By Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
November 20, 2015
The following is an exhaustive study of every possible biblical text relating to Pentecostal tongues.
Isaiah 28:9 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
These are the only texts in the entire O.T. which refer to the study of tongues. They compare with Hebrews 5:12-13 which mocks spiritually infant Christians who will not mature; they refuse to learn and apply the Word of God. In Isaiah 28:1-8 the drunkards of Ephraim (Israel) were beyond help. Hope was only in the weaned children.
Isaiah 28:10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
In Hebrews 6:1 God told the immature Christians of 5:12-13 that they needed to go beyond baby-learning techniques and grow up spiritually: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection (spiritual maturity); not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.” This is not much different from what Isaiah told unbelieving Israel.
Isaiah 28:11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. [Quoted in 1 Corinthians 14:21.)
After northern Israel would go into Assyrian captivity, they would be told what to do in a pagan language; this was a sign of their unbelief. It refers to a known language. It is not a prophecy of speaking in a language known only to the Holy Spirit. Read the entire chapter carefully for context.
Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Whereas the greatest moment in the history of the earth was resurrection Sunday, the greatest moment for the Church was its beginning on Pentecost Sunday. This was a unique, once in history, event. If there was an unbelief remaining among the 120 (1:15), the gift of speaking in tongues removed it.
Acts 2:5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
These non-Christian unbelieving Jews were from the diaspora, the scattered ones, who left northern Israel since 722 B. C. and southern Judah since 586 B. C. Note: Evan Assyria occupied all but the Jerusalem environs.
Acts 2:6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
Acts 2:7 And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans?
Acts 2:8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
This miracle was the gift of hearing in tongues. The 120 Galileans (1:15) spoke their native Aramaic language and were heard by the multitude in their own languages.
Acts 2:9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
Acts 2:10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
Acts 2:11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our
tongues the wonderful works of God.
THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: A minimum of 16 known languages are listed here by inspiration of the Holy Spirit for a very good reason. God wanted there to be absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the tongues were NOT an unknown language of the Holy Spirit, but they were known tongues!!!
Acts 2:16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
Acts 2:17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
Acts 2:18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
Acts 2:17-18 are almost identical to the O. T. prophecy of Joel 2:28-29. Tongues are not mentioned. If tongues were to be such an important part of the New Covenant, they should have been mentioned in this prophecy of Pentecost.
Conclusion: This is the miracle of Pentecost. Any Christian movement which incorporates the name “Pentecost” in its theology of tongues (to be honest to God’s Word) MUST get its definition and description of “tongues” from Acts 2:4-11. It is wrong to define modern “tongues” as an individual prayer language of the Holy Spirit while calling it the Pentecost experience.
Acts 10:44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
This was an even greater miracle than that of Pentecost where the throng was Hebrews of the diaspora. Here the gift fell upon Gentiles who heard the Word. It was a sign to unbelievers to encourage them to become believers (Isa 28:11-12; 1 Cor 14:22).
Acts 10:45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 10:46a For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. …
Believing Hebrews who probably had also experienced Pentecost were also astonished because the miracle they had witness among only Hebrews was now being repeated among uncircumcised Gentiles. To them it was unthinkable that God would save Gentiles. Their unbelief concerning the salvation of Gentiles was changed to belief.
Acts 10:46b-47 Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
Like the events of Pentecost, this was a once-in-history event because God had clearly shown the Hebrews that He also would save Gentiles. It was the same gift of speaking and hearing in other known languages as seen at Pentecost! Again, Pentecostals who interpret this as the unknown language of the Holy Spirit completely ignore the context of Pentecost.
