By Irvin Baxter
It is plainly taught in the scriptures that speaking with tongues was not an unusual occurrence in the early church. Every prominent account of conversions in the apostolic church either plainly states or else strongly implies that the convert did speak with other tongues upon being filled with the Spirit of God. (See Acts 2:1-4, Acts 8:12-18, Acts 10:44-48, Acts 19:1-6.) To the above most Bible students would agree.
It is when we discuss the place of tongues in the present Christian church that controversy arises. There are three general lines of thinking on this subject: 1. Tongues have ceased. 2. Tongues are optional. 3. All who receive the Holy Ghost do speak with tongues.
Seeing that these positions are opposed one to the other, it is required of every sincere person to “Search the scriptures; for in them ye THINK ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39) “ . . . Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12) We all must stand before the judgment seat of Christ. We all must give account of ourselves to Almighty God. Since every individual is responsible to God alone for his salvation, let us cast aside the opinions of men and consider each of these positions in light of the scriptures.
We have chosen to examine this position first because if this be true, there is no need to investigate the doctrine of “speaking with tongues” any farther.
Let us begin by establishing more thoroughly what is believed by the proponents of this doctrine and reasons given for this belief. It is believed that the Apostles actually did speak in other languages under the influence of the Spirit of God. It is also conceded that those with whom the Apostles had contact also received what is sometimes called the “miraculous gift of the Holy Ghost” (speaking with tongues). It is dogmatically asserted, however, by those of this persuasion that no one after the Apostolic era could possibly receive the Holy Ghost, speaking with tongues. The reason given for the sudden halt to this glorious experience is that all miraculous manifestations of God to the church ceased upon the death of the Apostles and of those with whom the Apostles had contact. The lone scripture given to support this theory is I Corinthians 13:8-12
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: But when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall 1 know even as I am known.
Notice that verse 8 is a prophecy that some day tongues will cease. There is no doubt about it. There will be a time according to the Bible when men will no longer speak with other tongues as the spirit gives utterance. The question we must answer is: “When did this prophecy actually state that tongues would cease?” Verse 10 identifies the time as “. . . when that which is perfect is come.”
Those who contend that tongues have ceased teach that “that which is perfect” refers to the New Testament scriptures, and that upon completion of the New Testament all speaking with tongues ceased. However, there are several discrepancies in this argument. Notice that at the same time tongues are to cease, verse 8 teaches that some other things are also to be discontinued.
“. . . whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” Whenever tongues are to cease, knowledge is also to cease. If knowledge has not yet ceased, then tongues have not ceased either. Now we know definitely that knowledge has not ceased. We still have colleges, seminaries, Bible studies. etc. If knowledge has ceased, why are you now reading this article?
“. . . whether there be prophecies, they shall fail..” At the same time tongues are to cease, prophecies are to cease. Now if tongues have ceased already, that means prophecy has also ceased never to be resumed. This, however, is contrary to the scriptures. For the scriptures teach that during the tribulation, a time yet to come, two witnesses shall prophesy for three and a half years. (Rev. 11:3) Since prophecy has not yet ceased and since knowledge has not yet been discontinued, then it is very evident that neither have tongues ceased. It is also shown since tongues have not ceased that “that which is perfect” referred to in I Cor. 13:10 is not the New Testament. Certainly the New Testament is perfect, but there are many other things which are also perfect. Jesus Christ was perfect, but he did not cause a halt to speaking with tongues. The gift of the Holy Ghost was perfect, yet the speaking with tongues accompanied the Holy Ghost. So we see it is necessary to study the context of this passage in order to know the time indicated by “when that which is perfect is come.”
In this connection let us look closely at verse 12: “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.” Now, seeing through a glass darkly refers to our present mortal state. Then face to face speaks of the time when “that which is perfect” is come. When shall we see Jesus face to face? At the return of Jesus for His church, whereupon we shall be changed from mortal beings to immortal beings. (I Cor. 15:50-54, I Thess. 4:13-18) This is when we shall see Him face to face, and this is when we shall know even as we are known. Do any of us now know Jesus as He knows us? No! We merely know Him in part, but THEN (when that which is perfect is come) shall we know even as we are known. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. He knows our downsittings and our uprisings. We do not know Him that fully now, but we shall some day know as we are known.
In view of the above we can see that “. . . when that which is perfect is come” refers to the time when we have received our immortal bodies and are in the presence of the Lord forever. It is at this time that tongues shall cease, knowledge shall vanish, and prophecies shall fail. Knowledge will vanish because we shall know all things. Tongues will cease because the fundamental function of tongues is to speak mysteries unto God. “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” (I Cor. 14:2) When we stand face to face before the throne of God, there will be no need to speak mysteries in the spirit.
