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Speaking in Tongues: An Easy Bible Study to Know the Ins and Outs

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Jamey Escamilla

Speaking in tongues is one of the most highly debated topics within the Christian world. I understand that there are well-educated arguments from many angles concerning tongues. I would like to accomplish two things with this study:

 

  • Offer my point of view, in which I will strive to be as Biblical and open as I can be

  • Offer arguments to views that might be different from what I believe the Bible is teaching

 

What is Speaking in Tongues? (General Definition)

 

The Bible describes instances of many people being able to supernaturally speak in different languages as God enables them. This is known as “speaking in tongues.”

The general Greek word for “tongues” in the Bible is glossa (glow-sah), which simply means “language." [1]

 

To keep it simple, the Biblical definition of speaking in tongues would be the supernatural ability to speak in a language you do not know.

 

We will see tongues in more detail later, along with all of its functions. For now, let’s make sure we understand this general definition.

 

Have you ever been in a church service and heard someone speaking in a language that might have sounded like gibberish to you at first? Are these modern occurrences actual Biblical examples of speaking in tongues?

 

The theories of what this phenomenon could be vary greatly. But one important observation must be made: Tongues is Biblical.

A New Covenant and the Holy Spirit Coming

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

We all should believe that God made a New Covenant which we’re under with God today. The old Mosaic Law did not work for the children of Israel, so Jesus was going to come and die for the sins of the world, which would usher in true forgiveness of sins.

 

This also meant that God was no longer going to live in a temple, but He was going to live inside His people – the believing Jews and Gentiles.

Joel 2:28-29

28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

 

After Jesus died and rose again, God was going to make this new way of doing things official by pouring out His Spirit on all flesh.

 

He was going to give people His Holy Spirit, and this is how He was going to “live” inside of the believers, which would happen on the day of Pentecost. 

 

Tongues on the Day of Pentecost

 

Acts 2:1-4

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

 

When the promise of the Holy Spirit came days after Jesus was resurrected, the believers were all together in one place.

 

They heard the sound of a strong wind, and “tongues as of fire” rested on them. As the Spirit enabled them, they all began to speak in other languages.

Acts 2:5-6

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

 

When the believers began speaking in other tongues, some surrounding Jews heard them and identified the languages as coming from their own native lands, such as Mesopotamia and Egypt.

 

Acts 2:16-17

16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;

 

Peter then tells everyone what this supernatural event means. He quotes Joel 2 and explains that the Holy Spirit had indeed been poured out.

 

Mostly everyone agrees on certain truths about this event in Acts 2 of speaking in tongues:

 

  • It was the first time the Holy Spirit had been poured out on believers.

  • This ability to speak in tongues was a sign that the Holy Spirit was indeed poured out.

  • The tongues spoken were human languages that people could naturally understand.


We will explore the areas of disagreement among Christians concerning tongues in a moment.

 

But first, we need to address one more question, to which most Christians agree.

Is Speaking in Tongues a Requirement to be Saved?

 

QUESTION: Is speaking in tongues a requirement to be saved?

ANSWER: No.

 

There are some, mainly in the Pentecostal movement, who believe that a person must speak in tongues in order to be saved and right with God.

 

They conclude that tongues must be present in a believer's life in order for them to be saved because this would show that they truly have placed their faith in Christ.

 

Usually, in these types of churches, there will be a heavy emphasis on speaking in tongues, and it will be a high priority for you to do it if you attend.

 

So, does a person have to speak in tongues in order for them to be saved?

 

There is no question that tongues is a sign that someone is saved because a believer would not be able to speak in genuine tongues unless they were.

 

Speaking in tongues is a spiritual act that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit. Without this Holy Spirit, one would not be able to speak in tongues.

 

But again, is it necessary for salvation? Let’s start with a scripture.

1 Corinthians 12:13

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

 

The scripture is teaching that all believers are indeed baptized in the Spirit. To simplify this, we could essentially rearrange the verse to get a clearer meaning in English:

 

We were all baptized into one body in one Spirit…

 

The verse is saying that all believers have been baptized into the Spirit.

 

But we could go a bit deeper. Notice that this rearranged verse is in the passive voice. Who is the one doing the baptizing?

