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The Gift of Speaking in Tongues

When the apostles heard that

When Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands
the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money . . . . ” —Acts 8

IN SOME churches, there are people who say that they have the gift of speaking in tongues. Such people desire others to believe that they have received the Holy Spirit, which has given them this gift.  Let us consider what the Holy Scriptures tell us about this, and let us see if those who claim to have the gift of speaking in tongues really do have the gift as those did in the first century.   Before ascending to heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ said in Mark 16:14-20—

He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. . .  In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues . . .

Fortunately, the apostles acknowledged and believed.  What we see in Acts 2:4-12 seems clear enough—

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. …the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look are not all these who speak Galileans?

As we can see, the gift of speaking in tongues (or languages without having studied those languages), was a divine gift which was given to the apostles of Christ. Those who heard them speak could understand them since the apostles spoke in the tongues (languages) which the people spoke.  It is very important that we pay attention to this detail.

The gift of speaking in tongues was given not only to the apostles of Christ, but also to the Gentiles (the household of Cornelius, who were the first Gentiles who heard and received the gospel.)  In Acts 10:44-48 we read—

While Peter was still speaking these words (those of verses 34-43), the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And  he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.” (Read the reference in Acts 11:14-18).

Only in these two cases mentioned above does it say that the Holy Spirit was received directly from heaven. The Spirit came directly upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, and on the first Gentiles who heard the gospel at the house of Cornelius. From there forward, the rest of the disciples who also had the gift of speaking in tongues, or other gifts, received them only by the laying on of hands by the apostles.

Consider, for example, the case of the brethren in Samaria—

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money. . . . —Acts 8:14-18

Another case is that of the twelve men in Ephesus, whom Paul laid hands on and they received the Holy Spirit, “and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all” (Acts 19:1-7). This means that today, for someone to really be able to speak in tongues, without having studied those languages, he would need to receive the laying on of hands of one of the apostles who walked with the Master Jesus Christ, of from the apostle Paul. This naturally in impossible because the apostles are not still alive.

The apostle Paul was the only author in all the New Testament who wrote about this matter of the gift of speaking in tongues. In I to Corinthians 12, he talks about the nine spiritual gifts, but in chapter 14 he deals specifically with the gift of speaking tongues. It is very important that we note what he says about himself. —

I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue —I Corinthians 14:18,19

 Paul emphasizes that in the church everything should be done to provide edification. That is why he says in verse 26: “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” And in verses 27-28, Paul mentions a very important rule. “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church…” We in the church of Christ take this rule very much into account. For example, In July 16-19, 1992, brother Gene Lyles (who preaches in Brady, Texas) and your servant went to Delicias, and to Camargo, Chihuahua, México to preach a series of lectures to the church which meet in colony Lotes Urbanos, where brother Francisco Rivera (RIP) was preaching. On Sunday morning, we went to Camargo, and Brother Gene Lyles preached in English to the church; and Brother Alfonso Retana ( who was living in La Boquilla, Chih. (near Camargo), was the interpreter. Then, in the afternoon we returned to Delicias and brother Lyles was invited to preach to the church where brother Juan M. García was the preacher (Ave. Agricultura 104 Pte.) and a young man named Marcos interpreted into Spanish for him. This way both churches were edified with the preaching of Brother Gene Lyles.
    But in the churches such as Pentecostal, Assembly of God, and others, seemingly do not take into account what the apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 14. On the contrary, they are distinguished by their worship services full of an exaggerated emotionalism. They throw themselves on the floor, shout, cry, and make strange sounds which they identify as the gift of speaking in tongues. If they truly were to receive the Holy Spirit and if they did have the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues, they would follow the rules imposed by the apostle Paul. They do not do that because it is only a pretense. We must not let ourselves be fooled.  Should someone say they have “the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.” Let us remember what the apostle Paul said, “But whether there are prophecies, they will fail, whether there tongues, they will cease: whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.” (I Corinthians 13:8b).


—Roberto V. Spencer

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