Speaking in Tongues Today?

A friend sent me: The Biblical Truth About Speaking in Tongues, as well as some other notes he’s been thinking on the subject.

Since this is a topic that comes up quite a bit, I thought it might be helpful to make my response public:

My Response

This is wonderful to read and hear. I love that you’ve thought a lot about this and stand on convictions based on what you see Scripture teaching. Further, there’s a lot of great things that you (and the video) bring up. Much to be celebrated and agreed on!

I have also thought (and taught) that Pentecost is the “undoing” of Babel, and that tongues are meant to catalyze sharing the gospel in other languages (I actually know a story where a man in the 1900s was in Italy trying to share the Lord through an interpreter, then he started speaking fluent Italian by the Holy Spirit without ever studying [while the interpreter was no longer needed]).

Affirming all that, I’d like us to consider a few other Scriptures:

  • Acts 2:4 shows “all” the believers speaking in tongues. That’s roughly 100+ people (see Acts 1:15) speaking tongues at the same time. This would violate the principle of always doing it privately.
  • Acts 10:46 – here you have a sizeable group of people all praying in tongues. It doesn’t appear that they were speaking to non-believers in their other languages.
  • Acts 19:6-7 show 12 people speaking in tongues at once. Like Acts 10, it doesn’t appear this instance was spoken to non-believers in other languages.

These passages show me that there are at least exceptions we should allow for before we making a rule/law that people only speak in tongues in private. Or only speak in tongues when they are speaking the gospel cross-culturally.

This should bring us to 1 Cor. 14. The point of that chapter is how to best meet as a church. In the backdrop, it seems, a lot of the church was getting together and speaking in tongues like a “spiritual badge of honor”. It was truly chaos and babel–not good. So Paul has to come in and correct this. And he corrects it by pointing to the whole purpose of a church meeting: namely, “so that the church may be edified,” (1 Cor. 14:5). When everyone is speaking tongues and no one understands each other, it’s not edifying the body of Christ.

Does this mean that speaking in tongues is outlawed in these meetings? No. Paul himself says:

  • 1 Cor. 14:5 – Tongues can edify the church when there is an interpretation (which is another Spiritual gift mentioned in 1 Cor. 12)
  • 1 Cor. 14:27 – tongues can be spoken in public meetings, but it’s best if it’s done orderly
  • 1 Cor. 14:39-40 – “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

To be sure, tongues does build up yourself (1 Cor. 14:4), and can be used for this purpose (as you pointed out, but the video missed). And tongues can be spoken in a public assembly if it seems that it would help corporately build up the body of Christ at this time. But if you are speaking in tongues (or doing anything else), and your goal is not building up the church, you’ve missed the point altogether.

Phew…that was a lot. And yet there’s so much more I’d love to say.

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