Do All Speak with Tongues?
A new question arises. If speaking
in tongues is the sole criterion and evidence that one
has received the Holy Spirit, then it must necessarily follow that all should
speak with tongues. However, this seems an obvious contradiction to Paul’s
rhetorical question: “Do all speak with tongues?” (1 Corinthians 12:30). A
careful examination of the context in which the question was raised is needed
here, as this will lead to the understanding that there are two functions of
tongue-speaking. The listing of spiritual gifts serves to explain the
diversities of gifts and roles different members receive. Hence, no single gift
is shared by all. The other qualification is that these gifts must be “for the
common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Is tongue-speaking for the common
good? Paul says no, for “he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (1
Corinthians 14:4). But tongue-speaking can be for the common good in some
situations: “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and
each in turn; and let one interpret” (1 Corinthians 14:27; cf. 14:5).
Speaking in a tongue with
interpretation communicates messages from God for the common good, and is thus
one of the diverse gifts of the Spirit given separately to different believers.
Such tongues are not spoken by all, and this is the answer to Paul’s question.
Speaking in a tongue without
interpretation is “speaking to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians ). In this case the people need
not be limited in number to two, or three, or speak in turn. For on the day of
Pentecost, one hundred and twenty people spoke at one time. And in Ephesus, about twelve
people spoke during one instance. Such tongues are spoken during prayer by all
who have received God’s Spirit, as we have already examined. This is the main
purpose of tongue-speaking: “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”
(1 Corinthians 14:2).
Tongues-Speaking in the True Jesus Church
The emphasis placed on
tongue-speaking in the True Jesus Church is linked directly to the importance
of receiving the promised Holy Spirit. This is unlike the surge of interest in
spiritual gifts (charismata) of the Holy Spirit among the Charismatics.
Members of the True Jesus Church seek the gift of the Holy Spirit; the term
“gift” (dorea) here is epexegetical,
being the Holy Spirit Himself.
Also, we do not reckon that
speaking in tongues signifies a baptism in the Holy Spirit that is separate
from receiving the Holy Spirit. The two go hand in hand. Speaking in tongues
then, does not make one a superlative Christian, but is fundamental to every
Christian, proving that he belongs to Christ (Romans 8:9).
The ability to speak in tongues
remains with a person after he receives the indwelling Holy Spirit. Each time a
Christian or a congregation of believers prays in the Spirit, this ability is
made possible by the Holy Spirit. Since this phenomenon of congregational
tongue-speaking has been criticized as unscriptural, we shall discuss it in
light of the Scriptures.
Many have frowned upon the public
display of tongue-speaking for the following reasons:
No one understands, not even the speaker
“For no one understands him, but he utters
mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:2).
“For if I
pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful” (1 Corinthians
Paul limited the number of speakers, even when
there is interpretation.
“If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two
or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret” (1 Corinthians
Unbelievers may mistake it for madness.
“If, therefore, the whole church assembles and
all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say
that you are mad?” (1 Corinthians 14:23).
The fact that tongues are unknown
languages should not inhibit our prayers, for “the Spirit helps us in our
weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself
intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Moreover, Paul
himself remedies the situation he poses: “What am I to do? I will pray with the
Spirit and I will pray with the mind also” (1 Corinthians ). We can participate with our minds when
we pray in the Spirit.
The Scriptures show that tongues
bestowed upon believers when they receive the Holy Spirit are not spoken by two
or three in turn. The praying saints on the day of Pentecost numbered about one
hundred and twenty. The Ephesian disciples numbered
about twelve. We see, then, that when tongues are not specifically directed at
any human audience, as in prayer, no restriction in number applies.
From the above, we also come to
realize that whenever Paul instructs the Corinthian believers to curb the
speaking of tongues, he refers to another function, that is, the preaching in
tongues (1 Corinthians 14:19, 28). Unbelievers will think that we are mad if we
speak to one another in tongues. When the entire congregation prays to God in
tongues in an orderly manner, however, it becomes a sign to the unbelievers (1
Inevitably, there will be those who will not benefit from this sign, such as
the mockers on the day of Pentecost who remarked, “They are filled with new
wine” (Acts ).
Nevertheless, the sign of tongues coupled with Peter’s sermon converted three
thousand souls on that day.