Various Gifts of Tongues: Acts 2:5-13; 1 Corinthians 14:1-19
“5) Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6) And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7) They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8) And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9) Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10) Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11) Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” 12) And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13) But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”” Acts‬ ‭2‬:‭5‬-‭13‬ ‭
We now discover an amazing phenomenon on the day of Pentecost. This manifestation of tongues represented known languages. The visitors in Jerusalem were hearing their own native languages and dialects being spoken without the need of a translator.
The day of Pentecost reversed what happened at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. People were able to clearly communicate the Gospel in languages they had not learned. God was sending a message to Israel that He had a plan for every nation, tribe and tongue. The gospel was no longer just for the Jewish people.
But this brings up a huge controversy that has divided the church for many decades. If tongue are known languages, how to you explain those who claim to speak in tongues, but they use unintelligible speech? This text in Acts seems very clear that they were speaking in known languages.
To answer this issue, more texts of Scripture must be studied. The New Testament talks about both “known languages” and “unknown languages.” Let’s unpack some things that might be helpful.
Acts 2:5-13 is clearly talking about known languages. They were the known languages and dialects of people visiting Jerusalem from surrounding countries. It was a unique phenomenon. No translation was needed.
By contrast however; 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 is clearly talking about unknown languages. Where do we glean that from the text? Verse 2 says; “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.” Notice that Paul said “no one understands.” The person with the the gift is not speaking to men, but to God. In his spirit he is speaking mysteries. (See also 1 Corinthians 14:14-15)
It took me a number of years to concede this point, but Paul was describing an intercession prayer gift. “Prayer” by definition is speaking to God. For this gift to be used in public it needed an interpretation. By contrast, what happened on the day of Pentecost did not need translation or interpretation. People were hearing their own known languages being spoken very clearly. We must conclude there are two different kinds of “tongues” presented in the New Testament.
Let me briefly touch on an argument from those who believe that some spiritual gifts were temporary and have ceased. Their main argument says; “If the purpose for which the gift was given was fulfilled, then the gift is no longer needed.” Then they say that the tongues in Acts 2:1-13 were for a sign to Israel and that mission was fulfilled, therefore the gift of tongues is no longer needed.
The problem is that Paul said the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:2 was primarily for prayer and intercession. So, using their own logic and argument, let me pose a question; “Is prayer and intercession no longer needed today?” Has its purpose been fulfilled? Let that question sink in!
This may be a small issue for some, but coming from a conservative evangelical background that was dogmatic that the gift of tongues had ceased, this was a huge turmoil for me. I had some Bible College professors open teach that modern tongues were from the devil. When I confronted them with Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 and 14:39-40, they confessed theological prejudice and pointed to their Doctrinal Statement.
I was not persuaded by them, but I did become timid about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. God used three things to help me resolve this conflict.
First, I had memorized many chapters and even books of the Bible. I had memorized the book of 1 Corinthians in high school for our churches Bible Quizzing team. It was very clear to me that my Bible College professors were not rightly handling Scripture related to this subject. I graciously pointed out that they were violating their own principles of biblical interpretation in order to embrace their conclusion, yet doubt and cold water was thrown on my spirit. It hindered my freedom in the Spirit for years.
Second, as we launched into itinerant ministry and sought seasoned prayer warriors, many of them had a personal prayer language. They did not publicly speak in tongues, but they were seasoned intercessors and had extraordinary discernment. They were godly, biblically rooted and very mature spiritually. I could not deny their anointing, fervor in prayer or amazing insights about what and how to pray. It was obvious that the Holy Spirit was leading them.
Finally, we started working interdenominationally and internationally. We met people from a broad cross section of the body of Christ. Our eyes were opened. We discovered godly and nature people in many churches. We also discovered sinful, worldly and carnal people in every Christian circle. The mystique came down and the rose colored glassed were removed from every group, including charismatic and Pentecostal. They all struggled with the same stuff!
But one thing became very obvious, the mature, godly and consecrated men and women in every group had a deep relationship with Jesus Christ and cultivated a personal walk in the Spirit. Their Bibles all looked the same… they were nearly worn out. They did not argue about spiritual gifts or doctrinal differences, instead they developed a deep personal walk with God.
Do I believe every gift of tongues is real? By no means. The Bible commands us to test the spirit. Nor am I persuaded by hype, emotionalism or showmanship. Every spiritual gift can be faked or even counterfeited by Satan.
But that does not nullify the genuine work of the Holy Spirit. I personally align myself with 1 Corinthians 12-14 on the subject of spiritual gifts and tongues. Godly, Spirit Filled and gifted people are welcome at my campfire anytime! I consider myself as one of them! I seek, welcome and cherish the fire of Gods presence in my personal life, during prayer meetings, in corporate worship services and during our ministry events.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global