September 18, 2012

Speaking with tongues speakers

by Josiah Grauman

tongues of fireAs someone who loves and works alongside many charismatic brothers, I am frequently asked by my cessationist brethren: What is the best way to prove to charismatics that the gift of tongues has ceased? I believe the question is ill-formed and often creates division instead of unity in truth. So here is my quick answer:

But first, a list of things NOT to do:

a. Do not be haughty, but rather humble (Eph. 4:1-3). This probably goes without saying, but it’s a good reminder nonetheless. Do not speak down to a brother, but rather love him as yourself, speaking truth with kindness and gentleness. Of course, if you are speaking to a Oneness Pentecostal who denies the Trinity, or someone else who is not a believer, they need the Gospel, not cessationism, but even that should come with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:25).

Mennob. Do not judge someone else’s experience. Let the Bible do that. Just encourage them to submit their lives to Scripture, including their own experience. Regarding a completely different experience, I remember the moment that I decided I was tired of my sin. I sought God out at a church, went to the front and decided to give Him my life, pledging Him my love forever. I also remember the first time one of those “terribly close-minded Calvinists who slaughtered my Mennonite ancestors” gently came alongside me, wept with me in my sorrows, rejoiced with me in my victories, and patiently showed me that no one seeks God (Rom. 3:11), and that if I loved Him, it’s because He loved me first (1 Jn 4:19). I was then the one the Holy Spirit then opened my eyes to see that my experiences needed to be interpreted by Scripture and not the other way around, understanding that I needed to attack my arrogant pride in thinking that I had contributed something to my own regeneration. To God be the glory.

LDSc. Do not try to condense a 30 hour lecture series into 10 minutes. Of course, if you are a seminary professor and teach a class on cessationism, great. However, if you only have 10 minutes to speak to a lay person, probably being interrupted by your children amongst other distractions, your attempt to explain the middle voice of a verb in 1 Corinthians 13:8 will most likely only prove in their minds that you are the one going against the Scriptures, forbidding something it clearly instructs the Church to do (1 Cor. 14:39). In fact, you’ll probably appear to be much like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, jumping from Ephesians 2:20 to Hebrews 2:4 to 2 Corinthians 12:12 just like they speak without giving time to process the context.

Instead, I would recommend you open your Bible to 1 Corinthians 14:27 and encourage your tongues’ speaking friend to exercise his ‘tongues’ exactly, and exclusively, as Paul instructs. Three simple points:

1. A maximum of three people can speak in tongues during a church service. Pretty hard to interpret this truth differently, the verse says “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three…” So if four people speak in tongues at a church service, at least the fourth person sinned.

2. One tongues’ speaker at a time. Verse 27 continues: “…and each in turn…” If multiple people are speaking in tongues simultaneously, they are all culpable.

3. All tongues’ speakers (Max. of three and in turn) must be translated. Again, the command is clear: “and let someone interpret.” The next verse make the point even more emphatic: “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church…” (1 Cor. 14:28).

I usually pause at this point to make a bit of application, knowing that my time might be cut short.

ImplicationsWhat are the implications of these three points? If you walk into a church and more than three people are speaking in tongues, what does this mean? What if more than one speaks simultaneously? What if one speaks without translation? Sin is obviously implied, but what more?

First, let’s assume with the charismatics and with Paul that the biblical tongues’ speaker was not moving his own tongue, since he did not even understand what he was saying (Thus the need for translation). The Holy Spirit was the one uttering mysteries (1 Cor. 14:2, 14). Now, today¹, if four people speak in Biblical tongues at a service, or two at a time, or one without translation, then the deity of the Holy Spirit is suspect, because He has enabled a Christian to speak in tongues in direct contradiction to His own revealed Word. You see, if the Holy Spirit moves a believer to speak in tongues in direct disobedience to the Bible, He has forced His own child to sin.

This verse, then, 1 Corinthians 14:27, has ample material to cause charismatics to meditate and ask themselves some questions about what they see and do. If so, hopefully they’ll ask us those questions… that’s what we’ll prepare for tomorrow, looking at three more clear instructions from 1 Corinthians 14 and their implications for us today.

Part 2 here.

Footnote 1: In Acts 2:1-4 the Spirit moved more than three believers to speak in tongues simultaneously and without translation. We’ll deal with the why tomorrow, for today I believe it is sufficient to mention that these events occurred well before the commands of 1 Corinthians 14. Furthermore, it’s hard to argue that they were in a Spirit-filled New Testament Church service (requirement to disobey 1 Cor. 14:27) before the Spirit had filled them.

Josiah Grauman


Josiah is the director of the 'Instituto de Expositores', a Spanish language training institute at Grace Community Church, where he and his wife serve as missionaries.
  • DaveTea

    Thanks for this Josiah. I am part of a charismatic fellowship and I do not believe the gift of tongues has ceased (though I have never received this gift myself). From what I have observed the leaders in my church are very careful to follow the biblical instructions: we never have more than three tongues brought in a service (sometimes we don’t have any, another week there may be one or two) and the leader will always remind the congregation of the need for interpretation (the service doesn’t continue until an interpretation has been brought).

    Now, I’m not going to go to the stake over whether or not what we call tongues is the same as what is described in the NT, however, I do really appreciate the desire of our leaders to be faithful to the scriptures as they understand them. I really appreciate your attitude and I agree that we need unity in truth. The best way for that to happen is for both sides to interact together and to remember that these issues are secondary to the spreading of the gospel and of making disciples.