 

Well, in every verse that mentions Spirit baptism, the Holy Spirit is the one that we are being baptized into, and Jesus is the one who does the baptizing. [2] Therefore, the verse would be teaching:

 

Jesus baptized all of us into one body in one Spirit…

 

All believers have been baptized in the Spirit. But when and how does this happen in the life of a believer?

 

There is a view that this baptism happens later after they first believe. It’s called the doctrine of subsequence, which means that people are converted first (they have believed), and then they are baptized in the Spirit later.

 

According to subsequence, once they receive this baptism, their salvation is complete. Many advocates of this view think that speaking in tongues will show this baptism.

 

However, I believe that both happen at the same time and are the same event. When you believe, you have been converted and baptized in the Spirit:

 

Ephesians 1:13-14

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Believing the Gospel seals you with the Holy Spirit, and all believers (1 Cor. 12:13) are baptized in the Spirit.

 

To me, the scriptures are clear that it is simply believing that baptizes us in God’s Spirit and, therefore, saves us and makes us His (Rom. 8:9).

 

In my opinion, if tongues were an absolute must to show that you have indeed been sealed with that Spirit, I don’t see why Paul would not have stated this fact in either of these scriptures to show that it’s essential to salvation.

 

If speaking in tongues was that important, Paul could have said, “Having believed and spoken in tongues, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit.”

 

There are many other scriptures in Acts where true conversion is named, and yet tongues is not mentioned as accompanying it: (2:37-42, 8:26-40 (Eunuch), 9:1-19 (Paul), 13:44-52 (believing Gentiles), 16:11-15 (Lydia), 25-34 (jailer), 17:1-33 (various), 18:1-11 (Crispus and many Corinthians))

 

When a person first genuinely believes in Jesus, that is the moment they are baptized in the Holy Spirit.

 

When this happens, there could be an immediate sign of speaking in tongues, but there doesn’t have to be one.

Part 2 of Tongues begins here!

The Detailed Nature of Tongues

 

Genuine tongues is a God-given language that believers speak, of which they do not know how to speak in their own ability. But how does it sound?

 

There are two main views:

 

View #1: Tongues is always only a language of human origin, meaning it is a normal language currently spoken on earth or was previously spoken on earth but is now somewhat or fully extinct. For example, a person speaking in tongues would be speaking in actual Chinese, Navajo, or any other human-made language.

 

View #2: Tongues is a language of human origin but could also come in the form of a “spiritual,” non-human language, meaning it is not always a normal language. For example, a person speaking in tongues would sound as though they are speaking a language that is not found on earth and has no meaning to the natural mind.

 

QUESTION: Which one of these views does Jamey believe?

ANSWER: The second one.

 

Those with View #1 would probably say the following:

 

  • Because tongues was human languages in Acts 2, this should tell us how tongues sounds and what its detailed nature is elsewhere in the scriptures.

 

  • Because tongues was human languages in Acts 2, the natural, reasonable way to understand and read scriptures concerning tongues is that it was human languages.

 

  • When a person speaks in tongues today, it is a language of human origin. If it doesn’t sound like a human language, it could be because:

 

- The person hearing it just isn’t aware of what language it is.

 

- It is an ancient or extinct language not really spoken anymore.

 

- They could be speaking one, two, or a small number of words to the point where it sounds nonhuman. For example, if you were Chinese with absolutely no knowledge of the English language, hearing someone repeatedly and quickly say, “Dad, Dad, Dad…” or “Father, Father, Father…” would sound made up.

 

- Their tongues is “immature”, meaning, tongues is something that progressively gets more intelligible as the speaker practices it, much like a baby learns English.

 

- They are faking.

 

My response to View #1 and their statements is the following.

 

ONE: We shouldn’t firmly hold to View #1 because not much is known about the detailed nature of tongues.

 

There is only one instance (Acts 2) where a detailed nature of tongues is brought out and tells us what it sounded like.

 

Although it is a reasonable view, I don’t think it’s a good idea to create an entire belief system about tongues from one passage of scripture.

 

All other scriptures mentioning tongues in Acts simply describe what happened in mostly vague ways, i.e., “they spoke in tongues.”

 

Apart from Acts 2, we can’t say with certainty how each occurrence sounded or what type of language it was.

 

In the epistles (mainly 1 Corinthians 12-14), tongues is mentioned in a more corrective tone to clear the air about the Corinthians’ possible misuse of it. They do not say whether tongues is human or spiritual.

