Pastor David B. Curtis


What the Bible Says About Speaking in Tongues

Selected Scriptures

Delivered 02/17/2002

I want to talk to you this morning on the subject of "Speaking in Tongues". There is probably not a subject that is more controversial in the church today. Many would tell us that speaking in tongues is something that we are told to seek after, and to pray for. "Speaking in tongues" is so popular that there is a movement named after it, "The tongues movement." The importance of the tongues movement is magnified by the teaching that connects it with the "Baptism with the Holy Spirit."

These opening paragraphs of a message preached by Kenneth Miller illustrate my point:

'Visa, it's everywhere you want to be. Don't leave home without it' is a slogan of the popular credit card. It reminds me of the words of Jesus in Acts 1.4-5, where our Lord commanded His followers not to leave Jerusalem without the 'Promise of the Father'. This is clearly a reference to the infilling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus went on to call the 'Baptism with the Holy Spirit' in verse 5.

Jesus' early followers obeyed, but today we have many genuine lovers of the Lord Jesus who leave 'home' constantly and venture out without the 'Promise of the Father', and as always is the case when we disobey the Lord, they miss out on the best He has for them.

It is my intention with this study to set forth a simple and reasoned approach to the subject of 'speaking in tongues', and since in the Book of Acts we see that when the Holy Spirit is said to 'fill' or 'baptize' or to be 'received' or be 'poured out on' or 'fall upon', we also see that these ones 'spoke in tongues'.

Do you see what he is doing? He is connecting the baptism with the Holy Spirit with tongues speaking. This is a very common teaching.

Kenneth Hagan of Tulsa, Oklahoma says, "Speaking in tongues is always manifested when people are baptized in the Holy Spirit."

Donald Gee says, "The distinctive doctrine of the Pentecostal churches is that speaking with tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit."

Let me ask you a question, believers, "When does the baptism of the Holy Spirit take place in the life of the believer?"

1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

All believers have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit,..."we were all baptized."..The Baptism of the Holy Spirit takes place at salvation, it is something all believers have in common.

Romans 8:9 (NKJV) But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

Even the carnal Corinthians had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is non-experiential, it is a positional work of God. It takes place at salvation. When the Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ, he puts us into Christ. He joins our life with his; he becomes our source of existence and strength; we are part of him. To not have it, is to not be saved.

Now, as we study this subject of "speaking in tongues", we find that, first of all, there is relatively little said in Scripture about tongues. Compared with the tremendous amount of emphasis put on tongues today, it becomes very obvious that this is very much out of proportion. It is interesting to note that there is very little relative emphasis upon tongues in the New Testament. The word occurs only once in all four of the Gospels. There are only three incidences connected with it referred to in the Book of Acts. In all of Paul's letters, it is only referred to in one letter, and that is in the letter of 1 Corinthians. In many of the other letters to churches dealing with many other problems and attitudes, Paul never mentions tongues. There is no reference to tongues by any of the other New Testament writers or in the Book of Revelation. So you see, there is relatively little emphasis on tongues in the New Testament.

What Is the Biblical Meaning of Speaking in Tongues?

Let's see if we can answer that question by examining the Scripture. The subject of tongues is found in three books of the Bible. It is found in Mark 16:17; Acts 2, 10, 19; and in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Mark 16:17 (NKJV) "And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;

Here tongues is preceded by the word "new", meaning: "something not previously present". This is a prediction (at the time of the writing) of what will happen at Pentecost.

When we read Mark 16:17, or Acts 10 or 19, or 1 Corinthians 12-14 and read the word, "tongues", we have no description in these passages of what "tongues" is. So we need to go somewhere else in the Bible, if we can, and find a description, or definition, or synonym which will define the meaning of tongues. Or we can develop a meaning of tongues by what others tell us it is. This seems to be the norm today, most people have developed their definition of tongues from what others have said about it. There are three predominate views of what tongues are: 1.They are a known human language.2. They are ecstatic speech, an unknown angelic language, a private prayer language. 3. They can be either of the first two.

What do the Scriptures say? That is what is really important. We have a description of tongues at their first occurrence in Acts 2, which seems to be a logical place to describe what this gift is.

Acts 2:1-8 (NKJV) When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 "And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 "Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 "Cretans and Arabs; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God."

Verse four says,..."they began to speak with other tongues..". The Greek word that is translated "tongues" is glossa, which refers to the organ in your mouth or the use of that organ, a language. The Greek word for "other" is heteros, it means: "another of a different kind". We could translate this, "They spoke with different languages."

