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This question regards those who support and participate in the modern 'speaking in tongues' and asks what their answer would be regarding the emphasis of scripture.

Note that it is not a matter of 'cessation' (or not). It is a matter of emphasis.


There is but one mention of tongues in the four gospel accounts, namely in Mark 16:17. Although I do not, many do dispute the acceptance of the last sixteen verses of Mark into the canon of scripture so I will pass over that single text as I assume so few would bring it up in answer to my question, that it would be regarded as moot.

Acts

There are two mentions in Acts which specifically refer to the apostles speaking in known foreign languages such that persons from other nations, attending the event, were able to understand those foreign languages.

Then there are two mentions more, both of specific and special occasions, one being the matter of gentiles receiving the gospel, 10:46, and then the matter of twelve receiving the gospel who had not (yet) heard of the Holy Spirit, 19:6. In neither case is it stated what, exactly, the 'tongues' were.

These four occasions are the only documented record we have of people actually speaking in tongues and they are all special and specific occurrences upon which the tongues were a sign - a signification.

1 Corinthians

Paul mentions tongues twenty one times in first Corinthians (never in second Corinthians) and his quest is to regulate the matter, as it appears to have got out of hand and to have become disorderly, so he corrects the situation and applies rules.

Only if an interpreter is present can anyone speak in an unknown tongue. Paul does not comment on the origin or the kind of the tongue in question. He simply regulates all future utterances - of any kind - in the assembly, in such a way that all hearers, on every occasion, must be informed, intelligently - in their own mother tongue - of what is uttered at the gathering, so that all may be edified in an understandable way.

Elsewhere

There is no other mention that I can find of such occurrences in the Greek scriptures.

Paul does not mention the subject again to the Corinthians in his second epistle and he never mentions it in any other epistle to any other group or church. (From a purely forensic point of view, this would be circumstancial evidence that only the Corinthians were practising the procedure.)

Paul fails to mention the subject in his epistles, shortly before his death, when he instructs the younger ministers, Timothy and Titus, regarding ministerial conduct, teaching of doctrine, and matters of church government.

John fails to mention tongues in any of his four books. These books are clearly written at a later stage, clearly complete the canon of scripture and clearly contain all that is relevant to the remainder of the Church Age, prior to the Lord's return.

Peter never makes mention of tongues.

James never refers to them.

Jude, likewise.

Nor does the writer to the Hebrews, whoever that author may be.

Matthew makes no historical record in his gospel account.

Luke, likewise, in his gospel account.


If tongues were as central (1) a feature of church activity as some suggest, if tongues are an indication of the presence of the Holy Spirit on every occasion, if tongues are essential to the life of the church, if tongues are also essential to the edification and sound spiritual health of every single believer in the body of Christ . . . . .

. . . then why do we see just four mentions in Acts on special occasions when a sign was necessary to mark a particular event, and why do we see just a chapter, or so, and that only when Paul regulates a matter that had got out of hand ?

Why is there silence from every other book and from every other author ?

Leaving aside the matter of 'cessation' that one might therefore expect that tongues - being a sign, given at a specific juncture in the inauguration of the New Testament - had ceased altogether, is it not questionable that there is a matter of emphasis to be considered ?

To be even more plain, is there not a justifiable question of imbalance with regard to the modern emphasis on the speaking of tongues ?

What is the response of those who participate in the speaking in tongues ?


Please note that I wish to read responses from persons who actively do speak in tongues, as to their thinking regarding the subject ; or to read references to those persons.

I am not looking to read theoretical assumptions from persons who do not actively practice the technique.


Please further note that my research was from Young's Analytical Concordance and covered every occurrence of the word tongue/tongues. It could be that this subject is alluded to in different words which I have not listed.

Also, I have deliberately not referred to the Old Testament and particularly not to prophetic passages, which require specific interpretations, e.g. Isaiah 28:11.

I am interested in keeping the inquiry (and the response) within the compass of that outlined above.


(1) This word added as an edit after the comment (below).

