1 John chapter 4 verse 1 - The Gift of Tongues - JS Gillespie 

The Proof of Tongues – What are they? How do I know them when I hear them? What proves that a phenomenon is tongues? Not as easy as you might think! 

The Purpose of Tongues – Why were they given? 

The Practice of Tongues – How/under what circumstances were tongues used? 

The Priority of Tongues – They seem to be very important to the charismatic movement are they important in the word of God? As Christians are they something we should be seeking after? 

The Presence of Tongues– Are they still around today? 

The Proof of Tongues – What are they? How do I know them when I hear them? What proves that a phenomenon is tongues? Not as easy as you might think! 

 We note first a warning given to us in scripture: 

"Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and [that] no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1Co12:3)  

A warning that not everyone who claimed the gift of tongues had the gift of tongues. I recall the experience of a missionary friend who had to stop someone from participating in a prayer meeting abroad when the brother started to speak in ‘tongues.’ The Christian brother had no idea what he was saying but believed he was exercising his gift of ‘tongues.’ The missionary was able to interpret the ‘tongues’ after the meeting for the benefit of the Christian. It transpired that he was repeating the same phrase over and over again in the language of Papua New Guinea: “curse Jesus, curse Jesus….” There is no doubt that when we surrender self control that we leave ourselves open to demonic influences. It is naive in the extreme to assume that every phenomenon that we experience when we abdicate self control is of God. It could also be of the flesh or more sinisterly of the Devil. 

 Useful to bear in mind that as we read about ‘tongues’ in the scripture that the Greek word “glw`ssa” – “glossa” – translated “tongues” in our New Testament is only ever used of a known human language, or intelligible speech. This translation always fits its usage in the New Testament and is the only proven meaning of the Greek word in secular Greek literature.         

 Suppose today someone claims to be speaking in tongues. As Christians we are not permitted to accept this at face value (1John4:1) we are expected to test the phenomenon, check it out, make sure it is what the person claims it to be. This is not being overly critical, it simply what God expects of us as astute believers (1John4:1). So then what are tongues, as far as the Word of God is concerned? How can I prove that a phenomenon is or is not ‘tongues’? As far as proof is concerned, Biblical tongues were marked by 3 consistent features: (Acts2:1-13) 

Clarity – Tongues represented the ability to speak recognised foreign languages. In the only biblical description we have of what tongues actually were when practiced; (Acts2:4,6,8) – each of the foreigners were able to understand the gospel message in their own language. Hence those listening knew that what they were hearing was the gift of tongues and not gibberish! God gifted the apostles the ability to speak foreign languages to foreigners! A useful and not unreasonable gift! 

Content – Where the content of tongues speaking is given, it was always Christ exalting (Acts10:46) or God Glorifying (Acts2:8). We can’t say for absolute certainty what precisely was said in tongues in Acts 2 but we are given an example of a sermon preached at that time by Peter on that occasion (Acts2:14ff) – the content is very telling he: 

Expounded OT prophecies (v16) concerning Christ 
Spoke of the life of Christ (v22) 
Spoke of the death of Christ (v23) 
Spoke of the resurrection of Christ (v24) 
Spoke of the ascension of Christ (v25) 
Spoke of Christ being the only Saviour of sinners: spoke of Repentance (v38), of faith, of forgiveness of sins (v38), of baptism (v38) 
Spoke of the gift of the Holy Spirit (v38). 

 He preached a full gospel message! 

 Note that Biblical tongues has a very definite content; tongues are not just given so that we can ask directions to the local supermarket in a foreign land! I’m being facetious, but some very trivial events are passed off as tongues today! As any one who reads Charismatic literature or who is familiar with the Alpha course will appreciate: 

 So for example when we read in the alpha course literature that tongues are still operative day and we are given an example of 2 girls praying together; a Russian girl and an English girl. The English girl starts praying in ‘tongues’ and she is stopped by the Russian girl who enquires, does she knows what she is saying? She is repeating the same word over and over again – the word ‘little girl’ in Russian. This is given as evidence that the NT gift of tongues is still operative today? Given the information we have already gleaned does that constitute evidence that the Biblical gift of tongues is still operative today? We would have to confess that it fails to  measure up to the content of the Biblical gift of tongues. 

