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Is speaking in tongues a sign that I have the Holy Spirit? If I never speak in tongues can I be saved? Are those who speak in tongues holier / at a higher level of Christian experience than those who do not?
Article: Captured by
An Amazing Fact:
A gift from an enemy can be very deadly. The
underworld has successfully dispatched many human targets by beautifully
wrapping a bomb as a gift with an ornate bow and paper that explodes when
opened. Today the devil is using a counterfeit gift of the Spirit-a pagan
form of the gift of tongues-to gain access to the church of God and
destroy it from within.
Shortly after becoming a Christian, I was
hitchhiking from Palm Springs to Los Angeles to visit my mother. About
halfway to my destination, I caught a ride with a kind, middle-aged
Pentecostal lady who was very pleased to hear of my recent conversion. As
we drove along, she asked, "Have you received the Holy Ghost
I was a little surprised by her question,
because no one had ever asked me that before. "Well, I think I
have," I said slowly. "I've certainly felt God's Spirit in my
life. The Lord is helping me make so many changes-you know, like giving up
drugs, stealing, lying, cursing, and much more."
"No, that's not what I mean," she
said, looking a little frustrated. "Have you received the baptism of
the Holy Ghost? Do you speak in tongues?"
It struck me as odd that she seemed far more
interested in whether or not I had experienced an ecstatic utterance than
she was in the fact that I was having victory over the sins that had long
held me captive!
Even still, this kind lady was convinced that
I was missing out on a primary element of the Christian experience. And
not wanting to be deprived of something so important, I began a very deep
search into the controversial subject of tongues. The first few churches I
attended were all charismatic, which means they believed in speaking in
ecstatic tongues-an experience often described as glossolalia. Most of my
new friends at our Bible study group "spoke in tongues," so the
information I am about to share is the result of firsthand experience as
well as years of research.
I need to address some unpopular facts in
this study, and I must begin by saying that although I disagree with some
of the teachings of my charismatic brothers and sisters, I firmly believe
that God has thousands of His children in these fellowships. I also
recognize that even among charismatics there are vast differences of
interpretation regarding the gift of tongues, so forgive me if I
generalize at times. The war I wage is not against people, but against
error. The same truth that at times can hurt will also promise to set us
free (John 8:32)!
begin with a definition. The word "tongue" in the Bible simply
means "a language."
gives all the gifts of the Spirit to fill a practical need. What was the
need for tongues?
told His followers, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Ghost." Matthew 28:19. This command posed a problem. How could the
apostles go out preaching to all the world when they spoke only one or two
languages? After all, Jesus' disciples were very bright, even though most
of them were not formally educated. In order to fulfill the great
commission, He promised to give them a unique gift from the Holy Spirit.
It was a miraculous, supernatural ability to speak foreign languages they
had not formerly studied or known for the purpose of spreading the Gospel.
these signs shall follow them that believe; ... they shall speak with new
tongues." Mark 16:17.
fact that Jesus said these new tongues, or languages, would be a
"sign" indicates that the ability to speak them would not come
as the result of normal linguistic study. Rather, it would be an
instantaneous gift to fluently preach in a previously unfamiliar language.
are only three actual examples of speaking in tongues recorded in the
Bible (Acts chapters 2, 10, and 19). If we look at these three cases, we
should find a clearer picture of this controversial gift.
the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one
place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty
wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there
appeared unto them cloven [divided] tongues like as of fire, and it sat
upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began
to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts
is a symbol for power. God sent this gift in the form of tongues of fire
so they would know that He would empower their feeble tongues in the same
way He strengthened Moses to go before Pharaoh (Exodus 4:10-12) and
touched Isaiah's lips with a coal from the heavenly altar (Isaiah 6:6, 7).
did the Lord wait until Pentecost to bestow this gift? Acts 2:5-11 sets
the scene: "And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men,
out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the
multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard
them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled,
saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? ... We
do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
day of Pentecost was a Jewish holy day that fell 50 days after Passover.