In verses 4 & 11 we have the term glossa, and in verses 9 -11 we have a clear explanation of what glossa is, it is: "a known human language". Verse 6 & 8 use the Greek word dialektos, translated here as "languages". Dialektos is the language or dialect of a country or district. It can be more specific than the general language and refers to inflection and tone. On the day of Pentecost the people heard not only in their own language, but more technically in their own dialect.

Both glossa and dialektos refer to language, known human language. So from Acts 2 we have a clear explanation of what this new thing "tongues" was.

Verse 11 tells us that they began to speak in languages which they had never learned and were preaching the wonderful works of God. This was the ability to communicate in a language not previously learned. Biblically, the gift of tongues is the ability to speak a language that you have never learned. It is not uttering some ecstatic utterance which makes no sense, it is not gibberish, it is not a jargon, it is a known language that is spoken somewhere on earth and can be reduced to writing. It is a known language, that is the point.

As you read the account in Acts 2, there is no question about this, because there were sixteen languages mentioned there and people who spoke those languages were present. They heard these men speaking in tongues, that is, speaking in languages as the Spirit gave them utterance; and they said to each other, "How is this? Why, these men are Galileans; we can tell by their dress that they are just ignorant fishermen. How is it that all of us have heard them speak in our own tongue - in our own language?"Then the Spirit of God lists the languages, and there are sixteen of them from all parts of the earth. This was during the time when the feasts were being celebrated, so there were thousands of strangers in Jerusalem at that time, and these men heard these languages. The amazing thing to me is that the people today who claim to have this gift of languages when preaching to a foreign audience use a translator. Does that make any sense to you? It's okay to be a Christian and think!

Now, If the Bible explains something, then we should be very careful not to put a different explanation on what is obviously the same thing. All the uses of "tongues" in the New Testament (50 of them) refer either to the physical organ in our mouth or to the use of that organ in speaking known human languages.

1 Corinthians 12:10 (NKJV) to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

In the phrase..."different kinds of tongues"...the word "kinds" is the Greek word genos, which means; "a family, or group or a race, or nation." Linguistics uses the term "language families." The reference is to different kinds of languages. Are there families of gibberish?

The word "interpretation" is the Greek word hermeneia, which means: "translation". Translate means to take something in one language and put it into its equivalent in another known language.

Since the word "tongues, glossa," is the same word used in Acts, our conclusion should be that it is the same - known human language. The gibberish and ecstatic utterance that we are seeing today is not the Biblical "tongues".

Someone is bound to ask what about Angel talk?

1 Corinthians 13:1 (NKJV) Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

Some say that this is a reference to angel tongues. Search the Scriptures, every time an Angel talks it's in a known human language. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah understood the angel's speech. Look at Luke 1:11, 28; 24:4, angels always spoke in a known human language. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul is using hyperbole. He is exaggerating his point and saying even if I could do these things it wouldn't matter without love.

So the biblically defined "tongues" was the supernatural ability to speak in a language (a known human language) you had never learned. Now that we understand the biblical meaning of tongues, let's see if we can discover what the purpose of tongues was:

What Was the Purpose of the Gift of Tongues?

What was the purpose of this known human language that hadn't been learned? Was it so we could preach the gospel to foreigners? Not primarily, look with me at 1 Corinthians 14, Paul provided here the only direct statement regarding the specific purpose of speaking in tongues:

1 Corinthians 14:21-22 (NKJV) In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord. 22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

Tongues are a sign for unbelievers. If any one today thinks he has the gift of tongues, he needs to deal with the reality of that statement, and he will be forced to reconsider just what he does have. This is the primary purpose of the gift of tongues. Verse 21 is quoting Isaiah 28: 11-12. In verse 22 Paul is applying it to the time of the Corinthians and tells them that if tongues were a sign in the time of Isaiah, they were still a sign. Tongues are not for believing people, they are for unbelieving people.

In verse 21 "this people" refers to Israel. Tongues were specifically a sign for unbelieving Israel. Isaiah 28 is a warning of judgment, verse 21 refers to the Assyrians, which the people would hear if they rejected Isaiah's message. The Assyrian tongue was a sign of judgment to a generation of Israelites rejecting the word of God. So, Paul explained, tongues are a sign of coming judgment for rejecting Jesus the Messiah and the gospel of grace (cf. Matt. 23:37-38).