 

The Word of God is not always crystal clear on matters of faith, and sometimes, we need to be OK with simply not knowing. In these scenarios, we should do our best to arrive at a well-educated, Biblical answer and follow our convictions.

 

Because of the lack of information in the Bible concerning this matter, we shouldn’t automatically accept that it must always be human languages. There’s simply not enough evidence to be so sure, in my opinion.

 

TWO: The way tongues is described in other passages outside of Acts 2 gives room for the possibility of it being a unique, spiritual language and not just a known, human language

 

We will now look at these other passages about tongues and examine them in light of both views.

 

Paul mentions “various kinds of tongues” in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and 12:28:

 

1 Corinthians 12:10

to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

 

1 Corinthians 12:28

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

 

If you research these scriptures, you’ll find that scholars do not have a definite answer for what Paul means by “various kinds of tongues.”

 

The context of these scriptures concerns the different gifts of the Holy Spirit. As you can see, there are a few gifts, such as prophecy, healing, and distinguishing between spirits. And there are also “various kinds of tongues.” What is that?

 

Those who hold to View #1 (tongues is always a human language) would say: “Various kinds of tongues” refers to “different kinds of human languages.”

 

In other words, when Paul says that a person could have the gift of “various kinds of tongues,” he means that this person could have the gift of tongues, which would supernaturally enable him to speak in various human-known languages.

 

QUESTION: What does “various kinds of tongues” mean?

MY ANSWER: “Various kinds of tongues” could refer to human languages and “spiritual” languages.

 

In other words, Paul could be referring to different kinds of languages, such as human and spiritual.

 

This would support the idea that tongues is an umbrella term. The Bible uses one concept of tongues, but it could possibly have different functions and styles.

 

For example, there is the tongues of Acts 2, which are known human languages.

 

Then there’s another function of tongues – the spiritual language that has no earthly correlation and seems foolish to men but is completely Biblical and desirable to God.

 

Paul says that a person who speaks in tongues speaks to God, not man, and utters “mysteries” in the Spirit:

 

1 Corinthians 14:2

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

 

Those who hold to View #1 (tongues is always a human language) would say: The verse simply means that a person speaking in tongues is speaking a human language, but the people hearing the tongues do not know that language, so he is uttering “mysteries.”

 

QUESTION: What does 1 Corinthians 14:5 mean when it says that no one will understand a person speaking in tongues, and that his tongues are “mysteries in the Spirit?”

MY ANSWER: View #1 could be right, but it is also possible for the tongues in this scripture to be a “heavenly, spiritual” language.

 

We should leave room for the idea that Paul is talking about a “spiritual language” here because:

 

  • Paul says that “no one” can understand the tongues. This could be because it is an unknown, spiritual form of tongues. This seems different than the tongues of Acts 2, in which people heard and were able to understand. Corinth was a multilingual, massive port city where people of different languages frequented quite often. It would be unlikely that if a member of the church was speaking in tongues, and that tongues was of human origin and resembled that of another visiting person’s native land, that this visiting person would not be able to understand.

 

  • Paul says that they’re speaking to God and not men. Human languages are for the purpose of communicating with men. But when Paul says that this tongues is communication with God, he could be referring to the unknown form of tongues.

 

Paul speaks of “tongues of angels."

 

1 Corinthians 13:1

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

 

Some advocates of a spiritual tongue would say that the “tongues of angels” in this verse refers to an actual language that angels speak, or at least a type of heavenly tongue.

 

Personally, I am not fully convinced that this is what Paul was trying to convey. I actually agree more with View #1 concerning this verse:

 

Those who hold to View #1 (tongues is always a human language) would say: The verse is simply a “hyperbolic statement,” meaning, Paul is not saying that there are literally languages of the angels.

 

For example, if I knew someone who could speak every language in the world but was a jerk, I would tell them, “I know you think you’re awesome because you can speak every language. But even if you could speak in the languages of people in another galaxy, if you’re not loving, it doesn’t mean anything."

 

I don’t literally mean that other-galaxy-languages exist or that it’s literally possible for him to speak these languages. I’m simply making a hyperbolic statement to prove a larger point.

 

In this context, this seems to make more sense. Consider what Paul says in the next verses:

 

1 Corinthians 13:2-3

2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 

These are definitely hyperbolic statements because no one can have “all mysteries, all knowledge, and all faith.” Also, most people would not go the hyperbolic extra mile to give “all” they have and to give their body to be burned.

