The Bible Fellowship Church of Fleetwood, PA, petitioned the 101st Annual Conference ‘to take appropriate procedures to include in the Faith and Order scripturally based Articles of Faith relating to...tongues... The purpose...shall be to declare with clarity distinctives of the Bible Fellowship Church according to the Word of God, though subordinate to it' (page 18, 1984 Yearbook). In response to this petition Annual Conference elected this committee to study the issue of speaking in tongues. Robert H. Stringfellow, former pastor of the petitioning church, resigned from the committee concurrent with his resignation from the church. David A. Thomann was appointed by the Chairman of Annual Conference to fill the vacancy created by this resignation.

            The committee recommends that Annual Conference adopt the following resolution:

            WHEREAS,   the Bible Fellowship Church of Fleetwood, PA, petitioned the 101st Annual Conference asking that an article on tongues be included in the Faith and Order of the Bible Fellowship Church;      and

            WHEREAS,   after careful consideration the committee to Study Speaking in Tongues acknowledging that the issue is of great significance for the church today, but also recognizing that speaking in tongues is of lesser significance in the totality of Scripture concludes that the issue does not warrant inclusion in the Article of Faith of the Bible Fellowship Church; therefore be it


            RESOLVED,  that the following study paper on speaking in tongues be approved and that this action be considered as the response of Annual Conference to the petition from the Bible Fellowship Church of Fleetwood, PA.

            The committee, meeting many times as a whole and several times as sub-committees during the past two years, studied the Biblical passages relating to speaking in tongues endeavoring to understand their teachings and to apply these teachings to contemporary Christianity in general and the Bible Fellowship Church in particular. Almost all of the meeting time was given to discussion of Scripture, which is reflected in this report.

            From this study two major views emerged. Stated simplistically, yet meaningfully, they center around the interpretation of two crucial passages. The first is, `If there are tongues, they will cease' (I Corinthians 13:8). The second is, `Do not forbid to speak in tongues' (I Corinthians 14:39). Some contend that the predicted cessation of speaking in tongues has happened, therefore there is no validity for speaking in tongues today. Others contend that speaking in tongues has not as yet ceased, therefore when valid and practiced properly speaking in tongues cannot be forbidden.

            Both views were adequately and exhaustively studied. All points of each view were considered. Counterpoints of the opposing sides were investigated. Lengthy debate was held. The result was that the proponents of both sides maintained their position.

            Assuming that the composition of the committee reflects the composition of Annual Conference the conclusion is drawn that there is diversity of conviction in the Bible Fellowship Church concerning speaking in tongues. Diversity could be divisive. If one view were adopted as the standard of the Bible Fellowship Church those holding the other would be excluded.

            Recognizing that diversity could be divisive the committee believes it should not be. The issue of speaking in tongues is significant. It is not, however, of such magnitude that it should cause division. This report, therefore, delineates the arguments of each view.

            It is intended that the presentation of the arguments be positive statements of each view. Refutation of the opposing views are thereby advisedly omitted. Consequently, it may appear as though some aspects of the issue have been overlooked in this study. It is the opinion of the committee, however, that all pertinent Biblical passages have been thoroughly studied and debated. Having done this, the committee chose to present the positive statements of the two views.

The presentation follows this outline:


            A.        Definition of Speaking in Tongues

            B.        Purpose of Speaking in Tongues

            C.        Cessation of Speaking in Tongues

            D.        The `Do Not Forbid' Statement (I Corinthians 14:39)

            E.        The Charismatic Movement Today

            F.        Speaking in Tongues in the Local Church


            A.        Definition of Speaking in Tongues

            B.        Purpose of Speaking in Tongues

            C.        Cessation of Speaking in Tongues

            D.        The `Do Not Forbid' Statement (I Corinthians 14:39)

            E.        The Charismatic Movement Today

            F.        Speaking in Tongues in the Local Church


Biblical quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.


            The study of the miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues in the New Testament includes of necessity an analysis of certain key words, as used in the various texts in question. The historic event of Pentecost is recorded in Acts 2, and is a primary text in such a word study.


`And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.


`Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven.


`And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language and they were amazed and marvelled, saying, `why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? and how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born.' Acts 2:4-8

Dialektos, the Greek behind the above underscored words, relates to the language of a particular people. It is from this word that we derive our term, `dialect'. Usage within the book of Acts, can be observed at Acts 1:19; 2:6-8; 21:40; 22:2; 26:14. Just before (Acts 2:3-4), and after (Acts 2:11), the noted quotation, a different word is used.

Glossa, translated tongues, is used in Acts 2:3; 2:4, and 2:11            . In usage it relates to that part of the body (James 1:26), and the language of a particular nation (Revelation 5:9). It is the primary word used in I Corinthians 12 through 14.

