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The God given gift of tongues

What is the gift of tongues in 1st Corinthians 12? Are these foreign languages or some other form of utterance?

The gift of tongues was the ability to miraculously speak in other languages that the individual did not know. The account of the apostles’ preaching after receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 is a good example.

This was on the day of Pentecost, when there were Jews from all over the world in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5). The apostles received the promise of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1-4, when they were “filled with the Holy Spirit” it says they “began to speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:4). When the people gathered to see what was going on, they were “confused, because everyone heard [the apostles] speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6).

Notice, it says the apostles spoke with other tongues and the people heard them in their own language – the words tongues and language are used interchangeably in this passage. Acts 2:8, “how is it that we hear each in our own language,” Acts 2:11, “we hear them speaking in our own tongues.” Tongues and languages are the same thing!

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, the apostle Paul was dealing with another of the several divisive issues plaguing the Corinthian congregation (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-11).

In this case, they were dividing up over who had what spiritual gift and some – those with the gift of tongues apparently – were claiming their gift made them more important than those with other gifts. The gift of tongues would have certainly been especially important in a place like Corinth, with it’s very high number of travelers passing through the ports.

Because of this, it seems those with the gift of tongues became puffed up over those with the other gifts. By their abuse of the gift of tongues they had taken away its real usefulness in spreading the gospel of Christ. Paul corrected their misuse of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. In this passage, largely concerned with the abuses of those speaking in tongues, the words tongues and languages are again used interchangeably (1 Corinthians 14:8-11).

The gift of tongues that some claim today is not at all the same thing as that described in the Bible. Those claiming to speak in tongues today claim that they are speaking in an unknown language known only to God.

However, when Paul referred to the tongue speaker speaking only to God it was a rebuke to those who weren’t using the gift correctly to speak to someone in their own language “the wonderful works of God” (cf. Acts 2:11).

Please feel free to write or call with your Bible questions.

Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or BibleQnA@NormFields.com.