The Gift of Tongues

Copyright by Norman L. Geisler 2006
What Does the Bible Say About It?
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind
came from heaven and filled the whole house where
they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues
of fire that separated and came to rest on each of
them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and
began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled
them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem Godfearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When
they heard this sound, a crowd came together in
bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking
in his own language.”
Acts 10 Was also a Real Language
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the
Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
The circumcised believers who had come with
Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy
Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
For they heard them speaking in tongues and
praising God” (Acts 10:44-46).
• “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on
them as he had come on us at the beginning”
(Acts 11:15).
. “And when Paul had laid hands on them, the
Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in
tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).
1Corinthains was a real language
• 1. 1Corinthians was of the same same time period as
Acts 19 which was a real language as Acts 2 and 10.
• 2. It could be interpreted (1Cor. 14:27).
• 3. It is listed with real “languages in the world” (1C. 14:10).
• 4. Paul speaks of “the meaning of the language”
(1Cor. 14:11).
• 5. The “mysteries” (1Cor. 14:2) spoken to one’s self
could be expressed in a real language (Eph. 3:3).
• 6. “Tongues of angels” (1Cor. 13:1) is a figure of
speech for eloquence. Angels always spoke in a real
language (cf. Gen. 18; Judges 13; Mat. 1; Luke 2).
• 7. It only sounded like babble to those who did not understand the language
(1 Cor. 14:23).
“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do
all speak in tongues? [No]” (1Cor. 12:29-30).
• Note:
• 1. In Greek each question demands a negative
• 2. God only intended some to be apostles.
• 3. God intended only some to speak in tongues
since he only gave the gift to some.
Why Did Paul Say He Wished All
Would Speak in Tongues?
“I wish you all spoke with tongues...(1Cor. 14:5).
• Response: This is a strong figure of speech
expressing an unfulfillable wish just as he said--
• “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut
off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of
my own race…” (Rom. 9:3).
• Only some were appointed as apostles, and others
could not become an apostle no matter how hard
they wished. Likewise, only some could speak in
tongues no matter how strongly they desired.
3. Only Apostles Spoke in
Tongues at Pentecost
• A. Only Apostles Received the Gift of Tongues
• B. Only Apostles Gave the Gift of Tongues
A. Only Apostles Received the Gift of Tongues
• Acts 1:1: In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that
Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to
heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the
apostles he had chosen.... He appeared to them over a period of
forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one
occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this
command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my
Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For
John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized
with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked
him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to
Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times
or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will
receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will
be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and
to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up
before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
• 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going,
when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11
“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into
the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into
heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go
into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill
called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.
13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where
they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and
Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James
son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the
women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers....
(a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)…. 22. One of
these must must become a witness with us of His resurrection.
23. Hey proposed two: Joseph…and Matthias. 24 Then they
prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of
these two you have chosen
25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where
he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so
he was added to the eleven apostles. 2:1 When the day of Pentecost
came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like
the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole
house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be
tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in
other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying
in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6
When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7
Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who speak
Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own
native language?… 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said,
“They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the
Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ...“15 These men
are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!
3. Only Apostles Spoke in
Tongues at Pentecost
A. Only Apostles Received the Gift of Tongues
1. Only apostles were promised the gift (Acts 1:8).
2. The antecedent of “they” who received it (2:1) were apostles
3. Those who spoke were “Men of Galilee” (1:11 cf. 2:7),
not the women who were present (1:14).
4. The “they” is a masculine pronoun referring only to men.
5. The crowd criticized the same “they” as drunk (2:13).
6. Peter defended “these” criticized as the “eleven” apostles
with him who had spoken in tongues (2:14).
B. Only Apostles Gave the Gift of Tongues
B. Only Apostles Could Give the Gift of Tongues
• 1. All instance of getting the Holy Spirit and tongues in Acts
after the day of Pentecost were by the apostles (Acts 8,10, 19).
• 2. The Holy Spirit was only given by the hands of the apostles:
“Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’
hands the Holy Spirit was given…” (Acts 8:18 cf. Acts 19:6).
• 3. Paul refers elsewhere to an apostle’s ability to give spiritual
gifts (2 Tim. 1:4; Rom. 1:11).
• 4. It was a special “sign of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12; Acts
2:43;14:3) which non-apostles didn’t have the ability to give.
• 5. The church was built on the apostles who had special gifts to
prove their authority (Eph. 2:20; Acts 2:43;5:12; Heb. 2:3-4).
