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Is Speaking in Tongues a Sin?

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Question:   I need to have some questions about getting the holy ghost. I was told by a friend on line that it is a sin to speak in tongue, that you are testing your faith if you feel the need to speak in tongue. Is that true? The reason I doubt what was told to me was this person says that he is a Christian and hated the fact of religion. I have some questions that I want you to help me answer and I am trusting that you will give an honest answer.  Thank you in advance,

Response:  Thanks for your question - it is a very timely one. I know from personal experience and observation that this is an area about which many Christians are deeply concerned. This is one of those areas (like baptism, healing and prophecy) where every good Christian wants to do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing. It is also an area (like baptism, healing and prophecy) where it is very easy to be swayed by what people say and do rather that what the Bible actually says.

No doubt about it - in the time of the apostles, Christians spoke in tongues. The fact is documented on several occasions in Acts (Acts 2:3-26; 10:46; 19:6) and Paul specifically tells the Corinthians not to prevent it (1Cor.14:39). On the other hand, even at that time not all Christians spoke in tongues (1Cor.12:30), although most "charismatic" groups today claim tongues to be a universal gift (sometimes even calling into question the salvation of those who do not). Furthermore, the improper practice of the gift caused problems in the early Church too, as its abuses are the reason Paul spends so much time clarifying the situation in 1st Corinthians chapters 12-14.

It is important to understand that things were unquestionably different in the Church back some two thousand years ago, different in many important ways from what we see now to the case in God's administration of the Church. The practice of tongues as talked about in the New Testament took place before the Bible had been completely written and before it was generally available (especially the New Testament). This was also while the apostles were still on the scene. The first era of the Church was also a time of many miracles and miraculous gifts - a special time of inauguration for the calling out of the gentiles to be part of the family of God too (a mystery that was not understood until it occurred). And, personally, I am convinced that, like many of the other miraculous things that are now clearly no longer taking place, true speaking in tongues is no longer taking place either. For example, no one is writing more chapters for the Bible. There are no more apostles beyond the 12. Etc.

All this stands to reason from a number of things the Bible has to say. For one thing, we know that in addition to the closing of the canon of scripture and the termination of the office of apostleship (the gates of the New Jerusalem have the names of the twelve only), other gifts too were destined to come to a end:

Love never falls [into inactivity]. But whether [we are talking about gifts of] prophecy, they will cease, or about [gifts of] tongues, they will stop, or [about the gift of] knowledge, it will be done away with. For when we exercise the gift of knowledge, its results are only partial. And when we exercise the gift of prophecy, its results are only partial. But when what is complete shall have come on the scene (i.e., the fully functioning Church with a complete Bible), all partial measures shall be done away with. 
1st Corinthians 13:8-10

Others have pointed out that even the apostles went from universal acts of healing to getting sick themselves and being apparently unable to heal others later on (compare Acts 19:12 with 2Tim.4:20). It makes sense for tongues to fall into this same category. Tongues were "for a sign" for unbelievers (especially for those who spoke a different language: 1Cor.14:22; compare Acts 2:3-26), and Paul rebukes the Corinthians for allowing tongues without interpretation (1Cor.14:28). To me, the Bible is very clear that no one is to speak in a tongue in church unless someone else has the gift of interpretation and translates what that person actually said (1Cor.14:13 & 28). I hope it goes without saying that this has to be legitimate: i.e., one person actually has to have the gift of tongues and speak something discernible in a real language he doesn't understand himself, while another person, who actually has the gift of interpretation, has to actually understand this foreign language he never learned and then translate for everyone else. From my own experience, this is not what happens when people claim they are speaking in tongues anywhere I have ever seen or heard of it in our own day. Let me be clear: becoming excited, emotional, even hyper-emotional, even ecstatic, then bursting forth with whatever sounds your mouth might utter under this influence is not what the Bible describes when it speaks about the gift of tongues.

I want to be clear about this. I am not "anti-tongues". God did give the gift of tongues and He may well give it again (cf. Joel 2:28-32). And far be it from me to say where and when and to whom He shall give it. But we don't receive spiritual gifts through our own will - only by the power of God and His Spirit (1Cor.12:1-11).

Speaking in a tongue is not a sin - if you truly have that gift and are truly exercising it in the power of God. Pretending to speak in tongues is something else again, and it doesn't matter if you have been pressured into really believing you are doing something right. Friend, if you have this gift in fact and in truth, it is something God gave you and may it be used to the glory of God! If you do not - and I have to say here that I am very skeptical of thosel who say they do at this present moment of time for the reasons discussed above - it is very, very dangerous to assume, pretend, be convinced, or convince yourself of something that is just not the case. And if you have the gift of tongues, God will make it clear, undeniably clear, in His own time and for His own purpose, just as we all, every one of us, have some gift and some very special role to play in His plan that will utilize the gifts He has truly given us. He decides - it is very dangerous for us to decide we're going to be a foot if He has made us a hand.

For more information about the dangers of being manipulated by false claims, see the files "Read Your Bible: Protection Against Cults", and Peter's Epistles #27: Three Doctrines that Threaten Faith.

And please also see the following links:

The Gift of Tongues: Part 2

The Gift of Tongues: Part 1

Tongues:  Does no man understand?

Is "speaking in tongues" biblical?

Tongues and Healing.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from speaking in tongues.

All Things Charismatic.

        An Extended Conversation about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

        "The baptism which now saves you": 1st Peter 3:21

        Confession of Sin, Fellowship, and the Filling of the Holy Spirit

        Is water baptism required for Christians today?

        How does being "slain in the Spirit" relate to being baptized in the Spirit?

        Sin, Baptism, Resurrection and the Book of Revelation

        Being Born Again and Baptism

        Baptism and Salvation

I hope this gives you some helpful guidance on this issue.

Yours in the love of Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill


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