Devoted Israelites would come from all over the Roman empire to worship in
Jerusalem. God chose this timely opportunity to bestow this gift of
tongues upon the disciples so they could preach to the visiting Jews in
their native languages. At least 15 different language groups were
represented in the crowd that day (Acts 2:9-11)! As a result, thousands of
these visitors were converted. Then, after Pentecost, they in turn carried
their new faith home to their respective countries.
this example it should be very clear that the gift of tongues was given to
communicate the gospel in different existing languages of the world.
have mistakenly suggested that the miracle on Pentecost was a gift to hear
and understand different languages. It was not a gift of hearing given to
the listeners, but rather a gift of the Spirit given to enable the
believers to speak (Acts 2:4). It is not called the gift of ears for the
listeners, but the gift of tongues for the speakers. Furthermore, the sign
was not ears of fire on the listeners, but tongues of fire on the ones
is also sometimes suggested that the gift of tongues is a "heavenly
language" understood only by God or those with the gift of
interpretation. The Bible is clear in Acts chapter 2 that both the
disciples and those listening understood what was being preached-"the
wonderful works of God." Verse 11.
look now at the second example when Peter preached to Cornelius and his
Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard
the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as
many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out
the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and
magnify God." Acts 10:44-46.
10:1 tells us that Cornelius was Italian, while Peter was a Jew and spoke
Aramaic. History also tells us that the servants in a Roman home could be
from anywhere in the world. Because there were obvious language barriers
at this meeting, Peter likely began to preach through an interpreter. But
when the Holy Ghost fell upon Cornelius and his household, the Jews with
Peter could understand the Gentiles speaking in languages other than their
native tongues. The record is that the Jews heard them "magnify
God" in these languages. When later reporting this experience to the
church leaders, Peter said, "The Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us
at the beginning." Acts 11:15, emphasis added.
here plainly tells us that Cornelius and his family received the same gift
of tongues in the same way the disciples did on the day of Pentecost. In
other words, they spoke languages they had not formerly known in a way
that could be understood.
third and final example of speaking in tongues is when Paul preached to 12
Ephesian disciples. Acts 19:6 records, "And when Paul had laid his
hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues,
was the most educated and widely traveled of the apostles, and he spoke
many languages (1 Corinthians 14:18). When the Holy Spirit came upon these
12 Ephesian men, Paul recognized that they were prophesying, or preaching,
in new languages. Most likely they spoke in languages common throughout
the Roman Empire, since that would be practical for spreading the Gospel.
Luke does not say that they received a form of tongues different from the
first two examples, so we must assume that it was the same type of gift
given at Pentecost.
find that the only times the gift of tongues was associated with the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit is when people from more than one language
group were gathered together, thus creating communication barriers.
that in Acts chapter 4 you have a repeat of the experience described in
chapter 2. The place was shaken and they were filled with the Holy Spirit,
but because there were no foreigners present, the gift of tongues was
absent. Acts 4:31 says, "And when they had prayed, the place was
shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with
the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness."
purpose for the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not to mutter or babble
unintelligible sounds, but rather to have power for preaching. This is why
Jesus said, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is
come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in
all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the
earth." Acts 1:8.
14 New Testament books written by Paul, 1 Corinthians is the only one in
which he deals with the subject of tongues. The Corinthian church
obviously had a specific, temporary problem because Paul's second letter
to Corinth never even mentions tongues.
ancient city of Corinth was famous for its two international seaports.
Because the Corinthian church was a melting pot of many different
nationalities, its services often became chaotic and confusing. Evidently
some of the members would pray, testify, or preach in languages unknown to
the others present. This is why Paul commanded that if they spoke in a
tongue unknown to the majority, they should remain silent unless there was
someone there to interpret or translate (1 Corinthians 14:28). In other
words, it's not polite to speak in a language that your audience cannot
understand. Listen to these plain statements from the apostle: "Now,
brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit
you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or
by prophesying, or by doctrine? And even things without life giving sound,
whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how
shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an
uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye,
except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be
known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. ... Yet in the
church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my
voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown
tongue. ... If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at
the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there
be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak
to himself, and to God." 1 Corinthians 14:6-9, 19, 27, 28.
truly amazing that some people take this passage and use it as an excuse
to babble during services! The consistent message of Paul throughout
Scripture is the very opposite. In 1 Timothy 6:20, he specifically
mentions "avoiding profane and vain babblings." And in 2 Timothy
2:16, Paul repeats that counsel: "But shun profane and vain
babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness." In other
words, the very purpose for the gift of speech is to communicate your
thoughts. If those present do not understand your communication, then keep
of my charismatic friends would agree that the tongues spoken in the book
of Acts were normal languages of the world. But they quickly add that
there is a second gift-a heavenly prayer language. This gift, they say, is
to express the Spirit's "groanings which cannot be uttered."