The Apostle Peter had the keys to the kingdom (Mt. 16:19).
The Apostles had the power to heal all sickness (Mt. 10:8; Acts 28:8-9).
They could raise the dead (Mt. 10:8; Acts 20:9-10).
Pronounce capital judgment on those who lied to God (Acts 5:9).
They could give the Holy Spirit and tongues (Acts 8:18-19).
• “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at
the most three—should speak, one at a
• Note:
• 1. Only three at the most could speak.
• 2. Only one at a time could speak.
• “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the
most three—should speak, one at a time, and
someone must interpret.”
• Note: God is more interested in our knowing
the truth than in our feeling a blessing.
GIFT (I COR. 12:28).
• “And in the church God has appointed first of
all apostles, second prophets, third teachers,
then workers of miracles, also those having
gifts of healing, those able to help others, those
with gifts of administration, and [last] those
speaking in different kinds of tongues.”
• Prophecy is better than tongues:
• “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself,
but he who prophesies edifies the church
(1Cor. 14:4).
• “But in the church I would rather speak
five intelligible words to instruct others
than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
• Note: Saying “Jesus died for our sins” in
English is better than a whole sermon in
• “But eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1Cor.
But tongues was a lesser gift (1Cor. 12:28).
• And speaking in a known language is
better than in tongues (1Cor. 14:19).
• Note: Why did Paul say “Forbid not to
speak in tongues” (1 Cor 14:39)?
• Because some had the gift at that time.
• But this does not mean the gift still exist?
• The gift of apostle once existed but no
longer does.
• “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit
prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what
shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I
will also pray with my mind; I will sing
with my spirit, but I will also sing with my
• Note: Don’t pray with your heart what
your mind does not understand.
• “We do not know what we ought to pray for,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with
groans that words cannot express.”
• 1. The Holy Spirit is expressing to God our
feelings that are too deep for words.
• 2. When we try to utter the unutterable it
comes out as unintelligible.
– a. This is not a real language, as tongues were.
– b. It is like spiritual stuttering. It is baby talk.
(I COR. 12:31-13:1,13).
• “And now I will show you the most
excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of
men and of angels, but have not love, I am
only a resounding gong or a clanging
cymbal…. But the greatest of these is love.”
(I COR. 14:22).
• “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for
believers but for unbelievers; prophecy,
however, is for believers, not for
• Note: Tongues were a sign (miracle) to
unbelievers that this new event was of God,
since they could hear it in their own
tongue (Acts 2:2-6 and 1Cor. 14:21).
13. Sign Gifts (like Tongues) Were
Limited to the First Century
• 1. Tongues were a sign gift (1Cor. 14:22).
• 2. They were a special sign of an apostle
(Acts 5:12; 8:18; 2Cor.12:12; Heb. 2:3-4).
• 3. Apostles lived only in the first century
(Acts 1:22; 1Cor. 9:1).
• 4. Tongues aren’t mentioned in later gift
lists in the NT (cf. Rom. 12:6-8; Eph. 4:11).
• 5. Apostles were the foundation of the
Church (Eph. 2:20; Acts 2:42) which only
had to be laid once.
• 6. It is no more necessary to repeat Pentecost today than it is to repeat Calvary.
14. Paul Said Tongues Will Cease
• 1 Cor. 13:8: “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.... 12 For Now we see
in a mirror dimly; but then face to face. Now I know in part, but
then I shall know just as I also am known.”
• Note:
• 1. The “perfect” refers to heaven, not to the Bible, as is clear
from the “now...then” contrast (v. 12).
• 2. Tongues will cease in this life; there will be none in heaven.
• 3. They will cease when special revelation ceases (special revealed
knowledge and prophecies--v. 8 cf. 2:6-16).
• 4. All sections of Christendom believe revelation ceased with the
apostles. Hence, so did the gift of tongues cease with them.
How Do We Explain Today’s Tongues?
• Problem: Tongues exist today. What are they?
• Response: We must interpret our experience by the
Bible, not the Bible by our experience.
• 1. They are not supernatural
– a. The general phenomenon is not a real language.
– b. They can be learned, but miracles can’t be learned.
– c. They are exercised by Pagan religions which can’t be of God.
• 2. Some are demonic (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3; 1 Jn. 4:1-6).
• 3. Many are a sincere but unbiblical attempt to
express the inexpressible (Rom. 8:26).
