Rethinking Jesus: Jesus did not speak in tongues

by Kyle
published January 18, 2015


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She called me from a retreat another Christian group was sponsoring. She was crying. She told me that because she did not, could not and would not speak in tongues, the people running the retreat told her that she was either “quenching the Holy Spirit” or that she wasn’t saved at all.

Never mind the supernatural love I had seen her show to others. Never mind her uncanny devotion to the Word of God. Never mind the amazing way I had seen the Spirit give her courage to overcome her shyness. According to the church running the retreat, there was something deeply wrong with this young woman’s personal walk with the Lord.

Let me be clear about speaking in tongues. It is described in the Bible as a spiritual gift, and I don’t believe anything has changed in the way God interacts with humans. But the Bible does not present speaking in tongues as the only evidence of being filled or baptized with the Spirit. The Bible also places strict limitations on how the gift of tongues is practiced in the church, and those parameters are largely ignored in churches that claim this as a gift given to all believers.

As I have observed, “speaking in tongues” is practiced this way: During a prayer or a song or a time of teaching, multiple members of the congregation — if not most — begin to speak in an unintelligible way they later claimed to be glossolalia (speaking in an angel language). Often, the person leading the prayer/song/sermon will also begin to speak in this way. No one interprets what anyone else is saying.

In Acts, new believers begin to speak in tongues three times, and Pentecost, one of those times, was the one-time establishment of the church age. More often in Acts, new believers receive the Holy Spirit without speaking in tongues. Additionally, in Acts 1:8, Jesus promises supernatural power, not speaking in tongues, as the result of the Holy Spirit baptizing believers.

There is only one place in the Bible where specific instruction on how to practice speaking in tongues is given. These instructions are given in 1 Corinthians 12-14, apparently because the churches in Corinth — one of the most immature and sinful churches addressed in the New Testament — were practicing tongues the same way many churches do today, and such practice is wrong and damaging to a church.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Scripture is clear that there are a variety of gifts, and that not everyone receives all gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). In verse 28, Paul lists several spiritual gifts. He uses the word “first” in the sense of priority rather than time. So the most authoritative gift was apostleship. Jesus thought apostleship was so important that he spent the majority of his earthly ministry developing the apostles. Most of the miracles done and enigmatic things said in front of large crowds were for the apostles’ benefit, not the crowd’s.

The second to last gift in Paul’s list in verse 28 is administrations. This is exactly what you’d think: being an administrator (managing affairs, organizing information, logistics, finances, boring business stuff, etc.). The ability to do the phenomenally dull business of church administration is ranked, by Scripture, above speaking in tongues. So why do so many churches focus so much more on tongues than “teaching” or “helps?”

1 Corinthians 14 concedes that speaking in tongues may actually be communication with God, but it will not profit anyone else in the gathering, saying, “The one who speaks in tongues edifies himself.” (1 Corinthians 14:4)

Verse 22 goes on to say that speaking in tongues is a sign for unbelievers, presumably that they might hear a language they know and understand and be convinced of the gospel. Verse 23 warns that if speaking in tongues is not practiced in an orderly fashion, unbelievers will repelled rather than convinced.

Verses 27 and 28 do not suggest, but require and command that those speaking in tongues do so only one at a time, that only two or three exercise that gift in a gathering, and that an interpretation be given for each tongue.

Violating any requirement of Scripture is sin. The requirements of 1 Corinthians 14:27-28 are violated at an institutional level by numerous churches in our city, state and country.

But the greatest case against the assertion by many churches that believers are not “baptized in the Holy Spirit” if they do not speak in tongues is the simple fact that Jesus Himself did not speak in tongues. He healed the sick, he preached the gospel, he raised the dead and he loved every person he met with a perfect love. We even saw the Spirit “descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” at his baptism (Matthew 3:16). But not once did Jesus ever speak in tongues. Not once did Jesus even talk about speaking in tongues in any book of the Bible.

I realize that this is an argument from silence, but to claim the contrary would be to read into the Scriptures something that plainly isn’t there based on a theological bias rather than a desire for truth. It is conspicuously lacking from the accounts of Jesus’ life. On top of that, the practice of tongues seemed to be something the crowds in Acts 2 — the same ones who witnessed Jesus’ teaching, miracles and crucifixion — had never seen before.

So if speaking in tongues isn’t the only valid evidence of being baptized with the Spirit, what is?

In 1 John 5:13, after affirming the gospel that eternal life is found through faith in Jesus alone, John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” Have you believed in the Son of God? Then you have eternal life.

And if you have eternal life, the Spirit of God lives inside of you. Jesus promised to be with you to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Romans 8:9-11 says that the Spirit dwells in anyone who has believed in Jesus and has eternal life.

So faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection not only gives eternal life, but simultaneously baptizes the believer in the Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit is like the wind and we “do not know where it comes from or where it goes,” (John 3:8) your faith in Jesus is the only consistent evidence of God’s Spirit living in you. And the Spirit imparts spiritual gifts to the believer. Sometimes, one of those gifts can be speaking in tongues, though often it is something else.

Did you notice how I skipped 1 Corinthians 13 above? I was saving the best for last. In the middle of his instruction on spiritual gifts in general and tongues in specific, Paul pens one of the most famous chapters of the Bible extolling the values of love. He is clear that all spiritual gifts, without love, are worthless. Love will outlast every spiritual gift, since even “tongues … will cease” while “love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:8)

Even if Jesus never spoke in tongues, he did love. He loved perfectly. “He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) He loves you, even if you don’t speak in tongues. If you have trusted in Jesus to pay the penalty for every wrong thing you’ve ever done, the Holy Spirit lives inside you and can help you love like Jesus did.

Even if you don’t speak in tongues, like Jesus didn’t.

What do you think?

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