A. Ralph Johnson


We commonly encounter the misconception that there are two kinds of inspired tongues in the New Testament.  I do not mean the use of different languages, but a difference in function and purpose.


One view is that the tongues of Pentecost were automatically understood by people of all languages at the same time, while the Corinthian tongues were not understandable to any person unless interpreted, or at least were subject to the need for interpretation.  This concept is usually easily dispelled by a little more careful reading of Acts 2.  It does not say that they spoke in a tongue and everyone understood.  It says they spoke in "tongues" (Ac 2:4).  The miracle was in their being able to speak all of the languages, not that the listener was able to interpret them.  As we shall see in proceeding further, this is confirmed by the fact that no substantial distinction can be found between the words used in Acts 2 and elsewhere in the New Testament.


However, another concept attempts to distinguish between that which Charismatics identify as the "sign," given to all as a "prayer tongue" or "evidence" of having received the Holy Spirit, and the "gift" intended for delivering messages to the congregation.  This error is of vital importance to Pentecostals in elevating tongues above all other works of the Spirit.  This is the very problem which Paul dealt with at Corinth and it is only by resorting to a "double tongues" concept, one regulated by Paul, and the other used as they please, that they can circumvent the force of the scriptures and sustain this excess.


The Twelfth Chapter of 1Corinthians emphatically contradicts the idea that all speak with tongues.  It says that the whole body is not one member, but many, and that to one is given one gift while another receives something different.  Then, in verse 30, the universal availability of tongues is expressly and emphatically discounted.


The Thirteenth Chapter deals with their deficiency in love by first pointing out that no gift without love is anything and that these miraculous gifts were only partial and temporary.   When the full revelation was completed, the partial gifts would cease and they would "know fully."  At that time their childish preoccupation (14:20; 13:11) with the lesser spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge (cf. 12:8-10) would be ended and only the three graces, faith, hope and love would remain.


Chapter Fourteen sets forth the need for regulation of tongues so that the church might be edified by knowing what was said and that outsiders might not conclude that they were "mad."  It thus enjoins that "all things be done to edifying" and specifies that no more than three speak, that they do so one-by-one, and that all must be interpreted.  This, of course, cuts at the very vitals of modern Pentecostalism.  They are urgent that everyone receives tongues.  Regulation in any way dampens its uninhibited expression.  Requiring that it always be interpreted is fatal.  Unlike any case in the New Testament, they must pump people up to get it, sometimes even involving a sort of tutoring, by having them do imitations in order to get going.


By claiming that these regulations are designed only for the "message in tongues," they can all speak at the same time under the claim that they are only using the "prayer tongue."  This is indeed ingenious, but purely a figment of their imagination to serve a vested theological interest.


The fact is that throughout the New Testament the Greek words for "speak" (laleo), "other" (heteros) and "tongues" (glossa) are used uniformly, whether in Acts or in Corinthians.  Any attempt to make a distinction between "sign" or

"gift" and "sign" cite Acts 2:38 as proof that we are to speak in tongues like those who on that day are claimed to have received the "sign."


"Signs" are mentioned in Mark 16:17, but in that passage it is just one of several.  Nothing is said of its being the special "evidence" always necessary.  In verse 20 it indicates that these signs were to "confirm the word."  They had no New Testaments and it was necessary to confirm the authority of the writers and speakers (Heb 2:3, 4; Jn 20:30, 31; Ac 8:5, 6).  The word has now been fully delivered.


The only other place where tongues is spoken of as a "sign" is in 1Cor 14:22.  There it is certainly making no distinction between that the "gift."


The Fourteenth Chapter is just an extension of the subject raised in Chapter Twelve which includes it among the "gifts" (12:4, 9,, 10, 28, 30, 32).  In 12:7 it uses the equivalent of "sign" when he speaks of "manifestation" of the Spirit.  However, nothing there makes tongues the single manifestation, much less the prayer tongue distinctively.  In any case, nothing in 14:22 indicates any exclusive "sign" nature for tongues.  Both prophecy and tongues are called signs.  The difference is that tongues were to "speak unto this people" who did not believe (14:21).  This is seen on Pentecost when they were amazed by hearing them miraculously speaking their languages.  Prophecy was intended for use in the Christian assemblies and could benefit both believers and unbelievers without needing interpretation.  Certainly verse 22 describes a message rather than a prayer.  But, whether it was a message or a prayer, if it was not interpreted, the church could not be edified and the unbelievers would say they were "mad."