Genos is another word that would aid us in our understanding in the tongues study. It is translated, `kinds' in I Corinthians 12:10 and `diversities' in I Corinthians 12:28. It is used to refer nationality or kindred of people. Paul notes in Philippians 3:5 that he is one of the `stock (Genos) of Israel'.

Hermeenou is the final Greek word to be cited in this portion. It is used seven times in I Corinthians, Chapters 12 through 14, and is also used in Acts 9:36. In each case it means to translate into one's native language. To interpret - Hermeenou -is precisely what the science of Biblical interpretation is called.

            I Corinthians 14:10 reads: `There are perhaps a great many kinds of languages in the world and no kind is without meaning.' The miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues in the New Testament was no exception to this rule.

            Taking the plain sense of the key words it can be observed that speaking in tongues as used in the various texts in question, is not meaningless gibberish, but on the contrary, meaningful languages other than one's own. Three passages in the historic record of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-47; 10:1-11:18 and 19:1-20) and the extended didactic portion of I Corinthians 12:1-14:40, and the focal points of our continued examination.

Acts 2:1-47

            The record of Pentecost cites the first occurrence of the miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues, and as such is basic to our understanding of the phenomenon. It is observed that Dialekto and Glossa are used interchangeably, that numerous nationalities are mentioned, and the marvel of the crowd was `we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God' (Acts 2:11).

            The question raised in the text was, `What does this mean?' (Acts 2:12). The answer notes the prophecy of Joel (Joel 12:28-32), Acts 2:17-21) and the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). It is declared, concerning this outpouring of God's Spirit, that He (Jesus) `hath poured forth this, which we both see and hear'. (Acts 2:33)

            This primary text reveals that the miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues was an external realization of the fulfillment of Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 10:1-11:18

            The second incident of speaking in tongues does not occur until Acts Chapter 10, when the manifestation came upon those who had gathered at the household of one, Cornelius, while they were listening to the preaching of Peter. Cornelius was a semi-proselyte of Judaism, accepting beliefs and practices, short of circumcision. He would be classified a God-fearer.

            The reaction of the Circumcision to this incident was one of astonishment, `because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also' (Acts 10:45). The fact was that `they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God' (Acts 10:46).

            It is concluded in this account that the same `Holy Spirit fell upon them just as he did upon us at the beginning' (Acts 11:15), and that consequently `God therefore gave to them the same gift as he gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ' (Acts 11:17). It was evidenced that `God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life' (Acts 11:18).

Acts 19:1-20

            The initial incident (Acts 2) gave eternal demonstration on fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit. The second incident (Acts 10) revealed the legitimacy of the Gospel extension to the Gentiles.

            Third (Acts 19) we see the confirmation of the apostle and his message. The practical means of activating this manifestation is different.

            The disciples of John the Baptist are instructed concerning the reality of the Spirit and salvation in Christ. The Apostle Paul reminded them of John's instruction, `that they should believe in him who was coming after him that is in Jesus' (Acts 19:4). It was `when Paul had laid his hands upon them' (Acts 19:6) that they spoke with tongues, and the larger context notes that `God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul' (Acts 19:11).

            This is the final incident of the miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues in the historic record. It was occasioned in Ephesus, scene of the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Next in consideration is First Corinthians, Chapters 12 through 14.

I Corinthians 12-14

            The missionary Apostle Paul addresses the Church at Corinth from Ephesus at about 56-57 A.D. Corinth was a great commercial city and capital for Achaia. In character it was notorious for its looseness of morals and licentiousness. The Church evidenced a multiplicity of practical, spiritual and moral problems.

            An area of ignorance is dealt with, beginning in I Corinthians 12:1, relating to the general topic of gifts and the matter of tongues in particular. It is noted that while there were various kinds of gifts (v.4), ministries (v.5) and activities (v.6), there is but one God at work. It should be noted that `to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good' (I Corinthians 12:7). The numeration of such gifts indicates an inferiority of speaking in tongues, in listing order, and continued instruction commands the coupling of such with interpretation (I Corinthians 14:27-28) for the sake of the understanding and benefit.

            I Corinthians 13 centers in on the supremacy of love over all gifts, including that of speaking in tongues. Our Lord announced such as a new commandment (John 13:34) and explained that `by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another' (John 13:35). Its implementation and effectualization is included in His intercessional prayer recorded in John 17.

            In the pursuit of love (I Corinthians 14:1) and the desire of gifts (I Corinthians 12:31, I Corinthians 14:1) a superiority is stated relating to prophecy. Tongues apart from interpretation is a self gratification (I Corinthians 14:4) and is inconsistent with the very characteristic of love, namely love is said not to brag, is not `arrogant' (I Corinthians 13) `does not seek its own' (I Corinthians 13:5). The final admonition of the chapter and context is `Let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner' (I Corinthians 14:40) as God is not the originator of the contrary (I Corinthians 14:33).