Romans 8:26. The purpose, they say, is so the devil cannot understand our
prayers. But nowhere are we taught to hide our prayers from the devil. He
trembles when he hears Christians pray!
doctrine of a prayer language is based mainly upon 1 Corinthians 14:14,
where Paul says, "For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit
prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful."
interpret this to mean that when Paul prayed in the Spirit, he used a
"heavenly tongue" and did not himself know what he was praying.
This theory raises an important question. How would the supplicant ever
know if his prayer was answered?
what is Paul really saying in 1 Corinthians 14:14? The problem in
understanding this verse comes largely from the cumbersome translation.
Please allow me to rephrase the verse in modern English: "If I pray
in a language those around me do not know, I might be praying with the
Spirit, but my thoughts would be unfruitful for those listening."
Paul is adamant that if we pray out loud, we should either pray so others
around us can understand or else keep quiet! Notice the next few verses:
"What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with
the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with
the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how
shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving
of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?" 1
Corinthians 14:15,16. According to this text, who has the problem with
understanding? It is the listener and not the speaker as is commonly
taught. If you have ever prayed with someone who is offering a prayer in a
language unknown to you, then you know what Paul meant when he said it is
difficult for you to say "Amen" (meaning "so be it")
at the end of the prayer. Without an interpreter, you have no idea to what
you are assenting. You may have just asked a blessing on the devil as far
as you can tell!
is obvious from the context of 1 Corinthians 14 that the purpose of
speaking in tongues, or foreign languages, is to communicate the gospel
and thereby edify the church. If the listeners do not understand the
spoken language they cannot be edified. Consequently, if there is no
interpreter, the speaker is simply speaking into the air and the only ones
present who know what is being said are God and himself. This is the clear
meaning of the often-misquoted verse 2. "For he that speaketh in an
unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man
understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries."
emphasizes again that the languages spoken need to be understood by the
hearers or else the one who wants to share the mysteries of the gospel
needs to sit quietly in meditation between himself and God. "So
likewise ye; except ye utter by tongue words easy to be understood, how
shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air."
"But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church;
and let him speak to himself, and to God." Verses 9, 28. Clearly, the
entire purpose of tongues is to cross language barriers and communicate
have asked, "Didn't Paul say he spoke with the tongues of
Paul said, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of
angels ..." 1 Corinthians 13:1, emphasis added. If you read this
verse in its context, you will see that the word "though" means
"even if." For example, Paul also said in verse 2, "Though
I have all faith ..." He did not have all faith. And verse 3 adds,
"Though I give my body to be burned ..." Paul was
beheaded, not burned. So we can see that Paul here used the word
"though" to mean "even if."
that all the gifts of the Spirit, including the true gift of tongues, are
needed and available to the church today. But the Scriptures teach that
some of the gifts are more important than others and that we should focus
on the most important ones. "But covet earnestly the best
gifts." 1 Corinthians 12:31.
when the Bible lists spiritual gifts, tongues is usually found at the
bottom of the list. "And God hath set some in the church, first
apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles,
then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues."
1 Corinthians 12:28. "Greater is he that prophesieth than he that
speaketh with tongues." 1 Corinthians 14:5.
charismatic preachers have turned the list upside down and made the gift
of tongues the primary emphasis of their preaching. They would have us
think that a Christian who does not speak in tongues is a second-class
citizen. But Paul makes it clear that different gifts are given to
different people, and no one is expected to have all the gifts. He asks in
1 Corinthians 12:29, 30: "Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all
teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do
all speak with tongues? do all interpret?" The answer is obviously
says, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering,
gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance." Galatians 5:22,
23. But these same preachers would have us believe that the fruit of the
Spirit is tongues or that every person who is filled with the Holy Spirit
will speak in tongues. Yet out of more than 50 examples in the Bible where
God filled His people with the Spirit, only three times is tongues
connected with the experience.
Jesus is our example. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, yet He never
spoke in tongues. John the Baptist was "filled with the Holy Ghost,
even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15), but there is no record that
he spoke in tongues, either.
Of the 27
books in the New Testament, only three make any reference at all to the
gift of tongues. There are about 39 Bible authors. Of the 39, only
three-Luke, Paul, and Mark-mention the subject of tongues. In other words,
we should put the emphasis where God puts the emphasis.
genuine gift of tongues is a powerful tool for the proclamation of the
gospel. But remember, the devil has a counterfeit for every truth of God.
