Do all speak in tongues?

One of the questions most commonly asked about the baptism in the Holy Spirit is whether it is always accompanied by speaking in tongues. I have come across this question a couple of times recently, so I thought it would be appropriate to prepare a response. As there are proof texts that quoted by both sides of the argument, I will first just provide all the texts without editorial, so we can get an idea of the biblical voice on the matter.

[Update 15/03/06. I originally missed two verses, 1Co 13:8 and 1Co 14:22, which I have now inserted for completeness.]

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; (Mk 16:17)

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Ac 2:4)

For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. (Ac 10:46)

And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Ac 19:6)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good... to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (1Co 12:7,10)

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (1Co 12:28)

Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1Co 12:30)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1Co 13:1)

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (1Co 13:8)

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (1Co 14:2)

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. (1Co 14:5)

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. (1Co 14:5)

Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? (1Co 14:6)

So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. (1Co 14:9)

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. (1Co 14:13)

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. (1Co 14:14)

Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. (1Co 14:22)

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? (1Co 14:23)

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1Co 14:26)

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. (1Co 14:18)

If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. (1Co 14:27)

So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1Co 14:39)
[All verses ESV]

The first, obvious, thing to mention is the sheer volume of passages on this subject. It is clearly an important matter, and one not to be ignored or swept under the carpet. Paul himself says, he does not want us to be ignorant of spiritual gifts.

Now, those who would propose that tongues is just for a select few would point to the verses in 1Co 12, that say that each has a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good, but that not everyone has the gift of tongues. This would certainly be a plausible exegesis if 1Co 12 was the only passage on the gift of tongues we have, but as can be clearly seen from the list above, it is not. How does such an exegesis square with the other scriptural passages that say that speaking in tongues is a sign for all who believe? Why two chapters later in 1Co 14 would Paul express his desire for everyone to speak in tongues if this was never going to be a possibility? Why would he describe a scenario of an unbeliever walking into a meeting where everyone was speaking in tongues if this could never happen? Did he suffer from short term memory loss, and forget what he had written two chapters earlier?

Most importantly we need to ask ourselves a question: are the occurrences of baptism in the Spirit as recorded in the book of Acts normative experiences for believers today. It is an important question for all who believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, because if they are not, we have a big problem, as there are no other descriptions given! In each case in the book of acts the manifestation that the Spirit had fallen on a group of believers was that they spoke in tongues. If there was any other manifestation, it is not explicitly recorded for us.

So how then are we to understand the instructions in 1Co 12? Well the alternative to Paul contradicting himself in 1Co 14 is that he is actually reinforcing the same argument. In 1Co 14 he is talking about orderly worship in the church, and how if everyone speaks in tongues then no-one goes away edified. In this context the instructions in 1Co 12 make perfect sense; when we come together as the people of God there are manifestations of the Spirit distributed amongst us for the common good. Thus 1Co 12:7-10 finds and echo in 1Co 14:26. These two chapters are not contradictory, but complementary.

The baptism in the Spirit is a gift from God that he does not withhold from any believer. The fact that some have not yet realised this and taken hold of it is another issue and one that we see clear scriptural mandate for in Acts 8 and Acts 19. But it is available to all. When we come together though, it is clear that for orderly worship the Spirit does not intend us all to bring messages in tongues, and that those that are brought should be interpreted.


Libbie said...

OK, I'm following along.. I'm talking about this in real life with my charismatic friend at the moment, too, funnily enough.

I'm still not really convinced about the 'private prayer-language available to all' thing, but there we are.

I agree that the passages are complementary, not contradictory. You're right to point out how ridiculous it would be for Paul to have short term amnesia. I'm trying to form my differences to this position clearly. I think perhaps I'd say that as 'sign' gifts, the sensible question to ask is 'signs of what?'.

If I'm reading you right, you think 'ongoing signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit'. Is it that right?

Chris HH said...

Welcome, Libbie.
Thank you for your honest thoughts. I appreciate your comments.

"Private prayer language" isn't a phrase that is used in the bible. I'd therefore prefer manifestation of the Holy Spirit, imparted at baptism in the Spirit, for the purpose of building yourself up, and communicating to God (all of which you can find in the verses above).

Ultimately only two questions are important. 1) Is it from God. 2) Does he want me to have it. If you can answer those questions as "yes" with confidence then the rest is somewhat academic, for whatever the mechanics and precise nature of the gift, you know that God only gives good gifts.

Though, I don't want to dodge your excellent question about the nature of the sign. I'd say, based on Mark 19, that they are "signs of confirmation." To rephrase the question slightly, its not "signs of what?", but "signs to who?" All signs point to something, and every true manifestation of the Spirit will point to Christ, and give him glory. That is the true test of the spirits (1Co 12:3)

Barnabas said...

Hi Chris,

Awesome blog here, keep it up!

Little confused here on a point. What of 1 Cor 14:22 where it says tongues is a sign to unbelievers? I didn't see this in your list of verses. Thanks!


Chris HH said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Barnabus.

You are right that the list is incomplete. I did a search for "speak tongue" to pick up "speaking in tongues" and "speaks in a tongue", but you are right that there are verses that reference tongues that are not covered in this search. To do a complete search on "tongue" one would have to filter out the verses regarding the tongue as an organ or instrument of natural speech, such as in James; If I get the time, I will revisit and update the list.

Regards 1Co 14:22, I don't claim to understand this, especially in the light of the rest of Paul's instructions in 1Co 14, especially the very next verse! I guess there is a tension in that although the one who speaks in a tongue only edifies himself (unless it is interpreted) it is nevertheless still one of the signs that accompany those who believe, and thus marks us out from those that don't... but I'm still seeking revelation on this verse!

Libbie said...

