An extraordinary gift conveyed through the Holy Spirit to a number of disciples starting at Pentecost 33 C.E. that made it possible for them to speak or otherwise glorify God in a tongue in addition to their own.

What Was the Reason for the Speaking in Tongues?

Immediately before his ascension to heaven, Jesus told those who were looking on: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV) First, this witnessing campaign was to be of epic proportions; and second, it was to be brought about with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Our modern-day world allows the spread of the gospel to the other side of the globe within a millisecond and in any language. In the first-century, the good news was spread either in written form, orally, or both. Therefore, the ability to be miraculously able to speak a foreign language in the melting pot of that Roman Empire would have been greatly appreciated. This miracle was first realized at the Pentecost 33 C.E. celebration, as the first-century Christians began to witness to the Jews and proselytes in Jerusalem.

Acts 2:5-11, 41 English Standard Version (ESV)

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

A major change was in the offing. The Jews had followed the lead of their religious leaders in the last act of rebellion, resulting in their rejection as his people. The Mosaic Law was being replaced with the law of Christ. This does not mean that no Jew could be received into the newly founded Christian congregation. To the contrary, the next three and half years would be only the Jewish people, who would make up this new way to God. As was the case with Moses, there was to be a sign, miraculous events, which included the speaking in tongues, this as evidence to those, whose heart was receptive to the truth that the Son of God had come, had given his life for them, and ascended back to heaven. Exodus 19:16-19

Speaking in tongues in Acts 2 is evidentiary. The unique speech is demonstrable proof that something supernatural has happened to the 120 disciples of Jesus. Tongues are the sign that these people have received the promise given by Jesus in Acts 1:5, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” This sign was clear enough so that all of those present for the Feast of Weeks were able to see that an impossible event was actually happening. The language speech in this chapter has a second, though subordinate, purpose—the communication of the gospel to people of a foreign tongue. [1]

However, there was much labor to be done. Beginning in 36 C.E., with the conversion of Cornelius, an uncircumcised Gentile, the gospel got underway in its spread to non-Jewish people of every nation. (Acts, chap. 10) In truth, so swiftly did it spread that by about 60 C.E., the apostle Paul could say that the gospel had been “proclaimed in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col. 1:23) Consequently, by the time of the last apostle’s death (John c. 100 C.E.), Jesus’ faithful followers had made disciples all the way through the Roman Empire—in Asia, Europe, and Africa!


Spread of Christianity in the first century[2]

Modern-day Speaking in Tongues

Among those ‘speaking in tongues’ today are Pentecostals and Baptists, also Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth …” Would the Pentecostals or the Baptists, who “speak in tongues” suggest that the Roman Catholics, who “speak in tongues” have been ‘guided into all the truth,’ by the Holy Spirit, as well as the other way around. If modern-day “speaking in tongues” is truly, the same as the first century, and it is evidence proof that a person has Holy Spirit; then, all of the above groups would equally have to be the true path to God.

There is certainly mixed feeling over the revival of speaking in tongues at the beginning of the 20th century. Many see it as nothing more than excessiveness of unhinged persons, doing nothing more than drawing attention to themselves. On the other hand, many see it as the second Pentecost, identical to the occurrence of speaking with tongues in 33 C.E. There is a difference though for the modern-day counterpart where speaking in unknown tongues occurs. A rapturous explosion of jumbled sounds usually initiates it. Many who have been present at such occasions are unable to understand the chaotic speech, as is the case with all others who are present as well as the speaker himself.

Certainly, any reasonable person is moved to ask ‘where the benefit in such unknown tongues is, and where the interpreters are?’ It is true that there are some, who claim to interpret this incomprehensible speech, yet here again there exist credibility, because different explanations are offered for the same speech. In an attempt at removing this difficulty, they offer that God has simply given a different interpretation to these ones. However, they are unable to remove the stain that some of this speech has been base, degrading and depraved. Ronald E. Baxter, in his book Charismatic Gift of Tongues, mentions an example where a man refused to interpret the speech of a woman who spoke in the so-called ‘gift of tongues,’ saying, “The language was the vilest of the vile.” This is hardly in harmony with the first-century Christian congregation, where tongues were used for “building up the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:4-6, 12, 18.

