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The gift of speaking in tongues is one of the gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows to Christians. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He promised His disciples that He would send them the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples that, “when the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26, NIV).
In this view, Jesus promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would help them in testifying about Him, and thus encouraged the disciples that the Holy Spirit would empower them. From the verse, it is evident that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to aid the disciples complete the work, which He had commenced. On the day of Pentecost, Jesus fulfilled His promise when He gave the disciples the gift of speaking in tongues.
Since it happened that the disciples were gathered in one place during the day of Pentecost, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). Therefore, this research paper examines the gift of speaking in tongues as presented in the Bible, some Christian assumptions, and how Christians apply in today’s world.
The Day of Pentecost
The Day of Pentecost clearly portrays an event when the disciples received the Holy Spirit and performed great miracles, which demonstrated the power of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus.
During the Day of Pentecost, disciples gained the gift of the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to preach to all the people who were in Jerusalem. When the disciples received the gift of speaking in tongues, they spoke in tongues, which are real human languages.1 As the disciples were preaching on the day of Pentecost, the congregation listened to them and wondered why the disciples were speaking in their own languages.
The people in the congregation wondered, they questioned why the Galileans were speaking in their own native languages (Acts 2:7-8). While some made fun about their speaking, Peter, the disciple, stood up and informed them that the disciples were not drunk, but they were filled with the Holy Ghost who gives them power to speak in other tongues so that they could spread the word of God beyond Israel.
Since the event of the Pentecost empowered the disciples to preach the Gospel across all languages, the disciples implored the congregation to repent and receive baptism so that God could forgive them their sins and heal them. Owing to the gift of speaking in tongues, the disciples managed to reach out to many people.
The disciples also persuaded people repent and undergo baptism, so that they could save themselves from corrupted generation. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). From the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were able to perform great miracles, which shocked Jerusalem.
Rulers and leaders of Jerusalem summoned John and Peter before the Sanhedrin and commanded them not to teach, speak, or perform miracles in the name of Jesus. The gift of speaking in tongues empowered the disciples to perform great miracles and wonders, which were similar to that of Jesus. In this view, the event of the Pentecost gives a clear understanding of what it means to gain the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Luke and the Gift of Speaking in Tongues
Luke presents the event of the Pentecost as a promise that Jesus made before ascending into heaven. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus met His disciples and assured them that He was going to His Father, and thus they should remain in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). Hence, the disciples remained in Jerusalem until the Day of Pentecost, when they received the gift of speaking in tongues.
However, as disciples further questioned Jesus about the restoration of Israel, Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit who was to baptize them. In the book of Acts, Luke presents the gift of speaking in tongues as a baptism, which enabled the disciples to spread the word of God across the world. Essentially, the gift of speaking in tongues signifies baptism of the Holy Spirit.2
Jesus answered His disciples that, “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” (Acts 1: 8). From the perspective of Luke, the Holy Spirit bestowed immense powers to the disciples so that they could spread the Gospel to the four corners of the earth.
Luke also presents the gift of speaking in tongues as a prophetic power that enabled the disciples to discern signs of the times. Speaking in tongues is a form of prophetic speech, which fulfilled the prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament. Given that it is a prophetic speech, Christians should use it in the edification of the church as it prepares for the coming of Jesus, rather than using it for self-glorification. 3
During the Day of Pentecost, Peter told the congregation that the disciples were not drunk with new wine, but were filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter further informed the congregation that God had planned that in the last days, people would prophecy after the Holy Spirit empowers them (Acts 2:17).
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In this view, the Day of Pentecost heralds the end times where people would receive the power of prophecy. Thus, in the book of Acts, Luke is trying to present the gift of speaking in tongues as a prophetic power that enables disciples to understand times of the end.
Assumptions of the Gift of Speaking in Tongues
Although the gift of speaking in tongues is evident in the Bible, there many assumptions that Christians have derived, and thus err in the interpretation of the Bible. In the book of Acts, the congregation confused the speaking in tongues because they thought the disciples were drunk with new wine.
Modern Christians have also made numerous assumptions, which have complicated their understanding of speaking in tongues, as a gift of the Holy Spirit. One of the common assumptions is that speaking in tongues only happened during the Day of Pentecost.
