How to Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues

There is as much or more confusion in the church today over the gift of tongues as about anything. The Bible has a lot to say about the spiritual gift of tongues. What the Bible says about tongues is not very often taught for some reason, either in mainstream or charismatic churches. Here are some Bible passages explained to help you better understand the gift of tongues and praying in tongues.


  1. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 1
    Know that Paul says that tongues will cease at some point:
    • Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, "Where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known." Here Paul lays out that prophesies, tongues and knowledge will end at some point, but when?
    • First he says, "We know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away." So he only mentions two of the three here in this statement. He mentions knowledge and prophesy but not tongues. "That which is perfect" that Paul is talking about has to be Heaven, because later he says that then we "shall see face to face." We didn’t see God face to face when the Bible was completed. So this is referring to when we get to Heaven, not the Bible being completed. So what part of what he says applies to tongues? When will tongues "be stilled" as he says?
  2. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 2
    Realize that tongues is primarily a gift for new believers: Paul goes on to say, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me." Some say that this statement applies to tongues. Yet, Paul did not directly state what in particular is to be put away as child-like.
    • Tongues are a gift that strengthens a believer in the early time of their faith for some, this was why most new believers in Acts received tongues as their first spiritual gift, but when we become mature we are to "put the ways of childhood (the new believer) behind" us. So some say that Paul is telling them that they will need to outgrow tongues. He says many times in chapter 14 that to prophesy is far better than to speak in tongues because prophecy edifies others and builds up the church more.
    • So what does becoming a man spiritually mean? It means to be able to eat spiritual steak and not just drink milk. When we fully understand more of who God is, Paul is/may be saying, we won’t need tongues, when we are mature. Tongues are for the new believer, the baby Christian, but as we grow in our walk we should be able to have the gift of teaching or preaching in order to instruct others, etc. Everyone can agree that Paul says "where there are tongues, they will be stilled and where there is knowledge, it will pass away." So when will tongues be stilled and when will knowledge cease? Not in heaven. Not when the Bible was completed. It is still a gift for today. But Paul is saying, it is for the new believer. Tongues is something that encourages people and nurtures their faith, when they are still at the beginning of their faith. But it says that somethings are set aside as we come into maturity as a Christian.
  3. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 3
    Understand that tongues are unintelligible to others, and so do not edify them:
    • Paul makes the point that when someone speaks in tongues "no one understands them; they utter mysteries." So is this a good thing? No, for unless it is interpreted, no others can be edified by anything that is said in a tongue? 1 Corinthians 14:11 says, "If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church."
    • Paul is saying here that tongues, alone, generally do not build up the church. Yes! The person oneself may be edified, as Paul says, "Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God," so it could be seen as a good self-edifying time of prayer to God. But people in the church cannot be edified unless the tongue is interpreted. It may make someone feel closer to God when they speak in tongues, but it will not make anyone else feel closer to God unless the tongue is interpreted.
  4. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 4
    See clearly that there are strict guidelines for how tongues should function in a church service:
    • Here is how Paul says tongues are to function in any public setting where believers are gathered together, "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 to God." Why? Because no one else understands what is being said in the tongue. Therefore, it cannot and does not edify any other person unless it is interpreted.
    • Also note that he says only two or "at the most three" people are to speak in a tongue in public worship. In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul says, "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." So, it doesn’t matter, if someone is able to speak in the tongues of angels, but does so without love for others. If they do not respect others in using their gift of tongues, Paul says that they become only "a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."
    • Neither of those are a good or necessary thing. If a cymbal is used in an orchestra in time and rhythm, it sounds good. But if it is randomly clanged for no reason at all, that is not good. That is the picture Paul is trying to paint. What purpose does random tongues speaking serve? Tongues does not serve a purpose in the church unless it is in rhythm and order with the service. Paul is saying it becomes a distraction, if it is not done in love, if it is random.
    • So how can the gift of tongues be done in love in the church -- only when the tongues are quickly interpreted so that everyone can know what is being said. Amen. Paul says, "Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air." To speak in tongues without an interpreter does not promote fellowship but rather it can isolate people.
