Speaking in Tongues: A Concise Bible Study

Speaking in Tongues: A Concise Bible Study

By Henry S. Trocino Jr.

“Just Click It” Table of Contents

1. Tongues at Pentecost

2. Tongues at Corinth

3. Tongues as a Sign Gift 1

4. Tongues as a Sign Gift 2

5. Tongues as a Sign Gift 3

6. Tongues as a Sign Gift 4

7. Tongues as a Sign Gift 5

8. Tongues as a Sign Gift 6

9. Tongues as Prayer Language 1

10. Tongues as Prayer Language 2

11. Tongues Regulated 1

12. Tongues Regulated 2

13. Tongues Regulated 3

14. Tongues Will Cease 1

15. Tongues Will Cease 2

Conclusion: Freedom in the Spirit

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Tongues as a Sign Gift 3

images3Twice in 1 Cor. 12:13, Paul emphasizes that “all” (Gk. pantes) has been baptized with the Spirit. There cannot be any 1 believer who is not yet Spirit-baptized. Otherwise, it nullifies the Spirit-immersed unity of all believers in the 1 body.

Christ is the baptizer of all believers into His 1 body. The Holy Spirit is the instrument of this baptism. Conversely, there cannot be more than 1 baptizer or instrument. This means that there cannot be more than 1 Spirit baptism. Indeed, Scripture teaches only 1 baptism, not 2 (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:4-5).

The Bible does not talk of Christ as the baptizer for salvation, and then the Spirit as the baptizer of a post-conversion experience subsequent to it. Nowhere does Scripture teach such a dichotomy (mutually exclusive or contradictory division). Or else, there cannot be a unity in this 1 body, but disunity. Any other additional Spirit-baptism contradicts this spiritual union that binds all believers in the 1 body of Christ. It creates an unbiblical dualism (having a double character).  On the 1 hand, there are the “haves” or the few who have experienced Spirit-baptism evidenced by tongues.  On the other hand, there are the “have-nots” or the many who have not experienced it. Paul is emphatic, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5, NKJV).

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Tongues as a Sign Gift 6

52242704ynpnhy_th3rd, this 1 gift is not for all believers. Paul asked rhetorically, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret” (1 Cor. 12:29-30, NKJV)? The answer is clearly, no.

4th, as a corollary to the 3rd, this 1 gift is not to be sought by all believers. Paul discouraged the Corinthians from seeking this gift, except the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1-19). Nowhere in Scripture are we told to seek the baptism of the Spirit or speaking in tongues. Nowhere does the New Testament stress tongues-speaking as the main menu in the spiritual lives of believers.

5th, the presence or absence of this gift in one’s life or church is not a sign of spirituality. The Corinthians elevated this gift above the other less spectacular gifts. Yet the apostle Paul rebuked them (See 1 Cor. 14). Tongues-speaking is never the test of spirituality in the New Testament. But love is (1 Cor. 12:31; 13).

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Tongues as a Sign Gift 5

52242531clyfxc_th2nd, speaking in tongues as a sign gift is not for all ages. It was a sign gift for the apostolic age, but not for all ages after that. Paul wrote that tongues will cease by themselves (1 Cor. 13:8).

Tongues-speaking will stop by itself, when its purpose is accomplished. As a sign gift, it already ceased when the purpose of the sign was fulfilled. The sign ceases along with its purpose. It was a sign signifying the founding of the church and the coming of the Spirit upon groups of believers (Acts 2:1-4, 41-47; 10:44-48; 19:1-6). It was also a sign substantiating the claims of the apostles and prophets; and their role in the foundation of the church (2 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 2:20). With the fulfillment of its purpose for each of them, this sign gift ceased along when its intent.

Historically, speaking in tongues ceased by themselves at the end of the apostolic age. Throughout church history, they never came back, except in scattered heretical groups. Even today, in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, few believers speak in tongues anymore.

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Tongues as a Sign Gift 4

52242359kjxgwq_th(4) Paul wrote that all believers are already baptized by the Spirit at conversion (1 Cor.12:13). If all have already been baptized by the Spirit, then all should speak in tongues. But Paul affirmed that not all speaks in tongues (1 Cor. 12:30). The reason is because not all is given this 1 gift. And no 1 gift is given to all.

(5) Nowhere in Scripture are we told that tongues-speaking is the evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. Rather, in 1 Cor. 12, the evidences of the Spirit’s baptism are: (1) the declaration that Jesus is Lord (v. 3); (2) the distribution of spiritual gifts (vv. 4-11); and (3) the distinct value of each member and the organic unity of all members in the one body of Christ (vv. 14-27).

(6) Note that all the rest of the believers in Acts did not speak in tongues when they received the Spirit after Acts 19 onwards. The reason is that speaking in tongues was the sign marking the coming and indwelling of the Spirit upon groups of believers. It signified the birth of the church. The Spirit came and indwelt the believers during the transition period of His coming in Acts 1-19. After that, it was no longer repeated in Acts and the rest of church history. There is no biblical record to prove that the Spirit came in similar fashion afterwards.

