What is the Gift of Tongues?

What is the Gift of Tongues?

H. Gerald Rudd

In the past 100 years there has been a vast increase in the amount of people who have come to accept the modern day understanding of speaking in tongues.  Part of the reason for that, in my opinion, has been the acceptance of pluralism that has an unwillingness to say that anyone might be wrong.  There are elements of people who claim to be able to speak in tongues in many different church groups today.  Even such groups as the Episcopal and Catholic Church have segments in their midst that call themselves “Charismatic.” 

I challenge each one of us to take a close look at the question of tongues as it is revealed to us through the Bible.  It really does not matter what someone’s experience might be; the only question we should have is whether our experience fits into the directives of the Word of God. The common error today is to allow our self to be led by a misguided emotional feeling rather than the testimony of God’s Word.

2 Timothy 3:16 – 17 (KJV) 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  17That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

What I am going to attempt to do is to answer some questions that are asked by people concerning the subject of tongues.  They will be: What is tongues?  Do all speak in tongues?  Who determines if you have the gift of tongues?  And, finally, what about those people who say that they speak in tongues?


In order for us to understand the question of tongues we must ask ourselves if the Bible speaks about tongues and if it does what does it mean.  The term tongue or tongues is translated in the New Testament from the Greek language from four different Greek words.  They are either Dialektos (this word is used 6 times) which means dialect and is translated in the KJV as language or tongue.  Glossa, which means the tongue, or by implication a language (specially one not naturally acquired) is found 50 times in the New Testament.  Hebraisti, which means “in the Jewish language,” and is found 6 times in this manner.  Lastly, is heteroglossos, which means other tongued, for example a foreigner, a man of another tongue and is only used once in this fashion:

1 Corinthians 14:21 (KJV) 21In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.  In twelve of the instances where the Bible speaks of tongue or tongues it is speaking of the physical tongue as seen in:

Luke 1:64 (KJV) 64And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. 

(These definitions are found in Strongs Concordance)

In the biblical account of people speaking in tongues, languages or dialects (all these words could be correct in their translation since they, in essence, mean the same thing) we find people speaking in a particular language.  For instance, where the word hebraisti is used we find that means the Hebrew tongue.

Revelation 16:16 (KJV) 16And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.

For the purpose of this paper for us to consider speaking in other languages we must consider the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians 14.  Those are the only biblical accounts that we can find for the occurrence that some people say they are reenacting today.  If you turn to Acts 2 you would find three verses that become very condemning to modern day tongues proponents.

Acts 2:6 – 11 (KJV) 6Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language… 8And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? …11 we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 

The very place where many of our brothers and sisters tell us that they get their example of tongues reveals that what happened on the day of Pentecost was far different than the so-called “ecstatic utterances or heavenly languages” that many of them confess to practice today.

There are other occurrences of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts, and in each one of them we do not find what would compare to the modern day tongues movement.  As a matter of fact, you would see if you look, that in each case they were understood by the people present and never is there an interpreter present.  What does that mean?  It simply means that the people who spoke did so in the language of the people present.  It also means that God had given them a spiritual gift of being able to speak in a language that they had not learned (glossa) and the hearers understood in the language that was common to them.

The last occurrence is found in 1 Cor. 14 and this particular event is revealed to be a matter of correction that was demanded because people were causing confusion in the local congregation.

1 Corinthians 14:33 (KJV) 33For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

It appears that this group of saints consisted of people of numerous backgrounds.  Some of them felt that they had the gift of preaching.  So during their worship they would stand up and begin to speak in their tongue that was unknown to all who were present.  To make matters worse, more than one was standing up to deliver their message at the same time.  To this Paul gives them instruction to speak one after another and to have an interpreter explain what they were saying.  If no interpreter were present, then they should sit down and be quiet.  Now, to be consistent with the usage of the word tongue we need to remember that it means language or dialect.  It does not mean ecstatic utterance.  So, if someone were to come to the local congregation and speak a foreign language, unless there is an interpreter present, they should sit down and be quiet except God would give them the gift of speaking in our tongue.


The next question that we should ask ourselves is whether the demands of some of our Pentecostal or Charismatic brothers and sisters are biblical.  It appears that some would measure us by the type of spiritual gift that we are blessed with.  Some people will tell you that you are not saved unless you speak in tongues or that you are not Spirit filled unless you speak in ecstatic utterances.  To that I merely say that since the Bible is our measuring standard I will look to that to see if these demands are biblical and true.

