Are Tongues a Gift for Today? - Radical

Are Tongues a Gift for Today?

Did the gift of tongues only exist in the early church? Where does the church stand today on the gift of tongues? What does Scripture say about tongues? In this message, Pastor David Platt explores the biblical teachings on the gift of tongues. Despite the numerous opinions and ideas surrounding tongues, Christians must derive their truths from what Scripture says about this gift. It is not a matter of whether tongues are a gift for today, but how we align them with scriptural truth.

  1. Tongues in the Early Church
  2. Biblical Truth of Tongues
  3. How we use the Gift of Tongues today.

Watch Full Message of “Secret Church 5: Exploring the Holy Spirit

What about tongues? I think we’re certainly confused on tongues. Here’s what I mean by that. Tongues are marked by subjective certainty for many. Some of you are thinking, “What about tongues? That’s not a question at all. I speak in tongues.” This is what you’re thinking, “I speak in tongues. I speak in tongues in my private prayer closet,” or, “I speak in tongues in the church that I’m a part of. So why is this even a question?” Subjectively, you’ve experienced this, so there’s certainty there.

The only problem is, I want to be careful here, but the only problem is not every religious experience is divine, so just because we’ve experienced something doesn’t make it true. There are similar practices to tongue speaking. I don’t want to offend anybody in saying this, but there are similar practices of tongue speaking that are in other world religions, that are in voodoo and witchcraft, and so there are certainly religious experiences that are not from the Spirit of God. At the same time, for others, tongues are marked by objective confusion for many.

Defining Speaking In Tongues

There’s a lot of people who think tongues are weird, dangerous, should be avoided at all costs. The cessationist would say tongues have ceased, but I really believe that there’s not strong biblical evidence for the cessation of tongues or prophecy, healing just like we’ve seen. There’s not strong biblical evidence. What do we think about these things then? Tongues defined at Pentecost tongues are intelligible languages that may warrant translation.

They’re speaking in intelligible languages. They’re speaking languages that are understood by different people from different nations, in Acts 2:1-12. Elsewhere, for example, what Paul’s addressing in Corinth, tongues are unintelligible languages that may warrant interpretation, not translation, but interpretation because they’re unintelligible.

They’re not understandable without an interpreter. Speaking in tongues involves prayer or praise, spoken in syllables, not understood by the speaker. Anyone who speaks in the tongue does not speak to men, but to God, it’s directed… Speaking in tongues is primarily directed to God. Prayer or praise, spoken in syllables, not understood by the speaker, primarily directed to God.

If I pray in a tongue, 1 Corinthians 14:14, “My spirit prays and it occurs in the spirit. My spirit prays.” So that’s what 1 Corinthians is talking about. Unintelligible languages, prayer and praise spoken in syllables, not understood by the speaker, that needs interpretation, directed to God in the spirit. Tongue is described, what you’ve got is 1 Corinthians 14. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two or at the most, three should speak, one at a time and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. So here’s the picture.

 Paul says speaking in tongues involves an interpreter who reports to the church the general meaning of what is spoken. If there is no interpreter present, then the speaker needs to be quiet, must be an interpreter. Speaking in tongues is also characterized by self-control. The New Testament does not give us room for frenzy, disorderly conduct. There is self-control that is a fruit of the spirit here.

And it’s so controlled here in 1 Corinthians 14, you’ve got one, sometimes two, at the most three people who would speak in tongues, at the most. Even tongues in Pentecost, they stopped speaking in those languages when Peter started to preach the gospel. Speaking in tongues, involving an interpreter, characterized by self-control and speaking in tongues must edify the church and glorify God. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

They must edify the church and glorify God. That’s in public. That’s what happens in public. In private, he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, speaks to himself in God. In 1 Corinthians 14:28, Paul seems to have a favorable view of people who speak in tongues in private. I think it begs the question, and I’ll be honest, just to lay the cards on the table. I’ve never spoken in tongues in private or in public. I know people who’ve spoken in tongues in private and public. I’ve been in situations of both.

