|The Pentecostal or Charismatic movement has as one of it central beliefs, that men and women speak in tongues today as they did in the New Testament. This "speaking in tongues" is a supposed manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the individual's life. As some of my charismatic friends tell me, it is evidence (or proof) that the individual has been baptized with the Holy Spirit. It is a supposed gift of the Spirit. The conclusion is, then, that the one who "speaks in tongues" is a true Christian, and all others are suspect!|
Does the Bible really teach this? Let's take a thorough look at this subject to see what the Bible actually teaches on the subject of speaking in tongues.
(For the purposes of this article, when it is given as - speaking in tongues -, I am referring to the Biblical meaning; and - "speaking in tongues" -I am referring to the Pentecostal/Charismatic meaning.)
I think that it is unfortunate that when the Bible was originally translated into English that the Greek word which really means "languages" was translated "tongues." However, we who live today have enough information available to us to determine the difference. No serious Bible scholar would deny that this word really means languages. The apostles were given the ability to speak in unknown (unknown to them) languages. This ability was given to them for specific purposes. Let's examine the purposes for the apostles to be able to speak in tongues.
God gave the apostles the ability to speak in tongues for the following purposes:
Signs - as credentials from God, "A man approved of God."
Wonders - the effect on the witnesses, "They were amazed."
Powerful miracles - the energy manifested, "He healed them."
Gifts of the Spirit - The source of the energy.
They established the authority of the sign worker. Speaking in tongues, as well as the other gifts - healing etc., were given so that the people being taught about Christ would know that the men spoke with authority. Think for a moment how much we today are caught up in the recognition of authority. When someone does something that we do not think they should be doing, our common reaction is, "Who gave you the authority to do that?" If someone was to come to your home today and start teaching you a different doctrine (or gospel), you may ask, "By what authority do you teach these things?" In other words, who sent you, and why should I listen to you? The same is true back in the New Testament days. People were naturally skeptical. There were many people professing to be the Christ at that time. God wanted the people to know, beyond a doubt, that these men spoke with authority - His authority! "Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds." (2 Corinthians 12:12)
It confirmed the Word of the Lord. Not only did these gifts prove that the apostles spoke with authority, but they confirmed that Jesus was speaking the truth. Because the apostles (with the exception of Paul) had been with Jesus during His earthly ministry, and were taught by Him, they (the apostles) taught others the truths that Jesus had taught to them. These truths then, were confirmed to be such by the miracles - including speaking in tongues - that the apostles performed. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:3,4)
Thus we see that these signs, wonders, and miracles were for the expressed purpose of showing by what authority - the authority of God -the apostles spoke; and to confirm that the teachings of Christ - through the apostles - were truly the Word of God.
The authority of the apostles being established, and the Word of God being confirmed, the New Testament writers have given us a written record of these events and teachings. This written record has been preserved by God and passed down from generation to generation so that we may have it today. Therefore, is it necessary for God to confirm again the authenticity of His word? Is it impossible for us who are living today to accept by faith that the Bible is the Word of God? Is anyone who "speaks in tongues" today denying that the Bible is the Word of God? If not, then why must they feel compelled to confirm it again to us?
Let's look at the sign of tongues specifically to see how it confirmed the Word of God.
"And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs." (Mark 16:20) This passage is the last verse of the book of Mark, and is really a summation of what the apostles did after Jesus ascended into heaven. It plainly - and truthfully - states that the signs performed by the apostles confirmed the Word of God.
"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:4) "And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language." (Acts 2:6) "And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born." (Acts 2:8) "... we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful words of God." (Acts 2:11) (To save space we have selected just these passages. Please read Acts 2:1-13) This ability - to speak in languages unknown to the speaker - was fulfillment of the promise which was made in Acts 1:8: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." In other words, in Acts 1:8 Jesus promised the apostles that they would receive power to witness of and for Him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. This power is given to them in Acts 2 in the form of being able to speak in languages and dialects that they - the apostles - had never been trained or schooled in.
We see then that the speaking in tongues was functional - it had a purpose. It made it possible for the apostles to be able to speak the Word of God to the people assembled in Jerusalem from all over the world in their - the people's - own language. The benefit was that all those assembled heard the word of God; "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them." (Acts 2:41) Can those who "speak in tongues" today claim any such benefit?
"While Peter was still speaking these words,, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak in tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 'Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?'" (Acts 10:44-47)
Those in the Charismatic movement claim that the above passage proves that "speaking in tongues" is for today. However, please note what is said in verse 45: "And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished..." In other words, "those of the circumcision who believed" (or Jewish Christians) were astonished that this event had happened. Why? Because it was only natural for the Jews to accept that Gentiles were not part of the Christian kingdom just as they had not been fully accepted by the Jews. This event made it very clear that God considered the Gentiles just as much eligible to be sons of God through Jesus Christ as the Jews were. This event prompted Peter to say, "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"
Again, the speaking in tongues was functional - it had a purpose! Can those of the Charismatic movement today claim any such benefit for "speaking in tongues" today? No! Why? Because we today fully accept that the Gospel is for anyone who believes.
Briefly, there are two other events of speaking in tongues which we need to address. First in Acts 19:1-7 we see some disciples of John the Baptist speaking in tongues. Again, speaking in tongues had a specific purpose. It was necessary for these followers of John the Baptist to see that Jesus Christ was the one that John the Baptist spoke of. These twelve would then be able to witness to the other followers of John the Baptist that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.
In 1 Corinthians 12-14 we have a long treatise about the gifts of the Spirit, including speaking in tongues. This treatise was given for the purpose of confirming the apostleship of Paul so that the people would know that Paul spoke with authority. "If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord." (Acts 14:37)
Once again, we see in both of these cases that the ability to speak in tongues was given for specific purposes. In every case of speaking in tongues - as well as the other signs, gifts, etc. - that we find in the New Testament, the purpose was to confirm the Word of God, and/or to establish the authority of the apostle. Can those in the Charismatic movement today genuinely show that their "speaking in tongues" has the same purpose or benefits that the speaking in tongues of the New Testament had. If they can, then their "speaking in tongues" is genuine; if they cannot, then their "speaking in tongues" is not Scriptural and therefore subject to perversion.
I am sure that there are many people in the Charismatic movement who really believe that "speaking in tongues" is a sign from God. I do not doubt the sincerity of the vast majority of those people. (I do doubt the sincerity of many of their leaders because they are supposed to be Bible scholars, and as such should know better.) I do not write this article to offend them or belittle them. If they are truly trying to live a Christian life and do the will of God, then I love them as a brother or sister in Christ. However, I feel that they should be careful and examine the Scriptures to see what the Bible really teaches on this subject. If any church leader can be this incorrect in Bible teaching, then that same leader can be wrong on other subjects. If one is teaching incorrect doctrine as it relates to salvation, then that person is keeping people who follow their teaching from realizing salvation through Christ. The Bible does not give points for being sincere! One receives salvation through obedience to the Gospel, period!
Part 1 of this subject has dealt with the Scriptural aspects of why I don't "speak in tongues." In part 2, I will give some personal reasons - apart from the Scriptures - that I do not "speak in tongues."
All Scriptures quoted are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
About the Author
Stephen Kingery is an author, preacher, teacher and founder of The Home Bible Study Institute.
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