(glô?se-lâ'lê-a) is the word often used to describe the popular
experience found in most charismatic churches. It is defined in the
American Heritage Dictionary as: "fabricated and non-meaningful
speech, especially such speech associated with a trance state or certain
that with the same dictionary's definition for a language: "The use
by human beings of voice sounds, and often written symbols representing
these sounds, in organized combinations and patterns in order to express
and communicate thoughts and feelings."
definition, the disjointed sounds of glossolalia are not a language.
me, I have seen this practice many times. In one charismatic church I used
to attend, the pastor and his wife were a "tongues team." Every
week in the middle of the pastor's sermon, his wife would jump to her
feet, throw her arms in the air, and break out in ecstatic utterance. But
she always said the same thing. "Handa kala shami, handa kala shami,
handa kala shami... ." Over and over again. This instantly seemed
suspicious to me because Jesus said, "But when ye pray, use not vain
repetitions, as the heathen do." Matthew 6:7.
time this happened, the woman's husband would stop preaching and provide a
dubious English translation for her so-called message. Usually it began
with "Thus saith the Lord." Yet in spite of the fact that she
always repeated the words "handa kala shami," the pastor's vague
interpretation was different each time-and sometimes three times longer
than the utterance. I used to wonder why, if this was a message from God,
wouldn't He give it to us in English the first time.
to this charismatic "tongues team" reminded me of some things I
had read in my history books growing up. This modern manifestation of
tongues finds its roots not in the Bible, but rather in ancient pagan
spiritualistic rituals. In the sixth century B.C., the Oracle of Delphi
was housed in a temple built near the foot of Mt. Parnassus. Delphi was
also sacred to Dionysus, the god associated with wine, fertility, and
sensual dance, and to the nine Muses, patron goddesses of music.
exhilarating music was played, the chief priestess named Pythia would
breathe intoxicating vapors, go into a frenzied trance, and then begin
jabbering. The weird sounds the priestess muttered were then interpreted
by a priest, who usually spoke in verse. Her utterances were regarded as
the words of Apollo, but the messages were so ambiguous that they could
seldom be proven wrong.1
living with the Native Americans in New Mexico, I witnessed a similar
ritual several times. The Indians would eat the hallucinogenic peyote,
then sit in a circle and chant and pound drums for hours. Before long,
several were spasmodically muttering as they experienced their tormenting
visions. Today the charismatic churches are by far the most popular among
the Native Americans because it is such an easy and natural transition
from their old religions.
heathen African tribes, in order to invoke the blessing of their gods, the
people would sacrifice a chicken or goat and then dance around a fire for
long hours, chanting songs to the hypnotic rhythm of a pounding drum.
Eventually some of the people would become possessed by their gods and
begin speaking the eerie languages of the spirit world. Then the local
witch doctor or priest would translate the messages. This ritual is still
practiced today among the Voodoo Catholics in the West Indies.
practice first found its way into the North American Christian churches in
the early 1800s. Many of the African slaves who were brought to America
and forced to accept Christianity were unable to read the Bible for
themselves. Even though they came from a variety of tribes in Africa, one
practice most tribes held in common was the "Spirit Dances" with
the "spirit-possessed" person muttering.
mistakenly associated this with the Christian "gift of tongues"
and began to incorporate a modified version into their meetings. These
frantic services, which were accompanied by heavy rhythmic music, began to
spread at first only in the South and the participants were mocked by the
mainline denominations as "Holy Rollers." Some even went so far
as to grab venomous serpents during their possessed trances as a means of
proving that they had the "spirit." (This was a misuse of Mark
16:18, which says, "They shall take up serpents," in reference
to the time Paul was accidentally bitten by a serpent but was unharmed by
the venom. See Acts 28:3-6.) For people to hunt down and pick up deadly
snakes in order to prove that they have the Holy Spirit is, in reality,
national expansion of the Pentecostal movement among Caucasians began in
Los Angeles at the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission on Azusa Street in 1906.
The leader was a black former holiness preacher named William Seymour.
