Speaking In Tongues

Speaking In Tongues

Lewis Johnston Jr.

Through the gracious permission of Dr. John Walvoord, Editor, Bibliotheca Sacra, we are able to make available to our readers this article by Dr. Lewis Johnston (Dallas Assembly) which appeared first in that periodical. The article presents the problem relative to speaking in tongues and indicates a proper biblical approach. We trust that other articles in future numbers will provide help that some feel necessary in this matter.


Speaking in tongues is a phenomenon that appeared sporadically in the apostlic age. There are at least three references to it in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. According to Luke the phenomenon occurred on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit baptized the believers into the Church, the body of Christ, and inaugurated the age of the Church. The details are given in Acts two. Then again in Cornelius’ house, when he and others believed and were baptized into the body of Christ, there occurred this astonishing manifestation. The last clear reference to tongues in the Acts is found in chapter nineteen, when the disciples of John the Baptist were baptized again by Paul at Ephesus. They responded by speaking in tongues and prophesying.

The only other certain references to tongues occur in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapters twelve through fourteen. In these chapters the manifestation is defined as a spiritual gift, and instruction is given the Corinthians regarding the nature, the purpose, and the regulation of the gift in the local church meetings. It is evident that the gift was exercised not only in Corinth, but also by the Apostle himself in his ministry.

The so-called “Tongues Movement,” which purports to represent a recovery of the historic manifestation, is a comparatively recent phenomenon. It has been asssociated generally with small denominations of a so-called “Pentecostal” character, among whom there are, no doubt, many genuine, if misguided, Christians.

In recent months the movement has taken a new turn. It has begun to make inroads into the larger and more influential denominations, and it now claims adherents in such denominations as the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Dutch Reformed and Baptist churches. Clergy, as well as laity, are speaking of “a new dimension in life,” “a definite enrichment in spiritual life,” or “an added, and rewarding method by which to praise and pray.” It has been claimed that, when the experience of speaking in tongues comes, “people begin tithing almost automatically; they begin reading the Bible with new understanding; they have more love and charity; heavy drinkers stop drinking.”

In days of decaying faith and spiritual unrest there often intrudes a predispostion to superstition and to miracle-working. This is reflected in the New Testament, and particularly in Acts, in individuals such as Simon Magus and Elymas the sorcerer. There also comes with general spiritual deadness a desire on the part of some for reality in the spiritual life. No doubt this accounts for the interest of many in the tongues movement today. Genuine Christians might well rejoice in the evidence of interest in the things that concern our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, although we cannot accept some of the evidences of concern as Biblically correct. Experiences must always come under the judgment of the Word of God, and that which is not in harmony with the Bible must be renounced and abandoned. A well-known Bible teacher said many years ago that there could be no authentic experience of the Holy Spirit which was not “wedded to the words of the Bible.” And with this surely we must concur.

The questions that conern students of the Word in connection with speaking in tongues are these: (1) What is the nature of the gift of speaking in tongues? (2) What is the purpose of the gift? (3) What is the validity of speaking in tongues today?

It is the purpose of this discussion to focus attention upon the relevant passages in the Bible, which set forth in some detail the various aspects of the Biblical gift of speaking in tongues. In conclusion there will be a brief review of the gift in history.

The first passage to come under discussion is the passage in which the greatest amount of detail is given, 2 Corinthians fourteen. There will follow a treatment of the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, and a consideration of the light that comes from the Acts.