            The miraculous manifestation of speaking in a meaningful language other than one's own tongue, was an external realization of the promise of God's Spirit (Acts 2), an evidence of the Gospel extension to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-11:18) and a confirmation of God's witness through the apostles (Acts 19:1-20). As a gift to the Holy Spirit it was for the building up of the entire church (I Corinthians 12). The phenomenon of speaking in tongues in Corinth, if at all genuine, was seriously abused.

            Specific consideration is here given to a clear statement of purpose (I Corinthians 14:22) an indication of cessation (I Corinthians 13:8), and a command not to forbid (I Corinthians 14:40).


I Corinthians 14:22

            The Greek word sema means to mark, indicate, signify. In I Corinthians 14:22 we are informed concerning a purpose of tongues. The Greek construction involved (`for a sign') the preposition with the accusative case, is an expression of purpose. The verse reads, `So then tongues are for a sign not to those who believe but to unbelievers, but prophecy is for a sign not to unbelievers but those who believe'.

            This verse follows a quotation of Isaiah 28:11-12. A review of that Old Testament passage would identify the ones to whom foreign languages became a sign as an unbelieving people of God. The same type of citation is found in I Corinthians 10:10-12, Hebrews 3:19 explains this by saying `so we see that they would not be able to enter because of unbelief'.

            In sorting out the sense of something being a sign (al) to the unbelieving, it is first remembered that Paul, early on, informed the Corinthians that it was not signs, but preaching `Christ crucified' that leads men to saving faith (I Corinthians 1:18-23). So here the emphasis is on prophesying, for those who would believe.

            Secondly, it is noted that tongues are not a sign for the unbelieving and unlearned of the world. Paul makes this clear with the practical illustration of verse 23 when he says that unbelievers coming into an assembly of vocal and varied tongues will think that those who are speaking in tongues would be mad.

            The concluding interpretation is that unbelieving Israel is in question. The context of Isaiah 28 would reveal that the nation had mocked the clear preaching of the prophets, and that God caused them to be judged by those of another tongue. Peter, the preacher of Pentecost, draws upon the flow of Isaiah 28, in his first epistle and declares that `he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded' (I Peter 2:6/Isaiah 28:16). (KJV)

            The Jews to whom were committed the oracles of God (Romans 3:2) had rejected the Christ. Paul cites Isaiah 28:16 in his epistle to Rome (Romans 9:33), and goes on to cry, `my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation' (Romans 10:1).

            The miraculous manifestation of speaking in other tongues on Pentecost (Acts 2), and at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-11:18), consequently included, along with the external realization of the Spirit's coming and the Gospel offer to the Gentiles, a strong signal to Israel that its rejection of Christ was wrong.


I Corinthians 13:8

            The gift of speaking in tongues is said to have a stopping point. Within a beautiful passage, descriptive of love, Paul's standard policy of logic flows.

            Love is seen as not only superior, but also permanent. Faith some day will be turned to sight (II Corinthians 5:7-8), and hope to reality (Romans 8:24). In the progression to the eternal state tongues is noted to be the first to cease.

            `Cease' is from pauo which means `to stop, to come to an end'. Unlike katargeo which translates `to reduce to inactivity, or to abolish' in reference to prophecies and knowledge, it (pauo) is used in the middle voice and could indicate a self-causing action. An irregular nature of the verb makes this debatable. The verb difference, word setting, and sense flow of the passage are, nevertheless, observable. It is clearly said that tongues will cease (verse 8), that knowledge and prophecy are partial (verse 9), and that something perfect (complete) will replace the partial (verse 10). Here knowledge and prophecy are special revelational gifts.

            That which is perfect has been interpreted as being the complete canon of Scripture. James speaks both of the perfect law of liberty along with using the same mirror illustration for God's Word (James 1:23-25). Others have selected other interpretations. In the progression of the text the second coming of Christ may certainly be proper at verse 12.

            The force of `if there are tongues they will cease' is not totally dependent on any interpretation of that which is perfect. The miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues is not mentioned in this immediate passage after verse 8, when it is clearly declared, they will cease.

            It must be recognized that the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a fact of history, and that the Gospel message is to be proclaimed to Jew and Gentile alike. In these speaking in tongues has served its purpose.

            It is also notable to realize that no record of speaking in tongues is mentioned in the historic record of Acts following that in Ephesus, at Acts 19:1-20, from where Paul wrote the First Corinthians epistle. Also, no other New Testament epistle after First Corinthians (57 A.D.) mentions the phenomenon. Its absence is also noted in the three other listings of Spiritual gifts (Romans 12/58 A.D.; Ephesians 4/61 A.D.; and I Peter 4/63 A.D.). Such observations are important when it said that something `will cease'.

