Summary: This is a Scriptural examination of the gift of tongues. The Word of God defines the gift as well as describes its purpose, proper usage and active duration within the Church.
Of all the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, none has provoked more interest and fascination than that of the gift of tongues. This is not only true of the last one hundred years, with the advent of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, but even in the 1st Century as is evidenced by the Corinthian congregation’s preoccupation with the gift.
We aim to use the authority of Scripture rather than the unreliable testimony of rumor and experience to learn the nature of this gift, the purpose of this gift, the appropriate use of this gift and the fate of this gift. We must remember that the Scriptures are the Church’s infallible guide.
I. The Nature of the Gift of Tongues.
The first demonstration of the gift of tongues is found in Acts 2:1-11. In this passage, the twelve apostles are gathered together, by the commandment of Christ Jesus, and they receive the promised baptism of the Holy Spirit. Verse 4 reads, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.”
The Greek word for “tongue” is glossa. It refers either to the physical tongue or to the human language that the human tongue speaks. Obviously, in our verse, it cannot be interpreted as the physical tongue; after all, the Spirit did not permit them to use the physical tongues of others with which to speak However, it is not only possible to understand it to refer to the second meaning - human languages spoken by the human tongue - it is so defined within this passage.
Luke tells us that there were “Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.” This was the case because it was the custom for Jews through-out the world to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the yearly Feast of Pentecost. Verse 5-8 states that when the Apostles began speaking in tongues, these foreign pilgrims “were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?’”
Here, the pilgrims explain that the tongues spoken by the Apostles were their own native, foreign languages. The Greek word translated “language” is dialektos, from which we get our word dialect. Note the nationalities represented here, in verses 9-11, “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.”
The miracle here, as stated by these pilgrims, is that a dozen uneducated Galileans were suddenly speaking these various foreign language or dialects. According to Scripture, the gift of tongues was a supernatural ability to speak an earthly foreign language without special training.
Note, too, that it was not ‘heavenly language’ nor was it gibberish, but speech in a earthly, foreign language. Verse 11 - as the pilgrims state “we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God."