Spiritual Gifts Are Given for The Edification of the Church

The picture is the private speaking in tongues, I don’t think scripture says there’s no way this can happen or should happen. At the same time, spiritual gifts are given primarily for the edification of the church, and so speaking in tongues in private at least causes some question of how this is edifying the church, edifying the people of God, if I have a gift of teaching and I teach in private, it’s not going to be very good. But at the same time, I think there’s… and I certainly respect a lot of folks who I know who have talked about a private prayer language and there seems to be there in 1 Corinthians 14:4&28. There’s room for that. So unless you take a completely cessationist view view, I think there’s an openness here in the New Testament of speaking in tongues. But the key question that I want to make sure, because I believe scripture speaks very clearly on this, are tongues normative? Are tongues normative?

I want you to listen to this quote, direct quote from a charismatic manual, “A person should claim this gift,” talking about tongues, “in confidence when he is prayed with to be baptized in the spirit. Yielding to tongues is an important first step and it is worth putting effort into encouraging a person to yield to tongues, even to run the risk of being labeled imbalanced. Often people can be helped to yield to tongues rather easily. After praying with a person to be baptized in the spirit, the team member should lean over or kneel down and ask the person if you would like to pray in tongues.

When he says yes, he should encourage him to speak out, making sounds that are not English. He should then pray with him again. When the person begins to speak in tongues, he should encourage him. After you ask to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and ask for the gift of tongues, then yield to it and begin by speaking out if necessary, beginning by just making meaningless sounds, the Holy Spirit will form them.” I do not believe scripture backs that up.

This is something that Spirit does in sovereign operation, and if we’re going to seek anything, we seek gifts that most edify the church, which is why Paul said seek prophecy, that whole kind of picture. Even here in Acts 10 and Acts 19, they certainly did not have the charismatic manual. At the same time, this question, “Are tongues normative?” Again, Acts 10, Acts 19.

These were very unique experiences that are going on in this period in redemptive history, and I don’t think that they provide us with a foundation to say, “Well, everybody who’s…” Based on Acts 19 because Paul placed his hands on these guys and they’ve spoken in tongues and prophesied that everybody who has the Spirit or is baptized in the spirit, which is a phrase that’s not used there should speak in tongues. I think that is going way beyond the bounds. I think that’s taking, again, narrative passages in scripture and making them normative.

Tongues in Acts, they occur in groups, and their primary purpose is to demonstrate the advancement of the gospel in light of this new period in redemptive history. Occur in groups for the advancement of the gospel. Tongues in Corinth is different. They occur with individuals. Now, individuals use this in the context of the church and their primary purpose is to edify the church in worship.

Well, we have to be careful not to take narratives like Acts 8 and 10 or 19 and make them normative for everybody. Well, this happened to them, so this has to happen to everybody. That’s a very basic Bible study principle. When you look at narratives in scripture, don’t look at the narrative of Abraham offering his son Isaac on a sacrificial altar and thinking, “Well, every dad needs to do this if they have faith in God.” We don’t say those things.

We don’t look at the story of Daniel and think, “Well, I’m going to prove my faith by going and spending the night with some lions, and I’m going to be Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and jump into a furnace.” These narrative is not normative. There are parts of scripture that tell us, they give us commands. Let’s follow those and then seek to understand narrative in the context of redemptive history. Conclusions: speaking in tongues is not normative evidence of New Testament faith.

Scripture Doesn’t Say Tongues Have Ceased Today

I’m not saying that scripture’s teaching that tongues have ceased completely. I don’t think scripture speaks very clearly on whether or not they’ve ceased or not. But I think scripture does speak very clearly that they’re not normative evidence of New Testament faith, and they’re not a necessary expression of New Testament Faith. Mighty movements of the Spirit of God have not been hindered by people not speaking in tongues. This is very important.

I’m not saying that if you speak in tongues, that’s a bad thing by any means. I don’t think scripture speaks very clearly on some of these things, but I think scripture does speak clearly that we should not say to others that you need to speak in tongues as evidence that something had happened to you in the spirit. I think we focus on what we know from the Spirit, like the fruit of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit and the proclamation of the gospel and the power of the Spirit, that should be happening. That should be happening, not tongues.

David Platt

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


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