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    +1 best presentation I have read of the argument against the centrality of praying in tongues in some charismatic groups Aug 12 at 17:17
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    @depperm Baptism is not a 'belief' it is an ordinance (which can be over-emphasised to the point where people think that by water application, souls may be automatically saved). The point about tongues is the emphasis : four mentions in very specific contexts, then one chapter of corrective management which keeps the matter in its place.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 12 at 18:41
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    +1 powerful presentation Aug 13 at 7:20
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    Using the same logic, couldn't one make a case against the concept of being "born again," as that phrase is used only in Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus? Yet the entire evangelical movement is based on the goal of getting everyone born again.
    – RobJarvis
    Aug 13 at 13:30
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    @RobJarvis anagennao 'born again ' paragennesis 'born anew' ; born anothen (born from above) and 'born of God' are all multiple expressions scattered throughout scripture. That doctrine is certainly not 'used only in [one] conversation'. Not at all. There is far more emphasis of that doctrine than three occasions in scripture.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 13 at 15:13
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I believe Zac Poonen is a good candidate to answer this question. There are also videos on YouTube of him sharing his testimony and views on the gift of tongues (e.g. 1, 2, 3). Below a (rather lengthy) quote from his article:

The True And The Counterfeit

There is a certain amount of mystery about the gift of tongues, as all those who have received the gift will acknowledge - if they are honest. We do not know everything about it. We know only in part (1 Cor.13:12).

As one who has spoken in tongues for the past 45 years, let me add a few words concerning what I presently understand about the gift, from my own experience.

When a person speaks in tongues, his spirit (heart) speaks forth syllables (directly from his heart to his mouth, bypassing his mind) and thus he pours out whatever is in his heart to God - whether that be an overflow of joy or a burden caused by sorrow or discouragement. Thus the pressure on his heart is relieved. That is how he is 'edified'

As we saw earlier in Acts 2:4, when anyone speaks in tongues, it is the person himself who speaks, and not the Holy Spirit. The believer forms the syllables himself, just as he does when speaking in a known language. The only difference is that now, he does NOT use a known language to pray, but concentrating on the Lord, speaks forth syllables with his mouth, straight from his heart, bypassing his mind - knowing that God understands the longings and pressures in his heart, even if he cannot understand himself what he is saying.

Unburdening himself like that in moments of pressure helps a believer, especially if his mind is too tired to pray in a known language. We may not be able to explain how this works, but it does.

Let us now look at the gift of interpretation: As we have already seen, interpretation of a tongue is equivalent to prophesying. So this gift will usually be given by the Spirit to one who has the gift of prophecy as well.

In a church-meeting, if someone speaks in a tongue, one of those having the gift of prophecy (usually one of the elders), if he is walking in the light of God, will find a thought being impressed on his mind, if the "tongue" is genuinely from God. He speaks forth that thought in his own words - for it is not a translation, but an interpretation.

If another elder (who also has the gift of interpretation) had interpreted the "tongue", the interpretation would have been the same (although couched in that elder's own words). This would be the case if both elders were in perfect touch with the Lord.

Since no revelation from God can contradict what is written in the Bible, the interpretation will be in accordance with Scripture - just like all true prophecy will also be in line with the Scriptures.

Some who are sceptical of spiritual gifts have asked this question: If a "tongue" that was interpreted in a meeting, is copied on to a tape and someone else (with the gift of interpretation) in another p lace is asked to interpret it, will the interpretation be the same as the first one? The answer is: It should be, if both interpreters had a perfect understanding of the mind of the Lord. If the interpretation is different in content,(and not just in words), that would only indicate that one or both interpreters are not in such perfect touch with the Lord as to understand His mind perfectly. That is not abnormal, because no believer in the world is in such perfect touch with the Lord as to know His mind perfectly.

The following example will prove this fact beyond any doubt: Suppose you have to speak in a meeting and you have a particular message on your heart which you feel is the burden of the Lord for that meeting. Then, if you are unable to be at that meeting and someone else speaks in your stead, strictly speaking, he should give the same message as you had on your heart (even if it be in his own words). If that brother doesn't give the same message as you had on your heart, it would indicate that one of you did not have a perfect understanding of the Lord's mind for that meeting. So we see that believers could fail such a test even when giving a message in a known language.

That's why the Bible tells us to judge even a prophet's message (1 Cor.14:29). Similarly, we should judge, all messages in "tongues" and their "interpretations". What should we judge in such cases? Just this: Whether our spirit witnesses that the utterance (prophecy, tongues or interpretation) was Scriptural (and from the Lord) or not.

We are warned (in 1 John 4:1) not to believe every spirit but to "test the spirits whether they are of God". So every time, we hear "tongues" or interpretation in public, we must test it in our spirits. Many of the "supernatural utterances" we hear may not be from God. We must always reject a prophecy (or any part of it), a "tongue", or an interpretation, if we feel uneasy about it in our spirits, for any reason.

It is the unquestioning acceptance of everything supernatural and abnormal that has brought tremendous confusion into Christendom in this century - and tremendous dishonor to the Lord's Name as well.