Still, some have heard the interpretation of what they perceive to be a breathtaking message, and believe with their whole heart that God is using this unintelligible speech to give messages to his people. The only problem with this is that Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and others make the same kind of argument. The book of Mormon is the supposed second testament of Christ for millions of Mormons. However, like the modern-day speaking in tongues, we are told very clearly to not go beyond what is written, do not add, nor take away, and that there would be no more miraculous messages until after Armageddon, where more books would be made available. Further still, what could be added to the unintelligible speech that is not available by means of Jesus Christ and the apostles through the Greek New Testament: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; Deut. 4:12; Gal 1:8; Rev 20:12; 21:18, 19

As is quite clear from the New Testament itself, the gift of tongues was for a congregation that was in its infancy and was needed for the preaching of the gospel and the building up the church. However, this is no longer the case: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary [“at variance with,” The New English Bible] to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”—Galatians 1:8.

Thus then, the gift of tongues is no longer needed, and there is no Biblical foundation for supposing that it is an element of modern-day Christianity. In fact, it is unlikely that it ever survived to the middle of the second-century C.E. At present, the Bible is whole and extensively obtainable, and the Word of God is all that we require. This book alone is a road map to an approved relationship with the Father and the Son, which leads to life eternal. John 17:3; Revelation 22:18, 19

The primary verse to consider reads, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” (1 Cor. 14:2, ESV) When considering this verse, he should keep verses 13-19 of the same chapter in mind.

In other words, those who speak in a tongue speak to God as opposed to men if he does not have an interpreter for his speech that is to men who are listening. That is to say, the speaking in tongues is meaningless to the men listening, who do not know (understand) the foreign language as given miraculously through the Holy Spirit. It is for this very reason that Paul says, “no one understands.” It could also have been that even the speaker himself of the foreign language did not understand what he was saying because he was not also given the power to interpret (translate). Therefore, without an interpreter, be it himself or another, his speech would only be understood by God, i.e., would be speech only to God, as opposed to men. This is why the apostle Paul would say that if there were no interpreters present, the one speaking in a foreign tongue, should also pray for the gift of interpretation as well. This is so he can also speak to men in a beneficial manner, as well as bring praise to God.

It is Paul, in the first-century, who through the Corinthian congregation sat straight those who had become spellbound and awestruck with the gift of tongues, behaving juvenile, young in the Spirit. While the gift of tongues had its purpose, these ones acted as though it was the most important aspect of the Christian church. (1 Corinthians 14:1-39) The apostle Paul made several things very clear: it was not even a gift that all possessed. Moreover, it did not contribute as an identifying mark of a true Christian, or lead to salvation. Moreover, it was second to the gift of prophecy [proclaiming]. (Elwell, 2001, 1207) Therefore, this gift was not some marker that identified a person as a true Christian, nor was it required to receive the gift of life. 1 Corinthians 12:29, 30; 14:4, 5

What is the Real Force Behind Today’s Speaking in Tongues?

There is no doubt that the charismatic church leaders of the 20th century are the impetus behind the resurgence of the speaking in tongues phenomena, pushing their flock members through emotionalism and coercion to achieve this alleged gift. This emotionalist duress is brought on by these church leaders, who exclude any who are unable to speak in tongues and treat the other members of the church as superior for their ability to speak in tongues. Therefore, the motivating factor is not the Spirit, not to build up the church, not the glorification of God, but to belong.

Should Christians be identified by their ability to “speak in tongues”?

John 13:35 English Standard Version (ESV)

35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

1 Corinthians 13:1 English Standard Version (ESV)

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Jesus made the Great Commission all too clear when he said, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Ac 1:8) He had instructed them and us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, teaching them” (Matt 28:19-20). Moreover, he had earlier stressed that this was the last sign before the end of this age, by saying, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14) Do we see this being done by the charismatic groups, who advocate “speaking in tongues”? When was the last time you saw a Pentecostal come to your door, proclaiming the Good News? When was the last time you were out, and a Pentecostal witnessed to you? What Pentecostal church have you ever been to that has an evangelism program, to train its members to evangelize their community?

This gift of tongues is possible by mass hysteria. Worse still, the spirit directing this movement may very well not be the Holy Spirit. “She followed Paul and us, crying out, these men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.” (Acts 16:17, 18) The apostle Paul cautioned, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) By seeking a Biblical gift that is no more, these ones have made themselves possible victims of “the lawless one [who] is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10) However, some might ask:

Does not Mark 16:17, 18 (NKJ) show that the gift of ‘speaking with new tongues’ would be a sign, so as to recognize believers?

