Signs and Wonders
Speaking in Tongues
This topic has seen great abuse in application in our day. The biggest
abuse is the teaching that the bible teaches that it is a spiritual gift
to speak in a language that is not known by anyone. As we will see the
scripture teaching on tongues are that we have some individuals speaking
in tongues that they did not learn and we have some people hearing in
their nature language that were spoken in another language. Never do we
have a situation in the scriptures where someone speaks in a language
they do not know and that that language is unknown to any hearer.
The speaking in a language not known by the speaker or the speaking in
one language and someone hearing in another language are called signs in
the scriptures. As we will see these signs were present in the early
church. We will undertake this study by looking at each time the
speaking in tongues is set forth in the New Testament.
The Lord gave
signs to the apostles before his ascension back into heaven in Mark
chapter 16. One of the signs he gave was found in verse 17: "And these
signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out
devils; they shall speak with new tongues…"
example of speaking in tongues occurred on the day of Pentecost: Acts
2:3 "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it
sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,
and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them
utterance. 5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out
of every nation under heaven. 6 Now when this was noised abroad, the
multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man
heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and
marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak
Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we
were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in
Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10
Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene,
and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we
do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
If we count up
we find that there were seventeen different dialects listed for us in
the above and all the people of these different groups heard the
apostles and elders speak in their nature language. Further, they
understood what was being spoken because they heard them speak in their
nature tongues "the wonderful works of God." If they had not understood
what was spoken then they would not have known that what the preachers
spoke was "the wonderful works of God." The great miracle here was not
in the speakers but in the hearers hearing in their own tongues.
occasion of speaking in tongues took place when Peter preached the
gospel to Cornelius and his household and friends: Acts 10:44 "While
Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard
the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were
astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles
also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them
speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 Can any man
forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the
Holy Ghost as well as we?" On this occasion we have the speakers in
tongues and the hearers in tongues. Those who spoke in tongues may not
have understood the tongues they were speaking in. However, this is not
plainly set forth. The hearers understood the tongues that were spoken
because they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. If the
hearers had not known the tongues, then how could they know that they
magnified God? The fact is the hearers understood the languages spoken
and knew they magnified God in what was spoken.
In the 19th
chapter of Acts we come across some men who had been followers of the
teachings of John the Baptist. 1 "Paul took these men and baptized them
and then the sign gifts were manifest: And it came to pass, that, while
Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came
to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye
received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We
have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3 And he said
unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's
baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of
repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him
which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard
this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul
had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they
spake with tongues, and prophesied. 7 And all the men were about
twelve." Again, these were not tongues unknown to man, but rather they
apparently were unknown to the speakers. However, they were not unknown
to the hearers, because they "spake with tongues, and prophesied." The
hearers would not have known they prophesied if they did not understand
the languages that were spoken.
1 Cor. chapter 12 speaks to us about spiritual gifts that were present
in the early church. The gift concerning tongues is presented as
1. 10 "To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to
another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to
another the interpretation of tongues:"
2. 28 "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily
prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings,
helps, governments, diversities of tongues."
3. 30 "Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all
As we will see in chapter 13 some of these gifts faded away.
Next, we look at what chapter 1 Corinthians chapter 13 tells us about
1. 13:1 "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have
not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." Here
Paul speaks of speaking with the tongues (languages) of men and of
angels. Some men know multiple languages because they have learned them.
Others in Paul's day spoke multiple languages because of the sign gift
that was given them.
2. 13:8 "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they
shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be
knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy
in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is
in part shall be done away." Paul spoke of a day when prophecies shall
fail and tongues shall cease and knowledge shall vanish. In the early
days of the church we had prophets and apostles prophesying, we had sign
gifts of speaking in tongues and we had special knowledge of the word of
God given to some. When the canon of scripture was complete, there cease
to be a need of prophets and apostles because their work was complete.
There also ceased to be the need of special knowledge because such was
now a part of the canon of scriptures. Likewise, there ceased to be a
need for the sign gifts because God had already authenticated the work
of the apostles and prophets and his word was complete and the church
had everything she needed in the scriptures.
We will now consider 1 Corinthians chapter 14 verse by verse. It is in
this chapter that most of the confusion on speaking in unknown languages
14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that
ye may prophesy. 2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh
not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the
spirit he speaketh mysteries."
The speaker is speaking in a tongue not known to the hearers. God knows
all languages and we can speak to God in our language even if we are
among a people who do not understand our language. If I speak to someone
in English and those people do not understand English, then they will
not understand what I speak. However, God will understand what I speak.
14:3 "But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and
exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue
edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church."
