The issue of "tongues"
in churches continues to grow in intensity and in the amount of confusion
it causes for believers. The problem seems to be causing many good believers
to question, "Am I missing out on something?" Certainly sincere
Charismatics would say you haven't arrived spiritually until you've
had the second blessing demonstrated in the use of tongues. Charismatics
are quick to point out 1 Corinthians 14:39, "...and forbid not
to speak with tongues."
The big question: is the modern day tongues phenomenon a representation
of Biblical use of tongues. To answer that question we must first determine
what "tongues" are, see how they were used in Scripture, and
finally study the regulations set out in the Bible controlling the use
The main debate revolves around the disagreement about the definition
of tongues. It is at this point where the paths diverge. Some give convincing
arguments that "tongues" mean "ecstatic speech."
It can be referred to as "Heavenly Language" or language not
known to men. The main verses used to support this argument are in I
1 Corinthians 14:2
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
1 Corinthians 14:14
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding
1 Corinthians 14:15
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.
Apparently the Corinthians,
based on I Corinthians 14, did have a use of "tongues" that
may not have been a known language. But the question remains, was that
a Biblical use of tongues? At this point it is worth mentioning that
tongue-speaking existed in Corinth before Christianity came around.
Corinth was a city of idol worship. Many of the Corinthian Christians
had previously been heathens who worshipped the goddess Diana. They
often made use of "unintelligible language, or gibberish. They
believed that these ecstatic words were revealed by a god or spirit.
This was thought to put the worshiper into intimate contact with his
god."(1) The Corinthian Christians had a
habit of incorporating their heathen ways into their Christian practices.
Paul wrote to correct that problem! Paul very tactfully points out a
number of problems with the tongues at Corinth. It was not a Biblical
use of tongues.
Every time there is a recorded use of "tongues" in Scripture,
with one exception, the word "glossa" is used. Glossa meant
a spoken tongue or language. The one exception is in Acts 2:8 where
the term dialect is used, and even more obvious reference to a known
language. Paul raises a distinction between what the Corinthians were
doing and what he saw as the proper use of tongues. The "heavenly
tongues" were in reality heretical tongues!
Tongues are useful only when understood. I Corinthians 14 exalts prophesying,
proclaiming clearly understood truth. The use of tongues was useless
unless there was an interpreter. "Interpretation of tongues"
could be rendered "translation of tongues." An interpreter
who knew how to translate the language of the tongue being used had
to be present. Paul's point is obvious. If the Corinthians were using
"ecstatic speech" there would be no one present who could
Note the passages in scripture that speak of tongues. Very few passages
actually deal with the use of tongues. Isaiah 28:11,12 prophecies of
the proper use of tongues.
For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to
rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
Stammering lips describes
the guttural or staccato type language of the nations surrounding the
Jews. In comparison the Hebrew language was smooth and flowing.
Another tongue means a foreign
The actual use of tongues began at Pentecost in Acts 2:4-13. Clearly
the tongues mentioned here are known languages. The purpose of the tongues
throughout Acts [Acts 2:4-13, Acts 10:46,
Acts 19:1-7] was to show a sign of the commencement of the church age,
the arrival of the indwelling Holy Spirit!
I Corinthians 12,13, and 14 address the problems that had arisen around
the heretical use of tongues in Corinth. Paul expresses concern in chapter
twelve over the wrong emphasis on spiritual gifts leading to pride and
In chapter 13, using the principle of mature "agape" love,
Paul shows how irrelevant prophecy (the gift of revealing divine truth),
tongues, and knowledge (a gift to teach believers doctrine not yet recorded)
will be in comparison. The church age was in its infancy at the time
of the writing of I Corinthians. Charles Ryrie says, "There are
stages of growth within the present imperfect time before Christ's return.
After the Church began, there was a period of immaturity, during which
spectacular gifts were needed for growth and authentication (Hebrews
2:3,4). With the completion of the New Testament and the growing maturity
of the Church, the need for such gifts disappeared."(2)
I Corinthians 13 as in chapter 12, Paul de-emphasizes the role of tongues
in the church. He also said there would be a time coming when these
spectacular gifts would no longer be used. They would be put away. When
we understand the profitable use of tongues as shown in I Corinthians
14:6, we can see tongues were no longer needed after the completion
of inspired Scripture (Rev. 22:18).
The regulations listed in
I Corinthians 14 clearly show that the modern day emphasis on tongues
is anything but Biblical. The rules set forth are as follows:
1. Use tongues for Authentication.
I Corinthians 14:22. Tongues were to be used to authenticate the truth
to those who would not believe.
2. Don't let tongues be a
hindrance in church. I Corinthians 14:23. If an unbeliever comes to
church and hears "tongues," he's going to write the believers
off as a bunch of crazies.
3. Make sure all is edifying,
building others up. No self glory.
I Cor. 14:26
4. Tongues are limited to
2 and at the most 3 individuals. I Cor. 14:27
5. Interpreter must be present,
otherwise silence is mandated.
I Cor. 14:28
6. Women keep silence in
the churches I Cor. 14:34
7. Forbid not to speak in
tongues according to the guidelines.
I Cor. 14:39
8. Make sure there is no
confusion. I Corinthians 14:33,40
Each of the rules given
I Corinthians 14 have obvious reasons. If any one of these regulations
set forth in Scripture is violated, we know based on objective fact
that the "tongue" use is not valid.
Study the current Charismatic tongues usage. The question of whether
it is Biblical or not can be answered simply through systematic comparisons
with Scripture. The use of tongues at the beginning of the church age
was for a sign, especially to the Jews, to given authenticity to God's
leading. The tongues used in Scripture were always known languages not
previously studied or learned. Another individual who knew that language
had to be present. The tongues the Corinthians were dabbling in probably
included "ecstatic utterances," but Paul clearly showed he
in no way agreed with such practice. That practice had its roots in
The greatest danger in our day regarding tongues comes when a subjective
faith based on experience replaces the objective faith we have in inspired
Scripture. That is what happens when "ecstatic speech" is
uttered. The final authority becomes the experience. "Ecstatic
Speech" opens the way for the possibility of satanic influence
becoming the authority.
(2) Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978),