Speaking in Tongues
By Tom Brown
Speaking in tongues is the most talked about
phenomena in Christianity. Pentecostalism and the Charismatic
movement has brought speaking in tongues to the forefront, and
these branches of Christianity are without doubt the fastest
growing segments of Christianity. These movements are impacting
the world even more than the reformation did.
Yet with all the talk about speaking in
tongues, few understand what it's all about. It is the least
understood subject among believers. People will be surprise to
find that the Bible mentions speaking in tongues thirty-five
times. That is a lot, so this subject should not be cast lightly
aside as unimportant to the Church. God does not fill His book
with things of minor importance.
Many people who have never spoken in tongues
speak as though they're experts in this field, when in reality
they teach only from theory.
Who should know more about tongues: those who
speak in tongues or those who don't? Well, shouldn't we learn
from those who do speak in tongues!? Since I do speak in tongues,
I feel that I can bring scriptural wisdom with experience in this
article. This column will clarify common misunderstandings and
show the importance and benefits of speaking in tongues.
WHAT GOOD IS IT?
The Apostle Paul writes, "He who speaks in
tongues edifies himself...I would like every one of you to speak
in tongues" (1 Corinthians 14:4,5). With these positive
statement about tongues, why do so few Christians speak in
tongues? I believe the answer is because there is very little
sound, logical and scriptural teaching as to the scope and value
of speaking in tongues.
Recently I spoke to a group of Mormons at the
University Ward on North Oregon Street. I shared my testimony on
how God saved and filled me with the Holy Spirit with the
evidence of speaking in tongues. After the talk, the number one
question the students asked was on speaking in tongues. One
inquisitive student asked, "What does speaking in tongues do
I answered, "It does exactly what the
Bible says it does: He who speaks in tongues edifies
himself." The word "edify" means to "build
up" or "charge up"--much like charging up a
battery. We all need a spiritual charge. All of us at times feel
spiritually drained. One of God's ways to charge your spirit is
through speaking in tongues.
A HEAVENLY LANGUAGE
Many people inaccurately define speaking in
tongues as "speaking gibberish" or "talking
nonsense." The truth is, speaking in tongues is the most
intelligent, perfect language in the universe. It is God's
What language do you suppose people speak in
heaven? Languages are given their name based on the countries
they come from. For example, English comes from England. Spanish
comes from Spain. Italian comes from Italy.
Well, where does tongues come from? It comes
from Heaven! Tongues is the heavenly language. It is what is
spoken in heaven; the only difference is that the people in
heaven understand what they are saying. Here on earth Paul says,
"For anyone who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but
to God. Indeed, no one understand him; he utters mysteries with
his spirit" (v. 2).
Jesus says that those who believe in Him will
"speak in new tongues" (Mark 16:17). The word "new" means appearing
for the first time. No one had spoken these languages before. Contrary to bad
theology tongues is not an ability given to preach the gospel in the language of
foreigners. This would make tongues "old" languages. It is only appropriate that
"new tongues" should be spoken by those of the "new birth." It is natural and
normal to speak in the language of your birth. We are born again
from above, therefore we should speak the language from
above--that language is called "new tongues."
SHOULDN'T TONGUES BE UNDERSTOOD?
The first to speak in tongues were the
disciples. This occurred on the day of Pentecost. People often think that on
the disciples were speaking human languages, because the people
could understand what they were saying.
I don't believe this is true because there was
a two-fold miracle taking place on this day: the miracle of
speaking and hearing: The first miracle was the speaking in
tongues. The second miracle was the enabling of some to
understand the tongues. Not everyone understood the tongues,
because some onlookers made fun of the disciples and accused them
of being drunk (Acts 2:13); this clearly shows that they did not understand
And the ones who did understand the tongues were perplex because each one
heard only their own
native language not the languages of the other people (v. 6). The Bible tells us that there were over
fourteen foreigners representing many nations, speaking different
languages. Yet each person heard the disciples praising God in
their own language. They exclaimed, "How is it that each of us hears them in his
own native language?" (v. 8) They could not figure out how this was possible.
It is clear that the disciples were not "preaching" the gospel in tongues,
they were instead "declaring the wonders of God" (v. 11). They were not speaking
"to men but to God" (1 Cor 14:2). The people were simply listening in on their
praises to God. It wasn't until Peter stood up to speak to the crowd in one
common language that the gospel was preached. So tongues are not supernatural
human languages given to the apostles so they could preach in languages they did
not naturally learn.
The disciples were not speaking human
languages; they were speaking in unknown tongues. But God enabled
those whose hearts were opened to understand what the disciples
were saying. Sometimes this happens today. You see, the miracle was in the
hearing of the people.
THE BAPTISM IN THE SPIRIT
Let us look carefully at the first scriptural
account of speaking in tongues:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were
all together in one place. 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. (Acts 2:1-4).
This experience is what John the baptist and
Jesus called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This was the fulfillment of Jesus
promise, "In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5). Every Christian
believes in baptizing in water. But few accept the better
baptism--the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Since you were willing
to be baptized in water, shouldn't you also be willing to be
baptized in the Holy Spirit?