            It has been noted previously that the practical means of activating the tongues manifestation in Acts 19:1-20 was different. The Lord through the Apostles, gave testimony unto `the word of His grace and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands' (Acts 14:3). An illustration of this is seen `when Paul had laid his hands upon them' (Acts 19:6) that they spoke with tongues. The book of Hebrews (64-68 A.D.) speaks of such apostolic signs of confirmation. In Hebrews, Jesus Christ is presented as God's last word to mankind (Hebrews 1:1-2), and this message of God, in Christ Jesus, `was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness to them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to his own will'. (Hebrews 2:3-4) The writer speaks of this confirmation in the Aorist Passive Indicative which is a past tense in completed act and established fact.

            The criteria for the office of Apostle (Acts 1:21-22) rules out further systems of succession and it is seen that no replacement is selected for James (Acts 12:1-2), first of the Twelve to be martyred. The completion of the canon rules out any continuing need for the special revelatory gifts (II Timothy 3:16-17). In all this, the temporary miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues has served its purposes.

D.        THE `DO NOT FORBID' STATEMENT ( I Corinthians 14:39)

I Corinthians 14:39

            The miraculous manifestation of speaking a language other than one's own, gave witness to the Spirit's coming (Acts 2) acceptance to Gentile believers (Acts 10:1-11:18), confirmation of Apostolic testimony (Acts 19:1-20), and conviction to unbelieving Israel (I Corinthians 14:22). As a phenomenon it was limited in purpose and duration. As long as legitimate speaking in tongues was active, it was not to be forbidden.

            The command, `do not forbid' (I Corinthians 14:39), is tempered by the announcement, `they will cease' (I Corinthians 13:8). A general principle `let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner' (I Corinthians 14:40) continues with numerous applications.

            It is well accepted fact and rule, that not all Biblical commands are intended to apply to all ages. Many of the Old Testament (Mosaic) laws are correctly understood as fulfilled in Christ and therefore no longer binding on the Church.

            In addition, it is rightly observed that some of the commands of our Lord were given to an individual or group in a particular situation. For example, just before Pentecost Jesus told his disciples to `stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high' (Luke 24:49). He gave this command at a certain point in history to a particular group of people.

            Regarding the statement of I Corinthians 14:39, the foremost earnest desire in view is preaching. The conclusion is `Yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts but especially that you may prophesy'. (I Corinthians 14:1) The closing of Chapter 12 indicates that one should desire the best gifts (I Corinthians 12:31) and the beginning of Chapter 14 says specially that one may prophesy (I Corinthians 14:1). The conversion revival consequences of sound preaching are central and are the positive thrust in the passage (I Corinthians 14:24-25).

            The negative `do not forbid to speak in tongues' is not the same as exhorting Christians to seek and practice the experience. The Corinthians were previously informed of tongues that `they will cease'. There would not be reason to forbid that which would cease of itself.

            There is some speculation that what was practiced at Corinth was not legitimate. Highlighting this view it is observed that the word, `charismata' (gifts) is not used and that the human spirit is in view, not the Holy Spirit of Chapter 12. It is suggested that the gibberish of Corinth is noted in the singular, while the genuine is noted in the plural.

            The apostle started this whole discussion making it known `that no one speaking by the spirit of God says Jesus is accursed'. (I Corinthians 12:3) Therefore anything contrary to sound doctrine, along with gibberish, any language foreign to the speaker (without interpretation) and all disorder should be forbidden.


            What then are the tongues that we find in the phenomenon today? It is a phenomenon that transcends denominational lines. It is phenomenon that transcends religious and pseudoreligious beliefs everywhere. There are several explanations for the speaking in tongues that we hear about today:


            1.         . Some critics of the Charismatics and the Pentecostals would write off tongues completely as the work of the Devil. While we are not ready to do that, we do believe that in some cases Satan is behind what happens. Satan is the great counterfeiter of all that God has made and for every true and perfect gift of God, Satan has added his own particular counterfeit to confuse the people of the world. Speaking in tongues is no exception. False religions everywhere are known to have people that practice the use of tongues. Cults such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses claim to be able to speak in tongues. Reports have come from places such as East Africa bringing information of people who are possessed by demons who speak fluently in different languages although under normal circumstances they would not understand those languages. Ecstatic babble is also found among Muslims and Tibetan Monks. A parapsychology laboratory of the University of Virginia Medical School reported incidence of tongues speaking among those practicing the occult.


            2.         . Dr. John Kildahl, a clinical psychologist and his partner, Paul Qualben, a psychiatrist, were commissioned by the American Lutheran Church and the National Institute of Mental Health to do a long range study on the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. After all their work, they came to a firm conclusion that speaking in tongues is nothing more than a learned behavior.

