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A recent survey by LifeWay indicated that “the majority of Protestant senior pastors (63 percent) and laity (51 percent) believe in the gift of a private prayer language.” The same report went on to say, “The majority of Protestant pastors believe the spiritual gift of tongues is “still given today to some believers” (53 percent); 30 percent believe this gift was “only given in the days of the Apostles”; 13 percent believe “the gift is still given today to all true believers”; and 3 percent “Don’t know.”

While it is good to take notice of where the contemporary church stands a given issue, we must always check our understanding against what God has revealed to us on a given topic. So let me take a moment and outline some of the basic assertions that the Scripture makes regarding tongues or a private prayer language.

Observations from 1 Corithians 12 & 14

  1. Given by the Holy Spirit: “For to one is given…through the Spirit, and to another…according to the same Spirit…to another … by the same Spirit, and to another … by the one Spirit, …to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things” (12:8-11)
  2. Given according to God’s Will: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” (12:11)
  3. Given at the point of conversion: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills … For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, (12:11, 13)
  4. Given to some, but not all: “For to one is given… and to another … to another … and to another … and to another  … and to another … and to another … to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.  But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” (12:8-11)
  5. Given for the edification of others: “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (12:7) “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” (14:26)
  6. Required an interpreter:If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.” (14:27-28)
  7. Was an intelligible language: The fact that some could interpret (understand) what the person was saying gives us some indication that tongue was an intelligible language. The first occurrence of tongues in Acts to leads us to believe that tongues were in a known language. “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (Acts 2:8)
  8. Tongues will cease:“if there are tongues, they will cease” (13:8). While it is largely debated when togues will cease. I am inclined to believe that they ceased at the end of the apostolic age as they were a sign to confirm the ministry of those who were a witness to the gospel message. “In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers” (14:21-22). And the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heardGod also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. ” (Heb. 2:3-4)

In light of the biblical evidence, I do not think that what people today consider the gift of tongues is in any way connected with a work of the Holy Spirit. Even if you do not believe that the gift of tongues has already ceased, you must admit that the way in which “tongues” is exercised in most churches today does not accord with the biblical instructions outlined in 1 Cor. 12 & 14, that is, it is not a known language, their is no one to interpret what is being said, and it does nothing to build up the body of Christ.