Confirmation – Because i & ii are true ie. there is clarity & there is Christ centred content then the presence of tongues is confirmation of Divine Working: “the wonderful works of God” (Acts2:11). Please note it is only because i & ii are true that tongues are confirmation of Divine Working. It was because foreign people all heard the message of the Gospel concerning the person of Jesus Christ in their own language that they knew God had spoken! 

The fact they heard their own language was evidence of the supernatural. 

The fact they heard a Christ centred gospel message in their own language was evidence that God had spoken – recall 1John4:2. 

 Had what they heard lacked clarity – ie. they couldn’t understand what was said or had it lacked any Christ centred content then they would not be justified in seeing it as evidence of : “the wonderful works of God” (Acts2:11). 

What are tongues? Conversion of Cornelius (Acts10:14) 

 Not much said of tongues here but they appear to have been both intelligible and intelligent: “For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (Acts10:46). 

 Note again not just the phenomenon is taken as evidence of the Spirit of God but the 2 tests: 

Clarity – The language could be understood 
Content – God was magnified in what was said. 

 This was taken as evidence of the work of God (10:45-47). 

 Notice here that tongues is linked to the receiving of the Spirit at the point of salvation and not to baptism, not to laying on of hands, not to prayer and that the Spirit Himself decides to come and move (v44) – it was a spontaneous movement of the Spirit of God, not sought after, not prayed for in contrast to the erroneous teachings of the alpha course. 

 If tongues today were a genuine gift from God they would come upon all genuine believers not just those who sought after tongues. 

 I have no basis here whatsoever in the idea that someone comes along, puts hands on me, or prays over me and eventually, if I try really hard I will speak in tongues! The Spirit of God moved in Acts 2 spontaneously, the Spirit of God moved in Acts 10 spontaneously! 

 Note too that the reception of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10 was not something which happened after salvation, but this was reception of the Holy Spirit at salvation! 

What are tongues? At Ephesus (Acts19:1ff) 

 The Jews had been brought in and marked by the Holy Spirit (Acts2) 

 The Gentiles had been brought in and marked by the Holy Spirit (Acts10) 

 1 group remained: the disciples of John the Baptist: a prophet who belonged to the intertestamental period: his disciples had part of the truth but not the full revelation of Christ. Here in Acts 19 the disciples of John the Baptist are brought in and marked by the Holy Spirit. 

 Note that tongues here are linked to conversion and not to a post conversion baptism in the Holy Spirit. These new Christians never sought after tongues it happened as a sovereign act of God at the point of salvation. 

 These 3 episodes (Acts Chp2, Chp10, Chp19) represent  all of the episodes of tongues speaking actually recorded in the New Testament. 

 After 3 episodes of tongues in Acts of the Apostles, there is no description/record of this happening again. The only other thing we have on tongues is ministry on its use and abuse (1Co14). 

 We have no recorded examples of tongues being used again 

 We have no record of Christians being instructed to seek tongues 

 We have no record of Christians being encouraged to practice tongues 

 We only have a record of some of the restrictions which applied to it in 

The Purpose of Tongues – Why were they given? 

 Primarily as a sign see 1Co14:21-23. 

This is a  quotation from Isa28:11 a passage prophesying destruction upon Israel. 
The prophecy referred to the Assyrians who spoke a foreign language to the Israelites and later invaded Israel. 
Note Isa28:11 refers to foreign languages and so logically does 1Co14. 
1Co14:22 – Paul lifts out the principle that tongues are a sign to unbelievers – not the domain of believers. 

 Tongues used Biblically and correctly are always linked to the gospel in their use not to believers. 