 

Therefore, if verses 2-3 are hyperbolic, it’s more logical to think that his preceding statements about “angelic tongues” are also hyperbolic.

 

The Corinthians prided themselves on having many spiritual gifts, so Paul was making the point that even if you’re the biggest and baddest in the spiritual world with all gifts (hyperbole), even if you can speak in angelic tongues (hyperbole), you’re nothing without love.

 

You might be asking, “But didn’t you say that you believe in the possibility of the spiritual tongue? If so, why then did you list this verse as proof?”

 

I listed this verse as possible proof, but in my opinion, not logical proof.

 

Again, we need to look at all sides of the argument. Although the other verses I listed are possible and logical proof for tongues coming in the form of a spiritual language, I don’t think that this verse (1 Cor. 13:1) is logical proof.

 

However, there are many reputable New Testament scholars who do believe that angelic tongues are actual languages that we speak when we talk in tongues, such as Gordon Fee.

 

Fee says that the angelic tongues are literal because there are ancient Jewish sources that suggest this, and that people could speak in these languages with the help of the Spirit. [3]

 

This is stated in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, lauded as one of the best and revised in 2014.

Robert Graves lists 33 New Testament scholars who all say that tongues being in the form of a spiritual language is possible. [4]

 

I picked two of these scholars at random and looked at their commentaries concerning 1 Cor. 13:1, and they both suggested that “angelic tongues” was a real thing.

 

So, perhaps it’s not that farfetched to think that angels could have their own language and that we are speaking this language when we talk in tongues. No one can be totally sure.

 

But because of the context of 1 Corinthians 13, I would still say that it makes a bit more sense that Paul’s statement about angelic tongues is hyperbolic.

 

However, this doesn’t take away from all of the other logical proof that tongues could be a spiritual language.

 

QUESTION: What does Paul mean when he says “angelic tongues?”

MY ANSWER: It is more likely that Paul was making a hyperbolic statement.

 

THREE: Modern, secular research suggests that tongues is not a human language.

 

We cannot ignore the fact that secular research has been done on tongues. The studies conducted have consisted of gathering multiple believers and allowing them to speak in tongues.

 

Then, the researchers check to see if the languages they’re speaking are actual human languages and analyze the benefits of speaking in tongues on the body.

 

From what I read and heard, most of the studies suggest that the tongues modern Christians are speaking are not known human languages.

 

Now, this could be because the researchers are not simply aware or educated in the language, as some who hold View #1 would say.

 

But it could also be because some of the tongues spoken today (and in the Bible) are not, in fact, human languages but spiritual languages that you won’t be able to decipher with secular research, science, and education.

 

Unknown and less-spoken languages do exist, but it’s still a bit improbable to think that when all these tested people spoke in tongues, they spoke in one of these rare languages and not one of the thousands of other languages that people do know.

 

As I said, the tests also examine the “effects” of speaking in tongues on the body and mind.

 

Some tests have indicated that something truly spiritual happens in the brain when a person speaks in tongues.

 

This is good news for people who believe in tongues.

But we cannot accept secular research, which validates the benefits in believers, but reject the part that says that it’s not human.

 

If we accept one part of a scientific study on tongues showing that it’s validated and beneficial, we should at least consider accepting the possibility that it’s also not human, as found by that same research.

 

When you take all of the evidence as a whole and try to be open to the fact that tongues could be in the form of an unknown, spiritual language, it begins to make more sense.

 

Tongues could also be unknown languages that cannot be comprehended by the natural mind and are not ordinarily spoken languages. [5]

 

The Functions of Tongues

 

What is the purpose of tongues, and what are its functions?

 

Actually, this is a question that can be better addressed by answering this question:

 

QUESTION: Can all Christians speak in tongues?

MY ANSWER: There are two functions/types of tongues. All Christians can speak in one of these kinds, but not all Christians can speak in the other kind.

 

Some believe that not all Christians can speak in tongues, and they use the following scripture as evidence:

 

1 Corinthians 12:28-30

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

 

Paul is discussing the gifts of the Spirit and certain ministries. He then asks some rhetorical questions, to which the answer is “no.” Does everyone speak in tongues? No.

