The gift of tongues, which
was bestowed upon men for the first time on
the day of Pentecost, was a miraculous endowment which enabled those
who received it to speak in languages unfamiliar to themselves,
languages they had never learned. Thereby they were empowered to
declare the glad tidings to those with whom they would not have been
able otherwise to communicate.
The record found in Acts 2 gives a clear description of the nature of
this gift. We read that there were at Jerusalem at that season devout
men "out of every nation under heaven," and that when the multitude
came together, they were confounded, "because that every man heard them
speak in his own language" (Acts 2:5, 6). Thus the prominent and
essential characteristic of the pentecostal gift of tongues was that it
enabled the disciples to address those foreigners, "every man in his
Further, it is recorded for our enlightenment that "They were all
amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these
that speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue
wherein we were born; Parthians and Medes and Elamites"—sixteen
countries being named—"we do hear them speak in our tongues the
wonderful works of God" (vv. 7-11).
Thus, in this short description, it is stated three times that the
pentecostal gift of tongues was a miraculous endowment whereby those
who received it were able to speak to foreigners in their own language.
When, therefore, we encounter now-a-days that which purports to be the
apostolical and pentecostal gift of tongues, the first thing to be
ascertained is whether its reputed possessor has the supernatural
ability to speak to strangers in their own language. If the supposed
gift does not pass that test, it may safely, and without further
inquiry, be regarded as spurious.
The coming of the Holy Ghost was the beginning of that new and
wonderful era which John the Baptist had announced (Matt. 3:11). The
Lord had previously instructed His disciples that their special mission
would be to preach repentance and remission of sins in His Name among
all nations, beginning at Jerusalem; but they were to wait in that city
until they should be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:47-49);
for the Gospel was to be preached, not with mere human power, but "with
the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven" (I Pet. 1:12). It is, therefore,
a very impressive fact that the manner in which the Holy Spirit
manifested His presence was by the appearance of tongues as of fire,
resting upon each of the disciples, and by the bestowal upon them of
the power to preach to all men who were gathered in Jerusalem to
observe the feast of Pentecost, each in his own language. This was a
most significant miracle. It proclaimed in a striking way, first that
the great work of this era for which the Holy Ghost had come, is the
preaching of the risen Jesus of Nazareth as both Lord and Christ (Acts
2:32- 36); and second, that this glorious gospel was to be proclaimed
to "every nation under heaven," so that all men should hear it in their
It should be noted that in Acts 2, and wherever the word "tongue" is
used in this connection in the Scriptures, it means simply a language,
just as we commonly say "the English tongue," "the French tongue," etc.
In I Corinthians 14, where the expression "unknown tongue" occurs, it
will be seen that the word "unknown" is printed in italics, showing
that it does not occur in the original text. This supplied word has
misled some. The expression means simply a foreign language.
This supernatural ability to address a foreigner in his own language
served also the purpose (along with other miracles which abounded at
that time) of attesting this new era and this new message (the Gospel),
as being from God. Without such manifestations of the presence and
power of God working in and with those obscure Galilaeans, it could not
have been made evident to Jews and Gentiles that God was really
introducing a new order of things. That the main purpose of miracles
was to authenticate the preaching of the "great salvation, which at the
first began to be spoken by the Lord," is declared in many Scriptures,
as in Hebrews 2:3, 4, where we read that God also bore witness (with
His preachers) by means of "signs and wonders, and with divers miracles
and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will."
That such extraordinary miracles were needed at the beginning of the
new era is obvious. In this respect we have a parallel in the beginning
of the era of the law, when God wrought wonderful signs and miracles in
Egypt and in the wilderness. Those manifestations ceased when they had
accomplished their purpose.
Tongues After Pentecost
The second time the miraculous speaking in tongues is mentioned is in
connection with Peter’s preaching of the Gospel to a company of
Gentiles in the home of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, at Caesarea,
which city was really a Roman city, though within the borders of Judea.
