Speaking In Tongues: Is it Necessary?


There are many people today who insist that speaking in tongues is the definite sign of the baptism of the Spirit. By implication, if you have not received the “baptism”, signified by tongues, through ignorance or lack of faith, you have missed out on God’s best, or perhaps, you’re not a Christian at all!

That position is unscriptural. Paul clearly states that every believer is baptized into the Spirit of God at the time of his conversion. “If any man have not the Spirit of God, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9).

There have been and are countless believers who have not spoken in tongues, such as Billy Graham, R.A. Torrey, D.L. Moody, John R.W. Stott, Sir Robert Anderson, Charles Finney, etc. Yet, their lives indisputably demonstrate the operation of the Spirit in holiness, love of the Word of God, love of souls, etc. Jesus gives us the true mark of the believer, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one for another” (John 13:35). How do we know that we have passed from death unto life? “…because we love the brethren…” (1 John 3:15).

It is the plain truth that while many non-tongue-speakers exhibit lives of the highest spiritual order, some tongue speakers do not, in fact, demonstrate in their lives what the baptism and indwelling of the Holy Spirit should produce in fruit.

This is another reason why tongue speaking cannot by the ultimate test to determine whether one has been converted or baptized by the Spirit. However, we can look to the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer, “…love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

It is possible to speak in tongues, and yet, not to be filled with the Spirit, or even, be born of the Spirit, for tongue speaking is not a distinctively Christian phenomenon. It has its parallels in other “religions”. The mystery religions spoke in ecstatic utterances, dating back to 1100BC, in Syro-Palestine. Virgil and Plato both mention ecstatic speech in their day. Gnostics practiced it. Moslems speak it. It is the seventh article of the Mormon faith, and the sign that confirms the plates of Joseph Smith as from God.

However, to indiscriminately group all speaking in tongues as spurious, demonic, or hysteria, would be very daring indeed, for that would virtually deny the Holy Spirit the right to distribute the gift at His pleasure. Perhaps there is more danger in suppressing and rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit than in the potential abuses and excesses of some in the operation of the spiritual gifts.

Tongues, as the sole evidence of conversion or baptism of the Spirit, is unscriptural, as is outright repudiation of the gift. We must approach the subject with balance, and would by wise to heed Paul’s counsel, “…forbid not to speak with tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39).

Further, there is not Scriptural warrant for proclaiming that all Christians may or should speak in tongues (1Corinthians 12:30). We are urged to desire earnestly the greater gifts, those which best edify the church. Clearly, speaking in tongues is not for every believer. Paul asks, in 1 Corinthians 12:19-30, “…do all speak in
tongues?..” The Greek grammar he used indicates he expected a “no” answer.

The Holy Spirit sovereignly distributes every spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:11). What does this say about teaching others to speak in tongues, or praying for the gift of tongues? Plainly, there is no warrant whatsoever for teaching another to speak in tongues or praying to receive the gift.

Yet, if tongues were the sole evidence, or even an essential element in conversion or baptism of the Spirit, then should we not seek it above all else? But, this is the reverse of the New Testament emphasis. Nowhere is the Christian commanded to seek this gift.  Mark 16:17-18 is often quoted, “And these signs shall follow
those who believe: In My Name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the
sick, and they shall recover”.

Concerning this passage, it should be noted that many scholars doubt that these verses were included in the original text. The two oldest and most complete manuscripts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, conclude the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of Mark with verse 8, which renders it unwise to take these verses as the foundation for doctrine or practice, unless supported by other portions of the New Testament.  Beyond this, the obvious question arises: Is each and every believer in the Body of Christ presumed empowered with casting out demons, taking up serpents, drinking deadly poison without bringing harm to himself, and healing the sick? Of course not. Some have demonstrated these gifts, but not all. The gift of tongues is in that category. It is not for every believer.

Therefore, if all believers do not and cannot speak with tongues, the tongues gift cannot be the evidence of conversion or spirit baptism.

It is, at best, difficult to build a doctrine based on Paul’s warnings, cautions, and admonishings to the Corinthians, who clearly demonstrated carnality and immaturity in their lives, and were known for many abuses, factions, jealousies, excesses at the Lord’s table, women behaving inappropriately and in an unseemly manner, immorality, lawsuits, sensuality, divorce, denominationalism, and tongues speaking
out of order. It is much like some of the church today, isn’t it?  And, like the Corinthians, we cannot measure the spirituality of the gift of tongues by the practice and exercise of it by those who may bear the marks of spiritual immaturity, and in fact, may be notably unspiritual.

Because tongue speaking is sometimes spectacular in nature, it leaves its possessor especially open to spiritual pride, and a patronizing, condescending attitude towards those who do not speak in tongues. Some tongue speaking is undoubtedly spurious jargon. It is dangerously open to counterfeit and exploitation. But, these are not adequate reasons for denying the possibility of God bestowing the gift
today, nor is it an argument against validity and for suppressing the gift. Instead, we would be wise to follow Paul’s example by Scripturally correcting the abuses and excesses, as he did the Corinthians of the early church.

Paul speaks to us today, as he did to them, “If I have not love, I am nothing”. His greatest hymn of love did not accidentally find itself placed in the letter to the Corinthians, directly in the middle of his discourse on the spiritual gifts.

In the final analysis, Paul’s “more excellent way” was the way of love. He believed we should love the speakers and non-speakers. In keeping with the context of the entire 1 Corinthians 12-14 passage, he
believed love could and would heal the strife and party spirit that was (and is) dividing the Body of Christ.

It is also not possible to build a doctrine of salvation or spirituality on the fact that the only other place in the Bible tongues are spoken is recorded in the Book of Acts. The events of this book are placed at a period of transition in the history of the church. It is first and foremost known to be a time of the Jews’ final rejection of the Messiah, and the severe judgment that followed in 70AD. It was also the bare, tender beginnings of the Christian church, replete with new and unprecedented happenings, believers comprised of many different backgrounds and nationalities coming together in an attempt at unity for the first time. It was a time of flux, not settled order, presenting difficulty after difficulty, at best, to use in support of doctrinal issues.

In summary, there is not categorical statement of Scripture to which we can appeal to end all debate. We must, rather, approach the subject openly and in a spirit of love. Speaking in tongues cannot, as a matter of principle, be ruled out for the church in our day, but not all that goes by that name is genuine. Nor is speaking in tongues essential as evidence of regeneration or sanctification.

For whatever reason, at whatever time, in whatever manner, the Holy Spirit initiated and distributed the gift of tongues. We must bear in mind, the gift not only can be withheld at His divine pleasure, but surely, it can also be graciously conferred at His divine pleasure. In practice and in theory, our God is sovereign.
Let us not resist Him, but pray that Our Lord be glorified, as His body is edified.

By Patricia Cotes

Computers for Christ – Chicago