Acts 11:15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
Acts 15:16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
Acts 15:17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
While defending Paul’s conversions of Gentile at the first Jerusalem Church Council, Peter gave his testimony that the Gentiles of Cornelius house (Acts 10) experienced the same identical event as that of the day of Pentecost. Again, this was known languages with no mention of a secret prayer language of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 18:24 to 19:9 Apollos of Alexandria
Having missed Pentecost and only being baptized by John the Baptist, Apollos was encouraged to believe in the indwelling Holy Spirit when he spoke in tongues. This was the third (and final) example in Acts of the purpose of known tongues being a sign to those who believe not (Isa 28:11-12).
Paul is speaking specifically about spiritual gifts. It is incredible that charismatics teach that the five instances of tongues in Acts were all known languages, but tongue in First Corinthians include a personal prayer language which is never mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.
1 Co 12:7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
Every believer has the “gift” “which is” the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The Spirit then gives “gifts.”
1 Cor 12:8-10 spiritual gifts are listed: (1) word of wisdom, (2) word of knowledge, (3) faith, (4) gift of healing, (5) miracles, (6) prophecy, (6) discerning of spirits, (7) tongues, (8) the interpretation of tongues.
The least important gifts in this list are tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
1 Cor 12:11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
1 Cor 12:12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
1 Cor 12:18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
1 Cor 12:22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
The Spirit divides the gifts to every man. Every man does not have the gift of tongues. Members have different gifts.
1 Cor 12:25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
1 Cor 12:26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
It is wrong to treat members in the church who do not speak in tongues as inferior to those who do speak in tongues.
1 Cor 12:28-30 list of gifted persons in the church
(1) apostles, (2) prophets, (3) teachers, (4) miracle workers, (5) gifts of healing, (6) gifts of helping others, (7) gifts of leadership (governments), (8) gifts of tongues
1 Cor 12:29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
1 Cor 12:30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
Notice again that tongues is also at the bottom of this list. Again important gifted persons are those who speak in tongues.
1 Cor 12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.
Verse 31 introduces First Corinthians 13 as its context.
1 Cor 13:8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
Paul wrote around AD52 that there was coming a time in which “prophecies shall fail, tongues shall cease and knowledge shall vanish away.” He did not tell us specifically when this would occur.
1 Cor 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
This must refer to that knowledge God wants the believer to have in order to live a sanctified life. The gifts of special knowledge and prophesying (speaking previously unrevealed truth) were only “partial” gifts awaiting a full revelation.
1 Cor 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
This is the key concerning when partial gifts would end. When the perfect (mature, grown-up) knowledge of God’s will for our lives is available, then partial gifts will no longer be needed. Some charismatics teach that this occurs at the second coming. If that were true, we would have to conclude that other non-partial gifts would end at the same time (such as miracles and healings) and there would be no difference.
1 Cor 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Paul does not change the subject; he was explaining why partial gifts must end. He compares the church’s need for partial gifts to the need of children for immature things until they matured; compare them to a child’s stroller, high chair and teething rings.
1 Cor 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Compare 2 Cor 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
The more believers learn of the “glory of the Lord,” the more mature they will become (“changed into the same image). This can and should occur long before the second coming. The key to “when” partial gifts of special knowledge, prophecy and tongues will fail, cease and vanish away is in this verse. Children who depend upon their childhood crutches need special guidance from more mature Christians until they are capable of doing grown-up things for themselves. Then partial gifts will end.
In Hebrews 5:6-11 Paul wanted to explain the high priesthood of Jesus by comparing Him to Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. In 5:12 (1) They should have matured enough in their Christian faith that they would have been teachers. (2) Instead they were still only spiritual children and needed to go back to the beginning in learning the things of God. (3) They needed milk as children and not solid food of more difficult doctrine. In other words they still needed the crutches of partial gifts (special knowledge, prophesying and tongues).
Hebrews 5:13 says “For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.” In other words, if you are still requiring partial gifts to know God’s will, then you are unskillful in using God’s written Word of righteousness.
Hebrews 5:14 says “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” In other words, in order to comprehend deeper doctrines (such as Melchizedek), you must have matured, reached full age, through using God’s Word in spiritual exercise (growth and witnessing).
