was given to the Christians as a sign that the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised has arrived. It further indicated that the Gospel is for everyone not just for the Jew but for every “tongue” meaning every nation.
Many things have been said about the fire that descended on the Christians when they received the Holy Spirit. Let me remind you of what John the Baptist said about the coming of the Holy Spirit and Fire.
John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Remember why John the Baptized people. He baptized them with water as a visible sign of people being cleansed and leaving their old life behind. The Baptizing with Holy Spirit is basically the same thing being cleansed and washed.
In the following passages it is evident that when the Bible speaks of “tongues” it is speaking of a known language and not some Angelic language. It is also not used to talk about some revelation form God.
John 5:2; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 9:11; Ezra 4:7
The gift of tongues was a declaration that the Gospel will be going out to all nations. Never is there spoken of tongue as a tongue that is not understood by someone. These “tongues” was not just strange sounds like it is claimed to be today. No, it was actual languages spoken by actual people groups. The wonder was that Christians was speaking languages they never learned. These Christians was not just saying “hi” in some strange language, they were preaching the gospel.
Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,
both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians--we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God."
And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
The non-Jews also received the gift of speaking in tongues to confirm that the Gospel was also for the gentiles. The gift was not just a tool to evangelism but, a sign to confirm that all nations were welcome at the Lord table.
The sad thing is it is clear to many that the gift of speaking in tongues practiced today is not the same as what we find in the book of Acts. They recognize that many of the “speaking in tongues” is well nonsense. It’s just a whole lot of letters blustered out and none can translate it. So they claim that the there’s actually two gifts of speaking in tongues the one in Acts and the one in Corinthians.
They will explain that the one spoken about in Acts is a genuine man spoken language and the kind we find in Corinthians was something different and an interpreter was needed.
1 Corinthians 14:27-28.
Clearly in this passages it is instructed that there should be an interpreter, it is also clear that the Gospel and the evangelization of the listeners was the focus.
The reason for the speaking in tongues was so that people of all nations could hear the Gospel. It was not the bringing of a word of wisdom or some prophecy, the aim was evangelism of all nations.
Acts 10:45-47.And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,
"Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"
Now let us look at the tuff question. We have now established that the gift of speaking in tongues was an existing language.The gift of speaking in tongues was a “sign” gift”.
Let me explain while it had a purpose namely communicating the gospel to strangers it was also a sign that things were changing.
Think of the miracles that happened in Egypt, they did not continue, they strengthen the Israelites in their faith. When they had to through the Sea before they went into the Promised Land it was a sign to them that God was still with them the same way He was with their fathers when they left Egypt.When Jesus was on earth He preformed many signs and wonders to confirm His deity and that which He was teaching. When the apostles went out they also preformed signs and wonders confirming this new work that was done. These things were meant as evidence that they were preaching the same truth as Christ.
The sign gifts were never meant to be permanent.