We see then, that there is absolutely no support for the teaching that tongues have ceased. If the original church of Jesus Christ practiced speaking with tongues, why shouldn’t the present church of Jesus Christ speak with tongues? Did not the Lord promise through the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:39) He was referring to the gift of the Holy Ghost accompanied by speaking with tongues; and Peter was saying that it was promised to those who were yet afar off. This includes people in our present time. If God has promised it to us, why not believe it, embrace it, and receive it?!
There are two principal schools of thought among those who believe that speaking with tongues should be in the Christian’s life today. The first view states that some people who receive the Holy Ghost do speak with tongues, while others who receive it do not. The second teaching holds that all who receive the Holy Ghost do speak with tongues, and that tongues is the sign that a person is being filled with the spirit.
The first question that we must answer then is, “In the early church did all who received the Holy Ghost speak with tongues?” Let us examine the historical record given to us in the book of Acts. There are four in-depth accounts of people receiving the Holy Ghost. The first of these is found in Acts 2:1-4.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Notice that here they were ALL filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues. All who received the Holy Ghost here spake with other tongues. Now let us look at another instance found in Acts 10:44-46.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.
Here again, all who received the Holy Ghost did speak with tongues. Further, this scripture teaches that the way they knew that these individuals received the Holy Ghost was “for they heard them speak with tongues.” It is evident that speaking with tongues was the sign that people had been filled with the Holy Ghost.
Acts 19:6 records: “And when Paul laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”
Again in this record of the Holy Ghost outpouring, we see that those receiving the Holy Ghost did speak with tongues.
The last account of people receiving the Holy Ghost which we would like to discuss is found in Acts 8:14-19.
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (for as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
This is the only full account of conversion in the book of Acts (the history book of the early church) which does not specifically state that those who received the Holy Ghost did speak with other tongues. However, if we will study the above passage we can show that they did in fact speak with tongues when they received the Holy Ghost at Samaria. The author of the book of Acts merely did not explicitly say that they spake with tongues because by this time it was an accepted fact that tongues was the accompanying sign of the Holy Ghost.
Notice here the setting. The Samaritans had believed and had been baptized. (Verse 12.) Yet Peter and John came down from Jerusalem to pray for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost. (“For as yet he was fallen upon none of them:”) Now the question is, “How did they know that the Holy Ghost had fallen upon none of them?” Was it not because they had not heard them speak with tongues? Then verse 17 emphatically declares, “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” How did they know they had now received the Holy Ghost? There obviously was a sign. Let’s go on to verses 18 and 19. This passage states that Simon SAW that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given. Now, if there were no visible manifestations accompanying the Holy Ghost, what did Simon see? Also notice what Simon the sorcerer did. He offered the apostles money, saying, “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” Why would Simon offer money for the power to lay hands on people that they might receive the Holy Ghost? Simply because he had watched the apostles lay their hands on the people and had seen them begin to speak with other tongues as the spirit gave utterance. He thought within himself. “If I could lay my hands on people and they would speak in other languages that they had never learned before, that could be turned into quite a money-making proposition.” So we see that even though Acts 8 does not say they spake with tongues when they received the Holy Ghost, it is very evident that they actually did. If you ask a shoe clerk to bring you a pair of shoes, you don’t say, “And be sure to bring the tongues.” You know when you get the shoes that you get the tongues of the shoes along with them. The same is true with the Holy Ghost. Acts 8 did not say that they spake with tongues because the author assumed by this time everyone knew that when an individual receives the Holy Ghost, he does speak with tongues!
Thus we see that in every account of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost in the early church the recipients did speak with other tongues when they were filled. Acts 2—tongues. Acts 8—tongues. Acts 10—tongues. Acts 19—tongues. If every time they received the Holy Ghost they spake with tongues, why should we believe that we have received the Holy Ghost without speaking with tongues? Mark 16:17— “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they SHALL SPEAK WITH NEW TONGUES.”
If tongues are not the sign that a person has received the Holy Ghost, how are we to know that we have received it? Some say that a person receives the spirit automatically when he believes. (See Acts 19) Others contend that the spirit comes when an individual is baptized. Those holding the above views insist that we must accept by faith that we have received the spirit with no outward manifestation or definite spiritual experience. Can these teachings stand the test of the scriptures?
Acts 8:12 records: “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Notice! These Samaritans had believed and had been baptized. According to the foregoing doctrines, these people should have now had the Holy Ghost. Yet Acts 8:14-16 plainly tells us that Peter and John “when they were come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them;)” They hadn’t received the Holy Ghost! What does this teach us then? Even though we may have believed and also been baptized, this does not mean we have received the Holy Ghost. How then can we know that we have received the Holy Ghost? How did the apostles know when Cornelius’ household received it in Acts 10:46? “For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.” What more proof do we need? When you receive the Holy Ghost you will know it; for you will speak with other tongues as the spirit gives utterance.