The Use Of Tongues In The New Testament Church

The Use Of Tongues In The New Testament Church
By: Travis Smith

The human body, although a very complex system, has been pretty well mastered by modern science and medicine except for one part—the tongue. Most people seem unable to tame this small member of the body that can be so destructive and at another time can be the exact opposite. The Bible indicates that the people in the early church had the same problem and it hasn’t been solved oven after two thousand years. James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem wrote about the untamable tongue to the Jewish brethren scattered in other countries, even going so far as to say it was “full of deadly poison”, and that it was a “fire”, a “world of iniquity”, and it “defileth the whole body” (James 3).

It seems strange that God would choose this member to use in so many ways to accomplish His own purposes. But then after you think about it, if we let God control our tongue, the rest of the body will easily come under subjection to Him.

There are many kinds of tongues in the world today. The number of spoken languages is estimated at about two thousand. Man uses these not only for communication with each other, but also for some very sinful purposes:

–Backbiting (slander), reviling another in secret as mentioned in Psalms 50:19-20 and in Romans 1:30 as a fruit of sin.

–Boasting (of man’s words and deeds) as the rich man did in Luke 12. “Fool! Thou hast such goods laid up for many years; take thine ease…”

–Flattery (unjustified praise, usually for one’s own gain) as used by Tertullus as he began to inform the governor against Paul in Acts 24:2-3. “…By thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence. We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.”

–Lying (all that is opposite of the truth) as Ananias and Sapphira were slain for doing in Acts 5:10. Peter told Ananias “…Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost…”

–Cursing (a violent expression of evil upon others) as Peter did in Matthew 26:74. “Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, “I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.”

Of course the tongue is not always need for something bad. It has many good uses such as praising God, expounding His Word, confessing Christ, encouraging one another, engrossing gratitude, paying compliments, and we use it in many ways for congregational purposes.

Let’s take a look now at how God takes this very small unruly member and uses it to communicate with His creation. When man is in submission to Him, He can use it in so many ways to do such great things for His glory and also for our good.

In Psalms 68:18 David wrote, “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord might dwell among them.” God, since the time He created Adam nearly six thousand years ago, has strongly desired to be in close contact with man. He walked on earth in a veil of flesh for a while and after He had gone back to heaven sent spiritual gifts to man that He might dwell among them spiritually as David wrote in the above scripture.

Three of these spiritual gifts, Prophecy, Tongues, and Interpretation, deal with God using the tongue of man to bring forth a message in a language unknown to the person speaking.
PROPHECY. The great commission was given to the disciples by their leader Christ, to evangelize the world. Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8) The gift of prophecy was bestowed upon the apostles and preachers of that day; with it they preached the Word with signs

New Testament prophecy is a fore-telling of scripture truths and events, kept strictly within the framework of the Bible. This prophetic gift has a threefold manifestation:

a. Speaking with tongues
b. Interpretation of tongues
c. Prophecy

The first one is a supernatural utterance by the Spirit, speaking through the believers in other tongues, and in order that the message be understood, one is given by the same spirit the interpretation of the message. There is also prophecy, or speaking by inspiration in one’s own mother tongue. Good sound, spirit-anointed preaching is one phase of New Testament prophecy.

TONGUES AND INTERPRETATION– Speaking with tongues might be called a vocal miracle. I Corinthians 14:2 says “no man understandeth him”, verse 14 says, “My understanding is unfruitful,”. At least three different ways in which speaking in tongues is used are found in Scripture.

a. When receiving the Baptism of the Holy Ghost (every baptized believer has had this experience)

Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 10:44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.

Acts 10:46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.

Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

  1. Speaking to God in worship, or prayer, or in song.

    I Corinthians 14:2, For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth.

14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

15 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.

c. Addressing the church coupled with interpretation.

I Corinthians 14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown
tongue pray that he may interpret.

Speaking in tongues at will does not say that we have the gift of tongues. One may receive the ability to speak with tongues at the same time he gets the baptism, but the proper use of same is always by the moving spirit, whether he receives the gift or whether he just speaks as unto God.

This gift stands connected with the gift of Prophecy along with the interpretation of tongues and should be operated in strict connection with interpretation. (I Corinthians 14:27-28; 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.)