Notice these facts in all instances of speaking in tongues in "Acts":

(a) In every case, the speaking in tongues was spontaneous;
(b) In every case, all spoke in tongues - there were no exceptions;
(c) In every case, there was no coaching or urging or instruction given on how to speak in tongues;

Today however, in most places, none of the above characteristics are found. Only where the gift of tongues is spontaneously received without any coaching, can we conclude that it could be genuine.

Of all the "speaking in tongues" that I have heard, my spirit has borne witness to only a small percentage of it as genuine. Most of the rest I have felt was an attempt to imitate the gift - either to be accepted by others in a group or to impress them. A small percentage could even be of demonic origin. My observations are based on the fruit and the results that I have seen in the lives of many people in many lands. Speaking and singing in tongues often appears to be a form of "exhibitionism" in many churches - and exhibitionism is characteristic of little children.

It is also a well-established fact that, at this present time, the maximum exploitation of believers for financial gain is practised by those preachers and pastors who claim to "speak in tongues". Most of the cults in the 20th century have also developed from tongue-speaking groups.

My advice to all believers therefore is: "Avoid churches that major on the gifts of tongues and healing - because many of them go to dangerous extremes and usually don't have spiritually-minded leaders. Seek instead for fellowship with a church that emphasises holiness and disciple-making primarily,that accepts the genuine gift of tongues and that does not covet your money or seek to control your life."

Let me also emphasise that we need to use our mind (renewed by the Holy Spirit) if we are to understand God's will and His Word aright (Rom.12:2). Many believers tend to despise their minds. Our mind is to be like a wife. She should not be the head of the home. But she should not be killed either!! Jesus is our husband and head. Our mind should be submissive to Him through our heart.

In a nutshell then, here is a bit of sane advice on "tongues":

"If God gives you the gift of tongues, receive it and exercise it. Speak forth the syllables from your heart to God when you are alone with Him - anywhere - and especially when your heart is under pressure (through discouragement) or overflowing with joy. If you don't have the gift, don't worry about it. But be open to the Lord to receive it, at all times. Don't be against it and don't get into a frenzy to receive it. God will give it to you, if He wants you to have it, without any frenzy on your part. At the same time, don't believe that everything you see and hear in Christendom is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Test everything. Use your God-given faculties of discernment. If you don't have the gift of tongues, don't consider yourself inferior to those who have it. And if you do have the gift, don't imagine that it makes you spiritual or superior to those who don't have it. (Paul and the Corinthian Christians both spoke in tongues. But Paul was a spiritual giant, while the Corinthians were carnal!!)."

What Is Absolutely Essential

What is absolutely essential for all of us is to be endued with the Holy Spirit's power. It is power, and not speaking in tongues that is the evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).

The Holy Spirit is to be received by faith (Jn.7:37-39), just as we received the forgiveness of our sins - on the basis of Christ's merit alone, and not on our own merit. We do not receive the Gift of the Spirit by fasting or praying or by any other work. He is a Gift (Acts 2:38).

We ask and receive - immediately by faith - and go forth believing in God's promise that He gives the Holy Spirit more readily to those who ask Him,than any earthly father would give food to a hungry son (Lk.11:13). If we are unsure about having received the Spirit, we can ask God to give us an assurance. He will not deny us such an assurance.

But we need to be filled with the Spirit continually (because we are leaky vessels - Eph.5:18), just like we need to be forgiven continually (because we sin - often without knowing it - Matt.6:12).

The devotion of our heart to Christ is far more important than our speaking in tongues."Do you love Me more than everything else?", was our Lord's question to Peter, before commissioning him for His service. Arguments about "speaking in tongues" are therefore a diversion arranged by Satan to sidetrack believers from total devotion to Christ.

The greatest Christians in the world have been those who loved the Lord Jesus supremely - whether they spoke in tongues or not. Some like Peter, James, John and Paul spoke in tongues. Others like John Wesley, Charles Finney, D.L.Moody, A.B.Simpson, William Booth, C.T.Studd and Watchman Nee never spoke in tongues (as far as we know). But they all received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, they all loved the Lord with all their hearts and they ALL walked the way of the cross. These truths were central in their lives. Other things were secondary.

Let us follow their example and we won't go wrong..

