Is there such thing as speaking in tongues? In the Bible Paul said he had
that spiritual gift and it was his greatest gift (1CO 14), and then I read
a study Bible and it said that as Christians we could have the gift but it
is not of help to others but just for your personal relationship with God;
that this gift is not to be brought to church or shown in public. Am I
right or is speaking in tongues just speaking in other understandable


I believe you need to do your own Bible study on this topic. I am happy
to share with you my belief, but encourage you to check out the relevant
scriptures for yourself. Clearly, there is not complete agreement in the
denominational world on this question.

The answer is that tongues were a very real phenomenon in New Testament
times. The most famous example of this, of course, is found in Acts
2:1-13. On the Day of Pentecost, which was also the day of the first
publicly preached gospel sermon, the apostles were speaking miraculously
in many languages which they had never learned. Tongues were always
speaking on other real languages. The babbling one finds in charismatic
churches today is not what was found in the early church, as far as we
know. This is one of the signs which ushered in the kingdom of God. This
was not the only time disciples of Jesus spoke in tongues. Apparently
similar signs accompanied the revelation to Peter that he was to offer
salvation to the Gentiles as well (Acts 10:44-46). When Philip the
evangelist brought the gospel to Samaria, he was not able to impart the
miraculous gifts of the spirit. I assume that was because he was not one
of the apostles. I reach this conclusion because he had to call to
Jerusalem for them to send Peter and John so that they could impart the
gifts of the spirit to the new converts in Samaria. I assume these gifts
included speaking in tongues.

It is important to ask why God chose to give these miraculous gifts. They
were not promised to all believers, so why were they given in the early
church? Hebrews 2:4 gives us at least one reason. “God also testified to
it (the message of salvation) by signs, wonders, and various miracles and
gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Notice that
the writer of Hebrews refers to the giving of the gifts in the past
tense. I am not saying that no one was still exhibiting these gifts when
Hebrews was written, but it seems to indicate that they had ended or
perhaps were decreasing as part of Christian experience by the 60’s AD,
when Hebrews was written.

This is my conclusion (and I could add many passages supporting the
conclusion). I believe that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were
given by the laying on of the hands of the apostles. They were given for
the purpose of testifying to the new teachings about the gospel of Jesus
in the early history of the church. As the New Testament came together,
and as mature leaders populated the churches, the need for such miraculous
gifts to testify to the validity of the gospel and to provide for inspired
teachers was reduced. The miraculous gifts gradually died out, not so
much because there were no longer apostles to hand them on (although that
would eventually have brought then to an end), but because they were not
needed. As far as I know, there is no record of speaking in tongues being
part of the mainstream church after the first century. From this time
forward, the only ones practicing the miraculous gifts were heretical
groups, which makes their claims dubious.

Now, it is true that Paul said that “I would like every one of you to
speak in tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:5) This passage needs to be taken in
its context. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that the greatest
gift is love, and that the miraculous gifts were to disappear with time.
He said that miraculous gifts had their place at the time he wrote
Corinthians, but he deemphasized their importance.

You raise issues about how speaking in tongues should be handled in the
church. I believe that it should not be in the church and that most
likely those who do this are not receiving this gift from God at all. I
do not mean to judge, and it is not my place to do so, but it is my
understanding of scripture that these tongue speakers are decieved about
the source of their gift. God can do what he will. I am not a prophet,
and cannot judge such things, so want to be careful what I say. God
certainly can give miraculous gifts to whomever he wants, and he does not
consult me, but that is how I see this biblical issue. If tongues should
not be in the church–if they are more a psychological phenomenon than a
gift of God, then the issues you raise are non-issues. This phenomenon is
neither for the church nor for personal relationship with God. It is a
distraction from doing the work of God. It is not “for your personal
relationship with God.” That is my view, but I encourage you to study
this out for yourself.

John Oakes, PhD

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