 

But one of the keys to understanding this passage is to read the whole chapter. This verse, in particular, should stand out:

 

1 Corinthians 12:7

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

 

Let’s ask the question: Are these gifts for the purpose of benefiting one believer or all believers? The answer is “all.”

 

So, we can see that the “gift of tongues” edifies the entire church. Let’s keep reading to learn more about its functions.

 

1 Corinthians 14:2-5

2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

 

He begins by saying that a person who speaks in tongues is not understood by men but only by God. That's why prophecy is better in a church setting because all people can understand it.

 

Notice also when he says that speaking in tongues builds the individual up, and Paul wants all believers to do it.

 

He then says that if a person speaks in tongues in a congregational setting, there should be an interpreter so that it can benefit the entire church.

 

Notice how this congregational tongue seems very closely tied to the gift of interpretation, which is also mentioned together in 1 Corinthians 12.

 

So far, here is how we can summarize what we’ve learned about the functions (or kinds) of tongues.

 

  1. Paul believed that everyone could speak in tongues; otherwise, he would not have instructed “all” of them to do so.

  2. There seems to be a distinction between two kinds or functions of tongues:

 

  • A congregational tongue that is for the benefit of the whole church. This is the “gift of tongues” mentioned in 1 Cor. 12 that must have an interpretation following it.

 

  • A personal tongue that all believers can engage in that benefits themselves.

 

I’ll make some more distinctions in a moment. Let’s keep reading to get the big picture:

 

1 Corinthians 14:6

Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?

 

Paul seems to be saying one thing in verse 5 when he says that a person who speaks in tongues in a church setting should have an interpreter (congregational tongues that not everyone has).

 

But then he takes a sharp left here in verse 6 when he shifts to the personal tongue.

 

“Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues…”

 

He uses tongues “loosely” and freely, as if any believer can walk up to another person and begin speaking in tongues. This is true.

 

However, in a congregational setting, Paul would not do this because it would not benefit anyone else (unless there was somebody to interpret).

 

1 Corinthians 14:13-19

13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider[b] say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

 

If a person speaks in tongues in a church setting, there should be an interpreter.

 

The last two verses are helpful. Paul states that he talks in tongues more than all of them, but in church, he would rather speak in their normal language so they all can be built up.

 

I hope that you’re starting to see the distinction. All people can speak in tongues (“personal tongues”), but not everyone has “congregational tongues” (this is called the “gift of tongues”).

 

1 Corinthians 14:23

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

 

First, notice that it is indeed possible for the whole church to come together and “all” speak in tongues. Why would he say this if all people could not speak in tongues?

 

The lesson seems to be that the entire church should not come together and speak in their personal tongues at once.

 

If you can picture that in your head, it would definitely look out of order, and newcomers would not benefit.

 

1 Corinthians 14:26-27

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.

 

Notice the phrases here: “When you come together.” Paul is saying that if anyone has a congregational tongue, no more than three should speak, and it should be done one at a time.

 

Here is how this generally looks in a church setting:

 

One person with the gift of tongues will tell the body that they have a message in tongues for the church or simply begin speaking in tongues at a time that seems right to the Holy Spirit.

 

They will speak loudly so the whole church can hear them. When they are finished, another person with the gift of interpretation will interpret the message in all of their native language.

 

I have even seen the person who brought the message in tongues also bring the interpretation.

 

When this happens, it might seem strange, but the message is from God, and it usually brings clarity and power to a service.

 

1 Corinthians 14:31

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,

 

This chapter discusses prophecy and tongues. When Paul says that “all” of the Corinthians could prophesy, it can be safely assumed that this would also apply to speaking in tongues.

 

Again, all true Christians have the ability to speak in personal tongues.

 

Notice how his statement (“You can all prophesy”) seems to contradict what he said back in 1 Corinthians 12 (“Can all prophesy? No.”).

 

But Paul is not contradicting himself. He is making a distinction between the gift of prophecy and a normal Christian prophesying at any given time, as God gives the utterance.

 

The same applies to tongues: There is the gift of tongues that not everyone has, and then there is the ability for a normal Christian to speak in personal tongues, which all Christians do have.

 

We could also say the same about the other gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere in the Bible.

 

For example, there is the gift of healing and the gift of faith, which are special gifts given to some Christians.

 

The person who has a gift of healing has a gift from God to heal that is more prominent in their life and distinguishes them.

