4 Basic Questions About Speaking in Tongues

I’ve been writing some posts lately on the beginning of the church age, and I’ve now reached a place where I’d like to devote a couple of posts to the issue of speaking in tongues. I touched upon this issue briefly in the post “The First Sermon of the Church Age,” but now I’ll delve more deeply into it. And to get us started I’m going to use this post to ask and answer four basic questions about speaking in tongues.

Question #1: What Is Speaking in Tongues?

That group of approximately 120 of Christ’s followers who were first indwelt by/filled with the Holy Spirit manifested that filling by speaking in tongues (Acts 2:1-13). And what were those tongues? The story proves beyond all doubt that they were known languages those Christians had never learned. Acts 2:8-11 even provides a list of which languages were spoken. Furthermore, those foreign Jews who heard those tongues said of those Christians, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” You see, “tongues” is just another word for “languages.”

Question #2: Where Does the Bible Mention Speaking in Tongues?

The Acts 2:1-13 passage isn’t the only place where the Bible mentions Christian believers speaking in tongues. Here are the other passages:

  • Acts 10:17-48 gives us the story of Peter traveling to Caesara and preaching the gospel to a group of Gentiles who are gathered in the home of a man named Cornelius. That story ends with those Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and being baptized (Acts 10:44-48). The fact that those Gentiles spoke in tongues was significant because it showed that the Holy Spirit they received was the same Holy Spirit the Jews had received on that day of Pentecost (Acts 10:45-46).
  • Acts 19:1-7 gives us the story of Paul encountering a group of approximately twelve “disciples” who evidently were disciples of John the Baptist rather than Jesus. When Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they had believed, they answered, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” (N.K.J.V.). This prompted Paul to explain to them the difference between John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ ministry. The group was then baptized, after which Paul laid hands on them. It was then that each member of the group received the Holy Spirit and consequently spoke in tongues.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:10 lists speaking in tongues as one of the spiritual gifts the indwelling Holy Spirit imparts to Christians.
  • In 1 Corinthians 14:18, Paul says, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all.” (N.K.J.V.)

Question #3: Is Every Christian Supposed to Speak in Tongues?

Does the indwelling Holy Spirit grant to every Christian the ability to speak in tongues? No, He doesn’t. In 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions, the implied answer to each of which is, “No.” The verses say (N.K.J.V.):

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

Question #4: What Are the Bible’s Rules in Regards to Speaking in Tongues

In 1 Corinthians chapter 14, Paul lays out definite rules regarding speaking in tongues. I offer these rules as the close to this post. They are as follows:

  1. Speaking in tongues is not meant as a sign to Christians to showcase the power of God to them. To the contrary, it is meant as a sign to lost people to showcase the power of God to them (1 Corinthians 14:22). This is exactly what happened with that first case of speaking in tongues that is described in Acts 2:1-13. Even Jesus Himself listed speaking in tongues as one of the signs that would follow those who believe in Him (Mark 16:17-18). Those signs would help convince unbelievers that the gospel message was truly from God.
  2. Because speaking in tongues is not meant as a sign to Christians, it makes perfect sense that no Christian should speak in tongues in a church service unless a fellow Christian who has the spiritual gift of interpreting the foreign languages (1 Corinthians 12:10) is present to provide the understanding (1 Corinthians 14:26-28). Without such an interpreter, the Christian speaking in tongues is basically just showing off because no one else in the service is getting anything out of what he is saying because they can’t understand his words (1 Corinthians 14:6-12; 18-19).
  3. In a church service, a woman should never speak in tongues under any circumstances (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
  4. Even in a church service where a Christian with the spiritual gift of interpreting the foreign languages is present, no more than two or three Christians should speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27).
  5. Even in a church service where two or three Christians speak in tongues, they should not all speak at the same time. Each one should take turns (1 Corinthians 14:27).
  6. Even in a church service where two or three Christians speak in tongues, just one Christian with the spiritual gift of interpretation should do the interpreting (1 Corinthians 14:27).
  7. In a church service, the spiritual gift of prophesying is preferable to the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:1-5; 23-25; 39). The reason for this is simple. In prophesying, the words are spoken in the local language the people attending the church service speak. Thus, no interpretation is required and everyone in the service receives the blessing of hearing the prophesying. Of course, the opposite is true when the location is a foreign mission field rather than a church setting. On the mission field, speaking in tongues (the local language of that mission field) is preferable because the words of any prophesying must be filtered through the voice of an interpreter who knows both the language of the one doing the prophesying and the language of the locals.
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