This is what Jesus said:

John 3:3 (KJV) 3Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 

Nowhere do we read that you must speak in some kind of tongues to be saved! 

Here is what Paul said:

Romans 8:9 (KJV) 9But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

But nowhere do I read that you must speak in tongues or you are not His.

Paul also said:

Galatians 5:22 – 23 (KJV) 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,  23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 

Nowhere do I read that speaking in tongues is proof of being filled with the Holy Ghost. 

What does all this mean?  It simply means that the statements and requirements of some religious folks have no basis in the scriptures.  You may ask if there is some kind of indisputable proof that everyone is not required by God to speak in tongues.  To that I say yes:

1 Corinthians 12:30 (KJV) 30Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 

Now, some may say but they have been taught differently or they have loved ones who disagree.  To this I merely state that I will trust in what God’s word declares over what some individual might say.


Some of our brothers and sisters will tell you that if you cannot speak in tongues (ecstatic utterances) they will teach you how to do so.  They may tell you that if you would merely begin mouthing words that you have no understanding of, that you will receive a blessing that you cannot imagine.  This is nothing more than mankind’s attempt to make people fit into their misguided perception of what it means to be Christian.  Others will tell you that if you would repeat certain words or phrases over and over that you will be caught up in some kind of spiritual cloud and speak in ecstatic utterances.  To that I merely point out what Jesus said:

Matthew 6:7 (KJV) 7But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 

We are shown through the scriptures something that should make us aware of who it is that is in charge of giving spiritual gifts to the body of Christ.  It is not the pastor’s duty to determine who will be a preacher or teacher, or to have the gift of miracles or who will speak in other languages.  We read:

1 Corinthians 12:28 (KJV) 28And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 

The giving of spiritual gifts is not the duty of the Board, the Elders or candlestick makers.  But it is the decision of Almighty God and He does it like He wants to do it.  You can seek for a gift according to the scriptures:

1 Corinthians 12:31 (KJV) 31But covet earnestly the best gifts.

Yet it is still the decision of God as to who receives what! 

This means that if you do not have the gift of speaking in other dialects, preaching, teaching or miracles, that is all right.  You are still as important in the Body of Christ as anyone else.


It would appear that some of us who oppose the outlook of the “ecstatic utterances movement” would make it seem as if they are not Christian.  For us to do that would be wrong and place us in the same category as those who claim we are not Christian because we do not do what they do.  Please keep in mind that the bible gives us a picture of the Body of Christ as inclusive of all born again believers, even those who mistakenly think that speaking in ecstatic utterances is from God.  We would do well to remember what Paul states:

Romans 14:4 (KJV) 4Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 

How we treat someone who says that they have the gift of speaking in ecstatic utterances really reveals something about us.  We would be wise to do as Jesus said:

John 13:34 – 35 (KJV) 34A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  35By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Why, if we were to fail to love each other because someone was wrong about something it would not be long before we would be isolated from everyone.  If someone has the fruit of the Spirit and lifts Jesus as God in the flesh, then we should do all we can to give love to them.  We should reach our hands out in fellowship to every blood washed one and cast aside all the barriers that mankind builds.

Does this mean that we are to allow the false teaching of speaking in ecstatic utterances in our congregation?  Absolutely not!  It is our responsibility to proclaim the purity of God’s truth!  We must walk in the light that He has given us and not allow falsehoods to be taught or preached from our pulpit and classrooms.  Then should we allow people to speak in ecstatic utterances in our worship services?  Absolutely not!  Since God is not the author of confusion, we can do no less than what He expects!  Stop the confusion and bring glory to God through what is spoken!  Does that mean we are to keep people from waving their hands, or shouting, or standing up?  As long as they are bringing glory to God shout with them.

We are to love our brothers and sisters!  If they are wrong we are to correct them in the spirit of restoration and glorify God together when they come into the truth of God!  We have no right to reject those who are walking in all the truth that they have and just because they do not agree with us (of course they are wrong) does not mean we are to reject them.

Speaking in tongues in the church is something that is of great concern to many people today.  There is much confusion, much anger, and much disruption due to incorrect actions and attitudes on both sides.  According to the Bible, tongues is the ability to speak in an unlearned language or dialect so the Gospel can be communicated.  All do not speak in tongues and it is God who makes the decision which gift you will have.  You do not have to speak in some kind of ecstatic utterance to be saved or spirit filled.  We are to treat those who say they do speak in tongues as brothers and sisters, but we are also responsible to hold up truth and stop any confusion from taking place in the household of the saints. 

Let us love one another. 

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