Speaking in tongues can be quite the controversial topic among both non-believers and believers. I had to write a paper about it (and other spiritual gifts) for one of my classes, and in doing so I had to do a ton of research and form my own opinion on the topic. I thought some people who are confused about this topic might be interested in reading this. If you disagree with my opinion however, that is fine too. I’m not here to force it on anyone, only to educate those who are seeking further education on the topic. I did change it up some from my original paper to make it more understandable to the average reader. Enjoy!
Spiritual gifts are given to be used for ministry. “Sign gifts” are those which consist of apostleship, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, and miracles. “Serving gifts” help us accomplish world evangelism: they contain the “enabling gifts”, which all Christians seem to possess; faith, knowledge, wisdom, and discernment. “Task gifts” are also a type of “serving gifts”, which not every believer has. These gifts are; Prophecy, teaching, exhortation, shepherding (pastoring), showing mercy, ministering, giving, governments or administration, evangelism, and hospitality. (Towns)
“Speaking in tongues”: “The nature of this gift is explained in 1 Corinthians 14 (1) The tongue in which the person spoke was unintelligible, and therefore unedifying to the Christian assembly (vv.2-4); (2) the tongue was not a foreign language (vv. 10-12); (3) The tongue speaker addressed himself to God to whom he probably offered prayer and praise (vv. 14-17); (4) The tongue edified the speaker (v. 4); (5) The tongue speaker lost control of intellectual faculties (vv. 14-15).” (Elwell)
In the first century speaking in tongues was authentication to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem of new groups into the church (as proof of their conversion). However; it is also a gift given to assist you in communicating the deep things of your spirit unto God, and given to help you in worship and praise (Acts 2:4, 11; 10:46; 19:6; and 1 Corinthians 14:2). Additionally, in 1 Corinthians 14:22 we learn that Paul believed that tongues were intended to be a sign of judgment for unbelievers.
Before I can explain whether or not speaking in tongues is necessary, I need to explain what it means to be baptized in the Holy Spirit: The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the act by which at conversion a Christian is placed into Jesus Christ, or the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). “The baptism of the Spirit is our new position in Jesus Christ (non –experiential), and the filling of the Spirit is His power working through us in Christian service (experiential).” (Towns)
While speaking in tongues is a gift to aid in worship and praise, the Bible says that there are more useful gifts to seek after (1 Corinthians 14:4; 12). Also; in 1 Corinthians 12:10; 30, and in 14:26 we see that it is pointed out that not everyone was given the gift of speaking in tongues. Therefore; I cannot see how this gift is necessary evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Are speaking in tongues still valid today? The belief that the “sign gifts” were only meant for the prophets and apostles who first received the Word of God and wrote the revelation by inspiration is called Cessationism. The main reason for this belief is based off of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, “Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.” Their interpretation is, “that which is perfect” is referring to the completion of Scripture. Therefore; they believe these gifts died off with those prophets and apostles.
However; the historic traditional view of the church and of every Bible commentator up until the twentieth century always understood it to mean “the coming again of Jesus Christ” (called Continuationism). Since we will be there in His presence; no longer will these gifts be necessary, and thus, will cease. I believe this interpretation makes more sense, because verse 12 continues with: “For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.”
While the traditional interpretation of this verse holds that it is speaking of the second coming of Jesus, I think it is probably speaking in general of when we see Him face to face. This could be at the second coming, or it could be when we die (whichever happens first. Of course, probably death). 2 Corinthians 5:8: “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”
Personally, I agree with Elwell, “The attitude toward the gift of tongues held by pastor and people should be, ‘seek not, forbid not.”
Towns, Elmer. Theology For Today. Mason: Cengage Learning, 2008. 308-309, 317-318, 296.
Elwell, Walter. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. second. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House
Company, 2001. 1137, 1209. Print.