Charismatic Pastor Tells Story
Pastor Babcox served
the Charismatic Word
of Life Church in
Carbondale, Illinois
and led campus
ministry at Southern
Illinois University.
Charismatic Pastor Speaks Out
• How He Came to Speak in Tongues
• “Despite the fact that I had found my assurance
in Christ, I still felt there was something missing: I
didn’t speak in tongues as everybody else did….
And so I prayed. “O God, I want everything you
have to give me. I want to be filled with your Holy
Spirit. I want to praise you in a new language.
Please hear my prayer.” But the heavens were
brass…. The people prayed but nothing happened.
“Please, God, please,” I thought. They continued
to pray, but still noting happened.”
Finally, one brother spoke up.“Neil, God loves you,
but you have to speak out. You must initiate it. Begin
to utter something now or you’ll never receive it.” I
hung my head in shame. Hot tears began to stream
down my cheeks. “Okay,” I sobbed. “this is it.” And
with trembling lips I managed to choke out a few
incomprehensible syllables. “That’s it, Neil. You’ve
got it!” At first I was somewhat uneasy about the
experience. But as I walked home and tried to speak
in tongues again, I found that I could do so much
more fluently…. Speaking in tongues was a very
rewarding experience for me. Every day I spent a
large portion of my prayer time speaking in tongues”
(SCR, 21-22).
• How He Began to Question the Practice
“Yes, it was all very romantic. But gradually, what had
started as a romantic venture, an idealistic quest for
spiritual gifts, was slowly, imperceptibly changing into
what, I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that the excitement
and romance of prophesying was turned into an uneasy
sense that the prophecies I heard, including my own,
were hardly worthy of the name. The idea that they were
the words of the living God was beginning to seem
painfully ludicrous…. In my case, there were four simple
words that played a decisive role in changing my heart:
thus saith the Lord…. When a prophet said “thus saith
the Lord,” he meant the very word of God was being
proclaimed and that as such it was invested with divine
authority” (SCR, 52, 53).
• “Thus saith the Lord. What abuses I have
seen of those words. What bitter fruit I
have seen borne by men and women
speaking those words. I have seen people
married on the basis of guidance received
from personal prophecies only to be
divorced a week later because of a terrible
scandal. Many lives have been harmed by
such prophetic guidance” (SCR, 57).
I had to be completely honest with myself
about this, because it is so easy to rationalize
an experience in which one has invested a
great deal of emotional energy…. Finally, I
admitted it to myself. The truth is there was
nothing miraculous about this “gift” of mine
• --I learned to speak in tongues. Here was no
sign to marvel at. I had attained fluency in
my tongues speech through practice, not by
the sudden power of the Holy Spirit” (SCR,
The Bottom Line
• Today’s tongue speaking is not what occurred
in the New Testament because:
• 1. It is not a real knowable language.
It is not supernatural; it is learned.
It is not without error, God can’t err.
It is the same as what Pagans do.
It often violates many biblical rules.
NT tongues were a sign of an apostle, but there
are no apostles today (Acts 1:22).
7. The real sign of the Holy Spirit is the fruit of the
Spirit (love), not the gift of the Spirit (tongues).
What is the Sign of Being Filled
with the Holy Spirit?
• “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to
debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and
spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your
heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19).
• “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as
you teach and admonish one another with all
wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and
spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to
God” (Col. 3:16).
• 1. The fruit of the Spirit (love) is more important than
the gifts of the Spirit.
• 2. It is better to speak five words in a known tongue than
10,000 in an unknown tongue.
• 3. We should concentrate on speaking in a controlled
tongue rather than in an uncontrolled tongue.
• “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the
sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no
man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of
deadly poison” (Jas. 3:7-8).
Gossip is an Uncontrolled Tongue
Prov. 20:19--“A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man
who talks too much.”
Rom. 1:29--“They have become filled with every kind of
wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy,
murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips….”
2Cor. 12:20--“I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy,
outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and
1Tim. 3:11--“In the same way, their wives are to be women
worthy of respect, not malicious talkers (gossips) but temperate
and trustworthy in everything”
1Tim. 5:13--“Besides, they get into the habit of being
idle and going about from house to house. And not only
do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies,
saying things they ought not to.”
2Tim. 3:3--“They are “without love, unforgiving,
slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the
Titus 2:3-- “Likewise, teach the older women to be
reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or
addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.”
We need to control the one tongue we have before we
seek more tongues!
It is not how many tongues we have but how we use the
tongue we have!