Moses gave the following warning in:

Deuteronomy 28:49 (NKJV) "The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand,
Jeremiah 5:15 (NKJV) Behold, I will bring a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel," says the LORD. "It is a mighty nation, It is an ancient nation, A nation whose language you do not know, Nor can you understand what they say.

In the Old Testament God had clearly pointed out to the people of Israel that when they were going to be judged, there would be a sign. That sign was that they would hear a language they couldn't understand. When they began to speak those languages on the day of Pentecost, every Jew should have known that the judgment of God was eminent.

Acts 2:12-16 (NKJV) So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "Whatever could this mean?" 13 Others mocking said, "They are full of new wine." 14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 "For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 "But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

Peter says, "We are not drunk, what you are seeing is the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy." Then he quotes from Joel.

Acts 2:17-18 (NKJV) 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. 18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.

The term "last days" describes the period of time between the birth of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem. It refers to the last days of the house of Israel, the last days of the Old Covenant era. Peter didn't say that the miracles of Pentecost were "like"what Joel prophesied, he said that "this was the fulfillment." The last days were here. It was a sign of judgment upon Israel. The term "all flesh" refers to Jews and Gentiles. Israel was being judged, and the Gospel was taken to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11).

Acts 2:19-21 (NKJV) I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. 21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.'

Isn't this speaking of a future judgment of the whole world? No! This is prophetic language, speaking of the end of the Old Covenant system and the Nation of Israel. The same type of language is used in:

Isaiah 13:9-10 (NKJV) Behold, the day of the LORD comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine.

This is prophesying the fall of Babylon to the Medes.

Isaiah 34:4 (NKJV) All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree.

This is prophesying the fall of Edom.

Amos 8:9 (NKJV) "And it shall come to pass in that day," says the Lord GOD, "That I will make the sun go down at noon, And I will darken the earth in broad daylight;

This is prophesying the doom of Samaria.

Ezekiel 32:7-8 (NKJV) When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, And the moon shall not give her light. 8 All the bright lights of the heavens I will make dark over you, And bring darkness upon your land,' Says the Lord GOD.

This is prophesying the destruction of Egypt. None of these events literally took place. Poetically however, all these things did happen; as far as these wicked nations were concerned, "the lights went out." This is simply figurative language predicting the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. The light of Israel was extinguished, the Old Covenant era was through.

Tongues was primarily a sign of judgment to unbelieving Jews. But secondarily, when tongues were interpreted, they edified believers.

1 Corinthians 14:26-28 (NKJV) How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

Verses 27 & 28 tell us that tongues uninterpreted don't edify. Therefore, if there is no interpretation, there is to be no tongues. Are these the same tongues as in Acts 2? Glossa is always used of the tongue or languages. To use the word glossa and mean ecstatic speech would be to confuse the issue.

What about Tongues Being a Private Prayer Language?

1 Corinthians 14:2 (NKJV) For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.

Well, it says he is speaking unto God; thus it is a private prayer language, right? No! Paul is not praising them here, he's saying only God can understand you, to men it's a mystery, because its uninterpreted. The Biblical gift of tongues never occurs in private. Like all the gifts of the Spirit, it was designed for the common good. It is a public gift, and every instance of its appearance in the Bible is a public occasion where others are present. It is not a private gift, and it is not exercised anywhere in the New Testament in private. If you were to examine every prayer prayed in the Bible, and if you were to study every passage in the Bible which taught about prayer, you would not find anything, anywhere, anytime, that even suggests that prayer should ever be unintelligible.

Matthew 6:5-8 (NKJV) "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitionsas the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

The word "repetitions" is the Greek word battologeo, which comes from the verb, legeo, (to speak) and the prefix batta. Batta is a figure of speech that in English we call an "onomatopoeia" which is a word that sounds like what it is,(buzz, zip, zing, rip). Jesus was literally saying, when you pray don't say, "Batta, batta, batta," the gibberish that the pagans offer to their gods.

What is prayer? It is a declaration of our dependency. It's saying, "God I'm dependent upon you, and I need your help." You don't pray in gibberish, if you do, you have no idea what you're saying to God. It's just noise. 1 Corinthians 14:22 says, "tongues are for a sign," not for a private prayer language.

So, we have seen the meaning of tongues, it was a known human language. And we have seen the purpose of tongues, it was a sign of judgment. Now let's deal with the duration of tongues, how long was this sign to last?

