Speaking in Tongues

I recently received an email asking the following questions:

"I would like a little clarification of your view on tongues...not as to whether or not it is the evidence of the Holy Ghost...but as to its role in Acts and in the epistles of Paul. They seem to be two different types of experiences with the phenomenon of tongues taking place, one of fulfilling prophecy, and the other of speaking from God to man. What of tongues and interpretation? What of praying in tongues? And what of the insinuation of preaching to foreign peoples in their native language even though the speaker does not know it?"

Those are all good questions. In this study I will try to cover most of what the inquirer asked. Included will be personal observations and additional insights that I hope will bring about further group discussion.

This is Bible Study DU008 - Speaking in Tongues

I began my response to the inquirer by saying, "Speaking in tongues is not a major issue in our ministry. I think this is one of the most mistaught and misunderstood areas of teachings today. We do include the giftings in our courses of study so that the peoples will have a better understanding of what the giftings really are."

Rather than give my response in total, let me adapt things to this group. A place to begin is to understand that every gift of the Spirit belongs to the Holy Spirit, therefore, all giftings are workings of the Spirit. When a person is born-from-above they have in themselves the propensity to serve God with whatever giftings the Holy Spirit determines for them. This simply means that the Holy Spirit equips every believer for their own unique calling in God's kingdom. All gifts are grace gifts.

Because of my past experiences in both the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, I have come to believe that most of what is called speaking in tongues today is probably not Biblical tongues. I'm not saying that it is demonic, although it can be. I simply believe because of its misteaching, speaking in tongues today can be placed under the category of programmed behavior. Is it not odd that the only Christian groups where you see people speaking in tongues today are the ones who continually place a stress upon it? Yet these groups have no more power than any other believer. (My own observation.)

The problem is that Pentecostalism tends to major on the minors of the Scriptures. Rather than allow the Spirit of God to equip His people with whatever gifting He determines they need at any time, Pentecostals have managed to place speaking in tongues at the apex of spirituality. It should never have been given the prominence that it has been given.

Here is an illustration to help us understand what happens when you take a minor issue like speaking in tongues and stretch it beyond its Biblical setting. Take a picture of a beautiful woman. Her features are all pleasing to the eye. But her beauty can become ugly if one of her features becomes distorted beyond its setting.

If when looking at her picture her nose begins to get larger, and then larger, and then becomes so large that the rest of her face is obscured, what happens to her beauty? What happens is that the woman has lost her beauty. It was all because of a distorted feature. This is what has happened with the doctrine of speaking in tongues. A beautiful picture has been marred by the 'forced' theology of having to speak in tongues to be saved, or even with the doctrine that speaking in tongues is a sign of higher spirituality.

Now let's come to what distinguished speaking in tongues in Acts, to what was happening at Corinth. This should help clear up some things. On the day of Pentecost, the speaking in tongues was the speaking in known languages of the gathered diaspora. (Jews from the nations who were in Jerusalem for the festivals.) The purpose was to announce the coronation of Jesus Christ. These 120 disciples could be likened to trumpeters who were heralding the King. The languages they spoke were clearly recognizable languages of the peoples.

Listen again: "And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? --- We hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty works of God." (Cf. Acts 2:8,11)

There are only two other examples of speaking in other languages in Acts and then no further mention. Each instance was supernatural utterances in 'known' languages. No interpreter was ever required. Each case was a sovereign act of God.

And here is where we run amuck with what was happening in the church of Corinth. No other church appeared to have this problem. The speaking in tongues in Corinth was always in an unknown language. No one understood what was being said. The tongues had to be interpreted. Here is where we need to understand circumstances.

Corinth was a very unique city. It was filled with temples. These temples, and especially the Delphi temple which was just north of Corinth had priestesses who spoke in tongues. A priest would then interpret what was said.

It appears some of these Delphic priestesses and their interpreters were infiltrating the Corinthians. This is why Paul said, "You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus is accursed'..." The pagan worshippers were drawn to anything that claimed to be a prophetic word. Paul cautioned New Testament believers that they must learn to judge what was truly from God, and what may have been from another spirit.

I would encourage our members to read two studies that I've provided on Hebraic-Foundations. They are:

HF010 - The Charismata 'glossais lalein'

And HF011 - The Corinthian Dilemna

Now let's pick up on something Paul said about speaking in tongues. 1Co 13:1,8: "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noise gong or a clanging cymbal .... [Sense of gibberish, etc.] ... Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease..."

There are all sorts of defenses for what Paul meant or did not mean. The issue I want to draw attention is where Paul says, "If there are tongues, they will cease." Here is the point to be taken. Is Paul talking about the speaking in other languages such as the day of Pentecost, or is he speaking of what was happening in the Corinthian church at the time? It more likely to me that he is saying that speaking of the 'unknown' tongues where an interpretation is required will cease to function as a gift. (Or possibly rare instances.)

