Speaking In Tongues
Speaking in tongues is a doctrine that defines a major section of the Christian church.
The christian church is generally divided into Catholic and Protestant.
Protestants are generally divided into evangelicals and pentecostals or the charismatic movement.
The pentecostals are many and rapidly growing all over and everywhere.
Key in pentecostal teaching and attraction apart from freedom from organised denomination issues, is speaking in tongues and miraculous powers and fellowship.
What holds pentecostal entire doctrine together is the teaching of speaking in tongues.
Speaking in tongues is treated as a sign that one has the Spirit of God, it is that Spirit of God that authorises the leader of the pentecostal church to lead, it is that Spirit of God that causes miraculous powers and enhances fellowship.
Therefore a study of the teaching of speaking in tongues is key in appreciating pentecostalism which is a phenomenon in religion that cannot be successfully ignored.
No evangelist can avoid dealing with pentecostals, if he or she is faithful to the command to go to the whole world, since the world includes pentecostals.
The major barrier against pentecostals joining the SDA Church is that SDAs don’t speak in tongues.
Point of Agreement
We all agree that speaking in tongues is biblically listed as a gift of the Spirit
Romans 12: 6-8 “(6) Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; (7) if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; (8) the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
(speaking in tongues is not listed)
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 “(4) There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. (5) There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. (6) There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
(7) Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (8) To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, (9) to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, (10) to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. (11) All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
(speaking in tongues is listed in verse 10)
Ephesians 4:11 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,”
(speaking in tongues is not listed)
All the above three books of the Bible were written by the same author to the three different congregations.
We believe that the list of gifts in the three lists to the three congregations targeted in the above books of the Bible, are different because, the lists are not exhaustive of the gifts that the Holy Spirit can and does give believers. Therefore we know and agree that there are gifts that are from the Holy Spirit, but are not listed in the Bible. The lists given only serve as an example.
We also believe that the gifts listed to each church, were relevant to their situation.
The following gifts are listed repeatedly to all the three churches – Prophecy, teaching
The gift of speaking in tongues, is only mentioned to the Corinthians. Later on we will discover that, the Corinthian church had issues in the use of that gift of speaking in tongues.
If speaking in tongues was so critical and superior to all other gifts, as made to seem by some pentecostals, then, it would probably have been repeated in the list of gifts to the three churches and elsewhere in scripture.
However we note that, we are in a agreement with pentecostals that, the gift of speaking in tongues, is a gift of the Holy Spirit, listed in the Bible.
Point of Departure
The doctrine of speaking in tongues tends to be controversial on two major aspects and therefore needs two questions answered in order to clarify the issues
(1) Should it be a language that exists or a non-existent language bubbled by the speaker?
(2) Is speaking in tongues a key sign that one has the Holy Spirit in their life?
It Has To Be A Known Language
Acts 2:4-12 “(4) All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
(5) Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. (6) When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. (7) Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? (8) Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (9) Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, (10) Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (11) (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (12) Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?””
Acts 10:44-46 “(44) While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. (45) The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. (46) For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God….”
The Acts account clearly refers to known languages, being used while speaking in tongues. The occasion where speaking in tongues happened, had people of various languages coming together, making the gift necessary.
There is no biblical record of people who speak the same language, without any foreigner present, and yet they speak in tongues. The gift had a function, to spend the word of God, and confirm that God had also chosen the non-jews to be believers.
Unknown Languages Unacceptable
1 Corinthians 14:1-25 (Intelligibility in Worship) “(1) Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. (2) For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (3) But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. (4) Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. (5) I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.
(6) Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? (7) Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? (8) Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? (9) So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. (10) Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. (11) If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. (12) So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.
(13) For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. (14) For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. (15) So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. (16) Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? (17) You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.
(18) I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. (19) But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
(20) Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (21) In the Law it is written:
“With other tongues
and through the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
but even then they will not listen to me,
says the Lord.”