Here again "was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost, for they heard
them speak with tongues, and magnify God" (Acts 10:45, 46). This was a
convincing sign to Peter and the six Jewish converts who accompanied
him, that God had indeed saved those Gentiles. Therefore, they (the
Jews) did not dare "forbid water, that these should not be baptized,"
or refuse to receive them as brethren in Christ.
Moreover, when they of the circumcision, who were at Jerusalem,
contended with Peter because of this, the apostle vindicated himself by
appealing to the fact that (to quote his own words) "The Holy Ghost
fell on them, as on us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15). Thus we have
given us in the Bible a very clear and strong reason for the
manifestation of the gift of tongues on this occasion; for otherwise
converted Gentiles would not have been received.
It should be particularly noted that, for another occurrence of that
sort, Peter had to go back to the day of Pentecost. The inference is
plain that, in all the years between, there had been no similar
manifestation to which Peter could appeal. It is, therefore, very far
from the truth to say, or to suppose, that all who were saved in
apostolic times received the power to speak in tongues. It clearly
appears, on the contrary, that the bestowal of the gift of tongues was
reserved for occasions of unusual importance.
At Ephesus—The third and last time the manifestation of the gift of
tongues is mentioned in Acts is in chapter 19. This was outside of
Palestine altogether. Paul, on coming to Ephesus, met with certain
disciples who had received only so much of the truth as was connected
with John’s baptism. They had not received the Holy Spirit because they
had not believed on the risen Jesus Christ. When, however, they were
baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and Paul had laid his hands
upon them, then "the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with
tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:1-6). In this case, as in the two
preceding, there was an evident need that the truth proclaimed by Paul
should be specially authenticated by signs and miracles. Ephesus,
moreover, was the place where the great temple of Diana was located,
and where "curious arts" (e.g., necromancy, black art, etc.) were
practiced (v. 19). Therefore, "God wrought special (i.e., unusual)
miracles by the hands of Paul" in that place (vv. 11, 12).
In none of these cases was the gift of tongues sought, nor was the Holy
Spirit sought after the manner of some in the present day. The Holy
Spirit simply bestowed the gift when and as He deemed it needful so to
The Gift of Tongues in the Church
In I Corinthians, chapters 12 and 14, we read of the gift of tongues
"in the church." It is mentioned among the things wrought by the
Spirit, "dividing to every man severally as He will" (12:7-11). Thus
the giving or not giving this (or other) gift is entirely a matter of
the Divine will, which is exercised according to the Divine
This gift is mentioned last in the list of gifts which "God hath set in
the church" (12:28-29). And the apostle’s questions "Have all the gifts
of healing? Do all speak in tongues?" make it clear beyond all doubt
that some only of the saints possessed those gifts. Indeed the
questions are asked for the very purpose of enforcing the argument
that, as in the human body there are many members, each with its own
special function, to be exercised for the benefit of all, so in the
church there are different gifts and duties as-signed to the several
members; yet, inasmuch as all belong to one and the same body, the
gifts ail pertain to that one body, regardless of what members have
them. According to the inspired argument of that chapter it would be as
absurd to expect every member of the church to have the gift of tongues
as to expect that every member of the human body should be a tongue
endowed with power to speak (v.17).
In chapter 14 Paul shows that the gift of prophecy is far more to be
desired than that of tongues, because prophesying—i.e., ministering the
Word of God—edifies the church; and this is the work of Love, because
"Love edifieth" (8:1), whereas speaking in tongues may be but the vain
display of a gift. Paul makes the contrast very strong, saying, "I
speak with tongues more than ye all; yet in the church I had rather
speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach
others also, than ten thousand words in an (unknown) tongue" (14:18,
19). So the relative value is as five to ten thousand.