From there, leaders continued to refine the doctrines and make them more
attractive and palatable to other mainline Christians.
in about 1960 the charismatic movement began attracting followers within
traditional denominations. From then it continued to have explosive growth
until now there are several million charismatics in Protestant and
Catholic churches throughout the world."2
important to note the prominent role music plays in all the pagan
religions that practice glossolalia. This counterfeit gift of tongues
first found its foothold in mainline churches through "baptized"
pagan music and worship styles. The dominant, repetitious rhythms and
syncopated beat disarm the higher reasoning powers and put the
subconscious mind in a hypnotic state. In this vulnerable condition, the
spirit of ecstatic utterance finds easy access.
devil is using this counterfeit gift of tongues, like a Trojan horse, to
introduce pagan worship styles into Christian churches with a frightening
degree of success. Satan wants to shift the attention of Christians from
faith to feeling. Some of these charismatic churches go so far as to say
that the Bible is the old letter, and that messages which come through
tongues are fresh revelations of the Spirit and therefore more dependable.
So now the
stage is set for Satan's final performance!
concept that a person who is "slain in the spirit" should fall
to the ground and wallow and mutter is an insult to the Holy Ghost. The
reason God gives us His Spirit is to restore in us His image-not to rob us
of all dignity and self control!
mount Carmel, the pagan prophets of Baal jumped on the altar and shouted
and moaned. They prophesied and cut themselves. By contrast, Elijah
quietly knelt and prayed a simple prayer(1 Kings 18:17-46).
God is not the author of confusion." 1 Corinthians 14:33. If God is
not responsible, then who is?
idea that we lose control when we receive the Spirit is not consistent
with Scripture. "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the
prophets." 1 Corinthians 14:32.
another case in point. After Jesus saved a berserk, demon-possessed man by
the sea, the healed man was seen "sitting at the feet of Jesus,
clothed, and in his right mind." Luke 8:35.
invitation of God is "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the
Lord." Isaiah 1:18. He wants us to use our heads.
of you reading this study are no doubt thinking: "How dare you say
these things? I have spoken in tongues for years and know it is from
Christians, we should never base our conclusions on how we feel. After
all, the devil can certainly make us feel good. Rather, we must base our
beliefs upon the sure Word of God.
friend of mine was an active charismatic who often spoke in tongues. When
he studied these things, he began to question if this "gift" was
from the right spirit. So he sincerely prayed and said, "Lord, if
this is not Your will and if I am not experiencing the true gift of
tongues, then please take it away!" He told me that from that day on,
the experience of glossolalia never returned. A true Christian should be
willing to surrender every cherished view and practice on the altar of
God's will and forsake any practice that may be questionable-no matter how
popular, accepted, or beloved among other Christians. There are some
things that are highly esteemed among men but are an abomination in the
sight of God (Luke 16:15).
understanding the subject of tongues so essential for us today? I believe
the modern charismatic movement was foretold in Bible prophecy.
chapter 18 verses 2 and 4 state: "And he cried mightily with a strong
voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen. ... And I heard
another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be
not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues."
remember that one of the principal characteristics of ancient Babylon at
the tower of Babel was a confusion of tongues (Genesis 11:7-9). Revelation
is telling us that in the last days, God's people are to be called out of
Babylon and its confusing counterfeit religious systems.
I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the
dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the
false prophet." Revelation 16:13. The phrase "out of the
mouth" represents speech, and please don't miss the fact that a
frog's main weapon is its tongue. Unclean tongues? Perhaps God is trying
to tell us something.
that the confusion of tongues at Babel was not a blessing of the Spirit,
but rather a curse for their rebellion. In fact, we get our modern word
"babbling" from the story of ancient Babel. At Pentecost, the
curse of Babel was reversed so others might understand the gospel.
met people who told me they've had the baptism of the Holy Spirit because
they spoke in tongues; yet they held a cigarette in one hand and a can of
beer in the other. Now let's get something straight. There are some basic
requirements for receiving this most precious gift of the Holy Spirit.
says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the
Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with
you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth." John 14:15, 16, 17.
we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom
God hath given to them that obey him." Acts 5:32, emphasis added.
years ago several famous TV evangelists fell by the way. They all claimed
to be filled with the Holy Spirit and have the gift of tongues. But they
were living in gross immoral disobedience. They would speak in tongues on
TV, then leave the studio to live a compromising life. Something just
wasn't right. These men also caused me to wonder, "If this is the
genuine gift of tongues, then why do these charismatic evangelists need an
army of interpreters to translate for them when they preach
does God give the Spirit? "But ye shall receive power, after that the
Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me." Acts
1:8. God does not give us the Spirit to babble, but as power for
we receive the genuine gift of the Holy Spirit? Totally submit to God, be
willing to forgive others, obey Him, and ask. Luke 11:13 says,
"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your
children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to
them that ask him?"