Wayne A. Robinson, a known tongues speaker, in his book, I Once Spoke in Tongues, relates these types of things concerning his own experience in tongues. He noted that his own experience found him repeating phrases that his own father, a Pentecostal minister, used in his practice of speaking in tongues. He also noted that early in his search for this phenomenon he had such experiences as going forward in a meeting to receive the gift of speaking in tongues and praying audibly only to have the evangelist tap his throat to cause strange sounds coming from his mouth and that evangelist exclaiming, `that is speaking in tongues'. One of the conclusions Wayne A. Robinson drew was that it was not a religious feeling or emotional one but it was `simply air being pushed through the larnyx'.


            3.         . An example of this would be when people become so excited and filled with emotion that the fervor and the noise around them cause them to literally give up voluntary control of their vocal chords and their muscles. Such other things that occur during this time of emotional takeover are being slain in the Spirit or falling to the floor and not having any control over your voluntary muscles. Part of the reason that tongues are so popular today is this third possibility of what tongues can be. it is an emotional experience used to make one feel good and to feel important. Dr. Kildahl, again from his book, `The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues', lists four benefits to those who practice speaking in tongues. Each one of them has to do with a stronger sense of boldness that is felt in relationships and a conviction that they now matter not only to God, but to their neighbors and also to themselves.

            It seems that the phenomenon of speaking in tongues has more to do with a psychological emotional lift than it has to do with the original designs and purposes of the gift of speaking in tongues as spoken of in the Word of God (i.e.; being a sign to unbelieving Jews).


            There is no denying the fact that the phenomenon of speaking in tongues is to say the least, controversial. Those who speak in tongues range from those who speak only in private and do not promote their beliefs to those who surround their worship totally with tongues and insist that tongues is the indication of true spirituality. Whether we believe that tongues exist today or not, we still need to know how to handle a situation of its occurrence.

            There are many cautions mentioned about the practice of tongues in the Church. For instance, in I Corinthians 14, Paul says of tongues that: 1) they do not edify the Church - v.4, 2) that confusion can reign - v.23, and 3) that to pray in tongues is to render the mind fruitless - v.14. Tongues should not occur in the church when there is no interpreter present - v.28. At the very least, we should prohibit speaking in tongues unless we are sure that an interpreter is present. We are also told that things are to be done properly and in an orderly manner. Interruptions by those who speak in tongues violate that Biblical command.

            How should we deal with people who speak in tongues in a private manner? If we believe, as we do, that the gift of tongues does not exist today, we should discourage speaking in tongues by presenting the truths concerning the original purpose of tongues and their consequent cessation. We view the charismatic who has a viable testimony of his/her conversion to be a brother/sister in Christ with a doctrinal problem and we should seek to deal with them by `speaking the truth in love'. (Ephesians 4:15)



            A study of the word `tongue' shows it has four usages in Scripture: 1) literal - `He touched his tongue' (Mark 7:33); 2) figurative, referring to the manner of one's speech - `Let him...refrain his tongue from evil' (I Peter 3:10); 3) referring to a language - `from every tribe, and tongue and people and nation' (Revelation 5:9); 4) miraculous speaking in tongues (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4,11; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6, and several verses of I Corinthians 12-14).

            The third and fourth usages of the word are significant for this study. The third usage indicates that the word `tongue' can refer to a language. The passages listed under the fourth usage describe the miraculous speaking in tongues and are the pertinent passages for this study. At this point it can be said that to speak in tongues is to speak in a language other than one's own. These passages must be examined before more conclusions can be drawn.

Mark 16:17

            This passage indicates that Jesus prophesied that speaking in tongues would be a sign accompanying those who became believers. This happened in Acts.

Acts 2:4 & 11

            The context describes the Day of Pentecost when God poured forth His Spirit upon the 120 disciples. As a result they spoke in tongues and the people of many nations who were present heard in the language to which they were born. From this the conclusion can be drawn that as a result of the 120 being filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost they spoke in tongues and that these tongues were known languages of that day.

Acts 10:46

            Acts 10 describes the conversion of Cornelius,his relatives and friends. Cornelius was a God-fearer, a technical term describing a Gentile who worshipped in the Jewish faith. As Peter preached to them the Holy Spirit was poured out on them and they spoke in tongues.

Acts 19:6 is similar. The group of 12 men at Ephesus who were Gentiles became Christians. In conjunction with the conversion the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues.

            The three passages in Acts are similar. In each case of speaking in tongues the Gospel reaches a distinct group of people. In Acts 2 Jewish people are converted. In Acts 10 the converts are God-fearers, Gentiles attracted to Judaism. In Acts 19 Gentiles are converted. Taken in sequence a progression can be seen as the Gospel goes into all the world. These three instances mark definite steps in this progression. In each of these conversion accounts speaking in tongues was involved.

