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 (Speaking in Tongues)
Do All Speak with Tongues?
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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:

1.      No one understands, not even the speaker himself.

            “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 14:14).           

2.      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 14:27).

3.      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 Corinthians ). 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.


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Publisher: True Jesus Church