Do Believers Speak Biblical Tongues Today?

The issue of tongues is a touchy issue among Christian circles today. There has been a very large resurgence of speaking tongues in churches in America and around the world over the last few decades. The question that must be asked however, is whether or not the tongues being practiced today are in line with what the scriptures have to say about tongues. After looking at various Scriptures it can be shown that speaking in tongues was not for believers, but as a sign of judgment to unbelieving Israel.

1 Corinthians 14 is commonly referred to as the tongues chapter of the New Testament. In it Paul gives several guidelines to using tongues. But before examining these guidelines, it must be noted that Paul says that he bases his own conclusion on tongues from a specific passage in the Old Testament. Paul’s conclusion is this: “In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the lord.’ Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers.”[1] In his book “Spiritual Gifts,” Renald E. Showers has this to say on the duration of gifts: “The duration of a spiritual gift is determined by its purpose or function. Once it fulfills that purpose or function, the gift is no longer necessary, and God does away with it.”[2] This statement reveals the importance of understanding the exact purpose tongues was intended for. To find this purpose, the context of the Old Testament passage Paul is quoting must be examined.

The Quote is from Isaiah 28.11. In this chapter Isaiah is speaking about the spiritual leaders of Israel. These leaders reject God’s prophet messenger (Isaiah himself) saying that Isaiah is doing nothing more than treating them like little kids.[3] After all, why should the leaders of Israel be educated concerning the ways of the Lord? In the end, these leaders reject Gods message. God’s judgement will come in this form: “For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people, to whom he has said, ‘This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose;’ yet they would not hear.”[4] God would no longer speak to the Israelites by prophets, instead he speak to them in judgement, “the judgement of conquest and oppression by foreigners whose language the Jews would not understand.”[5] Being forced to listen to these foreign languages by their captors was the sign to the Jews that they were under the judgement of God.

Several other Old testament passages support this is what God intended to be understood from this passage. In Jeremiah 5.11-13, God declares that Israel has sinned against Him and that they have rejected his “windbag” prophets. The judgement? “Behold, I am bringing against you a nation from afar… It is an enduring nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say.”[6] But God also warned Israel of this punishment in the Law as well. In Deuteronomy 28 God promises blessings for Israel if they obey His Law. But He also promised judgement if the Israelites disobeyed. These judgements were to be a sign and a wonder to the Israelites and their offspring reminding them that they disobeyed their Lord.[7] The punishment again being “a nation… from far away… whose language you do not understand.”[8] The Deuteronomy passage gives a very important insight to the purpose of tongues. In verse 46 we read “they shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever.” It is revealed that tongues are intended to be a sign and that they will continue to be a sign for all of Israel’s descendants.

The question that needs to be asked at this point, is how does the Isaiah passage relate to the New Testament? Paul’s conclusion of this passage is that speaking in tongues is a sign of judgement to disbelieving Jews. But what are the Jews being judged for? In short, their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. The judgements in the Old Testament came on Israel for rejection of the prophets. In the New Testament, Jesus indicated that He was God’s greatest prophet,[9] the spokesman bearing the message of God,[10] and said that His words and deeds were greater than those of the Old Testament prophets.[11] The reason the Jews in the time of Paul were being judged was because they rejected God’s messenger, His very own Son. [12]

Now that the purpose and intention of tongue speaking has been established, the duration of the gift of tongues must be addressed. Jesus said in Luke 19.41-44 that the city of Jerusalem would come under judgement. That it would be surrounded and that the enemies of Israel would come into the city and destroy it. In the year of 66 AD the Jewish War began. It started as a result of Jews revolting against the roman empire. The height of the war came in the form of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The war finally ended in 73 AD with many many Jews dying and being taken into slavery.[13] The gift of tongues that was being practiced in that day was intended to be a warning to the Jews that God was about to pour out judgement on the nation for rejecting Jesus. It can be concluded that the gift of tongues ended at or around 73 AD.

In conclusion, this post examined the original purpose and intent of speaking in tongues, that result being a sign of judgement to Israel for rejecting God’s prophets and messengers. Since the judgement has been carried out, the use of tongues is no longer needed. The phenomena that occurs in today’s Pentecostal circles is not biblical. Ecstatic utterances are never mentioned in the Bible. When tongues are mentioned it is always a reference to a real known language.

1. 1 Cor. 14.21, 22. (All quotations from the ESV)
2. Showers, “Spiritual Gifts.” 37
3. Isa. 28.9
4. Isa. 28.11,12
5. Showers, “Spiritual Gifts.” 39

6. Jer. 5.15
7. Deut. 28.46
8. Deut. 28.49
9. Mt. 13.57; Lk. 13.33; Jn. 4.43,44

10. Jn. 7.16-18; 8.26,28,29; 14.10
11. Mt. 13.17; Lk. 10.24
12. Data for this paragraph from Showers p. 44
13. Showers 52-3

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