Before salvation the Corinthian believers spoke in ecstatic utterances, prophecies, revelations, spells and curses through the ‘power’ of Artemis (Acts 19). This was a regular part of their pagan worship, and was still happening in their church services. They were unable to distinguish demonic utterances from their pagan past to the ‘languages’ the Holy Spirit gave them as believers (1 Corinthians 12:1-3). Without knowing it, some were saying things that were blasphemous to God, so of course that didn’t come from the Holy Spirit. Paul writes 3 chapters (1 Corinthians 12-14) showing the place, purpose and limits of speaking in ’tongues.’
LESSON FOR TODAY: Does God want us to speak in tongues today? Are they from the Holy Spirit or from demons (or both)? A correct understanding of ‘tongues’ is important for those involved in spiritual warfare.
The Bible teaches that each believer is filled with the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (I Corinthians 10:1ff; 12:3; 6:19; Eph. 4:5; Rom. 5:5). One cannot be saved without the Holy Spirit indwelling them (John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; I Corinthians 6:19-20). From there on it is not a matter of getting more of the Holy Spirit but of the Holy Spirit getting more of us! As we totally submit and live a holy life He fills and works through us.
Then what about Acts 2, 8, 10 and 19, when the Holy Spirit came on those who were already believers? Acts 2 is a one-time, non-repeatable experience (not even repeated in Acts 8, 10 or 19). Just like the Second Person of the Trinity made a unique, one-time entrance into the world through a virgin in a stable, so the Third Person made His entrance in a unique, one-time way. When Jesus came back to earth after the resurrection to the apostles, Paul or John on Patmos, He never repeated the virgin-in-a-stable entrance. Acts 2, also, is non-repeatable.
Acts 2 is a transition, from Old Testament law when the Holy Spirit only indwelt some believers some times, to New Testament grace, when the Holy Spirit indwells all believers for their whole life. The apostles had already accepted Jesus’ claims and were saved in the old dispensation, then when the new dispensation started and the Spirit came they naturally would be the first to receive Him in that way. That is non-repeatable, too. In Acts 8 we see this same truth applied to half Jews and half Gentiles, in Acts 10 to Gentiles in Palestine, and in Acts 19 to Gentiles outside of Palestine. They were similar to Acts 2 to show that Jews and Gentiles were now equal in the same Body, that the same thing happened to each. Each one showed the changeover from Old Testament law to New Testament grace. There had to be a definite time of change, showing the transfer had been made and those believers accepted. Still, what happened was different enough to show that it wasn’t Acts 2 repeated again. Those were the only times anything even resembling Acts 2 happened in Acts, and it only happened once for each new group as the gospel spread from Jerusalem. All others received the Holy Spirit immediately at salvation.
Tongues is not proof of Spirit baptism. Many received the Holy Spirit but not tongues: 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-41), early church believers (Acts 4:31), Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17), Paul (Acts 9:17-18), John the Baptist (Luke 1:15-16), Jesus (Luke 3:21-22; 4:1,14,18,21) and many others (Acts 4:8,31; 6:5; 7:55; 11:24; 13:9,52). Speaking in tongues is never mentioned in the leadership qualities in Titus or I Timothy. The Bible makes it clear that obedience is the proof of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, not tongues (Ephesians 5:18f).
Tongues in Acts and Corinth were the same. The same Greek word (‘glossa’ meaning ‘tongue, to speak, language’) is always used of known foreign languages and is used in both Acts (2:6-11, etc.) and Corinth (I Corinthians 14:21; 12:10). In Acts is it obvious that the listeners heard known languages spoken by those who had no previous knowledge of the language. There is no indication that what Corinth experienced was different. It is only the church at Corinth that is mentioned as using tongues, and then many corrections were needed because it was a very carnal church (I Corinthians. 3:1-3).
The purpose of tongues was to show Jews that God’s judgment was on them. They were to spread God’s message to Gentiles but failed. God would show He was judging them for that by bringing His word to them by Gentiles in Gentile languages. This was prophesied in Isa. 28:9-12; 33:19f; Deuteronomy 28:49; and Jeremiah 5:15. Paul said tongues fulfilled those prophecies (I Corinthians 14:21-22). When the Jews didn’t heed this sign and repent, God’s judgment came upon them in 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed. After 70 AD there is no instance of tongues being used in the early church. Signs are placed before what they are to mark, not after! Paul said (I Corinthians. 13:8-12) that tongues “will be stilled.” The Greek word, ‘pauo,’ is in the middle voice; they will stop by themselves and not start again. History records only a very few, very isolated, very minor outbreak of tongues from Acts to the present. These groups were often heretical in some or all of their other beliefs. Obviously tongues did stop. There is nothing to indicate that they would ever begin again, for their purpose has been fulfilled. When Joel 2 talks about the Holy Spirit coming back after the Tribulation, there is no mention of tongues!
