Bible & Theology

What About Tongues?

Question: Is there anything in the Bible that makes it clear if “tongues” are “ok”?  I’ve never been for it and in fact it almost seems on the evil side to me. A lot of that probably comes from being taught that the way people used them wasn’t of God.

Great question! The sound-bite answer is, “Yes, there is a gift of kinds of tongues. Provided it is used for edification and according to the NT guidelines, God commands us not to forbid to speak in tongues (1 Cor. 14:39).” Beyond sound bites, let me list essential NT teaching:

1. Only two New Testament books actually mention the gift of kinds of tongues: Acts 2, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12-14.

2. All the NT evidence points toward the gift of kinds of tongues being languages not babble sounds. Specifically, the word ‘tongues’ refers to languages that can be interpreted into other languages.

3. The KJV added “unknown” before tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 to indicate that the language needs to be interpreted, not that they are languages no one has ever heard before (14:2, 4, 13, 14, 19, 27). The word “unknown” isn’t part of the original Greek text.

4. If this gift is exercised without love, it is empty and ineffectual (1 Cor. 13:1). As such, possessing a gift is not a basis for spiritual pride (1 Cor. 4:7), but rather an opportunity to serve others through love (Gal. 5:13).

5. The Holy Spirit does not give the gift of kinds of tongues to every believer (1 Cor. 12:30; 14:5). It is not, therefore, a necessary sign of salvation or of being filled with the Spirit.

6. The primary purpose of the gift of kinds of tongues is to edify other believers (1 Cor. 12:4-7; 14:12, 26-28).

7. Those who have the gift cannot edify others with it unless they also have the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 14:2; 13-14).

8. Speaking in tongues is not an uncontrollable phenomenon. A believer with this gift has the ability to control its expression in public gatherings (1 Cor. 14:26-28, 40).

9. The Holy Spirit gives strict guidelines for using the gift of tongues in a group setting:

9a. Two or three people only may speak in a tongue during a service (1 Cor. 14:27a).

9b. They must speak one at a time (1 Cor. 14:27b). In other words, no more than one person should use that gift at a time. This rules out corporate speaking or praying in tongues.

9c. There must be interpretation so that the rest of the group can understand what is being said (1 Cor. 14:27c).

9d. If there is no interpreter, the gifted person must keep silent and may speak to himself and to God (1 Cor. 14:28).

9e. Do not forbid to speak in tongues (1 Cor. 14:39).

9f. All things must be done appropriately and in an orderly fashion (1 Cor. 14:40).

10. Using the gift of kinds of tongues in the church without interpretation can damage the church’s witness with unbelievers and give it the reputation of madness (1 Cor. 14:23).

11. The gift of prophecy is greater than speaking in a tongue because it requires no interpretation for the church to be edified by its use (1 Cor. 14:1-5, 16-19; 24-26).

12. The gift of tongues also serves as a sign to unbelievers, and not to believers (1 Cor. 14:21-22).

13. When the gift of interpretation is not present, the individual who has this gift may edify himself by speaking to himself and to God internally (1 Cor. 14:4, 28).

14. There will be a time when knowledge, prophecy, and tongues cease (1 Cor. 13:8). However, this text can’t be used to prove that the gifts of tongues and prophecy are no longer operative: (1) Paul doesn’t tell us when these things will cease, (2) knowledge hasn’t ceased, and (3) this passage is followed by Paul’s direction not to forbid speaking in tongues.

For a more extended treatment, let me recommend Nathan Brown’s more extended lesson on this topic found at comeafterme.com/lessons under Basic Doctrines. He does a good job of handling this for new believers.


Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.