The fact is that throughout Chapter Fourteen no such distinction can be found.  In verse 2 he says that if they did not speak in a language familiar to the congregation, no man could understand.  In verses 1-13 he shows the need for understanding in order that the church should be edified.  In verses 14-18 he specifically cites prayer in tongues as needing interpretation.  Verses 26-35 lays down the regulations which must be followed.  It begins with the comprehensive statement, "Let ALL things be done unto edifying."  It is nonsense to maintain that the "prayer tongue" is distinct from the "gift" and therefore exempt from these rules.  As Paul himself says, "If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord.  But if any man is ignorant, let him be ignorant." (37, 38).


Certainly it was intended that every Christian receive the Holy Spirit.  It was promised to those who repented and were baptized (Ac 2:38, 39).  We all are to "drink of the one Spirit" when baptized into one body (1Cor 12:13; cf. Rom 6:3;

Gal 3:27; Rom 8:1; 2Cor 5:17).  It is the "seal" and "earnest" of our inheritance (Eph 1:13, 14).  We are "born of water and Spirit" (Jn 3:5 cf. 1Jn 5:4-8).  We are "saved" (Tit 3:5) and "live" (Gal 5:25) by the Spirit.  We cannot please God without it; must have it to receive life, and it is essential to being led as sons of God (Rom 8:1-17, 26, 27).  Indeed, "Without the Spirit of Christ (cf. 1Pe 1:10, 12; 2Pe 1:19-21 and Ac 16:7 RSV) we are NONE OF HIS (Rom 8:9).  Yet, in all of this, the Romans did not have any Spiritual gifts (Rom 1:11).


It is obviously false to maintain that those who do not speak in tongues do not have the Spirit.  Even in the cases where the miraculous manifestations were present, this cannot be substantiated.  Did Saul and David speak in tongues?  (1Sam 10:10; 16:13)  Did Elizabeth and Zechariah? (Lk 1:41, 67).  Jesus did not speak in tongues. (Mk 1:10)  Did it occur in Ac 4:31?  Can it be shown from Acts 8?


Some would maintain that the phrase, "Simon saw" (Ac 8:18) indicates tongues, but that is a mighty shaky argument for any court of law,--much less before the High Court of Heaven.  What Simon "saw" was that by the laying on of hands the Holy Spirit was given.  Why could not Simon have seen the exercise of some other gift such as prophecy or even the Holy Spirit "fall upon" them (8:16) as on Jesus (Lk 3:22) or the Apostles in the beginning (Ac 2:3)?  Certainly, "fallen upon" is appropriate phraseology to express the visible descent of the Spirit.


Considering Ac 10:44 and 11:15-17 we see again that it "fell UPON them," as at the beginning.  How did it fall on the apostles? (2:3)  The Holy Spirit was "poured out" and in "falling upon them," "baptized" (immersed) them

11:15-17).  This was a visible manifestation and the choice of words is certainly consistent with a visible event.  It is notable that "upon" is the common designation throughout. (cf. 19:6).


The fact is that tongues were never promised as the exclusive evidence of the Spirit's presence.  Isaiah 28:11, referred to in 1Cor 14:21, 22 concerns messages, not special sign of prayer.  Joel's prophecy (Joel 2:28-32) quoted by Peter (Ac 2:16-21) speaks of prophecy, not tongues.  This would be the nature of Peter's sermon given by the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26; 2Pe 1:20, 21) or the message to the people which they understood in their own language.  In any event, it cannot be established that their speaking, "the mighty works of God" must be confined to a form of prayer.  If the event in Acts 10 was indeed like the Apostles at the beginning (11:15-17), then their "magnifying God" may have included prophecy (10:46 as in Ac 2:17).  Again, it cannot be proven that this was limited to prayer.  In Acts 19:6 it specifically mentions prophecy as accompanying the Holy Spirit's advent.  Again, the promise in Mark 16:17, 18 fails to indicate any elevated or distinctive position for tongues.


It is an utter fallacy to contend that tongues has any special identifying

quality above the other gifts.  It is false to claim a difference between the "gift" and the "sign," thereby attempting to exempt one from what is said of t he other.  It is a serious error to deny that a child of God has the Holy Spirit just because he does not speak with tongues.  The "two-tongues" theory fails at every turn.