    • DaveTea,

      Thanks for your encouraging comment. I am thankful to the
      Lord for the love and zeal for evangelism that He has placed in the hearts of many
      of my charismatic brethren, and for the fellowship we have in Christ blood. I’m also
      encouraged by your desire to be faithful to the Scriptures. May we tremble
      before His Word, earnestly longing to obey (Isa. 66:2).

      I’d love to get your
      reaction to tomorrow’s post as well!

      Lord bless,

  • Larry

    I grew up as a Oneness Pentecostal, Jesus Only, deny the trinity, person. Due to the theology being so weak and a subliminal pride being built into the life of a Oneness person, one on one conversations are usually to no avail. So, the “back and forth” type dialogue normatively goes no where. An environment, saturated, with heart felt, truthful worship, sans “charismania,” coupled with expositional preaching, where a high view of God and scripture is manifested, will go a long way in causing a Oneness believer to contemplate their belief system. See, as a former Oneness, Jesus only person myself, the “high view” was focused on experiences. The more experiences or bizarre occurrences you could “hatch up,” the more spiritual you seemed. The scriptures were never the litmus test for experiences. I’ve known people who carried photographs in their purses, because the clouds seem to formed an outline of Jesus with his hands outstretched, and they would fight you tooth and nail, that was a personal signal from God that they were “special” to Him. My personal journey was one of defecting from the faith, “coming to myself” 6-7 years later and “seeing” God, Christ, the holy Spirit and Biblical truths in a new light through the vehicle of expository teaching/preaching. It changed my life.

    • Larry,

      Praise the Lord! His Gospel is power to save (Rom. 1:16) no
      matter what our spiritual background may be. Thanks for sharing a bit of God’s
      testimony in your life with us, it is a good reminder that no one is lost
      beyond God’s reach. I also appreciate your encouragement that it is folly to
      try to interact spiritually with an unbeliever (Pro. 26:4), we need to stay on point with
      our Christ crucified message in those cases, that the cross might not be emptied
      of its power (1 Cor. 1:17-25; 2:1-5).

      May the Lord continue to bless you as you seek Him,


      • Larry

        @Josiah..I wouldnt call a “tongue talkin” Charismatic an unbeliever. lol! Many, many love God with all their hearts and are commited to Jesus. There is just this “mis-information” reative to the trinity. They honor God, Jesus and the holy Spirit and know the “fullness of the Godhead” is manifested in Jesus and are so focused THERE, they fail to realize the truth of the trinity being co-existent and co-equal yet one, as recorded in I John 5:7. Yes, it’s tricky. But at the end of the day, its like Priscila and Aquila with Apollos. They took him to the side and explained a more perfect way. However, you can only pour truth into one that will receive and listen. And you can’t pour into people on their own terms.

        • Larry,

          I do not believe I stated anywhere that tongues’ speakers were necessarily unbelievers. Please forgive me if I implied that, that was not my intention.

          However I do believe that someone who understands Oneness doctrine and denies the Trinity cannot be saved. Perhaps it is a larger discussion for another day, but I believe that it is a heresy to deny the Trinity, in part, because it is a completely different god that they worship, and in part because a denial of the Trinity necessarily denies the full humanity of Christ (2 Jhn. 7). I believe it is impossible to deny multiple wills in the Godhead and still maintain an evangelical understanding of the hypostatic union (Dual natures of Christ, the God-Man).

          I hope this helps,

          Lord bless,

          • Lar

            @Josiah..sorry brother, I thought, ” I also appreciate your encouragement that it is folly to try to interact spiritually with an unbeliever,” was an implication. 🙂 Also, traditionally and Biblically, there is a divide between what is referred to as a Oneness “Pentecostal” and a Oneness “Apostolic.” The idea/truth of the trinity is a matter with Apostolics, rather than Pentecostals. The question necessary to reveal the doctrinal divide is “Are you Jesus Only?” Pentecostals traditionally accept the trinity, that’s why there is such a divide in the Charismatic movement, post, the Azusa St Revival. The movement spawned trinitarians and non-trinitarians. Although both “speak with tongues.” Non-trinitarians believe without dispute “God the Father” “God the Son” and “God the holy Ghost” with Jesus being the embodiment of the Godhead or “hood.” 🙂 But there is some blindess and even as I look back I have no idea why I was so dogmatic about “Oneness doctrine” or speaking in tongues.

          • Brother Larry,

            In all honesty, since you said in your original post that you used to be a “Oneness Pentecostal, Jesus Only, deny the trinity, person” I took that to mean that you were at that time an unbeliever, thus my implication :), not because you were simply a Pentecostal.

            However, I am curious about the distinction you now make between a “Oneness Pentecostal” and “Oneness Apostolic”. If you could provide me with some material the makes that distinction I would appreciate it.

            I completely agree that not all Pentecostals deny the trinity, but I believe all “Oneness Pentecostals” do, as you stated in your original post, and I can’t find anything online that says differently.