Such assumption implies that modern Christians would not experience any gift of speaking in tongues because the Pentecost was only meant for the disciples of Jesus. Modern Christians are unable to explain why the disciples existed during the ancient times, but not in the modern society.4 The assumption hinders Christians from experiencing the gift of speaking in tongues in today’s world.
Pentecostal churches believe that speaking in tongues is not a human language, but rather unintelligible utterances. Charismatic churches believe that speaking in tongues is a coded language, which requires the interpreter who has supernatural powers to decode.5
Basing on the event of the Pentecost, it is apparent that the congregation heard the disciples speaking in their own languages. If the congregation could hear what the disciples were preaching, it means that they were speaking real human languages, which do not qualify to be unintelligible utterances.
The gift of speaking in tongues enables one to speak using intelligible speech like the way the disciples did when they reached out to people from various tribes who were in Jerusalem during the Day of Pentecost.6
Since they are human languages, Paul, the disciple, wants Christians to interpret the tongues so that they can edify the church (1 Corinthians 14-13). Hence, speaking in tongues is only important if there are people who can interpret the tongues for the congregation to understand what the Holy Spirit says.
Christians also associate speaking in tongues with evil because Paul asserts that the speaking in tongues is an indicator of unbelievers. Although Paul could speak in tongues, he admonished other Christians to speak in languages that people could understand for the benefit of the church. In the book of the first Corinthians, Paul depicts speaking in tongues as unnecessary, if it does not edify the church.
Paul argues that it is better for one to speak a few intelligible words that edify the church than to speak thousands of words that edify no one. “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers, but for believers” (1 Corinthians 14: 22).
Contemporary Christians assign meaning to the speaking in tongues based on community interpretation rather than grammatical hermeneutics.7 Hence, the basis of interpreting the Bible has made Christians to perceive the gift of speaking in tongues as unnecessary.
Modern Christians further assume that the gift of speaking in tongues signifies the holiness among individuals. However, they do not have the means of determining if the gift of speaking in tongues is genuine or fake. Pentecostal churches strongly believe that speaking in tongues is central to their dogma because it indicates spiritual growth and development.8
While Paul regards speaking in tongues negatively as an indicator of unbelievers, Pentecostal churches regard speaking in tongues positively as an indicator of spiritual growth. Paul compares the gift of speaking in tongues with prophecy, and admonishes Christians to choose prophecy because it edifies many people.
Hence, owing to the subtlety of speaking in tongues, unbelievers abuse it and mislead Christians that they can perform miracles through it. To prevent the abuse of the gift of speaking in tongues, Paul did set rules that two or three people should exercise the gift, and that the speaker must not speak unless there is an interpreter.9
The teachings of Paul, therefore, split Christians into two: those who believe in the gift of speaking in tongues as a human language and those who believe in the gift of speaking in tongues as unintelligible utterances.
Application to the Lives of Christians in Today’s World
Speaking in tongues has an important application in today’s church because it signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit amongst believers. In the book of Acts, Jesus informed His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until when they would receive the Holy Spirit as a form of baptism (Acts 1: 8).
In this view, Luke indicates that the purpose of the Holy Spirit was to empower the disciples so that they could witness to the word of God and Jesus across the world for the people to understand the Kingdom of God. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter also told the congregation that the disciples had received the power of the Holy Spirit so that they could witness about Jesus.
Since on the Day of Pentecost the disciples were able to baptize approximately 3000 people, it indicated that the gift of speaking in tongues empowered teachings of the Gospel. Although speaking in tongues empowers Christians, Paul cautions them to avoid abusing it, and thus advises Christians to use interpreters and seek other gifts of the Holy Spirit that edify the church.10
Both Luke and Paul agree that speaking in tongues entails the use of various human languages, and thus require interpreters to benefit the church. Thus, today’s Christians need to utilize the gift of speaking in tongues as an instrument of preaching the Gospel to all people across the earth.
Moreover, speaking in tongues is important to modern Christians because it signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit and end times. When the congregation wondered why the disciples were speaking in their own languages during the Day of Pentecost, Peter informed them that they were fulfilling what the prophet Joel had predicted.
Peter further said that in the end times, God promised to pour His Spirit to the Christians so that they could prophecy and save many people from the corrupt world (Acts 2: 19).