  5. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 5
    Understand that tongues can sometimes cause dis-unity rather than unity:
    • Here is something very, very key to consider, why did God confuse the language of the people at the tower of Babble? He confused their languages so that they could NOT have fellowship with each other. He caused them all to speak a different language so that they would not be united enough to build the tower that they were trying to build.
    • So for everyone to be speaking in a different language divides people. It does not promote unity. Overall, does the gift of tongues in public worship unite the church or dis-unify the church? Paul is saying that it can dis-unify the church. Why? Because if no one knows what you are saying, how can you have fellowship with them? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:16, "When you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else…say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying -- Yes! -- as that is the problem with uninterpreted tongues.
    • To practice the gift of tongues in public worship changes the time of gathering together from a community meeting and time of fellowship to a singular event that is between you and God. No one else understands what the speaker is saying, unless it is interpreted, so what is the point? In community worship, speaking in tongues is pointless unless it is interpreted. That is why Paul says tongues need to be interpreted, if they are used in the church.
    • Paul says, "Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church." Is it good to edify yourself -- Yes! -- but, when Christians gather together the focus needs to be on edifying the other Christians, not on yourself. We need to think of how we can bless the other people, not just how we can build ourselves up.
  6. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 6
    Consider whether you use your spiritual gifts in a loving way or not:
    • 1 Corinthians 13, also known as "the love chapter, is sandwiched in between chapter 12 and 14 where Paul talks about tongues and spiritual gifts. Why did he do that? Paul did that for a reason. At the end of chapter 12 Paul says, "Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way." So what is the more excellent way? Love.
    • Paul is saying spiritual gifts are great, but love is better. If someone has every single spiritual gift on the list, but doesn’t have love, then he/she has nothing. Love should be the highest goal for the Christian, not spiritual gifts.
    • Often times spiritual gifts can actually even become an idol. People start to worship the spiritual gift rather than God. That might happen in some churches regarding the gift of tongues.
  7. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 7
    See whether what Paul says about love can generally apply to the gift of tongues:
    • In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. " Think of this passage in the context of tongues.
    • Are tongues patient? Not generally in how they are practiced. To be patient would be to talk in turn, not everyone speaking at once.
    • Are tongues kind? If someone degrades someone else or says that they are not Christian because they don't have the gift of tongues no, that is definitely not kind or loving to other believers!
    • Do tongues cause envy? Usually the reason why people speak in tongues in church is to show how "spiritual" they are. In essence, they want other people in the church to acknowledge them because of their gift of tongues.
    • Do tongues lead to boasting -- Yes! -- if it becomes like a super power that the Christian who has it brags about to the ones who don’t have it. This is not loving and being in fellowship with other believers.
    • Do tongues make some people proud -- Yes!, but why -- because it really is a great privilege to instantly know another language without having to learn it or study it for years. It takes most people 3 years to learn a new language, on average, but with the gift of tongues, you can bypass all that effort. But is this spiritual gift given to make ourselves more prideful or to boost our ego? No. Of course not. That is never why spiritual gifts are given. They are given to us so that mature Christians can edify one another. Period.
  8. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 8
    Know that spiritual gifts are always given to build up the church and to make one a better witness for Christ.
    • Do tongues build up others or do they sometimes dishonor others? Anytime that you are leaving other people out for any reason, that dishonors them. Are tongues self-seeking? Often times yes. If people are doing it to appear more spiritual, that is self-seeking. If they do it to get the praises of man, that is self-seeking, yes. Are some tongues speakers easily angered? If you tell them their tongue has to be interpreted or they must remain silent in any public setting, yes that can anger people with the gift of tongues. But these are the rules Paul lays out that we are all supposed to follow. These are not just man made rules that tongues must be interpreted.
  9. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 9
    See that anyone who speaks in a tongue needs to submit to the Bible's guidelines for how to use the gift:
    • In 1 Corinthians 14:37 Paul says, "If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of THE LORD." So Paul is saying essentially, "This is not just me writing this. These are not just my opinions. These are 'the commandments of the Lord.' " As in everything he just said about gifts of the Holy Spirit including tongues is on the same level as the 10 Commandments. So they need to be taken very literally and very seriously.