            Thanks for your kind interaction 🙂

          • Larry

            @Hey Josiah..the “deny the trinity” is a labeling. I should have clarified that. However, the “denial” it is not true in all cases. Historically, after the Azusa St revival. loads of “charismatic” denominations were spawned. They basically split down the middle. Assemblies of God, Church of God, Church of God in Christ are popular “pentecostal” organizations and they are NOT “oneness”. They populatr(lack of a better word) “oneness” denomination are United Pentecostal Church (UPC and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW) Although both have “pentecostal” in their names they are “apostolic” which is a different sgement of pentecostalism. lol. (It’s CRAZY and mass chaos) “Apostolics” are what is known as “Jesus only” and do not refer to the Godhead as three distinct person as found in I John 5:7….they “park” at Colosssians 2:9 and would say, “It’s all Jesus.” Yet when having their “experiences” they always say “You know the HOLY ghost this” or the Holy ghost that” They speak of the Holy ghost as a distinct person. It’s weird. John Macarthur gets into it with Jack Hayford (who is a trinitarian tongue talker!) lol From what I understand they are good friends and Macarthur holds Hayford in high esteem. Even though he “speaks with tongues.” It’s a never ending saga. They as well do not “speak the same thing” as found in I Corinthians 1:10. So, yes the whole “charismani” is problematic, but, in it there are some sincere people that really love God and righteousness and faith and justification, etc..just are “stuck” in what they’ve known all their lives. John Macarthur has not and will not relegate Jack Hayford to “unbeliever” status and rightly so. It may help to google: Church of God in Christ and Assemblies of God and read their doctrinal stament. Look up United Pentecostal Church and Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and read their doctrinal statements as well.

          • Non-trinitarians believe without dispute “God the Father” “God the Son” and “God the holy Ghost” with Jesus being the embodiment of the Godhead or “hood.”

            Which would be the heresy of modalism.

          • Larry

            @Hey Mike my above statement is not a heresy. a “oneness” person will affirm God the Father, God the Son and God the holy Spirit, but when the scripture in Colossians 2:9 states what it does, they “park” right there. They’ll say something like this: “Jesus is the father” or “Jesus is God” (John 14:9 and John chapter 1) or “Jesus is the Son” or “Jesus is the holy Spirit” and according to Colossians 2:9 that’s true. However at the same time they miss the fact these are three distinct persons as cited in I John 5:7. The trinity is not “intellectually” resolved. It has to be received by faith with line upon line, precept upon precept exposition. And THATS where they are weakened. Traditionally they have weak doctrine and strong experience. (if one may call it that) Not good. Love u brotha

          • Larry,

            It is emphatically not true to claim that Jesus is the Father, or that Jesus is the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son. He is not the Father. He is not the Holy Spirit. To claim otherwise is, in fact, to subscribe to a heretical Christology and Theology Proper.

            Neither does Colossians 2:9 teach such a thing. Jesus is indeed God, and thus all the fullness of Deity dwells in Him bodily. But God is One God eternally existing in Three Persons. If Jesus is the Father, God cannot exist eternally in Three Persons, but only in three manifestations, which is the heresy of modalism.

            Please, if you haven’t already, read that post Nate wrote modalism which I linked to above. These are not doctrines to trifle with, but stand at the heart of historic Christian orthodoxy.

        • Busdriver4jesus

          I think Josiah was clear about the centrality and essentiality of the doctrine of the Trinity, as opposed to the secondary importance of speaking/not speaking in tongues.

          • Larry

            @Busdriver I think I was clear as well that the trinity is a Biblical ideal/doctrine that all should embrace. Basd on scripture I dont see “tongue talkin” as of any importance. But I wouldnt imply that a “tongue talker” an unbeliever. However, Josiah’s paragraph about “unbelievers’s” was not intended to imply “tongue talker’s” are unbelievers as he clarified. Wer’e tracking.

  • Karl Heitman

    Thanks for this. I know this will come in handy very soon in my teaching ministry. Quick question: why is asking how to interact with charismatics an “ill-formed” question? Thanks!

    • Karl,

      Thanks for the opportunity to clarify!

      As you stated it, I do not think that “asking how to interact with charismatics” would be “ill-formed” question”, but rather a great thing to do!

      I was trying to provocatively 🙂 make the point that if from the get go our explicit goal is to go out and “prove” (This was my key word) something to a brother in Christ, this seems to be “ill-formed” because it generally does not lead to humility, gentleness, an openness to learn, etc., but rather to dissention and pride.

      Of course, on the flip side, we need to have convictions and speak the truth, and so asking how to do so wisely is itself a sign of humility, but my point was simply that when we begin with a desire to “prove” instead of to “lovingly edify”, we often get off on the wrong foot, especially if the main point of 1 Corinthians 12-14 is the “still more excellent way” that lies at the center.

      Lord bless,

      • Karl Heitman

        I completley understand. Thanks for expanding. 🙂

  • brad


    This is more of a hermeneutical question, I guess. How do you know which commands in 1 Cor. 12-14 are commands to all Christians and which ones are just to the Corinthians? In other words, could the commands you mentioned be specific applications to the Corinthians rather than wooden laws for every Christian at all time?

    In other words, how can a cessationist hold people to some of the commands in 1 Cor. 12-14, but not all of them?

    Hope my question makes sense!!


    • Brad,

      Great question. Can you give me an example of a command in 1 Cor. 12-14 that you think was ‘just’ for the Corinthians and not for us? I can’t find any ;).

      I think my general answer to your hermeneutical question would be: There would have to be something in the text that explicitly makes me believe that the command was a cultural Corinthian element not for today.

