Speaking in tongues remains a controversial issue among Christians. Some believe this gift of the Holy Spirit is no longer needed and has ceased functioning while others believe speaking in tongue is needed and active in today’s Christian age. I would claim that speaking in tongue is not only the fulfilment of Christ’s prophecy as a sign that someone has actually believed in Jesus Christ, but also a sign unto others that someone has received the in-filling of the Holy Spirit.
It has been said that,
two kinds of tongues are reported: a gift of diverse kinds of tongues (speaking in human languages) and the gift of speaking in an unknown tongue (a heavenly language).
The first type of tongues is called xenoglossia (xenos = foreign, glossa = tongue), a phrase coined by Charles Richet (1850-1935), a leading investigator of the paranormal from the 1870s to the 1930s (who also won the Nobel Prize for Physiology (1913) for his work on allergic responses). Xenoglossia is the use of an actual foreign language by a person who has had no conscious knowledge of that language…
The second category is commonly labelled glossolalia (glossa = tongue, lalia = speaking) … The claim is sometimes made that glossolalia is a supernatural phenomenon. If this were true, then a scientific account or explanation of the behaviour would not be possible.
During the 18th century, tongues was a common feature among British Quakers and American Methodists. In the early 19th century it was found among members of the Catholic Apostolic Church in England, and in the US among members of Mormon churches. Later in the 19th century, it became common within the Holiness Churches. In the early 20th century, speaking in tongues as a religiously-endorsed activity became perhaps the defining characteristic of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian groups.
It would seem that tongues have ceased in today’s church age, as claimed by some who quote Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 saying, “whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away…”
The two-fold purpose of the “sign-gift” of tongues was fulfilled by the end of the 1st Century AD
- Speaking in tongues/languages was an authenticating sign – to authenticate both the apostles and the apostles’ gospel (Mark 16:17 and 20, 1 Cor. 14:22). Once the inaugural first century authentication had taken place and been recorded in Scripture, no second authentication was necessary.
- Tongues were a sign of judgment on the nation of Israel. ‘Tongues’, from Babel onwards, have always been a sign of judgment. When Israel heard the tongue of the Assyrian invaders in the 8th Century BC it was a sign that judgment had arrived (Isa 28:11). This is the very verse quoted by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:22 as he explains how the New Testament gift of languages was a sign to unbelieving Israel. When the judgment on Israel came in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Roman, the nation was scattered and the purpose of the gift of tongues had been served.
In contrary, Paul did not fail to clarify that tongue will only cease when “that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:10 NKJV), that is tongue will cease when Christ come – if Christ is who Paul refers to as ‘perfect.’ If he meant heaven by the word ‘perfect’ instead, then Paul’s statement would mean that tongues would cease when we get to heaven where there is no more need for it and where there is perfection. In fact, if Paul meant that tongues have ceased in the 1 Cor. 13:8, one should ask whether knowledge has ceased also in today’s church age, since Paul listed knowledge in the same scripture as one among those gifts that shall cease.
Further, one may say, tongues are a sign for unbelievers, therefore Christians do not need to speak in tongues in today’s church age. Some use Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 14:22 which says, “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not….” Yes, but tongues are for a sign to unbelievers that one believes. Therefore, the fact that unbelievers now have a way of knowing that one believes does not remove the necessity or the efficacy of speaking in tongues. At best, a Christian ought not to focus on tongues being a sign to unbelievers but on the edification that it brings to believers individually and collectively.
Nevertheless, I claim that speaking in tongue is not only a sign unto others that someone has received the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, but also a sign that someone believes in Jesus Christ.
First, speaking in tongues is a fulfilment of a prophecy that was given by Jesus, the highest of all prophets, as a sign that follows all who believe, as recorded in Mark 16:17 saying, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;”
Secondly, it is sign that one has received the Holy Spirit. Many scriptures reveal this fact:
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4)
“All the circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and exalting God…” (Acts 10:45-46). This time around, the Holy Spirit fell upon Gentiles, not Jews, after listening to the gospel.
Who gives this gift of speaking in tongue?
God is the giver – as He wills (1 Cor. 12:1-11).
How to receive this gift
- By asking the Lord in prayer of faith – as the disciples did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4)
- Through laying of hands – as Paul did on some new believers in Ephesus (Acts 19:6)
- Through listening to the word of God (Acts 10:44-46)
Advantages of speaking in tongues
- When we speak in tongues we are praying in the spirit as the spirit gives us utterance: “and they were all filled with the holy ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the spirit gave them utterance”(Acts 2:4). Paul helps Christians to understand that “We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself [Himself] maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). He clarifies this by saying, “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth,…” (1 Cor. 14:14). The beauty of this is that “God is spirit…” (John 4:24), so it becomes essential for human beings to relate with or pray to Him in Spirit.
- When you speak in tongues, you are declaring the wonderful works of God: “Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” Acts 2:11
- According to Jude 20, speaking in tongues helps a Christian to build up deeper faith and trust in God: “Building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost”
- Speaking in tongues is speaking to Godby uttering mysteries of the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:2). If one gets to engage in the deep things of God, it is indeed the right place to be – spiritually.
- Speaking in tongues produces personal spiritual edification: “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself . . .” (1 Cor. 14:4)
- A believer brings God’s message to people (when interpreted): “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. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one [the same one] interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” (1 Cor. 14:5, 13, 27-28)
In conclusion, I commend all Christians to desire this precious gift of the Holy Spirit as they do others. Jesus says this gift is a sign that will follow all those who believe. If you believe, you ought to enjoy this gift. No wonder, Paul encourages Christians to desire this gift, among others. Christians should know however that the gift of speaking in tongues is not to be used to disrupt the church or address the public (unless interpreted – 1 Cor. 13:26-33), because God does not allow confusion.
“The psychology of speaking in tongues: A review,” Psychohistorian.org, August 01, 2005, accessed April 11, 2018, http://www.psychohistorian.org/display_article.php?id=200508010351_speaking_in_tongues.content.
Michael J. Penfold, “5 Reasons Why Tongues Have Ceased,” Webtruth.org, September 18, 2015, accessed April 9, 2018, http://www.webtruth.org/theological/5-reasons-why-tongues-have-ceased/.