Questions & Answers

Bible Answers to your Questions | Vol. 24 No. 1 | Nov-Dec 2013

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Q: A woman I’m studying the Bible with believes that she has received the Holy Spirit because she prays in an unknown tongue. She claims that many people in her church pray in unknown tongues together and that this is evidence that they’ve been baptized with the Holy Ghost. Is this true?

Answer:

Let’s address the issue of “unknown tongues.” The first mention of “speaking in tongues” takes place during the day of Pentecost, 40 days after Christ’s resurrection. There is a difference between the unknown tongues experienced in modern charismatic services and the unknown languages heard by the crowd on the day of Pentecost. Read the story in Acts 2:4–11. The great majority in that crowd were foreign-born Jews who had traveled long distances to attend the feasts in Jerusalem. They did not speak Aramaic, the language of the Palestinian Jews. They spoke the languages of their countries. You will find that the disciples mirac­ulously spoke in languages that these visiting Jews could understand. God gave the apostles the power He had promised so that they could take the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. See Matthew 28:18–20 and Revelation 14:6.

Later, the apostle Peter witnessed the Holy Ghost being poured out on the Gentiles (also known as the “uncircumcised”) who believed on Jesus. Through the Spirit’s power, the gift of tongues was given so that they were able to freely converse with the Jewish Christians accompanying Peter; and Peter was able to preach the gospel to the combined congrega­tion and be understood. Acts 10:44–48.

The apostle Paul cautioned the Early Church about coveting the manifestation of unknown tongues for its own sake. Somehow, the supernatural gift of tongues had become a novelty among the believers. Paul pointed out that the gift of tongues served no useful purpose unless it helped someone understand the gospel. 1 Corinthians 14:19. For instance, if a brother in the church is speaking Spanish, and no one else understands him, it will not benefit the church. The brother who is speaking Spanish is only edifying himself, and what he is speaking is a mystery to the others, unless there is an interpreter. Paul exhorted, “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” 1 Corinthians 14:28.

Speaking in an unknown tongue—a language which no one understands—would confuse unbelievers; but presenting the gospel in a language that unbelievers can understand could convert them and edify the congregations.

Jesus promised to supernaturally equip his disci­ples to proclaim the gospel. This empowerment would be manifested through the bestowing of miraculous abilities, as the body of Christ needed them. Not every Christian receives the gift of tongues as his or her spiritual gift. The apostle Paul mentions a number of other important spiritual gifts, including healing, teaching, prophesying, apostle­ship, helps, and administration. See 1 Corinthians 12:28–31. And then he encouraged them to covet the best gift—the one everyone can and must have—the character of Christ manifested in our life through loving words and deeds.

The greatest evidence that the Spirit has anointed us with His power will be manifested by how much of Christ’s character we possess. Without Christ’s self-sacrificing love in our lives, we are nothing and our gifts are meaningless. See 1 Corinthians 13. I would encourage you to seek the best gift—love—and then ask God to equip you to be a witness for Him. If you lay this before Him in faith, He will!

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