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

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    1. This answer is stating that a person's thoughts (his 'heart') are his own (not an angel's, not the Holy Spirit's, not God's, not heaven's) and - for some unexplained reason this seems to bypass the vocal part of his brain and he utters 'syllables'. This does not accord with the four texts of scripture stated above. 2. This answer claims that 'Peter, James, John and Paul' spoke in tongues : the only known occurrence was when the first three spoke known languages on the day of Pentecost (without interpretation) and hearers understood those languages, they being words in their mother tongue.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 13 at 8:12
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    Poonen has been very sharp in his critique of today's free church, especially its charismatic part. Zac Poonen Wikipedia.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 13 at 8:42
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    @NigelJ - Yet he speaks in tongues, as requested in the question. He is against the excesses of 'hyper-charismatics', but he's a continuationist nonetheless. Aug 13 at 8:48
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    As a tongue-talking Christian, the only critique I would have of Poonen's conclusions is that, scripturally, it is the Spirit who "gives the utterance"—in other words, yes, the person's spirit (or heart) is praying, but it should be emphasized that the born-again spirit of a person is in full unity and agreement with the Holy Spirit, who provides the specific words to express the human spirit's thoughts and feelings.
    – RobJarvis
    Aug 13 at 13:38
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    @RobJarvis So the 'syllables' uttered are (you say) words from the Holy Spirit, not from the mind or heart of the speaker ? For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say. Luke 12:12. Then he gives words that no-one can understand (unless an interpreter be present) ? ? ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 13 at 15:16
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The question of emphasis

The OP's question is about the emphasis placed on tongues by some Pentecostal and Charismatic groups, considering the relative paucity of scriptural occurrences of the specific term "tongues." I would like to address that idea specifically.

In response, I don't believe that frequency of use in Scripture is a valid rubric for emphasis in worship. If we think about other words in Scripture and whether or not most Protestant denominations emphasize those doctrines or topics, the disparity should be obvious.

For example, a quick trip into Strong's Exhaustive Concordance shows that the words "heaven" and "heavens" combined occur some 715 times in the KJV. Now, some of those references are to the atmospheric heavens (what we call the "sky"), some are for the celestial heavens, while many refer to the domain of God's throne. Still others in the gospels—Matthew especially—are part of the phrase "kingdom of heaven," referring to God's rule and reign either in the lives of the believer or in the world to come. Even discounting the atmospheric and celestial references, there remain hundreds of references to either God's abode or the specific rule and reign of God on earth. Now, following the idea that frequency in Scripture should equate to emphasis in church, I would expect to hear a great deal more about Heaven and Kingdom living and principles than I actually do. (Now, if you are thinking, "Well, my church does emphasize those things," I say good, but I am speaking about the totality of Protestantism, not just one denomination or church group.)

Let's consider another example: the Sabbath. Aside from the Seventh Day Adventists and some Messianic groups, I daresay not many denominations or churches place great emphasis or spend much time talking about the Sabbath. Yet Strong's reveals 172 mentions of Sabbath/Sabbaths in the KJV. Surely we should be emphasizing the Sabbath more than tongues or many other doctrines that have lesser representation (by word count) in Scripture.

In fact, I don't know of any church group or denomination that uses the frequency of a word or doctrine to determine the emphasis they place on that doctrine in their teachings. Instead, I see emphasis as being based on something else entirely.

Emphasis is based on culture and history

If you consider church history during and since the Protestant Reformation, you will see many denominational groups formed when a portion of one group began to disagree with their current leadership with regard to one or more doctrinal issues. (I know I'm oversimplifying, but can we agree that this has happened too often to discount?) The resulting splinter group would form its own denomination, which would then tend to emphasize the issue or issues that caused the split to begin with.  Protestant denominations commonly acknowledge the centrality of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet it tends to be the areas of difference that often end up being emphasized. This is history and culture at work—the history of that particular denomination and the culture in which its participants were raised. The anti-papal culture of the Seventh-Day Adventists drips from every page of their eschatology. The Reformation cry of "Sola Scriptura" echoes in every Presbyterian sermon. And "being baptized in the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues" is interwoven into the culture of American Pentecostalism. To the extent that there is any scriptural evidence for these positions (or any other doctrinal positions), there will be groups who emphasize them regardless of how great or how small that evidence is.

For me, as a Charismatic Christian, the evidence for tongues and the instruction for the proper use of this gift in Scripture is sufficient for me to accept it. I do not emphasize it as many do, but I understand and sympathize with the motivations of those who do.

The caveat I have with regard to emphasizing tongues is that other gifts of the Spirit (and indeed the Holy Spirit Himself) tend to get short shrift in doctrine and practice by those who are preoccupied with speaking in tongues. This applies to those who are against speaking in tongues as well as those who are for it. Emphasis works both ways.

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