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The Biblical Gift Of Tongues

What is the context of I Cor. 12-14?

It deals with Tongues. Paul wrote those chapters to reprove the Corinthians for their misuse of the gift.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Paul was rebuking the Corinthians for using gifts of the spirit selfishly and without love. They were more interested in inflating their own egos than they were in serving one another with the self sacrificing concern that characterizes agape love.

Are Tongues a Heavenly language?

Many charismatic believe that gift of tongues is a private prayer language, a heavenly language known only to God. Paul was making a hypothetical case, like knowing all mysteries and knowledge, giving his possessions to the poor, and giving his body to be burned. Paul was speaking theoretically, suggesting that even if those things were true, without love they would be meaningless. Paul was trying to stretch his examples to the outer limits.

Besides, there is no evidence in scripture that angels use heavenly language. Wherever angels appear in Scripture, they communicate in normal human language. (Lk. 1:11-20, 26-37, 2:8-14)

Are tongues ecstatic speech or languages?

In Acts 2, the unbelieving Jews who were in Jerusalem at the time "were bewildered, because they were each on hearing them speak in his own language" (2:6). It surely was not ecstatic speech.

Acts 2:6
When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Paul insisted that when tongues were spoken in the church, someone should interpret (14:13,27). It is not possible to interpret ecstatic babbling.

1 Corinthians 14:13,27
13 For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.

I Cor. 14:21-22 says that tongues were given as a sign to unbelieving Israel ( ref. Isa 28:11-12). In order to be a meaningful sign, these must have been Gentile foreign languages, not some kind of Angelic speech.

1 Corinthians 14:21-22
21 In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange 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 for believers, not for unbelievers.

Isaiah 28:11-12
11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people,
12 to whom he said, "This is the resting place, let the weary rest"; and, "This is the place of repose"-- but they would not listen.

Abuse of Tongues at Corinth. Is it a prayer language to build up self?

1 Corinthians 14:2
For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.

Paul was criticizing the Corinthians for using their "gift of Tongues" to speak to God and not to men. Paul is not suggesting that tongues should be used as a "prayer language", he was using irony, pointing out the futility of speaking in tongues without an interpreter, because only God would know if anything was said.

1 Corinthians 14:4
He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

Paul was not commending the use of tongues for self-edification but condemning people who were using the gift in violation of its purpose and in disregard of the principle of love ("love does not seek its own - I Cor. 13:5).

1 Corinthians 13:5
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

The Corinthians were using tongues to build themselves up in a selfish sense. Their passion for tongues grew out of a desire to exercise the most spectacular, shown gifts in front of the other believers.

1 Corinthians 14:16-17
16 If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?
17 You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

The tongue speakers were being selfish, ignoring the rest of the people, muddying the message the gift was designed to communicate, and doing it all to gratify their own egos, to show off and to demonstrate their spirituality to one another.


1 Corinthians 13:8
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Charismatic say cessation is your future. Non-charismatic say they ceased with the apostolic age.

History, theology and the Bible say that tongues ceased in the apostolic age. The present day tongue speaking is an aberration similar to the practice of counterfeit tongues at Corinth.

Tongues was a miraculous, revelatory gift, and the age of miracles and revelation ended with apostles.

The last recorded miracles in NT occurred around AD 58, with the healing in island of Malta.

Acts 28:7-10
7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably.
8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.
9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured.
10 They honored us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.

From AD 58 - 96, when John finished the book of revelation, no miracle is recorded.

Miracle gifts like tongues and healing are mentioned only in I Corinthians. An early epistle. Two later epistles, Ephesians and Romans, both discuss gifts of the spirit at length, but no mention is made of the miraculous gifts. By that time miracles were already looked on as something in the past.

Hebrews 2:3-4
3 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.
4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Apostolic authority and apostolic message needed no further confirmation. Before the first century ended, all the NT had been written. The revelatory gifts had ceased to serve any purpose.

Tongues were intended as a sign to unbelieving Israel.

The Lord would now speak to all nations in all languages. And so the gift of languages symbolized not only the curse of God on a disobedient nation, but also the blessing of God on the whole world. Once the period of Transition Old Testament -> New Testament was past, the sign was no longer necessary.

Moreover, the gift of tongues was inferior to other gifts. It was given primarily as a sign (I Cor.14:22) and cannot edify the church in a proper way. It is also easily misused to edify self (14:4) The church meets for edification of the body, not self-gratification or personal experience - seeking. Therefore, tongues had limited usefulness in the church and so it was never intended to be a permanent gift.

1 Corinthians 14:22
Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.

1 Corinthians 14:4
He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

History records that tongues did cease. Paul wrote at least 12 epistles after I Corinthians. And never mentioned tongues again. Peter, James, John, Jude - none mentioned tongues. Tongues appeared only briefly in Acts and I Corinthians. As the new message of the Gospel was being spread. But once the church was established, tongues were gone. In the post apostolic age no one mentioned tongues, writing in fourth century, Chrysostom described tongues as an obscure practice. He said, "The obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place."

What kind of Tongues are being spoken today?

We know of no authentic, proven cases where any charismatic has actually spoken in an identifiable, translatable language.

So how can the phenomenon be explained?

1. Tongues may be satanic or demonic

Not all Tongue speaking is of devil. Satan is often the force behind the phenomena that pass as gifts of the spirit. Behind false religion ( I Cor. 10:20) and counterfeiting truth ( II Cor. 11:13-15) is Satan. Many in the church are susceptible to his lies ( I Tim. 4:1).

1 Corinthians 10:20
No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.
14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

1 Timothy 4:1
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.

Do other religions speak in Tongues?

In East Africa persons possessed by demons speak fluently in swalisti or English.

Today, ecstatic speech is found among different other religious groups and those practicing occult.

2. Tongues is a learned behavior

Most contemporary glossolalia, falls into this category. Charismatic leaders hold seminars to instruct people about how to receive the gift tongues. It is striking that many other different tongue - speakers use the same terms and sounds. Anyone who hears it enough can do it.

Within the charismatic movement, there is great peer pressure to belong, to perform, to have the same gifts and power that everyone else has.

3. Tongues can be psychologically induced.

The tongue-speaker goes into motor automatism, which is clinically described as radical inward detachment from one's conscious surroundings. It results in disassociation of nearly all voluntary muscles from conscious control.

Like the young girls at a rock concert. Given the right set of conditions, particularly where there is a great deal of emotional fervor involved, a person can easily slip into a state where he or she is no longer consciously in control. In such a state, glossolalia can be the result.

How the gifts were transmitted?

Acts 2:43
Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

Acts 5:12
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade.

If miracles were commonly performed by all Christians. Why does Luke emphasize the apostle's miracles and playdown everyone else's?

II Cor. 12:12 "marks of an apostle" therefore miracles were apostolic.

2 Corinthians 12:12
The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders and miracles--were done among you with great perseverance.

How were the miraculous gifts distributed?

2 Timothy 1:6
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Paul laid hands on Timothy.

Acts 19:6
When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Paul placed his hands on them.

Example of Philip (Acts Chapter 8)