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What is the gift of speaking in tongues?

Speaking in tongues is one of those mysterious things that often causes a lot of confusion for people. The thing about speaking in tongues is that it is a GIFT of the Holy Spirit; it cannot be learned. And it is not a gift that is given to every believer. YES, all who believe have the Holy Spirit, but that doesn't mean we have all the gifts—only the ones that we are given.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He specifies toward the end of the chapter that the Body of Christ has many members and how each of them have their own unique gifts. At the very end of this chapter, he says that all those "higher gifts" (which includes speaking in tongues) are all good things. BUT, continuing on to 1 Corinthians 13, Paul goes on to say that what is even better than speaking in tongues (or prophesy or any of the higher gifts) is to love others:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

So what he is saying is that these gifts we are given are not as important as how we interact with the world. We are called to love one another--and using these gifts are far less important than that mission.

Now, let's take a look at what speaking in tongues is all about. The first time we see tongues in the Bible is on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. The apostles went out and shared the gospel with the crowds, speaking to them in their own languages: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11). The apostles were speaking in languages they didn't know!

So the gift of tongues is basically speaking in a language a person does not know in order to minister to someone who does speak that language. As I said, in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14, Paul discusses the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, and how it is necessary for any tongues spoken to be interpreted/translated or else it is not valuable (1 Corinthians 14:6). Speaking in tongues is valuable only to the one hearing God’s message in his or her own language, but it is useless to everyone else unless it is interpreted/translated.

Do people speak in tongues today?

Whether or not believers today can speak in tongues is a widely debated topic. 1 Corinthians 13:8 mentions that the gift of tongues will "cease". Isaiah 28:11 and Joel 2:28-29 are often used as evidence that speaking in tongues is a sign of God's oncoming judgment. 1 Corinthians 14:22 describes tongues as a "sign to unbelievers," saying that someone speaking in tongues was a warning to the Jews that God was going to judge Israel for rejecting Jesus Christ as Messiah. That would mean that after God did judge Israel, the gift of tongues would no longer be needed. Ultimately, the Bible does not conclusively tell us that the gift of speaking in tongues has ceased at this point in time.

That said, if a church claims that people can still speak in tongues today, it would need to be performed in agreement with the Bible. It would not be required for all believers. It would be a real and understandable language (1 Corinthians 14:10), meaning that it is a language already used by a people group but unknown to the speaker. It would be for the purpose of communicating God's Word with a person of another language (Acts 2:6-12). It would be in agreement with the command God gave through the apostle Paul, "If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God" (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). It would also follow 1 Corinthians 14:33, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints."

Yes, God could totally give a person the gift of speaking in tongues for the purpose of equipping him or her to communicate with a person who speaks another language. Wouldn't it be amazing if missionaries didn't have to go to language school? If they could instantly know and speak the language of the people they encountered in other countries? Unfortunately, God does not seem to be doing this. Speaking in tongues is not happening today in the same way it did in the New Testament, despite the fact that it would be amazingly useful.

The vast majority of believers who claim to practice the gift of speaking in tongues do not do so in agreement with what the Bible says. Therefore, we can conclude that the gift of tongues has indeed ceased or is at least extremely rare in God's plan for the church today.

TL;DR

The gift of tongues is basically speaking in a language a person does not know in order to minister to someone who does speak that language. Speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit; it cannot be learned nor is it given to every believer. (See 1 Corinthians 12.) Speaking in tongues is valuable only to the one hearing God’s message in his or her own language, but it is useless to everyone else unless it is interpreted/translated.

By: Catiana Nak Kheiyn

Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org and loves to write novellas with local young writers at her workshops. She also contributes at GotQuestions.org, Blogos.org, and GQkidz.org. When Catiana is not writing or hanging out with teens, she loves spending time with her two kids, five socially awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.

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