SPEAKING IN TONGUES
Is the gift of tongues still available today? Does God continue to grant this gift to his people? Or was it a special sign that only accompanied the initial birth of the church on earth?
IS THE GIFT OF TONGUES STILL AVAILABLE TODAY?
I can find nothing unequivocal in the Bible to indicate that the gift of tongues ceased with the Apostles.
Some interpret 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 to be saying that tongues and certain other gifts would cease when the New Testament was completed or when the church reached maturity, (“when perfection comes” – v.10). The simplest reading of this passage, however, is that it is referring to the second coming of Christ. The expression ” when perfection comes” is most likely a reference to heaven; for it is only then that we will “see face to face” and “know fully just as I am fully known” (13:12).
A study of church history, however, reveals little evidence of tongues after the first century. There is no mention of tongues-speaking among the church fathers of the second century. The practice was present only among a few heretical followers of Montanus, and, until recent times, tongues-speaking has been virtually unknown within the church. What we make of this is open to speculation. There are 3 views:
- Tongues was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power at the establishment of the church – it died out soon after and today’s apparent manifestations are false.
- Tongues is still a valid gift for the church, but for many hundreds of years it was “lost” because of the spiritual lethargy of the church, and has only recently been reawakened. (One must ask, however, why only some gifts were lost and not others.)
- Tongues is a “sign and wonder” accompanying the outbreak of the gospel into new areas, and God may continue to use it in this way from time to time. This explains periods when the gift was not evident in the church.
Because of the silence of scripture in regard to this issue, all of these views are speculative, and any discussion of them needs to be heavily seasoned with tolerance and grace.
IS TONGUES AVAILABLE TO EVERY CHRISTIAN?
No. The Bible makes it very clear that no single gift of the Holy Spirit is available to every Christian (1 Cor 12). For example, 1 Corinthians 12:30 states: “Do all have gifts of healing? (No). Do all speak in tongues ? (No). Do all interpret? (No).” Paul here inserts the Greek negative (“me”) to establish that not all Christians are given these gifts. We are told that spiritual gifts are distributed by “one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Cor 12:11).
If the gift of tongues is not available to every Christian, why did Paul say he wished everyone could speak in tongues?
In the process of making a series of statements showing the limited value of tongues-speaking (1 Cor 14:1-25), Paul wrote, “I wish you all spoke with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5). This seems to be a strange statement given that he had already indicated that God doews not give tongues to everyone (1 Cor. 12:30,31).
It must be understood, however, that Paul was expressing a statement of personal desire. Paul did the same thing earlier in this letter, when, speaking of celibacy, he wrote, “I wish that all men were as I am” (1 Cor 7:7). It was his personal desire that all could be celibate because of the spiritual advantages of celibacy. But he knew that God didn’t give the gift of singleness to everybody. Therefore, he added, “But each one has his own gift from God, one has this gift [to marry], another has that [not to marry]” (7:7). Similarly, Paul would have liked all Christians to speak in tongues. The gift had some value. However, just as it isn’t God’s will to grant everyone the gift of celibacy, it wasn’t His will to bestow the gift of tongues on everybody.
IS TONGUES THE EVIDENCE OF SPIRIT BAPTISM?
Many Charismatics and Pentecostals view Spirit baptism as a post-conversion experience that is accompanied and evidenced by tongues-speaking. They point out that the coming of the Holy Spirit and tongues-speaking occurred together in Acts 2, 10, and 19, and insist that this is the normative pattern for the reception of the Holy Spirit.
This view is flawed in four ways:
- Firstly, it overlooks the fact that the three historical instances of simultaneous tongues-speaking and Spirit baptism were unique and pivotal events: the birth of the church (Acts 2), the opening of the door to the Gentiles (Acts 10), and the end of the validity of John’s baptism (Acts 19). It fails to consider that there is no evidence of tongues-speaking in most of the salvation accounts of Acts: the 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost (2:41), the Ethiopian eunuch (8:37), Saul (9:1-9), the “great number” in Antioch (11:21), the “multitude” in Iconium (14:1), Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and their households (16:14,15,30-34).
2. The second error is a wrong concept of the baptism of the Spirit. Many Charismatics and Pentecostals see it as occurring days or weeks or even years after salvation, and claim that some Christians never receive it. Paul, however, gave us a precise definition of Spirit baptism. He declared that it is the act of the Holy Spirit by which He makes every believer a member of the body of Christ; “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). It clearly refers to conversion, and not some second stage experience of the Holy Spirit. The three examples in Acts of simultaneous Spirit baptism and tongues-speaking illustrate this, in that they were clearly conversion experiences (Acts 2:1-13; 10:44-48; 19:1-7).
3. The third error is a failure to distinguish between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and His filling. Spirit baptism is a fact in every believer’s conversion. Being filled with the Holy Spirit refers to a Christian being more fully under the control or influence of the Holy Spirit, and comes about as a result of submitting to the Lord in faith and obedience. We are commanded to “go on being filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), but never to be Spirit baptized.
4. Finally, in 1 Corinthians 12:30 Paul indicated that not all believers could speak in tongues, but he said that all have been baptized into Christ’s body (v.13). The two are not inseparably linked.