Sexta, 19 de Abril de 2024
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The Gift of Tongues Today

The large number of different churches and doctrines that characterize our time has brought the most diverse questions to members of the historic churches. One of these dilemmas is the "gift of tongues". It is very widespread in evangelical circles, the idea that the spiritual believer should speak in tongues to grow in communion with God, or as a natural result of profound knowledge and experience with it.

Dom de LinguasThe result is that sincere believers start to worry about their spiritual health and the communion of their denomination with God when they see other denominations full of wonders, revelations and tongues. Historical denominations are relegated to a spiritually superficial plan, in the minds of many, labeled as "cold churches."

Our intention is to find out what the Bible really teaches about the gift of tongues and to compare it with current practice and teaching in order to position ourselves in face of this dilemma and follow the teaching of God through the apostles and prophets.

What is the gift of tongues?

The Bible exposes the gift of tongues as a supernatural capacity that allowed some people to speak of God's greatness in another language without ever having learned it. The gift of tongues in the Bible was not the result of exercise or learning, but a "gift", something given by God. Another striking feature of this gift is that it was not within everyone's reach. Every Christian received, and still receives some gift of the Holy Spirit. However, the gift was not chosen by the people, but given by God’s will for the edification of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12.28-30; 1 Peter 4.10,11).

In addition to every believer owning a distinctive gift, in all lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible, the gift of tongues always appears near the bottom, except in 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul discusses the futility of the gifts without the presence of love. The fact is that the gift of tongues was in a secondary position in the plan to build the church. It had as its main objective to be a sign to non-believers and not to believers. Pointed to the judgment of God that would come upon Israel for rejecting the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 14: 21-22 cf. Dt 28: 45 to 46.49).

The languages ​​spoken by those who possessed the gift were natural languages spoken in the earth. In the New Testament, two words are used to refer to languages, Glossa and Dialektos. The first means "languages", or tongue (anatomy). The second means "language" or "dialect". These directions point to earthly languages, languages ​​used around the world.

Despite the clarity of the terms, part of the confusion about the gift of tongues in Brazil is due to the translation of the version "Almeida Revista e Corrigida". It translates the word glóssais (languages) in 1 Corinthians 14.5,6,23, with the expression "tongues". This gave rise to the mistaken idea that languages ​​were foreign to the human race, justifying the production of sounds and syllables without any meaning or the belief it is a unique language of angels. This was certainly not the intention of the translators of the Almeida’s version once they solved this misunderstanding in the version "Almeida Revista e Atualizada" with the words "other languages".

The claim that the languages ​​spoken by the disciples were "tongues of angels" is not true. Paul fights deviations and misuse of the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 to regulate its use, cutting the excesses committed in the church and forbidding some people to exercise it in public worship, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13.1). Paul compared the people who spoke in tongues, but that did not love their brothers, to bells or metal gongs whose sole function was to make noise when struck. They were men and women who did not develop their supernatural ability for the good of others, not for the growth of Christ's body, but for self-aggrandizing and for being admired and envied.

The apostle was so concerned about the situation that he used a figure of speech called hyperbole when talking about the need for love. Hyperbole is the exaggeration of an expression to highlight an idea or demonstrate a strong feeling. The first three verses of chapter 13 are exposed in this light. In v. 1 Paul says that speaking "many" languages ​​without love is something useless and purposeless. He extends the reasoning and states that the same would happen even if someone spoke the language of angels. We should note that there are no reports in the Bible of a specific language of angels, for at all times that the angels spoke to the men, they did using human languages. Paul spoke of "tongues of angels" in 1 Cor 13.1 to highlight, through hyperbole, that no matter how the Corinthian brothers were impressed with this gift - love was bigger and necessary.

So when the Bible speaks about the gift of tongues it refers to an “ability outside of man that enables him to speak of the glory of God in another human language not known to him who speaks."

Is the gift of tongues a sign of spirituality?