Then what about those with the gift of interpretation? First, the Greek word for this refers to someone who interprets known languages, like from Spanish to German. The use of foreign languages was to show God’s judgment to the Jews present. The content of the message was God’s good news, which the Jews should have been spreading. Since speaking in an unknown language would mean nothing to Gentiles present, Paul said there had to be an interpreter present when the gift was used (I Corinthians 14:26-28). This was necessary for the weak and immature Corinthian believers (14:20-22) who were ignorant of God’s truth (12:13). It was to be kept to a minimum (14:6-12) because it was an inferior gift (I Corinthians. 14:4). Paul himself only used his ability to speak in unknown languages in Jewish synagogues, not Jewish services (14:39).
Applying these criteria to tongues today (known foreign language, showing God’s judgment on the Jews, used only with Jews present, see as a lesser/minor gift whose use was to be kept to a minimum, etc.) shows that what is happening today is different from what happened back then.
Tongues are not a heavenly language. The Greek word makes it clear they are a KNOWN language (Acts 2:6-11; I Corinthians 14:21; 12:10). This is different than the ‘groanings’ of Romans 8:26 for those are clearly said to be unutterable (not able to be spoken). The “tongues of angels” (I Corinthians. 13:1) is a hyperbole (overemphasis to make a point) like “faith to move mountains.” Besides, when angels spoke in the Bible, it was always in the known language of those to whom they were speaking.
Tongues are not a private prayer language. All spiritual gifts are given for the sake of others, not the one having the gift (I Corinthians 12:7, 12f; 14:19,27), that’s why an interpreter had to always be present in Corinth (I Corinthians 14:26-28). Every time the gift of tongues was given in the Bible it was given to a group, not an individual. It was always used in a group, too, with no instance of private use recorded. The tongue is to be controlled by the speaker, not beyond his control (I Corinthians. 14:28-33). Plus, tongues were to be a sign to unbelievers, not believers (I Corinthians 14:22). Jesus Himself warned about praying words we don’t understand (Mt 6:7). Paul said he always understood what he said when he prayed, even in tongues (I Corinthians 14:15). When asked how to pray Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer, not tongues.
Dangers of speaking in tongues today. Paul warns about Satan’s ability to counterfeit this (I Corinthians 12:2-3) as he has in other religions and cults today. Tongues is said to be an inferior gift because it is self-centered (I Corinthians 14:4) and leads to emphasis being put on emotions which can lead people astray (II Corinthians 6:11-12; Rom 16:17-18). We are told to pray with understanding (I Corinthians 14:13-17) and control our spiritual gift (I Corinthians 14:28-40). God arbitrarily chooses which gifts to give to whom (I Corinthians 12:7,11,18,28). We are told to not seek any particular gift (I Corinthians 12:31; 14:1-4). Tongues speaking can become a substitute for spirituality (I Corinthians 14:26-28). Worst of all, it can produce a false security by those who put faith in it as proof that God loves and accepts them. Most who practice tongues-speaking do not believe in eternal security of salvation, so their speaking in tongues becomes their proof of acceptance by God. Our faith must be in Jesus’ work on the cross, not in our ability to speak in ‘tongues.’ Those without the gift can feel pressured to fit in with the rest of the group.
Another danger of tongues, despite Paul saying it is the least of all gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1-25), is that it is often elevated to equal importance to what God says in the Bible. This happens with ‘interpretations of tongues’ and those with the ‘gift of prophecy’ as well. These people can be looked up to and their ‘word’ taken on the same par as, or even above Scripture. That is a deception from the enemy for NOTHING is to be seen as authoritative as Scripture (Revelation 22:18-19).
I have been told by those who are more experienced in dealing with tongues spirits than I am that these demons are often ‘gatekeepers’ and keep other demons in. They also call others in and keep them from exiting.
(If I can answer questions or offer personal counsel, or if you would like a free copy of my Spiritual Warfare Handbook, email me at Jerry@ChristianTrainingOrganization.org or download it from http://sw.christiantrainingonline.org/. My next book, Spiritual Warfare in the Bible, which is a more advanced treatment of spiritual warfare, is also available there for free.)