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Questions on Tongues

By Gary F. Zeolla


1. Is the gift of tongues for today?

2. Is speaking in tongues "proof" that one is saved?

The above questions were posed to me by an inmate on the mailing list for the hardcopy version of Darkness to Light newsletter. They were promoted by another inmate at his prison whom he described as "Pentecostal." Below is my response to these two questions on tongues.

1. Is the gift of tongues for today?

At one time (from 1983-87) I attended a charismatic church that definitely taught that the "gifts" were for today. I left the church for many reasons that I won’t go into here. But as for "tongues" my disagreement was not so much as to whether they are for today or not. My disagreement was the over-emphasis on tongues.

In the Bible, tongues are mentioned specifically in only seven chapters (Acts 2; 10; 19; 1Corinthians 12-14; Mark 16). However, the textual integrity of Mark 16:9-20 is under much dispute. IMHO, the passage is most likely genuine; but to base a doctrine on a disputed text is rather precarious.

In three other chapters in Acts tongues speaking might be occurring but the text does not specifically say so. Lastly, Paul quotes from a passage in Isaiah which he takes as a reference to tongues (1Cor 14:21 quoting Isa 28:11,12).

Now, if you add all of the above chapters together it comes to, a the most, 11 chapters that refer to tongues. With 1,186 chapters in the Bible, this amounts to less than 1% of the chapters. If it was as important as the charismatics/ Pentecostals make it out to be, it would seem to me that tongues speaking would have a more prominent place in Scripture.

Also, I have been in many charismatics/ Pentecostals churches both here in the Pittsburgh, PA area and in Denver, CO. And in every one of them, they disobey Paul’s explicit instructions that "two or the most three" should speak in tongues, one at a time, and the rest listen (1Cor 14:27). In every one of these churches there was always a time when everyone would speak in tongues at once.

Now, charismatics will try to evade this point by saying that Paul's restriction of "two or the most three" is only for tongues followed interpretation, not for tongues spoken for personal edification and prayer.

But there is no exegetical basis for this claim. The same Greek word is used in reference to tongues in Acts and throughtout 1Cor 12-14. Also, consider the following verse, "Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?" (1Cor 14:23).

Paul was NOT complimenting the Corinthians here as I have heard charismatic preachers say. He is rebuking the practice of "all" speaking with tongues at the same time. And again, there is no exegetical basis for saying there are two "kinds" of tongues.

Bottom line, if someone wants to speak in tongues, fine, go in your room, close the door and speak in tongues all you want. But please don’t bring your unscriptural methods into my church. And most definitely, do not tell me that their is something" wrong" with my Christian faith if I do not speak in tongues. And this leads to your next question.

2. Is speaking in tongues "proof" that one is saved?

Most definitely not! The Bible never makes this connection. Jesus said, "Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matt 7:20). And the "fruits" He is referring to are all aspects of a person’s life, summarized in the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22).

Where your fellow inmate’s idea comes from would require a long historical explanation with one false doctrine built upon another that I don’t have time to go into. Suffice it to say, if you have to speak in tongues to be saved, then the vast majority of "Christians" throughout history and around the world today would not be saved.

Luther, Calvin, Owen, Spurgeon, Edwards, and a whole long list of Christian writers that have had a great effect on me would not be saved, and neither would I since I no longer speak in tongues. I used to but found it to be a complete waste of time.

Notes: The above line of reasoning would also apply to the more traditional charismatic/ Pentecostal claim that tongues is the "sign" of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. If this claim were true, then basically no one was baptized in the Spirit for about 18 of the 20 centuries of the Church's existence. Historically, the gift of tongues ceased around the beginning of the second century. It was basically unknown until 1900. Did the Holy Spirit take a nap for 18 centuries?

The Bible teaches that ALL believers have been baptized in the Spirit (1Cor 12:13).

Finally, it has been pointed out that I didn't really answer the first question. I know and that was my point. If someone or a church wants to speak in tongues that is fine with me; just don't say you or your church is more "spiritual" than a person or church that does not; and don't try to introduce your tongues speaking into my church.

For an extended follow-up to the above message,
see the four-part discussion
Tongues and the Baptism with the Spirit.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above message was posted on this Web site and in various Newsgroups in November 1997.

Charismatic Movement      Newsgroup Posts

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