 

However, we also believe that God can use everyone in the body of Christ to heal, and everyone has faith. But this is different from the gift of healing and the gift of faith.

 

All Christians can speak in tongues, but not everyone has the gift of tongues.

 

Before we move to the next scripture, let me further prove that all Christians can speak in personal tongues by stepping back into Acts for a second.

 

There are passages in Acts 2 and 19 where they all received the Spirit and began to speak in tongues and prophesy.

 

Why is it that so many people in one setting and on one account could speak in tongues at the same time if tongues was always a gift for only certain people?

 

If tongues was always a gift that only select people have, it’s more likely that only some would have spoken in tongues, and the others would have simply watched in Acts 2 and 19.

 

They also prophesied in Acts 2 and 19. As Joel said, “I’ll pour out my spirit on all flesh,” and they would prophesy.

 

That’s what happens in Acts, and tongues accompany the prophesying. This would hint at the likelihood that what Joel had in mind was that all would prophesy and speak in tongues.

 

1 Corinthians 14:32-33

32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

 

Verse 32 means that a person who is prophesying or speaking in tongues can control it.

 

In other words, it’s not right to view tongues as an ecstatic experience where the person loses all self-control, is oblivious to the external world around them, and is being possessed by God.

 

People often act this way out of ignorance, confusing ecstasy with emotion.

 

Sure, you might feel overwhelming joy when you speak in tongues, but it does not cause you to lose your bodily functions.

 

Further proof of this is verses 27-28, which say that people speaking in tongues should do it in order and, in some circumstances, should just keep quiet.

 

You would not be able to do this if it was an uncontrollable experience.

 

Now that we’ve seen the distinction between congregational tongues and personal tongues let’s answer this question:

 

QUESTION: Should people be speaking in tongues at church?

MY ANSWER: It depends. If it is not in order, and everyone is speaking in their personal tongue at the same time to edify themselves, then no. But if tongues go forth in the congregational form to edify all, or if someone is speaking in personal tongues among themselves at a convenient time, then it is OK.

 

This is important to mention because I’ve noticed many churches that don’t believe all people can speak in tongues.

 

If they’re going to hold to that, they still should not forbid congregational tongues, but they do. It’s as if they ignore tongues altogether.

 

I’ve also noticed that “seeker-friendly” churches discourage tongues during services, and they misuse some of the scriptures we read to teach that tongues in a church setting is never good.

 

Honestly, I think they’re saying this more because they’re following the “seeker-friendly” formula, which is to not do anything at their services that will make people feel uncomfortable and not come back. So, they quietly scoot all tongues out the door.

 

But we have not read anything that discourages the use of tongues in our personal lives or at church.

 

Of course, Paul mentions that there can be a misuse of tongues in a congregational setting, but his solution is not to forbid speaking in tongues altogether:

 

1 Corinthians 14:39-40

39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

 

The idea is simple: Prophesy and speak in tongues in private and also in a congregational setting. But while in the congregation, it should be done in order.

 

Here are scriptures that distinguish congregational tongues and personal tongues:

ONE

Personal Tongues - All spoke simultaneously

Acts 2:1-4, Acts 10:44-46, Acts 19:1-7

Congregational Tongues - One person speaks at a time

1 Corinthians 14:26-27

TWO

Personal Tongues - Does not need to be interpreted

Acts 10:44-47, Acts 19:1-7

Congregational Tongues - Interpretation required

1 Corinthians 14:28

THREE

Personal Tongues - Personal edification

1 Corinthians 14:4

Congregational Tongues - Congregational edification

1 Corinthians 14:12-13

FOUR

Personal Tongues - Everyone can engage in

1 Corinthians 14:5

Congregational Tongues - Only some have the gift

1 Corinthians 12:30

QUESTION: Why should people speak in tongues?

ANSWER: There are different reasons. When you speak in tongues among yourself, it is for personal edification. When it is done in the congregational form, it edifies the body.

 

Praying in tongues is not “more powerful” than regular praying. God can hear your prayer in English just as easily.

 

You shouldn’t look at tongues as the only formula to “break chains” or the certified way to make things happen in your life.

 

But the Bible does say that tongues builds you up. If I had to describe it in one way, I would say that it builds your faith:

 

Jude 20

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,

 

You should practice speaking in tongues alone to “build yourself up.” When you speak in tongues, your confidence and faith will increase.

