In some churches worship involves an emotional display of movement and sound as participants begin to “speak in tongues.” But is this really what is meant by biblical references to those who speak with the gift of tongues?
The New Testament describes the practice of Christians in the first century speaking in languages other than their own, which is generally referred to as speaking in tongues. The most dramatic episode is described in the book of Acts chapter 2.
After Christ’s resurrection, and just before His ascension to heaven, Christ told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from heaven. On the Festival of Pentecost 120 disciples were gathered together when suddenly a sound like the roaring of a mighty wind filled the house where they were assembled. “Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability” (Acts 2:3-4).
The account continues: “At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem...and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers” (Acts 2:5-6). The Greek word here for language or tongue is “glossa,” meaning a known language. The miracle involved speaking in “known languages,” not mysterious babbling no one could comprehend.
These Jews and others who were called ‘God-fearers’ were from Parthia, Media, Mesopotamia, Libya and Rome and would comprise the first peoples to begin spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. God was showing by this miracle the message of salvation was to go to all nations in the world, not just to Israel—the descendants of Abraham.
Another notable passage where speaking in tongues is addressed is in 1 Corinthians 14. Scripture suggests the Corinthians lacked understanding regarding spiritual gifts and, combined with the influence of their pagan past, it resulted in the problems Paul had to address.
Their worship services were disorderly, with members speaking with the “gift” of a foreign tongue being shouted down by others (1 Corinthians 14:26). This led to divisions with some feeling spiritually superior to others, and visitors being turned off by the disorder (1 Corinthians 14:23). Paul explains the gift of tongues or speaking in a foreign language was meant to be helpful and edifying, conveying knowledge, understanding and love. Those who spoke in tongues were meant to be instrumental in furthering the work of God, as was the case in the book of Acts.
Paul instructed if anyone spoke in a tongue or foreign language, there must be someone to interpret, so the congregation can understand (I Corinthians 14:6-17). Instead of several people talking at the same time, they were to take turns speaking while the congregation listened (I Corinthians 14:27-31). Finally Paul writes, “God is not the author of confusion,” (I Corinthians 14:33), leading to the obvious conclusion God was not the source of this chaos.
The Apostle Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) outlines how Christians are to receive the Holy Spirit. He told them to repent and be baptised, in order to receive the gift of God’s Spirit (Acts 2:36-38).
Some may think charismatic speaking in tongues is a sign of God’s presence. But the Bible says to test the spirits to see if they are of God and reveals a better way to receive power from God in order to permanently change your life for the good. Don’t be fooled by a counterfeit religious experience. Speaking in tongues is the gift of being able to communicate in “known languages,” which God gives when He deems appropriate, and those who hear are edified and educated by what is said.
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