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Seven Questions  About Tongues Answered

by Kim Harrington 


     And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:4

     Over the past century the subject of "other tongues" has become one of the most widely discussed and hotly debated issues in the church of Jesus Christ. Many are convinced that a genuine revival of New Testament gifts of the Spirit is taking place, while others are just as convinced that the whole thing is of the devil. A good number of sincere evangelical Christians are just confused: their Bible and their pastor seem to contradict one another; they want very much to enter into the fullness of the Spirit, but they do not want to be deceived. They see a lot of things in the "charismatic" churches that really impress them, but they also see some things that are disturbing to some degree. (And, of course, wild stories from "reliable" sources are flying around so thickly that it's almost impossible to sort out fact from fiction.)

     It is not my purpose -- neither is it possible -- to sort out all of the arguments in this little article, and as for the stories, I will not even stoop to discussing some of the insane charges that have been brought against Spirit-filled believers. What we will try to do here is answer some of the legitimate questions that have been raised by people who are really searching for the truth.

     Many people can agree in principle to being filled with the Holy Spirit and even to some of the gifts of the Spirit, such as healing. But they balk at the idea of tongues because of their upbringing, and because it just doesn't seem to make sense to them that God would want everybody to speak in tongues. The following are the seven most often asked questions on the subject...


     Question #1. Is The Baptism In The Holy Spirit And The Gift Of Tongues For Us Today? Peter answers this very simply in Acts 2:38,39. "Repent and be baptized... and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."

     There is no evidence here of any exclusiveness at all regarding the promise of the Holy Spirit. It doesn't matter what age you live in or what race you are of -- the promise is to everybody who has become a genuine believer in the Lord Jesus Christ through repentance and faith. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is for the early church, their believing children, and to all those generations who are afar off. And remember that Peter is speaking in the immediate context of the upper room and the gift of tongues that was being manifested on that day. It is not unreasonable to assume he meant the whole package. But more on that later...


     Question #2. Doesn't The Bible Say That Tongues Will Pass Away?  I Corinthians 13:8 says "whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." Many opponents of the modern Pentecostal/charismatic movement have used this verse to support their claim that the gift of tongues was a temporary phenomenon, to be used only by the early church. What they conveniently ignore is that the same verse says that prophecies shall fail, and knowledge shall vanish away. Yet we still study prophecy and we still seek the knowledge of the Lord, don't we? We must be consistent in our interpretation of the Bible, or we undermine our own positions.

     What does this passage mean? Read the context to find out. Tongues, prophecy, and human knowledge will indeed cease, but when? "When that which is perfect comes," that is, when we are perfected and no longer need spiritual gifts (vs. 10). Tongues will cease when we see Christ "face to face," and when we "know as we are known," and no longer need to communicate on the level we now do (vs. 12). Even faith shall cease, for we shall see Him as He is; and hope, for all our hopes will be realized at the resurrection. In the meantime, however I'll hang on to all of these graces of the Lord, including tongues (vs. 13).


     Question #3. Doesn't The Bible Encourage Us To Have Love, Instead Of Spiritual Gifts? I Corinthians 12:31 says, "covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way," and then goes on to speak of love throughout chapter thirteen. Paul concludes this discussion in 14:1 by saying, "follow after love and desire spiritual gifts."

     I don't see that this is an either/or proposition at all. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to earnestly desire the gifts of the Spirit, but cautions them to operate in love, not in pride or self-exaltation, because they are gifted. We are to have both love and gifts, not choose between them. Both proceed from our God. Let's not despise any of His freely given graces, but let's receive them and use them in the proper spirit.


     Question #4. Don't Some People Have Other Gifts Instead Of Tongues? I Corinthians 12:30 appears to suggest that. It says, "Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" The context here is ministries in the church, and Paul mentions tongues along with apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. (see verses 28 and 29). Obviously, every believer is not called to be an apostle, and neither is every Christian called to a public ministry of tongues and interpretation.

     Private devotional use of tongues is an entirely different case, however. In I Corinthians 14:5 the apostle says, "I would that ye all spake with tongues" or "I want you all to speak with tongues" (RSV). Jude tells his readers to be "building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost." In Acts 2:4. 10:44, and 19:6, the Bible records that all of the believers spoke in tongues when the Holy Spirit came upon them. This was the norm in the early church. Everybody spoke in tongues, but not everybody was called to minister that gift publicly. The great majority were instructed to speak to themselves and to God, for personal edification (I Cor. 14:4,28).


