Do people today speak in some sort of tongues as prompted by the Holy Spirit?

It must be remembered that the Spirit of God will never act contrary to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit and the Bible will always agree. So, it comes down to, what does the Bible teach concerning speaking in tongues?

Several spiritual gifts were given to the church on the day of Pentecost to help the early church carry out the commission they had been given by the Lord. Speaking in tongues was one of those gifts and was the ability to speak a language a person had never studied. 

From the book of First Corinthians it is easy to see that the church at Corinth had some major problems. The reason for Paul's writing the book was to help the church straighten out some of these issues. Among those problems were some who were abusing the gift of speaking in tongues. Remember that not every member had the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12:30). Chapters 12, 13 and 14 deal with spiritual gifts. Chapter 14 deals specifically with the gift of tongues. Paul's main idea in these chapters is that these gifts should be used to edify the whole body and not the individual.

Let's point out that in these chapters the word unknown (as in "unknown tongue") in the King James Bible is in italics which indicates that the word does not appear in the original Greek but has been added for clarification or sentence structure. So the original simply says "tongue." The Greek word for tongue is glossa and means what our English word tongue means. It can mean the organ found in the mouth or it can mean a language, like a person's "mother tongue." In First Corinthians 14 it means language. What was spoken on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 were actual languages. The languages are even listed. 

In Paul's instructions to the church at Corinth in chapter 14 he lays down some specific rules for speaking in tongues.

Rule 1: (verse 27) People speaking in tongues were limited to two, or at the most three, people in a church service. It would seem that in the church at Corinth there were an abundance of people who spoke in tongues and who wanted to speak in every service.

Rule 2: (verse 27) The two or three who spoke in tongues were to speak one at a time. Obviously there had been people in the church speaking in tongues at the same time. The result of such activity was confusion and Paul states in verse 33 that such was not of God because God is not the author of confusion.

Rule 3: (verse 28) If no one was able to interpret what was said by those two or three who spoke in tongues, then they were to keep silent. I was watching a preacher on television who suddenly spoke a dozen or so words in an "unknown tongue." He then said, "I don't know what I said but the Lord enjoyed it." Such so called tongues speaking is clearly against Paul's teaching on the subject.
Some believe that when the "Spirit" comes over a person, the person has no control and must speak. The teaching here is otherwise. The person who had the gift of tongues was in control of the gift and could speak or refrain from speaking.

Rule 4: (verse 34) Women were not allowed to speak in tongues or prophesy in a church service. Keep in mind that the subject under consideration in these three chapters is spiritual gifts. This Scripture is not teaching that a woman had to keep her mouth shut the whole time she was in a service. In keeping with the context it means she was not allowed to prophesy or speak in tongues in a service. 

Philip had four daughters which prophesied (Acts 21:9). That they prophesied cannot be questioned, but that they did not prophesy in a public service such as Paul was speaking about, can neither be questioned.

Rule 5: (verse 40) A church service was to be decent and orderly. The word "decently" is the Greek word euschemonos and means: "in a becoming manner; with propriety; gracefully." The word "order" is the Greek word taxis and means: "well regulated conduct; arrangement; orderliness." A church service that is out of control and confused is an unscriptural service. Paul describes such a service in verse 23 where he tells of a service  in which all were speaking in tongues. An unbeliever in such a meeting would think they were crazy.

If we contrast these biblical rules with much of the so called speaking in tongues today I think you will find the following.

1. Tongues in the New Testament were languages. Tongues today are unintelligible utterances.
2. Tongues in the New Testament were for a sign to the unbelievers. Tongues today are a sign to the individual that he has received the "baptism of the Holy Ghost."
3. Tongues in the New Testament were to edify and build up the church. Tongues today edify the individual.
4. Tongues in the New Testament were limited to two or three in a public service. Tongues today are spoken by as many in a service as the "Spirit" moves.
5. Tongues in the New Testament were to be restrained unless and interpreter was present. Tongues today are spoken in services when no one knows what is being said.
6. Tongues in the New Testament were to be spoken one at a time in a service. Tongues today are spoken by as many at one time as the "Spirit" moves.
7. Tongues in the New Testament were not spoken by women in the public services. Tongues today are spoken by women in public services.

The fact is, as the New Testament was completed the spiritual gifts were no longer needed. For example, we no longer need the gift of prophecy because God has given us all the prophecy we need in the Bible. We do not need the gift of knowledge because all we need to know is in the Bible. We are told to study the Word of God not to seek after the gift of knowledge. We do not need the gift of tongues to be a sign to unbelievers because the Bible is all the sign anyone needs. This is what First Corinthians 13:9, 10 says, "For we know in part [gift of knowledge], and we prophesy in part [gift of prophecy]. But when that which is perfect [complete] is come then that which is in part shall be done away." 

Some believe that "that which is perfect" refers to Christ. If that were the case then the Bible would have said "he who is perfect" and not "that which is perfect."

Paul then compares these spiritual gifts to children's toys. When a child grows up he puts away the toys he played with when he was younger. (A man's toys seem to grow larger and more expensive as he ages.) In the same way the infant church needed things (spiritual gifts) that it would no longer need as it matured. 

The fact of the matter is, the modern tongues movement has only been around for barely over 100 years. If the spiritual gift of tongues were still in effect, then Christians all through the ages would have been speaking in tongues. But such has not been the case. 

Be careful to weigh your doctrines and practices by the Word of God and not by some experience or feeling you may have had.

by Raymond McAlister
November 2007