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  • Writer's pictureJonas Croissant

What Was the Gift of Speaking in Tongues? A Public Doxology!

Updated: Jun 22

At Acts Church of Maricopa, we have all-member participation times on Sunday during the Lord's Day meeting of the saints. This is a freedom that Christ has commanded in His Church: "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up" (1 Corinthians 14:26, see v. 37 "command of the Lord").

Brothers and sisters in Christ freely pray, select songs for us to sing, and the men bring exhortations and teachings. However, we do not have anyone practice the gift of the Holy Spirit called speaking in tongues during this time. Why not? Is it not mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14 and other passages of Scripture? Yes, it is, however, the gift of speaking in tongues ceased after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, which might surprise you. However, before diving into this beautiful fact of history and Scripture, we first need to establish a more fundamental question: what were tongues?

What was the nature of the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues?

You might think that speaking in tongues is the utterance of the unintelligible sounds that nobody can understand and that this is to be used by Christians to edify themselves at home. This is the novel interpretation of the nature of speaking in tongues which has arisen from the modern Pentecostal movement in the early twentieth century. How could it be that this rough definition is what most Christians assume the gift of tongues was? Was the universal church wrong about tongues for nearly two millennia whereas the Pentecostal movement found the truth?

Hardly. We need to go back to the Scriptures to find out the beautiful truth about speaking in tongues. Here are several facets of what tongues were, and as we shall see, there is a harmony on the nature of tongues between all the passages of the Bible in the books of Acts and 1 Corinthians.

1. Tongues was the miraculous utterance of previously unlearned human languages

The first occurrence of this miraculous phenomenon took place at Pentecost after the Ascencion of Jesus our Lord:

"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4, ESV, emphasis in bold are mine throughout the article).

Then sixteen different dialects are listed by the Jews who heard the disciples of Jesus speaking in tongues: "And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:6-11).

The Galilean disciples had never learned these foreign languages (this is what "speaking in tongues" means, "speaking in languages"). How then could they speak in this way (v. 8-9)? It was miraculous through the Holy Spirit who "gave them utterance" (v. 4) that they had just received at Pentecost as Jesus had promised (Acts 1:4; John 14:26, 15:26). It was not natural utterances, but supernatural ones.

And again, the content was human languages. Notice the report of Luke the writer of the book of Acts: "we hear, each of us in his own native language" (v. 8), "we hear them [...] in our own tongues" (v. 11). Jewish proselytes who had come to Jerusalem for the spiritual pilgrimage had native languages from all over the Roman Empire and they heard these Jewish Christians speaking in their mother tongues! What a shock indeed!

Now the same observation is found in 1 Corinthians 14, although Charismatic Christians desperately try to make this section say someone else than the obvious meaning of Paul therein. Judge for yourselves the straightforward meaning of the text:

"Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me" (1 Corinthians 14:6-11).

Paul says that speaking in tongues was speaking in one of the "many different languages in the world" and he even noticed that they all have human meanings (v. 10). Yet, if someone speaks Chinese to me, as I do not know Chinese, he will be as a foreigner to me. We will not be able to communicate. What should we do then? You guessed it, call the interpreter!

Verse 13: "Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret". The gift of the interpretation of tongues means the gift of translating the spoken foreign language to a language that is known to the audience for comprehension and edification. We also notice the miraculous character of the counterpart gift as one could then pray to be able to miraculously translate the language (and not through the many arduous years of learning multiple foreign languages).

2. Speaking in tongues was a public prayer and praise: a doxology!

In the cessationist camp, that this those who rightly affirm that speaking in tongues has ceased, there is yet the common mistake of refusing an obvious fact from Scripture: tongues were prayer and praise. This is an overreaction of those who want to deny that speaking in tongues is a private devotional gift, but it does not help since the Bible clearly presents the gift as a doxology.

Consider the following evidence:

  • Acts 2:4,11: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance [...] both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God."

The Jewish disciples were praising God, in public.

  • Acts 10:44-47: "44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"

The Gentile new converts were extolling God, in public. The Greek verb translated magnify (KJV) or extol (ESV) is megalynō is also used by Mary in her well-known doxology or prayer: "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify (Greek: megalynō) the Lord" (Luke 1:46). This was thus a series of public doxologies for salvation in Acts 10 in Corneliius' house.

  • 1 Corinthians 14:2: "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."

Unlike prophecy which was speaking to men (v. 3), tongues were a public prayer and praise to God. This is why the passage speaks of prayer and singing in tongues:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:15: "I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also."

Besides, when speaking in languages was not translated, the audience could not understand and "say “Amen” to your thanksgiving", all of which demonstrate the content of tongues as a public doxology.

3. Speaking mysteries? Yes, as new revelations in Christ

You might ask, why did Paul say that "no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit" (v. 2)? Does that not show that 1 Corinthians 14 tongues were not humanly understandable as in Acts 2? Not at all, because the Greek word mystērion translated "mysteries" is used by New Testament authors to speak of truths previously hidden but now revealed in the New Covenant.

For instance, first Corinthians 4:1 states that "ministers of Christ" are "stewards of the mysteries (Greek: mystērion) of God." Paul said that mysteries could be known (1 Corinthians 13:2) and for instance spoke of the rapture as a revealed mystery: "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." Similarly, many other truths of our faith were mysteries that we now know (Mark 4:11; Ephesians 3:1-9; Romans 11:25; 1 Timothy 3:16).

So, in 1 Corinthians 14:2, when Paul introduces tongues, he has not yet talked about the details of the gift of interpretation and naturally he said that no one will understand the tongue speaker who speaks praises to God regarding new covenant mysteries now revealed in the Gospel. The remedy is again to translate the message from one human language to another so that people will understand. The exegesis of this verse thus highlights another facet of the gift of speaking in tongues: it was a revelatory gift. The Spirit gave messages of praises of Christ to disciples who had received the Gospel.

In conclusion, the gift of speaking in tongues was the miraculous utterance of previously unlearned human languages in public prayer and praise to God for salvation. It was a revelatory gift containing mysteries revealed in Christ (1 Timothy 3:16). Modern tongue speakers do not have the biblical gift of tongues because none of the above facets match their claims. So-called speaking in tongues today is a man-made fake spiritual practice that needs to stop because it is unbiblical, done vainly in the name of the Spirit of God, unintelligible, and therefore unedifying.

I used to be ignorant of this biblical understanding, and I thought that I just did not have the gift of speaking in tongues, but that others did. I realize that many Christians are unaware of these facts, so I speak out of love and truth about what the Scriptures says so that more people will know what I wish I had known earlier in my Christian walk.

Finally, it is not without reason that we never see that tongues were spoken in private for personal use. On the one hand, tongues were always public because they were a spiritual gift and such were always and only given for the common good of others (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). On the other hand, tongues were always public doxologies because they were intended as a sign for unbelievers:

"20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “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.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers" (1 Corinthians 14:20-22).

We will examine why tongues are called a sign in our next post.

Blessings in Christ,

Jonas Croissant


Acts Church of Maricopa

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