 Tongues are never used privately, always publicly – there is no scriptural basis for the private use of tongues: 

Tongues have to be exercised in “love” (1Co13:1), ie. With concern for others. 
Spiritual gifts are given for the profit of the whole assembly not for the profit of the individual (1Co12:7). 
As previously noted tongues are evangelical - a sign to the unbeliever (1Co14:22; Mk16:17). 
Can a Christian pray / praise God better in Chinese than in English? A ridiculous suggestion! 

The Practice of Tongues – How/under what circumstances were tongues used? 

 We have no record of Christians being encouraged to practice tongues. 

Clarity /Comprehension: 
 They are human languages "There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them [is] without signification." (1Co14:10) 

 They are intended to be meaningful (1Co14:10) 

 They must be genuine languages which are either understood by those listening or if not then they must be translated: 

" Wherefore let him that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue pray that he may interpret" (1Co14:13) 
" 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. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God" (1Co 14:27,28) 
There is no profit in an uninterpreted tongue (1Co14:5, 14). 

 What about ‘angelic tongues’? Some Charismatics claim the ability to speak a secret angelic language. They claim this on the basis of 1Corinthians chp13: 

Does 1Co13:1-3 indicate that God gifts the ability to speak angelic languages? A non humanly understood language just between me and God? 
Note that: “though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels” occurs as the first in a series of 3 parallel statements; each is an hyperbole or exaggeration. Both of the other statements are quite clearly hypothetical and are not actually true of Paul: “understand all mysteries” – Paul did not understand all mysteries as he clearly states in this chapter: cf. 1Co13:9. Paul had not actually given his body to be burned (13:3). All 3 are examples of hyperbole. We cannot take from 13:1 that either Paul did possess or that God gives the ability to speak with the tongues of angels! 
Angels in scripture, interestingly enough always communicate in human languages, so exactly what the purpose would be in speaking the tongues of angels I’m not exactly sure. Angelic language is certainly not necessary for communication to God. 
Also note in 1Co13:8 that “tongues they shall cease” – there is no reason why angelic or heavenly language should cease. 

 Tongues if genuine ought to build up / edify (v17) – not frighten or cause chaos in the church! 

 Tongues were primarily for Gospel / Evangelical use (1Co14:21-23) to reach out to the foreigner whose language you now speak. 

 This is the idea of Acts2 - Gospel is preached to foreign people 

 Tongues were always spoke with interpretation (1Co14:13,15) 

 There is no purpose to non understood tongues (1Co14:14,19) 

 Tongues were under the control of the speaker (1Co14:32-33) – just as is the case with all spiritual gifts – ministry, evangelism – we don’t just stand up in a meeting, stop the proceedings, and proceed to minister because we are out of control, having been taken over by the spiritual gift! 

The Priority of Tongues – They seem to be very important to the charismatic movement are they important in the word of God? As Christians are they something we should be seeking after? 

 They are not very important! 

14:19 - Not as important as sound Bible teaching 
14:5 - Not as important as prophecy 
13:1 - Not as important as love 

 Is it something we have to seek? If I don't have it, should I try to get 
it? Should I feel I'm missing out if I don't have it? 

 Like all spiritual gifts - teacher / evangelist it was a gift given sovereignly by the Spirit of God (1Co12:7,8) - it is a gift! You don't (normally) specify the contents of a spontaneous gift! We don't ask for a gift, we receive it! 

 If we do not have that gift but instead have other gifts we are instructed 
not to be jealous of another with that gift (12:15, 19, 29-30) 

 1 Co14:1 does instruct Corinthians to prefer prophecy - really as a church, as a whole rather than as individuals. 

 The exhortation of scripture for us as Christian is to spiritual virtues (13:1) not to speaking in tongues. Compare also Galatians 5:22ff. 

 Tongues are not evidence of spiritual maturity; the only NT church recorded as using tongues was the most carnal (1Co3:1ff). 

The Presence of Tongues– Are they still around today? 