He then bids those Corinthians to "be not children in understanding,"
and explains to them that the gift of tongues was a fulfillment of
Isaiah 28:11, 12, where God, in foretelling judgments upon Israel in
connection with their rejection of His Word (which had always been
spoken to them in Hebrew) said, "For with stammering lips and another
tongue will I speak unto this people" (the Jews) . Therefore, at
Pentecost God began to speak to the Jews in "another tongue." This was
a "sign" to that unbelieving people. And this is precisely what Paul
declares in the next verse, where he says: "Wherefore, tongues are for
a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not; but
prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which
believe" (I Cor. 14:21). Thus the gift of prophecy is incomparably
greater than that of speaking in tongues. It follows that to say the
gift of tongues is a sign to believers that the one so gifted who has
received the Holy Spirit, is simply to turn the Scripture upside down.
The Spirit Given to Them That Believe
The Lord Jesus declared that "they which believe on Him should receive"
the Holy Spirit (John 7:39). Peter, on the day of Pentecost, said that
all who would repent and be baptized should "receive the gift of the
Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). Again he said, speaking of the Holy Ghost,
"Whom God hath given to them that obey Him" (Acts 5:32), that is, who
obey the gospel by believing in Jesus Christ. In Galatians 3:1-3 Paul
bases his entire argument on the fact that the Galatians had "received
the Spirit by the hearing of faith."
Never is there such a thing as a believer in Christ who had not
received the Holy Spirit, or one who had received Him otherwise than
through believing the Gospel.
As regards the strange modern idea that speaking in tongues is to be
sought as the "Bible-sign" of having received the Holy Spirit we would
point out that faith does not seek after a sign, but rests upon the
simple Word of God. Paul says, "For the Jews require a sign"; and it
was natural for them to do so; but not for those who are "justified by
The Lord Jesus said: "This is an evil generation, they seek a sign";
and again, "Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe" (John
4:48). The spirit of the Jews was manifested in the question, "What
sign showest thou, that we may see and believe thee?" (John 6:30).
These Scriptures surely do not encourage God’s saints to seek after a
sign. Moreover, the Lord did not say concerning His people that "by
their signs ye shall know them," but expressly "by their fruits ye
shall know them" (Matt. 7:20). And again, "By this shall all men know
that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
If those who have received the Holy Spirit are seen walking after the
Spirit, manifesting the love of the Spirit, and bringing forth the
fruit of the Spirit, there will be no need of any "signs" whereby they
may be distinguished.
Appeal is frequently made to the words of Mark 16:17,18, as if they
contained the promise that all that believe should be endowed with the
gift of tongues. But the words will bear no such interpretation. They
declare that certain signs, of which speaking with new tongues was one,
should follow them that believe. The Lord no more promised that all
believers should speak with tongues than He promised that all should
cast out devils, take up serpents, and drink poison without receiving
hurt. Speaking with tongues, therefore, is no more the "Bible sign" of
having received the Holy Spirit than is the casting out of devils, or
the taking up of serpents.
Moreover, we have only to read the 20th verse of the chapter to find
the complete fulfillment of the promise of verses 17 and 18: "And they
went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and
confirming the word with signs following."
This Scripture refutes "pentecostal" doctrine, for it speaks of "them
that believe"; whereas, according to that doctrine, speaking in tongues
is not a sign of believing, but of receiving the Spirit, which the
"pentecostals" hold is a distinct thing.
A Dangerous Delusion
We believe that the modern error regarding tongues, as made prominent
by those who call themselves "pentecostals," is one of the most
dangerous of these last days. Many true, earnest, and zealous children
of God have been deluded by it. The appeal it makes is very attractive
to saints who groan and sigh for something different from the shams and
dead formalities of religious Christendom. We have had it under
observation from the start. Its phenomena—ecstasies, transports,
prostrations, yielding to "the power," displaced personality, etc.—are
the very same as we had already become familiar with in our previous
investigations of hypnotism, spiritism, and other psychic and occult
phenomena. We know by personal observation some of the terrible
havoc—moral and spiritual—it has wrought. Most earnestly, therefore, do
we warn the beloved people of God against it.