      As an example regarding another hot topic, I would say it is clear that women can wear pearls today (1 Tim. 2:9-10) because Paul’s explicit reason for prohibiting them in Ephesus in the first century was that being so incredibly costly, they distracted the brethren from seeing a woman’s good works and drew attention to her physical appearance (Something Walmart pearls probably wouldn’t do).

      Whereas the command in the next verse for a woman not to teach is explicitly non-cultural since Paul explains that a woman should not exercise authority over a man because Adam was created first and Eve sinned first (1 Tim. 2:12-14)… a-temporal, a-cultural truths.

      Hope this helps,

      • Brad

        Thanks Josiah!

        I was thinking of these commands:

        1 Cor. 14:1 – Desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy (many of the spiritual gifts Paul is talking about would not be relevant to us according to cessationism)
        1 Cor. 14:5 – I wish you all spoke with tongues (This is God’s desire for all of us, but according to cessationism speaking in tongues is not, or even sinful)
        1 Cor. 14:39 – 39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues (Note that it is a sin to forbid speaking in tongues. But cessationism says that we should forbid speaking in tongues).

        Also, you wrote:

        “There would have to be something in the text that explicitly makes me believe that the command was a cultural Corinthian element not for today.”

        The letter was written to the CORINTHIAN CHURCH, not us. It seems obvious that there is a specific culture element to Paul’s words. In other words, it was written to a specific group of people at a specific time living in a specific culture. It wasn’t written to me or to you or to Grace Community Church, but to the Corinthian church.

        I have gotten into trouble here for my comments. But I am not trying to be difficult. I am really wrestling through these issues and asking honest questions.


        • Brad,

          Thanks for your comments.

          1 Cor. 14:1 – I think I ought to desire spiritual gifts. I have no problem saying that I should obey that command.

          1 Cor. 14:5, 39 – To me, it seems like there is a logical step that you are assuming. You are assuming that I would prohibit biblical tongues. I can say with a clean conscience that if I saw Biblical tongues today I would re-examine my exegesis on the spot. The issue is that what I observe is not Biblical (we’ll discuss that more tomorrow), thus I prohibit it not for being real ‘tongues’ but precisely because I believe it is disobedient to the clear commands of Scripture (Like if 5 people spoke in tongues simultaneously).

          As far as the cultural aspects of Scripture. I could also have said: We can assume that everything is written for the original audience unless the text explicitly gives us reason to apply it directly to ourselves. I think that and my previous statement are synonymous because I believe the Scripture is always clear whether a command is to be directly obeyed by us or not (Gen. 12:1 = NO, 1 Thes. 5:17 = YES). All Scripture is useful for us because all of it reveals our God to us, but not all the commands are directed toward us to obey… I would think we share common ground on this principle.

          May the Lord grant us understanding so that we might worship Him as He deserves,

          Grace and peace,

          • Brad

            Quick response.

            1 Cor. 14:1 – I have never read a cessationist who encourages believers to desire, pursue and practice all of the spiritual gifts Paul lists. Perhaps you could be the first by writing a post encouraging us to pursue the gifts that Paul describes. Also, how can you desire something that you don’t think exists (i.e. speaking in tongues, healing etc.)?

            1 Cor. 14:5, 39 – Isn’t the cessationist argument that tongues have ceased? From what I understand, the cessationist position doesn’t just prohibit tongues or think it is used wrongly, it says they don’t and can’t exist today.

            That’s all I got! Enjoying the convo!

          • Brad,

            I like your reasoning, it certainly helps me as well to sharpen my thinking 🙂

            1 Cor. 14:1. I don’t see Paul commanding the Corinthians or us to desire all of the gifts he lists, as you mention. Isn’t the whole point of the section that not everyone has all of them? We each have different gifts that we are supposed to use for the edification of the whole (1 Cor. 12:27-31). And when Paul exhorts me to desire the use of the higher gifts, isn’t he exhorting us toward the gifts that most edify through knowledge?

            1 Cor. 14:5, 39. So you are encouraging me to strengthen my cessationistic convictions! 🙂 I’m kidding, of course.

            I guess I just want to be appropriately dogmatic in what I say. If a doctrine is clear in Scripture, then I die for it, if it is a non-essential systematic argument, well, I may believe it, by I don’t defend it with the same degree of dogmatism.

            Here are three examples:

            1. I believe Jesus is God. If a J.W. tries to convince me otherwise, I stick my fingers in my ears and preach the gospel :).

            2. I believe in a pre-tribulational rapture. However, if R.C. Sproul was in my living room and presented some really good arguments I’d never heard before, I’d certainly re-examine my position.

            3. I believe God heals but that the gift of healing was a first century gift used by God to authenticate apostles and prophets. However if I saw a 40 year old non-Christian unbelieving crippled beggar with legs completely atrophied begging you for money, and then you said, “In the name of Jesus be healed”, and I saw the muscles on his legs grow before my eyes and straighten out and then he walked… I’d re-examine my exegesis… I’d also stick my son in your shadow, because he can’t walk either :).

            Lord bless,

          • brad


            Good points.

            Big picture for me: The cessationists are too limiting and discouraging and the continuists are on to something true but they overstate their case.

            I guess that’s way I go to an Acts 29 church. Ha!!



          • Brad,

            Sounds good; I’ll look forward to interacting some more tomorrow then ;).

        • I just want to make an observation, and then point you in the direction of a post that may have answered your question, Brad.