The Duration of Tongues

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (NKJV) Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

Based on Paul's words in this passage, the only question as to whether or not the gift of "tongues" exists today as it did in Bible times is a question of timing. Has "that which is perfect" come? If it has, then tongues have ceased. But if "that which is perfect" has not yet come, then tongues have not ceased, and God has meant for tongues to continue on throughout the centuries as a normal practice in the Church up to our present day.

I don't have time to go into all the details of this passage at this time. If you want a detailed explanation of this passage, see my message "The Perfect has Come". I believe that "that which is perfect" refers to the maturity of the body of Christ at the rapture of the church, which happened at the second coming of Christ in AD 70; bringing the destruction of Old Covenant Israel and ushering in the New Heavens and New Earth which closed the cannon.

Tongues was a sign of judgment. Once judgment had fallen on Israel, the gift would have no significance at all. Judgment fell on Israel in 70AD; the temple was destroyed and the sacrifices came to an end.

History records that the gift of tongues ceased in the apostolic age. As a young Christian trying to understand "tongues", I studied the history of the church in regards to prayer and tongues and found that the first revival of tongues within the confines of the evangelical church of Jesus Christ since the apostolic age was in 1901. Where had it been for 1800 years? 1 Corinthians 13:8 says that... "tongues will cease.".. There is no indication that they would ever start up again.

The post-apostolic fathers don't discuss the gift of tongues. It is nowhere found in any of their writings.

Clement, of Rome, wrote a letter to the Corinthians in AD95 discussing all of their spiritual problems, and he didn't even mention tongues.

Justin Martyr, who lived from AD 100-165, wrote much but never mentioned tongues. He even made lists of the Spiritual gifts that do not include the gift of tongues.

Origen, who lived from AD 185-253, in his apologetic, Against Celsus, explicitly argued that the signs of the apostolic age were temporary, and that no contemporary Christian exercised any of the ancient prophetical gifts.

Chrysostom, AD 347-407, in his homilies on 1 Corinthians, comments on chapter 12, "This whole place is very obscure; but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place."

Augustine, AD 354-430, comments on Acts 2:4, "In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believed, and they spoke with tongues. These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening, and it passed away."

So the greatest theologians of the ancient church considered the gift of tongues a remote practice.

To be fair, there are some supposed occurrences of tongues since the apostolic age: Montanus, from Phrygia, with two female priestesses, Prisca and Maximilla, spoke in ecstatic utterances. Montanus, who claimed to be the Holy Spirit, was thrown out of the church as a heretic. After Montanus the next eruptions of tongues wasn't until the late 17th century.

Now, if what I have said thus far is true, you might be asking, "How Do We Explain What Is Happening Today?" People are having an experience and speaking in ecstatic speech. Yes, they are. But it's not the Biblical "speaking in tongues". Biblically, tongues was a known human language that was spoken as a sign to the generation that lived in the last days.

If it's not biblical tongues, what is it? Personally, I believe that the so called "tongue speaking" that goes on in Christianity today can be explained as "learned behavior." It's not a miracle or a supernatural experience, and it's not a Spiritual gift. Tongues could also be psychological, sort of a self-hypnosis brought on by the frenzy of some of the Charismatic meetings.

Why Are Tongues So Popular today?

1. Spiritual hunger - People are told that tongues are a great spiritual experience, and if they haven't had the experience they are missing something.

2. It provides an instant spirituality. Tongues is considered a manifestation of spirituality, holiness. Those who speak in tongues have arrived.

3. The need of acceptance and security. It makes you part of the in group. When you associate with those who speak in tongues it is only natural that you would want to be like them. In being like them you ensure your acceptance.

4. The church today as a whole is biblically ignorant. This ignorance causes us to blindly follow many unbiblical practices.

Do you want a deep meaningful spiritual experience? Let me show you how to get it:

John 14:21 (NKJV) "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him."

Knowing God's word and living in obedience to it will bring you into an intimate relationship with the Lord like you have never known.

I believe that speaking in tongues is wrong doctrinally, but if those who do have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And because of that we are to love them. They are, for the most part, a very loving, caring, kind people. Let's learn from their good points and dwell together in love. Let's not use what we know to attack and put down other believers, but by love let's serve one another.

Speaking in tongues was a known human language. The primary purpose of tongues was as a sign of God's judgment on the nation Israel. Tongues ceased when God's judgment fell on Old Covenant Israel in AD 70.

Media #236a

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322