Tongues (languages unknown to the speaker but known to the hearers in their own native tongue) were given by God to proclaim the presence, the power, the message and the majesty of God as the Church was birthed into existence:
Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs –we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Tongues were a condemnation on the Jews. Tongues are not for believers but for unbelievers.
1Cor. 14:20 Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written: “Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord. 22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.
Everything spoken in a tongue must be interpreted; if no interpreter, the individual with the socalled “gift” is to remain silent.
1Cor. 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two –or at the most three –should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
My conclusion, according to the clearly repeated teachings of God’s Word, is that “gifts” in general, and “tongues” specifically, are given by God for the mutual benefit of the church, not for individual edification.
My conclusion goes further in reference to the gift and the use of “tongues,” i.e., tongues were given as a “sign” gift, to authenticate the authority of the apostles, since the Word of God was not complete at that time. However, since God’s Word has been completed and revealed to man, we are to judge a speaker’s authority according to the revealed Word of God, not sign gifts for which the biblical purpose and use have ceased, as revealed in the biblical record, in the writings of the church fathers and in the history of the church.
My study into this subject has been very revealing and rewarding and it has produced a very good overview and biblical understanding about the gift of “tongues” specifically, and the “gifts” of God, in general.
The primary purpose of tongues was that of a sign function:
1Cor. 14:22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.
Tongues was not given for the edification of the individual:
1Cor. 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
At Pentecost, tongues-speaking served as a sign, authenticating the apostles as representatives of the risen Christ, reassuring them of the authority and presence of God with them (cf. John 14:15-20, 25-27).
Tongues was given to signify the birth of the Church:
Luke 24:46-49 “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Acts 2:5-6 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
God’s Word never commands us to seek or to pray for the gift of tongues!
1Cor. 14:14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. 16 If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20 Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written: “Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord. 22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.
In verse 21 of 1Cor. 14, Paul was quoting from Isaiah 28:11-12, “Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, but they would not listen. 13 The word of the Lord to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there.”
The Israelites of Isaiah’s day would not listen to God speaking through the prophet in plain and simple speech, they ended up hearing Him speak to them through the language of the conquering Assyrians. In this sense, the foreign tongues spoken at Pentecost served a similar function, for the Jews had turned away from the message Jesus brought to them, now they would have to hear it through the lips of the Gentiles.
Is tongues-speaking singular evidence of Spirit baptism or of being filled with the Spirit? NO!
Those who teach this falsehood forget the fact that the historical instances of simultaneous tongues-speaking and Spirit baptism were unique and pivotal events: the birth of the church (Acts 2), the adoption of Gentiles into God’s family (Acts 10), the end of the Old Covenant as typified by John’s baptism (Acts 19). They fail to consider that there is no evidence of tongues-speaking in most of the salvation accounts recorded in Acts: the 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost (2:41), the Ethiopian eunuch (8:37), Saul (9:1-9), the converts in Antioch (11:21), the “multitude” in Iconium (14:1), Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and their households (16:14-15, 30-34).
Those who promote “Spirit-Baptism” have a wrong understanding of the baptism of the Spirit. They say it occurs days, weeks or even years after salvation, and that some Christians never receive it. Paul defines it in 1Cor. 12:13, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body –whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free –and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
There is clear biblical distinction between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and being filled by (or with) the Holy Spirit. Spirit baptism is immediate, at the point of genuinely (heartfully) calling upon Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 2:38).
The filling of the Holy Spirit happens when God’s child obediently yields to the Lord, trusting in His Word as the sovereign authority in all our affairs, decisions and needs. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit, but never to be Spirit baptized (cf. Eph. 5:17-18).
Paul indicated that not all believers could speak in tongues, because tongues-speaking was not the normal occurrence when a person was born-again into the family of God: 1Cor. 12:30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Paul did, however, make it clear that all believers have been baptized into Christ’s body (1Cor. 12:13 above).
Did tongues-speaking cease before A.D. 100? Yes, I believe that Scriptural authority and the evidence of church history delcare this to be so.
1Cor. 13:8 Love never fails. But if there are prophecies, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Prophecy and knowledge (v.8) will be done away with [ Greek: katargeo, lit. someone or something else will cause them to stop, from without]. Tongues (v.8) will cease [Greek: pauo, lit. will come to an end through a self-causing action from within itself]. Like a battery, it had a limited energy supply and a limited lifespan. It stopped by itself.
After Acts 19:6 there is no more mention of the gift of tongues. Neither Peter, James, John or Jude mention the gift of tongues in any of their letters. Paul writes in 1Corinthians 14:21-22 (the earliest of his letters to the churches), concerning speaking in tongues [other known languages]. The later books of the New Testament do not mention tongues, neither did anyone in the post-apostolic age. It is significant that the gift of tongues is nowhere alluded to, hinted at or even found in the Apostolic Fathers.
Tongues were a judgment upon the Jews, a sign of rebuke for unbelief; also, a confirmation that God now welcomed Gentiles. No longer did God relate to mankind only through the nation of Israel; but instead, God now entered into relationship with anyone who genuinely repented of their sins and believed in Jesus Christ to forgive them and save their soul.
Prophecy and knowledge are said to end when the perfect comes (vv. 9-10). But the cessation of tongues, is not mentioned in relation to the coming of the perfect. The reason being that tongues will have ceased at an earlier time. By the end of the first century, at the completion of the New Testament, the gift of tongues had come to an end, its purpose fulfilled, it ran out of energy, it ceased! Its purpose as a confirming sign of apostolic authority and doctrine was fulfilled.
When the perfect comes we will have no more need of knowledge or wisdom, preaching or teaching, prophecy or interpretation. We won’t have a need for any of the gifts given to the church through Jesus Christ when the perfect comes. What is the perfect? The perfect is the eternal, heavenly state of believers and it begins either at death, when we go to the Lord, or at the rapture when the Lord takes us to be with Himself, forever in the presence of the the Lamb of God, the living Christ.
Paul is saying that spiritual gifts are only for a time, but that love will last for all eternity. The point is very simple: The only gift of God that is permanent is His Love, all the rest are temporary.
1. The first occurrence of tongues (speaking a language that the speaker did not know) occurred at the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9): God’s judgment on mankind.
2. The next occurrence is Isaiah’s warning to Israel of a coming judgment by a nation that would speak to them in another language (Isa. 28:11-12; 1Cor. 14:21).
3. At Pentecost, tongues were a sign, confirming Peter’s indictment of Israel’s rejection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Messiah (Acts 2:12-36).
4. Tongue-speaking was the means by which the message of God was quickly spread from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth: from the Hebrews to the Gentiles.
5. Tongues were a sign to unbelievers, not believers (1Cor. 14:22).
6. Tongues was a sign-gift and therefore, it was not meant to be exhibited by all believers (1Cor. 12:30).
7. Tongues-speaking was less important than prophecy and far less important than love (1Cor. 12:31; 13:1).
8. Paul said that the gift of tongues would cease (1Cor. 13:8).
9. Preoccupation with tongues was a sign of immaturity (1Cor. 14:20).
10. Tongues-speaking was not the universal evidence of the baptism of the Spirit, because while every true believer is baptized by the Spirit, not all believers spoke in tongues (1Cor. 12:13, 30).