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What Does the Bible Say About...Not Speaking in Tongues?

I just recently had a conversation with a friend that told me that the church of Christ was not a full gospel church because we didn't talk in tongues or heal as the first century Christians did. I really didn't know what to say to her because I really haven't studied about it. She also told me that God talks to her in visions. I know that he talks to us through his son and his word the bible, but what do I say about it. I really want her to hear the truth but I feel as though I am not properly equipped to do so. But what do I tell her about visions, tongues and healing. Please help.


There are three arguments from scripture I generally use in talking about “speaking in tongues” and the gifts of the spirit. They are: 1) the modern view of “tongues” is not the same as what is in the Bible; 2) Paul said tongues would cease before the end of the world; 3) the means of passing on the gifts ended almost two thousand years ago. I will go into each in detail.

I. Today when many people talk about “speaking in tongues” they mean speaking in some unintelligible combination of syllables. Linguists who have studied the phenomenon point out that the sounds are always common to the speaker’s native language, so this “language” is different for each area in which it is spoken. It is also a phenomenon that is not unique to Christianity, but has been observed in mystics of several religions, including Hinduism and Islam. That, in itself, should indicate that the modern phenomenon of speaking in tongues is not Holy Spirit caused. Either that, or one can be saved in these other religions just as easily as in Christianity and Jesus died for nothing.

When the Bible refers to what the King James committee translated as “tongues,” it means an intelligible human language that was not learned by the speaker in a normal way. (The translators of the King James Version inserted the word “unknown” before “tongue” to clarify that they meant one not learned, but that has been corrupted to mean one not known by anyone on earth.) In Acts 2, when we first see the phenomenon, a number of nationalities were surprised because they heard the apostles, unlearned Galileans, in their own languages. At a time when the church was just beginning this made sense; people with the gift could preach the gospel in countries whose languages they had not learned, thus spreading the gospel more rapidly. So my first question to a “tongues” speaker would be, what language do you speak? If they try to say it is some “language of angels” or anything other than a known human language, then they are not speaking what the Bible refers to.

II. The place in the Bible where the gifts of the Spirit (not to be confused with the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38) are discussed is 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14. Paul had to write to the Christians in Corinth in order to combat abuses of the gifts. In 1 Corinthians 13:10 he said, “When that which is complete is come, then that which is in part [the gifts of the Spirit] will be done away.” Some people will try to argue that “that which is complete” (the KJV uses “perfect” instead of “complete”) is heaven or the second coming of Christ. I am told by teachers of Greek that the Greek grammar just does not support such a conclusion; the genders just don’t match. Be that as it may, we don’t have to turn to such arguments to prove that it can’t be the second coming, the end of the world, or heaven. We just have to go to verse 13. “But now these three abide: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.” He is contrasting these things abiding with the gifts passing away. So the gifts of the Spirit are temporary, and will pass away long before faith and hope. By the definition of faith in Hebrews 1:1 we know that when Christ comes again there will be no more faith, because we will see God. According to Romans 8:24, “but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” So when Christ comes again, we will have no need of hope. Faith and hope will end before the judgement, and since the gifts are to end long before they, then the gifts must end long before Christ comes again. So “that which is perfect” can not be heaven or the return of Christ.

III. To me, the most compelling argument against anyone in any church today having the gift of tongues is the manner in which that gift was passed on. For this we need to look at the first part of Acts 8. Philip was one of the men selected in Acts 6 to help with the distribution to the Greek widows. In Acts 6:6 we find that the apostles laid their hands on him. Jump to Acts 8. This same Philip was preaching in Samaria, and converted many. He was able to perform miracles and, presumably, to speak in tongues. The Christians in Samaria were lacking the gifts of the Spirit, so Philip sent to Jerusalem for the apostles. If he had been able to pass on the gifts that he had, he would not have had to send for the apostles. When Peter and John arrived, they laid there hands on people and gave them the gifts of the Spirit. “And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money.” (Acts 8:18) He didn’t try to buy the ability to impart the Holy Spirit from Philip because Philip couldn’t pass the gifts on. Only the apostles (and, one would assume, later Cornelius) had that ability. If the apostles had the ability to pass on the ability to confer the gifts, they would not have needed to go to Samaria. The obvious conclusion, then, is that the gifts of the Spirit died out with the last person on whom an apostle had laid his hands. To have the gifts today, including the gift of speaking in human languages you had not previously learned, would mean that there is a 2000 year old apostle still alive and laying hands on people without their knowledge.

We know from Hebrews 1:1-2 that God no longer talks to us in visions. “God, who at various times and in different manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son.” We don’t need the visions any more, because we have God’s son.

One additional point may be in order. You say that they claim we can’t be a “full gospel” church because we don’t speak in tongues. That means that their definition of the full gospel includes more than Paul’s definition. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul tells what the gospel was. He says the full gospel consists of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the appearances of Jesus to others (Paul last) after his resurrection. Paul here makes no mention of the gifts of the Spirit being part of the gospel. In fact, since this chapter immediately follows his discussion of the gifts he clearly excludes them from his definition of the gospel. As long as we teach that Jesus died, was buried, rose on the third day, and proved the resurrection by appearing to people, then we are teaching the full gospel. Anyone who says otherwise is flying in the face of scripture.