The Gifts of the Spirit – Speaking in Tongues

As a matter of some importance, the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, informed his readers about the gifts of the Spirit, “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; ….. to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; … to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Cor.12:7-10).

Altogether there were eight different gifts in this list and it is noteworthy that the gift of the tongues and their interpretation were listed last as being of the least importance. The reason for this would be that these gifts were effective in the ecclesias generally for their immediate profit but the ability to speak in tongues or languages was only useful when preaching in a foreign country where that language was spoken.

It must be remembered that the use of the gift of tongues or different languages was not mentioned in any of the four gospel records. This is because the preaching of Jesus was confined to those of his own race, the Jews and occasionally to Samaritans who apparently could also speak the same language as the Jews.

The Preaching at Pentecost

The first time that speaking in tongues is mentioned is in Acts chapter 2 which describes what happened on the day of Pentecost. The twelve apostles were commanded by Jesus before his ascension to heaven not to depart from Jerusalem where, “ye shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days hence” Acts 1:5. This haptism is described in great detail in chapter 2. ‘And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty rushing 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 Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues as the spirit gave them utterance’ (2:2-4).

It was the unusual sound of a ‘rushing mighty wind’ that excited the curiosity of a multitude of devout Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast from all over the Roman Empire. On this occasion a wonderful miracle occurred as Peter addressed the crowd because, although they came from many different countries, they heard Peter’s message in their own mother-tongue.

‘…the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying to one another, “Behold, are not all these which speak Galilians? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites…and strangers from Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speaking in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:6-11).

Because of this miracle, the whole multitude that consisted of dwellers in so many different countries (the full text names fifteen) were able to hear and understand what Peter and the other apostles had to tell them.

In this connection Peter quoted a passage from the prophecy of Joel, chapter 2:28-32, to prove that the miracle of being able to speak in various languages which they were then experiencing was an initial fulfilment of the promise of God that he would “pour out his spirit upon all flesh.”

It can be appreciated that, because of his remarkable outpouring of the spirit enabling the use of tongues, many of these visitors to Jerusalem found the preaching of Peter so compelling that they wanted to be guided by him and be baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of this event the membership of the early Christian Church was swelled by the addition of 3,000 new disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Those who were baptised also received a gift of the Spirit for Peter had said, “Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 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 2:38-39)

Holy Spirit – not Holy Ghost

You may have noted that in some of the previous quotations from Acts the word ‘spirit’ has been substituted for ‘Ghost’. This substitution is justifiable because the Greek for ‘spirit’ is ‘pneuma’. In the AV ‘pneuma’ is actually translated ‘spirit’ in the passage containing the words of Jesus when he said, “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you.” (1:18) This statement clearly shows that the Holy Spirit is the power of God by which he enables the apostles and others to perform miracles. As a translation of ‘pneuma,’ therefore, it is decided that ‘spirit’ is preferable to ‘Ghost’.

The Use of the Gifts of the Spirit in the Early Church

It is only natural that the brethren and sisters should be enthusiastic about using these gifts of the Spirit. Paul describes this as follows, “When ye come together, everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” (1 Cor.14:26) Here Paul points out that the Spirit gifts were given for the express purpose of edifying the Church. This means that the gift of tongues must be used to the same end. So Paul adds, “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.” (14:27-28)

The whole purpose of these gifts of the Spirit was to build up the Church with knowledge and understanding so that it attains a state of maturity, an appropriate Holy Temple for God to dwell in. Consequently Paul, when writing to the Ephesian Church about these gifts wrote, “And he gave some apostles, and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph.4:11-13)

The phrase ‘perfect man’ means a mature man. The word ‘perfect’ (Gr. Teleios = of full age) refers to the maturity of the members of the ecclesia. One can see from this part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and his many other letters how that these gifts of the Spirit were instrumental in building up the members of the early Church in knowledge, doctrine and practice.

The ability to bestow Holy Spirit gifts not permanent

One may wonder how long the ministration of the Spirit gifts would continue. Paul gives us a good idea when comparing the influence which the practice of love among brethren had with that of Spirit gifts. He wrote, “Charity (love) 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… But when that which is perfect (mature) is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (1 Cor.13:8-10)

It is probable that the apostles were able to bestow Spirit gifts for as long as they lived (Acts 8:14-17); by which time the Christian Church would have attained maturity. This being so, any claim in later times to the possession of Holy Spirit gifts, especially speaking in tongues, does not agree with what we have found in the foregoing Scriptures and therefore should not be accepted as valid.

The New Testament

Finally we must not overlook the fact that most of us have been blessed with a copy of the New Testament which contains four accounts of the ministry of the Lord Jesus and many epistles all written by men possessing the Holy Spirit. All these provide ample guidance to lead us to eternal life. There really is no need for any further revelations. Let Paul sum up the matter for us;

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect – PERFECT, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim.3:16-17).

Bro. Ralph Green, (Torquay, U.K.)

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