 

When tongues are spoken in the congregational setting, believe that it is a message intended to strengthen the whole body.

 

I also believe tongues can be used to demonstrate miracles, witness to unbelievers, and convince them of the Gospel.

 

Such was the case for Jack Hayford, who supernaturally spoke to a passenger on a plane in a pre-Kiowa language. The passenger understood that the message meant something about the light coming down from above. [6]

 

Jack also said that when he spoke this language, it sounded way different from his normal, personal tongues he speaks in his alone time with God.

 

It’s possible that it sounded different because it was a separate function of tongues – God enabled him to speak a known, human language to the passenger to reach him with the Gospel.

 

How Can I Speak in Tongues?

 

You might be asking two questions at this point:

 

“How do I speak in tongues, and why have I not done it yet?”

 

There are a few reasons why I believe a Christian might not have spoken in tongues yet on their Christian journey.

 

ONE: They do not believe in it. Of course, if tongues is something you think is fake, or that only some can do it and you are not one of those people, then you will never seek to speak in tongues.

 

Hopefully, by the end of this study, you’re convinced that you can and should speak in tongues.

 

TWO: They were not aware of it. Depending on where you attend church and the kind of Christian content you receive, it’s possible to go your whole life and never hear about tongues.

 

One reason for this lesson is to make you aware of tongues.

 

THREE: They don’t prioritize tongues. Again, some environments might quickly mention tongues every now and then but don’t primarily focus on it.

 

There are churches that believe in tongues to a certain extent, but they just don’t emphasize it because they’re too busy carrying out other visions they deem more important.

 

FOUR: They believe God is supposed to possess them to do it. We already learned that this is not how tongues happens. You control your ability to speak in tongues.

 

FIVE: They’re still trying to use human reason. I might tell them, “Speak in tongues.” And they would respond, “But I don’t know how to speak that language.”

 

This shows me that they’re trying to do it in their flesh. Of course you don’t know how to speak in tongues; God will give you the utterance as you loose your tongue.

 

In a sense, speaking in tongues is done by meeting God halfway - He’ll do it through you, but you have to open your mouth.

SIX: Other various reasons. Other minor things could be keeping them from tongues, such as:

 

  • They are embarrassed to do it.

 

  • They think it’s a bit odd.

 

  • They fear they’re going to go in a trance.

 

  • They fear it might be them doing it and not God.

 

If you’re ready to get rid of all these excuses, here is how to speak in tongues: There is no formula.

 

You cannot be “taught” how to speak in tongues like any other language. Remember, tongues is a supernatural ability, whether it be a human or spiritual language.

 

Therefore, you simply have to get rid of the excuses and fear, step out in faith, and open your mouth and begin to speak in tongues.

 

God gives you the utterance, so He might give you the words to say in your head first. But if He doesn’t, you just have to open your mouth and begin to form the words.

 

Try speaking in tongues when you’re alone if the shyness and fear is just too crippling.

 

But you have to believe and trust that the outgoing language is from the Lord. The more you do it, the more comfortable it will feel to your natural mind.

 

As humans, we often think of spiritual things as weird. Things like supernatural healing, incarnation, and resurrection seem off.

 

But that’s just your natural mind getting in the way of what your spirit knows. Shake it off, give yourself time, and trust God. You can speak in tongues as God gives you the utterance!

 

Conclusion

 

I hope this study on tongues helped you as much as it did me! Let me know if you have any questions, and drop a comment as well.

Bibliography

[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1100/kjv/tr/0-1/

[2] Sam Storms, The Language of Heaven (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2019), 45.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 630.

[4] Robert W. Graves, Praying in the Spirit (Tulsa, OK: Empowered Life, 2016), 137.

[5] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (AMG International, 1992), 376.

[6] Jack Hayford, The Beauty of the Spiritual Language (Southlake, TX: Gateway Press, 2018), 94-95.

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LAST UPDATED: 02/06/24

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About Pastor Jamey

Jamey is the co-pastor of New Covenant Church in El Campo, Texas. He has served in ministry for over 10 years, teaching and preaching the Gospel of grace. He is the author of How to Understand the Bible in 30 Days, a simple guide that helps Christians everywhere understand the bigger picture of the Bible, along with how to study it properly and foundational truths. He continues to serve as a pastor and run newcovenantway.com.

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