Questions And Answers About Speaking In Tongues: Part Two

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

In our <last article on this series, we noticed that the Bible teaches the gift of speaking in tongues was the miraculous ability of a person to be able to fluently speak in a language in which he had not previously studied.

Evidence of this was supplied from both Scripture and secular history.

This practice of speaking in tongues is in contrast to the modern concept of speaking gibberish as practiced in many charismatic churches of our day and age and called “speaking in tongues.”

In this article, we will notice more questions and answers regarding the subject of “speaking in tongues.” 

Question: Was the gift of speaking in tongues actually speaking a language you had not previously studied, or was it the ability to hear something spoken in a foreign tongue in your own language?  </

Answer: The Bible teaches that the gift of speaking in tongues was the ability to miraculously speak other languages, not to hear other languages in a native tongue.

First, consider that the Scriptures teach the gift of tongues was actually “speaking.” Several passages highlight this fact:

Acts 2:4-And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to SPEAK with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 19:6-And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they SPOKE with tongues and prophesied.

Mark 16:17-And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will SPEAK with new tongues;

The Bible is clear that the gift of tongues was a gift of speaking, not of miraculous hearing.

Second, notice that the Bible is clear that the speaking in tongues occurred before the hearing occurs (Acts 2:4, 8, 11). The emphasis is on the speaking, not on the hearing.

Third, please observe that the Bible teaches there were to be interpreters present for those in the local congregation who did not understand the foreign language being spoken. Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 14:27-28-If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

Let us assume for a moment that speaking in tongues was the ability to understand something in the English language even though the speaker is communicating in Greek.

If a man were to come up to us and start speaking Greek, we would hear it as English. If this is really the way that the gift of tongues worked, we would not need translators in the church assembly to translate for us; for we would hear it perfectly in English.

The fact that there were to be translators present clearly shows that the gift of tongues was not one of hearing, but one of speaking in a foreign tongue.

Question: Did Jesus teach (Mark 16:17-18) that all baptized believers would have the ability to speak in tongues?  

Answer: No. In Mark 16:17-20, Jesus is specifically speaking of the miraculous gifts which would be given to the Apostles, and not to all believers.

In Mark 16:17-18, Jesus declared:

Mark 16:17-18-And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

In the context, Mark addresses two sets of people: the unbelieving Apostles, and the individuals who would believe in the Gospel and be baptized to be saved. Notice:

Mark 16:14-Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

Mark 16:15-16-And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Please consider the pronouns of the passage: “they” and “them” as opposed to “he.” The plural “they” (Mark 16:17-18) ties back grammatically-not to the “he who believes and is baptized” (Mark 16:15-16)-but to the Apostles (Mark 16:14).

The Lord is here promising the Apostles that if they will continue to believe in Him, they will be granted these miraculous gifts to confirm the word of God.

In fact, the text even makes it more clear that this is speaking of the Apostles:

Mark 16:19-20-So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Notice it was after the Lord had finished speaking with “them” that He was received up into Heaven. Who was the “them?”

Was it the “he who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16) who were present when Jesus ascended?

No, of course not (cf. Acts 1:1-11): it was the Apostles mentioned in Mark 16:14.

The Lord worked with the Apostles, confirming the Word of God miraculously as they continued to preaching.

Even more interesting is the fact that the Greek language in which this is written bears this out that these signs are promised to the Apostles, and not all believers.

Speaking of the original New Testament Greek of this passage, two commentators point out:

“The Lord then used the plural pronoun, and refers back to the plural noun ‘ELEVEN,’ of verse 14, when he said: “And these signs shall follow THEM that believe; (those unbelieving apostles who would become believers in his resurrection) in my name shall THEY cast out devils; THEY shall speak with new tongues; THEY shall take up serpents; and if THEY drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; THEY shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.’ (Mk. 16:17-18). Let us bear in mind the fact that the plural pronouns ‘THEM’ and ‘THEY’ in verses 17-18 refer back to the plural noun ‘ELEVEN,’ of verse 14, and not to the SINGULAR NOUN ‘CREATURE,’ to be preached to, in verses 15-16. All pronouns must agree with their antecedent nouns in number. Hence, the promise of signs to follow was for the apostles, to encourage them to carry out the great commission.” (Gus Nichols, Sermons: Volume 3, 120; Jasper, AL.)

“The antecedent of “them” is “the eleven themselves” (Mark 16:14); and the only way this can be avoided is to change the singular pronouns in Mark 16:15-16 into plural pronouns contrary to the Greek text. There is nothing difficult in this interpretation, since it is simply basic English… The antecedent of “they” is likewise “the eleven apostles themselves,” determined by the primary allusion to “them” in the same clause. There is no grammatical device by which this word may be understood as reference to any persons whomsoever except the eleven apostles. (Burt Coffman,

The Lord Jesus does not teach that all believers will take up serpents or speak in new tongues; instead this passages teaches that these miraculous abilities were bestowed upon the Apostles of Christ.