  10. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 10
    Notice that sometimes tongues can be divisive and even demonic:
    • Why does Paul say later in Chapter 13, "Love does not delight in evil?" How does that relate to spiritual gifts or tongues? Well, evil would be any kind of dissension in the body of Christ. Disagreeing on the gifts of the Holy Spirit can cause dissension. So, that is not good. Also, some have said that they have heard tongues that were demonically inspired rather than God inspired. We would hope that people could discern the difference, but it is not always possible, such as when the fruit of speaker is not yet known by the hearers.
    • Regardless of whether someone can speak in tongues or not, if the tongue is from Satan, we should not delight in it at all, obviously. There are counterfeit tongues. Satan can give people a counterfeit gift of tongues. In many other religions around the world people are also able to speak in tongues. Their gift of tongues is not from God though, but from Satan.
    • Tongues would always need to be interpreted, so that we can know for sure whether what is being said is from God or not -- as in to make sure it's not from Satan.
  11. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 11
    See that we need to never, ever push the gift of tongues on anyone:
    • Love "always protects?" In regard to tongues, we need to protect others from possibly getting a demonically inspired gift of tongues. To push people to speak in tongues might lead them without knowing it to demonic tongues.
    • If the Holy Spirit wants to give someone the gift of tongues, He will. We don’t need to force it at all. It will be an easy thing to do, if God really wants you to do it. But to force it can actually cause Satan to give you a counterfeit gift.
    • To desire tongues more than we desire following Christ is totally out of line. The Spirit of God will say, "Jesus Christ is Lord of all." Yes? (1 Corinthians 12:3). So, we need to be careful. That is "whatever you are doing, do it as unto The Lord," as you are guided by the Bible and the Holy Spirit. If you have the mind of Christ then agreeing together is important, not doubting. Expressing disagreement with the clear Word of God in the Bible is dissension. You must follow Jesus, not the gifts or words of a man or woman who is not speaking the Gospel with Love.
    • Paul says, "Love always trusts." Then you will trust that a true servant of the Lord is saying good things to you or about you, even if you can’t hear it or understand what he/she is saying, yes? So, if someone prays for someone in a tongue, how can the other person know and trust that what is being said is good? One cannot for sure know that what is being said is good, by the unknown words that are spoken. So you will know them by their fruits, and then your trust is placed in the Lord, not in the flesh.
    • You trust by Love, and then do not cause dissension. Trust the Lord's servant as you trust the Lord. Who is a true servant of the Lord? A servant must be consistently proclaiming The Truth including: Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, came as God in the flesh, died and was raised again to life as Lord and Savior of all. And we must repent and be born again by receiving Salvation "in His name by grace, through faith not of oneself, not of works, it is the gift of God,... saved unto good works that God foreordained that we should do them" (Ephesians 2:8--10). And we actively love, speak well of, and forgive one another, and we take communion in remembrance of Jesus Christ, and we baptize believers; and say that Jesus is now living forever, always making intercession for us and is our soon coming King. As long as that person is agreeing with and speaking that kind of Gospel, under authority of God's word in the Bible presented accurately, then Trust the servant of the Gospel as unto the Lord.
  12. Image titled Biblically Understand the Gift of Speaking in Tongues Step 12
    See that we need to always use caution with the gift of tongues:
    • In any use of tongues we need to be cautious. It might be exciting for some. It can be used to witness to people we would not have otherwise been able to witness to. It can draw someone closer to God. But any public setting, the worshipers and service need to be controlled and moderated by a pastor or other minister. We need to always, always exercise the gift with self-control.
    • In 1 Corinthians 14:32 Paul says, "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." This means we should be able to control any spiritual gift that we have. A spiritual gift should never cause us to be out of control, out of order -- or to go against the Bible.
    • Paul goes on to say, "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace." Amen! Other translations say, "God is a God of order, not disorder." So, anything that causes disorder or confusion is not from God, or for sure God does not approve of it. Always remember to seek agreement, to be in one accord.

Article Info

Categories: Bibles | Language Nuances