            It is important, however, to note that speaking in tongues is not involved in all conversion accounts in Acts. Although Acts 2 tells of the conversion of 3,000, only 120 disciples spoke in tongues. Of the many conversion accounts in Acts, speaking in tongues is mentioned only in three. This leads to the conclusion that speaking in tongues was experienced by a relatively few number of people upon their conversion.

I Corinthians 12:7-11

            This passage indicates that each believer is given a gift by the Spirit as He wills. Some are given `various kinds of tongues' (v. 10). Speaking in tongues therefore can also be a spiritual gift.


            From the study of the previously cited passages it is concluded that speaking in tongues was a sign that accompanied the conversion of some, but not all, believers. It was also a gift of the Spirit bestowed on some, but not all, believers. Those who spoke in tongues spoke in a language other than their own. This included known, foreign languages current at that time. Whether or not it included an unknown language, or what is called a `heavenly language', cannot be determined by Biblical evidence. Accordingly, to speak in tongues is to speak under the influence of the Holy Spirit and in a manner different from one's usual way of speaking.


            Speaking in tongues has three purposes. It serves as a sign, as a means of edification, and as a means of prayer. It serves as a sign in the three passages in Acts in which it is mentioned that people upon whom the Holy Spirit came spoke in tongues. In the one instance, Acts 2, people who were followers of Christ were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and as a result they spoke in tongues. This was followed by 3,000 being converted. In the other two passages the Holy Spirit came upon those being converted and they spoke in tongues. In all three passages speaking in tongues happened in conjunction with conversion and is a sign attesting to the salvation experience.

            I Corinthians 14:22 clearly states, `Tongues are for a sign'. In this instance the sign is for unbelievers who, hearing believers speak in tongues, say they are mad and go away in their unbelief.

            It can be said, therefore, that as a sign speaking in tongues served either a positive or negative purpose. Positively, it confirmed the salvation experience of some. Negatively, it resulted in others remaining in unbelief thereby confirming them in this state.

            Another purpose of tongues is as a means of edification. This is seen in I Corinthians 14:1-13. In this passage Paul is arguing for the superiority of prophecy over tongues on the basis that prophecy edifies the church. In contrast to tongues which without an interpreter cannot be understood by others, prophecy can be understood by others and thereby edifies the listeners.

            Careful study of this passage also indicates that speaking in tongues can edify. Even when there is no interpreter the one who speaks in a tongue does speak to God (v. 2) and edifies himself (v. 4). By implication, verse 5 indicates that when speaking in tongues is interpreted the church receives edification. This implication is strengthened in verses 12 and 13. Paul admonishes the Corinthians to `seek to abound for the edification of the church'. With this as a goal the one who speaks in a tongue is to pray that he might interpret, there by being able to edify the church. Edification is a purpose of speaking in tongues.

            A third purpose of speaking in tongues is as a means of prayer. I Corinthians 14:2 states that one speaking in tongues, although not understood by others, does speak to God; which is prayer. Verses 14-17 more explicitly refer to praying in a tongue. Paul speaks of the possibility of praying a tongue himself (v. 14) and of others giving thanks in tongues (vs. 16,17).

            These passages in Acts and I Corinthians indicate that speaking in tongues has three purposes. It can be a sign verifying one's conversion and reception of the Holy Spirit or confirming one in unbelief. It can be a means of edification and a means of prayer.


            Having discussed the definition and purpose of speaking in tongues as seen in the context of Scripture and the New Testament Church, attention is drawn to the issue of its place in the 20th Century. The crucial passage for this discussion is I Corinthians 13:8-12, especially the phrase in verse 8, `If there are tongues, they will cease'. The question is when does this take place. This will happen in conjunction with Christ's return.

            I Corinthians 13, in which love and tongues are contrasted, is beautiful classic literature. A brief forceful statement is made as verse 8 begins, `Love is eternal'. In stark contrast is the triad of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge which is temporal. In expressing this Paul uses `done away' and `cease' synonomously, thereby avoiding a triple repetition of one word. Love abides, the others will end.

            Although tongues is not mentioned in verses 9-13 it is included in the flow of thought. Literary style allows for citing part to include the whole. Paul established a triad of prophecy, tongues and knowledge in verse 8. Mentioning the first and third parts of the triad in verse 9 can by implication include the middle part. Coming from three to two the emphasis now shifts to thoughts of in part and partial which will be done away when the perfect comes.

            All elements of the triad are partial. As such they are also temporary. Their function will terminate when the perfect arrives.

