Let’s talk about tongues—meaning the spiritual ability to speak in a language you have not learned, whether anyone around you can understand the language or not.
I don’t think Romans 8:26 has anything at all to do with tongues, but we need to dispense with some controversial issues so that they don’t interfere with looking at what the Scripture has to say about prayer in this verse. Tradition—meaning beliefs that we got from our denomination, parents, or some other source to which we are emotionally bonded—can entirely steal our ability to interpret even the most obvious, straightforward teachings of the Bible.
And speaking and praying in tongues is an emotional issue these days, not as much as 30 to 50 years ago, but still an emotional issue.
I have a friend and mentor who, I’m pretty certain, believes that tongues have passed away because of 1 Cor. 13. He’s brought it up with me at least two or three times, and I always just tell him I don’t agree, then avoid discussing the issue.
Simply put, I think that, in regard to the interpretation of Scripture, tongues is a muddy enough issue that it has to be resolved on a practical, experiential basis, not a theoretical one.
Let me explain.
Tongues in Acts
The Book of Acts is often used to argue about the role of tongues in the church today. It is important that we remember that this is the issue. What about today? Should we be speaking and praying in tongues? Is there spiritual edification for us or for the body in praying in tongues, or has it ceased, as 1 Cor. 13:8 says it will at some point.
Despite the fact that the Book of Acts talks about tongues more than any other book of the Bible, it is, in my opinion, useless for determining anything about what we ought to do today.
The reason is that nothing is said about tongues in the Book of Acts that is doctrinal or theological. We are simply told that it happened. We are given no instructions, no reasons, no guide for the future.
I think the one thing we can all agree on concerning tongues in the Book of Acts is that it happened often, it happened at conversion, it’s never mentioned outside of conversion, and it seems to have happened to every convert present.
I would add that we can all agree that it always happened when some new group of people came into the church, but I think it’s really a stretch to suggest that the disciples of John in Acts 19:1-6 are a new group of people.
The others are:
- The Jews on the day of Pentecost, represented by the apostles (Acts 2:1-4)
- The Gentiles under the preaching of Peter (Acts 10:45-46)
- Possibly the Samaritans under the preaching of Philip and the laying on of hands of Peter and John (Acts 8:14-18)
Tongues in 1 Corinthians
The only other place that tongues is mentioned is in 1 Corinthians 12-14. There we find some definitive guidance on the use of tongues in the church and in our private prayer life.
Corinthians tells us:
- Not everyone has the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12:30)
- Interpretation of tongues is also a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:30)
- Tongues without love is useless (1 Cor. 13:1)
- That tongues will stop when “that which is complete” comes (1 Cor. 13:8), as will prophecy and the gift of knowledge
- That praying in tongues builds up the person praying, but not the church (1 Cor. 14:4)
- Unless the tongues are interpreted (1 Cor. 14:5)
- If we speak in tongues, we should pray that we can interpret (1 Cor. 14:13)
- If you bless food in public in tongues, you are giving thanks well, but you shouldn’t do that because no one else can understand you (1 Cor. 14:16-17)
- Paul prays and sings in tongues (1 Cor. 14:15)
- Paul doesn’t understand what he’s praying or singing (1 Cor. 14:14)
- Paul speaks in tongues more than any of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:18)
- And he thanks God for that! (1 Cor. 14:18)
- Paul doesn’t speak or pray in tongues in the church (1 Cor. 14:19)
Summing Up the Scriptures on Tongues
What does that say for us today?
Honestly? I don’t know. Here’s the problem.
Whom do you know that speaks in tongues and that spoke in tongues spontaneously, without instruction or being told that they should speak in tongues?
One person? Two?
I attended and diligently participated in Pentecostal and charismatic churches for eight years. I read books about the history of the Pentecostal movement written by Pentecostals. I read everything that Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, T.L. Osborne, and several others wrote.
Almost no one in the modern era has ever spoken in tongues without coaching. There are a few rare exceptions, but they are very rare.
I think it is undeniable that this is not what happened in the Book of Acts.
Were the apostles coached on speaking tongues before the Spirit fell on them? How about Cornelius? Did Peter really interrupt his sermon about Jesus to mention that real Christians speak in tongues, but Luke forgot to mention it?
No, in the Book of Acts, men and women spoke in tongues as the Spirit fell on them—spontaneously, without coaching.
That simply doesn’t happen today. Or if it does, it happens so rarely that I have never heard of it despite being on the mission field with Pentecostal missionaries and extensive experience in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and literature.
I heard of one well-known ministry (a husband-wife team, I forget their names) that sat people down and had them say “abba” over and over until they “spoke in tongues.”
I’m sorry, that’s not the New Covenant’s gift of tongues. It is babbling.
Look up “travesty.” It’s an interesting word. What that ministry was doing is a “travesty” of tongues, not tongues itself.
I have to go to a prayer meeting. I’m late. I’ll give you a conclusion tomorrow.
There is a good, practical approach to tongues in the modern era, and the secret to it is locked up in Romans 8:26.