. . . these signs will follow those who believe . . .
. . . they will speak in new tongues . . .
What are 'tongues'?
It is the ability to speak in a language you have not learned and do not
understand. It is given to a believer by the Holy Spirit and can be a language
of men or of angels. We know this for when Paul compared the use of it with the
act of loving he said:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,
but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1
Paul, having discussed a range of abilities received by the Holy Spirit
wishes the reader to be aware that to love is of greater value. In the process,
he is eluding here to the fact that the ability to speak in tongues comprises
both languages of men and of angels. He then goes on to discuss the operation of
some of these abilities in the assembly of believers. All this is contained in
chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians and I shall be returning to this section of
The first mention of the ability is in Mark 16:17, but the first use of it
was on the first day of the feast of Pentecost after Jesus had ascended. Jesus
had instructed the believers to wait in Jerusalem after He left until they had
received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is what they did. They were
gathered together in a room of a house in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came in
a manner they had not known before. I say this because the Holy Spirit as God,
is also omnipresent - present everywhere and the disciples knew Him in their
lives, but He had not come to them in this fulness before (I have written a
separate document entitled What is
Baptism in the Holy Spirit?). This is what happened next:
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and
began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
They began to speak in other languages. We know this is what is meant by
reading on. In Jerusalem at this Feast of Pentecost many devout Jews would come
from all over the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was not long established and
had been preceded by the Greek empire, initially of Alexander the Great and then
split between 4 of his generals. This Greek domination meant that all the known
world was fluent in Greek such that the Bible Jesus quoted from was the Greek
Version. The New Testament was also written in this language and it explains why
the inscription on the cross was in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (John 19:19-20), the
3 main 'official' languages in Jerusalem at that time. This is helpful to know
in order to understand the unfolding events of Acts 2.
We saw that when they were filled with the Holy Spirit the disciples began
to speak in tongues. Since there were crowds of people in Jerusalem for the
Feast from many different places, when the sound of a mighty wind came and the
tongues were spoken, the folks gathered to see what was going on. What they
heard astonished them and they were able to communicate together about this
surprising event because of their common knowledge of Greek. These pilgrims had
come from many different regions of the empire and they spoke the languages of
their own areas as well as Greek, but they did not expect Jerusalem people, let
alone Galileans to speak in the native tongues of all the regions from which
they had come. This is what they exclaimed:
Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how
is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians
and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining
Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs - we
hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.
So, here is between 12 to 15 separate languages which were identified by the
hearers and these were spoken by Galileans. Languages which they had not
learned. The things spoken were the wonderful works of God.
We also know from this passage that 'tongues' is not an emotional
manifestation in itself since they had control over whether they spoke or not.
We can see this because as soon as some tried to mock the events unfolding
before them, Peter was able to straightaway put things right by speaking to them
all in their common language: Greek, and that very eloquently. Paul also shows
us that the speakers in tongues have control over whether they speak or not. He
If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at
the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no
interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to
1 Corinthians 14:27-28
Someone who speaks in tongues is able to stop and start at will. Speak
loudly or softly. The act of speaking in tongues is not an emotional activity.
What Paul does allude to however is to two separate uses of tongues. This is
something that has caused some misunderstanding. Speaking in tongues is shown us
in scripture as having 2 separate manifestations. 2 types of use or activity.
I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that
you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with
tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
1 Corinthians 14:5
Here he is talking about the use of tongues in a public gathering which
required interpretation. Note he is not saying translation, but interpretation.
This use of the 'gift' with 'interpretation' is equivalent to a 'word of
prophecy' in the assembly. And Paul defined the purpose of that.
. . . he who prophesies speaks edification and
exhortation and comfort to men.
1 Corinthians 14:3
The other use is the private practise of the 'tongue'.
. . . I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in
the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may
teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
1 Corinthians 14:18-19
Paul used his 'tongue' to edify himself.
He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself . . .
1 Corinthians 14:4
It is a prayer language.
For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men
but to God . . .
1 Corinthians 14:2
It is used in worship.
. . . I will sing with the spirit, and I will also
sing with the understanding.
1 Corinthians 14:15
It is not a normal tool for evangelism to communicate as shown by the events
in Acts 2. It was in Greek the communication occurred. It was in 'tongues' that
there was a sign of something different and special going on. So, when Paul
. . . tongues are for a sign, not to those who
believe but to unbelievers . . .
1 Corinthians 14:22
He is not saying it is a tool of communication to evangelise. He is saying
it is a sign as it was in Acts 2 whereby curiosity and interest can prepare for
proper communication. To understand the 'gift' as more than that as regards
unbelievers is to make nonsense of the next Verse:
. . . if . . . all speak with tongues, and there come
in . . . unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
1 Corinthians 14:23
Of course Paul is talking about everybody doing it at once in a meeting, but
it is clear that communication is not meant by him when he said it is a sign for
unbelievers as confirmed by the next Verse:
. . . if all prophesy, and an unbeliever . . . comes
in, he is convinced by all, he is judged by all.
1 Corinthians 14:24
Real communication occurs when your own language is used. Tongues as a sign
to unbelievers is only a side effect of the use. The primary use as shown by
Paul is to edify yourself and carry out effective contact with God in prayer or
praise. With interpretation it is equivalent in use to prophecy and that is the
'public' use Paul recommended. Prophecy is another topic in itself, but it is
worth saying that prophecy is not preaching or teaching since Paul clearly
mentions the 'office' of a prophet as disctinct from a teacher (Ephesians
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul mentions when the use of these tools from the Holy
Spirit cease in activity. The 'gifts' as they are commonly known. He said:
. . . we know in part and we prophesy in part. But
when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done
1 Corinthians 13:9-10
In context Paul is referring to when the kingdom comes in fulness as the
time when that which is perfect is come. That is, at our Lord's return. We know
this because he clarifies it by saying:
. . . now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face
to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as also I am known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
It is when we see Him face to face that we shall know even as we are known.
That, is the time when the 'gifts' of the Holy spirit will cease to be needed.
Others have said 'that which is perfect' refers to
the completed scripture. The compiling of it however did not occur until after
the death of all the first apostles, which, if tongues ceased at that point,
then that which is perfect was not there yet. And, can anyone say that they know
as they are known now they have the Bible?
It appears to me that some teaching on 'tongues' is so negative it seems to
rely on experience for doctrine and not the scripture. The experience of not
knowing the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues for themselves. This is sad
when as shown such positive stuff is written in the Bible and, as Paul put it:
I wish you all spoke with tongues . . .
1 Corinthians 14:5