(22) Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. (23) So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? (24) But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, (25) as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
The above passage to Corinthians, is the only biblical reference to speaking in tongues being in a non-existent language. The purpose of the above passage is to condemn and not encourage this kind of speaking in tongues. If speaking in tongues in an unknown language was condemned during Bible times of the early church, it should equally be condemned today. If it was unacceptable for Corinthians, it is unacceptable for all believers today.
1 Corinthians 14 was written in a tone and for a purpose to condemn the type of speaking in tongues in Corinth. The type of speaking in tongues being condemned is speaking in non-existent languages. Interpretation of any part of 1 Corinthians 14 should be consistent with the writers purpose – to condemn. When the apostle seems to speak positive, he is asking rhetorical questions and calling their bluff, but not supporting that kind of speaking in tongues. When the apostle writes that speaking in tongues is your mind speaking to God, the apostle is not suggesting that speaking in non-existent languages is speaking to God, all he is doing is calling their bluff, that, if you claim you are speaking to God, then do it elsewhere privately or get an interpreter. The purpose is not to describe the function of non-existent languages but to condemn it using figures of speech that seem to support, but actually, express it’s foolishness. Corinthians spoke in non-existent languages as a show off in worship that they had the Holy Spirit. When the apostle asks them to do it elsewhere, he is not saying it should be done elsewhere, but he is making a fool of themselves using their own arguments. 1 Corinthians 14 was written to totally and completely condemn speaking in non-existent languages.
Speaking in tongues in a non-human language, or a language where none of those present understand, is unacceptable, unbiblical, and not from Christ Jesus. It is not a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Sign of the Spirit in One’s Life
Galatians 5:22-23 “(22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
The clearest sign that you have the Spirit of God and the provided way of knowing it, is by bearing the fruit of the Spirit in your life.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “(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. (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.”
It lists gifts of the Spirit that if one possesses without having the love which is the fruit of the Spirit, it is a waste, it is nothing.
It is possible to have a gift or what looks like a gift of the Spirit, but you still don’t have the Holy Spirit in you.
1 Corinthians 13 clearly shows that you can be gifted in speaking in tongues, prophetic gift, faith gift, generosity gift, etc. But if you lack love which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit – it is a waste. You are not a believer, you are not a christian, you are not heaven bound – because you have the gift but you don’t have the Holy Spirit – and the sign of having the Holy Spirit – is to have the fruit of the Holy Spirit which includes love.
The sign therefore of having the Holy Spirit is not having any of His gifts like speaking in tongues.
The sign of having the Holy Spirit is bearing the fruit of the Spirit in love.
While pentecostals are wrong to think that having the Holy Spirit is by speaking in tongues, do we SDAs and others who think are following the Bible, do we bear the fruits of the Spirit? Do we have love in our churches, communities, families, etc.? If we have vendettas amongst us, tribalism, racism, power struggles, etc. We too, like pentecostals, think we have, but don’t have the Holy Spirit. Therefore don’t be quick to condemn, but examine yourself and pray for yourselves. Both pentecostals and SDAs and others need to have the Holy Spirit and bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Mark 16:17 “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;”
In the consistency of biblical interpretation, speaking in new tongues refers to speaking in languages that exist, but are new to the speaker. During pentecost, languages spoken existed, but were new to the Galileans who spoke those languages. That is why the crowds were surprised that Galileans were speaking in new languages.
New language doesn’t refer to non-existent language.
1. Speaking in tongues is one of the many gifts of the Spirit and its not superior to any hence its not repeated.
2. The acceptable speaking in tongues in the Bible is speaking of known languages understood by people present during the speaking.
3. The unacceptable speaking in tongues in the Bible is the speaking of non-existent languages that are either not understood or are purported to be understood by a few people only.
4. The gifts of the Spirit are not necessarily the sign that one has the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 13.
5. The clearest sign that one has the Spirit of God is to bear the fruit of the Spirit.
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