     Question #5. Does A Person Have To Speak In Tongues To Have The Baptism In The Holy Spirit? This question is a lot like the last one. We believe, according to the scriptural precedent, that if you're baptized in the Holy Spirit you will speak in tongues. This may not seem like the smartest thing for God to be doing, according to some people's way of thinking; but it's the way He did it in the book of Acts, and it's the way it's still happening today.

     And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:4

     And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

Acts 19:6

     And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished... because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.

Acts 10:45,46

     The last scripture is especially interesting. The Jews knew that the Gentiles had received the gift of the Holy Ghost. How? "For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God." They apparently regarded tongues as evidence enough.

     In Acts nineteen, the Ephesian disciples were already believers in Jesus Christ. Paul didn't ask them if they knew about Jesus, but he did ask them, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" When they indicated that they hadn't, he laid hands on them and they spoke in tongues--and some even prophesied. Paul was then satisfied that they had received the baptism in the Holy Ghost.

     In Acts 8:17 no specific mention of tongues is made in reference to the Samaritans' baptism in the Spirit. However, Simon the sorcerer saw some visible manifestation that the Holy Ghost had indeed come, for he immediately offered money for the ability to call down such power. He couldn't have seen the fruit of love or holiness in the people's lives -- there wasn't time. A quick survey of similar incidents in the Bible tells us he probably saw them speaking in new tongues.

     We can conclude then, that the gift of tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. You may experience the anointing of the Spirit, and be used of God in many ways without speaking in tongues, just as men of God in the Old Testament did. The "baptism" in the Holy Spirit, however, as exemplified in the Acts of the Apostles, will be accompanied by this utterance gift. It's a brand-New Testament gift ordained of God to initiate the brand-New Testament dispensation of the Spirit, prophesied by Joel hundreds of years earlier. And, praise God, it's still around today!


     Question #6. Is Every Utterance In Tongues Supposed To Be Interpreted?  The answer to this is found in I Corinthians fourteen. This is the chapter that teaches the proper use of the utterance gifts -- you should read it in its entirety.

     Tongues should be strictly governed in the public church service. "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" (I Cor. 14:27). Likewise, in reference to the public service and the edification of others, Paul says in verse thirteen, "let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret."

     Private devotional use, however, sees the gift in an entirely different context. You're not worried about other people stumbling, or understanding, because you're alone. You're speaking "mysteries," and you're speaking "not unto men, but unto God" (verse 2). Verse 28 suggests that not all Spirit-baptized believers have the gift of interpretation, but it encourages them to speak in tongues to themselves, anyway.

     One of the chief purposes of tongues seems to be to allow our spirit, with the Holy Spirit, to pray at a level that goes beyond our natural understanding (see I Cor. 14:14, and Rom. 8:26). It would defeat the purpose if you had to interpret everything, thus bringing it back to the realm of intellectual understanding. Sometimes, of course, the Lord would wish you to interpret even in your private devotions, but generally this would not be the case.


     Question #7. Is It Possible To Get A False Gift Of Tongues?  One prominent evangelical preacher has caused many young Christians untold confusion by suggesting that tongues can be produced by "psychological influence," and even "satanic influence," as well as by the Holy Spirit. He cites the testimony of a "recently converted street fighter" to substantiate his conclusions. It's unfortunate that he didn't turn to the Bible instead, before making such serious implications

     The Word of God, in fact, speaks with certainty--and comfort--on the subject...

     If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Luke 11:11-13

     Serpents and scorpions are symbolic of demons in the Bible. Jesus is making a special point of saying, "If you ask for the Holy Spirit you'll get the genuine article, not a counterfeit!" He then proceeds in the same chapter to denounce those who attribute the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan and Beelzebub. You needn't fear on this point, brethren. Your Heavenly Father isn't going to let you innocently stumble into a false gift while earnestly seeking a deeper walk with Him. He has promised you safety in His Word.

     It's also not very likely that you could make up your own tongue. You never could before, so what makes you think you can now? Surely, the God who can keep you from satanic deception can surely keep you from self-deception, if you're humble and sincere before Him.

     Experience and observation has shown us that those who speak in tongues generally manifest the fruit of the Spirit in every other way, too. They evidence a new liberty and joy, a quicker understanding of spiritual truths, and a greater zeal for the Lord. (This is not to say that they're perfect overnight; but the change is noticeable.) Like many young Christians, I had some doubts about the validity of my own tongue--until an older brother began to point out all of the other fruit in my life since I had been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

     Today, I rejoice in the powerful and beautiful Christian life I'm able to live because of the infilling of the Spirit of God. And today, as in the first century church, the gift of tongues is very much a part of that experience. I hope you won't balk at what God has for you, but take a step of faith and enter into the fullness of the Spirit.


Scripture references taken from the King James version of the Holy Bible

Copyright 1998 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.


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