          The observation is this: In one half of your post, your argument for tongues is that Paul gives explicit commands to the Corinthians regarding the speaking of tongues. So we should speak in tongues because it’s commanded in the NT. But then, in the prescriptions for how to carry out the practice of those gifts, you attempt to circumvent the clear teaching of Scripture by speaking about the potential cultural differences between Corinth and today’s churches. My friend, you can’t have it both ways. You accuse cessationists of teaching only some things from 1Cor 12-14 while ignoring others, but this is precisely what you attempt to do by appealing to “cultural” differences.

          This is the post that takes a stab at answering your question, or at least responding to this objection: “Since Paul speaks directly about prophecy in the New Testament—giving directions about its proper use in the church and even commanding that the gift be sought—everything he says automatically applies to the church today in the same way that it applied to the church in the first-century.”

          • Brad


            We are recognizing the same things! Yes, I agree that you can’t have it both ways!

            The first half of my post was just asking Josiah in essence, “Why do you choose some of the commands in 1 Cor. 14 and not others?”

            The second half of my post was observing that most of the letters in the New Testament are, in some sense, culturally bound.

            So the deeper question is “How do you determine what is universal in a letter that is conditioned by history and culture (at least to some extent)?”

            To me, this leads to deeper questions about the sufficiency of Scripture, which we have discussed before.

            I am going to try to read your post tonight.


  • Nathan

    Thanks for the post Josiah, I would say that having come from the Calvary Chapel movement that is exactly the way we were taught the passage. As a matter of fact speaking in tongues in a corporate setting was actually not highlighted as the implication is that that is really a private gift. I have never seen (at least in my circles within calvary) someone not operate according to that very standard. On a side note in a service only worship and teaching are “permitted” from where I come from.

    • Thanks Nathan,

      I’ve had similar experiences with the Calvary Chapel movement.

      Tomorrow I’ll address a few more aspects of the gift, but it certainly does sound interesting to read about a “private gift”. I’m curious, how would you have / would you explain the idea of a “private gift” in light of passages like: 1 Cor. 12:7; 14:12; 1 Pet 4:10?

      Lord bless,

      • christdw


        Though what about Paul’s admission that he speaks in tongues more than others (1 Corinthians 14:18), and yet in the church would rather speak only five intelligible words (1 Corinthians 14:19). Does that not suggest that Paul spent much time praying in tongues privately?


        • Chris,

          Great point that Paul spoke in tongues more than anyone. However, it seems like a bit of a stretch to say that meant he was speaking privately. Here is what it seems like we know from explicit statements in the Bible:

          1. The gifts were given to edify others.
          2. Paul was God’s chosen instrument as an apostle to the gentile nations, thus, if anything, the admission that he spoke in more tongues than anyone seems only to admit that he was a missionary to the most amount of people groups.

          Do you see any evidence in Scripture of someone speaking tongues privately?
          Lord bless,

          • christdw

            Brother Josiah,

            A few things! (All in Christian love, of course!)

            1. The “edify others” argument has always been used against the “tongues-as-private-prayer-language.” However, in 1 Corinthians 14:4, Paul says, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” Therefore, from my logic, it would suggest that Paul is saying that tongues could definitely be (mis?-)used as a self-edifying gift?

            2. I’ve never come across the interpretation of Paul being the apostle to the Gentiles for his argument that he speaks more in tongues than everyone else. But, that could definitely make sense if we say tongues are actual languages and not “tongues of angels” as some say.

            3. We would both probably agree that arguments from silence are not always the strongest arguments. They are definitely a defense, but just because we don’t see an example in Scripture doesn’t make it a fool proof defense against or for something. That being said, I think those proposing the tongues-as-private-prayer-language view would put forth 1 Corinthians 14:4-5 as an argument for Paul’s using tongues in prayer. Though I’m sure different sides have different interpretations of these verses.

            Thanks for this discussion, very enlightening! May the church be enriched and the truth be proclaimed because of it.


          • christdw


            I just read your “part 2” and see that you address some of these things. No need to respond here! God bless!


      • Nathan Murrell


        What I was getting at with that was if someone speaks in tongues in a public venue there is no edification without an interpretation. So the “value of that gift is simply for the individual in building up their faith by praying in the Spirit (Jude). Unless of course there was an interpretation. I would also suggest something that I think would make every charismatic and pentecostal mad at me. That is tongues are only for worship to God they are not directed at man. What I mean is if someone speaks in a tongue and someone interprets with say a “prophecy” that was not the interpretation that was a prophecy (by the way prophecy is forth-telling not for-telling the heart of God, edification, exhortation & consolation) (1 Cor. 14:2 & 6, 1 Cor. 14:3). The interpretation should be praise to God so “we can all say the amen”(1 Cor. 14:16). My point is simply that the charismatic and pentecostal movements have not defined biblically these terms and they have not followed the instruction of 1 Cor. 14. I want to thank you again for a thoughtful and non antagonistic handling of this subject. Well done.