1 Cor 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Paul has a very good reason for saying “now abides” He fully realizes that faith, hope and love will remain when partial gifts of special knowledge, prophecy and tongues will no longer exist in the church. First Corinthians 14 must be interpreted in the context of 13:8-13, especially verse 13.
Non-charismatic scholars generally interpret “that which is perfect” to be a reference to believers who possess the entire Word of God including the New Testament which was available around A.D. 100. Since everything God wants His church to know about His will is now found in the written Word, there is no need to the gifts of special knowledge, prophesying and tongues..
Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastor and teachers [pastor-teachers].
Ephesians 4:12 For the perfecting [equipping] of the saints for the work of the ministry [and] for the edifying [building up] of the body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [mature] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. [Greek: teleion]
Ephesians 4:14 [In order] that we henceforth be no more children, tosses to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine..."
In Ephesians 4, first, apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers were given to the Church to "equip" the "saints." The apostles "equipped" the early Church by giving their eyewitness knowledge of Jesus. The prophets "equipped" the early Church with special knowledge of Christ's Person, redemption, protection and return.
Second, the "saints" would then "do the work of the ministry" and "edify, or build up" the Church. Third, this work of the saints would continue UNTIL the Church reached unity of faith, unity about Christ and maturity, that is, spiritual “perfection.” Afterwards the Church would not be as children.
First Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 4 use similar wording:
"knowledge" (13:8) c.f. "knowledge of the Son of God" (4:13);
"child," (13:11) c.f. "no more children" (4:14);
"when I became a man" (13:11) c.f. “unto a perfect man" (4:13);
end partial knowledge and prophecy (13:9,10) c.f. no longer "children tossed to and fro." (4:14).
When will the "partial" gifts of prophecy, tongues, and special knowledge end? For most, they ended gradually as the full knowledge about Christ and the New Covenant became available through the written gospels and epistles during the first centuries. For those who have no (written) full instruction, they are still necessary for partial revelation of God's will. Such is the difference between "milk" and "solid food," and between "childish things" and "maturity."
1 Cor 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
Until “that which is perfect is come,” believers should desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesying (teaching new things about the will of God).
1 Cor 14:2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. [Compare 14:13-14.]
This is admittedly the most controversial and divisive verse between conservative evangelical Christians today which separates charismatics from non-charismatics.
(1) If it refers to a prayer language of the Holy Spirit and personal private prayer, then it must be pointed out that such is found nowhere else in Holy Scripture. The Bible repeats that which is important many times.
(2) If it refers to the tongues experienced in Acts 2, 10, 11 and 19, then it must only refer to known languages
1 Cor 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
The purpose of all spiritual gifts is to edify (build up) the church and not to build up self; they are for the body, the group-unit. Until the early church had the complete Word in its hands, it needed all of the special knowledge possible.
1 Cor 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
This text is to be understood as a negative false use of tongues. Self is to be edified (built up) by studying and applying the Word of God (Heb 5:12-13).
1 Cor 14:5a I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied:
Paul is speaking comparatively. He knew that each believer had a different gift, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (12:7). Tongues are listed last as the least important gift. If there were a gift for every believer, it would be the gift of prophesying and not tongues.
1 Cor 14:5b …for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
This is a very important text most often abused by charismatics. “If you prefer the gift of tongues, then you must interpret what you say in that language.” “If you do not interpret, then the church is not edified and you are violating the purpose of gifts. This appears to imply that tongues were known foreign languages which the speaker could interpret.
1 Cor 14:6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
If the gift of speaking in languages unknown to the hearers is not accompanied by special revelation, special knowledge or prophesying, it does not profit the church (and is wrong).
1 Cor 14:7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
1 Cor 14:8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
1 Cor 14:9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
Like an un-tuned pipe or harp, tongues are nothing more than noise to those who do not understand them. Without an interpretation the speaker only speaks to the air.
1 Cor 14:10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.
1 Cor 14:11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
You do not want to appear as a barbarian in Church.
