God chose tongues as the initial evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost. Speaking in tongues is God speaking through believers in a language we have not learned. The languages are real. As seen in the second chapter of Acts, sometimes people that hear others speaking in tongues will recognize the languages that are being spoken.
The idea of speaking in tongues was not a new concept to those in the upper room awaiting the gift that Jesus told them to wait for. They had read the Old Testament Prophets that had prophesied about God using tongues in the new covenant. Isaiah prophesied that God’s people would speak with tongues.
Isaiah 28:11-12 11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. 12 To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
Jesus taught that we would speak in other tongues.
Mark 16:17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
There are four clear passages in the New Testament speaking with tongues. Three of those passages are cases where those who received the gift of the Holy Ghost spoke with tongues. Another case in Acts indicates external evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost.
The 120 in the upper room spoke with tongues on the day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:1-4 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Cornelius spoke with tongues.
Acts 10:44-47 44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
The disciples of John spoke with tongues.
Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
These verses are clear that when they received the Holy Ghost they spoke in tongues. Speaking in tongues was used as external evidence that the Holy Ghost had been received.
The Samaritans spoke with tongues.
Acts 8:17-19 17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, 19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
Simon witnessed that the Holy Ghost had been received. He saw external evidence. In all other cases the external evidence was speaking with tongues. It is doctrinally and logically sound to expect that the evidence Simon witnessed was speaking in tongues.
The book of Acts describes tongues as the initial evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost. The scriptures do not discuss the idea of receiving the Holy Ghost without speaking in tongues (Bernard, p. 236).
There are several reasons that God chose tongues. For one, tongues as a sign for unbelievers.
1 Corinthians 14:22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
The tongue is the most difficult member of the body to control.
James 3:2-6 2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
Speaking in tongues is universal. Regardless of nationality and language, people can recognize speaking in tongues (Bernard, p. 237, 238).
Speaking in tongues provides certainty in receiving the Holy Ghost (Bernard, p. 238). There is no other sign given as the initial evidence that someone has been filled with the Spirit.
Another clear passage is 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14. Paul is teaching of the different types of tongues. The first type of tongues, the tongues that everyone that is born of the Spirit will have, is the tongues of self-edification. This is the tongues that is the initial evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost. The second type of tongues is the Gift of Tongues. This is tongues that is used to give a message to the Church. Not everyone will have the Gift of Tongues, but everyone that is born of the Spirit will have the evidence of tongues (Reeves, p. 30). The Gifts of Tongues is what Paul was talking about when he asked ‘do all speak with tongues”? We see a difference in Paul’s writings between the various types of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
1 Corinthians 12:30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal
1 Corinthians 13:8 Charity 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.
1 Corinthians 14:1-15 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. 2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. 3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. 6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? 7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. 11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. 12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
1 Corinthians 14:18-28 18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. 20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. 21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. 22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. 23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. 26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 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. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
1 Corinthians 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
In these verses Paul is teaching the differences between self-edification and edification of the Church. If there is no interpreter then we are to speak quietly because it is a tongue for self-edification. If the message in tongues is for the edification of the Church we will know the difference and there will be an interpreter. Paul did not say it was wrong to speak in tongues. Paul was saying to use the gift in the correct manner, just as every gift should be used in the correct manner. When Paul asked “do all speak with tongues?” he wasn’t asking “do all speak with tongues when they receive the Holy Ghost?” He was asking “do all speak with the gift of tongues to edify the Church?” These verses were written to those that have already received the Holy Ghost because all of Paul’s writings are written to the Churches. Paul included himself, showing that he spoke with tongues.
Speaking in tongues is of God and for the Church today. Speaking in tongues is given to us for an initial sign of receiving the Holy Ghost, for personal edification, and for edification of the Church. Speaking in tongues should be expected as a normal relationship with God, including personal devotion and public worship. Speaking in tongues is an important part of our relationship with God in growing spiritually and allowing God to rule in our lives. Speaking in tongues by allowing God to speak through us is placing God first.
Bernard, David K. (1984). New Birth, The
Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press
Reeves, Kenneth (1966). Holy Ghost with tongues, The
Granite City: Inspiration Books
David Bernard The New Birth
Kenneth V. Reeves The Holy Ghost with Tongues