            Paul established a smooth flow of words and thoughts painting a unified picture as he contrasts love and the triad. Love is eternal. The triad of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge which is partial will end when the perfect comes. Love abides. (I Corinthians 13:8-13)

            Prophecy and knowledge will be done away and tongues will cease when the perfect comes. The perfect is the return of the Lord and the consummation of salvation. The whole thrust of Scripture in referring to a coming perfection is in the context of events and conditions ushered in by Christ's return. Specifically, verse 12 speaks of seeing face to face and states, `Then I shall know fully'. It is parallel to I John 3:2, `When He appears we shall be like Him because we shall see Him just as He is'. When the perfect is come the partial which includes tongues will be done away. It is therefore clear that tongues will cease and that this will happen in conjunction with Christ's return.

            This position is further substantiated as I Corinthians 12-14 is considered in relation to the whole of the epistle. Paul devotes three of the sixteen chapters of this book to the issue of spiritual gifts, especially as it centers around the gift of speaking in tongues. I Corinthians discusses several problems faced by the Corinthian church besides speaking in tongues. The other problems continue today and the contemporary Church handles them according to Paul's instructions in I Corinthians. In like manner speaking in tongues continues and like the other issues is to be handled by applying the principles proposed by Paul.

            There is therefore validity for speaking in tongues in the 20th Century. This does not give blanket approval for all alleged instances of speaking in tongues. This refers only to such instances as are in compliance with Biblical standards (cf. Section II,f).

D.        THE `DO NOT FORBID' STATEMENT (I Corinthians 14:39)

            Since there is validity for speaking in tongues in the 20th Century, I Corinthians 14:39 becomes extremely important when it says, `Do not forbid to speak in tongues'. Certainly there are abuses of speaking in tongues. The gift is of lesser significance in comparison to other gifts of the Spirit. When practiced, it is to be strictly regulated. Yet, granted all this, Paul wrote, `Do not forbid to speak in tongues'. This Biblical command must be followed. Legitimate speaking in tongues when done properly must not be forbidden.


            The question of speaking in tongues has been brought to the attention of Christians in America because of the rise in the past twenty years of the modern Charismatic Movement. Because the question has been raised by the Charismatic, the movement and its place in contemporary Christianity should be considered. As with any other issue the question of speaking in tongues must be answered on the basis of what God's Word says about it, not on what is thought of the individuals or groups who have raised it.

            In any study of the Charismatic Movement one quickly discovers that there are many shades of Charismatic. For example, there are those who believe that speaking in tongues is a sign of the baptism of the Spirit, a one-time special experience. There are also those who believe tongues is simply a gift of the Holy Spirit as are wisdom, discernment, etc. as listed in I Corinthians 12 and elsewhere. This being the case it is wrong to generalize in criticism or acceptance of the movement as a whole.

            As there are many shades of Charismatic, so there are various results from the movement; some good, some bad. Many people from mainline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church have been saved as a result of the Charismatic Movement. New life has been brought into some `dead churches'. Love has been shown by some people in a stronger, more evident way than is expressed by many other Christians. Other emotions such as warmth and enthusiasm, have been evident which are often missing among evangelicals. Emotion must never replace truth, but neither should truth suppress emotion.

            Many errors have been found in the Charismatic Movement as well. One major error is to claim that one who has not spoke in tongues has not received the Holy Spirit and is not saved. This must be rejected. (cf. Section II, A).

            Another error is to claim that all believers must have the gift of speaking in tongues. The key passage in refuting this is I Corinthians 12-14. In Chapter 12 Paul emphasizes the difference in the parts of the body of Christ in regard to function. In verse 4 he says there are different kinds of gifts. Verse 10 clearly indicates that as with all the gifts some people are given the gift of tongues. In verses 29 and 30 Paul again makes clear by a series of rhetorical questions that no one gift is possessed by all believers. In verses 14 to 26 Paul's illustration of the many members making up one body certainly shows that every believer is important, because the Holy Spirit has given each a function within the body of Christ. We have no right, therefore, to say that some other part, because it is not like us, is of less value or importance.

            Further the fact that speaking in tongues is downplayed to some extent by Paul hardly seems to support the idea that tongues would be for every Christian. Paul says in I Corinthians 14:5 that he would like everyone to speak in tongues, but he would rather have all prophesy. He continues saying that the person who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless the one who speaks in tongues interprets so that the church may be edified. In verse 19 of the same chapter, Paul says he would rather speak five intelligible words in the church so that he would instruct others, than 10,000 words in a tongue. The lesser importance of speaking in tongues downplays its significance. This adds further evidence that the claim that all believers must have the gift is erroneous.

            Proponents of the view, expressed in this study, that there is validity for speaking in tongues are careful to express this view within a specific context. It does not give blanket approval for all alleged instances of speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is valid only when it meets the Biblical definition. When practiced it must be in compliance with the strict regulations of Scripture.