  • Daniel R

    too often charismatics attribute power that is not divine, to God, and that is
    blasphemous. Rather than encourage charismatics
    to act out early church sign gifts, that no longer apply, in a Biblical manner,
    we should boldly and with love, teach them that sign gifts have fulfilled their
    purpose and are not operative today. All purported sign gifts today are human
    or satanic counterfeits and people should be warned, especially professing
    believers. This includes speaking in
    tongues, healing, interpreting, and prophecy (foretelling, not forth-telling). Now that we, as believers, have both the Holy
    Spirit, and the complete canon of Scripture, sign gifts are obsolete. 1 Cor 13:8
    says “…As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease…”(ESV).
    It may also be helpful to point out since the 1st century, no
    professing Christian has claimed to “speak in tongues” (in the NT sense) since Agnes
    Ozman in 1901. (Certain pagan religions and cults have claimed to speak in
    tongues.) Why would God withhold a spiritual gift for nearly 2000 years? That
    should be an indication that it’s spurious, today. May I also suggest, if you see
    “Biblical tongues” today, rather than re-examine your interpretation of
    Scripture, stop and take a closer look at what you are observing in light of
    Scripture. 1 John 4:1 says “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the
    spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out
    into the world.” Scripture is more sure than experience (2 Pet 1:19). For
    further insight into the cessation of sign gifts, and attributing to God that
    which is not divine I recommend a sermon series by John MacArthur titled “the
    Modern Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” (Oct-Nov 2011) or his book
    “Charismatic Chaos.”

    • Daniel,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I’d love to get your thoughts on today’s post! I think my point, when I say we should encourage charismatics to exercise their gifts exclusively as Paul instructs is that they should only exercise them that way… Hope that helps to clarify.

      1 Corinthians 14 is profitable for us for teaching and reproof, don’t you think?

      Lord bless,

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  • Renee

    But how do you know that the person translating the tongue is actually speaking from the Spirit and not from their own interpretation? I am asking because I have been to a service where only one person was speaking in tongue and one person was interpreting.

    • Renee,

      Thanks for your questions… I believe I address that question in today’s post. If it still wasn’t clear, please post another question in today’s post and I’ll do my best to clarify.

      Lord bless,

    • Inclement Nimbus

      Which tongue were they speaking in?

    • Hi Renee, I grew up in a Pentecostal church, so I’ve observed this a fair bit growing up. Truth is, I don’t think there’s any way to prove if the interpreter is accurately translating the message in tongues. I have seen the person speaking in tongues interpret what they just said, which lines up well with 1 Cor 14:13.

      My thought is, if the interpretation lines up with Scripture, and is encouraging, then I count it as beneficial regardless of whether it’s an accurate translation of the tongues. What I’ve noticed recently is that I’ve never seen anyone younger then 50 exercise this spiritual gift (giving a message or an interpretation of tongues)

      On the other hand, I have witnessed a natural translation of tongues when I was in Bible College. A student was praying out loud in tongues and another student (from Iceland) realized they were speaking Icelandic, and told us what they were saying. This is the only time I witnessed this, but it was pretty cool – and at the time it was very encouraging.

      • There are usually 2 or more who recieve the interpretation but only one gives it. The others act as witnesses as to the correct interpretation of the message given.

  • Dave Wilson

    I would commend the tongues speaker for receiving a good gift from the Lord. In public settings, I would invite him to take serious Paul’s encouragement to pursue gifts that edify the body, especially prophesy. But I wouldn’t try to dissuade him from speaking in tongues … that would seem alien to Paul’s thinking, in my mind.
    If he was interested in further study, I might point him towards “Showing The Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14” by D.A. Carson.

    • Dave,

      Thanks for the link, I’ll definitely take a look at it.

      If I saw a person speaking in different languages that other people understood, I might also commend that speaker for receiving a good gift from the Lord.

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s article where I set out to define tongues in a biblical fashion.

      Lord bless,

      • Dave Wilson

        Time doesn’t permit a lengthy response. But I think you and I would differ as to what defines tongues in a “biblical fashion.” Am I correct that you believe tongues generally are xenoglossia rather than glossolalia?
        I believe that the weight of how scripture describes tongues would not favor that perspective. Would you agree that the Bible allows for uninterpreted tongues in some settings?

        • Dave,

          Hopefully my definition of tongues in today’s post provides some clarity as to my position.

          Of course I believe that the Bible allows for tongues to be spoken without translation outside of the church… wouldn’t that be their main purpose, for unbelievers? I mean, if Paul was among a tribe and starting speaking the glories of God in their language, why would translation be needed?
          Lord bless,

          • Dave Wilson


            Thanks for your response. Your position is clear, but is not one that I can commend.

            I believe you misunderstand tongues, tongues and interpretation, and the fundamental difference between tongues and prophesy. In my thinking, you put forward with a prescription for embracing the gifts that is absent in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

            I’m happy to say that this passage is wonderfully lived out in my church experience:
            For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

            Prophesy is judged to edify the gathered believers. Tongues are not given in the public assembly unless interpreted.

            Any way, I’ve enjoyed the dialogue even if we don’t have a common understanding of this issue.


        • Dave,

          Hopefully my definition of tongues in today’s post provides some clarity.

          Of course I agree that the Bible allows for untranslated tongues outside of the church, I think that was their explicitely stated purpose, for unbelievers. I mean, if Paul was traveling in some tribal setting and starting speaking the glories of God in their language, why would translation be needed?

          Lord bless,

  • Brance

    Josiah, you state that the Holy Spirit has “forced His own child to sin” if someone uses the gift of tongues wrongly, disobeying the scriptural commands for its use. Your point is that this particular gift is no longer given by the Spirit, and such usage is therefore illegitimate.

    Question: Would you apply this same logic to a gift you believe is still given? Say teaching? If someone has the gift of teaching, but teaches an unsound doctrine, did the Holy Spirit force them to sin? After all we’ve been told to keep a close watch on our doctrine, to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1) Or is the gift of teaching no longer given these days?

