I would first begin by defining “tongues” as used
in the Bible. The meaning of speaking in tongues in
the Bible is “language,” implying a foreign language.

It is nothing mysterious, just a simple, communicable
language. You may recall up to the time of the tower
of Babel, all men spoke one language.

God created multiple languages so that men would be
scattered, unable to communicate as one, like they
did originally and therefore render them incapable
of continuing to build the tower due to this language
barrier. Hence, they were scattered throughout the
earth according to the commonalities of language.

This created a practical problem. How do we
communicate with people who speak languages
different from our own? There are only 4 choices

  • Learn it from birth
  • Learn it formally by instruction or informally
    by association
  • Employ the services of an interpret
  • Perform by miracle

Consult with anyone today who communicates with
others who speak foreign languages and they’ll do
so by either one of the first three choices.

Speaking in tongues (foreign languages) has three
primary Old Testament texts which serve as the
background of the New Testament teachings on the
subject. Most people are familiar with only one,
that of Joel 2:28-32.

The other two are, Isaiah 28:11 which is quoted
by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:20-21, and the third
Zechariah 13:1-6.

Since most everyone is familiar with Joel 2:28-32,
quoted by Peter in Acts 2:16-20, we’ll reserve
comments on it for last.

What is usually not understood about speaking in
tongues is the eschatological significance of the
practice. In Isaiah 28:11, because of Ephraim’s
(the 10 Northern tribes) sins, God promised to
punish Israel in judgment her idolatry and apostasy.
Evidence for this is prominent in the books of
Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, 2 Kings, etc.

In so doing, God says he would bring a nation
against them (the Assyrians) who, with stammering
lips and another tongue (foreign language) he would
speak to this people [Israel]. Bringing the Assyrians
who spoke a language Israel did not understand was
sign that Israel was about to be destroyed,
–that her judgment was near.

It is this idea of judgment that is often missed
in the discussion of tongues (speaking in foreign
languages by the power of the Spirit).

In 1 Corinthians 14:20, 21, Paul says that tongues
are for a sign, not to believers but to unbelievers,
quoting directly from Isaiah 28:11.

In so doing, he is pointing out that an impending
judgment was about to come upon Israel (the
southern kingdom, primarily Judah) as it had before
upon the Northern kingdom Israel. Even though God
would speak to them in foreign languages, they yet
would not hear or believe, (Acts 13:40-41).

So, tongues were not used in the church for
“edification of believers” but for “admonition”
and “warning” to the unbelieving Jews who were
bout to perish in the siege of Jerusalem.
They were used primarily to convince God’s Old
covenant people to accept Jesus Christ.

The idea of using “tongues” (speaking in foreign
languages) to “edify” the church was an abuse
exploited by the Corinthians.

In response to this Paul established the superiority
of “prophesying” (teaching in a language the entire
congregation could understand) above that of speaking
in foreign languages which no one could understand
but God, since he created those languages as noted

The fact that one spoke to God and not to men by
speaking in a foreign language simply means that
God understood the language without the need for
an interpreter. It was he by the way who inspired
the person to speak in the foreign language in the
first place, so he of necessity would understand
its meaning.

The idea of claiming to speak to God in mysteries
as a justification for speaking in tongues without
an interpreter has no scriptural merit. It violates
everything stated below regarding speaking in foreign

In response to the abuse Paul appealed to common
sense and scripture by saying:

  1. Exhortation is better than self exaltation (14:3, 4)
  2. Speaking in foreign languages could never excel
    the gift of prophesying, but only attain “equal”
    status by making it understood through an interpreter,
  3. Speaking must profit others, thus must be
    understood by them, v. (6)
  4. Language which cannot be understood is like
    “blowing hot air.” 14:9
  5. Anytime one speaks without another understanding
    is the same as being a “foreigner.”, v. 11
  6. People who are uninformed of the language cannot
    give thanks, v. 16.
  7. Others cannot be edified, v. 17
  8. It is better to speak 5 words in a language people
    can understand than 10, 000 in a language they cannot,
    v. 19
  9. The uninformed and unbelievers who attend an
    assembly where everyone is speaking in a foreign
    language (or worse, no real language at all as
    practiced today) will think they have lost their
    minds, (NKJV), v. 23
  10. Even when it was possible to speak in foreign
    languages by the power of the Spirit it could only
    be done by two or at the most three people., v. 27
  11. Each one had to take turns, not all speaking
    at once.
  12. After one spoke in a foreign language and before
    the next one spoke, one had to interpret it. v. 27
  13. If there were no interpreter, they were commanded
    to be silent, i.e. “put a muzzle” on their mouths. v. 28
  14. Those who operated under the power of the Spirit,
    never lost “self control” for the spirits of the
    prophets were subject to the prophets. That means
    they could control their actions and behavior in
    exercising the gift. v. 32.
  15. Women who were present in those assemblies
    where prophesying and speaking in foreign languages
    were active were not allowed to interrupt the men,
    but to ask their husbands at home. v. 34-35.
  16. Those who disobeyed caused confusion and God
    is not the author of confusion, v. 33.
  17. God did not teach one thing to one church about
    tongue speaking and something altogether different
    to another church, but the same thing to all the
    churches, v. 33.
  18. Paul said what he wrote was the commandment
    of God, v. 34.
  19. All things were to be done decently and in
    order. v. 40

As the gifts of the Spirit, including that of
speaking in tongues could only be received by
the laying on of the Apostles’ hands, (Acts 8:14-18)
it is impossible for one to have this as a miraculous
gift today.

Cornelius shows an exception to this rule per Acts
10:44f. However, one cannot claim the practice
based on an exception.

Enoch was translated that he should not see death.
Does that mean we can claim we won’t die physically
because of Enoch’s translation which was an
exception to rule stated in Hebrews 9:27?

Next, and briefly note Zechariah 13:2-6. God
prophesied that he would cut off the names of the
idols from the land and he would cause the prophets
and the unclean spirit to depart from the land.

“It shall come to pass that if anyone still
prophesies, then his father and mother who begot
him will say to him, “you shall not live, because
you have spoken lies in the name of the Lord.’
And his father and mother who begot him shall
thrust him through when he prophesies.

And it shall be in that day that every prophet
will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies:
they will not wear a robe of coarse hair to deceive.
But he will say, I am no prophet, I am a farmer;
for a man taught me to keep cattle from my youth.”

We are no longer living in an age of miraculous
gifts or speaking in foreign languages by the power
of the Spirit.  If we were, most of what is practiced
today would be a violation of the New Testament per above.

According to Joel’s prophecy, those gifts were only
to last until the time of the end, when the Old
Covenant nation of Israel was judged.