Two Bible books that deal with the gift of tongues are Acts and 1 Corinthians. Acts is not a fundamentally normative or doctrinal book. It is a historical work that chronicles accurately the early years of the Christian Church. In turn, 1 Corinthians is a doctrinal book that traces clear rules of conduct aimed at the development of the church. Despite the difference of focus, both books point to the same reality about the tongues.

You may notice in the book of Acts that the gift of tongues was not a sign of spiritual maturity. Although its first appearance have occurred in 120 "disciples of Christ" (Acts 2), at other times was it happened in newly converted (Acts 10.44-46; 19.6,7). In short, the book of Acts looks at the gift of tongues in a positive way. It is the statement of the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the Church as Jesus promised (Acts 1.8 Jn 14:16; 15:26; 16.7) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer since their conversion (Acts 2:38 Eph 1.13,14 ).

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes about the gift used by believers who, being able to live spiritually, still behaved as carnal and mundane (1 Cor 3.1,2). The Corinthian church, despite being rich in gifts, was not a spiritual church.

Another feature of 1Corinthians is that Paul not once teaches that "all" believers were speaking in tongues. Instead, he says that every believer receives a gift given according to the will of God (1 Cor 12:11) for the edification of the church. Paul associates the lack of love with the gift of tongues (1 Cor 13.1; 14.1) and this shows that some had gifts desired by most - as speaking in tongues - and others did not. So that was the reason for the pride of those who spoke and the jealous of those who didn’t (1 Cor 13.4 – “…It (love) does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud."). In addition, Paul expressly states that not all had the gift of tongues (1 Cor 12.28-30).

Due to the uselessness of the gift of tongues without any interpretation (1 Cor 14.9,16-19) and the damage it could cause to the Gospel among the visitors (1 Cor 14.23-25), Paul also gave standards and prohibitions on the use of the gift of tongues in public worship. So, all of them who had this gift could not speak in tongues in worships, but only two or, "at most" three at the right time and not at the same time. If there was no one in the church who could understand the language and translate for the rest of the church, he who was speaking should be silent. Paul says that if there was no interpretation there would be no edification of the Church (1 Corinthians 14.27,28).

When the gift of tongues was exercised in accordance with these rules, it could not be prohibited (1 Cor 14.39,40). Paul also states that the spirituality of believers speaking in other languages ​​could be measured not by the fact of speaking, but by undergoing such guidelines (1 Corinthians 14.37,38).

Are there are differences between the languages ​​of today and those of the 'New Testament'?

Currently, what is known by gift of tongues holds noticeable differences in comparison to the gift described and regulated in the pages in the New Testament. When we look at the phenomenon of languages ​​in the modern church, we realize that it diametrically differs from the gift in the early church. Some characteristics of the current languages ​​are:

• They are considered a sign of spirituality and a demonstration that the Holy Spirit acts in a deeper way in those who speak them.

• All believers are encouraged to speak in tongues to progress spiritually.

• There are times in public worship in which all, or most people, speak in tongues simultaneously.

• This is not a language, but meaningless syllables randomly put together, or repetition of words and phonemes.

• There are methods taught to people who do not speak in tongues so they can learn to speak by means of relaxation or training.

• The languages ​​are not translated to the edification of the church and evangelism of unbeliever visitors.

• There is great resistance to the acceptance and application of the rules Paul gave to the use of the gift of tongues.

Where did the current concepts about the gift of tongues come from?

A historical analysis between the centuries XXII and XIX shows that theologians of bigger practical expression - both from antiquity and from Protestant Reformation - did not perform or teach the practice of speaking in tongues. All this time, most of the cases in which we sporadically hear about the gift of tongues is between groups as Montanists, Jansenists (pietistic Catholics), Quakers, Shakers and Mormons.

However, the beginning of today's gift of tongues came about with the movement known as "Azusa Street Revival", founded in 1906 by William J. Seymour. Charles Fox Parham, a pioneer of the idea that the specific sign of the baptism by Holy Spirit is “speaking in tongues”, inspired him.