This shows that speaking in tongues is a sign that aids Christians to understand the times and prepare well for the coming of Jesus. In the end times, Christians will acquire the gift of prophecy, which makes them to receive “intelligible and authoritative revelations or messages” that compel them to deliver to the people.11
For the Christian prophets to interpret prophetic messages and deliver them appropriately, they require the gift of speaking in tongues. Thus, the gift of speaking in tongues and the gift of prophecy are inseparable gifts of the Holy Spirit that the church will receive during the end times as presented by Paul and Luke.
The gift of speaking in tongues is among the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to the Christian. In the Bible, the Day of Pentecost is an event that demonstrated how the gift of speaking in tongues made disciples to speak in different languages, preach the Gospel, convert people to Christianity, and gain prophetic powers.
Luke, Paul, and Peter present the gift of speaking in tongues as the power of the Holy Spirit, which enables Christians to spread the Gospel and prophecy about the end times. Essentially, Christians should use the gift of speaking in tongues in edifying the church rather than self.
However, due to varied interpretation of the gift of speaking in tongues, many Christian religions have assumed that speaking in tongues is an ancient power that the disciples only received, entails unintelligible utterances, unnecessary gift because it is a sign of unbelievers, and a sign of spiritual growth that everyone must attain.
Despite such assumptions, the gift of speaking in tongues has great significance to the modern Christians. Thus, modern Christians should apply the gift of speaking in tongues in enhancing the spread of the Gospel and prophecy, which God wants to reveal to the whole world.
Bellshaw, William G. “The Confusion of Tongues.” Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 478 (1963): 146-53.
Bozung, Douglas. “The Pentecostal Doctrine of Initial Evidence: A Study in
Hermeneutical Method.” The Journal of Ministry & Theology 1, no. 1 (2004): 89-107.
Busenitz, Nathan. “The Gift Of Tongues: Comparing the Church Fathers with Contemporary.” Masters Seminary Journal 17, no. 1 (2006): 62-78.
Clearwaters, Richard. “The Gift of Tongues and Prophecy.” Central Bible Quarterly 15, no. 2 (1972): 35-39.
Hodges, Zane C. “A Symposium on the Tongues Movement Part I: The Purpose of Tongues.” Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 479 (1963): 227-233.
McDougall, Donald G. “Cessationism in 1 Cor 13:8-12.” Masters Seminary Journal 14, no.2 (2003): 178-213.
Poythress, Vern. “Linguistic and Sociological Analyses of Modern Tongues-speaking: Their Contributions and Limitations.” Westminster Theological Journal 42, no. 2 (1980): 367-388.
Swanson, Dennis. “Bibliography of Works on Cessationism.” Masters Seminary Journal 14, no. 2 (2003): 312–27.
Thomas, Robert. “The Hermeneutics of Noncessationism.” Masters Seminary Journal 14, no. 2 (2003): 287-310.
Van-Elderen, Bastian. “Glossolalia in the New Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 7, no.2 (1964): 54-58.
1 Richard Clearwaters, “The Gift of Tongues and Prophecy,” Central Bible Quarterly 15, no. 2 (1972): 38
2 Clearwaters, “The Gift of Tongues and Prophecy,” 35.
3 Nathan Busenitz, “The Gift Of Tongues: Comparing the Church Fathers with Contemporary,” Masters Seminary Journal 17, no. 1 (2006): 66.
4 Zane Hodges, “A Symposium on the Tongues Movement Part I: The Purpose of Tongues,” Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 479 (1963): 232.
5 Vern Poythress, “Linguistic and Sociological Analyses of Modern Tongues speaking: Their Contributions and Limitations,” Westminster Theological Journal 42, no. 2 (1980): 375.
6 Douglas Bozung, “The Pentecostal Doctrine of Initial Evidence: A Study in Hermeneutical Method,” The Journal of Ministry & Theology 1, no. 1 (2004): 96.
7 Robert Thomas, “The Hermeneutics of Noncessationism,” Masters Seminary Journal 14, no. 2 (2003): 287.
8 Dennis Swanson, “Bibliography of Works on Cessationism,” Masters Seminary Journal 14, no. 2 (2003): 315.
9 William Bellshaw, “The Confusion of Tongues,” Bibliotheca Sacra 120:478 (1963): 152.
10 Bastian Van-Elderen, “Glossolalia in the New Testament,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 7, no.2 (1964): 54.
11 Donald McDougall, “Cessationism in 1 Cor 13:8-12,” Masters Seminary Journal 14, no.2 (2003): 188.