That is difficult one. The only way I've heard it explained before is that it's a different type of tongue. But I honestly think that's rather an argument from silence.
I'm sorry I haven't got back to you sooner, I've been having a similar conversation with someone elsewhere and find my head spinning as it usually does with this debate.
We've been talking about how on earth I would know tha difference between the play gibberish I talk to my daughter in, and tongues, which I did believe at one time I had spoken in, and which, to be honest, sounds exactly the same.

So the problem for me is that your questions 1) Is it from God. 2) Does he want me to have it, are question I could not confidently answer yes to anyway..

Chris HH said...

Libbie, thanks again for your honest remarks.

I too sometimes speak in play gibberish to my son. But to me the difference is clear. Gibberish has no meaning, it is just vocal sounds chosen at random, and as you have probably discovered, it's quite hard to keep up. Tongues, on the other hand, is communicating something, its just that its meaning is hidden. It does not come from the mind stringing vocal sounds together, but an overflow from you inner (wo)man.

It's like watching a film in a foreign language, although you do not understand the words, you know something is being communicated, and you can often pick up on the emotion that is being conveyed.

Ultimately, though, spiritual gifts have to be discerned by the Spirit. There is no scientific litmus test to distinguish tongues from gibberish. All I know is when my son speaks in gibberish it has never yet caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end!

Kev C said...

1Co 14:22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.

Perhaps I'm missing this completely Chris, but here goes anyway; could it not be as simple as to mean that for the unbeliever to hear another speaking in 'tongues' would be strange and marvelous and a sign that that person (the speaker)is indeed a believer given the miraculous gift of speaking in 'other tongues', as Albert Barnes states in his 'Notes on the Bible', "a miracle designed to convince them (unbeleivers presumably) of the truth of the Christian religion".

Whereas to hear another prophesying is to be taught the things of God and is (although not exclusively of course) for the believer, to build them up and stir their faith?

In thinking about this I've looked briefly at a number of 'old school' commentaries (Matthew Henry, John Darby, Adam Clarke) all more or less say the same sort of thing to varying degrees although some go on to expound against the use of tongues in corporate gatherings, a view I cannot agree with. But for me John Wesley's 'Explanatory Notes on the Bible' perhaps gives the most concise view; "Tongues are intended for a sign to unbelievers - To engage their attention, and convince them the message is of God. Whereas prophecy is not so much for unbelievers, as for the confirmation of them that already believe."

This is not necessarily my view but thought I'd chuck it into the debate to see what others might think.

Chris HH said...

I think you are right, Kevin. That is certainly the best explanation.

The biggest challenge in exegeting this passage is when you take it as a whole; this verse in conjunction with the next two verses, where Paul gives an example which seems to reverse the statement here. If an unbeliever hears everyone speak in tongues he will think we are crazy, but if he hears everyone prophesy he will be convicted and be convinced that God is with us.

I can get my head round both verses in isolation, but seeing how Paul gets from one to the other with a "therefore" is what still has me puzzled.

Kev C said...

Mmm... could we read 'yet' or as in the NLT 'Even so' for 'therefore' and could this seeming about turn in approach by Paul not be attributable to on the one hand the use of tongues by an individual in convicting an 'unbeliever' or bringing revelation by interpretation, as against on the other corporate uncontrolled use of tongues where no interpretation is offered and which could to an outsider or unbeliever seem no more than indecorus babble? As such Paul warns off believers from that possible misuse of tongues?

Chris HH said...

Absolutely! I think you are really onto something here, Kevin. I'm no Greek expert, but if we can replace "therefore" with "even so", then it all makes perfect sense, and fits the context of the passage perfectly in just the way you describe!

Great insight!

Matthew said...

Chris - how does this tie in with you previous post about the "sign" of tongues to the unbelievers of Acts 2?

Chris HH said...

The previous post discussed the nature of the sign (unknown or known languages). This post discusses its extent, with a fruitful detour into its application in the church in the light of Paul's comments in 1Co 14:22 compared with verses 23-24.

Have you spotted something inconsistent?

Kev C said...

Chris/Matthew, could the answer to Matthew's question re the previous post, lie in your ultimate paragraph Chris?

Barnabas said...

This book may addess my own previous comment and others for this post. specificly chp 5 but I'd suggest reading from the begining to get the context.


SLW said...

I just came across this post, following a hit my tracker listed. It's well after the fact, but I still thought kudos were in order.
Very nice treatment, very good post.

Chris HH said...

Thanks SLW,
It's good to know that some of these old posts still get read. :-)

Barry said...

My comments have come rather late as I have only just come across this site during some research into this subject.

With the use of the word "sign" within 1Cor 14:22 we should not assume that "sign" will always imply something good or positive.
It may be good to read the passage in the following manner:

Tongues then are a (negative) sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy however is (positive)for believers but (negative)for unbelievers.

In the preceding verse Paul reminds them how Israel was both confused and frightened by the unknown language of the invading armies which God used to bring about Israel's repentance. So when we have unbelievers coming into a meeting where everyone speaks in tongues all at once, it can only bring about confusion - which will only have a negative effect on them.
If they walk in and everyone is prophesying, the Spirit will frequently make an unbeliever accountable for his actions/behaviour by having someone prophesy directly to them. Now this can at times be a fearsome (and scary) occurrence, though negative with its wording it can bring about a positive result (hopefully) in that they will repent.
Naturally enough, when prophecy is directed toward believers the Spirit will only direct encouraging or directive words to them, but in the case of an unbeliever the Spirit can be very persuading and direct; so (negative words)which will warn them of their unrepentant state can be turned around when they take (positive) action through repentance.
Could you imagine walking into a church when you were unsaved and having someone or a number of people speaking to you under the guidance of the Holy Spirit about you sin...serious stuff!