Theologians often confuse the baptism in the
Holy Spirit with salvation. They often regard these two
experiences as being the same. This confuses believers. They
incorrectly assume that salvation is the same as the baptism in
the Holy Spirit. The Bible does not teach this. The Bible clearly
teaches that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate
experience from salvation and comes after a person is saved,
although it can occur at the time of salvation.
The story of the Samaritan converts plainly
proves this (see Acts 8:5-25). Philip preached to them about
Christ. The people joyfully accepted the gospel and was born
again. They confirmed their faith by being baptized as well. Yet,
despite the fact that these folks were truly saved, Philip called
for the apostles to come and pray for them that they would
receive the Holy Spirit. It is clear from this story that being
saved is not the same as receiving the Holy Spirit. (Although the
Holy Spirit is definitely involved in salvation.)
Another biblical story illustrates this fact
(see Acts 19:1-7). Paul met some disciples of John the Baptist.
He thought they were believers in the Lord Jesus, because they
talked so much about repentance. Paul, unaware that they were
only disciples of John, yet knowing something was missing in
these men, asked them an obvious question, "Did you receive
the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
The question itself proves that Paul, including
the early church, believed that it was possible to be a believer
in Jesus without having received the Holy Spirit. If receiving
the Holy Spirit was automatic at conversion, then why did Paul
asked the question, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when
THE PHYSICAL EVIDENCE
I was baptized in the Holy Spirit at the First
Assembly of God church on Montana. The preacher asked for those
wishing to dedicate themselves to the ministry to come forward
for prayer. The first to come forward was a tall, slender fellow
name Timmy. I thought, "If Timmy can go forward, I can
too." So I followed him down to the front of the podium.
Without notice, something invisible hit Timmy,
and down he went on the floor. Almost immediately, something hit
me too. Down I went, prostrate on the ground. I began to weep
uncontrollably. God's presence was all over me. This went on for
The thought occurred to me, "This must be
what my church has been talking about all these years. What is
happening to me must be the baptism in the Holy Spirit." No
sooner did I think that when I heard this scripture in my mind,
"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to
speak in other tongues."
If I'm filled with the Holy Spirit, then I'll
speak in other tongues, I reasoned in my mind. Right then, I
began speaking in other tongues--and I haven't stopped yet! Glory
You see, the physical proof of the baptism in
the Holy Spirit is the same evidence that the disciples had:
speaking in tongues. You may have other evidences as well, but
the one evidence you should have is speaking in tongues.
There are five examples in the Bible of people
receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:4; 8:17;
9:17; 10:44; 19:6). In three out of the five examples we are told
that specific signs took place. In the other two examples, the
manifestation of physical signs taking place are implied, but not
mentioned. Based on these two cases we cannot build any solid
evidence as to what should happen when someone is baptized in the
Holy Spirit. However, based on the other three examples we can
build a good, solid case as to what should happen when someone is
baptized in the Spirit.
We are told in these three examples that
certain physical manifestations took place. In each case, more
than one physical sign took place, which teaches us that there
are usually more than one sign taking place when people are
baptized in the Holy Spirit. Yet, there is one sign--and only one
sign--that is common to all three examples. The identical sign
was speaking in tongues. Based on this observation we can
conclude that the standard sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit
is speaking in tongues.
Speaking in tongues is the physical, biblical
evidence that one is baptized in the Holy Spirit. We should not
settle for anything less than the scriptural evidence.
If you haven't been baptized in the Holy
Spirit, seek God about it and pray for it in faith. God never
lets a thirsty soul go dry.
DO ALL SPEAK IN TONGUES?
Someone may say, "How can you say that all
Christians should speak in tongues considering the apostle Paul's
words, 'Do all speak in tongues?'? (1 Corinthians 12:30).
In this passage, Paul is talking about public
ministry gifts that are manifested in the church. He is not
talking about tongues as the initial sign of the baptism in the
Spirit, nor is he talking about tongues as a private, devotional,
You can recognize this by simply looking at the
language Paul uses concerning speaking in tongues. In this
chapter he calls speaking in tongues "different kinds of
tongues" (see 12:10,28). "Different kinds" means
"not the usual." The usual kind of speaking in tongues
is a language no man understands or interprets. However, speaking
in "different kinds" of tongues enables the speaker or
someone else to recognize the meaning of the tongue and thereby
So when Paul ask the question, "Do all
speak in tongues?", he is referring to the public
manifestation of tongues which enables a person gifted in
interpretation to speak out the meaning of the tongue. Not all
have been given this gift of "different kinds" of
In the fourteenth chapter of this epistle, Paul
corrects the misuse of tongues in the church. He told them to
stop the practice gathering "the whole church [so] everyone [can] speak in tongues" (v. 23). Notice carefully
that the "whole church" was gathered and that
"everyone" was speaking in tongues. This clearly shows
us that everyone in the Corinthian church was speaking in
tongues. Most of them should have allowed those gifted in the
"different kinds" of tongues to exercise their gift,
and the rest should simply "keep quiet in the church and
speak to himself and God" (v. 28).
Friend, I encourage you to seek the scriptural
evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and to settle for
nothing but the best.