Now to make a major point for those with a Pentecostal background. Pentecostals proclaim that speaking in tongues as a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit, is the same today as the day of Pentecost. Yet they declare that the speaking in tongues as a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is 'unknown' tongues. Sorry -- You can't have it both ways. On the day of Pentecost the tongues were clearly understood. Yet the tongues today sound much more like gibberish. Ok, I'll leave that alone for now.

Here is where we need a history lesson. Speaking in 'unknown' tongues as was seen in the Corinthian Church did cease. (For a time.) Did proclaiming Christ in languages not known to the speaker ever happen again? Yes. There are historical records that prove this to be the case. Several years ago a Baptist missionary found that he was able to declare the gospel to a native group of whom he did not know the language. Afterwards he was unable to speak the language again.

Actually there was a revival of speaking in tongues and prophecy about a hundred years after the last apostle left the scene. (Circa 180 A.D.) The movement took up the name Montanism after a so-called priest named Montanus. Montanus claimed to be the one to restore the church to what he considered her pristine state. But he never prophesied saying, 'Thus saith the Lord.' He would say, "I am the Father, the Word, and the Paraclete." Or, "I am the Lord God omnipotent, who have descended into man."

Montanus also had two female prophetess companions who traveled with him. Listen to a prophecy by the one companion, Prisca. After singing in an unknown tongue, Prisca says, "I had a vision of the Christ, come in the glorious form of a woman, arrayed in royal garments of purple and gold. She has inspired me with wisdom of events which will transpire soon. .... This very city, Pepuza, shall be the earthly throne of the Divine One. And She shall come as the Bride of Heaven, arrayed in jewels of light."

Of course like all prophecy movements, Montanism went to seed in heresy. Here is the problem. Every revival in Christendom is always based on a particular issue. These movements begin as a reaction against what is considered to be 'deadness' in the church, with the promise of a return to the powerful early church. But as these revival moments gather steam they continue to feed on 'experimentation.' The teaching of experiences take the place of the true gospel message.

Is it any different today? Let's continue on and see. You must reach your own conclusions.

You can trace the Pentecostal experiment back to Azusa and to Topeka, Kansas. Of course Pentecostals like to say that the early 1900 movement began as a restoration of the church to her early glory. But again there is a problem. There is another group that precedes the Pentecostal movement with the very same claims.

Speaking in tongues did not simply reappear with the Pentecostals in the early 1900s. The Mormons were practicing glossolalia and prophecy in the 1800s. They continue to do so to this day. Here is a recorded prophecy of Joseph Smith. See if you can find anything wrong in it:

"If any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified. But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed..." [Prophecy is from Joseph Smith, Doctrine and Covenants, 132:61-63]

Let's continue. Did you know that speaking in 'unknown' tongues is a factor with just about every occult religion in the world? Fundamental Muslims also practice glossolalia, not to mention Hindus and the Haitian religions of the Caribbean.

See where it gets murky? Where do we make the distinction between what is practiced in Pentecostalism and what is practiced in Mormonism? I'm afraid we are in a murky place when it comes to teaching speaking in tongues as a defining mark of our experience with the Lord.

Here is where I must make a confession. Many years ago I often spoke in 'unknown' tongues, interpreted tongues from others, and prophesied over a number of people, saying, 'Thus saith the Lord.' My heart weighs heavy to this day in how I could become so caught up in that world. It all began in Pentecostalism. How we desperately wanted it to be true. I was such a prime candidate with my passion and idealism.

Was it is my pride? Was it programmed behavior? Was it an overworked imagination? Or was it is as an early Christian writer said, "It comes from a super-hearted human spirit." I claim guilt to all. I also claim forgiveness for it all. What I do know is that I know the voice of my Shepherd. He is the one that called me out of Pentecostalism.

I have long since asked the Lord's forgiveness and have received His cleansings from all that I participated in. He Himself opened my eyes to the fallacy in Pentecostalism, with its flesh, and perhaps even with spirits who opportune those who remain involved in such things.

And His promise remains true: "He calls His own by name and leads them out." And again, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand." (Cf. Jn 10)

Do I have answers to all the questions the inquirer made? Not really. I remain a bit unsettled on the issue of speaking in tongues as a prayer language. I just don't know. I have to leave those things to the side.

Now I prefer to teach what I see as major gospel truths. I preach Jesus alone. But I also know that each person has to work out their own belief system with the help of the Lord. That should not be a problem. He simply tells us not to be mule-headed. Listen:

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you." (Ps 32:8,9)

"Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission."

This study was originally shared on May 18, 2006. It was written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded and pastors Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.

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Page added May 18, 2006


August 23, 1997
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