Mark 16:17-18 New King James Version (NKJV)

17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

First, there is the telling fact that two of the oldest and most highly respected Bible manuscripts, the Vaticanus 03 and the Sinaiticus 01, do not contain this section; they conclude Mark’s Gospel with verse eight. This is true of the early versions as well: Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Georgian. The early church fathers, Clement, Origen, Cyprian, and Cyril of Jerusalem had no knowledge of anything beyond verse eight. There is little wonder that the noted manuscript authority Dr. Westcott states, “the verses which follow [9-20] are no part of the original narrative but an appendage.” Among other noted scholars of the same opinion are Tregelles, Tischendorf, Griesbach, Metzger, and Comfort, to mention just a few.

Adding weight to this evidence of the Greek manuscripts, versions and church fathers are the church historian Eusebius and the Bible translator Jerome. Eusebius wrote that the longer ending was not in the “accurate copies,” for “at this point [verse 8] the end of the Gospel according to Mark is determined in nearly all the copies of the Gospel according to Mark.” In addition, Jerome, writing about 407 C.E. said, “nearly all Greek MSS have not got this passage.”

The vocabulary and style of Mark 16:9-20 vary so drastically from the Gospel of Mark that it scarcely seems possible that Mark himself wrote those verses. Mark’s style is plain, direct; his paragraphs are short, and the transitions are simple. However, in this ending, there is well-arranged succession of statements, each of them having proper introductory expressions.

Then there is the consideration of the vocabulary of Mark. Verses 9 through 20 contain words that do not appear elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel, and some that do not appear in any of the Gospels, and some still that do not appear in the whole of the Greek New Testament. Verses 9 through 20 contain 163 Greek words, of which, 19 words, 2 phrases do not occur elsewhere in the Gospel of Mark. Looking at it another way, in these 12 verses there are 109 different words, and, of these, 11 words and 2 phrases are exclusive to these 12 verses. Moreover, the doctrinal thesis of Joseph Hug showed that when compared with the vocabulary of the other Gospels, the Apostolic Fathers, and the apocryphal literature, you have 12 verses in “an advanced state of tradition.” The note at the end of Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament, where I found a summary of Hug’s thesis, states:

The vocabulary suggests that the composition of the ending is appropriately located at the end of the first century or in the middle of the second century. Those who were responsible for adding the verses were intent, not only to supply a suitable ending for the Second Gospel but also to provide missionary instruction to a Christian Hellenistic community that participated in charismatic activities… (Metzger 1964, 1968, 1992, 297)

The content of these verses also removes them from being considered as original. There is nothing within the whole of the New Testament, which would support the contention in verse 18 that the disciples of Christ were able to drink poison, having no harm come to them. In addition, within this spurious text, you have eleven apostles refusing to believe the testimony of two disciples whom Jesus had come across on the way and to whom he made himself known. However, when the two disciples found the eleven, their reaction was quite different, stating, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Luke 24:13-35

In summary, Mark 16:9-20 (1) is not found in two of the oldest and most highly regarded Greek manuscripts as well as others. (2) They are also not found in many of the oldest versions. (3) The early church fathers had no knowledge of anything beyond verse eight. (4) Such ancient scholars as Eusebius and Jerome marked them spurious. (5) The style of these verses is utterly different from that of Mark. (6) The vocabulary used in these verses is different from that of Mark. (7) Verse 8 does not transition well with verse 9, jumping from the women disciples to Jesus’ resurrection appearance. Jesus does not need to appear because Mark ended with the announcement that he had. We only want that because the other Gospels give us an appearance. So we expect it. (8) The very content of these verses contradicts the facts and the rest of the Greek New Testament. With textual scholarship, being very well aware of Mark’s abrupt style of writing, and abrupt ending to his Gospel does not seem out of place. Eusebius and Jerome, as well as this writer, agree.


Mark 16:17-18 New King James Version (NKJV)

17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name (1) they will cast out demons; (2) they will speak with new tongues; (3) 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; (4) they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Is this really, what the Bible teaches?

While Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and survived, we never find anyone in the New Testament going out to find poisonous snakes, for the purpose of handling them in a religious service. To the contrary, Paul quickly shook off the poisonous snake that had attached itself to his hand. One must ask, ‘what purpose would religious snake handling have?’ All of the gifts that were bestowed on the first century Christians had a practical purpose. The number one purpose was to evidence to the Jews that the Israelite nation was no longer the way to God, faith in Jesus Christ was.