In verse 4 the
speaker is speaking in a tongue he knows because he is edifying himself.
However, the congregation to which he speaks does not understand the
language he is speaking in, because they are not edified.
14:5 "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
When I first
went to Kenya, I spoke in the only language I knew well enough to speak
in which is English. Most of the people to whom I spoke knew little or
no English. Most of them were fluent in Kisii language or Swahili
language. There were a few brethren who knew English well enough to
interpret for me. One brother who knew English and Kisii interpreted for
me and the people received edifying. If no one had knew English then if
I spoke there would have been no edifying.
14:6 "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what
shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or
by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?"
It would be
foolish for me to speak in a language the people do not understand if I
can speak in a language they can understand. If I can speak to them in a
language they can understand then I can speak to them by revelation,
knowledge, prophesying, and doctrine. If I speak to them in a language
they do not understand then I can not do this.
14:7 "And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp,
except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what
is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who
shall prepare himself to the battle? 9 So likewise ye, except ye utter
by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is
spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so
many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without
signification. 11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I
shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall
be a barbarian unto me."
Paul is emphasizing the importance of speaking with words that are
easily understandable. If we fail to speak with words that are easily
understandable, then we, as soldiers of Jesus Christ, shall not be
prepared to the battle. Further, if we do not speak with words easily to
be understood then those who hear us will not know what we are saying.
Further, if those who hear me do not know the meaning of my voice, then
I shall be a barbarian to them and they shall be like barbarians to me.
Clearly Paul is teaching plainly the importance of not speaking to
people in languages they cannot understand.
14:12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek
that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13 Wherefore let him
that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret."
Plainly, the church cannot be edified by me if I speak in a language the
congregation cannot understand. If I do not know the language the
congregation speaks then I need an interpreter. Back during the time of
the sign gifts, I would have needed to pray that God would give me
knowledge to interpret what I said into the language of the
congregation. The speaker is not to speak in a tongue the congregation
cannot understand unless it can be interpreted to the congregation.
14:14 "For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my
understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is it then? I will pray with the
spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with
the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16 Else when
thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room
of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he
understandeth not what thou sayest? 17 For thou verily givest thanks
well, but the other is not edified."
If I did not know the language in which I am speaking, even I would not
have understanding of what I said. In the above scenario, neither the
speaker nor the congregation know the particular language that is
spoken, however, the language is known to some men. Again, to pray or
sing in a language that neither I nor the congregation knows will not
edify anyone. It is a total wasted effort. If I pray or sing with the
understanding in a language the congregation understands then the
congregation will be edified.
14:18 "I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19 Yet in
the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by
my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an
unknown tongue. 20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit
in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men."
Paul emphasizes the importance of being men in understanding. That is
why he said it is better to speak five words with understanding than ten
thousand words in an unknown tongue.
14:21 "In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other
lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not
hear me, saith the Lord. 22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to
them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth
not for them that believe not, but for them which believe."
Paul sets forth the principle that speaking in tongues was a sign gift
and that the sign was to unbelievers. When we speak in the church, we
are not speaking to unbelievers but to believers. Prophesying serves the
believers. Thus, we are to speak with the understanding in a language
known unto the church.
14:23 "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place,
and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned,
or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all
prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he
is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of
his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship
God, and report that God is in you of a truth."
Further Paul states that the unlearned and unbelievers will declare that
you are mad if you speak in a language they cannot understand. Whereas,
if we speak to edifying in a language the congregation understands then
the unlearned or unbeliever may be convinced of the truth and having the
secrets of his heart made manifest by the preached word, he will worship
God and report that God is in you of a truth.
14:26 "How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you
hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an
interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 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 interpret. 28 But if there be no
interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to
himself, and to God."
Here, Paul sets forth a principle that the church is to follow: Any man
who comes into the congregation to speak and he speaks in a tongue not
known to the congregation, then there must be an interpreter. If there
is no interpreter, then he is not to speak. Based on this, then there
should never be someone speaking in the church in a language not known
to the congregation, unless there is an interpreter and the interpreter
interprets to the language the congregations knows. Also, to speak in a
language unknown to the congregation without it being interpreted does
not edify the church and is in violation of the principle Paul stated
above "Let all things be done unto edifying."
14:32 "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches
of the saints."
To speak in a language not known to the congregation only adds confusion
to the church. Further to speak things in a language that I do not
understand and the congregation does not understand is also confusion
and is contrary to the spirits of the prophets being subject to the
14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak
with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Paul did not
forbid the speakers to speak in tongues, but rather that there be an
interpreter so that the congregation can receive edifying. This is the
decent and orderly thing to do.