 Only 3 actual episodes of tongue speaking recorded 

 All 3 were in Acts of the Apostles, each was linked to the Spirit of God 
as He brought in another group of believers: Jews, Gentiles and Disciples 
of John. 

 All 3 groups have now been brought in and tongues have not since been repeated in this fashion. 

 The apostle Paul seems to put little emphasis on tongues preferring: Love (13:1), prophecy (14:5); understandable Bible teaching (14:19). 

 If tongues are present today we would expect them to be evident and used in the way they are used in Acts 2, Acts 10 and Acts 19: genuine tongue speaking linked to evangelism and marked by Clarity and Christ centred Content. 

 1Co13:8 "Charity never faileth: but whether [there be] prophecies, they 
shall fail; whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease; whether [there 
be] knowledge, it shall vanish away" 

 Tongues were intended as a temporary gift - "will cease" – ‘pauo’ - to cease permanently. 

 If tongues have ceased then they will not start up again 

 Tongues do appear to have ceased before the completion of scripture: 

The last mention is in 1 Corinthians, they do not appear in any later epistles. Paul wrote at least 12 epistles after 1 Corinthians and never mentioned tongues once! 

Later epistles testify to the end of the age of miracles (Heb2:3-4; 2Co12:12) 

Church history strongly suggests that tongues ceased with the end of the apostolic age. 
Both Chrysostom (4th Century) and Augustine stated that tongues had past away by their day. 

The only groups to claim the ability to speak in tongues between the apostolic era and the present day were heretical groups. 

The Greek word used in 1Corinthians13:8 'Cease' is in the middle voice and indicates that tongues were intended to cease of itself. 

A few interesting quotes: 

 "Over a period of 5 years I have taken part in meetings in Italy, Holland, Jamaica, Canada and the United States. I have observed old-fashioned Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals; I have been in small meetings in private homes as well as in mammoth public meetings; I have seen such different cultural settings as are found among the Puerto Ricans of the Bronx, the snake handlers of the Appalachians [and] Russian Molakans in Los Angeles.....Glossolalia is indeed like languages in some ways, but this is only because the speaker (unconsciously) wants it to be like language. Yet in spite of superficial similarities, glossolalia is fundamentally not language." - William Samarin professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto in Mcarthur p278. 

 Where we have claims of tongues speaking today what is going on? 

Is it Satanic? 

 "Many, many times I have walked down ministry lines praying for people with my eyes closed while I prayed with tongues I was able to function as if my eyes were open. I was aware of everything happening around me, BUT MY EYES WERE CLOSED. I felt as though I were in a strange but very vivid dream state...almost asleep in my body, but very aware and alert in my mind. Functioning through another realm IS POSSIBLE. But PLEASE REMEMBER TAHT ALL GIFTS ARE 
NOT FROM GOD." (Former tongues speaker Ben Byrd who eventually came to the conclusion that his extraordinary abilities were "psychic and possibly Satanic powers.") - McArthur p291-292 

Is it Fake? 

Probably most of it! 

Some Charismatic leaders and churches actually teach people how to speak in tongues! 

There seems to be a big psychological component to tongue speaking. 

2 Psychologists Kildahl & Qualben wrote: "Our study produced conclusive evidence that the benefits reported by tongue-speakers which are subjectively real and continuous are dependant upon acceptance 
by the leader and other members of the group rather than upon the actual experience of saying the sounds. Whenever a tongue speaker broke off the relationship with the leader of the group, or felt rejected by the group,the experience of glossolalia was no longer so subjectively meaningful" 

"After extensive study of tongues-speakers, Kildahl and Qualben concluded that people who were submissive, suggestible and dependant on a leader were those most likely to speak in tongues." (McArthur p295) 

 “To determine if someone has the genuine gift of tongues, they should be asked to speak a given language that they do not know in the presence of native speakers of that language. The tongues are under the control of the speaker. If the speaker cannot control the language, then the tongue could hardly function as a sign to any particular group of unbelievers.” (Thomas R Edgar p155)