Thus, the sign gift of tongues attested and authenticated the coming and indwelling of the Spirit and the founding of the church.  After that, every believer now is indwelt, baptized, clothed with Christ, and sealed with the Spirit, at the moment of faith in Christ, without speaking in tongues (Rom. 6:1-4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 1:13-14).

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Tongues as a Sign Gift 2

images1Some believe that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit.  Every believer must seek this baptism of the Spirit as a conscious experience subsequent to salvation.  This view is taken mainly in Acts.

(2) However, Acts is merely descriptive of the coming of the Spirit. Instead, the epistles of Paul are prescriptive of the baptism of the Spirit. The epistles define doctrine distinctively for the churches, not Acts. We are not to build our theology merely on historical events in Acts. Rather, we are to build our understanding on the express theology of the epistles.

(3) “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks . . . and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13, NKJV). This is the most definitive apostolic description of the baptism of the Spirit. (All other definitions are mere inferences or deductions from descriptive passages in Acts.) Paul tells us that the baptism of the Spirit joins every Jewish and Gentile believer into the 1 body of Christ, the church. This 1 baptism fulfills the prophecy of Matt. 3:11.

Based on the passive voice of “baptized” in Acts 1:5 and Matt. 3:11, Christ is the baptizer. The Holy Spirit is the element with which Christ baptizes believers into His body. In water baptism, a minister baptizes a believer with water into the local church. Likewise in Spirit baptism, Christ baptizes every believer with the Spirit into unity with all believers in the 1 body of Christ, the universal church.

The aorist tense of the verb, “were baptized” (Gk. ebaptisthemen), indicates point action completed in summary fashion.  This means that this baptism of the Spirit is a one-time action accomplished completely at conversion.

The time of Spirit baptism is simultaneous to faith in Christ. This is further indicated by Paul’s use of the passive voice of the aorist tense in “baptized” and “buried” in Rom. 6:3-4; “baptized” and “clothed” in Gal. 3:27; and “heard,” “believed” and “sealed” in Eph. 1:13. Combining all these passages, we see a clear picture of the time of the baptism of the Spirit. Paul says that every believer has already been baptized into Christ, buried with Him, clothed with Christ, and sealed with the Spirit when they heard and believed the Gospel. It refers to the time of regeneration. When a believer trusts Christ as Savior, at that moment, he is baptized, united, clothed, sealed, and joined into Christ and His body, by means of the Spirit.

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Tongues Will Cease 2

images27Paul wrote that tongues will cease (1 Cor. 13:8). Earlier, we noted that the middle voice of the verb, “cease,” indicates the manner of the cessation of tongues. It means that tongues will stop with and by itself. In this post, we note the moment of the cessation of tongues. Speaking in tongues is a sign gift. The moment of its ceasing is connected with its very purpose.

What is the sign that a woman is very much in love with her husband? They say that you will know a woman in love by the size of her pupil. When she sees the man she loves, her pupil expands and expands. That is probably why a woman in love wears eye glasses. With constant expanding, her eyes deteriorate, requiring glasses.

So, too, the gift of tongues signifies something more important than itself. The Bible says that it was a sign to unbelievers, not believers (1 Cor. 14:21-22). It was a foundational sign for the foundation of the church, which was still in its infancy at the time (Acts 2:1-4, 41-47). It was an inaugural sign for the completion of the New Testament. It was a sign gift that achieved its purpose—to help the apostles declare judgment and blessing to people (2 Cor. 12:12).

The gift of tongues as a sign gift thus indicates the moment (time) of the cessation of tongues. For the purpose of this gift is closely linked with its time of cessation. When the purpose of the gift of tongues was achieved, the sign gift itself also ceased along with it. This explains why speaking in tongues ceased in all the churches at the end of the apostolic age.

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Tongues Will Cease

images26

Paul says that tongues “will cease” (1 Cor. 13:8, ESV). How and when? “Cease” is from pauo, “stop, cease; cease from, be done with” in the middle voice. (Concise Greek-English Dictionary, s. v. παυω). The verb, pausontai, is in the middle voice. The middle voice talks about action performed by itself. Hence, “cease” (pausontai) can mean a direct cessation–“to take one’s rest, a willing cessation.” (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996, 93). Or it can indicate an indirect cessation–action performed for or by itself.  Hence, tongues will stop by themselves.

This grammatical construction indicates the manner of the cessation of tongues. It means that tongues will stop by itself. It will cease and be done with by itself.

Notice Paul included tongues in the list of 3 gifts in v. 8. But in v. 9, he cited only 2 gifts—prophecies and knowledge—leaving out tongues. Why? The reason is that something will stop prophecies and knowledge. However, tongues will stop by itself. It will not be stopped by something else. It will just stop by itself. That is what the middle voice means.