Interpretation of tongues is by Divine Illumination. The Christian who is used along this line does not understand the language of the tongue he interprets. In the original the word interpret does not mean to translate but to explain. (I Corinthians 12:10 & 30; 14:13 & 26) The one who receives this gift then explains the sense of the message in tongues, yielding to the Spirit in the giving forth of the message.

Tongues are very important to the New Testament Church and even more so in the day we live in, people today are trying their best to explain it in a way that it looks like it never happened, and if it did, not after the day of Pentecost. They think they have accomplished their purpose, but the Children of God that have experienced Tongues can see right through their theories and know they are only fooling themselves. After all, when you have something in your possession it is pretty hard for someone to tell you that such a thing doesn’t exist. This is why we can see how blind the world is today, for they have convinced themselves that tongues were only for the one hundred and twenty or that it didn’t even happen.

One writer explained it this way: “The glossolalia first appeared in the Christian church at Pentecost, when the apostles, and those associated with them, became convinced, after much rethinking and prayer (Acts 1:24), that the risen Jesus was God’s Anointed (Acts 2:36), that the messianic age had begun (Acts 2:29-33), that they were the people of the New Covenant inheriting all the promises made to the people of the Old (Acts 2:16-17; 3:25). They were so overwhelms by the force of these convictions that, with all their inhibitions released, resources of spiritual power became available to them, creating new levels of spiritual experience which found abnormal channels of expression.

God uses tongues for several purposes:

a. As a way for God to speak to His people (I Corinthians 14:21)

In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.

b. Initial evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost (See a. under Tongues and Interpretation)

c. A sign to the sinner (I Corinthians 14:22)

Wherefore tongues are for a sing, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not…

Three thousand souls were added to the church on the day of Pentecost because they heard the praises of God in their own native tongue. (Acts 2:5-6 & 41)

d. Edification of the church and the individual believer

I Corinthians 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself….

26 …Let all things be done unto edifying.

e. “…that the Lord might dwell among them.” (Psalms 68:18) He gave them gifts:
Apostles Word of Wisdom
Prophets Word of Knowledge
Evangelists Faith
Pastors Gifts of healing
Teachers Working of Miracles
(Ephesians 4:8-13) Discernment of Spirits
Divers Kinds of Tongues
Interpretation of Tongue
(I Corinthians 12:8-10)

For: Perfecting of the Saints
Work of the Ministry
Edifying of the Body of Christ


God chose the most unruly member of the body to use as one of the most important tools for His works. The tongue is used, when a person is in submission to God, to bring forth messages for the edification of the person speaking or the Church as a whole. The person used speaks in a tongue they have never learned.

God gave gifts to man that He might dwell among them, and three of these gifts involve the use of tongues– prophecy, tongues, and interpretation.

Prophecy includes prophecy, tongues, and interpretation. Tongues are used when a person is receiving the Holy Ghost, when worshiping God and when God talks to the Church. The latter is not to be used with out interpretation.

The gifts God gave His people, including tongues, are all for:

Perfecting of the Saints
Work of the Ministry
Edifying of the Body of Christ


…the disciples actually spoke in foreign languages. To what extent they did so is uncertain, for most of their hearers probably knew Greek or Aramaic, but their Galilaean speech was at least delivered from its peculiarities and made intelligible to the polyglot multitude.

…inspired by the Holy Spirit for worship, for a sign to unbelievers and, when interpreted, for the edification of believers.

The New Bible Dictionary

…phenomenon of primitive Christianity. It consisted in articulate, unintelligible speech issuing from Christians who in a state of ecstasy, believed themselves to be possessed by the Spirit.

It has been suggested that the speech of the apostles was filled with foreign phrases and idioms, heard over the years, which under the intense emotion and excitement, began to pour forth automatically from the subconscious.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible

…A genuine gift of the Spirit, not to be forbidden, and acknowledges that he shares the gift himself (Paul)…and aid to private devotion, a means of personal communion with God, an opportunity to express thoughts and feelings which could find no outlet through ordinary channels…

…interpretation…the ability to convey a supposedly rational account of what was said, possibly by thought – transference effective through spiritual rapport.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible

…which they had never learned, and which God gave them for the immediate instruction of people of different countries who attended their ministry.

(The above material was a report done by Travis Smith.)

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