            The practice of speaking in tongues in the Bible Fellowship Church is not being advocated or encouraged.

            Speaking in tongues in contemporary Christianity must be evaluated in the light of Scripture. If found valid and practiced properly it must be recognized and cannot be forbidden.

            We need to pray that we always remain in all truth and that we love those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of whether we agree in all points. We need to pray as well for our brothers and sisters who are in error and when possible restore them gently.


            I Corinthians 12 - 14 deals with speaking in tongues as practiced in a local church. Problems existed. It must be recognized, however, that speaking in tongues per se was not the problem; but the manner in which the gift was used. The solution to the problem is to view speaking in tongues as a legitimate gift of the Spirit, to understand its relatively low significance in comparison to other gifts, and to place its use under strict regulations.

            Speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift. This has been previously determined from I Corinthians 12:7-11.

            Although a gift, speaking in tongues is a relatively low significance. I Corinthians 12:28 implies a ranking of gifts. Speaking in tongues is listed last.

            Chapter 14 contrasts prophecy and speaking in tongues, concluding that speaking in tongues is of lesser significance. Paul, who spoke in tongues, preferred to speak five words in intelligible prophecy than 10,000 words in a tongue; a 1 to 2,000 ratio (v. 19). He categorically stated, `Greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues' (v. 5).

            The context tells why. Spiritual gifts are given `for common good' (12:27). The specific good discussed in Chapter 14 is edification of people in the local church (v. 3,4,5). The Corinthians, whom Paul commended for their zeal for spiritual gifts, were to use their zeal for the edification of the church (v. 12). Further they were instructed, `Let all things be done for edification' when assembled (v. 26).

            Edification requires intelligible, comprehendible communication. Speaking in a tongue which was unknown to listeners communicated nothing (unless it was interpreted). Prophecy did communicate. Therefore, `one who prophesies speaks to men for edification' (14:3,4), thereby making speaking in tongues the gift of lesser significance.

            This comparison is also seen in public prayer which is to result in corporate praise to God (14:14-17). If one prays in a tongue another cannot say `Amen' because he does not know what is being said (v. 16). Again, the importance of communicating a message is stressed. Speaking in tongues, when uninterpreted, does not communicate to others and is therefore of lesser significance.

            `Earnestly desire the greater gifts' (12:31). This command reveals two things. One is that some gifts are of greater significance than others. The other is that the greater gifts are to be desired. As Paul contrasts prophecy and speaking in tongues he indicates prophecy is to be desired (14:1,39). Significantly, he does not say this about speaking in tongues. This is especially significant in the concluding statement of verse 39.

            On the other hand speaking in tongues is not to be forbidden (14:39). Its use, however, is restricted. 14:26 teaches that tongues along with several other gifts has the specific purpose of edification. Edification may be through prayer, especially prayer of thanksgiving (14:14-17). As edification can happen only as a message is communicated, there must be an interpreter (v. 5,13,27,28). Verses 5 and 13 indicate that the one speaking may also interpret. If there is no interpreter the one speaking in tongues must keep silent in a meeting (v. 28).

            Edification implies the need for an orderly meeting, requiring another restriction. The number of those speaking in tongues is limited to two or three and they must speak one at a time (v. 27). `Let all things be an orderly manner' (14:40).

            Most of Paul's teaching refers to speaking in tongues in a corporate meeting of a local church. It should be noted that reference is also made to private use of the gift. Paul says that one who speaks in a tongue speaks to God (14:1). In addition, although in the absence of an interpreter he must keep silent in church, Paul does say, `Let him speak to himself and to God' (14:28). The gift has its place in private use.

            Speaking in tongues is a gift of the Spirit. Its lesser significance must be recognized. When possessed its use should not be forbidden. When exercised, the following Biblical restrictions must be observed.

            1.         An interpretation is required.

            2.         The number speaking is limited to three.

            3.         One person at a time shall speak.

            4.         When there is no interpretation, the one speaking in tongues may speak to himself and God.

            5.         Legitimate speaking in tongues may not be prohibited.


            The Bible Fellowship Church as a denomination does not claim to possess the gift of speaking in tongues, nor does it seek this gift. To this we agree.

            There is diversity of conviction within the Bible Fellowship Church concerning the validity of the gift in contemporary Christianity. Some believe speaking in tongues to be an illegitimate practice for today. Others recognize speaking in tongues as a legitimate gift of the Spirit which is of relatively low significance in comparison with other gifts, the exercise of which must be under strict regulations.


COMMITTEE:           Bruce A. Ellingson, Chairman; Dean A. Stortz, Secretary;

G. Wayne Clapier, Robert W. Smock, David A. Thomann