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The Bible teaches many things about speaking in tongues: 1. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Corinthians 14: 1-5 2. It is a form of prayer: I Corinthians 14:2 3. It edifies the one speaking in tongues: 1 Corinthians 14:4 4. It should be done in a public manner only when there is an interpreter available: 1 Corinthians 14:4-6; 1 Corinthians 14:13; 1 Corinthians 14:17 5. It shouldn't completely replace prayer in one's native tongue: 1 Corinthians 14:13-19 6. It can be a heavenly language: 1 Corinthians 13:1 7. It can be an earthly language: Acts 2:4-13 8. It is one of the signs that can accompany believers: Mark 16:17 9. Paul encouraged his audiences to speak in tongues: 1 Corinthians 14:5; Acts 19:1-6 10. It can be given before a person is baptized in water: Acts 10:44-48 11. Along with all other gifts, we're told that at some time the gift of tongues will cease and only faith, hope and love will remain: 1 Corinthians 13:8 The above are examples of what you'll find in the Bible regarding the gift of tongues, but how these verses are interpreted and taught to Christians today in churches varies quite a bit depending on the type of church and/or the denomination one attends. Some believe the charge to exercise all of the gifts of the spirit, including tongues, is an active charge to us today. Others believe that the time has already passed for the gifts to have ceased (See 1 Corinthians 13:8), and therefore they don't believe people should expect to prophesy, speak in tongues, or operate in any of the other spiritual gifts at this point in time. I won't attempt to defend my opinion in this matter since this subject has been widely discussed on eBible in other Q/A threads. However, let me offer this passage in Hebrews 13:7-8: "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." All I'll say is this: I am convinced that believers today should expect to partake of all God has to offer, just as the early church did. We serve the same God as Jesus' earliest followers, so it doesn't make sense to me that the same gifts and power that were available to them wouldn't be available for us today.
The best place to start would be with the definition. Tongues is defined as: "the tongue, a member of the body, an organ of speech; a tongue; the language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations". http://www.blbclassic.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1100&t=KJV Tongues is a discernable, intelligable, language that can be reduced to pen and paper. It's purpose and function is clearly demonstrated in Acts 2. "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God." (Acts 2:4-11 KJV). "And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" ".........we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God." These men heard the saving gospel in their own tongue (language). The results? "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:41) Below, the apostle Paul uses common sense logic as he explains the necessity of hearing the gospel. I believe it goes without saying that the speech would have to be intelligible and discernable. "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:13-17).
There are two kinds of tongues mentioned here in Corinthians: firstly the sign gift of tongues which is what an unbeliever hears that is a direct message from God in their own language that the speaker has never naturally acquired. It becomes a sign gift because the hearer knows that the speaker could never have learned to speak the language yet they themselves fully understand it. This is mentioned in the book of Acts 2:1-13. The first thing to note is that when they were Baptized in the Holy Spirit they were in a particular house and they were all at that time given the utterance. For what purpose were they all speaking in tongues in that upper room when there were only the speakers and no unbelievers assembled there? They were not speaking to each other and not to unbelievers but we are left with one other option. They were giving thanks to God in a language inspired by the Holy Spirit and unlearned by the speaker. This inspired worship was clearly explained in 1Cor 14, when the event spilled over into Solomon's portico the speakers were not preaching the Gospel but were glorifying God in their midst. The hearers heard them magnifying God and the only one that preached the Gospel at that event was Peter. He explained it and preached a fiery sermon that seared the hearers with conviction. The sign then was that the speakers could not have learned the dialects of those Jews gathered there. Acts 2:7-12. This sign gift is equal to prophecy in that it is God speaking directly to a person in their own language with the one difference being the speaker does not understand what he is saying. The other kind of tongue is where the speaker is worshipping or praying to God in a language unknown to them and any person on earth, but only understood by God. 1Cor 14:2,13,14, 15,18,19, 1Cor 14:2 declares that no man understands it but that the speaker is uttering mysteries to God. 1Cor 14:13-15 distinguishes the gift from common intelligent language to be praying and worshipping God in the Spirit and not with understanding. It is only edifying he speaker and Paul encourages them all to speak in this kind of tongue 1Cor 14:5. Why would the apostle want them all to speak in tongues? Because it is spiritually benefits the speaker but not the others except it is interpreted. Paul also spoke this language that he didn't understand more than all of them but in the Church he would rather speak five words he understood and the Church understood to teach them and edify them all. All languages are intelligible, I agree. One is intelligible to God and man the other intelligible to the hearer only the other is prayer and worship that God only understands unless one receives the interpretation by revelation and this is the supernatural gift of interpretation listed in the nine gifts 1Cor 12:10,.
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