    Just because someone misuses a gift doesn’t mean they were forced to by the Spirit, or that the gift itself is illegitimate, does it?
    Secondly, since Paul was compelled, by the Spirit, to write these instructions to the church in Corinth, then that would mean that at the time when the gift was still being given by the Spirit, some where misusing it. Was the Spirit forcing the Corinthians to sin then? Why didn’t Paul just tell them not to speak in tongues? If they were doing so in a way that was contrary to how the Spirit would have the gift used, then it was clearly not the Spirit at work in the gift and was therefore illegitimate?
    My point is this, I think this line of thinking is a bit weak as an argument against the validity of the gift of tongues in current usage.

    • Brance,

      Thanks for your comments.

      1. I think there is a difference between the Spirit gifting me in the area of preaching, but not directly controlling my tongue. This is different than someone translating a tongue or prophesying in a Biblical sense, where a prophet said: “Thus says the Lord…”.

      In other words if I teach something that is an error, God did not force me to make that error, my lack of study did. However, if God filled Isaiah and put words in his mouth to say, “Thus says the Lord… Israel, commit adultery”. I would say that God forced Isaiah to sin.

      Does this difference make sense? Paul directly explains that the tongues speaker was not in control of his own tongue. His mind was unfruitful, that is, his own will was not involved in deciding what to say, the Spirit was.

      2. As far as the Corinthians still misusing tongues. I agree. I try to address that in my footnote. They were abusing the tongues up until the Holy Spirit gave the commands we read in 1 Corinthians 14. Once the Holy Spirit gave those commands, commands they did not have prior to that, it because sinful to disobey them, and thus the Holy Spirit from that moment on would no longer go against that.

      Hope that helps, and perhaps today’s article might re-enforce some of these thoughts as well,

      Lord bless,

  • Belinda

    I have questions about praying in tongues. It is practiced by a few people I know. Everyone of them claim that it is “edifying” for them to pray in tongues. What makes me question its validity is that the people have been taught to pray in tongues. I once asked how this is done and the response given is to start by making a noise like humming. I also asked if the person knew what she was saying…I think it was something like praise, but she assured me God knows. Based on what I’ve read, tongues are for edifying the body of believers not self. Am I correct?

    • christdw

      I think those who speak in tongues cite 1 Corinthians 14:4, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” Therefore, they would say it is self-edifying. They would also cite Paul’s admission that “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:18-19), suggesting that Paul prayed in tongues to himself, thus edifying himself, but in the church did not speak in tongues.

    • I’ve heard similar stories Belinda, where they try to get people to copy “babble” to get them started speaking in tongues. How brutal is that!

      Years ago my grandma was being pressured during a prayer time to speak in tongues, and she said that she was tempted to start talking in her native tongue (Frisian) to get the preacher off her back, but held her ground and refused to say anything instead. Maybe she could have used the babble someone, jokingly, shared with us in Bible College “Should-a bought-a hyundai but I bought-a honda” 😉

  • lee

    And no women should be doing it. v. 34

  • Traci

    Like Belinda, I, too, have questions about so-called “private prayer languages.” People I know who exercise this “gift” say they were not “taught it” rather they were given it during a time of personal prayer, alone. They don’t pray in “tongues” in public, implying it’s a gift “under their control,” but they acknowledge that their private prayer language is not used during every prayer time, nor is it something they can choose to do at will. Ideas?

    • Hi Traci,

      Here’s how I’ve been brought up thinking about tongues. Tongues basically fits two categories, as a prayer language and as a proclamation with interpretation. I’ve heard of people receiving tongues privately, but more often Pentecostals will look to Acts 19:6 to say that those who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit should pray for those who haven’t. (And according to traditional Pentecostal theology tongues is the first evidence of a Christian being baptized in the Holy Spirit – but that’s a whole different discussion perhaps!)

      From my experience, tongues is under a person’s control, which Paul seems to teach in 1 Cor 14:26-40 (although that’s having to do with tongues as a prophetic proclamation to the church, rather then tongues as a prayer language).

      Does that help at all?

      • Tongues is always subject to the speaker wether spoken in personal prayer life or for corporate edification of the body of believers.

  • 3. All tongues’ speakers (Max. of three and in turn) must be translated. Again, the command is clear: “and let someone interpret.” The next verse make the point even more emphatic: “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church…”
    There is a two fold responsibility in this instruction… the first is to the speaker of tongues, if there is no interpreter in the church then a message in tongue isn’t to be given. The second responsibility is to the one given the interpretation and that is to GIVE the interpretation. If the interpritation is revealed but that one refuses to give it then it is his disobedience and not that of the one speaking in tongues.

    • R.M.

      Thanks for your input.

      I guess I question how the tongues’ speaker is not culpable when the text says: Two or at most three (plural)… and let someone interpret. But if there is no one (singular) to interpret, let each of them (plural) keep silent in church…”

      In other words, Paul is not commanding the interpreter to keep silent, he is giving a direct command to the person speaking in a tongue. And the command is: If there is no interpreter, keep silent. Therefore, if there is no interpretation, the person who spoke in tongues has disobeyed this command to keep silent.

      Don’t you think?

