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am060307-What The Bible Teaches About Speaking in Tongues - Part 1

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As many of you are aware, the topic before us this morning is one of great concern for every believer.  We have Christian friends that would tell us that speaking in tongues is an evidence that we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Should we speak in tongues today? Is it a spiritual gift for everyone? This has been a topic of conversation for over a hundred years and has caused many problems in the church.

The greater issue is that it brings to the forefront that experience defines truth.  If I experience it, it is true and if my experience is not supported by the Scriptures then we must be misinterpreting the Scriptures.  Bottom line; experience is more authoritative than the Scriptures.

Prayer:  Let’s ask for clarity as we speak regarding this subject.

First, let’s understand that the word for ‘tongues’ is the same word whether the Scriptures are referring to one’s physical tongue or a language.

Secondly, let’s understand that the Book of Acts records the actual speaking in tongues in three passages-chapters 2, 10, and 19. It is from these chapters we observe the proper use of speaking in tongues.

Next week, we will study the book of First Corinthians and observe how God responded to the misuse of speaking in  tongues.

The key verses to understanding the tongues issue is to understand the purpose for speaking in tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:21-22
In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people (Israel), and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.

We must do some background work so that we will understand what this means.  To do this, we must go to the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy 7:6-11.  (14th century)

Deuteronomy 7:6-11
“For you (Israel) are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; 10 but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. 11 “Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them.


Some three hundred years later…

1 Kings 8:59-61
“And may these words of mine (King Solomon’s blessings at the Temple dedication), with which I have made supplication before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that He may maintain the cause of His servant and the cause of His people Israel, as each day requires, 60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no one else. 61 “Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as at this day.”



Some 200 years later, there is a Jewish prophet by the name of Jonah who God commissions to go to a city of Nineveh (nĭn'ə-və - present day northern Iraq) and tell them about Israel’s God.

Observe Jonah’s attitude toward non-Jews which was typical of the nation of Israel.

Jonah 4:1-3
But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. 3 “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”

The prophet Isaiah states some 30 years after Jonah that God will take Israel into captivity by a nation of a different language

Isaiah 28:11-13
Indeed, He (God) will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue, 12 He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,” And, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen. 13 So the word of the Lord to them will be, “Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there,” (drunkard’s sarcastically mocking response to corrective advice from the prophet.) That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.

 (You wont’ listen to God, so I will speak to you a foreign tongue-language).


Jeremiah 5:15
“Behold, I am bringing a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel,” declares the Lord. “It is an enduring nation, It is an ancient nation, A nation whose language you do not know, Nor can you understand what they say.


600 years later during the ministry of Jesus on earth….


John 4:9
Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)


By the time of Christ, the nation of Israel believed that salvation was only for Israel and no other nation was worthy of God’s blessings. For a Jew to hear a Gentile exalted the God of Israel would have been blasphemy.  Paul is giving his conversion account and commission before the Jews in Jerusalem

Acts 22:21-23
“And He (Jesus) said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” 22 They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” 23 And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air,

Now, we can determine the purpose of speaking in biblical tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:21-22
In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people (Israel), and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.


Speaking in tongues was for the purpose of a sign to Jews who did not want to believe in salvation to the Gentiles.  For a Jew to hear anyone exalting God in a Gentile language was blasphemy; it was an offense worthy of death! Tongues was a sign to the Jew that God was saving both Jews and Gentiles and placing them into the Body of Christ. Jew and Gentile had become one in Christ!

Now, let’s observe the only actual historical accounts in Acts.

Acts 1:8
but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

 The first event took place on the Jewish feast day of Pentecost.


Acts 2:4-14,17
And they (12 apostles) were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues (languages), as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men (Jewish men devout in Judaism) from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia (frĭj'ē-ə) and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene (sī-rē'nē) and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”(languages other Hebrew are speaking of God’s mighty deeds)  12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others (those who were not hearing in their language) were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”
But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words….
‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams;

Tongues were a sign to the unbelieving Jews that God was taking the gospel to the nations and through the Spirit Jew and Gentile would become one in Christ. This was the purpose for the gift of tongues.

The next occurrence of speaking in tongues occurs in Acts 10.

Acts 10:44-48
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out (bestowed) on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues (languages) and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.


The apostles struggle with the issue.

Acts 11:1-3,17-18

1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”… (Peter responds to them)17 “Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”


What occurred at Cornelius’ house was the evidence that God was reaching the Gentiles and Peter could go back to the unbelieving Jews and verify it was occurring. Jews and Gentiles were becoming one in Christ Jesus.

The last reference to ‘speaking in tongues’ occurs in Acts 19.

Acts 19:1-6
It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.


They need to know that the gospel was going to the world of nations and not just Israel. Jews and Gentiles were becoming one in Christ.

To those Jews who continue to reject the sign of tongues, judgment was about to fall and finally did in AD 70 and they were scattered to the world.

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.

What the Bible teaches about speaking in tongues is that it is a sign to the unbelieving Jews that God will speak through other languages to the unbelieving Jews. Because of Israel’s rebellion, God is taking the gospel to the nations, He is bringing salvation to the Gentiles and they are becoming one with the believing Jews in the body of Christ.

We can conclude that biblical tongues…

        1. it was only used in presence of Jews.

        2. it was a known language.

        3. it was always used publicly.

        4. it was a sign to the unbelieving Jew that the gospel was              for all people.

        5. it was a sign of judgment to the unbelieving Jew 

In God’s letter to the Corinthians, He states through Paul that throughout the body of Christ there are different spiritual gifts. One of which is the enablement to speak in a language unknown to the speaker but not to the hearer.

1 Corinthians 12:10
and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.


1 Corinthians 12:18, 28-30

But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. …..28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

Please note that no one asked for the spiritual gift; it is determined by the Spirit who received the gift. It was of no value unless it was interpreted so it would be prophetic. Not every one had the gift of speaking in tongues. When the experience is opposed to truth; it doesn’t invalidate the experience! To steal food from WalMart does not invalidate the experience of stealing but that experience of stealing doesn’t make it right to do according to the law!


Through Paul, God addresses the issue at the church in Corinth where Christians using the gift of tongues without an interpreter.


1 Corinthians 14:2
For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God (certainly God understands the language); for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries (no value to the church assembled).

1 Corinthians 14:4-5
One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself (this is not a positive thing); but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues (now I wish that all men were like myself-unmarried – 1 Cor. 7:7), but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.

There was not an interpreter in Acts 2, none in 10, and 19. When would an interpreter be necessary? When there are those who don’t understand the language and it should be interpreted so all hearers can be edify in the church assembled.

1 Corinthians 14:6-39
But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? 7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. 13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret (translate).


14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. 16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. 18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.


20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; (this was true in Acts 2,10, 19) but prophecy  is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men (common) or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad (they are not familiar with the language spoken)? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. 26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; 28 but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? 37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. 38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues (only to be used by the Spirit’s choice).


Clearly, tongues were being abused and misused. Not directed by the Spirit for Paul would never had spoken evil of God, the Holy Spirit’s work in believers.


Are you using your tongue to speak the gospel?


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