Speaking in Tongues

Speaking in Tongues October 31, 2013

Today, in the series responding to Strange Fire,  we turn to the subject of tongues. Before I get to the arguments that MacArthur makes in his book, lets review the few Bible references that refer to the phenomena:

Mark 16:17

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;  (NB: most scholars believe this verse was not in the original)

Acts 2:4

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:11

both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

Acts 10:46

For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,

Acts 19:6

And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

1 Corinthians 14:15

What am I to do? 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.

Romans 8:26

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

1 Corinthians 12:10

to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:5

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

1 Corinthians 12:28

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:30

Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

1 Corinthians 13:1

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

1 Corinthians 13:8

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

1 Corinthians 14:1

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

1 Corinthians 14:6

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?

1 Corinthians 14:18-19

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

1 Corinthians 14:21

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.”

1 Corinthians 14:22

Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.

1 Corinthians 14:23

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

1 Corinthians 14:39

So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.


In addition many charismatics believe the following verses refer to tongues

1 Corinthians 14:15

What am I to do? 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.

Romans 8:26

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Jude 1:19

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,


We will now turn to the biblical arguments found within the pages of Strange Fire.

Argument Tongues were human languages given solely for the purpose of evangelism.

“In short, the glossolalia practiced by today’s charismatics is a counterfeit that by every measure falls short of the gift of tongues described in the New Testament. Today’s tongues-speakers claim to have received the biblical gift, but ultimately they have to acknowledge that the gibberish they are speaking has none of the characteristics of real language. Whereas modern “tongues” is a learned behavior consisting of unintelligible stammering and nonsense syllables, the New Testament gift involved the supernatural ability to speak precisely in a foreign language the speaker had never learned. Though charismatics may hijack biblical terminology to describe their practice, the fact remains that such fabricated behavior has no relation to the biblical gift”  Strange Fire, page 137

It is patently clear that tongues were not solely for evangelism. Acts 2 is the only place where there is any suggestion they were being used for that, and even there it is interesting that those speaking in tongues were not proclaiming the gospel but instead praising God. This would be consistent with the other examples which speak of tongues being towards God, edifying the person speaking, and needing a supernatural gift of interpretation. If tongues are always a language and are only for evangelism, why would the Spirit have given a gift of tongues for use when nobody was in the room to understand? Also, Paul says clearly that he doesn’t speak in tongues much if at all in church but he does speak in tongues a lot, more than the rest of them. The only time he could be doing this in his own prayer time.

Also, the phrase “tongues of men and of angels” in 1 Corinthians 13:1 does suggest that the gift of tongues might be the ability to speak some other- worldly, angelic language.  We also saw “various kinds of tongues” being described in 1 Cor 12:10.

Finally the concept of the Spirit helping us to pray with “groans that words cant express” could support the subjective experience of many with tongues, which is that words “run out” and can no longer express the praise they are giving to God at the time when tongues begin.  An example of this kind of experience is given by Augustine:

Behold, he giveth as it were the tune of thy song; seek not words as if thou couldest explain whereby God is pleased. Sing with jubilation: for this is to sing skilfully unto God, to sing with jubilation. What is it to sing with jubilation ? To be unable to understand, to express in words, what is sung in the heart. For singers, either in the harvest, or in the vineyard, or in any other busy work, after they have begun in the words of their hymns to exult and rejoice, being as it were filled with so great joy, that they cannot express it in words, then turn from actual words, and proceed to sounds of jubilation. The jubilee is a sound signifying that the heart laboureth with that which it cannot utter. And whom beseemeth that jubilation, but the Ineffable God? For He is Ineffable, Whom thou canst not speak; and if thou canst not speak Him, and oughtest not to keep Him silent, what remaineth to thee but jubilation ; that the heart may rejoice without words, and the boundless extent of joy may have no limits of syllables? Sing skilfully unto Him with jubilation.

—Augustine of Hippo on the 33 Psalm (AD 354–430) [38]

I appreciate not everyone will be convinced by these arguments, but at least appreciate that there are biblical arguments that charismatics rely on to support their experience.

But also, we should judge by the fruit. If a persons spiritual prayer language leaves them feeling closer to God, empowered to serve, encouraged and built up, and full of more love for Jesus, it is hard to see how this could be from the devil.

Also, the parable found in Luke 11 is revealing, as it promises us clearly that if we are children of God he would not allow a bad gift to be substituted for the real thing if we ask him. Jesus himself says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:13


Argument All gifts were given for the edification of others, Charismatics are wrong then to think of tongues as self-edifying, and that is a selfish content.

Counterargument: MacArthur doesn’t really engage with “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.”  The argument is that in church tongues are to be interpreted so that others also benefit rather than that tongues do not benefit the speaker! Paul wants to limit tongues in church, but also wants all of them to speak in tongues. The fact that he does so more than any of them suggests that he is himself getting some benefit from the practice.

What is so wrong with wanting to be built up yourself so that you can build others up?

This is also why I included the verse from Jude which encourages us to be building ourselves up through the Holy Spirit.

In short I see no reason why someone should not speak in tongues and hence “speak to himself and to God” That phrase surely indicates a prayer language!

Some other articles on Tongues that may be of help:

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