      Lord bless,

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  • J. Gary Ellison

    I appreciate you taking the time to write on this subject. I was raised in the Assemblies of God and have been an AG missionary, training pastors for the past 30 years, and I thoroughly agree with your points 1, 2, and 3. That is what I have always taught, even before when I pastored in the States.
    However, your implications are based on your assumption about the nature of speaking in tongues, i.e. it is not the believer but the Holy Spirit who is speaking in tongues:

    “First, let’s assume with the charismatics and with Paul that the biblical tongues’ speaker was not moving his own tongue, since he did not even understand what he was saying (Thus the need for translation).”

    The “biblical tongues speaker” DOES move his own tongue even though he may not understand what he is saying. “And THEY … began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4 ESV). The Scripture does NOT say that “the Holy Spirit was the one uttering mysteries.” It says, “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 Co. 14:2 ESV). The “one who speaks in a tongue… utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

    It is for that very reason that the apostle Paul gives instructions as to how tongues are to be used. The gift of tongues, like any gift, can be abused. Paul says, “I will pray with my spirit… I will sing praise with my spirit.” He clearly implies the ability to choose when he will use the gift.

    You have made quite a leap in logic from the text to your assumption about the nature of speaking in tongues, and from your assumption to your conclusion that any misuse of the gift renders the deity of the Holy Spirit suspect. That is not at all what Paul says. Paul says that if the gift of tongues is misused, “and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds” (1 Co. 14:23 ESV). So when the gift is misused, tongues are a sign for unbelievers (v. 22) that those speaking in tongues at the same time are crazy, not that the Holy Spirit has somehow contradicted himself. The Holy Spirit does not “force” — to use your word — people to speak in tongues. As charitably as I can say it, I am afraid that you have not understood how this gift operates.

    Nonetheless, you three points are well taken: 3 max, one at a time, translation in turn. Otherwise, there is no edification for the church, and that’s the point.

    I will respond to part 2 on that page.

    • J.G.E.,

      Thanks for your thoughts, I appreciate them. Of course, it’s hard to completely explain something in a blog article :), so it’s really great to be able to interact with you all in the forums.

      I too will respond to most of your questions in the comment you make in part two of the article… but first just a few thoughts.

      1. I agree that the tongues’ speaker had the ability to stop speaking in tongues. Point well taken.

      2. As far as who is moving the tongue, the two passages you mention are Acts 2:4 and 1 Cor 14:2:

      a) Acts 2:4 seems really clear, because the believers were speaking in actual languages that others understood. Therefore, I don’t know how it could be argued that they were deciding where to put their tongues to pronounce words that they did not know nor understand. I can’t voluntarily speak a language I don’t know, that’s why the Spirit was the one ‘giving’ them utterance. They spoke, they made noise, but the Spirit gave them that utterance.

      b) 1 Corinthians 14:2 can just as easily be translated “[by] the Spirit”. Translators provide a preposition not in the original based upon the dative case of the word Spirit. Either way, if while speaking in tongues Paul could say that his mind was unfruitful, it’s hard for me to understand how he was the one determining where to place is tongue. Again, my point is that the gift is not produced by the believer but by the Spirit.

      3. I don’t understand your logic in saying that tongues are only a sign to unbeliever’s when they are misused. You argue backwards from verse 23 saying that it defines verse 22, but Paul starts verse 22 with the word THUS, which points back to verse 21, not forward to verse 23. He says, THUS, tongues are a sign to unbelievers. What is the thus based upon? Verse 21: “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord. Thus, tongues are a sign not to believers but to unbelievers” This is not the misuse of tongues, this is its proper and prophesied use, for unbelievers… which is why if it is used in the church without translation, people will think tongues’ speakers are crazy, because it’s purpose was for people outside, not inside.

      Furthermore, according to your logic we would have to say that prophecy is only a sign to believer’s when it is abused. That certainly seems forced.

      My main point is that if the Spirit is speaking through tongues, then we must believe what He says, I’ll develop this idea a bit more where you ask about it in your comment on part 2.

      Lord bless,

  • Thank you so much for this post! I am driven almost to insanity with what happened to me earlier this year. I reformed, and would call myself ex-charismatic. One of the main things was I stopped this ‘babbling’ I thought was tongues, re-examined the scripture and listened to teaching from the other side of the fence, so to speak.

    I’ve been moving in charismatic circles for about 16 years, and heard/seen plenty of biased teaching, and never once had it questioned.

    I’ve been guilty of pushing too far, too quickly, and God brought me into a place of humility when dealing with others. I’ve even had to speak to my pastor and say that effectively, God is doing a glorious regenerative work in me, and I’ve stopped praying in tongues. The look of concern across his face at that point…. !

    To me, scripturally, tongues in Acts/1 Corinthians is the ability of speaking other languages.

    However, I can’t seem to reconcile that with the apologetic defence of a tongues speaker that Paul speaks with the tongues of angels or men (1 Corinthians 13:1) – could anyone elaborate on this? This is used quite often here to defend the babbling style as a personal prayer language, labouring on the point of tongues of angels…

    • Hey Richard. Paul’s use of “tongues of men and angels” is just hyperbole, in the same way that “knowing all mysteries and knowledge” and having “all faith” are hyperbolic ways of emphasizing that if you don’t have love, you’re nothing. He’s basically saying, you could be “super-gifted,” but without love you won’t benefit anyone. But instead of a phrase like “super-gifted,” he gives hyperbolic examples with a few spiritual gifts.

      Hope that helps.

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