If you study history, tongues really ceased by itself “at the end of the apostolic age” (MacArthur, 1750). There is no mention of its use in the rest of the New Testament, except Acts and Corinthians. Significantly, Acts is a transition period from the promise of the Spirit to the pouring of the Spirit. It signalled a shift from Israel, as the instrument of redemption, to the church. It marked the beginning of the church, wherein believing Gentiles were joined with believing Jews into the one body of Christ, the church. In this context, tongues-speaking then functioned primarily as a sign gift with the birth of the church (Acts 2:1-4). Further, it signified the coming of the Spirit upon groups of believing Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46; 19:1-6). When the purpose of this sign gift was fulfilled, tongues as an authenticating gift ceased by itself.

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Tongues Regulated 3

images23In our previous posts, we noted the first 5 of 7 apostolic regulations for the practice of speaking in tongues. There are the rules of (1) edification, (2) interpretation, (3) 3, (4) 1 at a time, and (5) women becoming silent. There are 2 more vital rules.

(6) The rule of control. “And the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32, ESV). The verb, “subject,” is from hupotasso, “to bring something under the firm control of someone – ‘to subject to’” (Greek-English Lexicon, s. v. υποτασσω). The verb here, hupotassetai, is present indicative, in the passive voice. This means, that the spirits of the tongues-speakers are under their control continually. (Tongues-speaking was also a medium of prophetic revelation then, when the New Testament was not yet completed.) Prophecy and speaking in tongues, Paul said, should always be under the control of the speaker. At no time are they out of the power of those who practice it. This is a clear apostolic teaching. The implication, then, is that church meetings should be controlled and orderly. However, many charismatic meetings are characterized by bizarre, disorderly conduct (e.g. rolling on the floor, running around, climbing the walls, making animal noises, and the like). It is a sign of patent disregard of the Word of the Spirit.

(7) The rule of decency and order. “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40, ESV). Sadly, it has been observed that not a few tongues-speaking churches are marked by disorder and confusion during worship.

When you have (1) more than 3 people speaking in tongues, (2) simultaneously instead of one at a time, (3) without someone interpreting, and (4) non-stop despite no interpretation, (5) women not keeping silent, and (6) uncontrollable behavior, such are not a sign of spirituality. Rather, it is a sign of disorderly, unbiblical practice of the gift of tongues.

What about the freedom that goes with worshiping God in the Spirit? In our post, Freedom in the Spirit, we will study what the Bible says about our freedom in the Holy Spirit.

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Tongues Regulated 2

images22In our previous post, we noted the first 4 regulations for speaking in tongues in worship (1 Cor. 14). These are the rules of (1) edification and (2) interpretation, the rule of (3) 3, and then the rule of (4) 1 at a time.

(5) The rule of stop speaking. “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church” (1 Cor. 14:28, NKJV). The tongues-speaker must stop if no one will interpret it. People who continue to speak in tongues, even when no one is interpreting, already break God’s Word.

This rule of keeping silence applies to 2 kinds of tongues-speakers in Corinth. It refers to: (1) those who keep talking in tongues even when nobody was interpreting it. They should stop speaking, Paul said. It also refers to: (2) women who spoke in tongues and prophesied, while others were speaking and prophesying also.

Paul wrote, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Cor. 14:34, NKJV). “Keep silence” is from sigao, “be silent; become silent, stop talking” as an intransitive verb.

(Concise Greek-English Dictionary, s. v. σιγαω) (Having no direct object in the Greek, “keep silence” is an intransitive verb.) Thus, Paul is saying that women should become silent or stop talking in the churches.

Consider the background of the Corinthian practice of speaking in tongues. We infer from Paul’s regulations that nobody was interpreting it (1 Cor. 14:27). More than 3 people spoke in tongues (1 Cor. 14:27). They were all talking in tongues simultaneously at the same time (1 Cor. 14:27-28). Most likely, some were out of control (1 Cor. 14:34). Some were women (1 Cor. 14:34). Against this confusing and disorderly situation, Paul said, that the women are to stop talking and become silent, while others were speaking.

Why the women? It is not because Paul was single and didn’t have any girlfriend. It’s not because he was a chauvinist. Most likely, the majority of the tongues-speakers were women. They were speaking at the same time, thereby causing confusion. They needed to stop speaking while somebody else was speaking. For how can they edify the others when nobody understood them for lack of interpretation? And how can they build up others when everybody else was confused by the simultaneous speaking in tongues? So they needed to stop speaking while others were also talking or prophesying. Furthermore, the apostolic rule and practice of the churches at the time is that women should not exercise pastoral teaching authority in the church (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Against this background, women—esp. women who were probably exercising pastoral teaching authority—should stop speaking.

Some cite 1 Cor. 11:5 as apostolic approval for women prophesying in church. Yet it does not mention whether Paul approved or disapproved of women prophesying. If he did permit women to prophesy, then it would contradict his rule in 1 Cor. 14:34 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12. Most likely, Paul allowed women to prophesy to unbelievers or believers who are women or children, but not to the church as a whole.

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