1 Cor 14:12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
If you zealously want the best gift, seek one which excels at edifying (building up) the church (and it is not tongues).
1 Cor 14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
Verse 13 is ignored in every charismatic church I have attended. More often than not, no interpretation is given.
1 Cor 14:14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
If one has the gift of speaking in a language he has not learned, pray that God will give you understanding of what you say; otherwise not even you gain from the gift.
1 Cor 14:15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
We cannot be transformed if we do not know what we are saying (and neither can anybody else). “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).
1 Cor 14:16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
1 Cor 14:17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
If you are pronouncing a blessing vis a spirit-provided tongue and do not interpret, do not expect an “Amen” without an interpretation. You err because nobody is edified.
1 Cor 14:18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
Paul was a highly educated Hebrew lawyer. He spoke a minimum of five (5) known languages:
(1) Dialect from Tarsus of Cilicia where he was born.
(2) Aramaic, the common language of everyday use in Judea.
(3) Hebrew, the holy language
(4) Greek, the language of commerce
(5) Latin, the Roman common language
(6) Others as needed; Corinth was a seaport town with sailors from around the world.
1 Cor 14:19 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.
10,000 / 5 = 2000
Paul preferred speaking in a language he knew well 2000 times more than speaking in a spiritual-gift language.
1 Cor 14:20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
This is probably a reference back to chapter 13.11.
1 Cor 14:21 In the law it is written, “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.”
1 Cor 14:22a Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not …
This is a reference to disobedient Hebrews being in captivity and being spoken to by pagans in pagan languages (Isa 28:11-12). In the O.T., when Israelites heard another language from captivity, it was a sign that they had not believed God. Tongues were a sign to unbelievers which was not needed among fellow believers. Yet some charismatics make tongues a necessary sign for believers as proof that one has been saved.
1 Cor 14:22b … but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
Before “that which is perfect is come” prophesying served, or edified, believers by revealing the will of God. TDhis was not necessary after the whole Word was available.
1 Cor 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
On the one hand, this is extremely strong evidence that God does not want unbelievers to enter a church service and hear every member speaking in tongues!
1 Cor 14:24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
1 Cor 14:25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
On the other hand, if an unbeliever enters a church service and hears every member expounding God’s will in a special way to them, they would be convinced of its validity. The ability to expound God’s Word is far more important than tongues.
1 Cor 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
The early church did not follow a strict order of service. Spiritual gifts were scattered among the laity and not confined to the clergy. The leader (administrator) simply kept things in an orderly sequence in order that the church as a whole might be edified.
1 Cor 14:27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
1 Cor 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
Of all the spiritual gifts, tongues was the only one limited to 2-3 persons – plus there must be an interpretation.
1 Cor 14:29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
1 Cor 14:30 If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
As those with the gift of prophecy began prophesying 2-3 at a time, the prophets were to judge among themselves whether or not to allow those prophesying to continue. If any hearer recognized the prophecy to be for him/her a time of acknowledgement followed. (also 14:32)
1 Cor 14:31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
Whereas tongues are limited to 2-3 total, those with the gift of prophecy were not limited.
1 Cor 14:32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
1 Cor 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
Once again Paul pointed out that the gift of prophecy was superior to the gift of tongues. He must have sensed that the gift of tongue would be given too much importance.
1 Cor 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Conclusions: Having completed the comprehensive study, let us not forget that
1 Co 13:8-13 preceded chapter 14 for a reason.
(1) 13:8 says prophecies shall fail; tongues shall cease; (special) knowledge shall vanish away
(2) 13:9 sys these three are partial gifts with no continuing status
(3) 13:10-12 says partial gifts shall be done away when spiritual maturity is attained by believers.
(4) Heb 5:12-13 says spiritual maturity is reached when believers have and use the Word to gain knowledge (and not partial gifts)
(5) 13:13 says whereas partial gifts will end, faith, hope and love endure