The biblical and historical analysis of the gift of tongues and the presence of numerous contradictions and differences between the current use of languages ​​and the use in the early church lead us to the conclusion that the gift of tongues in the present is not, in any way, the same experience that the church had in the first century. The Pauline standards are the watershed between the tongues ​​of the past and today’s.

What was the purpose of the gift on the 'New Testament'?

The finding of the discontinuity of the gift of tongues described in the New Testament when compared to the present days raises some questions. One of which is: "If the gift of tongues in the early church did not serve the purposes stated today, what was its real function?".

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul not only banned the misuse of the gift of tongues and placed it as secondary in the edification of the church. Paul also revealed the “main” purpose of it: to serve as a "sign" of God to unbelievers (1 Cor 14:22).

Deuteronomy 28 contains two types of God's promise to the Jews. The first is the promise of blessings for obedience of the Jews to the Lord (Deut 28.1-14). The second is the promise of punishment for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28.15-68). Amid the list of punishments promised to the Jewish people if they did "not listen to the voice of the Lord", one of them is highlighted:

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or olive oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined.
They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you

(Deut 28.49-53).

This is the promise of a great punishment from God for Israel's disobedience using a powerful nation as a punishment tool. This nation would be foreign once it spoke a language the Israelites would not understand. These people would eventually bring great destruction and carnage to Israel. Just before enacting such punishment, the Lord revealed that these events would be a "sign" to the Israelites that they were under the punishing hand of God (Deuteronomy 28.46,47). This promise was fulfilled sometimes clearly and in a sweeping way. Three notable dates of fulfilment were 722 BC, 587 BC and 70 AD

In 722 BC, when Israel was divided into two kingdoms - the northern kingdom (Israel) with its ten tribes, and the southern kingdom (Judah) formed by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin - the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians and the people were taken captive to Assyria where they were interbred with other people (2 Kings 17.5,6,22,23). In 587 BC, the same happened to the southern kingdom (Judah). Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, was destroyed along with the temple that Solomon had built for the worship of God. The inhabitants were exiled to Babylon until the year 539 BC (2 Kings 25.8,9).

Anticipating this kind of punishment, the Lord sent prophets to warn his people from their sins, call upon them to repentance and announce judgment if they did not change their ways. Among these alerts, two of them draw attention to themselves:

a) Isaiah preached repentance to the people ensuring that God would forgive and cleanse. However, warned that their obstinacy would make them target of the "sword" (Is 1.16-20). Unfortunately, the people did not listen to the voice of the Lord. Isaiah then prophesied God's punishment and said that even the punishment and the sign of a "strange language" would be able to produce repentance in the nation of Israel (cf. Isa 28.11,12 v.1).

b) God spoke to the nation of Judah, through Jeremiah, inviting her to repentance and purification (Jer 3.14,15). Like Israel, Judah also did not listen to the voice of the Lord. So God used Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar's command to punish Judah. ​​In this case, the "sign" of God's judgment was also given through a destructive people, whose language they did not understand (Jr 5.12-17).

In the days of the New Testament, there was also a great destruction in Jerusalem (70 AD) and across the country. The events of the war between the Jews and the Romans (66-70 AD) were not described in the Scriptures, but history would not let them go by unnoticed. The historian Josephus says that Vespasian defeated and devastated all Galilee, Perea and Idumea and went toward Jerusalem. At that time, the city was taken and divided by three parties of Jews who destroyed each other. Crimes, robberies and murders took place in broad daylight. Anyone trying to flee from Jerusalem was killed. This civil war cost the wheat storage sufficient to sustain years of siege. Hunger and theft of supplies by the rebels in Jerusalem reached unbearable levels.

When Vespasian was made emperor, his son Titus took command of the Roman army and laid siege to Jerusalem. In fifteen days he took the first wall and in nine, the second. With only the third wall and the wall of the Temple, Tito offered peace to the Jews in vain. Since there was no surrender, after four months of siege the temple was invaded and, even against Tito's orders, was burned and destroyed. Fifteen days after Jerusalem was completely destroyed and whoever went through there would have trouble believing that there had been a populous center. The numbers of war, not taking into account the almost half a million Jews killed in all the Palestinian and Egyptian territory, were 97,000 prisoners and 1.1 million dead in Jerusalem for crimes, famine, pestilence and war.