Question: Was the gift of speaking in tongues given as an evidence of salvation and of the in dwelling of the Holy Spirit?</

Answer: No.

First, the Scriptures teach that the gift of tongues was one of the miraculous gifts given to some in the first century to prove and to confirm to unbelievers that the Word which the Apostles preached and delivered to the people was actually the Word of God. This was a very important need in the pagan first century world. There were many sorcerers and false prophets, and the need was great to authenticate the Word of God miraculously. Therefore, God gave these miraculous gifts to the Apostles:

Acts 2:43-Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.

Acts 4:33-And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.

Acts 5:12-And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.

Notice the clear fact that Luke is pointing out who exactly was performing the miraculous demonstrations thus far in Acts: it was the Apostles.

Were all the Christians working miracles? Not at all: Luke is clear to put out that this was reserved for the Apostles.

Later, we see very clearly that the miraculous gifts were bestowed upon some others. Upon whom? Only on those upon the Apostles laid their hands and passed on those miraculous gifts:

Acts 8:14-18-Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,

So the miraculous gifts were only for the Apostles, and for those upon whom the Apostles laid their hands.

There is nothing in this to suggest that the miraculous gifts were for the purpose of evidencing salvation.

Rather, the miraculous gifts (including the gift of speaking in tongues) was for the purpose of the revelation and confirmation of the Word of God (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4).

Second, please consider that Paul specifically said that not all Christians speak in tongues. He wrote to the church of Christ at Corinth:

1 Corinthians 12:29-30-Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

While the English of the passage is perfectly clear that not every person in the church has the ability to speak in tongues or work miracles, the Greek is even more emphatic:

“Paul has been stressing the diversity of the gifts given to the church and the fact that no one has all of the gifts. Now he makes it clear that no spiritual gift is given to everyone. Most of the other believers will not have whatever gift any particular person in that same church might have and will therefore be in need of it. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Each of these rhetorical questions is framed in Greek246 in such a way as to indicate that the only appropriate response would be “no.”” (Roy E. Ciampa & Brian S. Rosner, The Pillar New Testament Commentary:The First fLetter To The Corinthians, 614 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company).

Third, observe that Paul specifically says that the gift of tongues was given for the purpose of proving the Word of God to unbelievers:

1 Corinthians 14:22-Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

Fourth, consider that the New Testament teaches one may be filled with the Holy Spirit without receiving miraculous gifts and powers.

For example, all Christians are commanded to be filled with the Spirit by speaking to each other in the church assembly in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, by singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord, by giving thanks for all things, and by submitting to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:18-21)!

Are we not reminded that Steven was filled with the Holy Spirit long before he was given the power to work miracles?

Acts 6:3-6-Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

Acts 6:8-And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.

Doesn’t the Word teach us the same
thing about John the Baptist?

Luke 1:15-For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

John 10:41-Then many came to Him and said, “John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.”

One may be saved and filled with the Holy Spirit without working any miraculous gifts, including the gift of speaking in tongues. How then do we know if we have been saved?

We know that we have been saved if we have obeyed that form of doctrine to which we were delivered from the heart (Romans 6:17-18).

We know that we have been saved if we have obeyed the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

We know that we have the Holy Spirit living within us because God’s Word says that He does (Galatians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and because we will be able to see the fruit of the Holy Spirit developing in us as we grow as Christians (Galatians 5:22-23).

Several people that I have worked with have related to me that when they were involved in charismatic churches, they were taught that unless they spoke in “tongues” they were not truly saved.

Please notice that Paul is very clear: you can be a Christian and not speak in tongues! You can be filled with the Holy Spirit and not speak in tongues!

Indeed, the fact that such teachings are so prominent demonstrate the serious need to return to the Bible and study God’s Word about these important matters.

The gift of tongues was not for personal assurance of salvation; it (like all of the miraculous gifts) was given to confirm the Word of God.

In our next article, we will study more about the Bible teaching on the gift of speaking in tongues.

Friends, if you are not a Christian, I would encourage you to become one today. The Son of God died for your sins on the Cross of Calvary, was buried, and arose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

Why not today believe in Him (John 8:24), repent of your sins (Luke 13:3), confess Him before men (Matthew 10:32-33), and be buried with Him in baptism so that you can walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4)?

If you are a child of God who has left the Lord, I encourage you to return to Him today in repentance and prayer (1 John 1:9).

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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