Vol. 3, No. 4
The word tongue is used in the Bible to refer to an organ in the human body (Lamentations 4:4; Ezekiel 3:26; Mark 7:35; Luke 1:64). Tongue is used in the Bible many times to refer to what is done with the tongue. Here is an illustration: "He that hath a forward heart findeth no good: and he that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief" (Proverbs 17:20). Obviously, "perverse tongue" in this passage refers to the wrong kind of speaking, or the wrong use of one's tongue. Many times, tongue is used in the Bible to refer to a language or dialect (Daniel 1:4; Acts 1:19; 2:8).
The apostles of Christ and some who lived when they did were endowed by the Lord to speak in tongues or languages which they had not studied. Sometimes, this is referred to in the King James Version as speaking in an unknown tongue (1 Corinthians 14:13-14). The word unknown in such passages in the King James Version is italicized which means it has no corresponding word in the Greek text of the New Testament. The translators supplied the word unknown to emphasize that some spoke in languages that were unknown to them, languages they had not studied. To do so was a miracle.
The miracle or spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues were granted two ways. These were: (1) baptism of the Holy Spirit as in Acts Chapters Two and Ten, and (2) the apostles laying their hands on others as in Acts 19:6.
When our Lord Jesus promised that some would "speak with new tongues," he also said they would cast out devils, handle serpents and heal the sick. He also said they would not be hurt by drinking any deadly thing (Mark 16:17-18). Those who claim to speak in tongues are inconsistent if they do not also claim to perform the other miracles mentioned with speaking in tongues in the New Testament.
The New Testament teaches that speaking in tongues and all the other miracles were limited to the time of the revelation and confirmation of the New Covenant (Mark 16:20). This writer denies that anyone now speaks in tongues or performs any other miracles! This view is supported by the teaching of the New Testament.
There were those in the church at Corinth who could speak in tongues by the power of the Holy Spirit. In teaching the church there with respect to their misunderstanding of this miracle or spiritual gift, Paul told them that tongues were for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not (1 Corinthians 14:22).
Those who claim they can speak in tongues which they have not studied are inconsistent unless they use their alleged gift to convince unbelievers that what they do is of God. There are a few in the church of the Lord who have been saying they do not claim to be able to speak in tongues, but that they would not say others could not. This writer does not claim to be able to speak in tongues, and he denies that others can do so! To those who claim they have the gift of tongues, this writer is an unbeliever. I challenge anyone of them to demonstrate that he can speak in a language he has never studied! I will be glad to arrange such a test for anyone who may want to try it!
The miraculous tongue speaking of the New Testament was speaking actual languages. The Holy Spirit gave the apostles utterance and they spoke with other tongues (Acts 2:4). When the people heard them, they inquired, "And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? … we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:8, 11). Obviously, these meant by tongues the languages they spoke.
The tongues referred to so much in 1 Corinthians Chapter 14 were also real languages for Paul illustrated what he meant by tongues by quoting from Isaiah 28:11-12 where Isaiah referred to the languages of people (1 Corinthians 14:21). Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 were not senseless jargon or silly gibberish or balderdash! Tongues in that chapter, and elsewhere in the New Testament, were actual languages of people.
When Paul wrote the 1 Corinthians letter, the church in Corinth was plagued with much strife and division. They were even fussing over their spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues. Paul taught them a more excellent way which is the way of love (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13). Paul explained that soon the spiritual gifts of special knowledge, prophecy and speaking in tongues would cease when "that which is perfect come" (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
Paul said that the spiritual gifts were "that which is in part." With the spiritual gifts of knowledge, prophecy and tongues God revealed gradually his will as given in the New Testament.
"That which is perfect" is of the same kind as "that which is in part." "That which is in part" obviously referred to the gradual giving of the will of God in the New Covenant. Therefore, "that which is perfect" refers to the completed revelation of God's will. Paul explained the difference in having "that which is in part" (the gradual giving of God's will) and "that which is perfect" (the completed revelation of God's will). He illustrated this difference by saying, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). "Through a glass darkly" is more literally translated "in a mirror obscurely."
While God's revelation was being gradually made, one could not see himself clearly. But, when that revelation was completed, one could look into that "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25), the complete revelation of God's will, or "that which is perfect" and see himself clearly. One can thus know as he is known.
As surely as God's will was completely revealed as contained in the New Testament, so spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues ceased when that revelation was completed. History of the era immediately following the apostolic era confirms this.