As for Tongues, They Will Cease

Some may argue that the evidence does not give one any idea of when the gift of tongues was to end. However, they would be mistaken in this case. There are three lines of evidence that present the fact that the gift of tongues would die out shortly after the death of the last apostle, which was the apostle John, who died about 98-100 C.E. First, the gift of tongues was always passed on to the person, only by an apostle: either by laying his hands on this one, or at least being present. (Acts 2:4, 14, 17; 10:44-46; 19:6; see also Acts 8:14-18.) Second, 1 Corinthians 13:8 informed the Corinthian reader specifically that this gift would “cease.” In short, the Greek word for cease [pausontai], means to ‘peter out,’ or ‘to die out,’ not to be brought to a halt. We will deal with pausontai more extensively in a moment. Third, both one and two are exactly what happened when we look at the history of this gift of tongues. M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia (Vol. VI, p. 320) says that it is “an uncontested statement that during the first hundred years after the death of the apostles we hear little or nothing of the working of miracles by the early Christians.” Therefore, following their passing off the scene and after those who in that way had obtained the gift of tongues breathed their last breath; the gift of tongues should have died out with these ones. (Elwell, 2001, 1207-8) This analysis concurs with the intention of those gifts as acknowledged at Hebrews 2:2-4.

Daniel B. Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics helps us to better comprehend how we are to understand pausontai of 1 Corinthians 13:8:

If the voice of the verb here is significant, then Paul is saying either that tongues will cut themselves off (direct middle) or, more likely, cease of their own accord, i.e., ‘die out’ without an intervening agent (indirect middle). It may be significant with reference to prophecy and knowledge, Paul used a different verb ([katargeo]) and out it in the passive voice. In vv 9-10, the argument continues: ‘for we know in part and we prophecy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial shall be done away with [katargethesontai].’ Here again, Paul uses the same passive verb he had used with prophecy and knowledge and he speaks of the verbal counterpart to the nominal ‘prophecy’ and ‘knowledge.’ Yet he does not speak about tongues being done away ‘when the perfect comes.’ The implication may be that tongues were to have ‘died out’ on their own before the perfect comes. (Wallace 1996, 422)

Speaking in Tongues and Today’s Christianity

The gift of tongues “in the NT has three functions: to show the progress of the gift of the Spirit to the various people groups in the book of Acts in a salvation-history context, as a way of revealing the content of the NT revelation, and as a means of communicating cross-linguistically.”[3] The apostle Paul made it abundantly clear that the interpretation must be clear and understood for the benefit of all, not the glorification of one. (1 Corinthians 14:26-33) Paul gave a warning: “So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.” 1 Corinthians 14:9

It is true that many of the early Christians received this gift of tongues by way of Holy Spirit, which did not bring forth speech that was incomprehensible or untranslatable nonsense. In accord with Paul’s advice, the Holy Spirit made available speech that brought about an outcome in the gospel being “preached in all creation under heaven.”—Colossians 1:23.

The church has been attempting with great vigor, to fulfill, Jesus Christ’s command of “the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” (Mark 13:10) The same as was the case in the first-century, all nations are required to take notice of the message of the ransom death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. This is achievable for the reason that God’s Word has now been translated into over 2,300 languages. The unchanged Spirit that instilled the first Christians to speak in tongues is now sustaining the immense and extraordinary commission of the present-day church.  2 Timothy 1:13


Final Thoughts

Certainly, no writer wishes to be arrogantly dogmatic about a belief, an understanding of Scripture that could be overturned or adjusted before his eyes, as he grows in knowledge and understanding. The evidence seems to say that the gift of tongues was given to some in the infant Christian congregation to establish it as the new way to God, to give witness to the mighty acts of God that include the ransom sacrifice of Christ, his resurrection, and ascension, and to communicate rapidly to those who spoke other languages.

These abilities were only established by the presence or lying on of hands by the apostles. This coincides with 1 Corinthians 13:8 and the history of these phenomena. Our Greek word for “cease” means that the gift of tongues was to ‘die out’ over time as the last of those who had received this gift passed off the scene of this earth. This is established by the historical fact that the second century saw just that being evidenced. Today, the Christian is moved by Spirit to speak with his heart and mind, defending and establishing the gospel, and destroying false doctrines, snatching some back from the fire. It is these things, which will give credence to the words of the modern-day Christian congregation: “God is really among you.” 1 Corinthians 14:24, 25

[1] Chad Brand, “Tongues, Gift Of”, in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond et al., 1605 (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[2] (Ac 1:8; 2:1-4, 11; 2:37-41; Ac 5:27, 28, 40-42; 6:7; 8:1, 4, 14-17; 10:1-48; 11:20, 21)

[3] Chad Brand, “Tongues, Gift Of”, in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond et al., 1606 (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).