The reason for such destruction was the same as 722 BC and 587 BC: disobedience to God's commands. Four decades before Jesus preached among the Jews and introduced himself as God and Savior. He sent the nation the words and promises of God regarding the redemption through repentance and faith in the Son (John 10.24-26,30; 14.6). The book of Hebrews says that Jesus spoke to the men of his time as God spoke to the former through the prophets (Heb 1.1,2).

Unfortunately, the reaction of the Jews to such words was not faith and obedience, but rejection and killing of Jesus (John 19.15,16). Again the people failed to obey and "did not listen to the voice of the Lord." Thus, Judah would be punished again. The glimpse of the punishment that would bring destruction to Jerusalem and the Temple made Jesus announce and lament the terrible tragedy (Mt 24.1,2; Luke 19.41-44; 21.20-24).

As at other times, God raised up a mighty nation to bring punishment to the unbelief and disobedience of the Jews. The difference is that this time, the instrument used by God (the Roman people) reigned over the Israelites over a hundred years. As God promised that the punishments described In Deut 28 would be "a sign to the Jews forever" (Deuteronomy 28.46,47), he decided to possibly signal the punishment through the Church. To this end the Church began to signal such judgment through foreign languages ​​that were not understood by the Jewish people. For this reason Paul says that tongues were not for believers but for unbelievers (1 Cor 14.21,22). The people who rejected and killed God the Son were being warned of harsh punishment that would fall on them and being asked to repent.

The first time that the gift of tongues occurred in history was fifty days after the death of Jesus. The 120 disciples of Christ who had received the Holy Spirit began to speak in other languages ​​in the presence of large crowd of unbelieving Jews from all over the world. When they got amazed by seeing uneducated Galileans speaking correctly and clearly in distant lands languages, Peter reprimanded these unbelieving Jews about what they did to Jesus (Acts 2.22-24). As a result, many of them repented and sought a way to escape conviction for such a great crime. Peter commanded them to repent and turn away from their wicked way (Acts 2.37-40). Facing the preaching and proclamation of their guilt, 3000 Jews were converted just that day (Acts 2:41).

Thus we find the purpose why the gift of tongues was granted to the Church. It was the sign that God sent to unbelievers that pointed to the judgment that would come upon them. And the fact that a small percentage have believed in such promises shows that the purpose of the gift of tongues was not primarily to evangelize unbelievers, but to bring upon them the judgment of God.

The gift of tongues still exists today?

The judgment that the gift of tongues signaled happened in 70 AD. Being Jerusalem destroyed for their rejection of Jesus and the words of God, the gift "reached its purpose." There was nothing to be signaled to the Jews from then on and thus the sign is "no longer necessary". So the gift of tongues ceased after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

In fact, this is not the only example in the Bible showing that God uses a signal only up to when the fact signaled happens. We found a good example in Colossians 2.16,17. Paul teaches the Colossians that they should not follow the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish Act as "shadows of things that were to come." In other words, they were signs and symbols of aspects of Christ's redeeming work that would cease with his coming. After Christ accomplished his work, these signs have lost their usefulness. So do not make more sacrifices, or keep the Sabbath, or abstain from foods that were considered unclean. Similarly, the gift of tongues has ceased to exist when Jerusalem was destroyed.


So the gift of tongues no longer exists since the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the second half of the 1st century, amidst the incredible killing of Israelis.

If the languages ​​of today are so confused and different from what the Bible says and teaches, it is because they are an attempt to artificially do what the Holy Spirit has done in the past with a definite purpose that no longer exists. That's why, instead of seeking speaking in tongues, today's Christians should "listen to the voice of the Lord" and prioritize the service and love of God and men with a submissive, transformed and faithful heart.

Pr. Thomas Tronco

(To learn about scientific studies on the subject, read also The Gift of Tongues Today - Scientific Addendum for Laity)

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